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Yoruba Equestrian Figure Fragment Elesin Sango

Yoruba Equestrian Figure Fragment Elesin Sango

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Yoruba people, late 19th or early 20th century, probably Oyo Region, Nigeria, West Africa.

Magnificent, imposing and finely carved old equestrian figure with long neck, rounded shoulders, arms at sides bent at elbows, carrying a bowl for offering to the god Ṣangó. Figure's head surrmounted by stylized conical coiffure. He has bulging almond-shaped eyes, broad nose, full lips and incised vertical scarification marks (pélé) on the cheeks. A prominent goatee beard juts out from his chin. Equestrian figures are potent symbols of power in many parts of Africa where ownership of horses was long restricted to warriors and political leaders. In Yoruba mythology, Ṣangó was both a king and God of thunder and lightning. Equestrian figures in wood appear frequently in Yoruba art, occurring on staffs and masks, as the supports for divination bowls, and as  figures on altars devoted to deities. 

The Yoruba people are an ethnic group that inhabits western Africa, mainly Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Traditional Yoruba religious beliefs recognize a wide variety of deities (400 + 1 ), with Olorun or Olodumare venerated as the creator and other lesser gods serving as intermediates to help with the concerns of humans. Yoruba religion (Isese) is the basis for a number of religions in the New World, notably Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Candomblé. Its also shares some parallels with the Vodun practiced by the neighboring Fon and Ewe peoples to the west and to the religion of the Edo people to the east. In the Yoruba religion, after death the guardian soul arrives in the heaven and confesses to the Olodumare what it's done on Earth. The good souls will then be sent to the Good Heaven (Orun Rere). The souls of the wicked will be sent to the Bad Heaven (Orun Buburu) as punishment. Yoruba deities (Orisa) include wind goddess (Oya), divination or fate (Ifá), destiny (Eleda), twins (Ibeji), medicines and healing (Osanyin) and goddess of fertility, protector of children and mothers (Osun) and the God of thunder (Ṣangó). 

Good condition. Fragment. Age-related heavy wear. Series of parallel splits in wood running across the figure. Deep dark brown patina. Traces of ceremonial use and handling over many years. Cracks and fractures. Figure has been eaten away by extensive insect damage creating imbalance in figures support. Remnants of clay and red pigment. Size approx. 30,0cm x 8,8cm x 8,5cm. (excluding the modern base)

Provenance: Swedish private collection

References and further reading:

Encyclopedia of the Ibeji, Fausto Polo, Ibeji Art, 2008.

The Historiography of Yoruba Myth and Ritual, Andrew Apter, History in Africa, Vol. 14, 1987, Published by Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-25.

The Yoruba, Art & Life in Africa, University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art.

The Study of Yoruba Religious Tradition in Historical Perspective, Jacob K. Olupona, Numen, Vol. 40, No. 3, Sep., 1993, pp. 240-273.

Art of the Yoruba, Moyo Okediji, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2, African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago (1997), pp. 164-181+198.

Ibeji Images of the Yoruba, Marilyn Hammersley Houlberg, African Arts, Vol. 7, No. 1, Autumn 1973, Published by UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center, pp. 20-27+91-92.

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