Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Kissi and Nomoli Stone Sculptures

The KISSI carved stone statues which were known as POMTAN and in very rare cases, is it possible to see the distinct adornment of a Portuguese helmet which could be dated back as far as the sixteenth century. The true KISSI stone is not as excessive in style as the NOMOLI but the lines are more delicate in that the facial planes are flatter and the figure is of a more tubular shape. These statues are still used on the family alter and are seen as a direct link to the ancestors who are the link between God and Man.

Since the NOMOLI and KISSI stones have only ever been found buried in the ground, it does indicate their use in some type of burial ceremony and when a person discovers a KISSI stone, he will use it to make contact with his ancestors and may in time be buried with it.

The NOMOLI figures were carved from soapstone by the SHERBRO or BULOM tribes as early as the 15th century and have been found by the MENDE while cultivating their rice fields. The NOMOLI are representative of ancestors long past and are now believed to increase the fertility of the crops. The statues are alternatively praised or castigated according to the standard of the crop. The head is of a realistic Negroid design with large protruding eyes, broad lips and broad nose with inflated nostrils.
On this page you can see a few of specimen belonging to The Fagalde Collection of African Tribal Art.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Nigerian Bronze Bells

South Western Nigeria is the home of the YORUBA and BINI traditions, and was originally thought to be the sole source of the wealth of bronze castings, and so it was with great interest that a new source of material was found in an archaeological site beyond the eastern shores of the Niger. It is here in the IGBO interior that the earliest corpus of Nigerian Bronzes has been unearthed.

In the course of controlled excavation, approximately 100 bronzes were brought to light at IGBO-UKWU, a small settlement in northern IGBO country in southern eastern Nigeria. Among the collection of vessels and other artefacts were a large number of fine thinly cast bells, decorated with tiny coiled spirals, miniature human heads, leopards, serpents, birds and floral patterns.

Although the bell is common in other traditions throughout Nigeria, it is so prevalent in southern Nigerian collections that it can be said to typify the small bronzes as a whole. Some bear minimal decorations, others are quite elaborate in design. The bells are usually about 15 cms in height and are often, but not always, provided with a clapper. They tend to fall into three general groupings.

The first category are the small waisted type, conical with a flared lower rim, thin cast and approximately 15cms high. The category is made up of numerous bells with inverted tulip shape, also approximately 15cms high. They too have a loop and are thin cast. Holes for the clapper are often punched on top at the side of the handle after casting, but others have no hole at all. Ethnographic documentation reveals that a tulip shaped bell was collected as early as 1904.

Another almost identical bell collected in 1958 was found to be machine manufactured and it originated in a southern IGBO community within the arc of distribution of hand cast bells. Both versions are still encountered in situ in shrines and other ritual contents in part of southern Nigeria today.

The third category covers the many larger tubular bells of elliptical circumference with wide sloping shoulders. These are approximately 20—23 cms high and have slightly flared mouths and clappers are attached. This type is sometimes known as an IGALA bell and can date back some 500 years. Such bells have been found far up in the BENUE RIVER and as far east as CAMEROON. The most delicately executed examples however, do tend to cluster in the IGBO interior.

As in many other parts of the world, the bells were used as a portable noisemaker proclaiming a sacred presence, on the one hand, and neutralizing hostile or harmful forces on the other.

The bells established power fields, enveloping either incorporeal or tangible principles, the latter frequently embodied in a priest or ruler. Bronze was considered to be endowed with unique powers, reinforcing the prerogative of important members of the community.