ogo elegba

Early twentieth-century missionaries called the Yoruba: "pagans who worship Eshu, 'the devil'". Stephen Farrow, author of Faith, Fancies, and Fetich describes Eshu variously as "the prince of darkness", "the phallic god of the yorubas", and "the deity of supreme wickedness in all its forms". He describes an Eshu staff as an image of the devil kneeling and supporting breasts of a female type. While he agrees that Eshu himself is always regarded as male, he claims that this does not preclude him from possessing feminine characteristics.

Clearly the information Farrow presents is jaded and incomprehensive. African religion is being made to conform to Christian beliefs of God and Satan. Taken from an emphatic Christian and Western perspective rather than attempting to interpret yrouba religion and artifacts from their non-Western cultural orignin. Here African art becomes the art of "the Other". References to Eshu as the phallic god feeds African stereotypes of black sexual prowess. By proclaiming Eshu's (the devil's) feminine characteristics does not only point to the misogyny of early twentieth century Christians, but these African "pagans" are again sexualized and exoticized through the interpretation of their objects.

In today's Western interpretation of Eshu, he is no longer seen as the supreme evil being, but rather the messenger deity. He bridges the spiritual world of the gods and ancestors with the material world, the earth. Eshu is often depicted with two faces, one at the front of his head and one which appears at the end of an arch that projects from the back of his head. One face looks ahead at the spirit world and one looks behind at the earthly world. Eshu may not be the devil, but he is a trickster and can bring misfortune to those who do not acknowledge his power.

Images from the Fowler Museum

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