Lot 190
  • 190

Yoruba Altar Emblem for Oko, Nigeria

12,000 - 18,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • metal, beads, feathers (domestic chicken)
  • Height: 63 3/4 in (161.9 cm)


Pace Primitive and Ancient Art, New York
Private Collection, Chicago, acquired from the above circa 1980

Catalogue Note

The Yoruba employed large ceremonial sword-form metal staves as altar-emblems of the agricultural deity Oko. Pemberton notes that "the shining metal staff, Opa orisha Oko, the emblem of the deity of the farm, Oko, is forged from the hoes taken to the blacksmith in Irawo in northwest Yorubaland, who alone may make them.  They are 'owned' by a male elder of the compound, but the rituals for orisha Oko are performed by a priestess, who is a daughter of the house. She is known as the 'wife', iyawo, of orisha Oko. [...] The 'face' of the deity is in the small square area in the center of the staff. It usually depicts eyes and scarification marks and always has a central cross mark, which is referred to as 'the crossroads', orita. [...] The staffs of orisha Oko are clothed, ewu, in beaded sheaths, when they are not the object of ritual attention." (Pemberton in Fagg, Yoruba Beadwork: Art of Nigeria, New York, 1980, p. 46).

The present richly-beaded example is preserved as a complete ensemble of staff, sheath and covering, a rare survival of the components together. see Fagg, ibid., p. 25 for a photograph of Orisha Oko priestesses flanking a comparable staff emblem at Ila Orangun.