Ifá divination bowl
- Date: before 1938
- Location: Africa, Nigeria
- Origin: Yorùbá
- Collection: Ethnography
Who are the Yorùbá?
The Yorùbá people inhabit southwestern Nigeria and eastern Benin. They speak their own language and their traditional religion has its own creation myth.
What is an ifa oracle?
This particular ifa oracle predicted future events based on an elaborate system of texts. ‘ifá refers to the mythical Orisha Ifa, the god of wisdom and intellectual development, who would predict the future.
What can we see on this oracle?
This exceptional divination bowl is adorned with two people from the Yoruba tribe, a man and a woman, sitting underneath the bowl. They are flanked by two ‘Westerners’ wearing pith helmets. It is believed these moustached figures are in fact missionaries, holding up the Bible, their main source of knowledge.
How did the tribesmen use an ifa oracle?
A priest, or babalawo, used the ifá oracle during his consultations, when he, for instance, was asked to answer his clients’ questions. He would then toss sixteen palm nuts from one hand into the other. When he was unable to catch one or two nuts, that would determine which part of the ifá verses he would recite to provide an answer to his client’s question. In doing so, he would select the verses he considered appropriate.