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Osanyin staff

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Brooklyn Museum 70.72.6 Osanyin Staff Topped by Abstract Figure of a Bird

Osanyin Staff Topped by Abstract Figure of a Bird, Brooklyn Museum

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Smeedijzeren staf met vogelfiguren gebruikt bij het heiligdom van Ossanyin god van de levenskracht TMnr 3841-1

Osanyin staff

Yoruba herbalists and Ifa divination priests enlist the aid of Osanyin, the god of divination or herbal medicines,[1] or Opa Erinle, in their work against mental and physical illness caused by malevolent forces and individuals. The Yoruba believe the power of Osanyin is vested in a wrought iron staff, called an Osanyin Staff, that is placed on altars to this orisa.

Typically measuring between eighteen and fifty inches in height, the staff is composed of a circle of small birds and a shaft in the middle that elevates a large bird above smaller ones. Babatunde Lawal suggests that the reason for this division could be to suggest the relaying of metaphysical powers from the celestial to the terrestrial realm. Lawal evokes the Yoruba reference to Osanyin as "The one who sees everything, like Olodumare," allowing him a vantage point from which he can protect all of humanity below.[2]

The birds, emissaries of Ogun, the god of iron and war, refer to the herbalist's understanding of and power over these malevolent people. There are typically sixteen birds, invoking the most sacred number of divination, surrounding and confronting the central bird, which represents the smallpox god. [3]

The birds on Osanyin staffs suggest an iconographic link with the birds on Obas' crowns.[4]


  1. Thompson, additional research by Kate Ezra ; photographs by Jerry L. (1981). Susan Vogel. ed. For spirits and kings : African art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman collection : [Exhibition held at the Metropolitan museum of art, New York, 1981]. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870992686. 
  2. Lawal, Babatunde (2007). Embodying the sacred in Yoruba art : featuring the Bernard and Patricia Wagner Collection. Atlanta, Ga.: High Museum of Art. ISBN 1932543201. 
  3. "Herbalist's Staff (Opa Osanyin or Opa Erinle)". Yale University Art Gallery eCatalogue. Yale University. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  4. Drewal, Henry John; Wardwell, John Pemberton, 3rd with Rowland Abiodun; edited by Allen (1989). Yoruba : nine centuries of African art and thought (2nd print. ed.). New York: Center for African Art in Association with H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0810917947. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Osanyin staff. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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