Dance Staff

Accession Number

Dance Staff


Artist Nationality
Yoruba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
late 20th century

Medium & Support

16 3/10 in x 4 ¾ in x 2 9/16 in (41.43 cm x 12.07 cm x 6.51 cm);1 in x 4 in x 4 ⅛ in (2.54 cm x 10.16 cm x 10.48 cm)

Credit Line
Gift and partial purchase from the estate of Kurt Delbanco in honor of Nicholas Delbanco

Subject matter
Like many other objects related to various Yoruba orisas or gods, the figure in this staff, called oshe Shango, is not the orisa but a depiction of one of his followers. The god of thunder and lightning, Shango was an ancient king of the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo. The double axe shape at the top of the figure represented neolithic stone celts, thought to be thunderstones hurled to earth by Shango during storms. His hot temperament could be cooled by the good character, or iwa, of his followers, shown here by the kneeling female figure offering with both breasts, a gesture of honor. When not used by a priest or priestess of Shango, who carried the staff in dances during ceremonial events, it would have remained at the shrine for powerful but paradoxical orisa. Thunderstorms, thought to be caused by Shango, brought necessary rain as well as destructive lightning and wind.

References Cited: 

Drewal, Henry John, John Pemberton and Rowland O. Abiodun. 1989. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Center for African Art.
Lawal, Babatunde. 2012. Visions of Africa: Yoruba. Milan: 5 Continents Editions.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1983. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House.

Physical Description
Staff with a cylindrical handle and a kneeling female figure on a small, disc-shaped base. The figure is holding her breasts in both hands and her hair is decorated with vertical grooves. The top of the figure's head is surmounted by a double-axe shaped form, decorated with six incised lozenges. At the top of the double-axe form are two rectangular protrusions and at the bottom are two protrusions that may represent lightning bolts. 

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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ceremonial objects
destruction (process)
double axes

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