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African Art

Herbalist’s Staff (Opa Osanyin)

19th to early 20th century

Iron

20 × 7 1/2 × 8 in. (50.8 × 19.05 × 20.32 cm)
Gift of Drs. Ruth and Theodore Lidz
1995.81.1
Herbalists enlist the aid of the god of divination, Osanyin, or the god of medicine, Erinle, in their work against mental and physical illness caused by supernaturally evil people.  These people change into birds at night to extract fluids and spirit from individuals.  A staff of birds refers to the herbalist’s understanding of and power over these malevolent people.
Geography: 
Guinea Coast, Nigeria
Culture: 
Yorùbá
Period: 
19th–20th century
Classification: 
Tools and Equipment
Provenance: 

Possibly a Dutch dealer, New York, N.Y., to late 1950s–early 1960s [see note 1]; purchased by Dr. Ruth Maria Wilmanns Lidz (born Heidelberg, Germany, 1910–1995), Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, and Dr. Theodore Lidz (born New York, 1910–2001), Sterling Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University, Woodbridge and Hamden, Conn., by early 1960s–1995; given to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1995

Note 1: According to family memory the piece was purchased by Ruth and Theodore Litz from a gallery owned by a Dutch dealer on Madison Avenue in New York, N.Y., late 1950's–early 1960's.

Bibliography: 

“Acquisitions, January 1994–December 1995,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1995–96): 157.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.