3874 – Opon Ifa or geomantic divination tray from Nigeria

Physical description:
A wooden tray with numerous anthropomorphic objects used for divination by a babalawo
Museum classification:
30 cm diameter

A tray, with attendant pieces, used by a diviner, probably Yoruba, Nigeria.

The basic form of divination is narrated here by Eileen Moyer from The University of Iowa Museum of Art:

"To begin the divination process the babalawo sits facing the door, so that light streams across the tray, allowing no shadow to fall on it.  The tray is covered with a thin layer of wood dust. The diviner holds sixteen palm nuts between his hands and shakes them, closing his hand to capture a few. He makes a mark in the dust of the tray based on whether the nuts in his hand are even or odd in number.  This is repeated eight times, with the eight resulting marks indicating a verse that is recited by the babalawo.  The verse discloses the forces that have brought misfortune and suggests solutions to the problems (Bascom 1969). The process, by which an Ifa diviner learns the Odu, or verses, involves extensive education, which can span an entire lifetime.  The diviner, who is highly respected by the community, is consulted during all important rites of passage in Yoruba life and is able to influence directly the policies of the society (Drewal 1989)."


More specific information relating to this tray and its pieces is forthcoming.


See Drewal, Henry, Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought , 1989.


Wood, metal, bone, seeds
Copyright ownership: