Ikin Ifa (Ifa Oracle Head)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Esu (also called Eshu, Elegba) is believed to be the messenger of Yoruba gods, bearer of sacrifices, guardian of the ritual way of life and often also seen as the ‘trickster god’.

To represent Esu’s presence, Yoruba diviners (babalawos) make use of miniature ivory heads (ikin ifa also called irin ifa, ela, obuntun ifa or olorin ikin meaning ‘head or leader of the palm nuts’) during Ifa divination processes. Placed beside divination trays (opon Ifa), the heads form part of the divination ensemble, along with an agere Ifa, iroke Ifa, palm nuts and a number of other objects, used to invoke the god Orunmila (also called Ifa, the god associated with wisdom, knowledge and divination).

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

  • Made of ivory (or in some cases bone)
  • Height = 2.5 - 3 inches
  • Pointed, conical, ‘braided’ hairstyle with several horizontal lines
  • Bulging lidded eyes
  • Mouth the same width as the nose
  • Some feature an open mouth with filed incisor teeth
  • Ears carved towards the back of the head
  • Some feature several horizontal lines around neck
  • Round base, wider than the neck

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