Wilson, Brady, Omission and Lying.

There is very little if anything wrong in not giving a superstar his just due. Any arguments that Russell Wilson deserves any kudos for getting the starting nod in his rookie year (against all odds), winning his first Super Bowl in his sophomore year, and making the Super Bowl in his third NFL year is simply an expectation afforded the stereotypical quarterback. Fortunately the consistent drone by the media outlining why the opposition lost versus why the Seahawks win provides great motivation fodder as well as a great segue into the whole perspective of omission and commission.

Cue Brady and the Patriots, deflate-gate, and the demise of a legacy. This is not rocket science. Let’s give my boy Brady the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say there was absolutely no link between Brady and the directive given to equipment personnel to deflate said balls outside of league rules. Now my personal history is that I could tell if a table tennis ball had a hole in it, if the basketball at the YMCA was too soft, and if the soccer ball in the garage needed a little air in it. Not being a ball expert I’ve had co-workers berate me for walking around with worn tennis balls, (clearly I have limits). What I have no doubt about however, is that on taking the field my boy Brady knew he was playing outside the rules, with balls perfectly suited to his personal preference, and did nothing to rectify the situation. Forget about everything else. This is how it works for me. At best, Brady went for the victory using an advantage handed to him on a platter. Lacking the intestinal fortitude to address the situation, my boy Brady went with the flow. At best my boy Brady is guilty only of a sin of omission. The question of course is whether or not this can take down a legacy. I say it can, and has. The sin of omission is a high standard, and a personal one, but it is the line of demarcation between a public, and the private cheat. It’s what separates the golfer who is expected to call the penalty on himself, it is what raises the game of lawn tennis a notch when the opponent overturns a call made for him, and in soccer the opposing team will kick the ball out of bounds if an opposing player is injured.

The only thing my boy Brady has done is to pull the NFL’s tights down and expose the old, worn, pink jockstraps. The fact that he will be allowed to play in the Superbowl is understandable (at +$4mio for a 30 sec commercial spot this is eminently understandable). Let’s not kid ourselves though, just as a robbery can elevate itself due to circumstance, rest assured a sin of omission walks hand in hand with lying. (Disclaimer – I rooted for Patriots to win against the Colts – only because I believe the Seahawks handle pocket passers better than mobile quarterbacks).

Five Things one should know about Ikenga

What is Ikenga?

Ikenga is a ‘ritual object’ (commonly found in Igbo family shrines), which on an individual basis represents ‘masculine strength’ and the ‘ability to achieve one’s goals through one’s efforts’. [1]

Kunin Ikenga

[E1] The Kunin Ikenga – from the collection of Myron Kunin

Types of Ikenga

The Ikenga is in the image of a horned male figure made out of wood.

Ikenga - simple, abstract

[E2] Simple Ikenga form

• In its simplest form, it consists of only a cylindrical block and projecting “horns”. The horn symbolizes the aggressive, assertive, and powerful nature of the male animal.

Traditional Ikenga - AplusAfricanArt

[E3] Traditional Ikenga form

• The more elaborate type of Ikenga is a standing or seated male figure with a fully realized head and limbs which usually holds a machete in the right hand (hence “the cult of the right hand” – typically the hand of strength), and a severed head in the other.

Abstract Ikenga

[E4] Ikenga – Abstract

• The very abstract ikenga represents “characteristic ikenga features, such as a stool for the seat of authority and horns for vitality”. [2]

Understanding Ikenga.

To understand and “map” the eastern Ikenga concept to western thinking I use the following :
• Igbo religion incorporates the concept of an all-powerful creator God, Chikwu. (also called Chineke). [3],[4]
• Chi has been described as a sub-deity functioning as a personal, spiritual guide, (which sounds like a Christian adaptation to the “guardian angel” (mmuo) hypothesis). [3],[4]
• Each person has a chi that represents the personality essence that controls one’s destiny. [5]
• “Ikenga sculpture reflects the traits defined by the ikenga (the spirit element) that is an aspect of a constituent part of the chi”. [5]
• “The ikenga is the force that facilitates personal achievement and propels individuals to success”. [5]

What is the Origin of Ikenga?

Scholars are divided into two groups. The first relate Ikenga to the Egyptian “ram headed” influence as part of Igbo history, while the second and more plausible line believes that “that the Ikenga cult did not diffuse from anywhere into Igboland; at best, it is that part of the Igbo religious culture, epitomized in the spirit force and the powers of the guardian angels exemplified in Chi, and expressed in varied forms, which controlled the individual’s destiny and day-to-day affairs”. [1]

Where is Ikenga Used?

