Orí: The Significance of the Head in Yoruba Sculpture Babatunde Lawal Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 41, No. 1.
(Spring, 1985), pp. 91-103.
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Many completed inner heads. a good or bad destiny is no more than a potentiality for success or falure. and no matter how seriously a person may be injured. whenever the Supreme Being. the nose (imzi). incantations may be recited into the ears or medicinal substances poured into the mouth.OR^: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HEAD IN YORUBA SCULPTURE
Department o f Fine Arts. they place a higher premium on its metaphysical significance as the source of life and the essence of human personality (Abimbola 1971:73-89. however. The Yoruba concentrate their attempts to revive an unconscious person on the head. Once b b i t i l i finishes molding the image. constituting the person's life-source and controlling personality and destiny.) in the individual. Three different modes of representing the head are identified in I'oruba sculpture: the naturalistic. 016dhmark breathes life (Bmz') into it through the head (Ajanaku 1972:13). Although the fate of each individual is believed t o have been predetermined in heaven before birth "into" the earth. The newly created human being is then directed to another brish. the physical and the metaphysical. the newly created person simply has to choose one of them. Although all the inner heads look alike. thus making it a living human being. the source of ventilation for the soul. the stylized.
LIKE MANY OTHER AFRICAN PEOPLES. called kjhli Alimb. the sound detectors. According to Yoruba ontology. head (ori in&). which symbolizes the primeval material ( b k i ipbri) of which the inner head was made. Nigeria This paper discusses why the head (ori) is the most prominent part of Yoruba sculpture. It must be noted. the Yoruba of western Nigeria regard the human head (orz') as the most vital part of a Hence it is the biggest and the most elaborately finished part of Yoruba figure sculpture. the "inner head. The prominence given to the head in Yoruba culture derives from two factors. each is intrinsically different from the others. the one chosen by an individual
. the potter. that while the Yoruba recognize the physiological importance of the head. But no one would attempt to revive a decapitated body. which refers to the external. the divine power of 016dhmar6. The prominence given to the head in Yoruba sculpture is thus a reflection of its sociobiological importance as the coordinating center of human existential struggles. The physical head is thought of as no more than an outer shell. or spiritual." The latter determines the existence and fate of the individual on the earth. which hints at the inner. head (ori bde). concealing the o r i inzi. o r i 6de (lit. each containing lise. "outer head"). the eyes (ojh). and the abstract. it is an index of individual identification and the locus of important organs such as the brain (opolo). Idowu 1970:170-75). the source of nourishment for the body. the lamps that guide a person through the dark jungle of life. University o f I f e . the seat of wisdom and reason. At the physical level. and the ears (etz'). Ile-Ife. insanity a disturbed one (orididirzi). hope is not lost as long as the head remains intact. 016dhmar6. wants to create a person. are already on display in k j i l i Alimb's workshop. A n analysis of Yoruba ontology of the person reveals that the Yoruba regard the head as the locus of the i s e (divine power) of the Supreme Being (Olddicmar. he asks one of the b i s i (lesser divinities) known as b b i t a i to mold the physical body from divine clay. or physical. Human sanity implies a normally functioning head (oripipk). Needless to say life cannot be sustained without these organs. a successful life depends on how well one makes use of one's head here on earth. the mouth (enu). whose special responsibility is to mold the inner head.
Hence the saying:
Ori burdku kA gb'dse
k y i n m d k6 gb'dgiin." The brisi were provoked and they attacked Ori. isd. In other words.4
Nevertheless the adverse effects of a bad ori can be minimized through rituals prescribed by Or6mili. The latter is reported to have summoned all the brisi in heaven to his presence one day.se eni ("a person's head is his source of origin"). Once chosen. otherwise the vicissitudes of life are such that one can easily miss the path already laid out and "wander about the bush. Evidently Ori has been used in this story to illustrate the absolute supremacy of 016dhmari: as the head of the Yoruba pantheon. the only one (apart from the Supreme Being) who knows all the secrets of the u n i v e r ~ e .
