Ifa Divination

by John Pemberton III
Professor Emeritus, Amherst College

Priests of Ifa gather at the palace to perform the rite of Ifa Adagba, Nigeria, August 1982. Photo by John Pemberton III. 

Early August in the Igbomina town of Ila-Orangun, priests of ifa gather at the palace to perform the rite of ifa Adagba. The rite takes hours, for the task is to determine the nature, number, and recipients of sacrifices to be made by the Oba (king) and senior chiefs in preparation for the annual festival for the Odun Oba (king's crown) the following month. In divination rites the babalawo always sits opposite an open door or window assuring a freedom of communication between the rites of divination and the realm of spiritual powers. Note that on the rim of the opon ifa (divination board) the face of Esu (Eshu) appears twice, although more often than not it appears a single time. His image is always positioned opposite the seated priest, for Esu is the messenger of the gods and other spirits, bearer of sacrifices, and guardian of the ritual way.