Lot: 235

Rare male ancestor figure "ekpu"

Nigeria (South-east), Lower Cross River, Calabar Province, Oron

Provenance Size Starting price / estimated price
Jean-Pierre Jernander, Brussels, Belgium
Belgian Private Collection, Brussels (ca. 1980)

H: 53.9 inch 10000 EUR / 20000 EUR

heavy hardwood, pigments, insect caused missing parts, base Shortly after a prominent elder died, such a wooden figure was created in his memory, whereby he was elevated to ancestral status. As a sign of their dignity, the figures always hold drinking horns or other ritual or high-status implements and most of them have beards and wear small caps. Libations and other sacrifices were once made to these figures and appeals were made to them for the prosperity and health of the people, and to avert disaster. According to Nicklin they were especially supposed to prevent the loss of fishing crews and canoes. The eldest member of a clan was the guardian and keeper of a shrine in which as many as fourteen generations of their forebears were so honored. "Ekpu" ancestor figures created by Oron carvers are considered to be among the oldest surviving wood sculptures from sub-Saharan Africa. The tradition to carve those figures probably lasted only until the turn of the 20th century. When Kenneth C. Murray discovered them in 1938, the cult has become already obsolete, the shrines were on decay. In 1959, when a museum was built for the sculptures found at that time, about 600 figures still existed. As a result of the Biafra War (1967-70), in which the museum was partially destroyed, most of these figures were lost or destroyed.


Nicklin, Keith, Ekpu, London 1999 Cole, Herbert M., Invention and Tradition, Munich, London, New York 2012, p. 77

ADHRC: 0181999