Edjo Re Akare (Spirit Figure)

Oni Emo ('Mother of Children')

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Urhobo believe that elements of nature such as land, forests, air and water contain spirits (called edjo) and these spirits are believed to hold power over nature and provide protection to a community from attack from another village or from malicious spirits in the realm of the dead (erivwi).

To attract, honour and house these spirits, figures, staffs and masks are created. Carved figures called edjo re akare (meaning 'spirits in carved form') are believed to be the physical manifestation of these edjo spirits. Depicted as mythical warriors and female figures, edjo spirits are also believed to be the ancestors of founding fathers and mothers of a specified community. Sacrifices are offered to the figures and annual celebrations are held to re-enact the battles fought by founding fathers to establish the community. During these annual festivals, the figures are usually painted red, black and yellow and covered in white chalk (orhe). It is believed that the white chalk purifies the figures and links the edjo spirits to the erivwi spiritual realm. When not in ritual use, the figures are housed in a shrine (oguan redjo) away from public view.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all edjo re akare figures:

  • Carved from a huge piece of hardwood
  • Standing and facing frontally
  • Figure depicted nude
  • Columnar head
  • Sweeping forehead
  • Some have forehead marks / keloids (iwu)
  • Crescent shaped eyes
  • Sharply incised eyes
  • Aggressive, biconvex, open mouth baring teeth
  • Jawline thrusts outwards
  • Shoulders back
  • Arms freed from the body
  • Arms bent at elbows
  • Back arched highlighting powerful torso

Sub-type variations (Oni Emo edjo re akare):

  • Baby suckling at mother’s breast
  • Hip of baby rests on cylindrical element on lower left side of stomach
  • Peaked hairstyle (igbeton or ibgetou, reserved for high ranking women)
  • Necklace over the chest and shoulders
  • Knees bent (or sometimes in a half seated pose)
  • Anklets of bronze (eromwon) worn by women of high status

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