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Bruce and Adele King

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Image of Opon Ifa (Divination Tray)

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Bookmark: http://triarte.brynmawr.edu/objects-1/info/146117



unknown Yoruba
Yoruba Primary



Opon Ifa (Divination Tray)

20th century
Carved and incised wood

11 1/4 in. (diameter) x 13/16 in. (28.5 cm x 2 cm)

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: 2003.27.3
Other Number(s): King Collection TN-5 (Temporary Number)
Geography: Africa, Nigeria
Classification: Ceremonial and Performance Artifacts; Ritual Objects
Culture/Nationality: Yoruba, Nigerian, West African, African
Collection: King Collection
This divination board is used by babalawos (priests or diviners) as a form of mediation between human beings and the orisha Orunmila. In order to communicate with the spirit realm, the surface of the board is filled with wood dust and sixteen palm nuts or cowrie shells are cast into the dust. The combinations of shapes the nuts or shells form on the board correspond with a variety of messages from the oral tradition, which the babalawo will share with their client.

At the top of this board is the face of the orisha Eshu, the divine intermediary. It is impossible to communicate with Orunmila without first consulting Eshu, whose power and character are reflected on his face.

Keywords Click a term to view the records with the same keyword
This object has the following keywords:
  • African - Refers to the cultures of the continent of Africa, which is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
  • carvings - Refers to works executed by cutting a figure or design out of a solid material such as stone or wood. It typically refers to works that are relatively small in size, are part of a larger work, or are not considered art. For large and medium-sized three-dimensional works of art, use the broader term "sculpture" or another appropriate term.
  • divination objects - Objects used in divination or associated with divination rituals.
  • eyes - Motifs having the appearance of an eye, generally a human eye, as found, for example, painted or bossed on the bows of watercraft as protective devices, or, in Christian iconography, as the eye of God in the center of an equilateral triangle representing the Trinity. Distinct from "oculi (openings)" which are small round or oval openings such as windows in a wall or openings in the crown of a dome.
  • Nigerian
  • ritual objects - Objects used for a particular ritual activity, often as part of a ceremony.
  • sacred objects - Broadly, ceremonial objects that retain their sacredness in their present context. Sometimes defined more narrowly as only those needed by a present-day culture to practice their religion. For objects that are used primarily for a religious ceremony or function, but are not necessarily in themselves considered sacred, use "religious objects."
  • West African - Styles and cultures from the region comprising the westernmost area of the African continent, defined by the United Nations as including the modern nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
  • wood - The principal tissue of trees and other plants that provides both strength and a means of conducting nutrients. Wood is one of the most versatile materials known.
  • Yoruba

Additional Images Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image 2003.27.3_BMC_f_2.jpg
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Additional Image 2003.27.3_BMC_f.jpg
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Additional Image 2003.27.3_BMC_f.jpg
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Additional Image 2003.27.3_BMC_r_2.jpg
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Additional Image 2003.27.3_BMC_r.jpg
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Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
  • Backtalk: Exposures, Erasures, and Elisions of the Bryn Mawr College African Art Collection Bryn Mawr College , Feb 5, 2015 – Jun 1, 2015

  • Owner Name: Bruce and Adele King, in memory of Nicole M. King, Class of 1986
    Role: Donor
    Place: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, US
    Acquisition Method: Purchased in Ibadan, Nigeria from house to house traders
    Ownership Start Date: 1962-1964
    Ownership End Date: June 6, 2003


Comparanda List
The following Comparanda exist for this object:
  • Henry John Drewal, "Senses in Understandings of Art." African Arts 38, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 6, Figure Number: 2.
  • John Pemberton, III and Henry John Drewal. The Yoruba Artist (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), 67. Figure Number: 4-10, 4-11
  • "The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard Online Collection." (Accessed May 18, 2020): https://pmem.unix.fas.harvard.edu:8443/peabody/. Accession No.: 61-58-50/10520.
  • "African Heritage Document and Research Center." (Accessed June 11, 2020): AHDRC.eu. Record No.: 0102381.
  • "African Heritage Document and Research Center." (Accessed June 11, 2020): AHDRC.eu. Record No.: 0102317.

Related Bibliography List
The following Related Bibliography exist for this object:
  • Henry John Drewal, "Senses in Understandings of Art." African Arts 38, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 1-96.
  • William Russell Bascom, Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1960), 26-39.
  • John Pemberton, III and Henry John Drewal. The Yoruba Artist (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), 59-78.
  • Evelyn Roache, "The Art of the Ifa Oracle." African Arts 8, no. 1 (Autumn 1974): 20-25, 87.
  • Stefan Eisenhofer, ed. Kulte, Künstler, Könige in Afrika: Tradition und Moderne in Südnigeria (Linz, Austria: des Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseums, 1977), 190-203.

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=BMC>cite web |url=http://triarte.brynmawr.edu/objects-1/info/146117 |title=Opon Ifa (Divination Tray) |author=Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections |accessdate=7/3/2022 |publisher=Bryn Mawr College</ref>

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