Iron staffs with bird images are dedicated to the Yoruba gods of herbalism, Osanyin and Eyinle, and are used by their followers. These bird images refer to dreaded witches, potentially destructive older women ("our mothers") who become birds at night to attack their victims. Herbalists, with their special knowledge, prepare antidotes to prevent attacks or to transform negative actions into acts of healing. The number of birds, sixteen, surmounting each staff is significant: it refers to a fundamental number used in Ifa divination, and to the original number of Yoruba kingdoms. Similar staffs with images of birds are also carried by Ifa divination priests.


  • Title: Herbalist's Staff, Opa Osanyin
  • Location: Nigeria
  • Physical Dimensions: 44 7/8 x 11 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (114 x 30 x 35 cm)
  • Provenance: Ex coll. William S. Arnett, United States.
  • Subject Keywords: Staff
  • Rights: © Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White
  • External Link: https://collections.carlos.emory.edu/objects/19399/
  • Medium: Iron
  • Art Movement: Yoruba, Oyo region
  • Dates: late 19th-early 20th Century
  • Classification: African Art

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