0 da' Peepee sZJdde Asin
0 da' OrW s'ltapci
0 da' O&n s'IlbZr. Sowande and Ajanaku 1969:21-22). a bad ori cannot be altered. just as the ori (both outer and inner) of an individual constitutes the personal life-source. the divination brisi.92
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automatically determines the person's lot on earth (Abimbola 197 1:80). "Verily. Hence the saying (Alade 1972:8): O r i eni. Then The Very First Head (Ori ~ t d t k k b s e ) rolled into the arena. only you. Apparently taunting them."
ORI AS A N ASPECT OF THE SUPREME BEING
That the o r i (both in its physical and metaphysical aspects) signifies much more than personal destiny is hinted at in the popular Yoruba saying (Alade 1972:8): Ori eni l'ele'da' eni ("a person's head is his or her creator"). the possessor of a bad inner head. but the latter subjugated them one by one (Iijadu 1972:14. Ori. There is an interesting story in the I f i divination verse (Ejiogbd. The person who has chosen a good inner head will be lucky and prosperous in life as olhri rere. to the amazement of all the other brisi. and split it with ease. in order to find out which of them was powerful enough to split the sacred kola nut (obi o h ? ) into its main cotyledons. the possessor of a good head. All the brisi present attempted to break the sacred kola nut but failed.The mere possession of a good ~ ori will not automatically guarantee success in life.) that throws further light on the connection between ori and 016dhmarP. The person who is persistently unlucky in life is simply assumed to be an olhri burhku. however.
A bad head cannot be washed clean
Human destiny cannot be altered with charms. It is significant t o note that Ori figuratively subdued the brisi in the towns where their principal shrines are located (Lijadu 1972: 14):
Ori da' Oldta si'li Add
0 da' Erinmi s'Ade O w . An individual must work hard for it and consult Orhnmili regularly for divine guidance. 016dumarP remarked. 016dhmari: is the head-source (orisun) of the universe. took the sacred kola nut. are powerful enough to split the sacred kola nut. The fact that the word elida' (creator) refers almost exclusively to 016dhmarP would seem to suggest that the o r i is one of his aspects.
depending on the context. bringing everything to a halt. and soon the brish were at their wits' end. But no sooner did the deities disperse than Olbdumar~switched off the machinery of the universe. "Irosun Osa. In other words the brisa can assist a person only within the possibilities already willed by 016dumar6.? ("couldn't one worship one's ori alone and ignore the orisa?" (Idowu 1970:72. And to the extent that an individual might entertain the question.
A second story from the If. asking him to abdicate the throne. As already mentioned. that is.
Not only do these two divination stories underscore the position of Ol6dhmark as the ultimate or the universal Ori. each of which has a specific responsibility. The ori of the individual shares the attributes of 016dumark in another important way. it is apparent that the ori is considered (even if subconsciously) to be more powerful than all the brisa. and may very well symbolize the godhead in the individual.
The Head should be accorded his due
This is the oracle's charge to seventeen hundred brisci
Who must render annual tribute to Olodumari. one aspect of this ase resides in the ori of individuals. within one's innate endowments. they also point to the fact that nothing is possible in the universe without his divine power. Thus. 016dumark agreed to do so only on condition that they should first of all go and rule the earth by themselves for sixteen days. nje' o r i 1% ba bo ti 2 bh f'brisci sil.
The symbolism of the above story becomes clearer once it is realized that the Yoruba word dd can mean "subdue" and "create" at the same time. Just as 016dumari. divination verse.
Ori subdued brisk 016ta at Ad6
It subdued Erinmi at ?wb
It subdued Peepee af Ode Asin
It subdued Y s i at Itapi
It subdued Oghn at 116-Irk
I t subdued ObBlhfon at lyinde
It subdued Orunmilh at I16IG. Since Olbdumari: is considered as too sublime to be worshipped directly. he is approached through the b r i d . Things became extremely difficult on earth. is said to be the first being created (although he is self-created). as it were.THE HEAD I N YORUBA SCULPTURE
0 dd 066licfbn sTyinde
0 dd 0runmiki s51cLIfB. the human head is believed to be the first part of the body to be
. Yet it is the general belief among the Yoruba that no brisa can assist an individual without the consent of his own ori (k6 s'6risri tii da n i i gb2 ldhin o r i eni) (Abimbola 197 1: 81).
