Understanding the meaning of IFA ORACLE
By Prof Wande Abimbola
( Prof Abimbola is former Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University)
Ifá is one of the òrìṣà (divinity) of Yorùbá people. It started in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ since the beginning of Yoruba race. We know of Ọbàtálá, Ògún , Ọya, Ọ̀ṣun and so on. Ifá is one of them but it is different, because it has more extensive literature than any other divinity. All the chants of Ògún can be rendered in two volumes; like the size of a Bible.
But that of Ifá is versed. There are 256 odùs (books) of Ifá . Each odù contains 800 stories. The first book is Èjìogbè and it has 800 stories. In all, we have a total of 204,800 stories. That will fill the size of a large library. There is no other literature in the world that has such volume. Ifá is the greatest heritage of Africa. It talks about everything. It is our own encyclopaedia which is held orally. It is a testimony to the fact that human brain can retain a lot of information without having to write anything. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been forgotten but a good deal of it is still alive.
I have written 10 volumes on Ifá alone and is being used around the world. Nigerians don’t read books. In schools, they just read handouts or a few texts given by the teachers. About 25 years ago, I noticed that some of my books were not available, so I re-edited some of them. One of such books now sells for $1000 per copy in the US.
I gave some of my books to bookshops in Nigeria and encouraged them to sell on return basis. After a year, none of them reported the sale of the books. Some even lost the copies. Odùṣọ̀tẹ̀ Bookshop in Ìbàdàn sold a few copies. In Nigeria, we would rather read newspapers.
Are you also a Babaláwo?
Of course I am. I studied Ifá as a youth in Ọ̀yọ́ and studied more in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ and other places. In 1971, I was initiated as a Babaláwo . Ten years later, all the Babaláwos in West Africa converged on Ilé-Ifẹ̀ to install me as their Àwíṣẹ Àgbáyé (their mouthpiece).
The job of a Babaláwo is to cast Ifá . There are instruments of Ifá like the divining chain, Ikin which is made of sacred palm nuts. The palm nuts have between three to 16 eyes so they can see. When Ọ̀rúnmìlà or Ifá was alive, he had two eyes in the front and two at the back. A Babaláwo will cast and see everything that will happen to the client. It is completely scientific.
It is different from being possessed by Òrìṣà like a Ṣàngó or Ọ̀ṣun priest. After feeding and dancing to those Òrìṣà , they can possess you and you will start saying what they ask you to say. Babaláwo does not function like that. He uses verses of the odù that he casts.
You can only help your client when you have memorised many verses. Not all of them know all the verses and that is why they work in group. Each of the Babaláwo in the group will know different verses and they can chant for more than an hour while attending to a client.
There is an Àwíṣẹ Àgbáyé who is the lord of Ifa. If he is around, he will interpret the verses for them. Ifá is the greatest African gift to the whole world. Unfortunately, while Ifá has travelled all over the world, Yorùbá people, who are the real owners are ignorant about it because somebody changed our minds. There are white people who are now Babaláwo and some of them have private jets from the practice.
Credit Wall: Akin Adeọ́ya