Ifá is a Yoruba religion and system of divination. Its literary corpus is the Odu Ifá. Orunmila is identified as the Grand Priest, as he is who revealed divinity and prophecy to the world. Babalawos or Iyanifas use either the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm or kola nuts called Ikin, on the wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.

Ifá is practiced throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Canary Islands, in the form of a complex religious system, and plays a critical role in the traditions of Santería, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodou, and other Afro-American faiths, as well as in some traditional African religions.

Sixteen Principal Odu
Name 1 2 3 4
Ogbe I I I I
Iwori II I I II
Irosun I I II II
Iwọnrin II II I I
Ọbara I II II II
Ọkanran II II II I
Ogunda I I I II
Ọsa II I I I
Oturupọn II II I II
Otura I II I I
Irẹtẹ I I II I
Ofun II I II I

Sixteen Principal Afa-du
(Yeveh Vodou)
Name 1 2 3 4
Eji-Ogbe I I I I
Ọyeku-Meji II II II II
Iwori-Meji II I I II
Odi-Meji I II II I
Irosun-Meji I I II II
Ọwanrin-Meji II II I I
Ọbara-Meji I II II II
Ọkanran-Meji II II II I
Ogunda-Meji I I I II
Ọsa-Meji II I I I
Ika-Meji II I II II
Oturupon-Meji II II I II
Otura-Meji I II I I
Irete-Maji I I II I
Ọse-Meji I II I II
Ofu meji II I II I


The 16-principle system seems to have its earliest history in West Africa. Each Niger–Congo-speaking ethnic group that practices it has its own myths of origin; Yoruba religion suggests that it was founded by Orunmila in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ when he initiated himself and then he initiated his students, Akoda and Aseda. Other myths suggest that it was brought to Ilé-Ifẹ̀ by Setiu, a Nupe man who settled in Ilé-Ifẹ̀. According to the book The History of the Yorubas from the Earliest of Times to the British Protectorate (1921) by Nigerian historian Samuel Johnson and Obadiah Johnson, it was Arugba, the mother of Onibogi, the 8th Alaafin of Oyo who introduced Oyo to Ifá in the late 1400s.[1] She initiated the Alado of Ato and conferred on him the rites to initiate others. The Alado, in turn, initiated the priests of Oyo and that was how Ifá came to be in the Oyo empire. Odinani suggests that Dahomey Kings noted that the system of Afá was brought by a diviner known as Gogo from eastern Nigeria.[2]

Orunmila came to establish an oral literary corpus incorporating stories and experiences of priests and their clients along with the results. This odu corpus emerges as the leading documentation on the Ifá tradition to become a historical legacy.

Yoruba canon

In Yorubaland, divination gives priests unreserved access to the teachings of Orunmila.[3] Eshu is the one said to lend ashe to the oracle during provision of direction and or clarification of counsel. Eshu is also the one that holds the keys to ones ire, thus acts as Oluwinni (ones Creditor), he can grant ire or remove it.[4] Ifá divination rites provide an avenue of communication to the spiritual realm and the intent of ones destiny.[5]

Igbo canon

In Igboland, Ifá is known as Afá, and is performed by specialists called Dibia. The Dibia is considered a doctor and specializes in the use of herbs for healing and transformation.[6]

Ewe canon

Among the Ewe people of southern Togo and southeast Ghana, Ifá is known as Afá, where the Vodun spirits come through and speak. In many of their Egbes, it is Alaundje who is honored as the first Bokono to have been taught how to divine the destiny of humans using the holy system of Afá. The Amengansi are the living oracles who are higher than a bokono. A priest who is not a bokono is known as Hounan, similar to Houngan, a male priest in Haitian Vodou, a derivative religion of Vodun, the religion of the Ewe.

