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Healing With The Staff of Osun

Osun Staff.

Not only were gris-gris and zinzin a part of African healing and divination brought to the New World, but other items such as Osun staffs were used in the Americas to heal. Depending on the country of origin, Nigeria or Benin, some Africans brought with them knowledge of the orishas or loas (gods/guardian spirits). Those who employed the use of the Osun staff for healing understood that the staff was dedicated to Osanyin, the Yoruba god of herbal medicine.

In Africa, these staffs were often placed in the front of a diviner’s home to symbolize his occupation and act as a source of protection. Osun (the orisha or loa) was located in the metal cup of the staff and is said to maintain the stability and equilibrium of a person and is the guardian of a person’s spirit head. The bird (here a rooster) warded off “intrusive forces” and the bells scared away evil spirits. The heavy base was/is used to prevent disequilibrium.

Ceremonial Osun staffs can be seen throughout the Americas today where Yoruba and Lucumi traditions are still prevalent. Some believe that the style of staff distinguish between diviners (single bird, bells, inverted cone) and herbalists (more than one bird) (La Gamma, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2000).

NPS Ethnography Program