Sunday, January 18, 2009

African Tribal Art - The Story of Shango

Posted by William Waites, Aboriginals Gallery/TribalWorks under Tribal Art

A small boy hunches down on the earthen floor, his back against the wall of his family’s hut. His knees are tucked up under his chin. His arms hold them tight.

Each boom of thunder and each lightning crack sends a shudder through his body.

The rain comes down in waves, pounding on the thatch of the roof and rolling off to the ground. As water saturates the ground, it washes away layers of surface dirt, exposing stones previously hidden.

The rain stops. The boy comes out from the safety of his hut and starts to gather up stones, many of which look like axe-heads.

“Look, Papa,” he cries in his native tongue, “Shango!”


The reference is to Shango, the orisha (or god) of lightning and thunder. The axe-head stones, also known as celts, are symbolic of this important personage in Yoruba mythology.

According to legend, Shango was the fourth king of the Yoruba nation, Oyo. He had a whimsical and capricious nature. He was captivated by magic and careless in his use of his powers. He inadvertently cast down lightning strikes on his village, killing his wives, family and villagers. Overwhelmed with grief, he left the kingdom (some say he was banished) and killed himself.

When others in Oyo began to mock him after death, the kingdom encounterd a spate of severe and violent weather. This made his supporters angry. They elevated Shango to the status of god or orisha. In that capacity, as the god of thunder, lightning and fire, he continues to throw down axe-shaped stones symbolic of the way lightning chops through the sky.

When torrential rains reveal the stones that laid buried beneath the topsoil, the legend of Shango is reinforced.

Today, Yoruba is the most populous tribe in Africa, located primarily in Nigeria, where thousands of tribe members worship Shango. While the story that started this tale may never have happened, it is easy to imagine that, at some time in ancient Yoruba history, it did.

Shango devotees dance at annual ceremonies and other events with carved wood wands. Variants on the double-celt are apparent, often supported by a carved human figure, in an arrangement that suggests dominance over the figure. The most common figures are female, usually kneeling and offering one or both breasts as an act of supplication. These wands are called, “oshe shango”.

As Yoruba people migrated to the Western Hemisphere, mostly involuntarily on slave ships, they brought their religion of Shango with them. It is practiced in many variables today in South America and the Caribbean.

Similarly, there are variants among oshe Shango that are too numerous to mention. Some omit the celt. Some integrate the celt with the head of the figure.

This presentation of oshe Shango dance wands from my personal collection will include many of these variations. Click the Link below please

View more presentations or upload your own. (tags: african carving)


A. Goldberg said...

Thanks very much for leaving comment on my blog.

I enjoyed reading your blog. I'll check in again!

Unknown said...

There is a very strng connection between Shango and Jimi Hendrix.Both were kings of energy like lasers ,lightning,fire,electricity,volcanoes,particle beams etc.Take a look at the back cover of Jimi's album Electric Ladyland and you'll see that head shot of him literally glowing in cosmic energy.Oh Yeah!!