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Ifa Corpus and Divination


Ifa Corpus (Ifa of the Yoruba people of western Nigeria) contains mythical encounters of the Yoruba people with God. Many verses of the Ifá corpus are being committed to writing today, to provide what may be referred to as the history of Yoruba people. This I call the sacred scriptures of Adimalà (The traditional Religion of the Yoruba People).

With Ifa corpus as a reality, one can say that, no feature is more revealing of the traditional religious systems as the method of divination that each employs. These systems are condensed summaries of their respective societies. For Adimulà, Ifà takes a high position. Ifa is a very complex process of explanations, prediction and control of space, time and events. It is major religious legacy [Adimulà] bequeathed to humanity throughout the African diaspora. It particularly helps in the relationship between human, örisà and Olódùmare.

In Adimúlà, the corpus is considered to be the ultimate source of Yoruba spiritual and non-spiritual knowledge, it serves as the means of understanding Yoruba culture and revelation. As the Sacred Scripture of Adimúlà, one can say that Ifa embodies everything, it is only as an attribute of Olódùmarè that it can enjoy the seeming undisputable qualities and characteristics that have been given to it. It is said that Ifá contains and talks about everything that is in Heaven, in the life of all, visible, and invisible; alive or dead. No exception. From the simplicity of the water and food we eat to the complexity of the atmosphere; from the heart-warming christening of children to the dark and obscure life after death. The events that had happened, the ones happening now and the ones that would happen when our generation ceases to exist, all are contained in Ifa. The verses of Ifá are not limited by time, space or energy.

For it is only as an attribute of Olódùmarè that Ifá can be said to contain all, exist before all, and even outlive all. Given these characteristics, it becomes impossible to define Ifá by a part of what it contains. This has made scholars refer to Ifá as the store-house of Yoruba culture, inside which the Yoruba comprehension of their own historical experiences and understanding of their environment can always be found…Yoruba traditional body of knowledge embracing history, philosophy, medicine and folklore.


Like the sacred scripture of any religion, Ifá corpus for a religiously and culturally oriented Yoruba, is a repertoire for life as well as a guiding principle. This is because, Ifá is an ancient monument where the culture of the Yoruba people is encapsulated, enthroned and entombed. It is much more than Geomancy in that it is not only divinatory, it also embodies the beliefs, religion, history, sociology and ecology of the people. It therefore diagnoses, treats, adjudicates, arbitrates, guides, advises, instructs, teaches, explains as well as attempts to unravel the mystery of existence in this world.

Ifa divination is a full-fledge religion. Ifa ni ohun entu Olodumare" (Ifa is the voice/message of God) sent through Orunmila, Barami-aghonniregun, God's first messenger to the world. Logically, the voice/message of a person is basically the person. Hence, Ifalere contended that Ifa is synonymous with Olodumare (God) He further clarified that Ifa (God's message) is not Orunmila who is 'Ohimgbifo Ifa' (God's messenger). He is also called 'Eleri ipin' because he was there at creation, and thus, knows about everything about every creature: Orunmila is also the oracle divinity to whom other divinities resort to for guidance. Hence, Ifa is the confluence where other sectarian Yoruba religions meet

Ifa is the store-house of Yoruba religion and culture. In Ifa divination, there are 16 main/leading Ifa corpuses (called Oju Odu) which by a process of combination with each other produce additional 240 corpuses (called Apola Odu or Eyoyo Ifa), making a total of 256 Odu (corpuses), all of which address varied human life problems. This explanation proves that Ifa is a religion of Olodumare through Orunmila (His messenger) with priesthood (Ifa priests) who use divination tools (especially opele) to diagnose and solve varied life problems. When an opele is lifted up by Ifa priest, there is an automatic spiritual connection between super-natural world" or deities and humans. Ifa/Orunmila is worshipped by Ifa priests and adherents of Ifa religious tradition.

