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Herbalist's staff  (opa Osanyin, opa Erinle)
Date: Late 19th-mid 20th century
Medium: Iron, stone
Dimensions: H x W x D: 71 x 27.5 x 29.6 cm (27 15/16 x 10 13/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Amb. and Mrs. Benjamin Hill Brown Jr.
Geography: Southwest region, Nigeria
Object Number: 76-3-4
Search Terms:
fan
bird
Healing
Exhibited: Healing Arts

Among the Yoruba, a large bird in the center of a gathering of birds symbolizes the ability to control supernatural forces and the power of good subduing evil. This staff represents the power of the herbalist, a priest of the gods of healing, Osanyin and Erinle. The complex imagery on the staff also refers to Ogun, the god of iron and the patron of blacksmiths (anyone using metal or machinery). By providing the iron blades used to cut through the forest in the search for medicinal plants, Ogun facilitates the herbalist's work. Ogun's aggressive masculinity and spiritual powers are symbolized by the rods held in the figure's left hand, the fan in its right hand and the chain links at its waist. Some of the smaller birds, in the form of stylized blades, also refer to Ogun.

Iron staff with a large bird above and in the center of a gathering of birds. The staff splits and encloses a stone bead. The staff rod forms a stylized body with attached arms and legs bent back, with a circular fan in the proper right hand and a "y" shaped twisted rod in the proper left. The figure wears a crisscrossed sash across the chest and a belt around the waist.

Ambassador and Mrs. Benjamin Hill Brown, Jr., -- to 1976


Healing Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 2016 - ongoing



Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016


Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 211, pl. 109.


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