Nigeria, Yoruba people
Wood, cowrie shells, mirrors, silver spoon, leather, glass beads, brass, and coins (mid-20th century pennies, half-pennies, and tenth-of-a-pennies)
13 x 5 inches (33 x 12.7 cm)
Gift of Dorothy Brill Robbins, Class of 1933
BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis staff finial depicts Eshu Elegba, an important deity worshipped by the Yoruba.(…)
BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis staff finial depicts Eshu Elegba, an important deity worshipped by the Yoruba. As the divine messenger, he mediates spiritual communication. Eshu stands at the crossroads: between the earthly and spiritual world; between men and women; and between buyers and sellers in the marketplace.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This was made in Nigeria, where the Yoruba people live (indicated by the red circle on the map attached to this record.)HOW WAS IT MADE?These wooden staffs are carved by a sculptor with hand tools such as knives and chisels, and are accompanied by beads and leather collars. Over time, the figures accumulate strings of cowrie shells and other forms of currency from their devotees.HOW WAS IT USED?Eshu Elgeba is an unpredictable deity. A trickster who delights in causing mischief, Eshu must be placated with gifts and acts of worship. Eshu devotees dance publicly with staffs depicting the deity, asking for money in his name.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?Notice the cowrie shells, indigo pigment and strings of coins that decorate the figure. These all signify wealth given in his honor.Notice the unusual hairstyle on this figure. Scholars have interpreted Eshu’s hairstyle in several ways. Its phallic shape is not directly associated with procreation, but with his masculine strength and wild energy. The braided leather strap hanging from the hair would have allowed a female devotee to fix the figure to her garments, freeing her hands for expressive dance.A staff of this size might have been danced with its female counterpart; Eshu Elegba appears in both male and female form.To see another staff finial of Eshu Elegba in the Museum’s collection, search for object number 86.080.001 in the keyword search box.
Tomb figure of a dancer
Head of a Noble