Duein Fubara (Ancestor Memorial Screen)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Kalabari Ijo began creating ancestral screens during the nineteenth century as a way to honour, memorialise and communicate with deceased leaders of 'war canoe houses'. Called duein fubara (sometimes written as duen), the name of these memorials translates to 'forehead of the dead'. Its meaning originates from the Kalabari Ijo’s belief that the so, the fate that governs a person’s fortunes, resides in one’s forehead.

The duein fubara are installed inside a trading house’s primary meetinghouse. These ancestral screens take on a sculptural quality, intended to provide a form of mediation. The sculptural quality of the duein fubara fixes its position, allowing a means by which control may be exerted over disembodied spiritual beings.

The screens have elaborate designs, perhaps to recall the material, social and personal wealth of the tycoons who headed these trading houses. The imagery of these screens typically depicts ancestors of chief lineages. The intricate construction of these devices is telling of the immense amount of cultural exchange that the Kalabari Ijo experienced as a result of centuries of trade.

European vessels arrived at the coast of the Niger Delta in the late fifteenth-century. European practices influenced the Kalabari Ijo’s artistic practices, as evidenced by the construction and shape of these screens. The rectangular format might suggest exposure to European prints and photographs. The joinery is indicative of the Kalabari Ijo’s knowledge of European carpentry.

Around 1915, Garrick Braide, an iconoclastic Kalabari Christian prophet, destroyed numerous ancestral masks. However, duein fubara are still being produced to this day with offerings made to them at least once every eight days.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood, strips of bamboo, wicker, pigment, and iron
  • Strips and wood tied or nailed to rectangular background
  • Screens made of pieces of wood held together using shipbuilding techniques such as joinery, ties, pegs, and nails
  • Central figure attached to middle of screen (representing deceased leader)
  • Size of the main figure's head is greatly exaggerated
  • Central figure flanked by smaller descendant figures
  • Figures face front
  • Figures have limbs attached to body by raffia
  • Figures usually dressed in Indian cloth and depicted wearing headdresses (or European-style top hats)
  • Figures hold accessories (associated with authority, rivalry, or war)
  • Most also wear miniature masquerade headpieces
  • Heads attached to top of screen (representing members of traders' guild or Ekine secret society)
  • Traces of colour pigment on some screens

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