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Art and the Sacred in Mumuyeland

Despite some field research, our knowledge of the sacred among the Mumuye is very limited. In all these non-hierarchical groups, which are dichotomous and antinomian in composition, the va-complex predominates, which has a rich semantic meaning, with certain emphases prevailing depending on the circumstances. Religious power resides in sacred objects watched over by the elders.

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This gerontocracy is based on a system of initiation stages that one must pass through to become a ‘religious leader’.

Because of their geographical isolation, the Mumuye resisted the Islamic invaders for centuries, and later the British colonial administration and the various Christian missionary societies. As a result, wood sculpture among the Mumuye survived until the beginning of our century.

In 1970, Philip Fry published an essay on Mumuye sculpture in which the analysis of the endogenous structure has lost none of its value. Based on observations in situ, Jan Strybol has also tried to investigate the exogenous structure of these sculptures. He has thus succeeded in documenting some forty sculptures and a few masks. He has also been able to identify some twenty-five sculptors as well as a certain type of sculpture specific to the Kpugbong subgroup.

During and after the Biafran war, hundreds of Mumuye sculptures were collected. Thanks to information gathered between 1970 and 1993, the author was able to demonstrate that some of these works do not originate from the Mumuye, but rather are attributed to residual groups living in the Mumuye area.