all photos by the author, except where otherwise noted
a file of supplemental images (Figures A–ZZ) is available at http://international.ucla.edu/media/files/craven-supplement-hz-nzi.pdf
This paper reports on a survey of Eloyi art and material culture carried out in just a few months from April to June 1969, and January to mid-February 1970, while I was curating the Jos Museum and then establishing the new Kaduna Museum. Essentially the survey was to record, photograph, and purchase works of art and material culture for the national collection at Jos, to note the associated Eloyi terminology and context, and to photograph important immovable shrines and figures still utilized by the people. Acquisitions included replaceable items that were gifted by their owners, a few commissioned from the makers, and the rest purchased.
Since the survey was conducted, the attitude to objects associated with the old religions in West Africa as a whole has changed. A huge market has developed and encouraged the local purchase of original works, and the talented reproduction of sculptures for overseas buyers, especially by artist-craftspeople with a knowledgeable eye for detail from other cultural backgrounds. Some opportunists have seen that they can make money from the products of previous generations, regardless of ethical concerns or “cultural copyright.”
Hopefully, this record of the several communities within the Eloyi area between Nasarawa and Loko on the Benue River may be of use to future generations researching their heritage. It is all the more essential, now that some of the sculptures photographed in 1969/70, which are of considerable cultural significance, have been removed from their context and sold to foreign collectors in Europe and the US. The oral history associated with such items tragically rarely travels with them (Figs. 1–2).
THE ELOYI (AFO)
The Eloyi people (also known as Afo, a name given them by their Islamic Hausa neighbors) live north of the Benue River and east of the Niger-Benue confluence in Nigeria, to the southeast of Nasarawa. At the time of this study (1969/70) Nasawara was part of Benue-Plateau State, the capital of which was Jos. It is now in Nasarawa State, to which it has given its name, but the state capital is Lafia to the east.
The Eloyi1 belong to the Benue Valley complex mixture of cultures (see Berns, Fardon, and Kasfir 2011). Their area is bordered by, or in some areas mixed with, speakers of Alago (to the east), Agatu, Bassa, Gwari (Gbari), Hausa, and Egbira. They, like other groups, have been adopting Islam and the Hausa language for some years, and knowledge of the Eloyi language (Niger-Congo family) is fast disappearing as members of the older generation die.
Their society was not centralized or stratified, but a fluid one where each village, made up of several extended family compounds built within distinct sections (agirika), was governed by a group of elders (mbakuse) who elected an overall chief (osu) from among themselves. The osu was supported by a series of role-holders who, in age-groups and societies associated with named masquerades (e.g. ngorangorang dance groups and Ekpo ancestor masquerades), moved up the ranks or into other roles as their elders aged and died. A chief could be succeeded on death by his son (though not inevitably the eldest) or by a respected elder whom the others might prefer. Disputes could result in divisions, and a man might decide to set up an independent agirika within the village area or to leave and move to a different place altogether. It was therefore difficult to draw up a map of locations fixed over time in the Eloyi area. Each village and section had its own ritual places and shrines with associated paraphernalia and masquerades, and a religious leader (osu oseshi or eboshi wako) responsible for the sites and the spirits they represented.
Eloyi identity overall was the product of conflict and migration through the centuries and was recorded in their oral history. Although details varied, Eloyi informants spoke independently of their belief that their origins were bound up with the “Beriberi,” a nickname for the Kanuri people to the northeast with whom they shared a vague history, but not a language. The Kanuri called the Eloyi “Aho,” a word I was told meant “let us go away and rest.” The old men spoke of how the Eloyi separated from the Beriberi after conflict and fled from a place called Kukawa (also Birnin Kazargamo or Gazargamu) where the two groups had lived together. The Eloyi had considered the Beriberi “brothers” (the Beriberi were “sons of the male” while the Eloyi were “sons of the female”), but after the separation, they viewed them as “slaves” (a “joking relationship” which reflects social structure and not merely an attitude of superiority). Even if these multiple accounts might be interpreted as a common mythical charter, it is important that the belief is recorded.2
This split with the Beriberi is likely to have occurred before the Fulani jihad of the nineteenth century. By 1835 the Eloyi were already in the hills near their present location when Nasarawa town was established by the Hausa in the western part of their area. Considering the oral records of leadership succession, it was likely that the separation coincided with the earlier breakup of the Kwararafa or “Apa” confederacy (the first term not actually referred to by any informant): There was a “horse” war with Bornu some time in the seventeenth century which dispersed several cultures. From the shared land “beyond Makurdi,” one informant vaguely indicated, the Muslim Beriberi were said to have moved north, while groups of Eloyi moved west and into the hills, some via settlements named Kokona (now Gwandara), and Oyini.
To confirm this former link with the Beriberi or Kanuri, one elderly man described his facial marks as being similar to those of the Beriberi (Figs. 3–4), facial scarification which is also exhibited by the Afo maternity figure in the Horniman Museum (Phillips 1995:368–69). This style of face mark, however, is also seen on masks and figures from cultural groups south of the Benue (see the Yoruba maternity figure in Trowell and Nevermann 1968:123). Temple (1919:1–2) mentions a possible late nineteenth century migration of a group of “Afao” down river to “Budon” where they became known as Kakanda, and describes their identical “tribal marks” as “two deep cuts on each side of the face from the temples to the corners of the mouth; which has latterly been modified to two deep cuts from the bridge of the nose to the cheeks, the side marks having been abandoned.”
