The 256 Verses Of

The real core of ifa interpretation lies in the thousands of memorized verses associated with the 256 odu of Ifa. The verses form a corpus of myth, folk-tale, incantation, song, proverb and riddle: to the Yoruba their aesthetic merit is secondary to their religious significance. A babalawo is expected to know a large number of these verses, as an accepted authority on Yoruba religion. When the odu has been produced, the correct verse bearing on the client's problem must be selected from those which the diviner has memorized for this figure. This verse may prescribe a sacrifice to be offered, to modify the outcome of the matter. It is then necessary for the client to offer this sacrifice in the prescribed manner in order to avert the consequences that have been foretold, or to ensure the benefits described. Such offerings may be: (1) a calabash of cold water; (2) two dried fish and two dried rats; (3) food and drink (stew and yam loaves); (4) dry meat, i.e. game caught by the querent; (5) a live animal killed at home. To the selected offering is added a specific sacrifice to indicate to which god it is made. For Ori§a, two snails; for If a, kola is added to the cold water; or maize beer is added to the stew and yam loaves, and so on.

Further play is made with the various contents of the babalawo's divining bag, a feature which may have caused some confusion with a completely different form of African divination, Ndembu divination, which is mentioned by Feuchtwang whilst making a point about the anthropological background of divination. Ndembu divination actually owes nothing of its theory or mechanics to the rami derived divinatory techniques of geomancy and ifa divination.

When slavery took root in the Gulf of Guinea early in the sixteenth century, many of the Dahomean and Yoruba slaves took their traditions with them, and their descendants practise divination, sometimes in the name of Ifa, in the USA, Cuba, Brazil, Bahia and Haiti to this day, while remnants of ifa divination survive quite strongly in Recife in Brazil. René Ribeiro8 relates that he was once actually asked by a priestess of a Yoruba-derived Afro-Brazilian cult to 'look Ifa' for her, when he showed her the cards for a Rorschach psychological test!

But let us return to Africa to examine another derivative of rami.

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