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 II II II
Ọwanrin-Meji II II II I
Ọbara-Meji I I II II
Ọkanran-Meji II II I I
Ogunda-Meji I I I II
Ọsa-Meji II I I I
Ika-Meji I I II I
Oturupon-Meji I II I I
Otua-Meji II II I II
Irete-Maji II I II II
Ọse-Meji I II I II
Ofu meji II I II I

Ifá refers to the system of divination and the verses of the literary corpus known as the Odú Ifá. Yoruba religion identifies Orunmila as the Grand Priest; as that which revealed Oracle divinity to the world. Such is his association with the Oracle divinity; in some instances, the term "Orunmila" is used interchangeably with Ifá.

Originating in West Africa in the form of a stringent Yoruba philosophy; celebrated in traditional African medicine, Santería (referred to as Lukumi), Candomblé, West African & Diaspora Vodou, and similarly in Orisa'Ifa lineages all over the globe.


Yorùbá canon

In the Yoruba religion, divination gives priests unreserved access to the teachings of Orunmila. Esu, is seen as being in charge of justice and the transportation of ebos, one said to lend authority (ase) to the oracle during provision of direction and or clarification of counsel. Ifa divination rites are claimed to provide an avenue of communication to the spiritual realm.

Togo canon

In Togo, Ifá is known as Afa, where the Vodou deities 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 Afa. The Ifa Divination system was added in 2005 by UNESCO to its list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".


Performing Ifa divination is called Ifa dida or idafa (or dida owo and ounte ale).[1] Ifa dida / Idafa is performed by a Babalawo or Iyalawo or iyanifa (an initiated priest or priestess). Babalawo can be translated as "father of the secrets" while "Iyalawo" {mother of secret} or sometimes "Iyanifa" means "mother that has Ifa(i.e. its blessing)". The babalawo or iyanifa provides insights about the current circumstances impacting the life of a person requesting this information and provides any necessary information to aid the individual. Awo is a reference for devotees in Orisa worship. It includes Babalawos, Iyalawo,Iyanifas, Babalorishas, Iyalorishas and even uninitiated devotees.


Initiation into Ifa requires rigorous study. A Babalawo must learn and understand each of the 256 chapters (Odu) of Ifa. The minimum of four verses will of necessity include ebos and ooguns (medicine) that are embedded and relevant to each of the verses, plus other issues that complement divination. An accomplished Babalawo must know about ten verses of each of the 256 chapters of Ifa (256 Odu Ifa). Regardless of gender, whoever aspires to practice Ifa must have this qualification. In essence, Ifa practice does not preclude a woman provided such woman acquires the required qualification. Odu—a special Orisa—can only be received by a Babalawo who decides to perform the special initiation that will allow him access to Odu. In essence, initiation into Ifa is the first step towards initiation into Odu. A woman cannot be initiated into Odu. This is because since she already has a womb, she has no need to receive Odu. It can be said to be redundant. Character Traits of a Awo: Orunmila demands humility from his priests and priestesses, therefore, a Babalawo should be an embodiment of patience, good character, honesty, and humility.

Apetebi is a title given to the wife of a Babalawo. Apetebi is the name Orunmila gave to his wife, whom he cured from leprosy before giving birth to his child. This is from the Sacred Odu Ifa Obara Ogunda.

Iyanifa is the title of an initiated female priestess of IFA.


Tray and palm nuts

Special instruments are used to assist in the divination to transcribe Orunmila's wisdom through the diviner. The items used for divination include:

  • a group of sixteen Ikin, commonly known as sacred palm nuts, which are used to create binary data
  • Dust from the Irosun tree (Iyerosun)
  • a vessel for the seeds (Ajere Ifa)
  • a divination tray (Opon Ifa).
  • a tapper instrument (Iroke Ifa)
  • a fly whisk (Irukere Ifa)
  • beaded belts for the babalawo/iyanifa to wear (this is not required)
    • another form of divination is with the Opele, though Ikin is considered superior
  • Ifa dida, meaning Ifa consultation also sometimes referred to as Dafa
  • Odù (see Odù Ifá below) revelation (one of possible 256 combinations) and the oral recitation - consultation (ese Ifa)
  • the "prescription" or advice of what is needed at this particular junction of life. It is believed that ebo (ritual) & bibo (appeasement rites) fit into a category referred to as Ọwọ̀n[2] (necessity) of Odù Ifá; Ọwọ̀nrín Méjí,[2] this "necessity or void" once filled is what the deities will use in bringing ones prayers into fruition.
  • Ifa divination process of "prescription" is organized in three segments in a specific order 1) Ifa Dida (divination) 2) Ebo (ritual rites) 3) Oogun (medicine or healing)

The (opon Ifa) or tray and (iroke Ifa) or tapper are used in Ifa divination, a central ritual within Ifa tradition. This tray, adorned with carved images and dusted with powder, serves as the template on which sacred signs (odu) related to the personal concerns of a diviner's client are traced as the point of departure for analysis. In contrast to those transitory signs, the more permanent backdrop of the carved motifs on the tapper and tray constitutes an artistic exegesis of the forces that shape human experience and the universal needs fulfilled by such quests for enlightenment.

