Shango is the deity, orisha whose power is imaged by thunder and lightning. As the legendary fourth king of the ancient kingdom of Oyo, Shango's rule was marked by capricious use of power. One account asserts that Shango was fascinated with magical powers. He inadvertently caused a thunderstorm and lightning struck his own palace killing many of his wives and children. In repentence he left his kingdom and travelled to Koso where he hung himself. When his enemies cast scorn upon his name, a rash of storms destroyed parts of Oyo. Shango's followers proclaimed him a god and that the storms were Shago's wrath, avenging his enemies.
All of the stories concerning Shango represent the theme of power-capricious, authoritative, procreative, destructive, magical, medicinal, and moral power. Shango's staff visualizes the unpredictable and violent power of the deity. This power is personified through dance. At the annual festival for Shango, an entranced devotee, the elegunshango , dances to the piercing, staccato rhythms of the bata drum and waves the staff, oshe , with violent and threatening gestures and then suddenly draws it to himself in a motion of quiet composure.
In one account regarding the oshe shango , the female figure who balances the ax, the sign of Shango's power is equated with the "caprice and creative experience of human sexuality." Shango's power is compared to the libidinal drive which may prove dangerous to the possibilities of creatvie sexual relationships. This interpretation may again reinforce racial stereotypes of African male sexual prowess. Perhaps the Shango cult may instead be veiwed as awarning of the arrogant use of military power to political leadership.
Images from Fowler Museum