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Unknown Maker
Divination Tray (Opon Ifa) Divination Tray (Opon Ifa)
20th century 20th century

In Yoruba cosmology, two gods, Orunmila and Eshu, mediate between divinities (orisa) and humans. As Orunmila is the orisa of destiny, people seek his help in gaining knowledge of their fate and how to manipulate forces in their favour. However, to do so, they must also call on Eshu, who is both the messenger of the gods and a force of chance and disorder. The process for such consultation is known as Ifa, and the diviner who conducts the ritual is a babalawo.

The babalawo employs a tray, or opon, as seen here, in conjunction with a divination tapper, or iroke (see M84-021). He taps the iroke in the centre of the tray to attain the attention of Orunmila and Eshu, and sprinkles wood dust on its recessed circular plane. The babalawo throws sixteen palm nuts a number of times to determine a configuration of marks drawn in the wood dust. The signs thus achieved direct him to chant certain verses. When the attentive client has recognized a verse that relates to his situation, the babalawo undertakes the next step in the Ifa process.

Opon Ifa demonstrate both uniformity and variety in design. Their typically round shape expresses order and balance, attributes of Orunmila. Eshu¿s face always appears in the carved edge and is placed facing the diviner during the consultation, befitting the god¿s intermediary role. In this tray¿s border, two birds flank Eshu while the rest of the carving is relatively plain.

 
Unknown Maker
Yoruba peoples Yoruba peoples
Divination Tray (Opon Ifa) Divination Tray (Opon Ifa)
20th century 20th century
wood wood
height / width / depth: 2.50 x 26.70 x 26.00 cm; .98 x 10.51 x 10.24 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-122

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