African Art

Divination Board (Ọpọ́n Ifá)

19th century


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
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.
Offa, Kwara State, Guinea Coast, Nigeria
On view
Yorùbá, Ìgbómìnà subgroup
19th century
Containers - Wood

Acquired by Leo Frobenius (1873–1938), Germany, during his Nigeria–Cameroon expedition, from a grave near Offa, Kwara State, Nigeria, 1910–12 (Frobenius Institute Register no. kba 10297). Ralph Linton (1893–1953), New Haven, Conn., by 1953 [see note]; by descent to his wife, Adelin Hohlfield Linton (1899–1977), New Haven, Conn., 1953; sold to Marie-Louise Montgomery Osborn (1905–1968) and James Marshall Osborn (1906–1976), New Haven, Conn., 1954; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1954

NOTE: Ralph Linton was the Sterling Professor of Anthropology at Yale from 1946 until his death in 1953. His collection forms the foundation of the African art collection at the Yale University Art Gallery.


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.