Yoruba Divination Plate
Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
Dimensions cm: 39 tall x 37 wide
Ref. Number: 1391
A Yoruba divination plate or tray, the head portrait at the top and the foot of the board is Eshu, the Yoruba messenger deity who acts as a medium between the human and spirit realms, specifically to Ifa, the god of divination. Eshu delivers knowledge and guidance in times of trouble, regardless of the other deities a person may worship. Eshu’s facial features are recognisable by its widely-cut nostrils and prominent eyes. Aso around the board are birds and human figures.
Provenance: Collected by Michael and Renate Lancaster between 1958-59 from Ibadan in Nigeria.
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 a Babalawo, 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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