The Urhobo inhabit the western edge of the Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria. Until the 1960s, Urhobo culture was little-known in the Western world, owing to Urhoboland's low-lying mangrove swamps and heavy rainfall which made access difficult. At the center of Urhobo art are monumental male or female statues, called edjo re akare, or "spirits in carved form", which commemorate semi-mythic village-founding warrior heroes. Urhobo figures were densely arranged in small, enclosed shrine buildings where they were visited daily, weekly, and annually for consecration rites. In his discussion of the Rosekrans and related figures, the leading authority on Urhobo statuary, Perkins Foss (2004: 81), notes: "The largest, most powerful examples of Urhobo imagery are over-life-size statues, forming families of ancestor spirits – the founding men and women of a community whose powers and fame were such that in time they were elevated to the status of edjo. Looming in darkened shrines, they [were] hidden from public view for all but a few days of the year [...]. These statues reflect a contradiction inherent in much of Urhobo art: they are held to be both fearsome (to mortals) and beautiful (to the spirit world). "
The Rosekrans statue, at six feet eight inches height one of the largest of its kind, has been photographed in situ in 1969 (Foss 1976, fig. 1) and is one of the few African artworks that can be placed within its exact cultural context, the ejdo shrine at Ogherehe (or Eherhe), a town in the Agbarho region near the Warri River. The Rosekrans figure comes from a group of eleven which commemorate the founding members of the local Agbon clan, and depicts the Owedjebo himself. He is shown as a powerful warrior in a commanding pose: with chest inflated and the arms bent at right angles, half-sitting and half-standing, a stance frequently seen in Urhobo statuary. Paraphernalia faithful to those worn by Urhobo warriors reinforce the impression of military prowess: the left hand holds a spear pointed at the ground, in a gesture toward the earth spirits, and the right hand once held a cutlass (visible in the 1969 photograph), in a display of mortal aggression. Thick bracelets and anklets represent the polished ivory ornaments for which the Urhobo are famous. The stylistic rendering of a triple necklace indicates that the wearer is an initiate into the title society ohonvworhin, and the central pendant is a calabash filled with magical medicinal herbs. Around the waist is a "belt of war", igbele re ophovwi, comprised of a leather tube stuffed with magical herbal substances for healing, and is centered upon three bells for use in battle. The ibiakoresi, a necklace adorned with bush-pig tusks, and the top hat are marks of prestige (cf. Foss 2004: 74), the latter adopted from European dress. When in ritual use, this figure was coated with white chalk, orhe, signifying purity and linking it to the spiritual realm.
Several monumental Urhobo figures are today in major institutional collections, including the Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. no. "96.1.102") and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
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