Leather, cotton, wool, glass beads, brass bells, metal rings
35 cm (13.7 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum Purchase. X77.1393
Osanyin, god of healing, rules the forest, the source of all leaves, roots, and other medicinal substances, as well as the abode of mysterious and often mischievous spirits such as Oge and Aroni. In certain ceremonies, priests of Osanyin are assisted by small puppets who speak in thin, squeaky voices, play whistles, or ring bells as they prophesy for the patients who come to consult them. Their playful demeanor and visionary abilities suggest some association with a host of forest spirits (iwin). One of these, Aroni, is described as a one-eyed, one-legged, one-armed being. Aroni plays with those who enter his domain, losing them in the dark and vast forest tangles, but also instructs those he likes in the complex lore of healing medicines. Aspect of Aroni and forest iwin resonate in this puppet with enormous hands and no feet. Rings and bracelets encircle the puppet’s fingers and wrists, not for decoration, but for protection and action. Healers prepare these items with baths and incantations to activate them. The enormous hands may play upon the single-handedness of Aroni who grabs those who wander the forest. The indigo-dyed cap with unkempt/unruly braids covers a roughly carved head (with gaping mouth) that evokes the realm of the wild, unpredictable forest, while the stuffed and leather wrapped body hints at all manners of unseen medicines. On its back, the ovoid beaded panes with bands of zigzags suggests a tortoise’s carapace. In Yoruba lore, tortoise epitomizes cunning, trickiness, and beguiling humor, qualities similar to those associated with Aroni and other forest spirits.
Source: Drewal, H., Mason, J. (1998). “Beads, Body, and Soul – Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 256