Ilkún ọlá yín kò ní wó Aṣọ ọlá yín kò ní fàya

May the doors of your wealth never be pulled down The robes of your wealth will not be torn or ragged

This saying or prayer is one of the numerous expressions among the Yorùbá about the door and its significance, not only as a physical and important aspect of their architecture, but also in their language and culture. It also alludes to its pride of place as perhaps the most decorated element of Yorùbá architecture. From private homes, to the homes of the rich, shrines, and palaces, Yorùbá doors are usually imbued with a considerable array of images and icons that proclaims the owner's identity, religion, occupation. The Yorùbá are not unique in this respect. For example, among the Dogon,1 the door is as important as the house on which it is affixed. The granary, according to Willett (2002: 176), protects the the food stored inside it, while the door is seen or referred to as an element not only for physical protection, but also as a spiritual means of warding off unwanted spirits. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect the door to receive aesthetic attention by embellishment with an array of images.

A number of studies have been carried out on carved doors and other aspects of Yorùbá palace art, and these studies have provided vast knowledge about Yorùbá art and its meaning. Some of the most in-depth studies related to the present endeavor are by Kalilu (1992; 2015) on the art of Old y and how it has shaped the art of the new y. He also examined the tradition and history of legendary woodcarvers of Old y. Furthermore, he has provided some explanations2 for the few studies on the art of Old y and by extension that of the present y. Studies such as Meyerowitz (1943), Carroll (1967), Willett and Picton (1967), Drewal, Pemberton, and Abídún (1989), Drewal, Pemberton and Abídún (1994), Picton (1994), Willett (2002), and Walker (1998) have looked at the form and meaning and identification of carvers of Yorùbá doors and panels. Still, too little is known about the carved panels in the palace of the Aláàfin3 of y. Perhaps one of the reasons for this unsatisfactory state of affairs is that before now, access to parts of the palace was difficult,4 especially for outsiders. Abídún (2014: 290) has also suggested that, at the end of the series of Yorùbá wars that affected most Yorùbá kingdoms starting from Old y, there was a new beginning for Yorùbá creativity, a period he considered perfect for new àsà,5 new compositions, and new themes. The memories of such events were still very fresh and many Yorùbá artists portrayed the history of the wars and consequently new developments in Yorùbáland in their works. As we shall see, the carved panels and doors in the new y palace contain such images.

Studies of Yorùbá carved doors and panels seem to be concentrated in the Èkìtì area among the Yorùbá, a region that has produced some of the most notable wood carvers in Africa. Only Meyerowitz (1943) seems to have attempted to document a large panel in the garden hall of y palace. Her study, however, attempted neither to do any in-depth formal analysis of the doors nor to provide meanings of the images on the panel. Meyerowitz actually seemed unimpressed by the artist(s) who carved the panel and those who commissioned it. In her opinion, the panel was not as competently executed as many other carved Yorùbá panels by Bamidele or Olówè of Ìsé, whose works have been more widely studied. This essay aims to correct this situation by examining closely the forms and meaning of the icons on these carved doors, with a view to showing how they are directly relevant to the history of y palace as an important institution among the Yorùbá. As much as possible, my analysis and interpretation will rely on Yorùbá oral traditions, considering one carved panel6 and two carved doors as visual metaphors.

My analysis was carried out through a combination of the theory Roland Abídún put forth in Yorùbá Art and Language (2014) and Erwin Panofsky's theory on iconography and iconology. Abídún (2014: 55) suggests that “we look beyond what is cursorily observed if we are to understand Yorùbá art.” In essence he offers that “we should not be content with only formalistic analysis of Yorùbá art, but endeavor to understand it as an expression of the thought and belief system that produced it, lest we unwittingly remove the ‘African’ from African art.” Abídún's statement is directly relevant to the method that we must use in the investigation of the images on the panel and carved doors. Panofsky (1970), an art historian, also states that form in a work of art cannot be divorced from its content or context. He describes iconography as that branch of the history of art that concerns itself with art works’ subject matter, as opposed to their form. Iconography means, literally, “the study of images.” At its simplest level, the practice of iconography entails identifying motifs and images in works of art (D'Alleva 2014: 19). As a method in art historical studies, Panofsky (1982) defines iconography as a concern with the subject matter (meaning) as gleaned from the form; this opposes the theories of formalism7 put forth by Wolfflin, Blower, Levy, and Weddigen (2015), who stated that the examination of a work of art must engage only in rigorous formal analysis, and Fry (1920), who held that a work of art is irreducible to context and that it should only be analyzed and enjoyed for its formal qualities. Analyzing most African works of art using only formal analysis—especially a formalism that is based on Western perspectives—may not be adequate in our quest to understand the reason for their production.

