Skip to main content

As a public health precaution, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will temporarily close to the public starting Saturday, March 14 until further notice. Please continue to check back frequently at npg.si.edu or si.edu for updates. In the meantime, please explore our website, resource materials and online exhibitions. 

Herbalist's staff

Herbalist
Usage Conditions Apply
Object Name
opa Osanyin
Maker
Yoruba artist
Date
Late 19th-mid 20th century
Type
Sculpture
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.
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
Object number
76-3-4
Label Text
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.
Description
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.
Provenance
Ambassador and Mrs. Benjamin Hill Brown, Jr., -- to 1976
Exhibition History
Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, June 3 to December 30, 2018; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, April 17 to October 20, 2019; Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France, November 10, 2019 to March 29, 2020
Healing Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (installed October 6, 2016 to February 20, 2018)
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
Published References
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.
Data Source
National Museum of African Art
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
On View
NMAfA, Third Level Gallery
Geography
Southwest region, Nigeria
Usage
Usage conditions apply