This lidded royal presentation bowl, or agere, carved from a single block of wood, was made by the renowned Yoruba sculptor Olowe of Ise. Agere were used to transport gifts between important leaders. The imagery speaks to the identity of the patron, an important diviner, and articulates the enormous spiritual powers controlled by diviners, considered second only to kings in Yoruba society.
Two panels on the base show birds pecking the eyes of human victims, a motif used often by Olowe and likely suggesting the death caused by witches’ nocturnal activities. A free-rolling human head within the space created by the six figures supporting the bowl reinforces the Yoruba belief in the diviner’s powers to counter witchcraft. On the bowl’s lid are “mothers of society,” women who, upon attaining menopause, become capable of influencing human actions. By holding the diviner’s staff upright, they express support for the diviner’s work.
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Olówè of Isè, Yoruba, African, ca. 1870 - 1938
  • Royal Presentation Bowl
Date early 20th century
Medium Wood and paint
Dimensions Overall: 37 × 19 inches (94 × 48.3 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation Fund
Accession Number 2007.118
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African: Fit for a King, Level 1 (see map)
Araba (Chief Diviner) of Ogbagi Town (Ondo district, Nigeria);
traded to Chief of Ogun-Egbe (Ilesha District, Nigeria);
by inheritence, Chief Lemo Saloro (Ilesha Distict, Nigeria);
September 2006, purchased by (Jean L. David, Galerie Walu,Switzerland);
2007-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)