THE OLD AND NEW PALACES

There are several oral accounts of the construction of Old y palace before it was totally destroyed and abandoned (see Goddard 1971: 207).8 It was reportedly the largest and most imposing of Yorùbá palaces, with over 100 courtyards. According to Willett (1959), the city itself was said to cover about 20 square miles and it was located about 40 miles northwest of Ilorin; today there is still evidence of ruins at the site. The palace had two large parks,9 one in front, and the other in back. One of the most outstanding features of the old palace was the design and construction of about 120 porches (k), which can be traced back to Oluàso, one of the illustrious Aláàfin in Old y, who reigned from 1357 ad (Ogunmola 2010: 148).10 These later became the template for imposing porch entrances in many Yorùbá palaces (Johnson 1976). In addition to the palace gardens, there were carved posts that supported the roof, carved doors, and panels and works of art, while the courtyard remained central for social activities within the palaces. The status of the Aláàfin, as the only Yorùbá Ọba11 charged with the responsibility of overseeing a vast empire, is refected in the immensity of the palace and its extensive decoration, as it was remembered in Old y (Folárànmí 2015).

It is noteworthy that the present y palace (Fig. 1) is the only Yorùbá palace where a conscious effort has been made to replicate the artifacts destroyed during the nineteenth century wars. Aláàfin Abídún Àtìbà, according to several accounts (Johnson 1976; Falola, Dortmont, and Adeyemi 1989; Kalilu 1992; Ogunmola 2010), tried to rebuild from what was left of the ruins in the Old y palace. The new palace is, however, noticeably smaller in size because much of the available space was already occupied by Àgó.12 This explains why the new palace only had about thirty documented courtyards. Many of these courtyards were used for social, domestic, and religious functions, and the entrances to most of these courtyards had plain carved doors called abógundé (Fig. 2), apparently named after the lineage of the family responsible for creating them.

1

Oju Aganjù entrance, the main entrance into the expansive palace of the Aláàfin of y. 2000.

1

Oju Aganjù entrance, the main entrance into the expansive palace of the Aláàfin of y. 2000.

2

One of the few abógundé doors in an abandoned courtyard in the y palace. December 2013.

2

One of the few abógundé doors in an abandoned courtyard in the y palace. December 2013.

These doors were usually made up of single panel frames carved out of a single log, with projections at two opposing ends which serve as the hinge on which the door rotates. Today many of these doors have been changed to relatively weaker but modern flush plywood doors. Apart from the abógundé there are four13 carved doors/panels which adorn the entrances of important sections of the palace. These are carved doors like those commonly seen in many ancient Yorùbá palaces. A carved panel served as a background screen for the throne of the Aláàfin inside the Summer Garden Hall. There are also two carved doors on the two entrances into the Àwòdì òkè reception hall now used by the Aláàfin.

HISTORICIZING THE CARVED PANEL IN THE SUMMER GARDEN HALL

The Garden Hall (Fig. 3) located within the àgbàlá koríko is one of the additions to the palace in the modern era. It is said to have been constructed in 1934 during the reign of Ọba Siyanblá Ládìgbòlù, who reigned from 1911 to 1944. Much development and construction (and especially the Garden Hall) in the palace also probably took place during his reign. The hall now serves social, political, and religious functions.

3

Garden Hall in Àgbàlá Koríko built in 1934. Ààfin y. The carved wooden screen is located within this edifice. 2013.

3

Garden Hall in Àgbàlá Koríko built in 1934. Ààfin y. The carved wooden screen is located within this edifice. 2013.

The carved panel14 (Fig. 4) commissioned by Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù served as the backdrop to the throne of the Aláàfin when it was the official reception hall of the palace. It is imbued with numerous anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and other images. Meyerowitz (1943) wrote about this carved screen panel and the dais for the throne of the Aláàfin; she did not, however, discuss the significance of the carved images on the screen. Òjó (1966) presented an image of the panel along with the throne. Its most recent reflection in the activities of the Aláàfin was during the installation ceremony of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abíólá as the 14th Ààrẹ nàkakanfò15 of Yorùbáland in 1992.

