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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Yoruba Staffs : Yoruba Wooden Sango Ose Dancewand
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Yoruba Wooden Sango Ose Dancewand - PF.2298 (LSO)
Origin: Southwestern Nigeria
Circa: 1870 AD to 1920 AD
Dimensions: 11.5" (29.2cm) high x 4.375" (11.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Paint

£1,800.00
Location: Great Britain
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Description
This attractive piece is a Shango wand � or Ose Sango � from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It is essentially a platform with a polished wood handle beneath, supporting a kneeling woman suckling a pair of twins. Her body and face are reminiscent of Ere Ibeji twin figures, with angular facial features, triple cheek scars, reductivist modelling below the neck, and a peaked hairstyle denoted by incised lines. She is further adorned by a fan-shaped eminence on the apex of her coiffure � this triple-scar decorated object denotes the double- headed axe that symbolises Shango, the god of lightning. She is kneeling and leaning forward slightly to allow the standing twins to breastfeed � they have their arms wrapped around each other and around her, to form a ring of continuous contact between all three figures. She is wearing a string of fine glass trade beads around her neck, with a large tubular bead as a pendant, and another string of fine beads in her left ear as an earring. The handle is highly polished through usage, and there is a small suspension loop carved into the apex thereof.

The Yoruba peoples of Nigeria have what is probably the longest extant artistic tradition in Africa. The nation state is comprised of numerous subsections that were joined historically by the rise and collapse of the Ife (12th to 15th centuries) and Benin (13th to 19th centuries) polities. Each of the sub-kingdoms � including Oyo, Ijebu and smaller units towards the west � had their heyday, and are loosely united through language and culture, although they still retain a measure of independence in terms of their artistic traditions. It is extremely hard to summarise the nature of Yoruba society given the large area they cover and the inevitable variability of their customs.

The Yoruba � being a large, complex society � is sedentary, agriculturist and hierarchical. They are ruled by hereditary kings known as Obas, and their access to the supernatural world is supervised by a very complex arrangement of priests (i.e. Olowa) and spiritual intermediaries. Their cosmology is arranged in terms of the tangible realm of the living (aye) and the invisible realm of the spirits and the hereafter (orun). Their relationship is sometimes described as being that of a gourd with tightly-interlocking upper and lower halves, or as a divination board with a raised rim and a depressed centre. The creator of the world is Olodumare (or Odumare, Olorun, Eleda or Eleemi, depending on the area), who is the source of all ase � life force. Orun is populated by all manner of spirits (iwin, ajogun, egbe and oro), gods (orisa) and ancestors (ara orun), all of whom influence the living. They can all be reached, appealed to or appeased through human intermediaries such as the babalawo (diviner). Most Yoruban artistic heritage is designed to thwart evil spirits, and to placate or honour those that bring good fortune to the populace.

Shango (or Sango) was the fourth Yoruba king of Oyo-Ile. He is said to have harnessed lightning to defeat his enemies, and had numerous rather colourful character traits that led to a mixed public opinion. When forced to commit suicide, thunder and lightning threatened to destroy the city; his ex-subjects interpreted this as an act of retribution and deified him as the god of thunder, hoping to appease him and also to harness some of his power. Latterly, Shango became associated with twins (Nigeria has the world�s highest prevalence of twin births), rainfall, and for punishing miscreants with lightning strikes. His symbol is the double-headed axe, although dogs, rams (his preferred sacrificial animal) and kneeling women holding offering bowls/cups are also strongly associated with him. Finally, he is associated with art, music and beautiful women, so it is perhaps little surprise that he is such a popular deity (orisha) in the Yoruba pantheon.

The woman is a worshipper of Shango, or perhaps his favourite wife, Oya (goddess of tornadoes and the River Niger), judging from her high coiffure. Real-life devotees of Shango own dance wands such as this that are carried in formal procession by the cult group member who becomes possessed with Shango's spirit. Iconography of these items is typically formalised, but there are regionalisations as well as personal diversity among carvers. Some of the figures on these wands carry a pair of merged thunderbolts (edan ara) on their heads, surmounted by the double-headed axe that symbolizes Shango himself. The polished wood handle was gripped by the worshipper during a dancing ritual to honour the god.

This figure is a rare form of the conventional Ose Shango, as it is unusual for the central figure to be portrayed with additional figures. However, it is highly appropriate in consideration of Shango�s association with twins, and it makes for an unusual and highly appealing piece of African art. - (PF.2298 (LSO))

 

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