Thresholds

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

NigeriaYoruba peoples (Northern Ekiti)

Ogo Elegba (staff for Eshu)

Wood, beads, pigment

H 28.4 (16 7/8”)

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.284

Among Yoruba peoples of southwestern Nigeria and southeastern Benin, Eshu-Elegbara performs duties similar to those of Legba. The two faces of this staff point in opposite directions, an allusion to Eshu's role as messenger and mediator between spiritual and human forces. His two-sidedness allows him to be represented as a capricious child blowing a whistle in one direction and as a bearded old man in the other. In either role, he behaves impetuously. Alternately making childish demands and playing tricks on those who fail to acknowledge his power. When things are amiss and confusion ensues, Eshu is most likely at the root of it. His favorite foods are candies and cakes, and such offerings are necessary if one hopes to honor his authority. Cowrie shells, beads, and money, symbols of Eshu's wealth and fecundity, are often left on shrines as well. Eshu is further known for his insatiable sexual energy and his phallic hairstyle represents this sexual character.