4

Carved giant screen in the Garden Hall of y palace (1935–1945). Artist(s) unknown. 295 cm by 313 cm. Commissioned by Aláàfin Siyanblá Ládìgbòlù. 2013.

4

Carved giant screen in the Garden Hall of y palace (1935–1945). Artist(s) unknown. 295 cm by 313 cm. Commissioned by Aláàfin Siyanblá Ládìgbòlù. 2013.

5

Detail of Figure 4: view of snake icons. 2013.

5

Detail of Figure 4: view of snake icons. 2013.

The screen (Fig. 4) is a large panel of about 295 cm by 313 cm, made up of eight strips of panels of about 31 cm by 313 cm each, joined together with the aid of nails made by local blacksmiths. Two strips of 31 cm-wide panels are joined together to make four separate wholes. These are then linked to each other with hinges to enable the screen to fold into place and stand by itself without any support. The images were carved onto each of the strips constituting the panel before they were joined together. Unlike many Yorùbá carved panels, this one seems to have been treated with wood varnish, which most probably was a later addition. On the whole, there are about 45 compositions with about 135 individual carved images on the entire screen. I will analyze this panel thematically and according to the images represented.

This carved panel and the mural on the main entrance of the palace were commissioned by Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù and they function primarily as a visual oríkì that chronicles the attributes and activities of the Aláàfin (Abídún 2014: 11–13). The carvers depict all that goes on within and around the ààfin16 (the palace) while also calling the attention to the Aláàfin as an ọba (a sovereign) with the powers of an orisa. According to Bàbà Ọbakáiyéjá,17 most of the animals and other subjects and compositions represented on the panel were animals kept by the Aláàfin who commissioned the carving. The compositions on this panel address two broad themes: anthropomorphic and zoomorphic beings (Folárànmí 2015). Other identified images include embroidery motifs and items produced by man.

MEANINGS OF THE ZOOMORPHIC ICONS ON THE CARVED PANEL

There are forty animals represented on the panel. We can identify birds (ostriches), catfish, reptiles (snakes, crocodiles, lizards or wall geckos, chameleons) pangolins, goats or antelopes, monkeys, horses, tortoises, and leopards. We see a crocodile eating another animal, a man or king riding a horse, and a snake biting its tail; some of the animals represented here seem to recall gifts to the Aláàfin from hunters, friends, and subjects. Whatever is represented here has specific symbolic meaning to the Ọba as the spiritual and political head of his kingdom.

The horse, for instance, is an animal that is often associated with cavalry, royalty, and affluence. It is one of the numerous animals kept in the palace by the Aláàfin. He had enough of them that he created a small ranch called àgbàla koríko (grass courtyard) and a káà ẹsin (stall for horses) where these animals were taken care of by slaves. The strength and power of the horse are used metaphorically to describe the Aláàfin, whom his subjects perceived as a great leader and warrior. The equestrian figures on the panel appear to be referencing a Yorùbá proverb,18 expressed summarily when they say:

Òwe l'ẹsinr, rlẹsin òwe

rbá sọnù òwe la fi n waa

Proverbs are like horses (power) of speech (for searching the truth); when the truth is missing or lost, proverbs are used to retrieve or discover it.

It is a way of introducing proverbs into conversation; it compares the power of the Yorùbá proverbs with that of the horse. In another proverb the horse takes an additional role:

ẹsin iwájú ni tihìn wò sáré

A horse follows the example of the one before it in a race

The relevance of this to the Aláàfin is the expectation that he leads, while others should follow his good and credible example (Folárànmí 2012).

The reptilian representations on the panel, such as lizard, gecko, and crocodile, would suggest provocation and the capacity to attract thunder among Ṣàngó devotees in y, where Ṣàngó once reigned as the Aláàfin and was deified (Nasiru 1989: 127). The circular snake form (Figs. 67), which is very common on Yorùbá carved panels and doors,19 could also be a symbol of regeneration, long life, potency, truth, fierceness, wrath, wealth, and guile. Parrinder (1967: 23) noted that the snake could be a symbol of Ṣàngó's swift retributive powers.

6

The spiral snake, one of the many snakes represented on the Oju Abata Mural in y palace. 2010.

6

The spiral snake, one of the many snakes represented on the Oju Abata Mural in y palace. 2010.

