Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nigerian Nativity Scene

My parents have an amazing collection of nativity scenes which they have purchased over the years when they travelled to different countries.   Although my Mom doesn't usually put them all out these days, I asked her if she would mind digging them out so I could take photos to show all of you.  She was very obliging - and now their condo looks nice and festive.

I went over to their condo a few weeks ago and took lots of photos but haven't had a chance to edit them and write the post until now.  I'm just going to show the Nigerian nativity scene today as there are quite a few photos of it and it is really unique.  I'll show you the rest of the nativity scenes  tomorrow. 

When I was a child we lived in Nigeria for two years and my parents brought this fantastic thorn carved nativity scene home with them.  These carvings are made from the thorns of the Ata tree which has fairly large thorns growing up the trunk.   The thorns were not quite big enough to make the standing figures so the bottom quarter is a separate piece that has been attached on to make them tall enough. Some trees have light-coloured thorns and some have dark.  I just love the light star hanging from a dark palm tree and the use of two colours of thorns to make the dark faces and lighter coloured clothing.  

A travelling trader used to come to our house in Ibadan and sell us things.  Even though I was only five and six when I lived there, I remember the trader coming with a gigantic basket on his head and spreading out his goodies on our front porch.  On one visit my parents asked him to find them a nativity scene and when he came again he brought this one.  Although he was a Hausa trader from the north, the nativity scene was most likely made in the south as thorn carving is a Yoruba art from the southwest of Nigeria.

The Nigerian set is very special to us and has pride of place on my parent's mantel.  My Mom puts the straw around them as a bit of a backdrop.  That is the same straw that was used to pack the crates that brought our things back from Nigeria in the mid 1960s.

Here's a close-up of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.  They are dressed in clothing typical of the Yoruba people.  

The three wisemen are wearing headgear of an Oba or king.

Here are the angel, the drummer boy (not actually part of the set, but still a little thorn carving and my Mom puts him out with the others), and a shepherd.  The little drummer boy is tapping on a talking drum (a west African drum that makes different pitches when you squeeze the cords on the sides while hitting it, making it possible to play different songs and even send messages).

 The shepherd, carrying a staff and wearing a straw hat, has a couple of sheep

 and some Fulani long-horned cattle.

This is the Nigerian nativity set as it started to get dark with the fibreglass covering the lights making them glow.

E ku odun, e hu iye' dun! (Merry Christmas in Yoruba)!

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  1. Viewing this was one of the best parts of my day...and it was a great day! I had an extensively traveling client who collected nativity scenes from around the world. We placed her collection in a large bookcase with books and other elements. She could look at her nativity collection everyday...not just in December. It was a great decision and beautiful.
    Mary Ann

  2. The craftsmanship which has gone into these carvings is just stunning. Just look at the intricacy of the fingers and facial features! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. They must give your family great joy. ;)Sharyne

  3. Oh I can see how your parents love this Nativity. So clever how the wood is carved to make deigns on the clothes and baby blanket. I love the faces. Incredible considering it is hand carved from thorns.

    I really enjoyed seeing that.!

  4. How wonderful something is when there is such a great story attached to it! Loved this post Grace!

  5. This is absolutely beautiful. I like the bits of straw. I think I might use that idea sometime.

  6. Grace, What a wonderful nativity scene. Thank you for sharing this and the story of the piece at my party.