Study the Teaching of Ifa and the Orisha's

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Yoruba Fokelore


In the beginning was only the sky above, water and marshland below. The chief god Olorun ruled the sky, and the goddess Olokun ruled what was below. Obatala, another god, reflected upon this situation, then went to Olorun for permission to create dry land for all kinds of living creatures to inhabit. He was given permission, so he sought advice from Orunmila, oldest son of Olorun and the god of prophecy. He was told he would need a gold chain long enough to reach below, a snail’s shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut, all of which he was to carry in a bag. All the gods contributed what gold they had, and Orunmila supplied the articles for the bag. When all was ready, Obatala hung the chain from a corner of the sky, placed the bag over his shoulder, and started the downward climb. When he reached the end of the chain he saw he still had some distance to go. From above he heard Orunmila instruct him to pour the sand from the snail’s shell, and to immediately release the white hen. He did as he was told, whereupon the hen landing on the sand began scratching and scattering it about. Wherever the sand landed it formed dry land, the bigger piles becoming hills and the smaller piles valleys. Obatala jumped to a hill and named the place Ife. The dry land now extended as far as he could see. He dug a hole, planted the palm nut, and saw it grow to maturity in a flash. The mature palm tree dropped more palm nuts on the ground, each of which grew immediately to maturity and repeated the process. Obatala settled down with the cat for company. Many months passed, and he grew bored with his routine. He decided to create beings like himself to keep him company. He dug into the sand and soon found clay with which to mold figures like himself and started on his task, but he soon grew tired and decided to take a break. He made wine from a nearby palm tree, and drank bowl after bowl. Not realizing he was drunk, Obatala returned to his task of fashioning the new beings; because of his condition he fashioned many imperfect figures. Without realizing this, he called out to Olorun to breathe life into his creatures. The next day he realized what he had done and swore never to drink again, and to take care of those who were deformed, thus becoming Protector of the Deformed. The new people built huts as Obatala had done and soon Ife prospered and became a city. All the other gods were happy with what Obatala had done, and visited the land often, except for Olokun, the ruler of all below the sky.

Ifa Related

UNESCO Proclamation

Ifa Divination System in Nigeria The Ifa divination system, which makes use of an extensive corpus of texts, is practised among Yoruba communities. The word Ifa refers to the mystical figure Ifa or Orunmila, regarded by the Yoruba people as the deity of wisdom and intellectual development. In the twelfth century, the city of Ile-Ife, located in the Osun region of the South-west of Nigeria, emerged as the cultural and political centre of this community. It is also practised by the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. img In contrast to other forms of divination in the region that employ spirit mediumship, Ifa divination does not rely on a person having oracular powers but rather on a system of signs that are interpreted by a diviner, the Ifa priest orbabalawo, literally “the priest’s father”. The Ifa divination system is applied whenever an important individual or collective decision has to be made. The Ifa literary corpus, called odu, consists of 256 parts, which are subdivided into verses called ese, whose exact number is unknown as it is in constant growth (ther are around 800ese per edu). Each one of the 256 odu has its specific divination signature, which is determined through a procedure held by thebabalawo using sacred palm-nuts and a divination chain. The ese, considered as the most important part of Ifa divination, are chanted by the priests in poetic language. The ese reflect Yoruba history, language, beliefs, cosmovision and contemporary social issues. The knowledge of Ifa has been preserved within Yoruba communities and transmitted among Ifa priests. Under the influence of colonial rule, traditional beliefs and practices were discriminated. The Ifa priests, of whom most are already advanced in age, have only little means to maintain the tradition, to transmit their complex knowledge and train future practitioners. Thus, there is an increasing lack of interest among the youth and the Yoruba people in practising and consulting Ifa divination, which goes hand-in-hand with growing intolerance towards divination systems in general.

UNESCO website