This carving of a figure standing on a pedestal is properly called a mtam, part of a group called ihambe. possibly of recent origin, it was made for use in one of the villages of the Tiv people of central Nigeria. Ihambe belong to a category of forces and emlems known as akombo. These forces are healing if one seeks their protection, or they are harmful if one violates them by acting on them inappropriately. Ihambe are amongst the oldest and most important of all akombo. They are associated with a good marriage, success in farming and success in hunting, all the things that make up a comfortable life in a rural society. Ihambe emblems such as this carving are placed either at the farm, if their power is to be directed towards the protection of the crops, or at the entrance to the home, if their power is to be directed to domestic concerns. To be ritually effective, the form of ihambe only needs to be a stake or post pierced with holes for eyes and a mouth. A stake sharpened to a point represents the male principle (ihambe), while a stake rounded at the top represents the female principle (mtam). The figure, with its rounded top, appears to be an ihambe carved to represent the deceased mother of the senior man in the household. The female figures were often placed without a male counterpart. They can be called either mtam or ihambe, but the figure represents the female principle of ihambe. The elavorate carving of this figure suggests that these objects are viewed as works of art as well as effective vehicles of ritual. -Frances Harding
Source: Ross, Doran H. ed. (1994): “Visions of Africa”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.