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X78.2151 Royal foot cushion


Object Name: Royal foot cushion
Place of Origin: Nigeria
Cultural Group: Yoruba peoples
Materials Used: Leather, cloth, beads, vegetable fiber
Date: 1978
Dimensions: Diam: 38 cm, H: 22 cm (Diam: 14.9 in, H: 8.6 in)
Credit line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Helen and Dr. Robert Kuhn. X78.2151

While the literal translation for this type of foot rest would be apoti itse (box for the feet), according to Moyo Okediji its name in “deep” Yoruba is timutium, an onomatopoeic word conveying the notion of something “filled with all matters of unknown things” (in this case, empowering and protecting substances to guard the sacred ruler). The tradition of elevation a ruler’s feet is ancient, as suggested by several royal foot stools in a variety of media at Ife dating to about the twelfth century. Raising the feet also seems related to wearing toe rings. Stubbing one’s left toe signals danger ahead, a famished road waiting to consume its next victim. At certain ritual moments, rulers, diviners, priests, and other mediators who occupy positions of separation, distinction, and empowerment must not allow their feet to touch the ground. In their elevated, crowned, and veiled state, they contrast sharply with those who come to seek and audience. These visitors must remove their caps, headties, and shoes, and either dobale (prostrate flat on the ground) or kunle (kneel) to express their fealty. Four elephants on top guard the cardinal points. Their enormity and their juxtaposition with interlace patterns at the sides express the boundless, unfathomable ase of sacred rulers. The diamonds that emphasize eyes and marks of identity appears on the foreheads of the encircling faces, marking the site of royal ase in the unseen ori inu (inner head). Panels with abstracted interlaces (four rows of chevrons or diamonds) recall shrine paintings created by priestesses in trance and the painted heads of orisa initiates.

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 215

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