Agere Ifa (Divination Cup)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Yoruba typically turn to a babalawo (diviner) when seeking advice or faced with an illness. An agere Ifa is a object that forms part of the divination ensemble. It, along with an iroke Ifa, opon Ifa, palm nuts and a number of other objects, are used to invoke the god Orunmila (also called Ifa, the god associated with wisdom, knowledge and divination) during divination processes.

During the divination process, a set of 16 sacred divination palm nuts (ikin) is removed from an igede Ifa and placed in smaller divination cups (agere Ifa) where they are displayed and elevated by a variety of figures, both human and animal. The 16 sacred palm nuts (or a divination chain - opele Ifa) are shaken to reveal wisdom and communication from Orunmila. These verses (odu) are then transferred onto the dusted opon Ifa tray, translated and recited by the babalawo for the client to reflect upon and take action.

For more, see the UNESCO video HERE on the Yoruba divination process and the article on Ifa divination on the Art & Life in Africa website, hosted by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) HERE.

Distinguishing Features

    • Carved in wood and sometimes ivory in the southern part of the Owo Yorubaland and in the southern regions of Ijebu, Egba, Egbado and further southwest in Dahomey. A few are cast in brass
    • Height = 5 - 16 inches
    • Some agere Ifa are lidded vessels where the lids are either hinged or separable
    • Carved with a variety of scenes, images and depictions of animals and humans engaged in ritual or everyday activities
        • Some scenes are so elaborate that they lose all resemblance to a cup
    • Common depictions:4
        • A woman kneeling before a chicken whose head, back and tail form a removable lid
        • A chicken biting a snake with the snake striking back at the chicken’s leg


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