|Sixteen Principal Odu|
Sixteen Principal Afa-du
In traditional Yoruba culture, Ifá refers to a system of divination and the verses of the literary corpus known as the Odú Ifá presented in the course of divination. Orunmila is the diety associated with Ifa diviniation. In some instances, the name Orunmila is used interchangably with the word Ifa. Orunmila brought Ifa diviniation to the world.
(It should be noted that this article sometimes uses the word "Yoruba" to refer to the system of traditional spiritual belief and practices, as well as modern day practioners. This should in no wise be confused with the Yoruba people that primarily live in the southwestern region of Nigeria. Not all Yoruba people practice this traditional spiritual system, although the tradition primarily originates from their culture, history, and beliefs. The best descriptor would be "Ifa/Orisha tradition.")
Ifá originated in West Africa among the Yourba ethnic groups. It is also practiced among believers in Lucumi, (sometimes referred to as Santería), Candomblé, West African & Diaspora Vodou, and similarly transplanted Orisa'Ifa lineages in the New World. In Togo, it 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".
The Yoruba divination system enabled diviners to invoke the word of God through the teachings of Orunmila, the Yoruba deity of wisdom, prophecy and ethics. Esu (Eshu), who is in charge of spiritual justice, as well as the god directly in charge of transportation of ebos, lends his authority or ase to the oracle for the purpose of clarifying the issues at hand and providing direction to those seeking guidance. Ifa divination rites provide an avenue of communication between the spirit world and that of the living.
Performing Ifa divination is called idafa (or dida owo and ounte ale). Idafa is performed by a Babalawo or Iyanifa (an initiated priest). Babalawo can be translated as "father of the secrets". The babalawo 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, Babalorishas, Iyalorishas and even uninitiated devotees.
Initiation into Ifa requires rigorous study. An aspiring Babalawo must learn AT LEAST four verses from 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 into initiation into Odu. A woman cannot be initiated into Odu. Character Traits of a Babalawo: Orunmila demands humility from his priests, therefore, a Babalawo should be an embodiment patience, good character, honesty, and humility. Apetebi is the term for a Babalawo’s wife. No initiation is required for apetebi title because it comes with being married to a Babalawo. Iyanifa is a title and not the opposite term of Babalawo.
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 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 palm nuts that are available, but only specific kinds may be used for Ifa divination and must have at least 3 "eyes" or more. The 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.
Each of these odus is associated with a traditional set of Ese (verses), often relating to Yoruba mythology, which explain their divinatory meaning. These verses 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 (which is poorly translated to mean good luck) or Ibi (which could be viewed as obstacles or impediments to success). After this process the diviner now determined appropriate offerings, spiritual disclipines and/or behavioral changes necessary to bring, keep or compel success for the person receiving divinatory counsel.
There are sixteen major Odu ('books') in the Odù Ifá literary corpus. When combined there are total of 256 Odu believed to reference all situations, circumstances, actions and consequences in life. 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 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. Additionally, Odu Ifa is different from iChing in that it is considered to come from a specific divinity and only trained, initiated priests are allowed to divine and interpret within this system.