7

Detail of Figure 4: illustration of the staked mudfish, often prepared in this manner for an open charcoal grill. An icon of divine rulers.

7

Detail of Figure 4: illustration of the staked mudfish, often prepared in this manner for an open charcoal grill. An icon of divine rulers.

The ostrich (ògòngó) is associated with leadership and called the king of birds. When chanting songs or praising the names of the Aláàfin, his wives always refer to him as “ògòngó baba ẹyẹ,” meaning the Aláàfin is “the king of the kings” in Yorùbáland. The Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù kept the ostrich as a pet bird in his expansive palace grounds (Folárànmí 2015: 110) and today, the reigning Aláàfin does the same. Mudfish (Fig. 7), staked20 in pairs, recall what must have been a thriving fish farming industry in y. The bird-pecking image recurs in Yorùbá carvings and art generally and is found on the base of Ifá divination bowls (Bassani 1994). The most striking characteristic of the chameleon is its ability to change color and blend into its surroundings. This is the way it protects itself in the wild, especially against predators—a powerful and much coveted survival mechanism. This power is believed to have been given to it by the Supreme Being Olòdùmarè. It is understandable that the chameleon's ability to change colors is harnessed by the Ọba to transform and protect himself; therefore, the image of the chameleon signifies the Ọba's transformative powers.

MAN IN THE SERVICE OF THE ALÁÀFIN KING

There are fifty-four human figures in different postures and activities on the panel. They represent attendants to the ba, servants, hunters, farmers, teachers, priests, and visitors to the palace. Some are European visitors, who may include Captain Alston Ross21 and others who frequented the palace during the reign of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù (Folárànmí 2015: 113). Captain Ross was a very good friend of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù and was instrumental in persuading the “y Mèsì”22 to crown Siyanblá Ládìgbòlù after the death of his father (Ogunmola 2010).

We see images of a man holding a slate or book with inscriptions on it and a stick or cane on one hand and an Islamic plate called a wala23 on the other, and a clergyman praying and washing a kneeling figure, suggesting that they are teachers and that Islamic and Christian education had established a foothold in Yorùbáland at the time the panel was carved. Other images show a man smoking a pipe and farmers harvesting oil palm fruits (Fig. 8). There are also compositions of acrobatic display and men and women with various types of Yorùbá facial marks: pélé, abàjà, bàmú, and gmb (see Johnson 1976: 105–107 for more on Yorùbá facial marks). Yorùbá facial marks are unique in their form and aesthetics and, although now on the verge of disappearing, they were a form of identification among the people. They were also forms of beautification, which is the reason Yorùbá say “títa ríro làá kọlà, tó bá jiná tán áá doge”—“we endure much pain and discomfort to bear the incisions of the facial marks because of the resulting beauty.” There are also hunters or warlords on horseback with cudgels, guns, and amulets made of àdò (a tiny calabash used for preserving powder and medicine). These are signifiers of warfare and security for the people of y and the Aláàfin.

8

Detail of Figure 4: Farmers harvesting palm nuts.

8

Detail of Figure 4: Farmers harvesting palm nuts.

There is an image on this panel showing a man on a bicycle (Fig. 9), an indication that the bicycle had become popular in y at the time the screen was carved. Thus, it seems that the carvers were not only aware of developments around them during the reign of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù, but were chronicling them for posterity in their works.

9

Detail of Figure 4: Man riding bicycle, and another on a horse.

9

Detail of Figure 4: Man riding bicycle, and another on a horse.

Women were also prominently featured: mothers carrying babies strapped on their backs, wives pounding yam with pestle and mortar (Fig. 10), and òrìṣà devotees kneeling before an altar—a posture that evokes the Yorùbá belief in the power of ikúnlabiyamọ (kneeling in the pains of childbirth). It is noteworthy that the nudity and full, pointed breasts of the female figures empower them as our mothers and guarantors of fertility in Yorùbá religious thought (Nasiru 1989: 106).

10

Detail of Figure 4: Two women pounding with pestle and mortar. Their hairdo is similar to that of Ṣàngó devotees.

10

Detail of Figure 4: Two women pounding with pestle and mortar. Their hairdo is similar to that of Ṣàngó devotees.

