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Ifa Divination

Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa

William Bascom

Publication Year: 1991

"The sacred texts of Ifa, repository of the accumulated wisdom of countless generations of Yoruba people, are an invaluable source not only for all students of African oral literature and Yoruba civilization, but also for future generations interested in the continuing vitality of Ifa divination and a Yoruba way of life and thought." -- Henry Drewal

This landmark study of Ifa, the most important and elaborate system of divination of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, remains a monumental contribution to scholarship in anthropology, folklore, religion, philosophy, linguistics, and African and African-American studies.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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CONTENTS

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pp. v-vi

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PREFACE

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pp. ix-x

Ifa is the most respected, in many ways the most interesting, system of divination of five to ten million Yoruba in Nigeria1 and millions more of their African neighbors and their descendants in the New World. Unquestionably, the most important of the previous studies of Ifa is that of Maupoil (1943), for Dahomey. Maupoil describes initiations and ...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Part One: IFA DIVINATION

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I. INTRODUCTION

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pp. 3-12

The worship of Ifa as the God of Divination entails ceremonies, sacrifices, tabus, paraphernalia, drums, songs, praises, initiation, and other ritual elements comparable to those of other Yoruba cults; these are not treated fully here, since the primary subject of this study is Ifa as a system of divination. The mode of divination will be discussed in detail later, but a brief description is required ...

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II. PREVIOUS STUDIES

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pp. 13-25

The two earliest known descriptions of Ifa divination among the Yoruba date from the same year. Speaking of the Yoruba deities, Tucker (1853: 33) says: "One of the principal of these is Ifa, the god of palm-nuts, to whom they ascribe the power of healing, and to whose priests they apply in times of sickness. On these occasions the friends of the sufferer procure a sheep ...

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III. THE APPARATUS OF IFA DIVINATION AND THE PRELIMINARY INVOCATIONS

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pp. 26-39

This chapter is concerned with the palm nuts and the divining chain; the bags, plates, cups, and bowls in which these are kept; and the tray, the powder, and the bell used in divination. It concludes with a description of the morning invocation that precedes the first divination each day. The diviner's cow-tail switch and other materials that serve primarily as ...

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IV. THE FIGURES OF IFA

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pp. 40-50

He takes them in both hands and rapidly beats them together several times, then attempts to pick up as many nuts as he can with his right hand (see Plate 14). As sixteen nuts form a large handful, and as their ovoid surfaces become polished through use, some usually remain below in his left hand. If none is left, or if more than two remain, or if the grasp is not ...

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V. SPECIFIC ALTERNATIVES: IBO AND ADIMU

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pp. 51-59

Ifa's message to the client, which is contained in the divination verses, may be clarified and supplemented by asking a number of specific questions phrased in terms of two or more mutually exclusive alternative propositions; thus Ifa may be presented with the choice between several specific courses of action or candidates for a particular office, or he may be asked questions ...

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VI. THE SACRIFICES AND MEDICINES

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pp. 60-67

The objective of Ifa divination is to determine the correct sacrifice necessary to secure a favorable resolution of the problem confronting the client, whether or not an adimu is required in addition. Sacrifices are necessary to ensure that predictions of good fortune will come true, as well as to avert the misfortunes which have been foretold. As is made clear in ...

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VII. THE PREDICTIONS

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pp. 68-75

Three principal steps are involved in Ifa divination. The first is the selection of the correct figure, associated with which is the message that Ifa wishes to have conveyed to the client. This is achieved by the manipulation of the palm nuts or by a cast of the divining chain, and can be interpreted in terms of the laws of probability, with each of the figures having ...

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VIII. PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

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pp. 76-80

As indicated in Chapter VI, the sacrifice specified in the verse may be modified; but since the question whether the sacrifice should be altered is asked in terms of two specific alternatives, it can be assumed that there are no modifications in 50 per cent of the cases. The client may not suggest to the diviner how it should be modified, because "one does not bargain ...

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IX. THE DIVINERS

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pp. 81-90

The Ifa diviners are most commonly called babalawo or "father has secrets" (baba-li-awo) or simply awo, secrets or mysteries. They may also be distinguished from the others who worship Ifa as "fathers of those who have Ifa" (baba onifa). The term onifa or "those who have Ifa" (o-niIfa) refers to all Ifa worshipers, including the babalawo, as does its ...

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X. THE KING'S DIVINERS

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pp. 91-102

In earlier times there were probably more eligible olodu than could be accommodated in these sixteen positions; but in 1937 the last five titles were unfilled because eligible candidates had been unable to afford the third and most expensive initiation. The son of the former ...

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XI. THE SYSTEM OF BELIEF

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pp. 103-119

Some elements of the complex world view of the Yoruba must be discussed at least briefly for readers to understand the many references to them that appear in the Ifa verses, and the significance of Ifa divination itself. This section is primarily concerned with three deities, Ifa, Eshu, and ...

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XII. THE DIVINATION VERSES

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pp. 120-138

The verses, containing both the predictions and the sacrifices, constitute the core of Ifa divination. The choice of the correct verse from those memorized by the diviner is the crucial point in any consultation, and it is made by the client himself in full knowledge of his own problem. The figures themselves, which are shared with other widely distributed systems ...

Part Two: THE VERSES OF IFA

Verses of Ifa: pages, 140-264

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pp. 140-264

Verses of Ifa: pages, 265-362

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pp. 265-362

Verses of Ifa: pages, 363-466

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pp. 363-466

Verses of Ifa: pages, 467-564

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pp. 467-564

REFERENCES CITED

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pp. 565-575


E-ISBN-13: 9780253114655
E-ISBN-10: 0253114659
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253206381

Page Count: 608
Publication Year: 1991