Odù Ifá

Jogo de Ikin Orossi
Divination tray

There are sixteen major books in Odu Ifá[7] literary corpus. When combined there are total of 256 Odu (a collection of sixteen, each of which has sixteen alternatives ⇔ 16^2, or 4^4) believed to reference all situations, circumstances, actions and consequences in life based on the uncountable ese (poetic tutorials) relative to the 256 Odu coding. These form the basis of traditional Yoruba spiritual knowledge and are the foundation of all Yoruba divination systems. Ifá proverbs, stories, and poetry are not written down but passed down orally from one babalawo to another.

International recognition

The Ifá Divination system was added in 2005 by UNESCO to its list of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".[8]

Notable followers

See also


  1. ^ Johnson, Samuel (1921). History of the Yorubas from the Earliest of Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate. Nigeria Bookshops.
  2. ^ "Afa in the African Diaspora".
  3. ^ Lijadu, E. M. Ifá: ImọLe Rẹ Ti I Ṣe Ipile Isin Ni Ilẹ Yoruba. Ado-Ekiti: Omolayo Standard Press, 1898. 1972.
  4. ^ [1] Archived September 25, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Adéẹ̀kọ́, Adélékè. "'Writing' and 'Reference' in Ifá Divination Chants." Oral Tradition 25, no. 2 (2010).
  6. ^ "Igbo Medicine".
  7. ^ Sixteen major 'books in Odù Ifá Archived July 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Ifa Divination System". Retrieved 5 July 2017.

Further reading

  • Chief FAMA Fundamentals of the Yoruba Religion (Orisa Worship) ISBN 0-9714949-0-8
  • Chief FAMA Practitioners' Handbook for the Ifa Professional ISBN 0-9714949-3-2
  • Chief FAMA Fundamentos de la Religion Yoruba (Adorando Orisa) ISBN 0-9714949-6-7
  • Fama, Chief (1994). Sixteen mythological stories of Ifá = (Ìtàn Ífá mẹ́rìndínlógún). San Bernardino, CA: Ilé Ọ̀rúnmìlà Communications. ISBN 9780964424722.
  • Chief FAMA FAMA'S EDE AWO (Orisa Yoruba Dictionary) ISBN 0-9644247-8-9
  • Chief FAMA The Rituals (novela) ISBN 0-9644247-7-0
  • Awo Fasina Falade Ifa: The Key to Its Understanding ISBN 0-9663132-3-2
  • Chief Adedoja Aluko The Sixteen (16) Major Odu Ifa from Ile-Ife ISBN 978-37376-6-X
  • Chief Hounon-Amengansie, Mama Zogbé (Vivian Hunter Hindrew) Mami Wata: Africa's Ancient God/dess Unveiled Vol. I ISBN 978-0-615-17936-0
  • Chief S. Solagbade Popoola library, INC Ifa Dida: Vol 1 (EjiOgbe - Orangun Meji), ISBN 978-0-9810013-1-9
  • Chief S. Solagbade Popoola library, INC Ifa Dida: Vol 2 (Ogbe Oyeku - Ogbe Ofun), ISBN 978-1-926538-12-9
  • Chief S. Solagbade Popoola & Fakunle Oyesanya Ikunle Abiyamo - The ASE of Motherhood ISBN 978-09810013-0-2
  • C. Osamaro Ibie Ifism the Complete Works of Orunmila ISBN 1-890157-05-8
  • William R. Bascom: Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa ISBN 0-253-20638-3
  • William R. Bascom: Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World ISBN 0-253-20847-5
  • Rosenthal, J. ‘Possession Ecstasy & Law in Ewe Voodoo" ISBN 0-8139-1805-7
  • Maupoil, Bernard. "La Geomancie L'ancienne Côte des Esclaves
  • Alapini, Julien. Les noix sacrées. Etude complète de Fa-Ahidégoun génie de la sagesse et de la divination au Dahomey
  • Dr. Ron Eglash (1997) American Anthropologist Recursion in ethnomathematics, Chaos Theory in West African divination.
  • Bàbálàwó Ifatunwase Tratados Enciclopédicos de Ifá (Colección Alafundé), ISBN 978-0-9810387-04
Ajere Ifa

Agere ifa (àgéré Ifá) is a container for storing sacred palm nuts for Yoruba divination.

