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African, Nigeria, Ijebu Ode, Yoruba people
Panels, late 19th century, wood.
Gift of Mrs. William B. Belknap 1976.12.1-.3

This triptych tells the story of a shifting political power and struggle among the Yoruba people. The period when these panels were carved marked the end of the Oyo Empire and with it the decline of the Yoruba nation. Civil war erupted among the various Yoruba kingdoms. This protracted period of unrest lasted until the intervention of the British and the imposition of colonial rule.

The events that are commemorated in this panel appear to be a victory by a military general over a formerly powerful king. The mounted general in the center of the triptych is the most prominent figure represented on the panels. He is brandishing a gun and spear in an apparent gesture of triumph. The king, on the other hand, is one of the least significant figures represented here. He is shown on the far right hand side at the bottom of the right hand panel. The position of the king relative to the general suggests instability and shifting power structures that were emerging at the end of the nineteenth century. He is wearing his conical crown and is flanked by birds. The birds are indicative of the Support of the local witches. The Yoruba people shared a common ancestry and the sculptor suggests unity through a repeated “W” motif of linked arms throughout the panel.




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