Yoruba artist
Nigeria, Oyo
Eshu staff (Ogo Elegbara), late 19th ‑ early 20th century
20 1/2 × 3 7/8 × 10 1/4 in. (52.1 × 9.8 × 26 cm.)
Purchased with funds from the Alice Speed Stoll Accessions Trust  2004.18

A Joker’s Devotee
This staff depicts an Eshu priest holding a jar of palm oil with a small Eshu staff—looking much like himself—hooked over his shoulder. The Yoruba believe that Eshu is a complex, contradictory god who crosses boundaries between the spiritual and earthly realms to deliver offerings and prayers to the gods. If Eshu is not honored properly, however, he becomes a trickster who wreaks havoc. Eshu priests dance holding staffs such as this in performances to honor the god. The hook-like protrusion projecting from the figure’s head may symbolize Eshu’s powerful life force.