Opon Ifa (Divination Tray)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Yoruba typically turn to a babalawo (diviner) when seeking advice or faced with an illness. An opon Ifa is a object that forms part of the divination ensemble. It, along with an iroke 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.

During the divination process, a babalawo spreads a layer of wood flour (iyerosun - created by termites) across the surface of the opon Ifa. 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 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

  • Diameter = 6 - 18 inches
  • Divination processes are witnessed by Esu / Elegba whose face always appears in the carved border of the tray (at the top of the tray to look at the diviner during the divination exercise)
  • Human, animal and mythological motifs, carved in high relief adorn tray’s border leaving a recessed open space in the middle
  • Scenes of divination and healing can also be found in the borders of opon Ifa
  • The trays come in three basic forms:
    • Square / rectangular: opon onigun merin
    • Circular: opon ribiti
    • Semi-circular: ilaji opon


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