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Post Lot Text
The Andy Williams Igbo couple
By Herbert M. Cole
The male and female Igbo couple, with arms around one another, was almost certainly carved between 1925 and 1960 by Jidobu of Umuagba Ebenebe, a village near Awka in southeastern Nigeria. This attribution is by comparison with a group firmly documented by Kenneth C. Murray in the National Museum Archives, Lagos, Nigeria, and illustrated as figure 205 in Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos, Los Angeles, 1984. Both figures' feet, the lower legs of the female, and the presumed base on which they stood are missing as are parts of the male's left arm and the object probably held in the female's right hand, more than likely an umbrella. Nearly life size, the figures were carved from a single piece of wood. They are frontally posed and slender, somewhat attenuated. Their exaggeratedly long necks are an attribute considered very beautiful in the aesthetics of the Igbo people. The female's slightly protruding navel is also held as attractive.
Large figures of this type are called "ugonachomma", which translates as "the eagle seeks out beauty." In the first decades of the 20th century, such figures or groups were commissioned by male and female age-grades and displayed as their symbols of identity and rallying points during dry season dance festivals and their competitions among rival villages as well as age-grades of different levels. They were wholly secular, as signaled by their poses - more informal, less conventionalized than deity figures, alusi, which were commissioned for placement in the shrines of all-purpose tutelary spirits. Their generic name - the eagle seeking beauty -- is a somewhat cryptic reference to both youthful maidens and titled men. The mature white fish eagle, an Igbo root symbol, can refer to both, to the purity of whiteness attributed ideally to both, although the eagle is actually the male and several years older than the girl, who typically seeks out a lovely, unsullied maiden to marry. While quite impossible in every instance, most Igbo men preferred to have wives of lighter skin color.
This "classic" Igbo male/female interaction is also played out in masquerades that might appear at the same dry season events or at the second burial festivals of prominent men or women. The handsomeness of both figures is signaled as well by the ornaments they wear. Mbubu are the slightly raised keloidal scars on the female. The delicate, cursive body patterns - although weathered and partly washed away - are called uli. They were painted in an indigo decoction by women over a skin slightly whitened with a chalky wash. Some of these dark designs are thankfully still visible. Uli is a celebratory cosmetic affected for festivals and lasting on the skin for about two weeks before fading out. Circular segments of elephant tusk ivory are carved on the arms and legs of both figures, and the young woman wears (carved versions of) spiraling brass leglets, as well as (carved) clusters of waist beads once affected by all young women. Her hairstyle, with a single crest decorated with (carved) sheet brass circlets, prevailed among maidens for much of the early 20th century and is also seen in maiden masks.
Idealized, the embracing couple stands as an exemplar of youthful Igbo beauty and vigor, tall, stately and finely embellished with classic ornaments.