Ikenga is primarily used by the Igbo, however it is also used by the Igala to the north (called Okega), and by the “Benin and Delta groups, bordering western Niger Igbo groups, who call theirs Ikengobo, Ivri etc. The Oji, Orji, Ogilisi, and Okwe trees are special types of trees, believed to have spiritual potency, and appear to be the trees used in carving the Ikenga. However, the Akanta tree, which is a very hard wood and highly revered by carvers and medicine men across Igboland, was also used”. [1]

[1] The Ikenga, as Emblem of Greatness in the Cosmology of the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria, Ihediwa Nkemjika Chimee
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chukwu
[4] http://nigeriaworld.com/articles/2009/may/242.html
[5] A Companion to African Philosophy, (edited by Kwasi Wiredu), p421

[E1] In Pursuit of Beauty, Sotheby’s (NY), 11/11/14
[E2]-[E4] Private Collection (AplusAfricanArt)

Collections, Addictions, History Past, and Present

Collecting African Tribal art is as interesting as it is addictive. Every piece can provide the start of another collection based on multiple factors, such as Tribe, society, function, symbol, location, material, and/or type. Every piece truly represents a lonely ‘soul’ crying out for company, but this argument holds little water with my inner financial advisor.

On NY marathon Sunday I happened to be in Harlem (by chance) near one of my favorite African stores, African Paradise. The store has many items, carvings, and african knick-knacks so there was a lot to look through. Reme, the owner is a wonderful fountain of knowledge who never fails to surprise, and I was also lucky to find the company of an old ‘dealer’ who shared his knowledge when we had different opinions. The reality is that you can only learn so much from books, and suffice to say I can now identify palm nuts (used in Ifa divination practice), and won’t easily confuse them with kola nuts (which can produce a euphoric, stimulating feeling).

There were many decent buys but I settled on a swarthy Yoruba rider to contrast the lone Yoruba (warrior) rider in my collection. At several recent auctions the Dogon, and Senufo riders grabbed most of the attention (and higher prices) due to their level of stylistic, and abstract distinction. The two carvings are shown below.

Yoruba horseman

[E1] Yoruba Horseman – Headdress

The carving styles are as different as Yin and Yang but they were both Yoruba, old, and ‘command their space’. In particular the new addition had a long curved extension of the hair which may be reminiscent of Eshu (the trickster of Yoruba theology).

Yoruba horseman

[E2] Yoruba Rider – probably Eshu related

What was amazing (and embarrassing) however was the response to my questions regarding the praise songs being played in the background. I was informed that the singer was none other than Ella Andall (of ‘Bring back the Power’ fame), a Trinidadian singer who was very popular for her renditions of Yoruba music. The CD in question was “Osun Bamise”, which I couldn’t find on Itunes, (but I later settled for downloading her Sango related praise songs).
The video attached shows a view of Yoruba (Oshun) related celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago.

To add insult to injury Reme recommended an old study – “Guinea’s Other Suns: The African Dynamic in Trinidad Culture”, by Maureen Warner-Lewis. I had no idea this text existed, and although pleasantly surprised I was again embarrassed to be twice schooled on aspects of my own heritage.
From a book review done by Monica Schuler, Social and Economic Studies, June 1992,

Guinea’s Other Suns is an engaging interdisciplinary work, important both as a reference tool for scholars and as a textbook for Caribbean and African diaspora studies.
Maureen Warner-Lewis, a Trinidadian sociolinguist at UWI, Mona, Jamaica, wrote these collected essays over a period of fifteen years. Their strength derives from her extensive field work among descendants of liberated Africans in Trinidad, first-hand knowledge of Yoruba language and society, and perceptive sociolinguistic analysis.

Needless to say my copy is now en route, but I fear the deficit of understanding my history, both past and present would have been better covered in my youth.

[E1],[E2] AplusAfricanArt Collection

Threads of Association, Symbols, and Miniatures in African Art

I admit it took me several years of collecting African Tribal art to even begin to see the beauty in miniatures, but I’m well on the way to being hooked. What I appreciate now beyond the aesthetics of the art itself is the ability of miniatures to convey aspects of culture and tradition both through association with people/events, and also through the symbols represented.

The two examples shown below are an Ogoni mask, (it’s hard enough to get a large mask), and an Edan brass couple.

