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Ceremonial Sword (Udamalore)

  • Dated: 17th–19th century
  • Geography: Nigeria
  • Culture: Yoruba peoples, Owo group
  • Medium: Ivory, wood or coconut shell inlay
  • Dimensions: W. 3 5/8 x D. 19 1/4in. (9.2 x 48.9cm)
  • Classification: Bone/Ivory-Implements

This opulent ivory sword is an udamalore, literally a “sword of the well-born.” It was carried by a high-ranking chief of Owo, a Yoruba state in present-day Nigeria that rose to regional power in the eighteenth century. Worn on the hip, it indicated the power and status of its bearer at public ceremonies and celebrations.

Consisting of a figurative handle and a curved, openwork blade, this udamalore is a stunning example of the works created at this celebrated ivory-carving center. The human head that constitutes the pommel displays a delicate coiffure of repeated chevrons, while the eyes are augmented with dark inlaid wood.

Triangular projections sprouting at the top and bottom of the head may be a reference to Sango, the Yoruba deity of thunder and warfare. Similar triangular extensions are found on the heads of figural dance staffs carried by Sango devotees. Their appearance on the udamalore may refer to the chief’s affiliation with this deity and his dominance in political and military matters.

The solid base of the blade is decorated with two knot patterns, while the openwork section depicts an Owo chief in ceremonial dress, wearing his own udamalore horizontally on the left hip. The space around the figure is pierced, but the sword’s gently curved outline is maintained by delicate bands of ivory.

In his right hand, the chief holds a curved sword, while a bird perches on his left hand and pecks at his crown. The upraised sword is an uda, used in combat, while the bird refers to the protective spiritual power associated with elderly Yoruba women. In combination, these emblems suggest a ruler who is physically and spiritually equipped to face all the challenges he may confront.

Source: © 2000–2013 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nigeria | Yoruba | Udamalore (Ceremonial Sword)

image

Image Credits
Bonhams African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art New York Auction, 15 May 2014

MORE ‘UDAMALORE’ IMAGES

Description
Predominantly found in Owo in Yorubaland, the udamalore literally means a “sword of the well-born” referring to the owner coming from a respected family and that its owner is a “leader prepared to meet life’s challenges”.1 Often passed from an elderly chief (Olowo) or King (Oba) to his son, the udamalore also represents status and power. 

It is carried by the Oba and Olowo of Owo during the Igogo festival and worn on the left hip side of the ceremonial skirt (ibolukun). At Ilesha the chief strikes the blade of his sword on the earth three times when he greets Ogun (the god of iron).

Distinguishing Features

  • Made from ivory (in Yorubaland, ivory is treasured for its durability, scarcity and association with the elephant - a symbol of prestige and sovereignty). Also found in wood, brass, iron
  • Sword consists of three sections:
    • 1) Human head handle / pommel set on long neck. Triangular projections sometimes sprout from the top and bottom of the head (may be a reference to Sango)
    • Slightly curved, openwork blade consisting of 2) a section with geometric and interlacing patterns between the pommel and
    • 3) a section at the tip representing the Olowo in ceremonial wear (ibolukun skirt) holding a state sword (ada) with an udamalore sword tied to his left hip. A bird is shown perched on his left hand and pecks at his crown (the bird refers to the protective spiritual power associated with elderly Yoruba women). The Olowo’s eyes are sometimes augmented with dark wood
  • The udamalore is housed in a glass beaded sheath (ewu)
  • The beaded sheath and accompanying panels (apete) include symbolic imagery:
    • Ram’s heads (see Osanmasinmi for more details about ram’s heads)
    • Monkeys (often depicted as cunning tricksters admired for their wit along with their deceit. The use of the monkey image on this sheath may refer to the owner’s own wit and audacity)
    • Human figures
    • Birds
    • Patterns
References

1The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Panel Ornaments for Ceremonial Sword and Sheath (Udamalore)
2
Barakat Gallery: Yoruba Ivory Ceremonial Sword (Udamalore)

Bibliography
3For Spirits and Kings: African Art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ceremonial Sword and Sheath (Udamalore)

  • Date: 19th–20th century
  • Geography: Nigeria
  • Culture: Yoruba peoples, Owo group 
  • Medium: Cotton, glass beads, wood, brass bells, rope, maybe metal
  • Dimensions: W. 12 x D. 19 7/8 in. (30.5 x 50.5 cm)
  • Classification: Textiles-Beadwork 

The leadership arts of Owo, an ancient Yoruba town, reflect those of Benin, the Edo kingdom that dominated Owo in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. This ceremonial sword and sheath (udamalore) and the matching lozenge-shaped panels (apete) recall the chiefly regalia illustrated on Benin brass plaques of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The udamalore is worn by Owo chiefs on the left hip above the panels, which are hung over a belt. A voluminous wrapped skirt, tall miter-shaped hat, brass and ivory pendants and armlets, and a fan-shaped iron sword (also of Benin origin) held in the right hand complete the ceremonial attire.

The udamalore sword is made of wood, and both its sheath and the panels are lavishly embroidered with brilliantly colored glass beads. Imported from Europe, the beads are a sign of wealth and status among the Yoruba. Although the beaded figures and animals are arranged symmetrically, their jagged outlines and vivid colors create a dizzying, dancing composition.

The motifs—human figures, ram’s heads, crouching monkeys, birds, chameleons, and other animals—refer to the protective role of the ancestors, the chief’s inalienable powers and privileges, and the mystical forces that protect and strengthen the wearer of such lavish costume ornaments. 

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Ceremonial Sword (Udamalore)

  • Date: 17th–19th century
  • Geography: Nigeria Culture: Yoruba peoples
  • Owo group Medium: Ivory, wood or coconut shell inlay
  • Dimensions: W. 3 5/8 x D. 19 1/4in. (9.2 x 48.9cm)
  • Classification: Bone/Ivory-Implement

This opulent ivory sword is an udamalore, literally a “sword of the well-born.” It was carried by a high-ranking chief of Owo, a Yoruba state in present-day Nigeria that rose to regional power in the eighteenth century. Worn on the hip, it indicated the power and status of its bearer at public ceremonies and celebrations.

Consisting of a figurative handle and a curved, openwork blade, this udamalore is a stunning example of the works created at this celebrated ivory-carving center. The human head that constitutes the pommel displays a delicate coiffure of repeated chevrons, while the eyes are augmented with dark inlaid wood.

Triangular projections sprouting at the top and bottom of the head may be a reference to Sango, the Yoruba deity of thunder and warfare. Similar triangular extensions are found on the heads of figural dance staffs carried by Sango devotees. Their appearance on the udamalore may refer to the chief’s affiliation with this deity and his dominance in political and military matters.

The solid base of the blade is decorated with two knot patterns, while the openwork section depicts an Owo chief in ceremonial dress, wearing his own udamalore horizontally on the left hip. The space around the figure is pierced, but the sword’s gently curved outline is maintained by delicate bands of ivory. In his right hand, the chief holds a curved sword, while a bird perches on his left hand and pecks at his crown.

The upraised sword is an uda, used in combat, while the bird refers to the protective spiritual power associated with elderly Yoruba women. In combination, these emblems suggest a ruler who is physically and spiritually equipped to face all the challenges he may confront.

Source & Copyright: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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