Given its ritual and aesthetic functions, àgéré Ifá provides the Yoruba carver with a unique opportunity to display his artistic talents.

Usually carved from wood and measuring between five and sixteen inches in height, a typical container is in the form of an animal or human figure bearing a small bowl. In some cases, the metaphysical attribute of a given animal motif (such as a snake or mudfish) may be used to further empower the sacred palm nuts inside the bowl. But when the motif assumes a human form, it frequently has a votive significance, especially since some àgéré Ifá are given by clients to a diviner to thank Òrúnmìlà for a blessing or to implore the deity to bestow more favors on the donor.


Babaaláwo or Babalawo (Babalao or Babalaô in Latin America; literally meaning 'father of the mysteries' in the Yoruba language) is a spiritual title that denotes a priest of the Ifá oracle. Ifá is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Òrìṣà Orunmila, the Òrìṣà of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of Olodumare. A Babalawo's female counterpart is known as an Iyanifa.


Babalú-Ayé , (also Omolu, Obaluaye, or Obaluaê) (Yoruba: Ọbalúayé, lit. 'Father, Lord of the Earth') is an Orisha strongly associated with infectious disease and healing in the Yoruba religion, including the body, wealth, and physical possessions. In West Africa, he was strongly associated with epidemics of smallpox, leprosy, influenza, ebola, and HIV/AIDS. Although strongly associated with illness and disease, Babalú-Ayé is also the spirit that cures these ailments. Both feared and loved, Babalú-Ayé is sometimes referred to as the “Wrath of the supreme god” because he punishes people for their transgressions. People hold Babalú-Ayé in great respect and avoid calling his actual name, because they do not wish to invoke epidemics.His worship is widely associated with the Earth itself, and his shrines are often separated from commonly travelled areas. His ritual tools include a ritual broom for purification, a covered terra-cotta vessel, and abundant cowry shells. Usually considered hobbled by disease, he universally takes grains as offerings.

Candomblé Ketu

Candomblé Ketu (or Queto in Portuguese) is the largest and most influential branch (nation) of Candomblé, a religion practiced in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The word Candomblé means “ritual dancing or gather in honor of gods” and Ketu is the name of the Ketu region of Benin.Its liturgical language, known as Iorubá or Nagô, is a dialect of Yoruba. Candomblé Ketu developed in the early 19th century and gained great importance to Brazilian heritage in the 20th century.


The Ijesha (written as Ìjẹ̀ṣà in Yoruba orthography) are a sub-ethnicity of the Yorubas of West Africa. Ilesha is the largest town and historic cultural capital of the Ijesha people, and is home to a kingdom of the same name, ruled by an Oba locally stylized as the Owa Obokun Adimula. The current reigning Owa Obokun is Oba Gabriel Adekunle Aromolaran II.


Iyanifa is a term in the Yoruba language that literally means Mother of Mysteries or Mother of Wisdom (Ìyá: “mother”; awó “mysteries"). Some adherents use the term "Mamalawo," which is a partially anglicized version of the Yoruba term, Iyaláwo and Yeyelawo are two more versions of mother of mysteries. Ìyánífá is a Yoruba word that can be translated as Mother (Ìyá) has (ní) Ifá or Mother in Ifá.

Letra del año

The Letra del año (Spanish) or Letra do Ano (Portuguese) (English: Letter of the year) is an annual proclamation of predictions and advice by babalawo's for the coming year, usually issued every December 31 (New Year's Eve on the Gregorian calendar). In Yorubaland, it is made by a council of babalawo's during the Odun Ifa (New Year) festival during June. In most of Latin America, a national council of babalawo's is usually responsible for the announcements of predictions. In Cuba, however, at least two national councils (one of which is state-sponsored) offer letras del año. A particular controversy arose in 2009-2010, when one of the Cuban national councils of babalawo issued a letra which predicted fights for power and an unusually high number of deaths of political leaders in the world, which many media outlets outside Cuba interpreted as being directed to Cuba's own political apparatus.