Even the Aláàfin rules only with the support and cooperation of “àwọn ìyá wa”—“our mothers” (Drewal, Pemberton, and Abídún 1989). As biological mothers, their role in the home is highly appreciated and revered. This is usually shown or expressed in various proverbs and oríkì24 that are dedicated to the women folk: for example, “Ìyá ni wúrà, baba ni díngí,” meaning that “Mother is gold, father is like a mirror.”

An important design motif25 present in most of these panels is called ìb (interlace pattern), which frames many compositions. There are five variations of this motif on the panel (Figs. 11a–e). This motif is widespread in Africa, especially North and West Africa, and is found on Yorùbá and Edo carved doors, Ifá divination trays, and religious wood and ivory carvings. It is also a popular design motif on Yorùbá agbádá,26 caps, and other secular items, such as walls, leather works, drums, carved items, calabashes, and balustrades on Yorùbá houses (Fig. 12). Some cultures attribute meanings such as shield, quiver, and arrow to these patterns. It is only in times of unity that it was possible for Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù to commission so many works of art for the palace. His reign witnessed one of the most peaceful times in y and Yorùbaland. It was a time when people began to really settle down, build new cities, and enjoy life again.

11a–e

Details of Figure 4: Embroidery motifs on the carved panel. The variations shows the creativity of the artists or an adaptation from other sources. 2014.

11a–e

Details of Figure 4: Embroidery motifs on the carved panel. The variations shows the creativity of the artists or an adaptation from other sources. 2014.

12

Another variation of the embroidery motif on Yoruba dress. Ààfin y, January 2013.

12

Another variation of the embroidery motif on Yoruba dress. Ààfin y, January 2013.

AUTHORSHIP AND STYLE OF THE CARVED PANEL

The carving style on these door panels is different from that found in Northeastern Yorùbá. The provenance of the door is still a subject of inquiry, as none of the carvers in y today seem to be able to identify the family compound27 (agbo ilé) of those responsible for these carved panels. It is also most unlikely that the panels were brought from Old y, because of the presence of relatively recent contemporary images such as the bicycle and Europeans. An informant28 says that artists from Benin Republic were brought in to carve the screen.29 The panel is, however, similar to a Yorùbá carved door in the palace of ràngún of Ìlá dedicated to Òrìṣà Oko—the god of farming—which was carved by Ògúnwuyì of Ores compound (Fakeye, Haight, and Curl 1996).

Conclusively, the panel chronicles a complex world: men, women, animals, issues, items of human manufacture, and situations around the palace at a particular time in history. It also records contemporary scenes and developments from the time it was carved, when Yorùbá country was experiencing many changes as the British colonialists gained control of several Yorùba towns and the kingdom, including y. These are refected by the presence of bicycles, vehicles, teachers, police, and members of the clergy on the screen. The mode of carving seen in this panel is also different from the works of artists like Bámidélé Arówògún, Lamidi Fákye, or Ọlw of Isẹ. One suspects that it was for this reason that Meyerowitz was not impressed by the y door panels. For her, they were not a “good”30 example of a Yorùba carved panel. She failed to recognize that the style of y palace doors was inseparable from its intended function: the visual oriki of the Aláàfin and his subjects. When one examines other works of art created at the time Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù reigned, it is clear that he had a great influence on what he was remembered for and how. He wanted to tell his own story and found capable artists to help him achieve his goal (Folárànmí 2015: 93).

CARVED DOORS AT ÀWÒDÌ ÒKÈ HALL: THE ALÁÀFIN AND HIS SUBJECTS

Gracing the entrances of the Àwòdì Òkè31 reception hall are two carved doors. One is on the main entrance overlooking the mosque, while the other is on the right wing of the hall overlooking an expansive courtyard, part of which is now used as a car park. The doors were probably erected on these entrances after the 1960s—an earlier photograph of the hall shows that the main entrance doors were a combination of glass encased in wood in 1966 (see Òjó 1966: 60). According to Wahabi Ajíb32 of Ilé-Ìbúke, the doors were made by his family. He mentioned that he took part in the carving of the doors and also carved veranda posts in the palace when his father kẹ Jimoh Ajíbnà and others from their compound were working in the palace. He recollected that all of this took place during the reign of Aláàfin Bello Gbádégẹsin Ládìgbòlù II (1956–1968).

