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. Rather than simple
interments, prestige individuals are buried in
stone-lined shaft tombs with prominent
superstructures that serve to mark the family
grave and to remind the living of their ancestors.
Skilled potters are commissioned to create
sculptures of the deceased, which are placed
within the superstructure and venerated annually
with libations of maize flour or beer that are
poured over them in memory of the deceased.
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
The current piece
is clearly modelled upon a man of some
distinction, clad in what is clearly non-utilitarian
– and therefore probably ceremonial – garb, in a
triumphal pose atop a rounded plain ceramic
base. The manner in which the piece is modelled
probably reflects the fact that it was meant to be
viewed from above – hence the figure’s upturned
face and the high quality of the detailing on its
upper half. The face and physique are those of a
well-nourished individual, with the usual
implications for his status. The eyes are
protuberant, with a long trilobate nose, and a
wide-open mouth. The hair is depicted as a
series of raised bumps across the top of the
forehead (and along the sagittal plane), and the
rounded cheeks are marked with scarifications
running from beneath the eye to the jawline.
The lower limbs are semi-clad in what appear to
be European-style short trousers, while the torso
is loosely wrapped in what appears to be a long
cloth roll almost resembling a harness that is
crossed across the chest and back and gathered
at the waist. The manner in which the relief is
modelled makes it likely that further complexity
was originally depicted, but that this was
heightened with colour that has not survived.
There is a large diademic form in the lower
aspect of the chest, which is linked in some way
to the harness-like clothing. The arms are non-
naturalistic, the hands placed upon the chest.
The legs are curved, and also non-naturalistic,
running down to feet depicted with very clearly
marked and elongated toes. The whole figure is
standing atop a orb decorated lightly with
incised markings. The figure is formed from a
light-coloured ceramic with an even firing
distribution, and is well conceived, dramatically
modelled and well preserved.
pieces are rarely seen, and comparatively little is
known about the groups from which they come.
This, therefore, constitutes an opportunity for
the discerning collector to obtain a true rarity.
- (PF.1503B (LSO))