By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Nigeria; Yoruba peoples

Opon Ifa (divination tray)


Diameter 54 cm (21")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.397

As adults a principle concern is for the health and well-being of spouse and children.  A woman who is experiencing difficulty conceiving children may consult a specialist.  A husband may consult a specialist if his children fail to thrive and if the family is stricken by disease, crop failure, or accident.  The specialist may be called a variety of names in African languages, especially babalawo in the Yoruba world, nganga in central Africa, but our own equivalents are "priest", "pastor", "rabbi", or "imam".  These are the "specialists" who stand between us and God, who help us find solutions to problems in times of great need.  Such terms as "witch doctor", "medicine man", and "magician" are not acceptable because they carry condescending cultural associations.  The divination board from the Yoruba people was used by a babalawo or father of secrets to communicate with the orisha or gods and determine the source of his clients' affliction.