According to Alhaji Jibrin Mairiga Idris, late ninth Emir of Nasarawa, himself of Eloyi descent (hereafter Alhaji Idris), the Eloyi passed through Agba in the kingdom of Apa (now Jukun), possibly as early as the seventeenth century.3 Elaborating on the link with the Jukun,4 he described a dispute over a ritual earth figure in the southern village of Iga which, during the local wars, had been taken across the Benue by one faction, where it was captured by the Agatu. The Eloyi wanted it back. Alhaji Idris, when he was a local councilor, took the figure for identification to Wukari, where it had first been obtained by the Eloyi. There, he said, it was recognized by its name, although he did not give it. Two new copies were made, and the original was retained by the Aku Uka (king of the Jukun). Eloyi compounds and agirika were, however, not dependent on the Jukun for their earth shrines but commissioned their own Eloyi specialists to create protective earthen composite figures for the household. Alhaji Idris wished to emphasize that the Eloyi5 were only under the ritual, not political, influence of the Jukun. For instance, the masquerade Odadu (Figs. 33, V), which comes out at the death of important men, is recognized as very ancient, “coming from Wukari,” and among the Eloyi, Jukun, and Alago shares the same gown as well as the word of praise “ashema” used to address Odadu. I got a sense that the Eloyi linked this masquerade and the protective earth shrines more closely to Jukun tradition, but did not do so for the carved wooden female figures associated with women's (and therefore the lineage's) fertility.
Elders in several villages recounted to me very precisely the number of years each named osu had headed their community and who had succeeded him, the total sometimes reaching between 100 and 200 years. They had a historic memory of moving not as single individuals but as groups of related families or an elder with his adherents, from the area further east, from the hills to lower land, some south across the Benue and then back north again, depending on external threats, population pressure, relations between families, potential farmland spotted by roving hunters, and later, colonial influence. One informant wrote that the initial migration southwest or west was led by Onukpo, who established the first Eloyi settlement in the hills, Kana, where he found acceptable land. When his fourth son (of five) was made leader on Onukpo's death, the three older brothers moved out: Ezokpo about seven miles north to found Onda; Oguma about three miles south to establish Apawu; and Kama west to a spot roughly six miles south of present-day Nasarawa, to establish Ogofa “far off” on a hill. The migrating Eloyi groups took refuge in these rocky hills to avoid the attacks of the nineteenth century Fulani jihads and the Hausa-Fulani slave-raiding horsemen of Keffi and Zaria, moving when it was safer down into better agricultural land where it was also easier to keep their horses (onya), or back into the protected sites as warranted. These sites remained identifiable, either by shrines, remains of stone walls, corrals, or defensive ditches (Figs. A–B). I was told that if a present-day village did not have a defensive ditch, then it could not be more than 100 years old.
GLOSSARY OF ELOYI TERMS
Aduwo: cowries, used in the payment of tribute, and also as decoration
Agbede: corral for horses in hill settlements
Agirika: village section made up of a group of related extended family compounds, but could also include non-relatives who opt to join through friendship
Aloda: men's society; members older than ngorangorang youth, cross-cut other male groupings; members danced in line stamping their iron staffs (odagi) with bells attached during ceremonies for the death of one of their members
Ashema: greeting or word of praise used to address Odadu; used also by the Jukun and Alago
Eboshi wako: religious leader responsible for compound or village shrines
Ekpo: masquerade that whipped with long sticks anyone it encountered as it ran at speed through the village and surrounding bush
Eloyi Mbambu: Lowland Eloyi (Hausa: Afon Kasa)
Eloyi Mbeki: Hill Eloyi (Hausa: Afon Dutse)
Enga: horns attached to large iron bell (kogbo); bushcow
Epa: divination (“looking into the future”)
Eshi: shrines, ritual figures
Ezaka: horns attached to smaller iron bell; antelope (harnessed)
Kagingoma/kajingomwa: female figures (“gathering of men and women”; kagi “stool”); Onyakeri/Anyakeri, it was suggested, referred to village section Keri as place of origin
Kogbo (pl. agbo): iron bell carried by ngorangorang members
Kokolo: pod used to smooth pot walls
Kokpo: piece of wet leather used to smooth pot rim
Kotyo, kwotyo: metal cap or crest headpiece
Kumburukpa: seed pod from the umburukpa tree; voice disguise used by Iyo
Kunungwekpo: Ekpo masquerade's ritual house
Kunungweshi: men's ritual room, base for ngorangorang dancers
Mbakuse: group of male elders
Ngorangorang: junior age-grade of young males, aged 6–30 or so, who carried iron bells with animal horns attached; also used synonymously for the sound produced by the bells; they danced or processed during funerals of elderly men, and at eyya ceremonies during February and March, the dry season
Oba: large pot drum with monitor lizard-skin membrane
Odadu: masquerade associated with blacksmiths that appeared at dry-season funerals; wears the same gown as the Odadu masquerades of the Jukun and Alago
Odagi: iron dance staff for older men's aloda society
Ofwi: spider's cocoon; covered hole in the end of a large seed pod used as Iyo's voice disguise
Okeshi/meweshi: ritual object or shrine (eshi)
Opepe: woven tray for winnowing, also used in dance by women
Orowo: ceremonies for the death of senior elderly men, held in the dry season
Osu: chief or head of village
Osu oseshi: religious leader responsible for compound or village shrines
Owuru: cotton thread
Oyya: wood cap or crest headpiece
