Ifa Divination

by John Pemberton III
Professor Emeritus, Amherst College

The second ranking priest of Ifa in Ila-Orangun, using the opele chain to cast Ifa, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, August 1982. Photo by John Pemberton III. 

The Aseda, second ranking priest of Ifa in Ila-Orangun, using the opele chain to cast ifa. The opele consists of eight half-nuts of the opele tree with convex/concave sides linked at regular intervals by short strands of chain at the ends of which the priest may attach small beads, coins, and cowries. More recent opele have substituted small, oval brass plates for the half-nuts. The babalawo holds the chain at the center and then swings the chain gently, lying it on the cloth or mat on which he is seated. In a single motion he creates a pattern, which refers to an odu of ifa, the verses of which he then chants. The pattern, consisting of the concave and convex sides of the brass plates or nuts, is equivalent to the pattern of parallel marks made by the ifa priest in the iyerosun dust on an opon ifa when using ikin ifa (the sixteen sacred kola nuts).