O r i created us
Nobody created Ori. Shamefacedly they returned to Ol6dumark to acknowledge his supreme authority (Idowu 1970:5 5):
L'd d a ' f i n erzinldjb 6risi
Nigba t i nwon k o esin odlin re odo OlddlimarB. motivating them toward their destinies." relates how seventeen hundred brisa once conspired against Olbdhmark.. 016dhmark created all beings:3
Ori n i i dd ni
Enikan 6 i d'bri. see also Alade 1972:8). being the ultimate head.
Although a father will still accept the paternity of a child even if it does not resemble him. apart from relating an individual to the father's lineage. given the fact that the ceremony is performed mainly for individuals who have attained respectable positions in life and who have been survived by children prosperous enough to sponsor such an expensive undertaking. The reference here is to the external head. only the head is given an elaborate finish.
There are three principal modes of representing the head in Yoruba art: namely the naturalistic. Such facial peculiarities are highlighted in the effigy used in second-burial ceremonies. 1977:pl. In any case the features and physical peculiarities of an individual may either be unique o r may resemble those of the person's parents or grandparents. 11). personal communication. so that the other members of the body can literally be said to follow the head t o the earth (Ajuwon. and is of the same sex. 1976. 1. (See Figures 1 and 2. and ipade) (see Lawal . albinos. the second-burial ceremony could also be seen as an indirect celebration o f a destiny fulfilled. grandparents. facial features are markedly individualized. it can also be taken as evidence of the reincarnation of an ancestor. However. physical likeness of any sort is highly valued by the Yoruba. 1 Willett 1965:figs. 3) used in second-burial ceremonies. t o recall the image of a particular person. hunchbacks. or anyone else in the extended family. as well as wooden effigies (dkb. the other parts of the human body are n o more than servants accompanying the head to the earth (Ajanaku 1 9 7 2 : l l ) . ij2j2. 2. only the portrait head is made and then nailed to a wooden armature that is covered by the costume. Not only does it confirm the legitimacy of a child. the brisa of artistry who molds a person's physical body from clay and who is fondly addressed as enis'ojzi.94
JOURNAL O F A N 7 HROYOLOGICAL RESEARCH
molded by O b i t i l i . the stylized. and the abstract. "molder of eyes and nose" (Idowu 1970:72). as if to stress their physical and metaphysical subservience. Sometimes.
. an indication that the deceased had chosen a good ori. allows for easy identification within and outside his community. o r i bde. ~ Even in sculpture the traditional carver begins with and emphasizes the head. A naturalistic portrait is used during second-burial ceremonies to symbolize the last earthly appearance of deceased persons before they proceed to the "Land of the Dead" (see Abiodun 1976:4-20. the other parts of the human body being drastically abbreviated. hence his epithet a da' n i b'bti ri. 'The cutting of special marks on the face. and other abnormal beings. According to Chief Fagbemi Ajanaku. as Frank Willett (1966:34-45) has pointed out with regard t o the Ife bronzes. especially if the child is born soon after the death of one of its parents. the rest of the body is either blocked out or simply left undone. But since the effigy is always costumed. Obatili's interest in individual peculiarities sometimes leads him to create cripples. se'mu. the other parts being fashioned in such a way as to put the head in a supreme position. The naturalistic mode is exemplified by Ife terra cotta and bronze heads (see Willett 1967:pls.awal 1977 :54). More often the effigy is given a hat to enhance physical resemblance to the deceased. This belief is widely held by the Yoruba and is often supported by the fact that in most cases a baby is born head first. Awolalu 1972: 1 0 4 ) . "he who makes humans as he pleases" (Idowu 1970:72). I.) Though idealized. Its origin can be traced t o O b i t i l i .
