Caryatid vessel (arugba Shango)

late 19th–c. 1940

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art

Shango priests store the deity's thunderbolts (Neolithic celts or axe heads), kola nuts, food offerings, oshe Shango, and other ritual paraphernalia in a calabash bowl that is placed on an upturned mortar. In the Igbomina and Ekiti areas, Shango shrines are adorned with large sculpted arugba, or bowl carriers, as exemplified by the Dallas arugba Shango that depicts a seated female holding a lidded bowl above her head (fig. 33).

The central figure in a caryatid vessel is always a female, depicted either kneeling or seated on a mortar, holding a large lidded bowl above her head with both hands. She represents a devotee who has petitioned Shango for the blessing of a child. That her prayer was answered is indicated by the figure's swollen abdomen and/or by one of the smaller figures carved at either side. The smaller figures on this sculpture are holding ritual objects. The one on her left carries an oshe Shango in one hand and a stockfish in the other, while the figure on her right clasps a bowl. The faces carved in relief on the lid and bowl held by the central figure refer to a ritual practice in which a devotee touches his or her forehead with a kola nut and then repeats this action on the sculpted faces. The face carved on the lid looks toward the viewer; the face on the bowl is placed upside down to look toward the sky world. The faces are darkened with blue paint, traditionally natural indigo pigment, in reference to the ori inu, or the seat of one's destiny in one's "inner head." The bowl itself is thought to be a metaphor for the womb, which Shango can fill with a new life if the devotee is faithful to him.(18)

This arugba Shango was carved by Akobi Ogun Fakeye (c. 1870-1946), whose name means "the first born of Ogun," the Yoruba god of iron and the patron saint of woodcarvers. Akobi Ogun was the son of a sculptor but chose not to carve. According to his son Lamidi Olonade Fakeye (b. 1925), an internationally known sculptor whose work is installed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Akobi Ogun contracted smallpox when he was about twenty years old. Ifa divination revealed that Akobi Ogun's destiny was to follow the "family work of woodcarving" and because he had denied his destiny, he was punished with smallpox. After making sacrificial food offerings to Ogun, Akobi Ogun entered into an apprenticeship with a master sculptor named Tayewo who lived in the town Ila Orangun. Three years later, Akobi Ogun established his own atelier.(19) Akobi Ogun Fakeye carved at least two other arugba Shango, one of which is in a German private collection (20) and the other in a British private collection.(21)

The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 30, pp. 112-113.


18. Drewal, Henry John, and John Pemberton III, with Rowland Abiodun. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. Edited by Allen Wardwell. New York: Center for African Art, in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1989. pp. 155, fig. 169, and pp. 162-163, fig. 170.
Compare for an arugba Shango carved by Arowgun (areogun) of Osi-Ilorin.

19. Haight, Bruce, and Lamidi Olonade Fakeye. Lamidi Olonade Fakeye: African Sculptor of the Twentieth Century. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Western Michigan University, 1987. p. 38.

20. Abiodun, Rowland, Henry John Drewal, and John Pemberton III. Yoruba: Art and Aesthetics. Edited by Lorenz Homberger. Zurich: Rietberg Museum; New York: Center for African Art, 1991. p. 27, fig. 34.

21. Jones, David. Poets with Adzes: An Introduction to Yoruba Religious Art. Ipswich, England: Museums and Galleries, 1988. p. 25, cat. no. 414.

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  • Title: Caryatid vessel (arugba Shango)
  • Date Created: late 19th–c. 1940
  • culture: Yoruba peoples
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 41 3/4 x 17 x 17 1/2 in. (106.04 x 43.18 x 44.45 cm)
  • Type: Containers
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/4363444/
  • Medium: Wood and pigment


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