Cosmic Connections

Top, Nommo Stool, Dogon, Mali, late 19th- early 20th century; National Museum of African Art collection

Bottom, female figures, ere ibeji with beaded cover, Yoruba, Nigeria, early-mid 20th century; National Museum of African Art collection

Nommo stool, Dogon, Mali, late 19th– early 20th century

The dual disks of this figural stool have been interpreted as representing the celestial home of Dogon spirits and the terrestrial domain to which they descended.  The carved figural pairs with upraised arms may suggest entreaties for rain, but they may also recall founding spirits, or nommo, the fluid mythic beings involved in the creation of humankind and culture who were born of sky and earth and are connected to water and lightning.

Female figures, ere ibeji with beaded cover, Yoruba, Nigeria, early-mid 20th century

Twins, by virtue of their unusual births, are powerful and believed in some areas to be children of the thundergod Shango.  Ere ibeji figures, which are memorials to deceased twins, may be dressed in miniature tunics similar to the life-sized ones worn by Shango priests to signal this connection. The ere ibeji shown are dressed in an elaborately beaded vest, a sign of royal status. The decoration is symbolic. The birds on the shoulders, for example, indicate the protection of Oshun, a river goddess, while the color-filled zigzags refer to Shango’s thunderbolts. The interlace patterns, called salubata, are associated with royal leadership.

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