Osanmasinmi (Ram’s Head Altarpiece)

By: Adenike Cosgrove

Description

Primarily found in the Owo region of Yorubaland, carved ram’s heads / or human heads with horns (osanmasinmi) adorn ancestral altars and shrines (ojupo) of royals, chiefs and Yoruba leaders. Osanmasinmi heads honour ancestors and “are thought to embody the chief and his powers to bestow fertility and success on his people”.3 The shrines served as dedicated locations through which living chiefs and royals could communicate with passed ancestors during yam harvests.

Osanmasinmi heads take the form of rams as it is believed that their aggressive nature provide protection for their families. Rams are also revered for their strength and vigilance (second in important to elephants in Yorubaland).4

Distinguishing Features

  • Wooden rams heads or human heads with ram horns
  • Faceted circular / disc-shaped base
  • Crowned by a massive pair of grooved horns
  • Human form:
    • Narrow head with expressive facial features
    • Others have features of a young woman
    • Carved with a ringed neck
    • Big eyes, bulging pupils, framing eyelashes, flat nose
    • Broad teeth-revealing mouth with filed incisors below