Yoruba sculptors carved several of the implements that diviner-priests (babalawo) used in the Ifa divination ritual to consult Orunmila, the god of wisdom. The Yoruba sought Orunmila's help to understand the cause of misfortune or to secure blessings and advice on significant undertakings. Ifa divination implements include a wood or ivory tapper (iroke Ifa) with which to signal the deity; a wood or, rarely, ivory container (agere Ifa) for the 16 sacred palm nuts that are manipulated during the ritual; and a wood board or tray (opon Ifa) on which the diviner makes the mark(s) of an odu, the corpus of verses that prescribe the action necessary to assure success.
Although Ifa divination is a system of religious practice, the iconography of its sculpture is not limited to religious themes. This cup, for example, is supported on the head of an armed warrior (jagunjagun), a beneficiary of Orunmila's wisdom. The warrior rides astride a caparisoned horse, a symbol of power and military might.
Wood divination cup composed of an equestrian figure with a spear in its proper right hand, supporting a small bowl on its head.
Emile M. Deletaille, Brussels, 1974 to 1985
African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 20-December 9, 2012; Newark Museum, February 26-August 11, 2013; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 23-November 30, 2014; Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, January 31-June 21, 2015
Arts d'Afrique Noire. 1975 (winter). Arnouville, vol. 16, cover.