Yoruba Bullroarer

Yoruba bullroarer, lovely and old depicting two figures with arms linked.
Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: Collected 1958

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 47 (long) x 15 (widest point)

Ref. Number: 1392


Yoruba bullroarer made of a flat lancet-shaped piece of wood with a male/female couple in half relief carving. With a hole made to which a piece of rope would be attached for the purpose of being able to whirl around. This bullroarer is lovely and aged in appearance and in good condition. The bullroarer is a typical instrument of the “oro” society. Being whirled around would create a shrill high-pitched sound. 

Provenance: Collected by Michael and Renate Lancaster between 1958-59 from Ibadan in Nigeria.


The Yoruba call the bullroarer iṣẹ́ Orò. It is usually around thirty to fifty centimetres (twelve to twenty inches) long, made of camwood or bamboo and can be decorated with figurative carvings. The bullroarer is a typical instrument of the “oro” society, whose main task is to punish wrongdoers and witches who may or may not have been sentenced by the “ogboni” or “oshugbo” society. When setting out at night the members of the “oro” whirl the bullroarers around creating a shrill high-pitched sound which warns women and children to remain indoors.  Once consecrated it is an absolute taboo for women to see this phallic representation of the Orisha. In addition, every initiate receives a smaller version of a bullroarer, this one is called ajá Orò, literally Orò’s dog. On the one hand the metaphor of barking through the sounding of an instrument announces the coming of the Orisha and on the other hand vice-versa also invokes the Orisha’s attention, like a dog might do. In addition, because of its smaller size, the ajá Orò produces a higher frequency tone mimicking also the voice of a smaller animal rather than the low-frequency tones of the larger iṣẹ́ Orò bullroarers. Iṣẹ́ Orò is usually reserved for the elderly members or is kept in the shrine in the igbó or ojúbọ Orò, the sacred forest of the Orò society out of town, where only initiated men are allowed to enter.

Oro secret society. Picture from Soul Of Africa Museum

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