Opon Ifá

An Opon Ifá (known as La Mesa de Ifá in Latin America) is a divination tray used in traditional African and Afro-American religions, notably in Ifá and Yoruba tradition.

A Babalawo (diviner) uses the Opon Ifá in order to communicate with the spirits who are able to identify the causes and solutions to personal and collective problems and restore harmony with the spirits. Opon Ifás are flat and usually circular, between about 6 and 18 inches in diameter, with a raised outer edge carved with figures, objects, or geometric designs. Opon Ifás may also be rectangular, semi-circular, or an approximate square. The top of the tray is called the head, and the bottom, the foot – the latter is typically placed closest to the diviner. At the head is generally carved with a representation of Eshu, the messenger of Ifá and the other spirits. Certain trays may have additional representations of Eshu, and trays with two, four, eight, and even sixteen faces have been seen.  In cases such as this the head of the tray may be marked by cowries. The cowries are also used to spread the sacred divining powder.

Rectangular Opon Ifá tray

On the Opon Ifá, the Babalawo throws sixteen palm or kola nuts onto the flat wooden surface, and determines which eight of the 256 possible sets of Odus (signs) are displayed. The signs have correlating verses which must be chanted, and chosen according to the client’s particular situation.  In many traditions, a divination chain known as Opele has replaced the palm or kola nuts, which are reserved for more serious questions.