A Wooden Ikoro Drum from Ohafia with a Female Figure Holding a Baby. 1930s

HomeArtA Wooden Ikoro Drum from Ohafia with a Female Figure Holding a Baby. 1930s

One end of an Ikoro (large slit drum) depicting a seated woman figure holding a baby in her lap. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Collection.
One end of an Ikoro (large slit drum) depicting a seated woman figure holding a baby in her lap. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Archive, Southern Illinois University 

This end of an Ikoro (large slit drum) depicting a seated woman figure holding a baby in her lap. The face of the woman figure is stylized and consists of almond-shaped eyes beneath arched brows, a triangular-shaped nose, an incised mouth, and elliptical-shaped ears. The upper torso consists of large rounded shoulders, breasts, and bent arms with incised markings for fingers. One hand is placed underneath the baby’s head. The lower torso shows the seated position of bent legs and striated markings indicating toes. The baby’s face is similar in description to the mother’s, with arched brows, almond-shaped eyes, a triangular nose, and a mouth. One arm of the child is touching the abdomen next to the raised navel. The drum appears to be located inside a room or shrine made of raffia mats, wooden rafters, and purlins.


The Ikoro Drum

The Ikoro drum holds a special place in Igbo and Ibibio cultures. Known as “ikorok” in Ibibio, these large slit drums were used for communication over long distances. Their loud sound could summon people for war, festivals, or emergencies, making them central to community rituals.

Historical Context and Usage

Ikoro drums, carved from large logs, often feature detailed carvings. They are more than musical instruments; they symbolize cultural identity. The carvings of a woman and child on one end of the drum likely represent fertility and continuity. Some drums depict both male and female figures to symbolize balance and duality in the community.

G.I. Jones noted that some Ikoro drums, like this one, had figures on both ends, emphasizing gender roles in Igbo cosmology (Jones, 1984). These drums were usually kept in special structures, highlighting their importance.

The other end of the same Ikoro drum depicting a seated male figure. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Collection.
The other end of the same Ikoro drum depicting a seated male figure. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Archive, Southern Illinois University.

This end of a large Ikoro drum depicting a carved wooden figure. The figure is a large seated man with a humanized face consisting of protruding eyes, a triangular-shaped nose, an open mouth, and elliptical-shaped ears. There is a carved square on the cheek, likely indicating scarification. The arm is bent with striation marks indicating fingers, and there is protruding male genitalia. The drum appears to be located in a room or shrine with raffia mats and bamboo poles for covering.

Craftsmanship and Symbolism in Ikoro Drums

Creating an Ikoro drum requires great skill and artistry. Carved from a single log, these drums feature intricate designs that reflect societal roles and beliefs. The carvings of the woman and child symbolize nurturing, while the male figure represents strength and protection.

These drums are storytellers, their carvings conveying deep meanings understood by the community. The Ikoro’s sound echoes cultural ethos and serves as a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms.

Another example from the Jones Archive illustrates the diversity in Ikoro drum carvings.

An Ikoro slit drum with a carved head and upper torso. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Collection.
An Ikoro slit drum with a carved head and upper torso. Photograph by Gwilliam Iwan Jones, 1932-1939, Ohafia, Nigeria. Image source: Jones Archive, Southern Illinois University.

An Ikoro slit drum made from a log in which the two ends are intact but the center removed through a narrow longitudinal slit. At one end of the drum is a carved figure (from the same piece of wood) consisting of a head and upper torso. The carved head is flat on the top and consists of incised eyes, a wide nose, lips, and ears. The drum is perched against a wall—possibly dried earth or clay. In the left-hand side of the photograph is a basket and dried fronds.

This drum highlights another aspect of Igbo artistry, where the carved head and torso symbolize ancestral presence and community guardianship.

The Role of Ikoro in Igbo Societies

The Ikoro drum’s influence extends beyond music. It is central to social cohesion, communication, and cultural identity. Its sound could relay messages across distances, ensuring community connectivity. The drum also played a role in validating social hierarchies. Presenting a trophy head to the Ikoro was a mark of bravery and success.

Ikoro drums were often housed in dedicated structures, signifying their importance. These structures, sometimes shrines, protected and honored the drums. The communal aspect of the Ikoro fostered unity. During festivals, the Ikoro’s sound gathered people, promoting social cohesion and cultural participation.

