Top, Eshu staff, Yoruba, Nigeria, mid 20th century
The Yoruba god Eshu/Elegba (also spelled Esu), the divine messenger and the trickster who represents the unpredictable in life, is relied upon to facilitate contact with Olódùmarè, also known as Olórun (the Lord of the Sky), the Yoruba creator or high god, who does not interact directly with the world of humans. Contact is established through rituals, offerings, and the process of divination. Often referred to as a trickster, he is present wherever there is a possibility for change or conflict–the market, crossroads, home doorways. The dance staff carried by his worshippers usually features a male figure with a hook formed by a long hairstyle, a sign of sexuality and spiritual potency. The second face on the tail of the coiffure suggests his pervasive power and presence, as well as the contradictions in his character. Along the crest of the hair are depictions of medicine gourd containers. The cowrie shells and indigo dye refer to wealth, often a cause of change and dispute.
Right, female figure, Yoruba, Nigeria
Whether going to market or participating in a religious procession, people in most of Africa traditionally carry loads atop their heads. This container or arugba is from a shrine dedicated to the god Shango in the village of Oke Onigbin. Shango, the god of thunder, punishes wrong doers and rewards the devout. This kneeling woman is a devotee, and carries Shango’s thunderbolts in the form of Neolithic stone axes.