Esu-Elegbara Dance Staff

Accession Number

Esu-Elegbara Dance Staff


Artist Nationality
Yoruba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
wood, leather, cowrie shells, brass, iron and seeds

22 1/16 in x 11 13/16 in x 9 1/16 in (56 cm x 30 cm x 23 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Daniel and Sandra Mato

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This staff is used in ritual dance at the threshold of a town or market to pay homage to Esu-Elegbara, the Yoruba deity of crossroads and of àse, or vital life force. At the top of the staff, a male and female supplicant peer out from a cascade of cowrie shells, brass beads, iron fragments, and seeds. When in motion, the staff clatters like a rattle. Cowrie shells, once used as currency, refer to Esu’s main role in social and commercial exchange, or wherever money, ideas, and possibilities flow.
The traces of blue indigo powder seen on the wood and cowrie surfaces represent the coolness of seawater, which soothes and assuages Esu, the fiery deity known for playing tricks.

Subject matter
This staff sounds like a rattle when in motion. If seen in action, it “dances” at the threshold of town or the market to pay Esu-Elegbara homage. At rest, the staff dangles around devotees' necks or gets pegged to shrine walls. Esu is the deity of dynamic change and is represented by the crossroads. If honored properly, Esu generously intercedes in human affairs. Otherwise, he induces disorientation and stifles those who neglect him. 

Physical Description
At the top of the staff, a male figure and female figure peer from a cascade of cowries, brass beads, iron fragments, and seeds. Some cowries are stained with indigo dye. The lower bodies of the figures are concealed by the shell strands above. Their elongated hairstyles extend the overall verticality of the piece. The figures' faces appear to be identical.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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ceremonial objects
communication (function)
dancing (activity)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted