Yoruba Edan Markers

  • Tribe: Yoruba
  • Origin: Nigeria
  • Approx Age: Early 20th Century
  • Materials: Clay, Metal Alloy
  • Dimensions cm: 21
  • Ref. Number: 0953

A stunning and old  pair of Yoruba Edan Markers  that originate from Nigeria. This wonderful and captivating pair of Edan Markers show all the characteristics that typify such fascinating items. They are made from a clay composite and then completely encased with a brass, bronze alloy.

An Ogboni wearing Edan Markers around his neck.

These figures belong to the Ogboni society and are given the name Edan and are cast in pairs, attached to a spike and  joined by a chain through loops on the top of the heads that then join the pair together. They would be worn over the shoulders of Ogboni society members as a sign of office or as an amulet. The figures usually represented as portrait heads of society elders representing wisdom, authority and power. Only used by the high esteem authority elders.

Edan are among the most fascinating sculptured objects in Yoruba culture. They are presented to an initiate into the higher ranks of a secret society, Ogboni or Oshugbo. Ogboni is one of the most prominent Yoruba religious cult societies, which worships the owner of the earth, Onile. Its prime function is to harmonise all spirits and forces of nature. It is lead by the eldest and wisest man and woman from the community. The edan were worn around initiates’ necks,
as symbols of rank, at society meetings and ceremonies. The casting over an iron rod signifies the union of the magical forces associated with brass and iron.

The non-rusting character of brass symbolises immortality – the desire for longevity and well-being. The union of the male and female figures by a chain represents the duality of Onile. Ogboni venerates Onile to ensure human survival, peace, happiness, and social stability in the community.

The edan are used in five main functions: judicial, oracular, healing, protective, and communication/surveillance (Roache, 1971). For the judicial role, it is believed that an edan placed upright by its spike on the ground will fall should a man not confess his guilt. For its oracular role, it is required to be present with its owner in ifa divination for predicting the owner’s future. The Ogboni society has its own odu, a set of sacred verses of the spiritual and ethical tradition of ifa, predictions; that relate to both mundane and spiritual prescriptions. For the healing role, the edan are sometimes shaped like a spoon for medicine preparation. For the protective role, the edan are worn or carried to keep the bearer from harm and witchcraft. For the communication and surveillance role, the edan are believed to have the power to travel in the form of a bird to disseminate messages as well as to watch over people.

According to Williams (1960), the Ogboni believed that a union of two Ogboni becomes three. The third entity is a mystery or a secret that sprung from the union of male and female as demonstrated in the edan. The secret may refer to the completion of life: from kneeling before the High God or Father Olodumare, receiving a personal destiny ori, entering the world of sexual, social, political and religious differentiation and opposition (Fagg & Pemberton
1982). The edan often was placed in places of conflict to demonstrate unity, reconciliation and adjudication of differences among mankind, and ultimately with the earth. The Ogboni society acted as a town council, a civic court, and even controlled over regents in local monarchies. Membership implied power and
prestige, and this status generally was reinforced through the commissioning of religious and courtly paraphernalia. Williams (1964) argues that Ogboni art was absolute, static and linear as opposed to the formal theme of Yoruba carving: abstract, dynamic and architectonic. The membership is limited to the few people who achieve distinction through their profession and who prove to be of high integrity. Ogboni societies still exist among more traditional Yoruba today, but not to the same extent.

Bacquart, J. B., The Tribal Arts of Africa, Thames & Hudson, 1998.
Fagg, W. & Pemberton, J. III., Yoruba: Sculpture of West Africa, Collins, 1982.
Roache, L.E., ‘Psychophysical attributes of the Ogboni Edan’, in African Arts, 14(3): 48–53, 1971.
Williams, D., ‘The Iconology of the Yoruba Edan Ogboni’, in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Cambridge University Press and International
African Institute, 1964.
Williams, P. M., ‘The Yoruba Ogboni Cult in Oyo’ in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Cambridge University Press and International African
Institute, 1960.