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Yoruba or Wurkun Figural Staff

Yoruba or Wurkun Figural Staff

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Yoruba or Wurkun people, early 20th century, Nigeria, West Africa.

Fascinating, crudely carved and weathered processional staff. The sturdy conical pillar surmounted by woman figure, possibly priestess, represented in highly abstract form. The head is also highly stylized, with the ears, nose, and mouth portrayed as a set of sharply angular forms. The thick neck rests on round shoulders and the body is in the form of a column with breasts and navel. Her upper limbs are bent, hands resting on her lower abdomen, but are now largely worn away.

The Yoruba people are an ethnic group that inhabits western Africa, mainly Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Traditional Yoruba religious beliefs recognize a wide variety of deities (400 + 1 ), with Olorun or Olodumare venerated as the creator and other lesser gods serving as intermediates to help with the concerns of humans. Yoruba religion (Isese) is the basis for a number of religions in the New World, notably Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Candomblé. Its also shares some parallels with the Vodun practiced by the neighboring Fon and Ewe peoples to the west and to the religion of the Edo people to the east. In the Yoruba religion, after death the guardian soul arrives in the heaven and confesses to the Olodumare what it's done on Earth. The good souls will then be sent to the Good Heaven (Orun Rere). The souls of the wicked will be sent to the Bad Heaven (Orun Buburu) as punishment. Yoruba deities (Orisa) include wind goddess (Oya), divination or fate (Ifá), destiny (Eleda), twins (Ibeji), medicines and healing (Osanyin) and goddess of fertility, protector of children and mothers (Osun) and the God of thunder (Ṣangó). 

There are no single ethnic group called or calling themselves Wurkun, it is a generic term covering a number of groups; Kulung, Piya, Kwanci, Kode, mainly living in the hilly region in the western Muri Mountains. The name *Wurkun* is Jukun in origin and simply means ‘people of the hills”. 

Good condition. Fragment. Age-related heavy wear. Series of parallel splits in wood running across the figure. Traces of ceremonial use and handling over many years. Cracks and fractures. Figure has been eaten away by extensive insect damage creating imbalance in figures support. Remnants of libations. Size approx. 26,0cm x 5,8cm x 5,8cm (excluding the modern base).

Provenance: Swedish private collection

References and further reading:

Encyclopedia of the Ibeji, Fausto Polo, Ibeji Art, 2008.

The Historiography of Yoruba Myth and Ritual, Andrew Apter, History in Africa, Vol. 14, 1987, Published by Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-25.

The Yoruba, Art & Life in Africa, University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art.

The Study of Yoruba Religious Tradition in Historical Perspective, Jacob K. Olupona, Numen, Vol. 40, No. 3, Sep., 1993, pp. 240-273.

Art of the Yoruba, Moyo Okediji, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2, African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago (1997), pp. 164-181+198.

Ibeji Images of the Yoruba, Marilyn Hammersley Houlberg, African Arts, Vol. 7, No. 1, Autumn 1973, Published by UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center, pp. 20-27+91-92.

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