Horse-and-rider figure (elesin Shango)
- Yoruba peoples
- 17th–18th century
Although the legendary deity Shango was a military general and master horseman who owned a stable of 10,000 horses, this horse and rider figure is not a portrait of Shango but rather a symbolic image of Yoruba mythology and religious practice. Shango is said to "mount" favored devotees during a worship service; the devotee enters an entranced state, and Shango controls their actions. The horse is also a symbol of lightning, Shango's weapon, and the concept that the power of words is equal to the strength and speed of a horse.
The sculpture was placed on an altar in a shrine dedicated to Shango but may also have been used in Ifa divination. Because it was carved out of precious ivory rather than wood, the sculpture was probably owned by a Yoruba king or a very successful Ifa babalawo (diviner).
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.