Odu may refer to

Odù Ifá, oracles or literary corpuses of Ifá religion

Odù, Àjẹ́ goddess

Odu (album), a 1998 album by Nigerian musician King Sunny Adé

Odu, shirt name of Nnamdi Oduamadi (born 1990), Nigerian footballer

O Du people, an aboriginal ethnic group in Vietnam and Laos


Ofinran was a 16th-century king of the Oyo Empire in West Africa who succeeded Onigbogi as Alaafin after the latter had left for exile in Borgu with a few other Yorubas from Oyo. Ofinran was then made king in a foreign land and joined his host in expeditions around the Niger River and the two communities co-existed.

However, the favorable treatment of the Oyos in Borgu was short-lived. Hostilities soon emerged and Ofinran and his men decided to leave for a town called Kusu. In the process of their ill luck of being driven away from their original homes, they may have believed their problems was due to the unfavorable disposition they originally had towards the Ifá deity.

While in Kusu they embraced the Ifá divinity and called for a man named Alado to initiate the Alafin and his subjects in order to wade away any ill wind related to their original rejection of Ifá. Also, according to Oyo fables, it was during this period that the Egungun festivities also emerged in Yoruba land. It was thought that the Egungun priest followed the Yorubas from Borgu into Kusu.

Ofinran later died and was buried in a palace in Saki.


Onigbogi was a king of the Oyo Empire in West Africa who succeeded his father, the Alaafin Oluaso to become the 8th king of the Oyo.

According to Oyo fables, his mother, Aruigba-Ifá left her hometown of Ota to be with her son and to serve in his office as an advisor. She brought along with her the Ifá deity to protect her son and his kingdom. However, the Oyo masses rejected her proposal of worshiping the deity and she returned to Ota. On her way back to her hometown, she was received by Alado, who provided her with supplies to continue her journey, while she initiated Alado into the Ifá divinity in return for his kindness. In latter years, the Ifá deity became prominent in Oyo and so was Ado hills, the villa of Alado.


An Opele (spelled Opuele or Ocuele in Latin America) is a divination chain used in traditional African and Afro-American religions, notably in Ifá and Yoruba tradition.A Babalawo (diviner) uses the Opele in order to communicate with the deity of wisdom/knowledge in the Yoruba tradition (Orunmila), who is able to identify the causes and solutions to personal and collective problems and restore harmony in the person's life through re-balancing of the person's destiny and/or Ori (personal deity). The Opele is the minor divination tool used by Babalawos for Ifa divination; it is believed to be an "assistant" or "slave" of Orunmila, who communicates Orunmila's desires to the Babalawo and from the Babalawo back to Orunmila. It is used for the majority of daily divination work. For divination regarding important ceremonial revelations or life-long information about a client or for very important decisions, Babalawos elect to use their Ikin seeds, which they consider to be the physical representation of Orunmila himself.

Opon Ifá

An opon Ifá is a divination tray used in traditional African and Afro-American religions, notably in the system known as Ifá and in Yoruba tradition more broadly. The etymology of opon, literally meaning "to flatter", explains the artistic and embellished nature of the trays, as they are meant to praise and acknowledge the noble work of the babalowo (diviners). The etymology of the term Ifá, however, has been a subject of debate. Ifá may be considered an orisha, or a Yoruba god — specifically, the god of divination. Conversely, some scholars have referred to Ifá merely as the "great consulting oracle" as opposed to a god or a deity, without any divine connotations.Opon Ifá are typically made by wood carvers who specialize in the trays, and are made with designs per request of the patron babalowo or by the carver's own accord. The emphasis on the tray's design is not only due to their "flattering" nature, but also because of their functionality during consultation. Different carvers employ various aesthetic styles within West Africa and in the African diaspora, but most carvers are able to trace their influence back to Oyo, in present-day Nigeria.During divination consultations, the opon Ifá is used by a babalowo to communicate with Ifá, who is able to identify the causes and solutions to personal and collective problems, and to restore harmony with the spirits. An intermediary orisha, Esu, serves as the messenger between the babalowo and Ifá, as the two spirits are close companions to each other. In conjunction with other divine instruments such as an iroke Ifá (diviner's tapper), ikin Ifá (sacred palm or kola nuts) or opele Ifá (divination chain), and iyerosun (divining powder), the opon Ifá is used to determine the odu, or verses, associated with a patron's particular predicament. Once an odu is revealed by Ifá, the babalowo then elucidates a solution that is embedded in the archetypal story described in the specific odu.


