The coming of the Magi – 6 January 2020
In this carving Mary sits on a throne, the Christ child on her lap, facing the viewer. Above the child is a star. Joseph stands next to her, holding a staff in his right hand and a gourd under his left. They are styled as Yoruba people (Nigeria), with three Yoruba Kings approaching them, bearing gifts.
The carving here is Adoration of the Magi by Yoruba woodcarver Daniel Bamidele. It shows the magi clothed in the regalia of Yoruba obas (ruler/king) —beaded crowns (ades) and embroidered robes. The first king brings an agere Ifa, used in Yoruba divination rituals to hold palm nuts; the base of the container is shaped like a bare-chested devotee. The third king comes bearing a rooster-shaped olumeye, a storage container for kola nuts; in Yoruba homes, these caffeinated treats are shared with guests as a gesture of hospitality and friendship.
Between 1947 and 1954 several woodcarvings of Jesus’ birth narrative were made by Yoruba artists in a traditional style.. During those years, a workshop was in operation in Oye, Ekiti, Nigeria, run by the Irish Catholic missionary Father Kevin Carroll, whose aim was to promote the development of an indigenous Christian art among the Yoruba people. Funded by the Society of African Missions, the Oye-Ekiti workshop provided materials, a work space, and commissions for local artists. Father Carroll taught the artists Bible stories and encouraged them to interpret them in light of their own cultural context—marking a decisive shift away from the Catholic Church’s then-predominant missionary practice of having indigenous artists copy European works of art.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
It might have been just someone else’s story;
Some chosen people get a special king,
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.
Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons