𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗬𝗢𝗥𝗨𝗕𝗔 𝗧𝗢𝗪𝗡 𝗪𝗛𝗘𝗥𝗘 𝗦𝗧𝗢𝗡𝗘𝗦 𝗟𝗢𝗢𝗞 𝗟𝗜𝗞𝗘 𝗛𝗨𝗠𝗔𝗡 𝗕𝗘𝗜𝗡𝗚𝗦
In the small Igbomina town of Esiẹ located to the southeast of Oro in Kwara state, one comes across something unexpected- Esie is home of the largest collection of soap stone figures anywhere in the world, and one of the classical artefacts well known among the mysteries of the artistic world. These figures bear very strong resemblances to art pieces from the Nok civilization/culture that spans across a large portion of what would become Middlebelt Nigeria and flourished from 900BC-200AD in one of the oldest known material cultures of West Africa.
However, Esiẹ is geographically firmly placed in Yorubaland & belongs to the Oba cultural complex which ﬂourished in the area between Ìgbómìnà and northern Èkìtì beginning in the first millennium AD, reaching apogee c.1000–1200 before declining around 1300.
The enormous collection is said to be the largest collection of such figures in the world at between 1,000 and 1,500. Many are housed in the Esie museum which is the first museum in Nigeria established in 1945, while others are in the national museum in Lagos, the metropolitan museum of art in New York and other museum around the world. The figures became fully known to the western world between 1912-1933.
Story has it that the images were discovered under a palm tree in a semi-circular form by a hunter named Baragbon. The images were found in a circular form depicts a king holding court. As a result, all Elesie of Esie (title of the kings of Esie) do not come near the soap stones once they are coronated. Most of the images are in a kind of sitting position or a variation of that. Some on the chair, some are kneeling, while some are crouched or squatted.
The figures consist of males, females, children and animals. Among the human-like figures, 71% are male, and 29% are female. Many are dressed in beads, bangles, and anklets indicating that that the people depicted were a highly fashion conscious civilization that did dress well. They were not clothed in the upper part of their body, clothes were used to just cover their lower half. This is same for both male and female. More conspicuous on the females are their different elaborate hair styles.
Some of the images were holding objects that could not be identified while others could. Some are obviously warriors due to the presence of the quiver bags at their backs -others had bows, shields or daggers. Some are farmers holding agricultural tools, others are royal courtiers while some still were identified musicians due to the depiction of them holding musical instruments, diviners, and blacksmiths. More than one third of the figures hold weapons.
Scholars think that the figurines are associated with an ancient Yoruba kingdom located nearby. More recent excavation at the site has revealed more figurines are still buried underground from the passing of time.
For more info, read; ‘The Yoruba, A new History’ by professor Akin Ogundiran.