To initiate the ritual, the babalawo/iyanifa places the tray in front of him and taps rhythmically on it with the pointed end of the tapper, invoking the presence of Orunmila, past diviners, and other Orisa.

There are a variety of Ikin (sacred palm nuts) that are available, but only 4 "eyes" ikin must be used for ifa divination. The Ikin (sacred palm nuts) are grouped in one hand, then the diviner attempts to shift them all to his/her other hand at once, and counts the remaining Ikin left, hopefully to discover that either one or two remain. (Odu, which are the foundation of the binary data, can only be marked with either one or two palm nuts, remaining in the diviner's original hand. As this process goes on, the diviner marks single or double marks in wood powder spread on his divination tray until he or she has created one of the 256 odus that are available.[3]

Each of these odus is associated with a traditional set of Ese (poetic tutorials), often relating to Yoruba religion, which explain their divinatory meaning. These tutorials represent thousands of years of observation and are filled with predictions, and both mundane and spiritual prescriptions that resolve issues found in that Odu. Within Ifa, Believers find all the knowledge of the world past, present. and future.

After obtaining the Odu that governs a situation or event, the diviner then determines whether the Odu comes with Ire (signifies good outcome; good times; good news; goodluck; e.t.c) or Ibi (which could be viewed as obstacles or impediments to success). After this process the diviner now determines appropriate offerings, spiritual disclipines and/or behavioral changes that are Ọwọ̀n - necessary to bring, keep or compel success for the person receiving divinatory counsel.[2]

Odù Ifá

There are sixteen major books in Odu Ifa[4] literary corpus. When combined there are total of 256 Odu[5] (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.

Where I is an odd count or a "heads" result, and II is an even count or a "tails" result, the sixteen basic patterns and their Yoruba names are set forth in the sidebar (please note this is only one way of ordering them, this changes depending on area within Nigeria, or the diaspora. An alternative order used in Ibadan, and Cuba is: Ejiogbe, Oyekun meji, Iwori Meji, Idi Meji, Irosun Meji, Oworin Meji, Obara Meji, Okanran Meji, Ogunda Meji, Osa Meji, Ika Meji, Oturupon Meji, Otura Meji, Irete Meji, Oshe Meji, Ofun Meji. Heepa Odu! This is important to note as it changes the outcomes of certain parts of the reading).

The babalawo recites a series of poems with proverbs and stories from the Ifa poetry that go with that choice. The final interpretation is made by the person seeking guidance, who decides how the verses that the babalawo has recited should be applied to the problem at hand. (This may be one style, however other schools of thought with Ifa have the Diviner interpreting what Ifa says and not simply chanting and leaving it to the client) Though the number of symbols is different, the Chinese I Ching divination system also bears some resemblance to Ifa divination. Like the I Ching, Ifa combines a large body of wisdom literature with a system for selecting the appropriate passages from it. Unlike the I Ching, however, Ifa poetry is not written down but passed down orally from one babalawo to another. Today, there are many texts that are designed to help Babalawos to learn and retain the huge corpus of knowledge.


Believers deem Ifa as being nothing but the "truth"; functioning to the devoted as not only a system of guidance, but one that fuses way of living with the psychological, providing them with a legitimate course of action that is genuine and unequivocal.


