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Yoruba ile-ori (House of the Head), Nigeria
21-1/2" tall x 12" wide (54.6 cm tall)
cowrie shells, cloth, metal, vinyl, mirrors,
leather, libations
mid 20th century

An especially nice example of this type of object in my
opinion. I really love the depiction of the bird on the top of
it. One thing that might not be very noticeable at first
glance at the photos is that there's a small fetish bundle
attached on the inside of the top portion of it.

A 'house of the head', ile ori, is designed to contain a person's inner spiritual essence and identity. It protects, hides, and honors the importance of the
head. The Yoruba believe the head is the seat of one's destiny and therefore it is necessary to treat the head as a spiritual entity. Because of the
importance of one's destiny, an individual invests in the largest and most elaborate
ibori and ile ori possible within his or her financial means. The Yoruba
make offerings to one's inner head to ensure a long and full life.

ile ori is made of vertical leather panels which have been decorated with cowrie shells, the ancient currency of the Yoruba, and some also contain
glass beads. Mirrors are placed on each side in the lower and upper forms which are said to be for self-reflection, and the object is surmounted by a bird
which is often found on top of royal crowns. Birds are a significant symbol in Yoruba art and are often represented as witnesses to divination consultations
with Orunmila (also known as Ifa), the god of wisdom and divination. The top is designed in the form of a kobi, which is a peaked gable with an open porch
underneath found in Yoruba royal palaces. It has been stated that sometimes these were destroyed upon the death of the owner, and the cowries spent
as money.

Very similar in style to the one in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: