Ikenga (‘Right Hand’ Altar Figure)

Ikenga Madu (Community)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


These figures, ikenga (meaning 'place of strength'), are found across Igboland and are associated with the worship of one’s right hand, aka ikenga (the Igbo believe that the right hand represents a male's source of power, economic success and physical prowess as it is in the right that that he holds his hoe, sword and tools of workmanship). Ikenga figures are also used to store the owner’s chi (personal god), his ndichie (ancestors) and his ike (power).

Placed in personal shrines, ikenga figures are worshiped and honoured with offerings and sacrifices before any Igbo male completes a goal. Through these sacrifices, it is hoped that the spirit of the owner’s right hand will enable him be successful in his endeavours.

Ikenga figures are found in a variety of styles, the size and form usually being an indication of owner status. There are three main types of ikenga; 1) ikenga madu (fully developed human figure with horns, seated on a stool. These include the sub-types of ‘warrior’, ‘titleholder' and 'community' ikengas), 2) ikenga alusi (cylinder with horns), 3) ntu aga (small and simple found in different shapes). "Offerings made to [the community] ikenga were intended to support the success of the group’s endeavors rather than the personal ventures of its members. Communal ikenga were also ceremonially paraded at the annual ikenga festival in a show of community solidarity when all males born during the previous year were presented."1

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all ikenga figures:

  • Made of wood
  • Human figure with sharp horns (horns symbolise power)
  • This is sometimes reduced to only a head with horns on a base
  • Some horns are straight, others are spiral, and others even more elaborate

Sub-type variations (Ikenga Madu - Community ikenga):

  • Height can be greater than 1 meter
  • Builds upon the warrior ikenga form but more elaborate
  • Seated figure often holds a tusk (okike) in the left hand and a staff (nsuagilign) in the right
  • Facial marks usually carved onto face (ichi)
  • Has a superstructure on a disk base supporting animal and/or human figures (can include rams, leopards, snakes)
  • Some superstructures consist of two horns circling the sides of the head and continuing upwards to form another circle terminating in snake heads

Share this