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The order of the sixteen basic figures of ifa is not standardized throughout the areas where ifa is practised. However, with some modifications in pronunciation and spelling, there is a consensus between the Fgn of Dahomey, the Ewe of Togo and Ghana, and their descendants in Cuba and Brazil. This ranking of the figures, which is important for answering questions asked in terms of specific alternatives, is said to be based on the seniority of the figures, that is, the order in which 'they were born and came into the world'. Although it is easy to recognize the sixteen geomantic figures of Via through to Acquisitio in the above list, the order of the figures is uniquely African.

The meanings of the names of the geomantic figures of ifa are unknown. Various 'authorities' suggest similar words in Yoruba, such as the cock's comb (ogbe), camwood (irosun), lagoon (<psci), wickedness and finger (ika), soap and loss {ofurt); but according to

Bascom,6 all of these have distinctly different pronunciations. Puns on some of these similar words occur in the verses, but these are not serious etymologies, and one draws a similar blank comparing the Yoruba names of the figures with the corresponding Arabic. This is in direct opposition to the very obvious Arabic derivations of the terminology of Madagascan geomancy which we will consider in the next chapter.

THE DOUBLE FIGURES OF IFA; THE ODU

From the sixteen basic figures are manufactured 256 double figures or odu by taking each figure in turn and combining it with each of the others, giving sixteen times sixteen possible odu. These odu are also spoken of as the 'roads of Ifa', and each figure is named and interpreted in terms of its two halves, of which the right is regarded as male and more powerful than the left (female). For this reason the name of the right half precedes that of the left.

The odu in our example is Qkanran taking the right geomantic figure first, then the left. The two components of the odu are spoken of as feet, sides, arms or hands. The fact that the figures are read right to left was taken by Burton as yet another proof of the Islamic/ Arabic origins of the system.

When considering the 256 double odu, remember that each half of the figure can be any one of the sixteen basic

1 Two divining trays with the face of Kshu at the top, the lower tray with a set of sixteen palm nuts

3 Two divining chains (Qpqlq). Left figure made of Qpqlq pods and brass chain with cowries at each end. Right figure cast in white metal with coins at each end. The left chain shows geomantic figure Pjf-Ofun; the right chain shows the geo-mantic figure Ofun-pji;

forms shown ¡n the table of the figures of Ifa. Although any basic figure can make up the two halves of the odu, it sometimes happens that the same basic figure appears twice. This creates a double or meji odu, for example:

o o o o o is Irqtq, while two Irqtq together form an IrqtqMejii o o o o o o o o o o

Therefore in sixteen of the 256 odu the two component figures must be identical, so that one finds Ogbe Ogbe, Qyqku Qyqku, Iwori Iwori, and so on. These paired figures are known as Two Ogbe (or Ogbe Meji), Two Qyqku (or Qyqku Meji). All the double or meji figures arc very important in divination, and each were thought to generate the fifteen other possible combinations of that figure with all the others, thus for example Ogbe Meji was the father of Ogbe Qyqku, Ogbe Iwori, and all the other combinations beginning with Ogbe.

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