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X88.1038 Beaded staff


Object Name: Beaded staff
Place of Origin: Nigeria
Cultural Group: Yoruba peoples
Materials Used: Glass beads, wood, iron, cotton cloth, velvet, iron nails, thread
Date: 1988
Dimensions: H: 204.5 cm, W: 17 cm, D: 14 cm (H: 80.5 in, W: 6.6 in, D: 5.5 in)
Credit line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum purchase with Manus Fund. X88.1038

This staff was probably created by James Adetoye or another Adesina family member. Like the crown, the beaded staff can serve as a surrogate for the ruler in his/her absence. Only the staff gives a ruler’s messenger authority to speak, thus it is also known as opa iranse (messenger’s/ servant’s staff). The miniature crown at the top has a European shape, yet the wavy lines in the lower quarter of the crown suggest a beaded veil and therefore imply the most sacred of Yourba crown types, the adenla. An actual veil is suspended below the rectangular platform. While the elephant may have been used by the British in Nigeria during the colonial era, it had already been an ancient, precolonial symbol to Yoruba that was assoicated with importance and royalty. Alternating with the elephants are multicolored rosettes. While this may have been inspired by European floral patterns, the rosette occurs in early Ife work as part of frontal crests on crownlike headgear, on terracotta head, and surrounding a figurated bowl from Aroye Compound. Their sources and significances remain uncertain. The rectangular platforms is covered in velvet, a rich cloth reserved for special purposes. The interiors of the crown and platform are probably filled with power substances. since the opa ileke carries the ase of the ruler in his or her absence. The peaked form (^) over three inverted T shapes is probably a symbol of the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity (ROF). A Christianized version of the indigenous judiciary body in Yoruba communities know as Ogboni or Osugbo (among Ijebu-Yoruba), the ROF became a potent political force during the nationalist era that eventually led to Nigerian independence in 1960. Its symbolic presence here suggests this oba wanted all to appreciate his powerful political connections. Below the veil are four low-relief faces, their dark, bulging, unfathomable eyes, see in all directions while scattered white beads barely hint at mouths. The length of the shaft, with its continually changing, segmented designs (spirals, checkerboard, diamonds, zigzags, stripes, etc.) is a two-fold tour de force: it conveys the myriad forces in constant flux in the world, and it confirms the virtuosity of the royal bead artist. It is meant to dazzle and it does! The iron point at the base of the staff serves both practical and symbolic purposes. The staff, like the oba, can be literally and figuratively “planted” or “rooted” firmly in a place, standing firmly vertical to assert power, authority, and action. (Verticality is the axis of like; horizontality is the axis of death.) Staffs are surrogates of their owners. Thus a diviner’s iron weapon-staff, the opa osun, must remain rigidly upright (duro gangan) and is only laid on the ground when he dies. The same procedures apply for those with ibori, orisa initiates and their individual osun staffs, and sacred rulers and their beaded staff.

Source: Drewal, H., Mason, J. (1998). “Beads, Body, and Soul – Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 212

SKU: X88.1038 Category:

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