Reku: smooth stone used for burnishing pot
Ubu: (“stomach”) widest part of a pot
Ubu: a type of basket
Udaba: entrance to compound
Ulanya: lowland place for keeping horses
Ungberi: small pot drum with monitor lizard-skin membrane
Of encounters during their migration, informants mentioned meeting only Bassa in the area. The Eloyi became subjects of the Emir of Zaria (Zazzau) and had to pay him tribute, at first in the form of cowries, which can still be found decorating objects. When the Hausa Makama Dogo came south from Zaria, he asked for land from the Eloyi who lived in that area of Kama (also known as Ogapa) and in 1835 he founded the town of Nasarawa, which remained a tributary to Zaria until 1902. The area west of the town had formerly been populated by Bassa, also attacked by the Hausa. The Eloyi then had to pay their tribute to the Emir of Zaria through Makama Dogo and Eloyi men were recruited for his army. The Hausa emirates continued to make war in the area: Men and women were captured and sent north for enslavement in the Zaria emirate, so Eloyi communities fled back into their hill settlements. In the southern parts of the Eloyi area, Hausa attacks forced whole towns to migrate across the Benue River. Alhaji Idris recounted how Akum was founded by a woman, Enaku (ene-aku, “the one who brought them together”) around 1890, with a population of 20–25,000 and some 900 horses. As the largest town in the area and with a defensive ditch, it was a particular challenge to Hausa slavers and the Fulani jihad. After being besieged for three years, the people of Akum decided to cross the river and established a walled town, Akum Keteri (now in Agatu District). Altogether the conflict in the area lasted over forty years, said Alhaji Idris, but finally the “Hausas” “won the war” in 1893. However, it was not clear whether they crossed the Benue, or whether the Fulani horsemen vanquished the communities on the north side; they certainly did not all convert to Islam.
After the British colonial regime took formal control in 1900, the Eloyi were encouraged or forced to leave their hill sanctuaries and move to the lower land, where farming was better and the people more accessible to the administration. In the case of Kana, it was said that the move was at the behest of a certain Captain Moloney, who was later murdered by the Hausa chief Magajin Keffi. Temple (1919) gives a figure for the Eloyi population living mainly in the Nasarawa District of 9,500. During the 1960s and 1970s, the population numbered around 7,000, whereas in 2000 it was estimated by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Lewis et al. 2015) to be 25,000, an increase reflected throughout the country.
Villages of the northern Eloyi Mbeki included Odu, Apawu, Agbada, Ego, Endo, Agyegu, Onda, and Kana (sometimes referred to as Eloyi and where the purest Eloyi was said to be spoken). All these villages were composed of a varying number of named sections, which could be mistaken for discrete independent villages. The villages of the southern Eloyi Mbambu included Akum, Akewa, Odeni (Udeni), Udeni Ruwa, Udeni Gida, Udegi Nkassa, Usha, Uvo, Ebe, Agbada, Usheni, and Yita. Loko on the Benue was not seen solely as an Eloyi town. It was known from which villages in the north the southern ones had come, though they changed their names as this was not merely a relocation to a fresh site. The people of Akum, for example, came originally from Kana, and then at the time of war migrated across the Benue to Anakpa,6 then to Akpanajja, then back to Akum after the Europeans arrived.
Until the early 1970s, the Eloyi Mbeki had a reputation as the main creative source of ritual carvings and shrines. The Eloyi Mbambu would obtain, though not exclusively, their fertility figures, masks, and earth sculptures from artists farther north, often on commission. The youth of a community might hear of a carver of masks, or see a mask they wanted copied, or find a mask for sale in a market and purchase it for their masquerade performances “for play,” or for orowo rituals held after the death of a male elder. Several of the masks recorded were from other cultural groups: For example, one Igala mask, Adagba, was bought in about 1965 in the southern town of Akum (Alakyo), and an Igbo mask, Edakogba, was bought at the end of 1968 by the youths of Kama (a northern village) from a man who had found it in an abandoned house after the Biafran war, when many looted Igbo objects were being traded.
Figures, on the other hand, were more likely to be acquired by elders. In both cases, the cost would be shared by members of the society or lineage. Masks and occasionally figures could also be borrowed within and between (probably related) village sections. However, the source or maker of masks and figures was not always known, and there was no living artist whose reputation stood out or whose name was quoted to me on a frequent basis.
The Eloyi Mbambu, with their own dialect, absorbed much more from other language groups around them and across the river, sometimes through intermarriage with Agatu, Jukun, and others, sometimes through historic wars and migrations over the Benue and accretions of different peoples as the towns grew. Mackay (1964) states they understood the Agatu dialect of Northern Idoma through their contacts with markets across the river and Agatu speakers living amongst them. The ancient trade route for salt, slaves, and tin from the hills to the northeast (an area now referred to as the Jos Plateau, where individual miners still work to extract what they can) had passed through or near what had become Eloyi land. Once founded, however, Nasarawa sidelined the northern Eloyi villages (e.g., Ita) on this caravan trail that reached the Benue River at Loko, continuing on to Ashoma, Oturkpo, and beyond. The southern Eloyi seem to have become a more mixed society, where informants were less clear and more diffident about their past history.