where the allusion is to the spiritual. nose. bronzecastings. the maker of "flesh and bone. kjdi A l h b . human features are stylized in a special way to hint at humankind's spiritual essence. observable in the generality of Yoruba art is certainly due to the stabilization of the artistic canons for representing the spiritual. Special masks are created for them. Even when a full figure is rendered in the naturalistic mode. deceased ancestors are venerated like the brisi. the head still dominates (see Willett 197 1:pl. he will not ask (dos Santos and dos Santos 197 l a : 50)." followed the first generation of human beings to the earth and is worshipped to this day as an brisi and a deified ancestor. In any event the facial similarity. the fact that he produces stereotypes makes it difficult for the newly created human beings to differentiate a good ori from a bad one. as it were. (See Figures 3 and 4. but only suggest a 'human potential. to dramatize their periodic returns to the earth t o visit their living descendants. both the brisi and the deified ancestors are represented either by abstract symbols or (sometimes) in person. and ears are enlarged and schematized as if to convey a return to primordial spirituality (Latval 1977:59). after which they return t o their noncorporeal state again. while Obit&. he might offer some assistance. The brisi assume corporeal human forms only when sent by Ol6dhmark on special missions to the earth.1'6jzi 6ni
A ki i m'ori ol6yB l'ciwujo. the inner heads molded by Ajili Alimb. He is mentioned only in the I f i divination literature and is often described as an elusive and irresponsible debtor who always goes into hiding whenever clients arrive to choose their ori (Abimbola 1971:80). We are here reminded of . if given nothing. mouth. To A j 3 i Alhmb. If he is found in the workshop by accident and given a tip. He is as unpredictable as the destiny concealed in his products. in embryo: eyes. the heavenly potter. Since death is not regarded as the end of life. by contrast.
A bad ori is not necessarily disfigured
Nobody can identify the footprints of a mad man on the road
Nobody can distinguish the head destined t o wear a crown in a gathering. remains a distant and virtually forgotten &is$ in the Yoruba pantheon.) Yoruba religion regards 016dCmark and the brisi as having essentially human attributes.the o r i in&. but rather a translation from earthly t o spiritual existence. and masks associated with the worship of the b r i d and deified ancestors. the molding of an inner head is a routine affair. These features are not peculiar t o any individual.THE HEAD IN YORUBA SCULPTURE
Of course the external head (ori bde) is only the outer shell of the inner one (ori inu). Having been dematerialized. the mythical
. These canons have since become an index for projecting the spiritual oneness of the Yoruba as descendants of bdhduwi. When represented in person. The head is rendered. hence the veneration accorded the latter is automatically extended to the former.' the realization of which on the earthly plane depends on the nature of the formative elements. Both have identical "visible" features (Abimbola 1971:87):
Oriburukzi ki i w u tulu
A ki i da ese asiw2rh mi. even though they are noncorporeal. or rather the stylistic unity.
i j i l i Alimb's lack of interest in physical peculiarities can be corroborated with the fact that he stayed behind in heaven. 42.) The stylized mode of rendering the head (and indeed the whole body) is found mainly in woodcarvings.
The holes in the neck could very well be the points at which this head was originally nailed to a wooden armature. Life-size portrait head (bronze) from IlcIfe. IlcIfe.
.D. 12th115th Cent. Height: ca.Figure 1. Collected by the Nigerian Museum in 1964. Ipcide for Chief Akinyemi of 0 d S . A. Ile-Ife. 12 inches. n Compound. Only the head and neck are cawed. Nigeria. Nigeria. Nigerian Museum.
Figure 2. w h l e the trunk is left as a rough cylinder. The figure is about 3 feet high.
F&re 4. Ipetumodu. E n On'sa (Image for communicating with the gods). The stylized face alludes to the dematerialized state of the gods.
. University of Ife Museum Collection.Figure 3. 1972. E p n g r n Mask representing the spirit of a deceased ancestor who haa returned to the earth to visit with his living descendants.
The word ibori is a contraction of ibo ori.5 After that the ilk ori is provided.ion. alluding t o the fact that the divine power (ise) of 016dumark enters the human body throush the head and flies out of it (at death) like a bird (. sacralized during the installation rituals. This represents the primeval clayey element (.