Ogoni mask

[E1] Ogoni Mask

While the mask is fascinating, with its patina, hinged jaw, and scarification, my association-link is firmly rooted in the fight of the Ogonis both against exploitation of natural resources, and environmental damage, and the inspirational life of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

On October 31, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis were sentenced to death by a Special Tribunal. In blatant defiance of numerous appeals by the international community, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow Ogoni were brutally executed on Friday, November 10, 1995. Ken Saro-Wiwa is remembered as an author, poet, and activist who stood up against the exploitation of his people. [1]

In the Edan sculpture shown note several items of iconography,
– The hand gestures of both figures are very important, in that they duplicate the greeting gesture of one Ogboni member to another.[2]
– The bulging eyes, typical of Yoruba art, allude to the devotee’s state of divine possession. [3]
– The chain joining the figures marks the symbolic unity underlying the man-woman opposition and the Ogboni intervention that makes this unity possible. [3]


[E2] Edan – Ogboni emblems, Yoruba

Edan are among the most fascinating sculptured objects in Yoruba culture. They are presented to an initiate into the higher ranks of a secret society, Ogboni or Oshugbo. Ogboni is one of the most prominent Yoruba religious cult societies, which worships the owner of the earth, Onile.

Its prime function is to harmonise all spirits and forces of nature. It is led by the eldest and wisest man and woman from the community. The edan were worn around initiates’ necks, as symbols of rank, at society meetings and ceremonies. The casting over an iron rod signifies the union of the magical forces associated with brass and iron.

The non-rusting character of brass symbolises immortality – the desire for longevity and well-being. The union of the male and female figures by a chain represents the duality of Onile. Ogboni venerates Onile to ensure human survival, peace, happiness, and social stability in the community.

The edan are used in five main functions: judicial, oracular, healing, protective, and communication/surveillance (Roache, 1971).
• For the judicial role, it is believed that an edan placed upright by its spike on the ground will fall should a man not confess his guilt.
• For its oracular role, it is required to be present with its owner in ifa divination for predicting the owner’s future. The Ogboni society has its own odu, a set of sacred verses of the spiritual and ethical tradition of ifa, predictions; that relate to both mundane and spiritual prescriptions.
• For the healing role, the edan are sometimes shaped like a spoon for medicine preparation.
• For the protective role, the edan are worn or carried to keep the bearer from harm and witchcraft.
• For the communication and surveillance role, the edan are believed to have the power to travel in the form of a bird to disseminate messages as well as to watch over people. [4]

[1] Refugee Review Tribunal, Response # NGA32636
[2] https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15413/lot/2540/
[3] Africa – Dictionaries of Civilisation, p.244
[4] http://www.michaelbackmanltd.com/1399.html

[E1], [E2] Private collection, AplusAfricanArt

Five Baga Objects of African Tribal Art

On 10/09/14 a small African Tribal art auction featuring property from the Rona family collection took place in Boonton NJ. The prices of the African Art sold varied from approximately $100 – $7,000 and included pieces “purchased in the 1970’s from respected galleries such as Segy, Klejman, and Tribal Arts; including published pieces from Ladislas Segy’s Masks of Black Africa”, (MilleaBros catalog, 2014). This effectively provided buyers with more than the usual “provenance halo”, typically associated with pieces purchased at major auction houses.

While one may take any number of positives from the event (beauty, breath, quality, depth, provenance) the pieces from the Baga tribes (Bansonyi, Tonkongba, Nimba, A Tshol) brought a much greater appreciation for what I had previously considered as a less attractive, and less abstract masking tradition.


The Baga people, approx. 60,000 in total, occupy the northern coast of Guinea and the southern coast of Guinea-Bissau. Bansonyi is the man’s secret society that unites autonomous villages of the Baga people. Its emblem is a polychrome headpiece, called Bansonyi that is carved in the form of a python standing upright. It embodies the snake-spirit a-Mantsho-na-Tshol (“master of medicine”). Among most Baga subgroups, only adolescent males learn the secrets of the snake-spirit during the initiation, which marks the passage to adult status.


E1 Bansonyi – Rona Collection

Bansonyi lives in the sacred forest and emerges when it is time to begin the boys’ coming-of-age rites. Bansonyi is believed to be the strongest adversary of sorcery and destructive forces that could endanger the well-being of the village. It is especially protective of the boys during their initiation into adult society. Bansonyi also appear at the funeral celebrations of the most important members of the community.

E1 Rona Family Collections Auction, (Price realized $2,250)


The character represented in this mask, Banda (also called Kumbaruba by some Baga groups), is a complex composite of human and animal forms. The long horizontal headdress is composed of the face of a human being and the jaw of a crocodile, whose angular teeth are visible along the side of the mask. The human face is characterized by Baga scarification marks as well as a woman’s elaborately braided coiffure. The top of the headdress features the horns of an antelope, the body of a serpent, and the tail of a chameleon. Banda headdresses are quite large; this example measures just over four feet in length. Yet despite their unwieldy size, the mask is manipulated with astonishing dexterity and dynamism during performances.

