Divination Techniques

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

NigeriaYoruba artist

Agere ifa (bowl)

Wood, pigment

H. 31.4 cm (12 3/8")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.043

The tools of the diviner include sixteen palm nuts, stored in an agere Ifa (carved wooden bowl), and an opon Ifa (round divination board with an elaborately carved border).  An image of Esu-Elegbara, Yoruba divine messenger and intermediary between the world of the living and the spiritual realm, is carved at the top of the board and always faces the diviner during a consultation. The diviner must uncover the influential spiritual forces in a client’s life, control them, and reveal them. The agere Ifa has a hinged lid, and is supported by a horseman who serves as an icon of a man of honor, the warrior who has defeated his enemies. During the divination process the sixteen palm nuts are used by the babalawo (diviner) to reveal one of 256 verses in the Odu, all of which must be memorized by the diviner, who undergoes a long period apprenticeship before being permitted to practice.