By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

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

The intermediary between humans and the spirit world among the Yoruba is the babalawo (diviner) or father of secrets. Here the diviner is seated with the divination board between him and his client. The diviner uses ritually prepared palm nuts (one in his left hand) to determine the signs to mark in the center of the carved tray before him.  These signs elicit verses from oral tradition that speak to the person’s situation. The palm nuts reside in the carved wooden container just to the left of the diviner’s extended hand. To follow the prescription of the verses and to take action alters the client’s immediate situation. The board is covered with dust in which he marks patterns that indicate which verses from the odu (divination literature) he must recite.