Ukhurhe (Rattle Staff)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Placed on ancestor altars, ukhurhe rattle staffs are created by the ruling Oba after the passing of his father. They are also created, out of wood, for deceased community members. The altar on which the staffs are placed on serve as a shrine and a point of communication with the deceased. To awaken ancestors, the staff is shaken. Once their attention has been aroused, the surviving family members make prayer requests. The ancestor is also respected through offerings made to the shrine (the ukhurhe staff is stuck in the ground to indicate that an offering has been made).

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood, brass or ivory (brass and ivory staffs found only on royal altars)
  • Upper end pierced by two or more rectangular slits
  • Slits open into hollow chamber
  • Wood or clay cylinder inside hollow chamber
  • Segmented bamboo-like shaft (each segment signifies a single lifespan)
  • Staff summit can include depictions of:
    • Hand clasping mudfish
    • Clenched fist
    • Heads or figures
  • Staff shaft may include relief depictions of:
    • Figures
    • Elephants (traditional symbol of chiefdom)
    • Leopards (symbol of royalty in Benin art)
    • Crocodiles (representing water deity Olokun)
    • Eden swords of authority
    • Guilloche patterns

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