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66. Yoruba Ifa divination tray (Opon Ifa), Nigeria, wood, 13" (34 cm)

66. Yoruba Ifa divination tray (Opon Ifa), Nigeria, wood, 13" (34 cm)
(see related note to #30). John Pemberton 3rd has written the following about the Ifa divination trays in “Yoruba, Art of West Africa”: Ifa is a system of divination through which a person may discern the forces that are shaping his life and learn how to respond to them. The deity to whom divination is directed is Orunmila, the orisha who was present at the creation of the universe and knows its secret. He is thus the source of all wisdom and the one with whom mankind must communicate if life is to be lived with some ease and grace (Abiodun 1975: 421-422). When divination is performed an Ifa priest will place a divination tray, opon Ifa, upon a cloth on the ground, making certain that there is a path of light between himself and the door of the room in which he is casting Ifa, da Ifa. The face of Eshu, which appears on every opon Ifa, will be positioned on the far side of the tray, facing the priest, for Eshu is the intermediary, the bearer of sacrifices to the gods and other spirits. Just beyond the tray there is usually a bowl for sacrifices.
  Like the tray, the pattern and movement of the ritual is complex, but designed to convey order and harmony. While shaking 16 palm nuts between his hands, the priest will attempt to grab them with his right hand. If two remain in his left hand, he makes a single mark in the ryerosun wood dust sprinkled on the tray. If one remains, he will make a double mark. When two rows of four single or double marks have appeared on the tray’s surface, the signature of one of the 256 Odu Ifa will be known. The priest will then begin to chant the verses associated with the particular Odu- verses that tell of suffering and happiness and the means by which mysery and the threat of death were turned into a life of hope, and even abundance. When the suppliant has recognized the verses that “speak” to his condition, the priest will then cast Ifa again to determine what sacrifices must be offered, and to whom, in order to fill life once again with song and dance.”

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