Only really discovered by the West in the early 60s, the traditional use of Mumuye lagana figures (also called jagana, iagalagana or supa among Southern Mumuye and janari in the North) is still not very clear. A number of sources point to varied and sometimes contradictory uses of these figures - healing, prestige, protection and/or divination.
For example, in the book Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley2, Arnold Rubin describes how among the Southern Mumuye people, lagana figures are used by diviners for healing purposes; the figures are consulted to determine the cause and appropriate cure for illnesses and misfortunes such as fertility problems and smallpox. However Arnold Rubin also mentions that these same figures are also used to support elders and chiefs within a given community; it is believed that janari figures ensure the wellbeing of the community by offering protection from drought and disease.
This observation is inline with Jan Strybol's—he states that "figurative sculpture enhanced the influence and reputations of leaders and religious specialists in Mumuye society by furthering their efforts to predict the future, heal the sick, and make rain fall."3 This description overlaps somewhat with Barry Hecht's description of supa figures used as a symbol of status by elders.1 Supa figures are indistinguishable from the figures used by diviners but instead of providing protection for the community, supa figures are instead used to highlight the prestige and authority of their owners.
Finally, some sources point to Mumuye lagana figures as physical representations of ancestors; they are used as vessels to facilitate communication with ancestors and spirits. What's clear is that more research needs to be done to identify the role these Mumuye figures play in their traditional setting.
Mumuye lagana figures come in a wide variety of forms. However the below are common features of these figures: