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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Dakakari Terracotta Zoomorphic Sculpture
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Dakakari Terracotta Zoomorphic Sculpture - PF.5135 (LSO)
Origin: Northern Nigeria
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 20 AD
Dimensions: 23" (58.4cm) high x 11.5" (29.2cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Dakakari
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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This schematic rendering of an animal – perhaps an elephant – to judge from the break on the face – was made by the Dakakari people. It is a large-bodied creature, with long legs, a short neck, a ridge down the centre of the back, a small tail and bands of detailing at the junctions of the limbs, neck and around the underside of the head. The clay is pale in colour, and very hard-fired. The position of the feet indicates that it was once attached to a spherical vessel; the reason for this is explained below.

The Dakakiri peoples of NW Nigeria are a little-studied group that are primarily known for their unusual funerary traditions. The standard practice was to bury individuals with a range of plain pottery for their use in the afterlife. However, it is the burials of the higher status individuals from the tribe – including their chiefs and their retinue – that give rise to the production of the Dakakiri’s major contribution to the corpus of African art history. Prestige individuals are buried in stone-lined shaft tombs; the sealed tops of these tombs are ringed around with stone walls to create a small enclosure.

Skilled potters are then commissioned to create sculptural vessels, with plain, spherical bases that are buried into the underlying soil, and with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic superstructures that commemorate the deceased. The deceased are venerated annually by pouring libations of maize flour or beer over the pots. The trade was usually kept within families; experience was all-important – the most prestigious potters were often post-menopausal women. Every person who dies in an elite family has another piece – or pieces – dedicated to them and placed within the superstructure over time, these collections can build up considerably, marking the development of the family throughout generations.

Elephants are the most prestigious of all animals for the Dakakari, and vessels depicting them are only placed on the tombs of chiefs or elite hunters. This is a rare and important piece of African art.

- (PF.5135 (LSO))


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