This wood carving depicts Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lighting.
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Image Courtesy of the Hamill Gallery of African Art, Boston, MA
Shango, Yoruba God of Thunder and Lightning
Shango was the forth king of the ancient Oyo Empire, the West African center of culture and politics for the Yoruba people. The Oyo Empire thrived from the fifteenth century until 1835. Today, there are about 30 million Yoruba people in West Africa, most in Nigeria.
Shango was a powerful king, but some of the people in the Oyo Empire thought he was unfair. When two of his ministers challenged him for the throne, Shango fled into the forest. He wandered in the forest for a long time and eventually hung himself from a tree.
After Shango died, his enemies' houses were set on fire, probably by Shango's friends. But some people believed Shango had gone up into the heavens and was sending fire down to Earth. That’s how Shango became known as the god of thunder and lightning.
As the god of thunder and lightning, Shango has some powerful energy. In artwork he is often depicted with a double ax on his head, the symbol of a thunderbolt, or he is depicted as a fierce ram. Shango’s thunderous energy became a symbol of the resistance of the Yoruba people during the 19th Century when many Yoruba people were taken from Africa to the Americas as slaves.
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