Yoruba artists
Nigeria, Ijebu‑Ode
Panels, late 19th century
70 1/4 × 61 9/16 × 3 in. (178.4 × 156.4 × 7.6 cm.) (overall)
Gift of Mrs. William B. Belknap  1976.12.1

Depicting Forces of Change
These architectural panels probably once decorated the home of a high-ranking military chief or elder. Their complex imagery refers to a turbulent period in Nigeria’s history when a series of civil wars disrupted trade routes and prompted Britain to intervene with colonial forces in 1892. As the military rose in importance, the power of the king declined. Here, armed soldiers on horseback dominate each panel, while the king (wearing his conical crown mounted with birds) is relegated to the lower right panel.

Reinforcing these ideas are allusions to two Yoruba gods: Eshu, the messenger god who causes good and bad things to happen in one’s life, and Ogun, the god of iron and guardian of warriors. The upside-down Eshu devotee on the lower right probably refers to the god’s ability to turn people’s lives upside down. A military leader who is able to draw on Eshu’s power to create chaos and confusion would be formidable in war. Two men on horseback carry spears and iron staffs, demonstrating their military prowess and Ogun’s strength.