Yoruba Bullroarer

Stunning Yoruba Bullroarer with figural embellishment.
Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: Collected in 1959

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 45 (Long) x 12.5 (Widest point)

Ref. Number: 1393


Yoruba Bullroarer from the people of Nigeria. This bullroarer is a thin slat of wood decorated with a wonderfully carved depiction of a person. A hole cut out at one end of this lancet-shaped piece of wood through which a length of rope would be attached enabling a person to whirl the bullroarer around creating a shrill high-pitched sound.  This fascinating piece of Yoruba art was collected in 1958 and remains in good condition, however, there has been some deterioration/ loss of both the feet but doesn’t detract from the real wonder of this artefact.

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.

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