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

Advertisements

The Science, Reality, and Panacea of Orisha

 The Yoruba African Spiritual system has gone viral. It presents a broad framework with fascinating social and inclusive indigenous appeal, embracing a holistic and intuitive approach which incorporates history, flexibility, science, portability, and functionality, simultaneously making allowance for individuality and originality. This system was one of the driving forces behind the development of African Tribal art in Nigeria. The framework is similar to the methodology used in Object Oriented Programming (OOP) which utilizes objects, classes, and procedures.

Shango Dance Staff of a Standing Mother Carrying a Child. c. 1900.

A simple example should illustrate.

Note the Specific individuality.

If Jesus Christ were to be incorporated as an Orisha (spiritual being or divinity), the narrative would probably read as follows; His primary paths would be those of peace, sacrifice, and love. The offerings given to a shrine dedicated to him would consist of bread, fish, and wine. His colors would be “white” say, and his emblems would be the cross, the palm/olive branch, or thorns.

Note the General Characteristics

He would lie in the second of five levels of the Yoruba pantheon, below the level of Oldumare, Creator and Supreme Being. The third level would be the “Egungun” which are the ancestral spirits of the people. The next two levels consist of humans, grouped by kings, queens, chiefs, priests and priestesses ,while devotees complete the bottom level.

“The Orisha are seen as emissaries of Oldumare from whom they emanated. These Orisha are ancestors whose great deeds earned them divinity. The Orisha are said to recognize each other and are themselves identified or associated with different numbers and colors. “These polarities which each Orisha exhibits are expressed as personalities called Roads or Paths of the Orisha.” This is done through offerings to Orisha of their particular favorite foods and other gifts. One can learn much about these different Orishas by watching the forces of nature at work about you. “

“For instance, you can learn much about Oshún and her children by watching the rivers and streams she rules over and observing that though she always heads toward her sister Yemayá (the Sea) she does so on her own circuitous route. Also observe how the babbling brook and the flash flood reflect her changeable moods.” [1]

These Orishas can be contacted during a “bembe” where one or more of their priests will be mounted in a form of highly spiritualized trance possession. This possession by an Orisha is an integral part of Yoruba religious ritual as it serves as a means of communicating with the forces of Oldumare (God).

Shango Dancing Staff

Portability

This is demonstrated as follows – “Yoruba spiritual beliefs were retained in several systems including Batuque, Candomble, Tambor De Mina and Umbanda in Brazil, Lucumi and Santeria in Cuba, Shango in Trinidad and Jamaica, Venezuela, Palo, Vodou or Voodoo in Haiti. Consequently, slaves did not completely disconnect with their culture, nor blindly convert as the Christian Churches describe as “good sheep.” “Autonomous organizational structures, the framework of forced and eventual free migration, mutual contact and exchange stimulated the development of Orisha religions in the New World.” [2]

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka (the first African awarded the Nobel Prize (’86) for Literature) , explained the Yoruba worldview as centered in compromise and stated that the greatest Yoruba virtue is tolerance. He claims that the survival of Yoruba religion in Cuba and Brazil is because of the powerful sense of tolerance and compromise.

“The deities have compromised with present times and modern technologies,” he said, citing, “the practice of placing god representations and saints on the single same altar in Brazil.”

” The gods are exemplars of human striving,” said Soyinka, “paradigms of existence and phenomenon… Yoruba gods are not perfect or infallible, “infallibility is seen as mystification.” [3]

[1] http://www.orishanet.org/ocha.html

[2] http://www.rootsandrooted.org/?p=1123

[3] http://www.loyno.edu/newsandcalendars/loyolatoday/2003/12/soyinka.html

E1 : http://ocw.nd.edu/anthropology

E2 : www.ohio.edu/africanart/gallerypageq.html

E3 : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wole_Soyinka

%d bloggers like this: