Thorn Carving

About this object

History of use

Thorn carvings are miniatures depicting scenes from Nigerian life. This type of carving began circa 1930. Thorns vary in size. They can be as large as 12.7 cm. long and 9.6 cm. wide. They are comparatively soft and easily carved. The light yellow-brown thorn and the dark brown thorn come from the Ata tree; the light red-brown thorn comes from Egun trees. The parts are glued together with viscous paste made from rice cooked with water. They are carved by men.


The guns and ritual figures on the wall indicate that this is an Ogun ceremony. In Yoruba culture Ogun was the god of iron and of war, and the patron of all who used iron tools, including blacksmiths, farmers, and warriors. All gods had their origins in human beings and at ceremonies carved human heads or faces were used as symbols of ancestors and gods. The dog has replaced the human being as the principal sacrificial victim. In most villages Ogun ceremonies would be held annually.

Cultural context

craft; tourist art

Physical description

Eleven figures representing people standing and one prone in front of a shrine. Five are wearing sleeveless shirts and trousers. One is wearing a knee-length sleeveless dress. Three are wearing an elbow-length shirt and trousers. One is wearing a sleeved dress and two are wearing skirts. Seven are wearing hats. Six are holding containers. One is holding a double-headed conical drum with a straight stick in the left hand. Two figures are holding a dog suspended with rope. On the shrine there are three masks dotted with indigo blue paint, two rifles, three horn-like containers, one bottle-like container, and palm fronds. Clothing, drum ends, and part of guns are light yellow-brown. Limbs, heads, and some containers are dark brown. Hats, dog, some containers, palm fronds, and one mask are light red-brown. Base and rifles are light brown wood. Shrine and base are covered with variegated thorn chips.