Preserving the Legacy

Preserving Ikoro drums is vital for understanding Igbo heritage. These artifacts offer insights into traditional practices, artistic expressions, and social structures. Documenting and studying these cultural treasures is crucial to maintaining the legacy and cultural identity of the Igbo people.

Today, the Ikoro drum continues to inspire artists and cultural practitioners. Its legacy lives on in music, dance, and visual arts. Contemporary Igbo and Ibibio artists draw on Ikoro imagery and themes to explore identity, heritage, and social change.


How do you think traditional instruments like the Ikoro drum influence contemporary Igbo music and cultural practices? Share your thoughts and join the discussion in the comments below.

References

  • Jones, G.I., 1984. The Art of Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge University Press.
    Art of Eastern Nigeria by Gwilliam I. Jones

    Title: Art of Eastern Nigeria

    Author: Gwilliam I. Jones

    Publisher: Cambridge University Press

    Publication Date: August 31, 1984

    Format: Hardcover

    Pages: 240

    ISBN-10: 0521259274

    ISBN-13: 978-0521259279

    Language: English

    Overview

    "Art of Eastern Nigeria" by Gwilliam I. Jones is a seminal work that delves into the rich artistic traditions of Eastern Nigeria. This book provides an in-depth analysis of the region's art forms, exploring their cultural, historical, and social contexts.

    Content Summary

    Cultural Context The book examines the diverse artistic expressions found in Eastern Nigeria, highlighting the unique styles and techniques that characterize the region's art. Jones discusses how these art forms are deeply intertwined with the local customs, beliefs, and social structures.

    Historical and Anthropological Insights Jones provides a historical overview of the development of art in Eastern Nigeria, tracing its evolution from ancient times to the modern era. The book also offers anthropological insights, revealing how art serves as a medium for cultural expression and communication within the communities.

    Detailed Descriptions and Illustrations "Art of Eastern Nigeria" includes detailed descriptions and high-quality illustrations of various art pieces. These visuals help readers appreciate the intricate details and craftsmanship of the artworks. Jones's meticulous documentation includes sculptures, masks, textiles, and more.

    Key Features

    • High-Quality Illustrations: The book is richly illustrated with photographs and drawings that bring the art to life.
    • Comprehensive Analysis: Jones provides a thorough analysis of the artistic styles and techniques unique to Eastern Nigeria.
    • Interdisciplinary Approach: The book combines elements of art history, anthropology, and cultural studies to provide a well-rounded perspective.

    Audience

    This book is particularly valuable for students and scholars of anthropology, art history, and African studies. It is also a significant resource for anyone interested in understanding the cultural heritage and artistic traditions of Eastern Nigeria.

    Pros

    • Richly Illustrated: The visuals enhance the understanding of the text and showcase the beauty of the art.
    • In-Depth Research: Jones's extensive research provides a comprehensive look at Eastern Nigerian art.
    • Cultural Preservation: The book contributes to the preservation and appreciation of Eastern Nigeria's artistic heritage.

    Cons

    • High Price: The hardcover edition is priced at $250.00, which may be a barrier for some readers.
    • Limited Availability: As an older publication, it may not be readily available in all regions.

    Conclusion

    "Art of Eastern Nigeria" by Gwilliam I. Jones is a valuable and insightful exploration of the region's artistic traditions. Its comprehensive analysis and high-quality illustrations make it an essential resource for anyone interested in the art and culture of Eastern Nigeria. Despite its high price, the book's depth of research and visual richness offer significant value to its readers.

    Get
    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
  • Cole, Herbert, and Aniakor, Chike. 1984. Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos. Museum of Cultural History, University of California.
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Onyeka Nwokike
Onyeka Nwokike

Onyeka Nwokike, a graduate from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and a writer at Igbo Archives, is working to challenge common misconceptions and broaden understanding. He has curated a collection of historical photographs and artifacts for Igbo Archives, which helps to fill the educational gaps left by mainstream media and school curricula. His commitment to the celebration and conservation of Igbo heritage has made Igbo Archives an essential resource, cultivating a strong sense of pride and cultural identity within the Igbo community.

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