The crafts practiced by Eloyi men and women gave villages a certain self-sufficiency in domestic, agricultural, and ritual goods: buildings, cotton cloth, basketry, farming tools, pots, shrines, musical instruments, and masquerade costumes. What could not be produced locally would be purchased from Hausa traders and markets in Nasarawa and the surrounding area. In addition to food crops—yams (at least thirty-six named varieties), guinea corn, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, and vegetables for soup—cotton was also grown and processed by men, women, and boys into thread and sometimes dyed with indigo. It was said that in all villages each man knew how to weave, on a horizontal double-heddle loom (Fig. 5), a narrow strip of local white-and-blue cotton thread, each pattern with its own name (Fig. C). While I encountered only scattered older men actually weaving on a regular basis, the posts for looms and preparing warp threads remained under the trees on the edge of compounds.
Eloyi people also wove mats, baskets, small storage boxes, and winnowing or drying trays also used in dance. Odu was particularly famous for dry-season basket-making. They were dyers (Fig. 6); potters; carvers of tools, ritual masks, and figures; sculptors in wet earth of house furniture, bas reliefs (Fig. D), ritual figures and shrines (Figs. 36, Z–ZZ); and smiths.
Some significant brass cast pieces were owned by chiefs or elders: staffs (Figs. 7, E) similar to the Tiv staff in Berns, Fardon and Kasfir (2011:189), pipes, and headpieces. However, these were said to have been made by “forefathers,” or in a few cases attributed to Egbira Kwoto (Fig. 26). There were no longer any metal casters, only blacksmiths working iron. The only Eloyi person mentioned by name was one Olebe of Udeni, who it was said could make brass things. Then based in Akum, he used to travel for his work, but was now over 60 and retired, and I did not meet him. Iron bells (Fig. 8), dance staffs (Fig. 9), and other ceremonial pieces were acquired from itinerant Hausa blacksmiths if there was no local smith, although I was told that “all” villages had blacksmiths (Odu was said to have about eight). These Eloyi smiths were described as traders; because the Eloyi area had no local source of iron, the smiths had to procure their material from outside, either from south of the river or from Hausa merchants in Nasarawa. Apparently railway lines and petrol drums provided useful sources of iron. Another informant said all metal workers were itinerant and that the skill was passed down from father to son, though in some families the profession had been abandoned for farming. I came across two men who were resident smiths in the villages of Onda and Odu; the brother of one was also a smith and both had learned the trade from their father. In the Agboshiya section of Odu the blacksmith was second to the head there, a weaver. Iron bells, single and double, and aloda society staffs with bells (odagi) (Fig. 9) were all essential elements in funeral ceremonies for elderly men (orowo) and the ngorangorang dances of the youths (Fig. 8)—so named by Hausa, it was said, for the sound they produced (Leuzinger 1954). One man said he had been told that the Beriberi tied such ngorangorang bells round the necks of their horses when going into battle. These instruments would be handed down from a father, when he could no longer dance, to his son.
In several villages I photographed composite metal headpieces and hats made using a different technique—shaping, cutting, and possibly hammering pieces of objects of cast brass or a similar alloy (Fig. 10). Some were said to have been made by one Hausa smith in particular, Meloko of Loko (Fig. F). The style of hat, however, was attributed to earlier Eloyi artists. The same technique (not forging, as with iron) was also used for similar headpieces worn by the neighboring Gede masquerades, e.g., Chakotali.
Musical instruments—flutes (Figs. 11, G), rattles, drums (Fig. G), and pot drums of two different sizes (Figs. 12, 33) were local products. I also photographed an unusual zither-type reed instrument (oya, Fig. H), similar to one on exhibition at the Jos Museum in 2013, hanging together with other ritual paraphernalia associated with a funeral, surrounded by the staffs of aloda society members. Musical rhythms for masquerades were produced by pairs of wooden beaters stamped on the ground, played only at night and out of sight of women.
Women potters practiced their craft throughout the Eloyi area, although no longer in every village, all providing a range of household pots for cooking, eating, washing, water-storage, and brewing. Oko (Fig. I), a prolific potter in Igo, built up her pots on a base of the broken mouth of a water-pot into which she pressed a foundation plate of worked clay. She then added rolls of clay to the sides, shaped against her left hand, squeezing the clay out as she shuffled, bent over, around the water-pot mouth, which she steadied with her feet. The layers were then lightly smoothed and any particles picked out, and as the pot became higher, smoothed more firmly using a piece of wet leather. Oko further smoothed the pot walls with a seed-pod and thinned out the interior while shaping the rim, which was smoothed still more and shaped with a wet rag or leather. With her right hand, she then rolled a roulette of twisted plant fiber around the shoulder of the pot and bordered this design with a series of lines incised with a pointed stick around the widest part of the body of the pot, followed by a single band of zigzags, another series of lines, and more rouletting. After turning the pot upside down, the base was scraped smooth, particles that would interfere with firing were picked out, and the clay burnished with a stone. After allowing them to dry, Oko would fire her pots in the area outside the village on Igo market day.
CARVINGS AND THEIR CREATORS: FIGURES
Unlike most craftwork, the production of earth shrines and wood figures were specialisms. In the outside world, Eloyi artist-carvers became famous (as “Afo”) for female “maternity” figures (although not all were depicted holding children). These figures were usually kept in a ritual room within the compound of the head of shrines (osu oseshi) of the village section. This was not a hereditary role; a man would be chosen by the elders to be in charge of all ritual objects and replaced when he became “too old” or died. All such figures, each with its own particular name, were occasionally brought out during the dry season (“in the seventh month,” it was said). No translation of these names was given, but they were linked to the figure's ritual function. On an appropriate day determined through divination (epa, “looking into the future”), for which beer had been brewed, gifts were presented to the carving. It was believed that the married women were sure to conceive that same night.
I recorded in detail seven significant female figures that were brought outside for me to photograph. Five of them were seated, each with two babies (Figs. 2, 14). Two of these held a bowl on their head (Fig. 14). One was standing with a bowl on her head and two children, and one stood with no children but was still attributed with the same power as the others (Fig. 15). Three of these figures were by an Eloyi Mbeki artist who had died around 1948, Abeze (Ebeze) of Agwada (Figs. 13–14). The face marks of these figures, along with those on Owma7 (Fig. 16), should be compared with those of Edomo, a married woman of Onda (Fig. 17). Abeze was the only person of wider local significance to be mentioned, a carver who was consistent in his style and representations. Jolantha Tschudi (1970) photographed the standing figure with a bowl but gave no provenance; it was, however, one of Abeze's three carvings I recorded. He also made two figures now in the Jos Museum. A carver still alive in 1969, Ogu of Udeni, whose main work was making ax and hoe handles, had been sent by his father to learn the skill from an older man whose work he copied, the only clear case of apprenticeship I encountered. However, he made only a single figure, as his father, who died the year the carving was made, warned him that if he made another he risked death.
The production of significant carvings that became ritually powerful did not appear to be a skill kept within families, handed down father to son, as the story above illustrates. Nor do they seem to have been made by men who had been formally apprenticed to a more experienced carver, as would be the case in other Nigerian cultures. Master carver Abeze of Agwada had five sons and did not teach his skill to any of them. Nor was the main intention of carving to earn an income; rather, carvings were made by men who for some reason became motivated and inspired by sculptures they had seen. Once they had produced an effective ritual object, they were commissioned on an individual basis to make others.
Not all of those produced were well made or finely finished. Some were smaller than the seated, well-sculpted figures mentioned above, and not all were carved with babies, although they were portrayed as possibly pregnant and still attributed with power over fertility. Examples (Figs. 18–19, J–M) were called variously Omoguru or Moguru (in the villages of Ombi, Ushini, Ogofa and Ondawayo), Meweshi or Okeshi (in Ubbe and Kana), and Anyakeri (in Odu) (a name similar to Onyakeri, the name of the maternity figure in Figs. 1–2). A Tiv male figure acquired from a Tiv man was regarded as being as effective a fertility carving as the female ones (Fig. N). The rougher figures encountered in communities throughout the Eloyi area were considered by the few people I consulted to be generally inferior to those by artists who by then were deceased. The one I commissioned was also insignificant. There was no reference, however, to any specific detail thought to be associated with a particular Eloyi “style.” The emphasis was on efficacy (for health, wellbeing, and in particular women's fertility), and no single carver could claim exclusivity for his skill. On the other hand, although rough and damaged, the marked chins of Figures 18 and 19 would suggest they were of the older style (early twentieth century or before). Along with the pre-1920 figure, Omuguru (Fig. 20), these carvings do not display the finesse exhibited in the work of the unnamed creator of Onyakeri (Figs. 1–2), which itself probably dates from the turn of the twentieth century, but they do depict contemporary people's body scarification. The survival of these particular carvings was arbitrary: In different village communities, there were accounts of fires (some accidental, some deliberate and vindictive) or of white ants destroying many carvings, shrines, and ritual items over the years, creating a considerable gap in the artistic record over both time and geographical area.
In comparison with the smaller carvings, five Afo female figures (not all with children) of greater significance were cataloged at the Jos Museum in 1951. A comment on one, a seated figure with a child on her back but no suckling baby in her lap, was published with photographs by Bernard Fagg (1948). Another comparatively large figure, carved around 1920 and acquired by the museum in 1945, holds a baby on her knee, while long-legged older twins stand behind her (Figs. 21, NN) It was first exhibited in the 1952 opening of Jos Museum (Fig. 23) (Fagg 1952). In 1966 this figure was sent to Dakar for the first Festival Mondial des Arts Negres, as was a figure from the Horniman Museum. A third seated maternity figure from this group of five, similar in style to those I photographed in the field, was exhibited in the Kaduna Museum in 2013 (Fig. 22). This range of figures, although reflecting the style of the day where superficial face- and body-marks were concerned, would suggest that they were very individual creations within a tradition that gave scope to variations of detail. Eloyi society, after all, had no “court” patronage demanding strict adherence to precise form.
Onyakeri, the one maternity figure of an older style I recorded (Figs. 1–2), is no longer in that village but in a private collection in the US. It was displayed in the Lagos Museum exhibition for Independence in 19608 and is mentioned in the catalogue entry for two similar figures in the Horniman Museum, London (catalogue numbers 31.41, and 31.42). They were collected in the early twentieth century but possibly carved in the late nineteenth, and each bears slightly different face marks down the cheeks. Horniman 31.42, unusually carrying three children but in a very different arrangement from Figure 21, has been featured in many books on African art. All three were carved with neck or arm rings, which do not appear on others recorded in the field. Leuzinger (1972) shows Horniman 31.41 and labels it Afo-Jukun but, like Onyakeri (Figs. 1–2) and the less distinguished rough figure Meweshi from Ubbe (Fig. 19), its chin is marked. This detail of scarification does not appear in later figures that I observed, nor on any person I encountered. So even the smaller, roughly rendered figures I recorded in the field displayed face-marks that could suggest the era in which they were made (Figs. 18–19). Onyakeri and the Horniman Museum figures differ as well from later figures. Although also having body decoration consisting of incised geometric shapes, some of the mid-twentieth century figures have additional designs on the throat or rib areas featuring crocodiles, lizards, or chameleons. Note the actual scarification on the back of an adult woman, Oko of Onda (Fig. 24).