E2 Banda Mask

E2 Banda Mask

Today, the Banda headdress is danced only for entertainment, although historical documentation suggests that it originally carried an extremely sacred significance. It seems that Banda represented a high and powerful spiritual being that would appear only to privileged society elders. During that period, Banda was used in rituals designed to protect against dangers such as animal attacks or even human malevolence, especially around the time of important male initiation rites. In contemporary Baga society, the Banda performer, invariably a young man, carries the wooden headdress on top of his head. Attached to the underside of the headdress is a large raffia cape that covers the dancer’s face and extends to his knees. The performance takes place in a circular arena formed by the crowd and is accompanied by drummers playing on giant wooden slit gongs. The choreography of the dance invokes the movements of various animals, including soaring birds, foot-stamping bulls, and undulating serpents. In the greatest spectacle of the performance, the dancer goes into a dizzying spin holding the headdress aloft, then twirling it in a series of figure eights and plunging it to the ground, finally returning the headdress to his head, all without missing a beat.
[2] http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/310750
E2 http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/310750


The most important of the Baga art forms is the great mask, D’mba or Nimba.

E3 Nimba - Baga tribe (Baga Nimba)

E3 Nimba – Baga tribe (Baga Nimba)

It represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women, and presides over all agricultural ceremonies. The dancer, wearing a full raffia costume, carries the mask on his shoulders, looking out through holes between the breasts. In use, such masks rise more than eight feet above the ground; they often weigh more than eighty pounds. Most show a standardized pattern of facial scarification.

E4 Dancing the Nimba

E4 Dancing the Nimba

” Nimba is the joy of living; it is the promise of abundant harvest”
The Baga Nimba, or D’mba, represents the abstraction of an ideal of the female role in society. The Nimba is essentailly viewed as the vision of woman at her zenith of power, beauty, and affective presence; rather than a goddess or spirit. The typical Nimba form illustrates a woman that has been fertile, given birth to several children, and nurtured them to adulthood.
[3] http://www.randafricanart.com/Baga_Nimba.html
E3 http://matricien.org/geo-hist-matriarcat/afrique/baga/
E4 http://matricien.org/geo-hist-matriarcat/afrique/baga/

TONKONGBA [4], [5]

The Tonkongba headdress can be seen as a three-part form, including a helmet in the center, a long snout protruding from the front, and, a pair of flat horns usually connected at their tips. It is not known much about the use of these headdresses. Knowledge concerning the Tonkongba’s function is complicated by a number of factors, including the extreme secrecy enveloping the sculpture and the probability that it was used in different ways by different groups. No doubt, it served both as a shrine figure and as a dance headdress. According to some sources, the Tonkongba appeared on any special occasion when a sacrifice was involved, for example, at a funeral. It danced at sunrise. When Tonkongba came out, the people would hang tobacco leaves and fowl on its costume as tribute. [4]

E5 Tonkongba Headdress

E5 Tonkongba Headdress

These masks were formerly attributed to the Landuman, but are now known to come from the northern Baga. This is an important cult mask, representing a stylized Atlantic dolphin. The “melon” and beak can be plainly made out, (some have a definitive dorsal fin), flippers and tail. This marine mammal was regarded as sacred by the Baga. According to Bacquart, “the mask …is usually kept in front of a clan’s shrine. It is sometimes worn by dancers during ceremonies involving sacrifices — for instance, funerals. Tonkongba is alleged to be omniscient, thus has the power to know and promulgate both good and bad news”. [5]

[4] http://www.zyama.com/Collection/pics%20A-C.htm
[5] http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/very-rare-landuman-baga-tonkongba-dolphin

E5 http://www.zyama.com/Collection/pics%20A-C.htm


A-Tshol  - Baga Tribe

E6 A-Tshol – Baga Tribe

Oral history suggests that the A-tshol (Elëk, ma-Tshol) shrine figures combining bird and human attributes date back to the ancient origins of the Baga and Nalu peoples. Such figures were the most revered objects on shrines dedicated to the protection of a clan. Their name, translated into the various languages of coastal Guinea where these figures were found, means medicine, and on shrines they stood alongside other protective medicines invested with supernatural power. On important occasions, such figures could also be danced on the head of a male clan member.

[6] http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/109828
E6 Art Institute of Chicago, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/109828

The Guyanese buck, Tabwa, and magical Pygmies.

In Collecting African Tribal art shipping becomes part of the process. More often than not the boxes are a little bigger than the usual Amazon book package and for some reason a co-worker will usually ask if there’s a little person in there…. cue the Guyanese buck script.

