Iphri (Male Aggression Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

It is common among Urhobo men and women to build and maintain personal shrines called orhan or the plural erhan. These shrines are intended to protect against adversity and bring good health, wealth and happiness.

Shrines often contain carved artworks depicting destiny, wealth and aggression. Of the three, aggression is the most elaborately depicted concept, with artworks displaying leaders, hunters and warriors.

In the southern villages of Urhoboland, aggression is depicted as a complex artistic metaphor. In this instance, the control of aggression has a physical form known as iphri. The iphri embodies both the positive and negative values of aggression — the defensive and the offensive. These statues are owned throughout Urhobo society, from the youngest infant to the most senior elder.

The Urhobo believe that when a newborn baby first cries out, it is announcing all of their hopes and dreams for life. These sentiments are then incorporated into the iphri.

As well as controlling aggression, an Urhobo may keep an iphri for several other reasons. The statutes are also believed to be a means to control social improprieties or to provide guidance during litigation and arguments.

When ritually fed food and drink with accompanying prayers, the iphri is also thought to help its owner regain lost skills or powers or to protect against outside hostility. However, in most cases, iphri ownership is for support during warfare.

The iphri of great warriors are usually maintained by family and other villagers long after the owner’s death. By continuing to serve the iphri, the warrior’s defendants are commemorating him and continuing to protect against outside aggression.

Distinguishing Features

  • Elaborately rendered
  • Single figure (sometimes accompanied by two or more supportinging figures) sits or stands atop abstract quadruped creature
  • Huge quadrangular mouth
  • Large, threatening teeth
  • Two pointed ears
  • Body of quadruped plain and unembellished
  • Body of quadruped assumes variety of shapes:
    • Reclining cylinder
    • Sphere
    • Box
  • Abdomen of central human figure reads as teeth and mouth
  • Four outward-flaring legs
  • Legs have small faces at knees of front pair

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