Illustration principale
Ogboni edan staff
Yoruba, Nigeria/Benin, 19th century

Brass, iron
Height : 27,5 cm

Provenance : collection Bruno Gay, Paris

Publication : "KunstKammer"
(M. Doustar, 2017), n°71
The Yoruba people are an ethnic group of southwestern and North-central Nigeria as well as southern and central Benin, together known as Yorubaland. The Yoruba are one of the most important and best studied African peoples South of the Sahara. However, we know very little about one of their most important social and religious institutions, the Ogboni society. This is principally due to the oath of secrecy that protects their meetings and rituals. German ethnographer Frobenius reports in 1912 that certain Ogboni rituals demand human sacrifice, that would possibly explain the need of secrecy. The contents of their deliberation could be another reason.
In his publication of reference, “Earth and Ancestors : Ogboni iconography”, Hans Witte writes that : “what seemed to be one of the few established facts on the Ogboni, founded on solid fieldwork and unanimously accepted, was that the religious foundation of the society rested in the veneration of the earth (ile) in the form of the earth-mother named Ile or Onile (Owner of the earth).
The society performs a range of political and religious functions, including exercising a profound influence on regents and serving as high courts of jurisprudence in capital offenses. Its members are generally considered to be part of the nobility of the various Yoruba kingdoms of West Africa. When a new member joins the Ogboni society, they receive a pair of “Edan staffs”, which consists of an iron rod projecting from the lower part of the figures. Core figures of clay are attached to the iron staffs and later covered with finely executed versions made of yellow cast-alloy (brass) executed with ‘waste mould’ casting. Each pair consists of a man and a woman linked at the top of the head by means of a chain. The staffs are worn around the neck and serve as a form of identification during the meetings of the society. The brass staff protects its owner with the power of the earth, Yoruba “ile”, against evil forces. They also intervene in the administration of justice, during initiation of a new candidate, or in medical practice to cure illness. The iron spike underneath the staff is used to stick the edan ogboni in the ground to serve as an oracle.
The present example, a very old female gure with legs apart, hands flat, and bulging eyes, appears to be one of the finest edan ogboni staff. The expressiveness of the face is unrivalled in the corpus.
Price : 6.500 euros