African Art Shipping

[E1] African Art Shipping

My standard response is that the boxes contain a ‘Guyanese buck’ (or “Bacoo” [1]). Similar in stature to a leprechaun of Irish folklore, but with its own peculiarities. Legends agree that they can provide their owners with any wish, but they must be fed (and kept happy) on a diet of bananas and milk. ‘Baku’ in many West African languages means ‘little brother’ or ‘short man’ and the short races (such as the pygmies) were believed to have magical powers. I warn people that upon hearing any sound from the box it would be imperative to slip a bowl of milk in. It never stops the questions.

Guyanese Buck

[E2] Guyanese Buck

What had actually arrived in this particular box was a Tabwa mask, complete with stand.

Tabwa Mask

[E3] Tabwa Mask

One of my truly illogical idiosyncrasies when bidding at an auction is not walking away empty-handed, AND disappointed. This means if there is a fantastic piece at lot #30, then I will try to get the best piece I can before lot #30 is placed on the block. In this case my perception exceeded my expectation.

Tabwa Masks

[E4] Tabwa Masks

I am actually fond of the Tabwa mask and sculpture traditions. The tribe used “scarification as a means of perfecting the body through motifs alluding to positive social values and cosmological principles”. [2] The symmetrical patterns of extensive raised cicatrices and unique hairstyles separates Tabwa sculpture and art from other tribes.

[1] http://www.islandmix.com/backchat/f6/caribbean-folklores-i-loved-hearing-these-stories-234841/

[2] The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas…Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.106

[E2] Buck picture Credit http://littletwotwo.hubpages.com/hub/Jumbies-of-Guyana

Natural Hair, Confidence, & African Tribal Hairstyle

Would you ROCK a Tribal Hairstyle?

[E1] Caribana 2014 - Toronto Carnival

[E1] Caribana 2014 – Toronto Carnival

Not many people can rock a bona fide African Tribal hairstyle. Working women need hairstyles which are easy to manage, maintain, and are not too heavy on the wallet. Lately however I’ve noticed a comeback (resurgence if you will) of natural hairstyles with the afrocentric look, driven in part by the definition of beauty that has become more inclusive and puts a premium on confidence, uniqueness, health, and color. The other driver to this is the willingness of African American women to quietly embrace their afrocentric origins, a non-quiet rebellion against the societal norms of styles based on long, straight hair.

Basic Continuum

Let’s start with the basic minimum/maximum look, with the minimum look gaining ground on the heels of the award winning performance of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013) [1].

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

Very few women are daring enough to pull off either extreme.

[E3] Ally - Metropolitan Museum 2013

[E3] Ally – Metropolitan Museum 2013

Igbo Influence

The prize for the most visually stunning goes to versions stemming from the 1800’s to the early 20th century Igbo style.

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

In African Tribal art this hairstyle is represented by the Agbogho mmwo [2], or “maiden spirit,” masks worn by men at festivals that honor important deities. They represent the Igbo ideal of female beauty: small, balanced features, elaborate hairstyles, and delicate tattoos.

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

One of the fascinating aspects of the many variations currently in fashion is the wide options of micro-braid styles available to be used. I think this will grow in popularity in coming years.

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E10] Afrocentric Variant - TnT Carnival 2014

[E10] Afrocentric Variant – TnT Carnival 2014

Mende Perspective

“The top of every Sowo mask is carved to represent braided hair, and the style of hair braiding is one of the mask’s most individualized features. The hair crest always displays axial symmetry around the facial vertical line… the mask’s hairstyle is always grander and more distinctive”[2]

[E11] Mende carvings - "Sowo wui" helmet masks

[E11] Mende carvings – “Sowo wui” helmet masks


A variation of a Baule style that has a large following is the Bantu knot-out (aka China Bump)

[E12] Baule "blolo bla" (spirit wife carving)

[E12] Baule “blolo bla” (spirit wife carving)

Luba Style

One lesser known style was very popular among the Luba tribe and reflected in many different forms of Luba sculpture.

[E13] Luba Carving

[E13] Luba Carving

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

There are too many African tribes with identifiable hairstyles to mention (Mangbetu, Kuba). It is a fascinating aspect of Collecting African Tribal Art which can assist in learning one’s history and provide clues to cultural norms and values.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupita_Nyong’o
[2] Radiance from the Waters; Sylvia Ardyn Boone, p.184

[E4] Among the Ibos of Nigeria; Basden, G.T. 1921; p288/289
[E14] http://blog.brunoclaessens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Shankadi-headdress-Michel.jpg


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