Accession Number



Artist Nationality
Yoruba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
20th century

Medium & Support
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)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

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. 

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
communication (function)
order (metaphysical concept)

4 Related Resources

Cabinet W: Shelf 3
(Part of: Albertine Monroe-Brown Study-Storage Gallery)
Meet the Orichas (Yoruba objects and Afro-Caribbean religion)
(Part of: F20 Khan - AAS 411 - Caribbean Religions: Creole Spiritualities from Vodou to Islam)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ FFW, Lower Level ➜ 053 (Education Center Display Cabinets) ➜ Cabinet D ➜ Shelf 1