iZccording to Chief Fagbemi Ajanaku. The physical head of the oba. the ancient form of Yoruba currency. the apex of many ibori is shaped like the beak of a bird. The abstract form o f the ibori alludes to the concealed i s e that controls one's life and that can be made to work in one's favor through regular propitiation. must thereafter not be uncovered in public. A stylized face is often depicted in front of the crown. as they are richly adorned with multicolored beads.ancestor to whom every Yoruba oba ("king") traces his divine right to wear a beaded crown. The sealed. The death of an important man in the community providcs his children with an opportunity to display the deceased's ilk-ori in a public procession along with the corpse. Consecrated divination powder (iy?rosGn). respectively. The abstract mode of representing the head is to be found in the ibori.4jAli Xlimb molded the inner head of that person. an If5 divination priest. As the head of the community. 12n ilk-ori in the Katherine White Collection of the Seattle Art hluseum is decorated with an equestrian figure to communicate the high status of its owner (see Thompson 1974:pI. underlines its function as the source of its owner's well-being and prosperity.i\lthough most of the divination priests I interviewed simply said that
. the mythical ancestor. The ibori and ilk-ori of the Yoruba oba ("king") are certainly the most elaborate in a given community. . as can be observed during the 016jb and b r u n festivals in 116-If6 and Oy6. cone-shaped object wrapped in leather and adorned with cowries. in appreciation of the favors received. Its lavish decoration with cowries. the costlier the sacrifices they offer to their o r i and the more elaborate they make the container for their ibori. to emphasize the position of the oba as the living representative of the ancestors. functioning like an ilb-ori. It is always kept in a crown-like container called ili o r i (lit. but the quality of his o r i determines 'the fate of his subjects and his entire kingdom during his reign. is poured into a small leather bag and sealed (Ajanaku. "house of the head") and brought out only when sacrifices are to be offered to it. This is a small. into which the spirit of one's o r i has been invoked. Indeed the more successful individuals are in life.4janaku 1972:13). cone-shaped bag is then given to a leatherworker to adorn with cowries (ow0 eyo). Facial marks are added t o the stylized head to identify the sculpture with a lineage rather than with a particular individual. personal communica. meaning "altar (of the) head.kt? ipbrz') with which . An individual commissions his ibori through a babaliwo. The ilk o r i is also adorned with cowries." In the traditional past. 135). the oba is regarded not only as a sacred person by virtue of his direct descent from Oduduwi. It is concealed under a beaded crown (ad.) that veils his face from direct public view (Thompson 1970:8-17). many an adult Yoruba offered sacrifices and prayers to his head through the ibori every morning before worshipping any other brisi. The propitiation of his ori is thus attended with elaborate rituals and public ceremonies. 1972). the shrine for worshipping the ori.
" He is thus associated with order and
. The dove was later thrown into the river and allowed to drift away (Prince 1974:lOl). there was a general consensus that birds play a prominent role in rituals associated with the ~ r i For . since they dwell on both land and sky and fly great distances across the water.T H E HEAD IN YORUBA SCULPTURE
the ibori represents b k t ipbri (the primordial clayey element). Ajifdkirajkko dug up all the treasures and eventually became a wealthy man. a bird helped a man called Ajifikirijkko t o realize his destiny. on the one hand. and the link between ~ them and humans. But as he attempted to do so. cognizance must be taken of the fact that the latter are also directly associated with dse. which describes a frightful moment. 016dumart gave her a special ase in the form o f a bird enclosed in a calabash (Verger 1965). and as such he wields considerable power in the Yoruba pantheon. and this occurs during dreams. he decided t o commit suicide. To the Yoruba ase is invisible and immaterial. As Wande Abimbola (personal communications. thanks to the pigeons (Alade 1972 :9-10). According to the story.7 In considering the relationship between o r i and birds. in general the belief is that birds are celestial messengers. For instance it was a five-toed chicken (given by 016dumark to bduduwh) that spread the divine sand over the primordial waters at 116-Ift (the cradle of Yoruba civilization). or when a witch "changes into a bird inside her body and hies out of the mouth" to attack victims (Prince 1974:92). coordinator of t h e activities of all the brisi.
