Ancestor Shrines

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Toibo of Erin (d. circa 1937)

Nigeria; Yoruba artist

Figure for a Shango shrine


H. 81 cm (33")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.504

Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning, giver of children, and protector of twins, was the legendary fourth king of the powerful eighteenth-century Oyo empire. Upon his suicide death by hanging in Koso, Sango's friends traveled to neighboring Bariba peoples to obtain magic and medicines to defend Sango's name. When they returned to Oyo-Ile they used their newly acquired knowledge to raise violent thunderstorms and caused lightning to strike the houses of Sango's enemies. Sango was declared an orisa (saint), and his followers demanded that prayers and offerings be made to honor him. Fearing Sango's continued vengeance, prayers were said, shrines were established at the palace in Koso, and priestesses were initiated to act as intercessors between Sango and the community (Pemberton 1989: 158). This sculpted bala drummer, which was placed on a shrine to Sango, is a Sango devotee as is indication by the hairstyle, which is fashioned by shaving the head to the crown and braiding the hair back in rows from that point (Drewal 1986: 62). A similar drum appears in the field photo.

Yoruba artist, Benin, Egungun talking drummer. Photo by Dana Rush.