The Art and Material Culture of the Eloyi (Afo) People, Nigeria 1969/70: A Photographic Essay

  • Anna Craven
  • African Arts, March 2018, The MIT Press
  • DOI: 10.1162/afar_a_00391

A survey of Afo (Benue Valley, Nigeria) figurative art and material culture in the late sixties

What is it about?

For the Federal Department of Antiquities I researched over a few weeks in 1969/70 the area of Nasarawa State (northern Nigeria) occupied by the Eloyi people, named Afo by their Hausa neighbours. Their art was known from a very few maternity figures in museums in Europe, but the extent of the people's artistic skills had not been written about. The Eloyi/Afo live in the middle part of the interlinked language groups of the Benue Valley, whose art and traditions are similar. Styles, ideas and objects can be traced between them, the Jukun, the Idoma, the Igala, the Alago, the Egbira and others. The account also describes the material culture context.

Why is it important?

Changes to societies throughout Africa have been fast and extensive, as people migrate and as they change religions and beliefs. It was important that the culture of the Eloyi (Afo) was recorded before the old traditions and the objects created disappeared. Not all the pieces photographed were acquired for the national collection in Jos Museum, so the record made at this time was just in time. Important pieces since then have been illegally exported from Nigeria and made their way into private collections in Europe and America, while the carvers have long since died.


Anna Craven

It was extremely important to me personally that I published this material, as I had promised my Eloyi informants that their knowledge and information given to me would be recorded for history, so I had a duty to write it up, even though it was nearly 50 years later. A copy of my article in African Arts has reached Nigeria, and been given to the son of the late Emir of Nasarawa who was so supportive and helpful of my work for the Department of Antiquities; so this will be available to the local council members.

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The following have contributed to this page: Anna Craven