Owo is a city in Ondo State of Nigeria. Between 1400 and 1600 AD, it was the capital of a Yoruba city-state. The local government has a population of 222,262, based on 2006 population census.


Santería, also known as Regla de Ocha, La Regla de Ifá, or Lucumí, is an Afro-American religion of Yoruba origin that developed in Cuba among West African descendants. Santería is a Spanish word that means the "worship of saints". Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its sacred language is the Lucumí language, a remnant of Yoruba language that is used in rituals but no longer spoken as a vernacular and mostly not understood by practitioners.


The Ẹgbado, now Yewa, are a tribe of the Yoruba people, and inhabit the eastern area of Ogun West Senatorial District, Ogun State, in south-west Nigeria, Africa. In 1995 they changed their name to the Yewa. Yewa clan now comprises 4 local Governments Yewa South, Yewa North, Imeko-Afon and Ipokia, while the Ado-Odo/Ota LGA forms the 5th Awori part of the senatorial district

Yoruba calendar

The Yoruba calendar (Kojoda) is a calendar used by the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin. The calendar has a year beginning on the last moon of May or first moon of June of the Gregorian calendar, and an era of 8042 BC. The new year coincides with the Ifá festival

The traditional Yoruba week has four days. The four days that are dedicated to the Orisa go as follow:

Day 1 is dedicated to Obatala (Sopanna, Iyaami, and the Egungun)

Day 2 is dedicated to Orunmila (Esu, Ifá and Osun) *

Day 3 is dedicated to Ogun (Osoosi)

Day 4 is dedicated to Sango (Oya)To reconcile with the Gregorian calendar, Yoruba people also measure time in seven days a week and four weeks a month. The four-day calendar was dedicated to the Orisas and the seven-day calendar is for doing business.

The seven days are: Ojo-Aiku (Sunday), Ojo-Aje (Monday), Ojo-Ishegun (Tuesday), Ojo-Iru (Wednesday), Ojo-Bo/Alamisi (Thursday), Ojo-Eti (Friday) and Ojo-Abameta (Saturday).

Time is measured in iṣeju (minutes), wakati (hours), ojo (days), ose (weeks), oṣu (months) and odun (years). There are 60 (ogota) iṣeju in 1 (ookan) wakati; 24 (merinlelogun) wakati in 1 ojo; 7 (meje) ojo in 1 ose; 4 (merin) ose in 1 oṣu and 52 (mejilelaadota) ose in 1 (ookan) odun. There are 12 (mejila) oṣu in 1 (ookan) odun.

Yoruba name

Yoruba names are primarily used by the Yoruba people and Yoruba language-speaking individuals in Benin, Togo, and Nigeria.

Yoruba religion

The Yoruba religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practice of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in present-day Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, commonly known as Yorubaland. It shares some parallels with the Vodun practiced by the neighboring Fon and Ewe peoples to the west and to the religion of the Edo people to the east. Yoruba religion is the basis for a number of religions in the New World, notably Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha and Candomblé. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of Itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts which make up the Yoruba society.


Ọrunmila (Yoruba Ọ̀rúnmìlà, also Ọrúnla or Orúla in Nigeria and Latin America) is an Orisha. He is the Orisha of wisdom, knowledge, and divination. This source of knowledge is believed to have a keen understanding of the human form and of purity, and is therefore praised as often being more effective than other remedies.

Diverse roots
Yoruba religion (Orisa-Ifá)
Countries of development
Sacred sites
Legendary figures

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