This staff was made by an artist of the Yoruba people in Nigeria and it represents Eshu (also called Elegba), the traditional god of uncertainty, change, malicious mischief, and sexual energy who must be honored to avoid the pitfalls that lead all humans into disastrous errors.
This beautiful hook depicts Eshu as a young boy blowing a wooden whistle, an act of defiance of established authority. His hair is drawn up in a long, pendulous coiffure that has strong phallic associations. Among the Yoruba, long hair is symbolic of libidinous energy and unrestrained sexuality (Wescott 1962: 348). The most unusual feature of this example of Eshu/Elegba religious association art is the second face, with bulging eyes and full beard, which forms an extension of Eshu’s coiffure. The Janus-faced figure may represent Eshu in his ambiguous and contradictory character; the Yorubas describe him as both an old man and a child, “his age is reflected in his cunning nature and the wisdom concealed in his trickery, his extreme youth in his wantonness and caprice and in his impulsive behaviour” (Wescott 1962: 341).
Nigeria; Yoruba peoples (Northern Ekiti)
Ogo Elegba (staff for Eshu)
Wood, beads, pigment
H 28.4 (16 7/8”)
The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.284
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