Yoruba divination bowl


An Agere ifa (àgéré Ifá) is a holding receptacle, vessel or container for keeping and raising the sacred palm nuts or ikin used in Yoruba divination. Most Agere are made from wood, but occasionally also from ivory and coconut shells.

Given its ritual and aesthetic functions, àgéré Ifá provides the Yoruba carver with a unique opportunity to display his artistic talents. Usually measuring between five and sixteen inches in height, a typical container is in the form of an animal or human figure bearing a small bowl. In some cases, the metaphysical attribute of a given animal motif (such as a snake or mudfish) may be used to further empower the sacred palm nuts inside the bowl. But when the motif assumes a human form, it frequently has a votive significance, especially since some àgéré Ifá are given by clients to a diviner to thank Òrúnmìlà for a blessing or to implore the deity to bestow more favors on the donor.

This vessel, consisting of a kneeling priestess holding a bowl, served as a receptacle for a sacred palm nut (ikin). Through this medium, the Ifa priestesses made an offering to Eshu. In Yoruba culture, Eshu was considered a messenger between the gods and humans, delivering prayers and sacrifices to the heavens. He was a neutral force to human life, seeking to add balance. He protected travelers but also sparked arguments or misfortune among humans (which usually contained a kernel of wisdom to learn This depiction of a woman bearing an offering in a devotional attitude conveys the notion that it was conceived of as a form of prayer to the divine.

This early example is exceptional for its small size and fine carving. The female figure has a conical coiffure and is wearing a beautiful coral necklace and a nose ring.

Early 20th century
Height: 7 in, 18 cm

Lode van Rijn, Belgium (1910 - 1997),  and thence by descent

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