Divination Techniques

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Yoruba (Eastern, Owo) artist

Iroke Ifa (divination tapper)


H. 25.1 cm. (10”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.398

The diviner is the babalawo ("father of secrets").  The babalawo invoked Orunmila, Yoruba god of divination, by tapping the end of his iroke ifa at the center of an opon ifa tray, “where the metaphorical crossroads of life and the afterlife has been marked in wood dust” (Drewal 1992: 192). He is usually consulted when trying to understand the cause of current illnesses or misfortune or before engaging in a new undertaking to reveal what the orisha might play in determining the future and, perhaps most importantly, to determine the necessary steps that must be taken to appease them and smooth the way.  Although it is not uncommon to see iroke ifa carved from ivory, the very material is an indication of prestige and honor and may even be associated with the wealth of a successful babalawo

Ifa divination performed at the house of Chief Obaloja in Ila-Orangun, Yoruba artist, Nigeria, July 1974. Photo by John Pemberton III.