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Moreover, John Mbiti's specimen for a religion qualifies Ifa oracle as a religion. Five distinct but related parts constitute a religion.They are beliefs and practice, ceremony and festivals, religious objects and places, values and morals; and officials or leaders. Ifa oracle has these five distinct but related parts, thus, qualifies as a religion and NOT as a culture. Furthermore, a saying in some Ifa panegyrics sinstructive in this respect. Oun yin awo, awo yin Ifa, Ifa yin Olodumare. Oba atenilegbelegbe foriso agbeji-omi (a person whose problem is solved usually praise Ifa priest who in turn praise Ifa oracle (Orunmila) who in turn praise Olodumare). Since the ultimate Person to whom praise goes is Olodumare, then this saying proves that Ifa is primarily religious, though it transmits culture as well.

If worshippers of Adimula religion consult Ifa and if every priest in Adimula is a Babalawo, then it logically follows that Ifa is primarily a religious affair. Ifa corpus, for a religiously and culturally oriented Yoruba, is a repertoire for life as well as a guiding principle.

One of repertoire for life as well as a guiding principle contained in the Ifa Corpus is the Epo òbò (Spondianthis prussii).

Epo òbò (Spondianthis prussii) is the bark of obo tree. The name is not self-explanatory but the legend that explains how it became potent is found in the Ifá corpus. It is known as poison for witches. It is believed that witches abhor Epo òbò and so flee from it. According to a narrative from Ėji-ogbè (Ifá literary corpus), Epo obò is regarded as the èèwò ajogun ibi (taboo for malignant spirits). It is said that Ajé Arómókin gave birth to Obò (a human being at this time) three times. Obò was to be a powerful child that will overthrow Ajé Arómókun. After each of the first two births, Ajé Arómókun killed and ate Òbò. After the third conception, Obò went to Olódùmarè, asking to be allowed to come to the world through another means, but Olódùmarè insisted that he was to come to the world through Ajé Arómókun the mother. This time Olódùmarè inserted three àpáàdi (pieces of broken pots) into the body of Òbò. When Ajé Arómókin gave birth to him and saw the àpáàdi on the body, she ran to get something to pull out the àpáàdi from Obò's body so she can eat him up again, but before she got back, Obo had escaped and departed for a distant place.

Obò grew old and married two wives. These wives were traders and on this fateful day they went to sell their wares in Oja jigbomekan (éjigbömekin market). In the course of selling, Ajé Arómókuùn came and offered a ridiculous amount for their chicken. Obo's wives refused to sell to her and so she wanted to take the chicken by force. Obo's wives still refused and thereafter abused her without knowing the identity of whom they were dealing with.

Ajé Arómókin got angry and left, but with a promise to return. As soon as she left the market, other women in the market advised Òbo's wives to leave the market if they wanted to remain alive, and went on to tell them how wicked Ajé Arómókin was. After hearing this, Òbo's wives collected their wares and left, in their hurry to leave, they forgot their stool in the market. When Ajé Arómókun got back, she did not meet them in the market, and commanded the stools to lead her to the house of Obo's wives.

When the wives got home, Òbò was surprised to see them return home early without selling all that they took to the market. Upon enquiry, they narrated their experience, and Obò immediately knew that it was Ajé Arómókin, his mother, whom they encountered. He immediately told them to leave the house because he was sure that Ajé Arómókin would find them. The wives left, but before Òbò could leave the house, Ajé Arómókin arrived and saw Òbò.

Ajé Arómókin was very happy because she thought that was an opportunity for her to kill Òbò. She had always known that Obò would overthrow her one day, and so she wanted to kill him to prevent that from happening. This time again, Obò escaped and ran for his life, but Ajé Aromókin went after him. At the crossing of a bridge where Esu was resting, Obò crossed without stepping on Esu, but Aje Arómókin stepped on Esu's head without knowing and still continued after Obo. Esu was surprised at what Aje Aromokun did to him, and seeing that Ajé Arómókin was still after Obò, he got angry and made Obo turn into a big tree. He then commanded Ajé Arómókun to bite the tree and she did. As soon as Ajé Arómókun bit the tree, she died. The same thing happened to all the followers of Ajé Arómókun that day.

With this narrative, Ifá corpus shows how Òbò got its natural ability as èèwò (taboo) for witches as well as how the Ajé (witches) came to know that they must never taste èpo òbò. This gave èpo òbò the natural power to repel and prevent the attack of witches or ajogun. Knowledge of this helps with the acceptance and use of èpo òbò.

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