The later form of facial scarification across the cheek (as opposed to down the cheek from temple to mouth), described in Temple (1919) as mentioned above, was correspondingly seen in later carved figures: sometimes only one cheek was marked (Figs. 13, 22). The seated figure with three children features a form of both (Fig. NN). Further changes can be seen in figures that overlap in time as Eloyi people adopted other designs. The apparent standard for Eloyi people in the 1960s was three radiating lines drawn from both corners of the mouth, variously elaborated according to practitioner. This was echoed in the fertility figures carved mid-century, some of which also had a residual abbreviated temple mark (see Fagg 1948) (Figs. 16, 22).
The Horniman figures were earlier attributed to a Yoruba source (Sadler 1953; Underwood 1947), and it is not possible to confirm absolutely an “Afo” provenance, but the older one I recorded in situ does provide a more definite link and was used by art historians last century to argue their Afo origin. However, I would suggest that one other unique detail that links all Eloyi maternity figures, including the nineteenth century ones, is the shape of the stools on which they sit: a diamond or lozenge shape of varying proportions and height linking seat and base. This feature, however, is also seen in two Idoma Anjenu water spirit figures, one from the Pitt Rivers Museum (Berns, Fardon, and Kasfir 2011:40) and one from the W.B. Fagg collection (Willett (1971:210).
HEADPIECES AND MASKS
More common pieces attributed to the Afo in museums9 and private collections outside Nigeria are “cap” or “crest” headpieces (oyya), usually carved from single pieces of wood. These are worn by the masquerade Ekpejimbareko or Ekpejimbakanga. I photographed several throughout the Eloyi area: One particularly good example is shown in Figure 25, made, I was told, along with a second by Ekute of Agwada in about 1949. It was said that Ekute brought them to a village in the Eloyi Mbambu area. His name was not given to me elsewhere as a known carver, and it is possible, given their high quality and origin in Agwada, that they may have instead been made by master carver Abeze. The pre-1920 maternity figure Omuguru by Adanu of Ogofa (Fig. 20) had holes pierced in the base, which might indicate that this also could have been used, unusually, as a headpiece for a masquerade.
One cast metal headpiece, termed kotyo or kwotyo rather than oyya, photographed in a southern town was attributed to Egbira Kwoto, beyond the Eloyi area, and predated the then osu's father (Fig. 26). Two others of similar age are now in the Jos Museum, one of which was exhibited for the opening of the museum in 1952. It was believed to have been made by Agbebu when the village was “up in the hills.” That his name was remembered as an artist who made one of these treasured old pieces was an exception.
The Eloyi were never recognized or renowned outside the country for their face- or helmet-masks (Fig. 27), and it is difficult to define a distinctive artistic tradition of masks (except for Ududuruku). In the 1960s and 1970s they were still carving and acquiring masks to be used by the younger age-grades. These were not finely decorated or ornate, but solid, with some perhaps showing influence from south of the Benue or just revealing the inexperience of their creators (compare the masks in Picton 1991).
What were ornate were Ududuruku bushcow masks—long-snouted helmet masks, often with two pairs of horns somewhat counterbalancing the structure, on top of which were several humans, birds, cocks, and other small figures, some dressed, some painted in bright colors, attached on metal spikes (Figs. 28–29). Long helmet masks representing the bushcow, a dangerous animal, appear in several other Nigerian cultures, but the Eloyi form I would suggest is distinct. Most of their creators had already died, but one was named as Akaji Wona of Agwada, who had also made a female figure, Okeshi, of which only the head remained. In Apawu I acquired for the Jos Museum one Ududuruku by Obende and salvaged figures from another such mask. A bushcow mask collected earlier was exhibited at the opening of the Jos Museum in 1952 (see Bernard Fagg's photograph, Figure 23, where a rear view of the mask is visible).
The most popular wood used for making masks and other carvings is termed nyumbulo (Eloyi Mbeki), umbombulo (Eloyi Mbambu), and wawan mata (Hausa); it is light but does not split when worked. Onzo (Fig. 4), the helmet mask photographed in Akpaku village, was an exception, being made of urisu wood (Hausa, dunya or dinya). Some masks were sparsely decorated with red abrus seeds, but often these had fallen off. A few masks were painted with white, black, or red commercial paint (Fig. O); the face of one, Ejegenyi, was painted silver with red-tipped stunted horns (Fig. P). I did not ascertain from any of the living carvers the source of the raw material used for any of the contemporary objects photographed. It was likely that suitable trees were cut down in the surrounding bush as needed, whenever the carver was commissioned to make an individual mask by young men who had seen their creations elsewhere. This work would be fitted around the seasonal farming tasks. One carver remarked that after creating a figure, he would sacrifice a hen to a particular shrine (eshi), otherwise he would not sleep well but dream of trees.
