Ijaw people live on the coastal delta of the Niger River, a location advantageous to trade. When European merchants began voyages to Africa in the fifteenth century, the Ijaw served as middlemen in the exchange of gold, ivory, and slaves for European products. Certain families became extremely wealthy, comparable in their economic power to the merchant princes of Europe.
When a member of a trading house died, relatives commissioned an artist to produce a memorial screen called a duein fobara, or forehead of the dead. For Ijaw people one’s immortal spirit resides in the forehead, and the screen becomes the spirit’s home after death. The image represents the deceased person at the center, surrounded by servants, and is kept in the trading house and given symbolic offerings of food and drink. Although trading houses have declined in power and importance duein fobara screens are still occasionally made.