Tiv, Southern Nigeria/Northern Cameroon, 1800-1900
Height : 16 cm
Provenance : Allan Stone collection, New York
This head was possibly the upper part of a magical flute “imborivungu”, related to the myth of Poor, an ancestor of the Tiv people.
According to legend, Poor died without descend- ants. To perpetuate his memory, his brothers im- agined to take a femur of the deceased, to place it in a basket (adudu) forbidding anyone to look at this relic under penalty of death, for them and their de- scendants. Other rites accompanied the veneration of Poor, notament during miscarriages, the parturi- ent was to make a blood libation on the relic. One day, this relic was destroyed by fire and the descend- ants of the two brothers decided to create other rel- ics, the Imborivungu.
Also called owl-flute, these objects are generally constitued of a hollowed head depicting the ances- tor, fitted on a human bone segment or a wooden stick. The above example of unusually large propor- tions appears to be extremely ancient and refined, with numerous scarifications in particular.