Opon Igede Ifa (Divination Bowl)

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.

When divination apparatus is not in use, they are stored various compartments within the igede Ifa, and in some regions the bowls are used in place of the agere Ifa cups.

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 wood
    • Circular covered bowl
    • Diameter = 15 inches
    • Depth = 9 inches
    • Elaborate low relief decorations (sometimes incised in wood)
        • Some include a single and simple depiction of Esu
        • Triangular marks on lid (used as markers to indicate how the lid should be positioned on the bowl)
    • Interior of bowl usually divided by raised partitions
        • Round or square central section
        • Central section surrounded by four, six, or eight radial sections (to keep tools separate or to use to separate kola nuts during the divination process)
    • A variant form, owned by diviners in Ife and in Igana, combine a bowl with a divining tray (opon Ifa)
        • Interior divided into two concentric circular compartments, surrounded by a number of radial sections
        • Lid of bowl forms opon Ifa tray

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