Okeshi (Fertility Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

The Eloyi (also known as Afo) of present-day Nigeria, live north of the Benue River, in the south-east foothills of Nasarawa state.

Much remains unknown about the work created by the artists of the region but the Eloyi are famous for maternity figures said to promote female, land, and animal fertility. These figures—called omoguru or moguru in the villages of Ombi, Ushini, Ondawayo, meweshi or okeshi in the villages Ubbe and Kana, and anyakeri in Odu village—are owned by the entire village and are housed in eshi shrines when not in use. They are often replaced with new carvings when considered too old.

During annual Aya fertility festivals, held by the Alanya Beshi (or Ngorongoro) society, okeshi figures are brought out and sacrifices are presented to the figures with the hope that blessings are offered in return.

NOTE: These figures have previously been attributed to Yoruba artists. Recent research however suggests that they may have been created and used by others in various ethnic groups of the Lower Benue Valley region of Nigeria. Doubts have been cast to the singular Eloyi attribution.

NOTE: Although these objects can sometimes look like stools, they are not to sit upon, but are either to dance around or to bear aloft.

Distinguishing Features

  • Crested hairstyle
  • Stylised face
  • Downward pointed breasts
  • Female figure can be seated or standing, with our without children
    • Seated holding a bowl on her head with children
    • Standing with a bowl on her head and with children
    • Standing with no children (but still attributed with the same power)
    • Rarer yet are examples of two female figures forming the supports for a stool
  • Where children depicted:
    • Child on back or lap of female figure
    • Can include up to three children
  • Prominent facial and body scarification
    • Incised linear lines, geometric shapes and animal motifs
    • Deep longitudinal, often parrallel scarifications on cheeks and breasts
  • Flat, wide feet usually planted on round pedestal

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