These little figures look pretty harmless and even kind of cute. The tall one is maybe 8 inches high. But to followers of Yoruba traditional religion, these sigidi are very powerful. I learned about them at a lecture at the National Museum, where they displayed these two examples. Sigidi are orisas, or demi-god figures with the power to do evil or harm. We were told they belong to the sub-diety category of medicine, which differs from other orisa. These belong more to the realm of magic rather than the sphere of religion. But every respectable Yoruba priest will have at least one of these in his shrine.
When a sigidi is fully "developed," the spirit that it houses can be sent out to do evil deeds. The speaker said that the sigidi is used to be sent out on an evil mission. They are never used for good deeds. They can be used for revenge, or used to settle scores, or to know the truth in a conflict. After an aggrieved person makes an offering to the priest with a plea for the power of the sigidi, the priest will offer an incantation which gives the sigidi's spirit the power to inflict injury to the designated recipient.
When I left the museum, I asked my driver if he knew about the sigidi. I was relieved when he said he had never heard about it. I think it's best if this one is kept on the down-low. In fact, why am I writing about this at all? You're all my friends, right?