The door on the main entrance (Fig. 14) is composed of two separate panels measuring approximately 60 cm by 180 cm, each subdivided into four registers.33 The first register on the left panel shows two male figures holding a mask. On the second register are two female figures, possibly wives of the Aláàfin, holding his hands on both sides. The third register depicts four women with babies strapped on their backs, while the last section depicts two couples each holding on to one another. The first register of the second panel also has two males holding a mask. Below is a central male figure of a chief or king flanked by two female figures, one with a baby on her back. The third register represents a Ṣàngó priest, holding the Ṣàngó wands, and two devotees. Four figures are on the last register: two central female figures, one holding her breasts, and two male figures holding Ṣàngó rattles (sr).

13

Variation of the embroidery motif on Yoruba house in y. People have appropriated this embroidery design for all manner of decorations and also as a mark of identity. 2013.

13

Variation of the embroidery motif on Yoruba house in y. People have appropriated this embroidery design for all manner of decorations and also as a mark of identity. 2013.

14

Front entrance door to the Àwòdì k reception hall. Probably carved by k Jimoh, grandfather of the Ajíbnà, Ile-Ìbúke carving family, Òkè ààfin, y from mid-1960s–1968. 2013.

14

Front entrance door to the Àwòdì k reception hall. Probably carved by k Jimoh, grandfather of the Ajíbnà, Ile-Ìbúke carving family, Òkè ààfin, y from mid-1960s–1968. 2013.

This door's images center on the Aláàfin and the people around him: his wives, chiefs, and priests. There is also a carved figure supposedly representing Ṣàngó in the palace of the Aláàfin of y. Ṣàngó was a patron òrìṣà of the Aláàfin. Each Aláàfin is seen as Ṣàngó incarnate; hence he is referred to as “Igbá kejì òrìṣà,” meaning “He whose power is like that of the òrìṣà or who is second only to the òrìṣà.”

The carved door on the right wing of the Àwòdì Òkè hall (Fig. 15) is a two-panel winged door with the panels hinged together in the middle to form a single, foldable door. Each panel has four registers, similar to the main entrance door, and is about 90 cm by 180 cm. It is likely that this was carved by the same artist(s) from Ile-Ìbúke. As with the other door, the panels are subdivided into four registers on each side, depicting varying activities and female figures, with pélé facial marks and elaborate hairdos, holding stringed beads or cowries. There are male figures holding staffs, perhaps emissaries of the Aláàfin. (It is common for the king to send people on errands, where the presence of his staff means he was there, “present spiritually”; in such instances, all honor due to the Aláàfin, including obeisance such as prostrating, is accorded the emissaries). Two male figures with raised right hands, as if pledging allegiance to the king, are on the third register, while the last register consists of two female figures adorned with elaborate coiffure in kneeling positions.

15

Right wing entrance door to the Àwòdì k reception hall. Possibly carved by the grandfather of the Ajíbnà's, Ile-Ibuke carving family, Oke aafin, y from mid-1960s–1968. 2013.

15

Right wing entrance door to the Àwòdì k reception hall. Possibly carved by the grandfather of the Ajíbnà's, Ile-Ibuke carving family, Oke aafin, y from mid-1960s–1968. 2013.

The second panel also has four registers, starting with a pregnant woman holding her breast and kneeling before a horned mask. The horned mask perhaps is an image of the onílẹ34 in the Ògbòni cult. This may also allude to the role of the woman in the religious affairs of the palace and of the Aláàfin.

A recurrent motif characteristic of the doors is the depiction of the different facial marks that are representative of Yorùbá people, which tends to show that the palace is a place for all the Yorùbá. The various types of marks, especially pélé and àbàjà,35 show the variety of people who live in y or who are part of the palace as an institution. Facial marks not only identify the lineage of a person, but are also a form of ẹwà (beauty). The two doors here show the people around the Aláàfin: his chiefs, wives, children, warriors, and hunters, without any animals.

It is evident that the carved doors call attention to entrances in Yorùbá architecture. Since the door is usually one of the first points of contact, every attempt is made to ensure that the visitor is impressed and understands the status of the owner or lord of the house. The carved doors in the Aláàfin's palace refect all these attributes.

CONCLUSION

From the foregoing, we see that the art of y palace plays a vital role in the historical, religious, and sociocultural significance of the palace, the Aláàfin, and the people of y. The various images on these doors and panel represent a mixture of ancient and contemporary scenes. They point to the importance of a great institution that has indeed become a living museum of the Yorùba people. Suzanne Blier's study in this respect is particularly important because of the materials discussed, with significant relevance to the present study. Her conclusion is that many African royal artworks themselves helped to preserve the memory of important individuals and incidents from the past and, ironically, complex graphic forms were widely used for documentation (Blier 1998: 249). This conclusion is also very relevant to the imagery on the carved doors in the palace of the Aláàfin of y.

