Edan Ogboni (Osugbo Staff)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Headed by the Oluwo (chief priest), the Yoruba Ogboni (meaning 'cult of old age') is a society of respected elderly men and women responsible for the management and wellbeing of their community through the maintenance of law and order - often with the power to sentence criminals to death. They are also responsible for the selection and eventual burial of the Oba ('king') of the town and even have the power to expel the king should the group deem him unfit to rule.

The edan ogboni (also called edan osugbo among the Ijebu and Egba of Yorubaland) is used by Ogboni cult members as a symbol of membership but it is also believed to be the god Edan in physical form. When a new member joins the cult, he or she is given an edan to represent the expectation of secrecy from all cult members; the staff remains in the member's possession till death. When not in use, the staff is stored in the inner corners of the member's home (away from public view) and is always kept highly polished.

NOTE: Smaller edan staffs (2-3 inches) are used as amulets and can also carried by Ogboni members as a sign of membership to the cult.

Distinguishing Features

Styles vary between regions of Yorubaland but all edan ogboni staffs fall under 3 main forms:

    • Type 1: Heads mounted on staffs
    • Type 2: Basic figures with rudimentary genitalia
    • Type 3: Naturalistic representations of whole figures

Common features among all edan ogboni figures:

    • Figure made of brass over clay core (very early examples made of wood)
    • Spike under figure made of iron
    • Usually between 4 - 10 inches long
    • Figures joined by a chain attached to heads
    • Short iron rod under each figure (1 male, 1 female)
    • Human figure often rendered nude
        • Frontal pose: standing, seated, or kneeling
        • Male & female genitalia exaggerated
        • Each male figure carries object identified with Ogboni rituals
            • Executioner's club
            • Staff of office
            • Ceremonial fan
            • Dish
            • Wooden ladle
            • Tobacco pipe
            • When not carrying an object, depicted with Ogboni sacred symbol of left fist over right, thumbs hidden
            • Some figures place hands close to the mouth
        • Female figure depicted holding a baby or holding onto her breasts
    • Enlarged head
        • Bulging forehead
            • Some feature crescent motif (osu) on forehead
            • Some feature spiral or concentric circles on forehead
        • Eyes can be one of the following:
            • Split sphere
            • Almond shaped set on edge and protruding obliquely on face
            • Two flat centric circles
        • Protruding, conical and ringed headdress

Share this