Checks and Balances

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Nigeria; Yoruba peoples

Edan Ogboni (staff figures)


H. 30 cm (11")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.502

Some associations serve as a check and balance to the king's authority, while others are more esoteric in nature. Osugbo is an association of the eldest and wisest of Ijebu Yoruba society's members. The role of Osugbo is to decide judicial cases, serve as an appeals court for village cases, and handle punishment for criminals. Its members also oversee the investiture and funerary rites of kings. While performing these crucial political and judicial functions, Osugbo worships oro (earth spirits). Earth spirits are seen as neither male nor female, but as pervasive presences that unite all living beings. The insignia worn and owned by edan (Osugbo members) consists of a pair of male and female cast figures on iron spikes that are joined at the top by a chain. The pair is an allusion to Ijebu social organization based on cognatic descent, the tracing of inheritance through both male and female lines.