Ikenga (‘Right Hand’ Altar Figure)

Ikenga Madu (Titleholder)

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).

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 - Titleholder ikenga):

  • Figure sat on a three-legged stool (awka stool typically reserved for high-ranking individuals)
  • Seated figure often holds a tusk (okike) in the left hand and a staff (nsuagilign) in the right
  • "A superstructure usually also consists of references to animals. One prominent animal used on the titleholder ikenga figures is the leopard, agu, the king of the animals and an emblem of the political authority of a titled man. Many elaborate examples display a whole figure of a ram, or at least a full head. Snakes, birds, and turtles may also be included on the ikenga."2
  • Facial marks usually carved onto face (ichi)
  • Usually has a row of pointed projections flanking the head, usually three or another odd number on each side

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