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Owo culture of ancient Nigeria


Owo is a town in the present Ondo State of Nigeria, whose traditional ruler is Olowo. The city of Owo lies half-way between the cities of Ife and Benin, about 140miles away from Benin City, on the eastern border of Yoruba-land.

According to a Yoruba local historian, Chief M.B. Ashara, the people of Owo were said to have migrated from the city of Ile-Ife to the present location in about 1100AD. Another source of oral history said that it was one of the sons of the gods who founded the city of Ile-Ife that founded the city of Owo. As a result of this relationship, the city of Ile-Ife seems to have a strong influence on the city of Owo. Indeed, the influence of Ife on Owo is clearly seen on some of their art works.

*Owo Terracota head

By the end of the middle of 15th century, Owo town had come under the influence of Benin kingdom. Thus, Owo became influenced by several facrors:

·Architecture: The houses of Owo people have fluted walls like the people of Benin.

·Religion: The religious activities of the Benin and Owo people look alike. For example, the Owo people perform the same ritual of “Igwue” like the Benin.

· Politics: The Owo people adopt chiefly titles like the Benin people.

· Regalia: The royal regalia is common in both cities.

· Traditional Rulers: The Oba of Benin and the Olowo of Owo use the same type of ceremonial sword that has looped handle.

· Sculpture: The styles of their sculptures are the same; their ivory carvings are difficult to distinguish which city has them.

· In Owo, the wooden ram-heads are placed in the ancestral shrines which are a common culture in both cities.

· In some shrines also, there are found carvings of human heads bearing ram horns, long and curve-like over the head.

· The face of the ram-head is smoothly modeled and the neck is encircled with bead-like rows of wood, recalling the Benin bronze head.

Similarly, as a result of the influence of Ife on Owo, both cities share common characteristics in their works of art. Both Ife and Owo heads have the following characteristic features in common.

· They have modeled face.

· They have slanted eyes.

· They have vertical striations.

Thus, Owo art has a historical and stylistic link between the art of ancient Ife and Benin. Among the rich cultural heritage of Owo people are the following objects.

·    Round-headed man with distinct hair-line which may represent the edge of a cap, folding ‘oriental’ eyes without pupils (15thC AD)

·    Terra-cotta representation of a hand presenting a lizard or rat. The thumb is decorated with a ring, while the wrist is heavily beaded  (15thC AD; 16.1cm high) among other features.

In the recent past, some Museum archaeologists who are trained experts in digging out and excavating the ancient works of art or artefacts had carried out successful excavations in Owo town. They are Late Prof. Ekpo Eyo, the first indigenous Director of Federal Department of Antiquities, now National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and Mrs. Anthonia K. Fatunsin, the First Nigerian female Archaeologist, and the first Nigerian woman to head National Museum, Ibadan Oyo State.

One of such sites of excavation was carried out at grove named Igbo Laja by Late Prof. Ekpo Eyo in 1971, where a lot of discoveries of artefacts were made which include human and animal terra-cotta sculptures, polished stones axes, cowries, palm nuts and fragments of metal gongs.


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