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Artwork Details

20th century
wood, cowrie shells, leather, and blue pigment
6 ⅒ in x 3 15/16 in x 3 15/16 in (15.5 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm);6 ⅒ in x 3 15/16 in x 3 15/16 in (15.5 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

Eshu, also known as Elegba or Elegbara, is the Yoruba orisa (god) known for his contradictory nature. Often called the 'trickster' god, Eshu has been associated with crossroads, markets, and Ifa divination, all places where one's fortune can rapidly change. He also acts as a messenger between humans and other orisas. The cowrie shells attached to this figure, called ogo Elegba, represent wealth, as they were once used as currency by Yoruba-speaking peoples. This connection to the marketplace highlights Eshu's power to cause trouble; he can provide wealth as well as take it away. This figure may have been held by or attached to a follower of Eshu while they danced to honor him. 

References Cited: 
Lawal, Babatunde. 2012. Visions of Africa: Yoruba. Milan: 5 Continents Editions.
Pemberton, John. 1975. "Eshu-Elegba: The Yoruba Trickster God", African Arts, Vol. 9, No. 1. 
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1983. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House.

Physical Description:

Figure of a human head on a base covered with cowrie shells. The cowrie shells are covered in blue pigment and two strings of cowrie shells hang off the back and side of the figure. There is leather wrapped around the neck of the figure. The head of the figure, carved out of wood, has pointed ears and a conical hairstyle decorated with geometric patterns and lines. 

Usage Rights:

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