Birth

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

Nigeria; Yoruba peoples

Ile ori (shrine of the head)

Wood, leather, cloth, cowrie shells, mirror

H. 54.7 cm (21 9/16")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.577

After “Stepping into the World,” a Yoruba infant's next ritual is called imori (“Knowing the Head”), performed within three months of birth. The goal is to learn the ori inu (“inner head”) or personality of the child and identity the guiding spirit or emi (“soul” ) that has brought the baby into the world. Yoruba cultivate and respect the differences among individuals, and knowing one's “inner head” is critical to taking proper action throughout life. Ifa divination texts both reveal and determine such a course, and as Margaret Drewal tells us, further texts obtained later “serve as models for self-examination and self-interpretation” (1992: 63). “Knowing the head” is the first step initiating the child into relationships with the spirit world. An ile ori (House of the Head Shrine) symbolizes and holds the person's spiritual essence and ibori (individuality). Cowry shells and other elements signify the prosperity that can be expected by people who recognize and follow the paths established early in infancy that will be elaborated on throughout life by further Ifa divination.