Post Lot Text
In 1966 and 1967, this statue was the central image of the ovughere shrine in the town of Ovu Inland, Delta State, Nigeria. The nine statues within the shrine building (oguan r'edjo), located near the center of the town, depicted the members of the Ovughere family who were, many ages ago, said to be responsible for the founding of the community. They were remembered as fierce warriors who were said to have possessed supernatural powers that made them invulnerable in battle. As is consistent with Urhobo spiritual belief, these magical powers, generically called edjo, continued to maintain the moral fabric and welfare of the community.
This statue depicts the onotu, or warrior-leader of the Ovughere family. He hold in his left hand a sword (ada) and in his right hand a spear (oshue); they are displayed in a manner consistent with comparable imagery from the Royal court of Benin: the sword is a positive force, aimed upwards toward the sky, and the spear, expressing negative aggression, points downward to the earth. Across his chest is a band of beads (agigo) signifying his membership in the ohonvworhen leadership society. The feathers that he wears behind his right ear are those of the white vulturine fish-eagle (ugo ufuafon); they indicate membership in the ogbu warrior society.
The top hat helps in the assignment of a date for this work of art. Popular in the second half of the nineteenth century, these hats were introduced by European visitors; quickly they became adopted by Urhobo leadership, and in turn, they became a standard part of edjo imagery.
The shrine for Ovughere was one of a number of large groups of edjo imagery within the Agbon Village group. This area attained significant wealth in the mid-nineteenth century, through the palm oil trade on the Warri, Ughelli and Ethiope Rivers. These shrines probably were established in an earlier era; however oral history records that it was at this time that these exceptionally large images were produced.
The writer would like to acknowledge the kind assistance and support of the late Chief T. E. A. Salubi and his family for facilitating access to the Ovughere shrine, and for arranging permission for photography as well.
For further commentary on Urhobo shrine imagers, see Perkins Foss, Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art, New York and Ghent, 2004.
Further information on Benin art is available in Paula Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin, London, Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by the British Museum Press, 1995.