OR^ AND ESU
No treatment of o r i would be complete without a consideration of the nature of its connection with E S ~the principle of dynamism in the Yoruba cosmos and the . where an oba had been buried. certain parts of the bird. flapping its wings frantically. When the founder o f witchcraft (Odu) was leaving heaven for the earth. AjifhkBrhjkko stumbled and fell down. on the other. Nowhere is this metaphor more apparent than in the statement. Ajifhkirhjtko was frightened. As the seat of the soul (the i s e o f the individual) the ori is also capable of flight. ~ instance in some rites aimed at cleansing an afflicted head. After waiting in vain for fifteen days. hbb8. In yet another example. AjifhkArajPko was a pauper who had offered sacrifices t o his o r i (on the advice of Or6nmild) and expected his life to change for the better within a few days. so much so that he is often unpredictable. On recovering he discovered that he had fallen into a grave that contained a lot of treasure. when activated it flies like a mysterious bird. thus creating solid earth (Idowu 1970:19). While running. some pecking at his head. 1976) has pointed out. "my head flew off"). He took t o his heels. E S is the keeper of 016dbmart7s ise. ori m i fi. only t o be pursued by several pigeons. are used t o prepare a medicinal soap. a pigeon perched on his head. And the birds represented on the beaded crown of the Yoruba oba are said to symbolize hse. which is then used to wash the patient's head 0. his power of life and death over his subjects.0. lo (lit. Thus sacrifices consumed by birds (especially by vultures) are seen as being collected for delivery t o the appropriate quarters. In one case a live dove was used like a sponge t o wash the head of a woman who had just recovered from a psychotic episode. Elewude. "he is a friend and a foe at the same time. Although the choice o f a particular bird for a given ritual is determined by its mystical associations. trances. personal communication).
which is tantamount to invoking its inner head to descend to the altar (Sowande and Ajanaku 1969:25). Little wonder that his cooperation is enlisted by the priest at the beginning of a divination process to ensure a fairly accurate prediction. the sculptured face (or the anthropomorphic altar image in general) provides a protective watch over the devotee and his or her household. In consequence of regular face-to-face conversations." vivifying the presence of the orisa at the moment of invocation. Libations are poured both on the principal shrine symbol and the images. is thought to dwell. notwithstanding their individual thematic values. Apart from personifying the abstract symbol of an brisi.
. According to Babaliwo Ifitobgun of Ilobu (a highly knowledgeable divination priest). Therefore the carved. if solid food is offered as sacrifice. thereby facilitating a more intimate d i a l ~ ~ g with the brisi (Lawal 1974:243). which he is believed to hurl down from the sky during thunder-storms. there is an aspect of Esu in every person. certainty and uncertainty. Orunmila by palm kernels used in divination. This is most evident in the prolific use of anthropomorphic images in the worship of the orisa. o r i symbolism offers the Yoruba a means of interacting more closely with the supernatural. stylized human head on the container seems to serve as a "facial outlet. Esu is therefore a catalyst who not only helps Orfinmila to unravel the mysteries of human destiny.100
J O U R N A L O F A N T H R O P O L O G I C A L RESEARCH
disorder. Alternatively the sacred symbol of the brisa may be buried in the <ground or hidden behind a screen of anthropomorphic images. Especially if the principal shrine symbol is concealed. Similarly the carved face of Esu on the divination tray is activated momentarily to "spy" for Oninmila. but also provides a focus for the devotee. Worship normally begins with the chanting ue of the oriki (lit. For instance Sang6 (the brisa of lightning and thunder) is represented on the altar by thunderbolts. But more often the principal shrine symbol is kept in a container on which a stylized human head o r face is carved. On the other hand. the devotee and the brisa become familiar with one another's faces.n (lit. The altar is called ojzi 89. Since most of the orisa are n o more than personifications of supernatural forces. "face for worshipping the spirit"). because he acts as a spy for Orfinmila. It is important to note ?hat many divination trays have carved on them a prominent face identified with Esu. a symbolic feeding of the carved face on the container may suffice. the carved face on the container not only communicates the human essence of the brisa.
ORI AS A LOCUS O F COMMUNICATION
Apart from providing the individual with a source of inspiration and hope. otherwise the offering may simply be left on the floor in front of the sculptures. Frequently the principal shrine symbol is a nonfigurative object in which the ase of the &is. and Erinli (a river deity) by stones from the river of the same name. These instances should be enough to show that the sculptural representations on an altar are considered to be part of the "face" of the brisa. "head praise") of the orisa. "face of the spirit") or ojzi'bo (lit. but who also propels individuals toward the realization of their fate (see also dos Santos and dos Santos 1971b:120). otherwise one would not be conscious of one's own existence (dos Santps and dos Santos 1971a:16-17). they are seldom represented in person.
