By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa
Many African societies are gerontocracies: authority is held by elders of the group, and as a person becomes older he or she can exercise greater influence over the life of the community. Elders cease to have the day-to-day concerns for the health and well-being of their children, who are now grown with children of their own. They are instead more concerned with the health and well-being of the lineage and community. Elders are respected because they have accumulated knowledge, and are able to exercise the power that is associated with knowledge of the natural and supernatural worlds. They are respected because they will soon be ancestors, and will have powerful control over the well-being of the living they leave behind. Elders have risen to the highest levels of the voluntary associations that characterize many African peoples. These staffs were owned by elders of the Yoruba Ogboni association, which held power that balanced that of the chief.