Birth

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Divination consultation, Imodi, central Ijebu area, Nigeria, 1982. Photo by H. J. Drewal and M. T. Drewal. 

Initiation after birth is called “Stepping into the World” by Yoruba peoples of northwestern Nigeria and southeastern Benin. As Margaret Drewal explains, at dawn some days after delivery, Ifa divination is held to determine the baby's “impact on its family.” Who will the child be, what will it do, and what will its life mean to us as a family and as a community? Divination reveals the child's “personal text” from among the hundreds memorized by an Ifa diviner. “Texts are not perceived to be elicited through chance operations, but rather the particular spirits affecting the baby... come forth to speak through them” (M. Drewal 1992: 55). Parents reflect on the text and the actions it prescribes. Because many Yoruba are Muslims and Christians, children may be given names through rituals of these faiths, as well, soon after “Stepping into the World.”