Edjo Re Akare (Spirit Figure)

Warrior Ancestor

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 (Warrior edjo re akare):

  • Monumental male figure (in some cases larger than life-size)
  • Elongated and prominent chest
  • Prominent naval
  • Figure depicted wearing a number of ritual items related to warfare, prestige and titleholders including (NOTE: figures do not always feature all of the below listed attributes. They can have one, many or all features carved in a single piece):
    • Some later (19th century) figures feature European colonial bowler hats
    • Beaded single or triple necklace (agigo; indicates that the wearer is an initiate into the title society ohonvworhin)
    • Necklace (Ibiakoresi) with bush-pig tusks added (sign of prestige)
    • Cylindrical bead (ophara) worn at the neck
    • Small central gourd pendant (ukokogho or igbele re eteri meaning 'medicine for the chest' containing protective medicines)
    • Prominent tubular 'belt for war' (igbele re ophovwi) around waist with attached medicine bundles
    • Left hand holds a spear (oshue) pointed at the ground (in a gesture toward the earth spirits)
    • Right holds a cutlass (opia) / or a sword (abere) pointed upwards
    • Elephant tusk anklets (ukoro)
    • Ivory bracelets (ikoro) on each arm
    • Apron (buluku) with cowries (igho) tied to it
    • Metal rattles (ugherighe)
    • Sometimes sat in cylindrical stool and in some figures depicted half sitting and half standing with knees bent

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