This rare pair of Yoruba Eshu dance wands are both well carved and have an excellent deep, glossy patina. Their significant age is very clear.
Figures such as the two here were carved for dance processions and for use in rituals. They have handgrips towards their base so that they could be carried with greater ease during a dance. But also they have loops at the backs of the heads which allowed them to be suspended on worshippers’ chests as they danced.
The female figure carries in her hands two bottle-shaped gourds – this is one of the identifying motifs of Eshu. Both also have gourds attached to their hair. The gourds are to hold powerful medicine (oogune).
Both figures also have elongated, phallic hairstyles. This is another common identifier, as is the male holding a lute up to his mouth. The male has a prominent penis; the female has large, elongated breasts.
Eshu is one of the most well-known deities of the Yoruba religion. The deity has a wide range of responsibilities: he is the protector of travellers; the deity of roads, particularly crossroads; the deity with the power over fortune and misfortune; even the personification of death. According to Chemeche (2013, p. 26), he is a trickster who is able to be good and bad, trustful and mischievous, and can deliver prosperity or cause misery.
The two figures here have no losses or repairs. They do have old, stable shrinkage-related cracking as per the photographs. They stand unaided, and as mentioned, have excellent deep patinas. Matched pairs of Eshu dance wands with significant age are very rare.
Chemeche, G., Eshu: The Divine Trickster, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2013.
Coquet, M., et al, Africa: Magia y Poder: 2500 Anos de Arte en Nigeria, Fundacion ‘La Caixa’, 1998.