  • Babalawo or Awo Ifa. Male Ifa Priest, literally means Father of secrets
  • Awo Alatese.[6] This group of Awo have their own specialization within Ifa, mastering the aspects of Ifa preparations[6]
  • Bokono/Bokonon. (male/female) Priest of Afa/Vodoun
  • Obomila.(male) priest of Iha/Ifain Benin
  • Ohen.(male or female)Diviner and Priest
  • Amengansie. Female oracle priest of Afa/Vodoun (matrilineally inherited).
  • Akapo. Contrary to common diasporan belief, this is NOT another name for a Babalawo. Rather, it refers to a Babalawo's apprentice who carries the bag (apo in yoruba) containing the Babalawo's divining instruments and related materials. (contradicting view, Apako, does actually refer to babalawos, not just an apprentice, as all babalawos and Orunmila himself, carry their own Ifa in a specially designed bag).
  • Iyanifa. Female Ifa Priest, can also be a title within an Ifa community or temple, thus Iya ni Ifa, mother who has the knowledge of Ifa, she may also know how to recite Ifa even as a child video seen here. There is some controversy even in Nigeria, not all areas accept Iyanifa. There are several youtube videos of interviews of chief priests in Ode Remo.[7]
  • Dida Obi. Divination with kola nuts of four or more pieces.
  • Ifa dida. Divination of Ifa, using any Ifa divination items (Opele or Ikin etc.)
  • Dida Owo. Divination with cowrie shells.
  • Ifa Dida.[8] (meaning Ifa Divination), casting of Ifa on Opon Ifa
  • Ohunte Ale. Inscribing or marking Odu on the Opon Ifa
  • Opon Ifa. Divining tray of Ifa, used by a Babalawo
  • Oròrò Ifá - Narration or declaration during the divination or during the advisement following divination. (read more on Oròrò Ifá HERE)
  • Ifa Rere. Gentle Character - of Ifa ethics
  • Ifa Pele. Cool Character - of Ifa ethics
  • Orunmila. Prophet that developed and spread the Ifa divination system. Orunmila is second only to Olodumare/Olorun (God, or Supreme Being), and is without earthly lineage. He embodies the principles of Ifa.
  • Orisha. Primordial energies (Ìṣẹ̀ṣe) from which all living things emanate; The deities that represent various manifestations of God, Olodumare.
  • Iya Nla. Ìyá àgbà, the Womb of Creation, Womb of existence, the fearful power, the Mother of the closed calabash, the Mother of the Gourd, who teaches humankind through Awon Iya Wa how to acquire the cosmic knowledge to understand life, balance and the harmony in their life.
  • Irunmole. Primordial deities (Ìṣẹ̀ṣe), first sent to earth to make the world habitable for humankind, also the full spectrum of deities (Orisha) created by Olodumare the Creator for worship and veneration numbering 400+1 as an infinite number of nature's manifestation and recreation, also differs from Orisha yet some Irunmole are Orisha.[9]
  • Ìṣẹ̀ṣe. The name Ìṣẹ̀ṣe can be used to describe several things within the Yoruba tradition, i) Ìṣẹ̀ṣe is considered ones Progenitors, ii) all the Primordial Beings of Creation are also Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, iii) the collective of the Irunmole are Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, iv) also Ìṣẹ̀ṣe is another term used to encapsulate this tradition of Ifa/Orisa as a whole.... Ìṣẹ̀ṣe in this regard means Traditionalism(read more on Ìṣẹ̀ṣe HERE)
  • Ifa dida / Dafa. Dida is to perform divination and dafa means act of casting Ikin Ifa (sacred holy palm kernel) for divination purpose and divine direction in life
  • Apetebii. is the wife of a Babalawo, she is one of the few titled positions within the Yoruba tradition and holds an important position within the tradition and culture, she will assist her husband in the worship and appeasement of his Ifa, and help to teach children the fundaments of worshipping Ifa as a philosophy. This is not simply a title, but has accompanying initiations that must be performed to hold this title. Can also be referred to as Iyanifa interchangeably.
  • Ayafa. this wife is often "married" to the Ifa of a Babalawo and can also be married to another man, or even a female child before marriage age or the girl child of a Babalawo who by "marrying" to Ifa, this is a symbolic ceremony and will convey certain blessing and protection to the female.
  • Itefa, Itelodu, Elegan are different degrees of the initiation process. It is the ritual of performing one's initiation or rite of passage, to determine one's purpose or destiny. It is important to note that performing Itefa alone does not make one a Babalawo or Iyanifa; Itefa is one of many steps of apprenticeship to become a Babalawo (a diviner/healer/counsellor). Itefa is the initiation into Ifa generally. Itelodu, which is the complete and most comprehensive, is the Ifa initiation which has the presence of the mysteries of Odu and also involves the process of stepping of "Oke Ipori" at a specially-prepared space with Opa Osun called "Ojuore", which represents and re-enacts the boundary between heaven and earth – the location where each person chooses "Ipin" to fine-tune, as a way of being aligned while elegan (not done everywhere in Nigeria) is a type of Itefa without the mysteries of Odu and Oju Ore.
  • Ifá. Is the word of Olodumare encompassing all knowledge of things past, present and future. It is sometimes used interchangeably as the name for the orisha deity Orunmila. Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and knowledge, who created the system and method for accessing the knowledge of Ifa; and so during the ritual of divination a "client" is said to "consult Ifà". *D'afa or more appropriately Ifa dida, is the name of the divination ritual itself where one accesses specific verses in the Odu Ifá (the Yoruba sacred texts) given to the priest through arrangements of the sacred palm nuts cast in divination.
  • Iwa (character) is one of or perhaps the most important human endeavor taught within Ifa literary corpus and every Ifa stanza (or verse) has one portion dedicated to the issue of teaching the Iwa (character or behaviour) that Ifa supports. This Iwa, which Ifa teaches transcends religious doctrine, is central to every human being, and imparts communal, social and civic responsibility that the Creator (Olodumare) supports. Central to this, is the theme of righteousness[5] and practicing good moral behaviour, not seeking for it in the community but becoming an ambassador of Iwa.