Art has many social functions and responsibilities. Historians, archaeologists, sociologists, scientists, and art historians have constantly examined art with a view to finding pieces of evidence that will help in the reconstruction of a people's history. In Africa it is even more relevant, because written language developed relatively late, especially south of the Sahara. Even in places like Egypt, where hieroglyphics were developed, art was highly developed and played an important role in the creation of writing. It is these types of imagery we have engaged with on the carved doors of y palace.

The images and motifs on these doors and panel have been used to record landmarks and historical moments over hundreds of years. It is not strange, therefore, that art should constitute an important element in the discussion and explanation of cultural heritage. The artists who carved these doors left behind very important and historical aspects of their cultures. They reveal how African artists try to keep for posterity what they see around them and how Yorùbá sovereigns try to immortalize themselves and their deeds through the arts (Folárànmí 2015). This is corroborated by Biobaku (1987), who says that “the history of the Yorùbá up to the nineteenth century36 is the history of a wholly non-literate people.” This does not connote the absence of a historical record, but that history was preserved in oral and visual forms, such as carved doors. As Roland Abídún (2014: 239) puts it, animals like owls, monkeys, leopards, and others, as refected on the carved panels, and other fauna rendered in whole or in part in Ife (and by extension y), should be viewed with the concept of àṣe37—graphic àṣà38—in mind. The artists here, just as in Ifè, may have created a visual oríkì that relates artistically to the Aláàfin.

While the images usually refer to the Aláàfin, they also address issues of power, politics, patronage, leadership, social order, religion, and the wellbeing of the people. It has been agreed by many scholars that art usually thrives in times of peace; these carved doors therefore point to the times when the people were at peace, when there was plenty, and when the people went about their work and life in an orderly manner. There is certainly a need to continue to search and study more about these images, especially as new works are produced. Their understanding will provide valuable information that can further contribute to the body of knowledge on Yorùbá art in the twenty-first century.

Notes

I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance received from Jide Akinyemi, Oyewole Oyeniyi, Adebowale Aderele, Mr. G. Adeniran, and Salawu Ibraheem during fieldwork to Oyo palace between 2013 and 2014. I would also like to acknowledge the funding and invitation to participate in the 2017 PROSPA (Rhodes University Publishing and Research of the South: Positioning Africa) workshop funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, held in Kampala, Uganda, in collaboration with Makerere University, Kampala. I thank Rowland Abídún for providing feedback on this paper.

1

The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, in Western Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region. They are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, their wooden sculpture, and their architecture.

2

Kalilu was of the opinion that, because of the war that dispersed the people and by extension the art produced and used in Old y, it was a difficult endeavor tracing the numerous works of art.

3

The title of the king of y.

4

I have enjoyed a level of free access into the palace partly because of my relationship with the palace, which afforded the opportunity to look into some of the artistic creations in the palace since 1837.

5

Tradition, style, custom.

6

The panel in the garden hall of the palace was referred to as a screen by Meyerowitz, probably because it was used as a kind of screen to block the arched entrance behind the ba's throne.

7

In art history, formalism is the study of art by analyzing and comparing form and style, the way objects are made, and their purely visual aspects.

8

The palace at Old y was sacked and destroyed during the memorable Battle of Eleduwe (named after the king of Borgu); the capital of the Old y Empire was then evacuated.

9

The park of the old y palace was of great size and created a kind of orchard, from which the king and his court could collect all the herbal and vegetable materials needed in the palace. The king, who was usually not allowed to go out of the palace, could also hunt within this expansive park (Falade 1990).

10

The duration of his rule is not certain; however, the next Aláàfin after Oluàso was Onígbogí, whose reign is said to have started in 1497 (Folaranmi 2016: 181).

11

ba means king; however, it is also used as part of the titles of Yorùbá kings, hence Ọba Adeyemi or Ọba Aromolaran.

12

Àgó is the name the present y was called before the sack of Old y, when a large number of people from Old y and the royal family and entourage moved into it, hence Àgó d’ y.

