This is a statue of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox. It is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Global Health Odyssey (GHO) collection of artifacts. A uniquely carved, wooden figure, it is adorned with layers of meaningful objects including monkey skulls, cowrie shells, and hair. Donated in 1995, by Ilze and Rafe Henderson, it was created by a traditional healer who made approximately 50 Shaponas, as commemorative objects for the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication. For a closer view of this statue, see PHIL 8004.
Smallpox was thought to be a disease foisted upon humans due to Shapona’s divine displeasure, and formal worship of the God of Smallpox was highly controlled by specific priests in charge of shrines to the God. People believed that if angered, the priests themselves were capable of causing smallpox outbreaks, through their intimate relationship with Shapona. Suspecting that the priests were deliberately spreading the viral disease, the British colonial rulers banned the worship of Shapona in 1907. However, worshiping the deity continued, as the faithful paid homage to the God, even after such activities were prohibited.