Figure of a Kneeling Woman (Olumeye) with Offering Bowl
Artist: Yoruba peoples Region: Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria Collection: The Justin & Elisabeth Lang Collection Accession: M84-303 Period: 20th century Materials: Wood, pigment Dimensions:
Olumeye means "one who knows honour." Considered a messenger of the spirits, the kneeling woman in this sculpture holds a lidded bowl in the shape of a cockerel. Such sculptures were found in shrines, where the bowl would contain offerings to deities, or in a palace, where it held kola nuts for the hospitable welcome of visitors. The child on her back, its face turned to its right, carries the axe and rattle of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder. The woman’s necklace resembles that of the female figure from a Sango shrine, arugba Sango, also in the Lang collection (M84-146), suggesting another connection with that deity.
Another purpose for such bowls relates to divination, the practice of consulting a specialist to gain insight into the future. The Yoruba divination system is called ifa. As part of the consultation, a babalawo (diviner) throws sixteen palm nuts onto a special board and studies their configuration for meaning. A bowl such as the one here could have been used to store the palm nuts.