human beings wear symbols that help identify their relationships to others
in a group, in society and to the world at large. For example, stripes
and medals indicate an individual is a member of the military holding
a specific rank; a white uniform, a nurse; designs applied to ones
face or body, an individual who belongs to an organized social club. In
Africa, spirits are personified and given attributes similar to those
that identify their human counterparts. The Igbo and Urhobo peoples, who
live in southeastern Nigeria, carve wooden shrine figures (alusi
and edjo, respectively) that represent tutelary deities
and ancestors. The adornments, scarification, color, surface treatment
and gestures on these figures are hallmarks of identity. Thus, hairstyles,
facial or body decorations and accessories, such as jewelry, tell us who
the alusi and edjo figures are and why they are important
in their respective cultures.
presents the meaning of identity within two societies of southeastern
learn about identity among the Urhobo, click on the figure to the left.
learn about identity among the Igbo, click on the figure to the right.