The following accounts do not represent an exhaustive picture of Eloyi masks and masquerade spirit characters. Masquerades were performed by men with their bodies disguised partially or completely under specially made netted or woven costumes, fiber skirts, drapes, gowns, or ordinary cloth pieces, with or without face masks, helmet masks, or headpieces, some with their feet and hands showing, and in some cases carrying ceremonial paraphernalia or sticks for beating people. Some were silent, others (e.g., Iyo) spoke using voice disguises, and they were accompanied by attendants and interpreters. All either processed, danced, or sped around a village section; certain characters also rushed aggressively through the surrounding countryside, alone or in groups (Fig. X). They came out mainly during the dry season when there were no farming activities, representing local spirits associated with the village, for the new year, or to celebrate the deaths of important male elders that had occurred during the preceding year, or occasionally a few years previously. Masks and masquerades were often described by people as being “for play” or “pleasure” (owa), implying that they did not have a serious function, although this could be interpreted as meaning that orowo ceremonies were celebrations, enjoyed by all, for the long lives of old senior men who had achieved the status of elders. Masquerades also came out for the annual renewal of protective shrines (Igya in a netted costume served out ritual food at the renewal of the smallpox shrine, kokpa), and for children's naming ceremonies. The masquerades that danced, some with leg rattles (Fig. Q), were accompanied by some form of music and rhythms played on drums, pot drums (singly or one small, one large) (Fig. 33), flutes, rattles, and song.
Women were supposed to be ignorant of the fact that the disguises covered a man from their own or a neighboring community and to be fearful of any masquerade's actions. Women, along with children, were also the main butt of punishment by disciplinary figures, but some ceremonies depended very much on the participation and encouragement of mature women, who often waved a flat winnowing tray towards the masked dancer.
Women were essential in brewing the requisite large pots of beer that accompanied any funeral. Following the appearance of the masquerade Owuna at the renewal ceremony (ogboyya) of kuturu—a protective community shrine (eshi) in Ogapa agirika, Onda—a line of kneeling women and girls faced an opposing crowd of men and kneeling boys. Accompanied by drums, the two groups exchanged good-humored but noisy abuse while beating the dusty ground with bunches of enna leaves.10 Some of the women and girls also held symbolic floor-beaters given to them by older men, which were afterwards thrown into a pile along with the leaves, and a dance staff (odagi) stuck in the middle. The leaves would be burned later that night, to create a smoke that protected all who “took” it from having bad dreams; otherwise it would bring sickness and possibly death.
Men netted masquerade costumes (Fig. R), for example, those of Owuna,11 which covered the head but were worn without separate masks (Figs. Q, S). Belonging to the ase society (Eloyi Mbambu; ashe in Eloyi Mbeki), they come out and dance at orowo ceremonies for the death of an important elder. Figure 30 shows a masquerade associated with blacksmiths (kwondo), with a woman's hairstyle (kombushe), made by Agi Ogelebe. Miniature netted and stuffed costumes dressed as Owuna (Fig. T) were created as ritual objects and placed in the entrance to a chief's compound to ensure the wellbeing of the household.
While some masquerades were benign, Adawaji (also known as Owuna Awande) was a disciplinarian and would beat any wrongdoers, particularly aberrant wives; he also administered a poison ordeal (from sasswood) until it was outlawed by the colonial administration. Running alone, Adawaji was a frightening figure, wearing a headpiece of kite and vulture feathers mounted on a calabash base and carrying ritual objects and bells (Fig. 31).
A masquerade that did have a face mask on top of a netted costume, with fabric covers to enhance the disguise, was Egyegenyi or Ejigenyi (Fig. 32). This mask, also known as “Zoko,” was made around 1960 of nyumbulo wood by Adakili of Akum, who was still alive in 1969. A kind of joker (although he carried a sword with which he threatened the onlookers), Egyegenyi wiped his nose frequently and threw imaginary snot at the crowd. He danced after Igedegbe, the stilt dancer belonging to the ebunga society (Fig. U).
A very different type of masquerade, known as a masquerade of blacksmiths, incorporated much more speed of movement. Odadu figures, mentioned before by Alhaji Idris when talking about Eloyi links with the Jukun, were recognized as part of Jukun and Alago culture as well and said to have been acquired when “in Bornu,” thus “very old.” They spoke with voice disguises made of bone, were heightened with sticks held up within the costume by the performer, and wore locally dyed (but not locally woven) bluish or blue-and-white cloth, tied at the top with locally woven strips of white cotton cloth (Figs. 33, V), similar to the Alago Iwagu masquerade and Ashama masquerade of the Abakwariga (Berns, Fardon, and Kasfir 2011:107). Several Odadu came out at orowo dry season ceremonies following the death of an important man: They danced energetically and processed through the village, visited the compound of the dead man, and then returned to bow their “heads” onto the pot drum (oba). They were dominant over other masquerades, Iyo (apparently only about 100 years old, I was told) and Agelebe, which would disappear when Odadu came out. The association with blacksmiths was not made clear, except that Odadu was in “their care.” Blacksmiths were seen as a “source of life,” as they made the hoes on which farmers depended.
Ekpo was a similar slender masquerade, but with very different ritual behavior, common to northern Eloyi villages. Ekpo's dark blue or black cloth with white feathers was tied at the top by a long, thin ribbon of locally woven white cotton (Fig. 34), similar to Odadu. After harvest in February or March (on market day in the case of Kana), several Ekpo ancestor spirits would appear from their ritual house on the hill behind the village, called down by the oboshi (Fig. W). They were part of the new year eyya ritual, which also involved the youth of the village of the ngorangorang age-grade led by their obeze (senior to oboshi). Each young male carried a large iron bell with a pair of animal horns attached. These were horns of the bushcow for bigger youths or of an antelope for the smaller boys, who could be as young as six. Their base was the ritual building (kunungweshe) within a ritual area on the edge of the village section. Obeze was the link between the dark and threatening Ekpo masquerades, who raced around the village sections and into the bush (Fig. X) beating anyone in their path, and the ngorangorang group of dancers whom he led. His aim was to capture one of Ekpo's gowns and to bring it back to the village section (Fig. Y), but in attempting this he risked being severely beaten by Ekpo. If an obeze returned successful, he was praised enthusiastically by all men and women around. If a village had no Ekpo, there would be no beating, but ngorangorang members would still dance, supported by women and girls who would otherwise hide from attack.
The other significant masquerade was Iyo, the generic term for a large, bulky woven costume of raffia or bamboo leaves in bands of color (often green, maroon, and neutral). It covered the actor from head to toe, cloaked in a red fabric and topped with a red cap bound on by a strip of local white cotton (Fig. 35). In each location the masquerade was known by a different name: Ukpakpaku in Akum (an Eloyi Mbambu area to the south), where it was the most important ritual figure; Omeku in Iyenu; Owoku in Agwargada agirika, Onda (Eloyi Mbeki); Ideshigo in Igo; and Edokudu in Udeni. Udegi Nkassa and Agam both had female Iyo, Edomo, and Ogbayi, the latter having the power to interrupt quarrels and stop the parties arguing. (Both costumes, however, were worn by men.) Like at least three other masquerades, but using a different device, Iyo spoke using a voice disguise made from a large seed-pod from the umburukpa tree with holes at either end, one covered over with a spider's cocoon. The figures were accompanied and guided by “interpreters” carrying ritual paraphernalia, who repeated intelligibly the messages emanating from the ponderous masquerade; it did not pursue people.
RITUAL EARTH FIGURES
Like carvers, builders of earth shrines could also gain a reputation and were engaged when the head of a compound felt the need for a protective presence to ensure the wellbeing of his extended family. A shrine (eshi) would be given an annual renewal ceremony at which a hen or goat was sacrificed and dancers might come out. In Kana the masquerade associated with the onzo shrine was no longer brought out because the mask had been sold and had not yet been replaced. The eshi itself might be created in earth in the symbolic shape of an animal, but incorporating parts not associated with the live animal, for example, the horns of an antelope on the body of a “lion” or “dog” (Figs. 36, Z). It might also be decorated with cloth, feathers, cowries, and paint and would have its own name, e.g., Adawaji (with vulture and other feathers like the masquerade), Agalabe, or Iyo. Ita village had an earthen female figure, Moguru-agelebe (Fig. ZZ). There has been no analysis of this Eloyi ritual form as a cultural feature, or any study of the specialist sculptors of earthen composite figures and shrines, probably because of the difficulties or impossibility of collecting and moving of such heavy and usually friable objects, so they do not appear in foreign museum collections. It would have been possible to commission a couple of individuals each to create an earth figure on site at the Jos Museum and to interview them during their work about the spiritual world and how the powers of shrines to protect were acquired or imbued, and how they themselves were “qualified” to build them, but unfortunately I did not.
For a very long time, Eloyi elders were widely reputed to exert influence and power over local spirits in the world around them. Even with the increasing Islamization of the Eloyi people up to the present, it was said that behind the scenes the rituals and shrines were still maintained and respected.
It is hoped that this account will add to the knowledge, and enable further analysis, of the art and institutions of the people of the Benue River Valley. These were publicized by a major exhibition mounted at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, which later toured to Washington DC, Stanford, and finally the Museé Quai Branly, Paris, as well as by its accompanying publication, Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley (Berns, Fardon, and Kasfir 2011). In their key position in the very center of Nigeria, the Eloyi people deserve wider appreciation, more rounded understanding, and a reputation greater than that created by just a few rare and remarkable female figures and headpieces.
All photos by Anna Craven were taken between April 1969 and February 1970.
In retrospect, and regrettably far too late, for their help and support I wish to thank all the Eloyi people who provided me with essential information about their history and culture, in particular the late ninth Emir of Nasarawa, Alhaji Jibrin Mairiga Idris, the late Osu of Onda and his councillors, and my various advisers and interpreters, most importantly the late Audu Osu Onda. I also wish to acknowledge the late Professor Ekpo Eyo, then Director of the Nigerian Federal Department of Antiquities, for the opportunity he gave me to work for and with Nigerian colleagues to help record the incredibly vibrant variety of cultures in the north of the country. In addition, my thanks go to the person to whom I was initially immediately responsible, Senior Ethnographer and Acting Deputy Director of Antiquities, and now Emeritus Professor of African Art, John Picton. My photographs are reproduced here courtesy of the Nigerian Commission of Museums and Monuments.
I use the term “Eloyi” rather than “Afo” as a matter of respect to the culture, which was subjected to absorption into the dominant Hausa states.
Lafia, on the other hand, was never mentioned as a town in closer proximity to the Eloyi area where Beriberi traders established themselves as a significant community, unlikely to be associated with a split.
Alhaji Jibrin Mairiga Idris, ninth Emir of Nasarawa, personal communication, May 11, 1969.
The Jukun were known as Akpa to the Eloyi.
The Eloyi were known as Epe to both Jukun and Agatu.
According to another informant, the people of Akum came from Ita and first migrated across the river to Akum Keteri in Agatu district.
Owma may also have been by Abeze, but my informant suggested that the carver had come from a different village.
A.F. Rackham, personal communication, September 2010.
For example, the Smithsonian Institution, British Museum, and Quai Branly, Paris.
Locust bean tree, Parkia Filicoidea; in Hausa dorowa.
Also called Obere or Odagyo.