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Ifa Divination Tray (Opon Ifa)

According to traditional Yoruba beliefs, a pantheon of deities, known as orisa, and other spiritual forces are instrumental in determining the course of events in the lives of individuals on earth. Still practiced today, Ifa divination is a way for people to communicate with these powers and determine how best to live their lives.

A priest, or babalawo, performs divination for a client, marking on a tray such as this the configurations resulting from throwing palm nuts or a divination chain. After a number of throws, the pattern that emerges directs the priest to one of 256 verses in the body of oral literature associated with Ifa. While the god Orunmila, also known as Ifa, is credited with teaching people Ifa divination, the face of Esu, messenger between gods and people and a trickster, is the deity typically positioned at the top of a divination tray, as in this example. Other images carved in relief around the border vary from tray to tray and depict figures and motifs associated with divination, with deities, and with daily activities.

Yoruba peoples, Nigeria
Ifa Divination Tray (Opon Ifa)
20th century
Wood
Diam. 19 ¾ in. (50.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds from Paula W. Sunderman, 2014.1