BY APPOLOS IBEABUCHI OZIOGU
Esie is an Igbomina Yoruba town in Kwara State of Nigeria lying about 48 kilometres South -East of Ilorin and about 128 kilometer north of Ife. Esie is generally known as a home of 800 soapstone figures.
The Origin of Soapstone figures is bewildering. Till date, it still remains a mystery. Indeed, nobody knows how these stone images exactly came about but a few explanations have been offered by inhabitants of the city. The most popular among them is that the 800 stone images were rebellious settlers who were turned into stone images.
The source claimed that these rebellious settlers were from another tribe of Yoruba-Land who sent words to Elesie (traditional chief of Esie land) that they were coming to settle down in his town but to their utter disappointment, they did not see anybody to receive them hence they settled outside the city of Esie. It later became known that these settlers became a threat to the security of the city.
They were undermining the administration of the chief and were about to rebel and as a result, the god of the land, being on the side of Elesie of Esie, turned these recalcitrant set of 800 settlers into stone statutes. Ironically, the Esie people worship them annually.
However, most of these soapstone figures have lost either heads or limbs. They appear to represent a variety of people. Some are men while some are women. A particular one, adorned with the tall cap neck and wrist beads was said to be their king. It is this one that receives the annual sacrifice offered by the Esie people on behalf of others.
The soapstone figures of Esie are largest collection of stone carvings still in Black Africa. They were found in groves outside the town of Esie.
CHARACTERISTICS FEATURES OF ESIE STONE IMAGES
i. They all have facial marks of three horizontal lines between the eyes and ear.
ii. Some have vertical lines on the chin.
iii. Some have striations on the face
iv. Majority wear necklaces and bracelets.
v. All the objects are in figures.
vi. No two of the 800 soapstone figures look exactly the same. They differ in facial feature, hairstyles and dress .
vii. There are figures of women, holding swords, and quivers of arrows.
viii. All soapstone figures have dates of their origin un-determined.
ix. No single soapstone figure is less than 60cm in height .
Virtually all the Esie soapstone images are located in National Museum Esie. Beside the soapstone images in Esie, similar stone images have been reported in places like Ijara and Ofaru, both in Igbomina Village near Esie. Esie Soapstone images and Ikom monoliths or Akwanshi of cross river state are two examples of stone figure in Nigeria.
In museum collection are the following Esie Soapstone figure:
a. A seated stone figure of a man with a bracelet on his right arm, and the right hand is placed on the abdomen. It wears a cap or dome-shaped headdress with a chevron or ziz-zag patern near the hairline which appers to be beaded. It has a height of 60cm.
b. A soapstone seated figure with elaborate coiffure. It wears three strand of beads around the neck. A special beaded bracelet is worn on the right wrist, while on the left wrist is a wide bant bracelet. It has diagonal striations on the forehead. The hands rest on the lap. The Left leg and front portion of the foot are missing. Height:73cm.
c. A seated soapstone figure holds sword in his right hand which rests on top of the left hand. It wears an elaborate crown and a beard. The fact are square-shaped but appear more carefully carved. The shape of the eyes resemble some Yoruba wooden sculpture. It has a height of 75.5cm.