spiritual. the face (oju) connotes access. Thus what can be solved "has a face" (o 15jzi). "may the world have a face"). This point is clear in the following If6 divination verse (Abimbola 1976: 146-47):
B i d bn'se wipe' Cbogbo origbogbo niisun pdsi Irdkb gbogbo iba t i t i n nigbd A dia fhn igba eni Ti ntikolk orun bb wa' si ta'y k B i o ba'se w i p k Gbogbo orr'gbogbo niisun pdsi Irdkb gbogbo ibn' ti ta'n nigbd A bh f i n O w k h Ti ntikolk orun bb wa' sr' tiye' Ow hrh la njh Gbogbo wa O w h k la njh E n i d yanriirk b wdpi. an entanglement "has a blocked face" (o di'jzi). hence the prayer. a person must struggle. ki nji. Human progress is regarded as bEjh (lit. "cutting a face on the earth"). bwkrt? la' nji Gbogbo wa bwir2. k'riyt b r'bjh (lit. But on the altar.
All the irdki. for what has a face is controllable (Lawal 1976:362).
By and large the main thrust of the Yoruba conception of the ori is that human physical. To tame or pacify is to "cool the face" (th l'hjzi)." the path of happiness will be accessible to everyone. Therefore providing the symbol of an brisi with a face facilitates the pacification of that brisi. the unsolvable "has no face" (ki. The choice of a good or bad ori is no more than a potentiality for success or failure. To achieve anything in life. In addition to its communicative functions. and a Yoruba oba wears a beaded crown that veils his face from direct public gaze. just as the beaded crown conceals the face of the oba. and material well-being depends for the most part on how well people can make use of their head.
If all heads are destined
To be buried with coffins
All the iro'kb trees in the forest would have been exhausted
Ifi divination was performed for 'Struggle'
Who was leaving heaven for the earth. If the world "has a face. trees in the forest would have been exhausted
Ifi divination was performed for two hundred persons
Who were leaving heaven for the earth.T H E HEAD IN YORUBA SCULPTURE
Admittedly it is a sign of disrespect for a Yoruba youth to stare an elder in the face when addressing him.
All of us
We are just stmggling
.E'bjzi). the devotee is only dealing with the brisi through a surrogate that "masks" the actual presence of the brisi.
If all heads are destined
To be buried with coffins.
. F. brhnmili is the b r i d in charge of the divination system known as Ifa. Olokun 10:ll-13. p. 4. Ori. Chief Fagbemi Ajanaku.4/4. 3 . like those associated with Esu (the divine messenger) and Sango (the brisa of lightning and thunder).
NOTES 1. a b gbodb s'ebo
Bi a b ri i k i l i . This is a revised version of a paper first presented at a Seminar on Religion and Art. gazing with hope into the future.
REFERENCES CITED Abimbola. 1972. Ifa: An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus. 73-89 in La notion de personne en Afrique noire. Department of Fine Arts (all of Harvard University) for jointly inviting me to serve as a Visiting Lecturer in Traditional African Art and Religion during spring semester. pl. Ibadan: Oxford University Press. no. ch. brhnmili is called e l h i n ipin ("witness of human destiny") because he was the only one present a t the moment of creation and who also knows the quality of each of the inner heads produced by Ajila . Apa Keji.
If there is no sign of the vulture.
The prominence given to the head in Yoruba sculpture is a reflection of its sociobiological importance as the coordinating center for human existential struggles. These lines are taken from a long divination verse rendered by Babalawo Ifatoogun of Ilobh.A. W. 1975. there are special projections from the head t o hint at the latent energy contained within (see Thompson 1970:ch. Center for the Study of World Relgions. It is believed that those bearing this name are usually unlucky and must struggle very hard to achieve something in life. I wish to express my gratitude to Preston Williams. Ile-Ife. Depending o n his or her social status. 1976. 49. Acting Dean of the Divinity School.
