Africa Direct
Africa Direct

Chamba Mystery Piece Wood Carving Nigeria African Art

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Type of Object Sculpture, figure
Country of Origin Nigeria
Materials Wood
Approximate Age Early 20th Century
Height (in) 10
Width (in) 7
Depth (in) 3
Overall Condition Good. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.   Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.  We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.

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A great piece for a collector that appreciates the bits of mystery inherent in collecting older artifacts!

This piece is a bit of a mystery to us - while it certainly appears to be a Yoruba Shango piece, it could also be an Igbo/Ibibio or Cross River carving. Mixed traditions in art production exist and have existed along the Lower Niger and Cross Rivers and the great Niger River delta as it flows into the Atlantic. A number of groups in this region share mask styles often drawing upon one another for imagery and perhaps even carvers who had some degree of mobility. Due to the age and the mixed artistic traditions, we are unsure of which group specifically produced this gorgeous piece. However, we are including some background information about the different groups that could have been behind the creation of this piece.


Ibibio - Though the Ibibio have lived in the Cross River region of Nigeria for hundreds of years, written records only exist from colonial times. But like most groups in the region, their history in the area probably goes back thousands of years, and there is a strong oral tradition supporting this.

Igbo - The Igbo are an ancient people, and apparently originated within 100 miles of their current location. Though scientific opinions differ, it is possible that the Igbo and their ancient relatives the Yoruba, Idoma, Bini, and Igala existed as early as 5000 years ago, roughly about the same time as the rise of the ancient Egyptians. The Igbo split from these groups fairly early, arriving on the Akwa-Orlu Plain around 4000 years ago. Here they have thrived, despite the many internal squabbles which has produced so many regional and cultural differences. A vibrant culture yet today, with enormous political power which can border on tyranny, the Igbo continue to evolve, producing arts that defy the imagination and shock the senses. As mentioned at the outset, a full accounting of the Igbo and their artisitic prowess cannot be found in a single volume. But there are a multitude of resources both online and in libraries, where much more can be learned.

Yoruba - Yoruba history is a complex mixture of fact and mythology. Oral history tells us that God lowered a chain at Ile-Ife, down which climbed Oduduwa, the ancestor of all Yoruba. He brought with him a rooster, some soil, and a palm nut. He threw the soil into the water, the rooster scratched it (how he did that is curious), and the palm nut grew into a tree with sixteen limbs, which became the original sixteen Yoruba kingdoms. It is here that documentation leaves the mythological and enters the recorded. The Oyo Empire rose to power in the 15th century with the aide of guns obtained from Portuguese colonialists. The acquisition of horses helped the process along, and was responsible for the rapid expansion into new lands. When war broke out in the Oyo Empire, late in the 18th century, the Yoruba sought aide from their Muslim neighbors, the Fulani, from whom they probably got most of their horses. The Fulani, perhaps the most aggressive of all African cultures, responded, predictably, by conquering the Oyo, and displaced the Yoruba southward. Thus the towns of Ibadan and Abeokuta were founded, providing the Yoruba with seats of power. The various factions of the Yoruba, who fought with each other, were unified by a treaty in the late 1800's which was mediated by the British. This led to formal colonization by the British in 1901. The British, badly outnumbered, wisely allowed the various Yoruba factions to essentially establish their own governments, though the British maintained their "official status." Finally, in 1914, after a violent uprising, mostly by the Yoruba, the British released southern Nigeria from their grip, but it was not until 1960 that the whole of Nigeria was declared an independent nation. The Yoruba have since flourished and grown into the largest unified culture in Nigeria and, debatably, the largest in all of Africa, as well as one of the most prolific art-producing cultures in the world.