Ifá invest with me,
As Éjìwòrì invested interest in his protégée,
Ifá smile upon me,.


Ifa priests, devotees, celebrants and believers sometimes inherit names related to the divinity; typically, but not necessarily, beginning with the term ‘Ifa’, like Ifadairo, Ifabiyi, Ifadare, Ifabunmi, etc. The first "I" in these names may be omitted to form Fadairo, Fabiyi, Fadare, Fabunmi, Falola, etc. The prefix "Awo" is also used in names ascribing Ifa or the fellowship - Awolalu, Awodele, Awolowo, Awosika, etc.

Audio & Video


  • Charles Spencer King Nature's Ancient Religion: Orisha Worship & IFA ISBN 1-44041-733-4
  • Charles Spencer King IFA Y Los Orishas: La Religion Antigua De LA Naturaleza ISBN 1-46102-898-1
  • Awo Falokun Fatunmbi Dafa: Ifa Divination
  • Awo Falokun Fatunmbi Awo: Ifa & the Theology of Orisha Divination
  • Awo Falokun Fatunmbi Ibase Orisa
  • Chief FAMA Fundamentals of the Yoruba Religion (Orisa Worship) ISBN 0971494908
  • Chief FAMA Practitioners' Handbook for the Ifa Professional ISBN 0971494932
  • Chief FAMA Fundamentos de la Religion Yoruba (Adorando Orisa) ISBN 0971494967
  • Chief FAMA Sixteen Mythological Stories of Ifa (Itan Ifa Merindinlogun) ISBN 096442472X
  • Chief FAMA FAMA'S EDE AWO (Orisa Yoruba Dictionary) ISBN 0964424789
  • Chief FAMA The Rituals (novela) ISBN 0964424770
  • Awo Fasina Falade Ifa: The Key to Its Understanding ISBN 0966313232
  • Chief Adedoja Aluko The Sixteen (16) Major Odu Ifa from Ile-Ife ISBN 978373766X
  • Chief Hounon-Amengansie, Mama Zogbé (Vivian Hunter Hindrew) Mami Wata: Africa's Ancient God/dess Unveiled Vol. I ISBN 09716244542
  • Chief S. Solagbade Popoola library, INC Ifa Dida: Vol 1 (EjiOgbe - Orangun Meji), ISBN 9780981001319
  • C. Osamaro Ibie Ifism the Complete Works of Orunmila ISBN 1890157058
  • William R. Bascom: Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa ISBN 0253206383
  • William R. Bascom: Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World ISBN 0253208475
  • Iyanifa Ileana S. Alcamo "The Challenge growing within the Orisa Community" ISBN 1890157317
  • 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
  • Iyalaja Ileana Alcamo (2007). The Source Iya Nla Primordial Yoruba Mother, Athelia Henrietta Press, Inc. ISBN 1-890157-41-4
  • Dr. Ron Eglash (1997) American Anthropologist Recursion in ethnomathematics, Chaos Theory in West African divination.
  • Dr. Reginald O. Crosley (2000) The Voudou Quantum Leap ISBN 1567181732
  • Fakayode Fayemi Fatunde (2004) "Osun, The Manly Woman". New York: Athelia Henrietta Press ISBN 1890157368
  • Fakayode Fayemi Fatunde (2011) "Iwure: Efficacious Prayer to Olodumare, The Supreme Force". Ibadan: Ejiodi Home of Tradition ISBN 9789789154029
  • Awoyinfa Ifaloju writing on "Ifa Speaks" published articles on Ifa ideology, philosophy & cosmology


  1. ^ Chief S. Solagbade Popoola, Ifa Dida Volume One (EjiOgbe - Orangun Meji), Library, INC ISBN 978-0-9810013-1-9
  2. ^ a b c Ọwọ̀nrín: Necessity is the mother of Invention
  3. ^ William R. Bascom: Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa ISBN 0253206383
  4. ^ Sixteen major 'books in Odù Ifá
  5. ^ a b Ifa speaks, Iwòrì Méjì: Righteousness, february, 2011
  6. ^ a b Professional Aspects of Ifa
  7. ^ Ifalola Sanchez, Ifa thoughts and philisopy, 2009
  8. ^ Ifa Dida
  9. ^ Eko’Fa Podcast 3: Irunmole

External links

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