Ancestor Shrines

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

NigeriaYoruba peoples

Oshe Shango (staff for Shango)


H. 39 cm (15")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.512

Although both men and women are devotees of Sango, when men become priests they are generally referred to as Iya Sango (the wife of Sango). Women are most often depicted in oshe (Sango staffs). The visual reference is to the nurturing associated with motherhood, and the fact that women are also considered the nurturers and caretakers of the gods (Drewal 1986: 62). When a priestess of Sango is possessed by his spirit she is referred to as esin orisa ("horse of the gods"). Sango mounts the priestess, enters her head, and rides her. During these times the priestess may balance an oshe on her head or wave it around violently with threatening gestures. The oshe represents the twinned celts or thunder axes associated with Sango's manifestation as Yoruba god of thunder. Sango worshipers often mark their bodies as sacred sites of worship though the adoption of Sango hairstyles and scarification patterns.

Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, performance. Photo by H.J. Drewal, M.T. Drewal.