Yoruba Divination Bowl

These bowls are used to hold kola nuts as offerings of hospitality or as receptacles for the sixteen sacred palm nuts used in Ifa divination.

Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: 1950s

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 22.5 high x 28.5 wide

Ref. Number: 1601


A beautifully styled Yoruba divination bowl known as “Apoti Ifa” with a richly decorated lid, inside there are different compartments to which the Babalawo (diviner) would have kept divination utensils for the Ifa oracle, for example, a bell, a stick, 16 sacred fruit kernels of a palm tree, or alternately, a divination chain.

Provenance: Ex Walter Hausler, Thurgau. Acquired in Nigeria in the 1960s.

AHDRC N˚ ao-0172196-001


Ifa divination is a media to transcribe the direction of Orunmila, the spirit of wisdom and divinity of destiny and prophecy in Yoruba mythology. A highly-trained priest, called ababalawo, taps rhythmically on a board (opon ifa) with a tapper (iroke ifa) to invoke the presence of Orunmila. A bowl (agere ifa) is used to contain the sixteen sacred palm nuts (ikins), which must have at least three ‘eyes’.

During the divination process, the diviner divides the nuts between his hands. The nuts left in the original hand, desirably one or two, are counted and marked. As the ritual proceeds, the diviner continues to mark single or double marks in wood powder spread on his divination tray until one of the 256 recognised odus is created. (An odus is a set of traditional binary patterns or codes that have evolved over thousands of years of observation and prediction. They provide guidance on both every day and the spiritual.)

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