13

The fourth door is not discussed here because it was not accessible at the time of the study. During a renovation exercise on the Àwòdì Òkè reception hall a few years back, a tinted glass door was installed over the door. Since then it has not been opened.

14

There is uncertainty as to when the panel was carved; however, given that the hall was constructed in 1934, the panel must have been carved between 1934 and 1944, a period when Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù reigned as the Aláàfin of y.

15

The Field Marshal, Generalissimo for all descendants of Odùduwà, a title which can only be conferred by the Aláàfin of y on a worthy Yorùba man.

16

Ààfin in Yorùbá is a word meaning “palace”; it is, however, reserved for use only when referring to the palaces of kings and not chiefs. In contemporary times, its usage seem to be widespread.

17

Personal communication, April, 2008, with Baba Obakáiyéjá, who is one of the ìlàrí in the palace of the Aláàfin. The ìlàrí are important messengers of the Aláàfin, and their names usually start with “ba” to signify their position and duties in the y palace.

18

The Yorùbás’ language is exceptionally rich in proverbs in their social exchanges; they believe that it is very bad to “speak with the whole mouth.” They speak with the power and context of proverbs (Lindfors and Owomoyela 1973: 1).

19

It is found not only on carved panels alone, but on other forms of Yorùba art. The mural on the Oju Abata entrance porch of the palace has a concentric circular snake. It seems the artists drew inspiration from one another or were given specific instruction by the patron.

20

Fish staked in this fashion are usually smoked and sold in the local market among the Yorùbá.

21

Captain Ross was the Resident and Senior Resident of y in 1914 and 1921 respectively.

22

These are the first class of noblemen, consisting of the most honorable councilors of state; they are also king-makers. They are seven in number, ranked in the following order—the Osorun, Agbaakin, Samu, Alapini, Laguna, Akiniku, and Asipa. They represent the voice of the nation and on them devolves the chief duty of protecting the interest of the Òyò kingdom. See Johnson 1976: 70.

23

The Islamic writing plate is also called Aduaze and Allo.

24

Oríkì, sometimes referred to as cognomens, are praise names used for endearment by the Yorùbá. They form the basis of formal praise poetry. These are most often given to people, but may also describe class, animals, or inanimate objects, and they are usually laudatory (Folárànmí 2002).

25

Sometimes called the dogi knot (Jefferson 1974: 35).

26

Agbádá is a big, flowing gown common among the Yorùbá. Most attire of the Aláàfin of y seems not to be complete without elaborate embroidery patterns where this icon takes center stage.

27

“Compound” in this context does not refer just to a specific house with a compound among the Yorùba, hence the word agbo ilé, referring to a family lineage.

28

Personal communication with Jimoh Ajíbnà, Ile-Ìbúke, September 7, 2014.

29

Personal communication with Mudasiru Ajíbnà Oke, Ile-Ìbúke, y, September 8, 2014.

30

Meyerowitz's measurement of good or bad Yorùbá carving has no merit, especially because there was at the time no yardstick for making such judgment.

31

The name Àwòdì Òkè translates literally as “the eagle on top.” The name is perhaps a recent nomenclature, perhaps derived from the remodeling of the ceiling to include an eagle overlooking the Aláàfin's throne.

32

Personal communication with Wahabi Oláyíwolá Ajíbnà (b.1940), a third-generation carver in his family compound, Ile-Ìbúke y, September 22, 2014.

33

In art and archaeology, in sculpture as well as in painting, a register is a vertical level in a work consisting of several levels, especially where the levels are clearly separated by lines; this is common with Yorùbá carved panels. It can also be described as one of a series of rows in a pictorial narrative. It is thus comparable to a row, or a line in modern texts. See https://quizlet.com/2283985/ap-art-history-terms-fash-cards/ and Abídún, Drewal, and Pemberton 1997.

34

The cult object of the Ògbòni society is called onílẹ, “The Landlord” (see Idowu 1994: 24).

35

The àbàjà are sets of three or four parallel and horizontal lines on each cheek; they may be single or double, each line being from half an inch to one inch long. The double sets are those of the Royal Family of y, while the single is that of the older line of Basòrun.

36

This was a period when Siyanblá Ládìgbòlù was the Aláàfin of y and a number of art works were created for posterity's sake.

37

Effective primordial life force/potency believed to be inherent in all things (Abídún 2014).

38

Style, custom, tradition.

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