Babalawo; father in things spiritual and material, divining for two clients in Ile-Ife, 1937. Photo: NNP

The central figure in Ifa divinity is Orunmila, the God of wisdom who, in Yoruba myth, was witness to earth’s creation. There is no going further in human history than that. Oduduwa’s link with immortality comes from his sometimes being equated with Orunmila in Yoruba myth. Orunmila uses his special insight as a witness to creation of guide, help and teach the 401 spirits sent to earth to organise the world. The spirits include Gods of fire, iron, vegetation, thunder, eshu and Goddesses such as Yemoja the Goddess of fertility. These are specialised pockets of karma or electromagnetic vibrancies incorporating the spirits of ancestors who performed incredible feats when alive. They are neither good nor bad, just spiritual energies to tap into for selfish and other ends.

Ifa and Bini divinations are oral, secretive in dimension and thrive on words of wisdom from the obvious to the proverbial, the mystical to the esoteric. They are gigantic memory banks or words on all sorts of events on earth and under the heavens. No issue is too trivial to preserve and the information bank’s subjects range from births to deaths of the lowly and the kings, wars, evolution of great and small empires and nations, journeys, marriages, quarrels etc. Every incidence imaginable is carefully catalogued, itemized and stored away ready to be accessed by the trained mind at will. The knowledge banks are constantly being replenished and updated to make them ever fresh, relevant and comprehensive.

Both Ifa and Bini religious traditions use myths, parables, proverbs, symbols magic and numbers to conceal truth from the non-initiates. Initiates go through long and tedious periods of training where teachings are memorized rather than written down. Ifa and Bini students start between the ages 7 and 10. Progress between training grades is slow and laborious, subjecting students to memory and bodily ordeals and tests. Only the very fit, tough and determined can survive and complete the training and graduate. Many drop by the wayside. Students graduate 12 years later as philosopher-priests and in Ifa as Babalawos. The Ifa library of wisdom is called Odu Ifa and consists of 256 verses divided into 16 chapters of 250 minor, categories. A Babalawo, apart from memorizing all these, must be able to recognize and interpret the 16 major signs and the 240 minor ones at they appear or fall in divination[i].





[i] The News July 26, 2004

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer