The Igbo (Ibo) of the Northern Niger River Delta
are one of the largest and most important tribal
groups in West Africa. They are culturally highly
complex, with a political system based upon a
loose form of chiefdom/kingship in some areas,
and a democratic panel of decision-makers in
others. Social life was usually governed by a
number of secret societies. Their main god is
Chukwu (literally “Great Spirit”), the creator of
the world, who is also linked to the sun and all
that grows and lives. Social conduct is governed
by Ogu-na-Ofo, spirits who defend the innocent
against unjust charges. If a guilty person appeals
to them for help, they will be cursed by
Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning).
There are numerous other gods that deal with
issues as diverse as Ahia Njoku (yams) to Ikenga
(fortune and industry) and Agwu (medicine men).
Each person has a god named Chi, which is
essentially an embodiment of a person’s fate.
The Igbo are known for their artistic diversity,
due to the wide range of environments and local
histories to which their culture is exposed.
Standard sculpture includes Alusi figures – large,
public figures designed to embody the spirits of
significant gods – and also Ikenga figures, which
are kept on personal altars in private homes.
In the rest houses of the men (called M'bari) and
in sanctuaries, large sculpted figures are found,
such as this beautiful woman holding her baby.
The figures are often grouped in couples,
constructed according to the ideal family model:
husband, wife, and children. These Alusi statues
are usually painted red, yellow and white and are
given physical characteristics, such as
scarification, to show rank. The individuals
depicted are most often founding ancestors or
divinities of the village. The Alusi are highly
prized and carefully maintained. They are given
fresh coats of paint before important
ceremonies, when they are brought from the
sanctuaries dressed in traditional Ibo costumes.
The brilliant rose-red color on this striking Alusi
immediately catches our eye, and entrances us
with its aura of maternal love. The mother stands
very erect holding her baby with pride for all to
see. Both stare directly ahead, their faces painted
white with delicate red highlighting the mother's
lips, eyes and edging of the forehead. She wears
an amulet around her neck, probably for good
luck, and her hair is beautifully styled in flowing
waves. Though this delightful "portrait" may not
be modeled on specific individuals, it surely
depicts the ideal family image of maternal
dignity, happy childhood and close bonds
between mother and child- an image that is
inspiring, endearing and very lovely.