Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Ọpọ́n Ifá #2

Catalog Number: D114


43.18 cm diameter, 20.32 cm tall with 2.54 cm tall handle


17" diameter, 8" tall with 1" tall handle



19.75" x 17.25"

50.165 mm x 43.815 mm

Religion and Denomination: Yoruba indigenous religion (Yoruba)
Country of Origin: Nigeria
Ethnographic Origin: Yoruba
Materials: Wood
Date of Manufacture: 06/2009
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

There are three faces on the top of the bowl’s lid, in the traditional form of Èṣù, and occurring in Èṣù’s preferred number. The face of Èṣù is a common image in Ifá divining boards (also called (ọpọ́n), and these images are likely a reference to this fact. Around the outer edge of the lid are various animal images. An image of a bird represents a common sacrifice made to the òrìs̩à, and a prayer that one’s orí  (inner head) will lead one in all matters. A bird always flies or walks with its head forward.  Hence, birds dramatize the intent of divination, in which a practitioner attempts to move forward in life. An image of a chicken eating a worm adds a similar significance to the bird. The image of a tortoise represents longevity, and is an important and common offering to the òrìs̩à when a supplicant seeks a longer life. The image of a chameleon (alágẹmo̩) refers to the belief that the chameleon was the first animal sent by the òrìs̩à to walk upon the earth; its slow, steady, careful walk symbolizes the prayer that the user will be careful in his or her future proceedings. An image of a crab refers to the fact that in Yorubaland, crabs are known to live in the mud; this represents the prayer that the devotee’s life will be soft and cool, like the mud. An image of a goat refers to the importance of goats as a sacrificial offering. Finally, there are depictions of catfish around the top, interspersed with Èṣù’s faces; the catfish is another important offering in òrìs̩à worship,because like a bird, it leads with its head, just as one’s destiny leads forward.

The bottom half of the bowl tells a story of sickness and renewed health through appeals to the òrìs̩à. It begins with a man on horseback, a typical depiction of Ògún, the god of iron and war. The next figure has rough clothing and carries a spear, a common delineation of Ọbalúayé, the god of sickness, indicating that the worshiper has fallen ill. Next is an image of the lord of communications Èṣù, identifiable by his elongated headdress; this figure has his hand on Ọbalúayé’s spear. Next to Èṣù is a kneeling woman presenting an offering to him, and then an image of another woman receiving some sort of medicine from the god. Following that is an image of Èṣù pounding yams, another form of medicine, and then a depiction of Èṣù offering medicine to the woman. Finally, there are several images representing other gods, including a ṣẹ́rẹ́ rattle representing Ṣàngó, another spear representing Ọbalúayé, and a final representation of Èṣù and his elongated headdress.