. see Abimbola (1976).d. Fabunmi. the Araba of Lagos. 7. Nigeria.41amo. organized by the Center for the Study of World Religions. Pp. Mr. Director. and Epega (n. sacrifices should not be offered If there is no sign of the hornbill. hono$fic headgear reinforces this vital role. Massachusetts. pl. In some sculptures. A child born legs-first is called igk. 1971. almondshaped eyes. Highly elaborate. quoted by dos Santos and dos Santos. Bascom (1969). and John Rosenfield. an individual could have the ilt-ori adorned with as much as six heads (twelve thousand) cowries. the rituals of the bull roarer must not be performed.102
IOURNAL O F AKTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Those who chose good destinies are not many
We are just struggling
All of us We are just struggling. Elewude and Professor Wande Abimbola. both of the University of Ife. which is believed t o contain all the secrets of the universe. John Carman. the quantity for decorating the ilk-ori is not limited. Cambridge. 9 . 22 April 1975.. 2). Bi a b r i i&n. Perhaps the most striking feature of a typical Yoruba sculptured head are the bulging. with all of whom I have had useful discussions. Chairman. the Odole At6base of Ile-Ife. The Yoruba Concept of Human Personality. The importance of birds in Yoruba divination and sacrifices is underlined in the popular saying. 2. As a rule the number of cowries that can be used to adorn the ibori is restricted t o fortyone. 5.A. J. Ajanaku. Paris: Colloques Internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.:14). but then the leatherworker must be paid the same amount as for decorating both the ibori and ilC o r i (see Johnson 1969: 27). the precepts given in each verse are used to solve human problems. W. Abimbola. Ipin ati Kadara. For more on Ifi..1216. Harvard University. 1971. a b gbodb s'orb. I am also grateful to Chief M. 544. The corpus of Ifa divination verses is called Odh.
F. ~ s Bara. 1965.. The Sign of the Divine King: An Essay a n Yoruba Bead-Embroidered Crowns with Veil and Bird Decorations. 1965..A. M. 1969. Epega. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Africa 47(1):50-61.F. God in Yoruba Belief.. Thompson. British Journal of Aesthetics 15(3) : 239-49. Willett. Pp. African Art: An Introduction. 1974. Grandeur et dicadence du culte de Iyami Osoronga (ma m&re la sorci6re) chez les Yoruba. A Further Shrine for a Yoruba Hunter. dos Santos. O ~ k o Amutorunwa. 1967. 1971. F.THE HEAD IN YORUBA SCULPTURE
Alade. African Arts 3(3) :8-17.. Ile-Ife: Department of History. Thompson. Idowu. Principle of Individual Life in b the Nago System. 1976. Willett. and F. E.. . Ibadan: Oxford University Press.E.. Ife in the History of West African Sculpture.S. J.O. 544. Lijadu. On the Funeral Effigies of Owo and Benin and the Interpretation of the Life-Size Bronze Heads from Ife.. New York: McGraw-Hill. R. Pp. 74-80. Ori. The Significance of Yoruba Sculpture.. E. Man 45:82-83. 1971. Akinjogbin and G.. R. F.M. 1970. dos Santos.O. Willett. J. F. Indigenous Yoruba Psychiatry. Ibadan: Institute of African Studies. 1974. W. and D.. Bascom. 356-63 in Proceedings of the Conference o n Yoruba Civilization (ed.M.4wolalu. University of Ibadan.B. B. 1970.F. n. Nigeria: Omolayo Standard Press.O.. The Basis of Yoruba Religion.M. Journal de la Sociktd des Africanistes 35(1):141-243.. Apa Kini. Lawal.. R... 1971b.. Willett. J. by I. dos Santos. 1969. Ipin ati Kadara. Johnson. D.)1:34 45. The African Traditional View of Man. Orita: Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies 6(2): 101-17. Paris: Colloques Internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.. dos Santos. R. 1971a. Pp. 1966. 1972.. E S ~ Bara Laaroye: A Comparative Study. 45-60 in La notion de personne en Afrique noire. P. The History of the Yombas.d. Verger. Bookshops. Man(n. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Thompson.. 1972.
. Ekemode). F. Lawal. London: Longmans. Lagos: C. 84-120 in Magic. S.. University of Ife. Ibadan: Ijamido Printers. New York: Praeger... and D. Orunmila. Olodumare. 1974.S.. B. F. Olokun 10:s-10. Ado-Ekiti. 1972. B. Faith and Healing. New York: Free Press. 1969. Sowande. Ajanaku. Los Angeles: University of California Press. no. Some Aspects of Yoruba Aesthetics.E. 1977. Prince. Lawal.. The Living Dead: Art and
Immortality among the Yoruba of Nigeria. Ifa Divination: Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa. Black Gods and Kings: Yoruba Art at UCLA.s. African Art in Motion.