Divination Bowl
Divination Bowl

Divination Bowl

Yoruba (Nigerian)
Wood, pigment
Work : 6 5/8 x 6 5/8 x 4 3/8 in. (16.83 x 16.83 x 11.11 cm)
Credit Line
Hope College Collection
Object Number

Ifa is another name for Orunmila, the Yoruba god of wisdom and knowledge. In traditional Yoruba culture, people with problems may seek guidance from Orunmila with the help of a diviner called a babalawo (male) or iyanifa (female). The divination process begins with the diviner casting sixteen sacred palm nuts from hand to hand. Depending on the number of nuts that are left in the diviner’s hands after each cast, he or she then uses a pointed wand to make marks on a powder-covered tray. The pattern of marks on the tray in turn directs the diviner to one of 256 verses in a sacred oral text called the Odu Ifa, which the diviner recites and interprets according to the client’s situation. Diviners undergo years of training to learn the divination process, and to memorize and understand all of the Odu Ifa verses. Rooted in traditional Yoruba religion, Ifa divination practice survived through the 20th-century and is still practiced by some Yoruba today. Ifa divination was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2005 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.    

This bowl originally served as a container for a set of sacred palm nuts used in Ifa divination practice. The bowl is supported by the figure of a rooster holding a snake in its beak. Roosters were symbols of vigilance and courage in traditional Yoruba culture, and were also used as sacrifices to the gods to ensure success in a new venture.

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