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YORUBA Cultural Character Designs

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  • Character Designs 
    YORUBA culture-inspired designs for chess pieces
  • The Yoruba tribe is located in Southwestern Nigeria, West Africa. The cultural heritage dates back to the glorious days of the Oyo empire. My designs are based on research about the customs and practices of the period. 

    The project is to create chess pieces using characters from period Yoruba society. After reviewing the roles of the chess pieces and Yoruba history, I arrived at the following conclusion: 

    KING ... Oba 
    QUEEN ... Iyalode 
    BISHOP ... Oluwo 
    KNIGHT ... Balogun 
    ROOK ... Eso 
    PAWN ... Ilari 

    Some of the choices were obvious, but in the case of the queen, I opted for IYALODE (a prominent female political figure in society) rather than the AYABA (king's wife) because of the independent economic and military might her office required.
  • Oba 
    The king is the supreme ruler and often regarded as a demi-god. The royal greating 'kabiyesi' roughly means no one dears question his authority. 
  • Iyalode
    ‘The queen of women’ is a title reserved for the most prominent and accomplished woman in the community. Her business holdings are vast and maintained by her personal slaves. She has her own deputies and personal warriors. An infamous Iyalode in history is 'Efusetan Aniwura of Ibadan'
  • Oluwo
    The Ifa priest is a highly respected oracle that enjoys the patronage of the king.The Oluwo resides in his shrine outside the general dwelling area. He has apprentices who serve and learn under him.

  • Balogun 
    Also called ‘Jagun’, the 'Balogun' is the war chief. He is usually the bravest man recognized and selected by the 'Baales' (vassal kings) or 'Oba' to handle affairs of security and defense in their domain. He leads a group of lieutenants who in turn lead their own soldiers. 

  • Eso 
    The 'Esos' are regarded as ‘guardians of the kingdom’. This is a highly coveted military rank reserved for proven soldiers. Although it is not a hereditary, the 'Eso' title derives from the 'Ikoyi' family line renowned for their skill in warfare. .

  • Ilari
    The 'Ilaris' are both male and female and number in their hundreds. They are created specially to serve the king in his palace. Their initiation is a series of rituals involving charms and cuts that are supposed to imbue them with special powers.

  • Here are the pencil drawings for the characters. 
  • Copyright 2011 Olusola Akinseye