Yoruba Shango Dance Wand

According to oral tradition, Shango was the fourth king of the ancient Oyo Empire. He defeated the rivalrous Dahomey Kingdom. His army was famed for its skilful cavalry on the battlefield. However, Shango was also renowned for his unpredictable use of power, and his obsession with magic which often involved invoking thunder. 

Yoruba Shango Dance Wand

Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: Mid-20th Century

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 28.5 tall

Ref. Number: 1843


This piece is a Yoruba Shango dance wand or Oshe from Nigeria. This has a superb patina and a fair age. Its contours have been rounded by handling, and the wood has developed a nice rich hue. It is carved as a female devotee of Shango, the Yoruba thunder deity. The depiction of a woman kneeling and hands at her side is a gesture of greeting, offering and acceptance.

Provenance: Ex-Lancaster Collection UK. Ex Laureano Sanchez Prieto, Spain.


Shango (or Sango) was the fourth Yoruba king of Oyo-Ile. He is said to have harnessed lightning to defeat his enemies and had numerous rather colourful character traits that led to mixed public opinion. When forced to commit suicide, thunder and lightning threatened to destroy the city; his ex-subjects interpreted this as an act of retribution and deified him as the god of thunder, hoping to appease him and also harness some of his power. Latterly, Shango became associated with twins (Nigeria has the world s highest prevalence of twin births), rainfall, and punishing miscreants with lightning strikes. His symbol is the double-headed axe, although dogs, rams (his preferred sacrificial animal) and kneeling women holding offering bowls/cups are also strongly associated with him. Finally, he is associated with art, music and beautiful women, so it is perhaps little surprise that he is such a popular deity (orisha) in the Yoruba pantheon.

Real-life devotees of Shango own dance wands such as this that are carried in formal procession by the cult group member who becomes possessed with Shango’s spirit. The iconography of these items is typically formalised, but there are rationalisations as well as personal diversity among carvers. Some of the figures on these wands carry a pair of merged thunderbolts (edan ara) on their heads, surmounted by the double-headed axe that symbolizes Shango himself. The polished wood handle was gripped by the worshipper during a dancing ritual to honour the god.

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