A depiction of Orunmila. Source: ask-dl.fas.harvard.edu

Orunmila was a philosopher, and major intellectual personae of the Yoruba Ifa literary corpus which deals with subjects as diverse as history, geography, religion, or music. Orunmila together with his sixteen disciples is credited with the authorship of most of the four thousand and more verses attached to the Odu Ifa, a record of the teaching and discussions they had with him. These were transmitted orally to generations of their professional descendants. Orunmila, born at Oke Igeti in Ile-Ife was a knock-kneed, pot-bellied, and very black man, whose drunkiness may have contributed to the wobbly gait for which he was known. In a verse apparently formed by a descendant member of his own school, Oyeku-Meji, he was suggested to have been a ugly man. Legend records Orunmila to be an exceptionally wise sage, famous that several people from far and wide wished to become his apprentice.

Unlike Socrates, the Greek philosopher to which Orunmila was compared in Professor of African Philosophy, Sophie Oluwole’s book, Orunmila was well to do. His father, Jakuta, was probably a stone Mason, and his mother, Alajeru, was a collector of sacrifice. Orunmila is said to have had many wives, the first of which was Osun, who in some account, thought him the art of divination. He appeared to have been inspired specially however, by Iwa, another wife of his’ who was virtuous. Orunmila would go down pointing Virtue as the principle of an ideal life, eventhough he was himself a concubine to Olokun, wife of Oranmiyan, who was Oduduwa’s child.

Although Orunmila was evidently religious, and believed the Yoruba system of geomancy which he revolutionized to be divinely inspired, he celebrated reasoning higly. When asked the importance of Ifa for human guidance, his answer, as recorded in Osa Iwori, was: “Imoran l’akoko da ki a to d’Ifa,” meaning; reasoning with humans should precede the search for spiritual assistance. Orunmila appears to have propounded a mathematical principle with his believe about the binary nature of the elements of reality, which according to him, belong to one basic axiom. From this line of thinking, he constructed Ifa as an automated system of storing information. The views of Orunmila are stored in forms of poetry, prose, chant, litany, and song.