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African Art

Divination Tray (Opon Ifa)

19th century

Wood

22 × 22 × 1 in. (55.88 × 55.88 × 2.54 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James M. Osborn for the Linton Collection of African Art
1954.28.34
Divination for the Yoruba is a process that determines the will of the sacred realm. The diviner, or babalawo, is the master of Ifa, a complex system of orally transmitted texts; he memorizes these texts and interprets them in accordance with the demands of a given social or spiritual problem. The two faces that appear on this tray in low relief amid a flock of sixteen birds belong to Èsù, the spirit who transports divine messages and sacrifices between heaven and earth. The tray is covered in white powder, palm nuts are cast onto it, and the babalawo interprets the pattern left by the nuts. At the start of the ceremony and during it, a tapper is struck on the side of the tray to attract the attention of Orunmila, a deity who knows the fate of all human beings.
Geography: 
Country near Offa, Kwara State, Guinea Coast, Nigeria
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Igbomina Yorùbá
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Containers - Wood
Provenance: 

Collected by the German explorer Leo Frobenius, 1910-1912 from a grave near Offa, Nigeria.
Dr. Ralph Linton, Sterling Professor of Anthropology at Yale, unknown date–1953
Mr. and Mrs. James M. Osborn donated to Yale University Art Gallery for the Linton Collection of African Art in 1954

Bibliography: 

Leo Frobenius, The Voice of Africa: Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910–1912 , 2 (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1913), 624, fig. 1.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 36, fig. 1.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.