Summoning the Ancestors explores a collection of 72 ofo (small ritual objects) and 74 bells produced in southern Nigeria by Igala, Igbo, Edo, Yorùbá, and other neighboring peoples, which was gifted to the Fowler Museum by Mark Clayton. The use of bronze ofo, dynamic symbols of one's relationship with the ancestors, dates back to at least the fifteenth century. Ofo likely derive from wire-wrapped bundles of twigs from a tree venerated in southern Nigeria. Bells—largely made in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries—were cast in copper alloys of bronze or brass, using the lost-wax technique. Many were rung to invoke ancestors or nature spirits, and some announced the presence of important members of the living world, such as priests or local rulers. Richly illustrated, Summoning the Ancestors highlights the remarkable degree of variation possible even in such modest artistic genres.
About the Authors
Nancy Neaher Maas is an independent scholar of Southern Nigerian bronzes. Philip M. Peek is professor emeritus of anthropology at Drew University.