The Yoruba typically turn to a babalawo (diviner) when seeking advice or faced with an illness. An iroke Ifa (also called irofa, iro Ifa, iro ike, orunfa, orun Ifa, orunke or orun ike; meaning ‘tapper of Ifa’) is an object that forms part of the divination ensemble. It, along with an opon Ifa, agere 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.
While divination is in progress, the babalawo taps a divination tray (opon Ifa) with the pointed end of the iroke Ifa to greet and invoke Orunmila (the tapping sound is meant to attract the attention of Ifa).
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.
- Hollowed cylindrical form
- Length = 8 - 16 inches
- Usually carved in ivory (in Yorubaland, ivory is treasured for its durability, scarcity and association with the elephant - a symbol of prestige and sovereignty)
- Sometimes found in brass or wood
- Topmost pointed end:
- Conical projection without any design or decoration
- Shaped like an elephant tusk
- Middle section:
- Human head
- Kneeling nude female figure sometimes holding breasts or carrying a baby on her back ('the kneeling position of the female figure signifies both the babalawo's greeting to Ifa and his submission to the authority of the gods of fate')1
- Bottom Section:
- Varied subject matter that emphasise material success (most common is equestrian figure)
- NOTE: Not all iroke Ifa tappers have a conical projection or bird motif on the figure’s head. Some have the projection under the female figure so that 'she' becomes the handle