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Stone statues
from Esie
(Nigeria)

 
  Esie statue, soapstone
©National Commission for Museums and Monuments (Nigeria)
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Provenance I Characteristics I The urgency of the situation I Legislation I Sources

 

--Provenance  
 

Village of Esie, South-West Nigeria.

--Characteristics  
 

Around 800 statues in steatite (soapstone) were found together in the bush near the village of Esie. Their date is uncertain, and the only thing that can be said with certainty is that they precede their discovery by the forebears of the current inhabitants, who moved to the region during the 19th century. The material used for these realistic human representations, and the fact that they represent a single large collection, make them quite unusual in this part of Africa.

These sculptures represent men and women generally seated on stools and very occasionally kneeling. The figurines sometimes play musical instruments, hold machetes, or have their hands on their knees. The highly elaborate hairstyles are rendered with great accuracy in this soft stone. Some sculptures are decorated with necklaces and bracelets. Statue sizes range from 14 cm to more than 1 metre.

 

--The urgency of the situation  
 

These works constitute an exceptionally large find, this being the largest known collection of African stone sculptures. To protect them, a “House of Images” was built in Esie in 1945. In the 1960s, all the works were photographed and catalogued, and the National Museum of Esie was specially set up in 1970, containing an altar where these statues, endowed with religious significance by the local population who found them, may be worshipped.

All Esie statues belong to this Museum, which has now become a target for looters. On 25 March 1993, 13 statues were stolen after the museum's main door was forced and the guards beaten. On 13 May 1995, the museum was once again broken into and the security staff attacked. On this occasion 21 statues disappeared.

 


National and international legislation protecting these objects:
 

- Nigerian Prohibition Law on non-exportation of antiquities, Government decrees of 1974 and 1979 (National Commission for Museums and Monuments Decree N° 77, 1979).
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Nigeria on 24 January 1972, in force on 24 April 1972.

 

--Sources  
 

- Yaro T. Gella, 1997 : Director-General / Directeur général, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria : « Thefts in Museums : A Report on the Nigerian Situation 1993-1997 », Workshop on the Protection of the African Heritage / Atelier sur la protection du patrimoine culturel africain, Amsterdam, Working Documents, ICOM.
- Helen Kerri, Director / Directeur, Museums and Monuments, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

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