This remarkable object was made by the Dakakari people. It is highly unusual in being non-figurative, as pieces such as this – which were used to decorate the apices of large ceramic vessels from which they have since become detached – are usually zoomorphic or anthropomorphic. It comprises a large disc with geometric patterning around the perimeter and on each side. It has a double point on the apex, and stands on a complex round base with curved columns supporting the main disc. The patterns appear to be abstract, although they also bear a certain resemblance to roof supports or ladders in the Dogon style. The disc format is also reminiscent of high-level prestige pombibele from the Senudo, which have sun-discs such as this arranged as haloes atop the heads of the pounder figures.
The Dakakiri people of NW Nigeria are a little-studied group that is 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.
The significance of this particular representation is uncertain, and cannot be accurately identified without context. However, the nature of such items generally revolves around plays on words or names, mythological characters, or even just an affectionate gesture towards the dead. The cosmological potentialities of the piece should also be considered. This is a rare and important piece of African art.