Supports of the ritualist named babalawo (or Babalao, or Babaaláwo, pronounced Baba-a-láwo), priest of Ifa, in the Yoruba language, these trays are most often made of wood. This beaded example is rarer. It is intended for Ifa, a system of divination which represents the teachings of the orisha Orunmila, orisha of Wisdom. The babalawo claim to secure the future through their communication with Orunmila. In Yoruba thought in Nigeria and in those of Benin, the orishas form a variety of divine spirits controlling natural forces. They are found mainly in the Yoruba cosmogony but more widely in West Africa and in the diasporas of Central and South America.
The center of the board, aarin opon, forms a chart in which kaolin powder (or flour) allows the diviner-priest to trace the solutions to his client's problem. The outer frieze, where the face of Esu/Elegba, divine messenger appears, uses symbols relating to Yoruba myths. During the divination process, in order to invoke the orishas and accompany their songs, the diviner hammers the tray with a rattle carved in wood or ivory (iroké).
Twenty-five million Yoruba are scattered between Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.
Among the wide Yoruba pantheon, the god named Ogun god of iron and war, was also that of blacksmiths and carvers. The Creator Olodumare rules over four hundred orisha and nature spirits, dwelling in streams and forests. The latter are honored during festive rites featuring various masks and ritual objects.
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