Search

A concrete cantilevered building against blue sky and green landscaping

A large green wall with oil paintings in gold frames above a tiled floor

A museum interior space with paintings and concrete walls and stairs

A concrete-walled lobby with windows, a tiled floor, and a circular desk

The top of a concrete spiral staircase with a wooden railing

A tall tree is the focal point of a garden in between two concrete buildings

About arrow_back

Admission for everyone is always free! Check here for current hours and more.

A concrete cantilevered building against blue sky and green landscaping

Collections arrow_back

The Johnson Museum holds more than 40,000 works in its collection from around the world.

A large green wall with oil paintings in gold frames above a tiled floor

Exhibitions arrow_back

Check out what’s on view this season at the Museum and look back through our history.

A museum interior space with paintings and concrete walls and stairs

Events arrow_back

Free events for everyone, plus special programs for students, families, and more!

A concrete-walled lobby with windows, a tiled floor, and a circular desk

Learn arrow_back

The Johnson Museum actively contributes to the intellectual life of our campus and community.

The top of a concrete spiral staircase with a wooden railing

Support arrow_back

Help the Johnson Museum continue its legacy by making a gift today.

A tall tree is the focal point of a garden in between two concrete buildings

Nigeria, Yoruba people

Divination tray (opon ifa)

View All Works

Object Details

Culture

Nigeria, Yoruba people

Date

20th century

Medium

Wood

Dimensions

12 7/8 x 11 3/4 inches (32.7 x 29.8 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of William W. Brill

Object
Number

84.012.002

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a divination tray used by a Yoruba diviner (called a babalawo) to seek wisd(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a divination tray used by a Yoruba diviner (called a babalawo) to seek wisdom from Orunmila, the god of wisdom and divination.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This was made in the southwest of Nigeria, where the Yoruba people live.HOW WAS IT MADE?Trays such as this one are hand carved from a piece of wood with hand tools such as an adze, knives, and chisels.HOW WAS IT USED?Yoruba people traditionally seek advice from diviners who in turn seek wisdom from Orunmila, the god of wisdom and divination. The spiritual world communicates with the diviner by way of the divination tray. In order to receive spiritual messages, the diviner spreads a thin layer of wood dust on the surface of the tray. The diviner gently strikes the tapper against the side of the divination board in order to call on Orunmila. This action, along with praise chants, inaugurates the divining session. The diviner then moves around in the dust either sixteen sacred palm nuts or a divining chain. The resulting pattern is interpreted in songs and tales, which the client applies to his or her particular problem. To see a section of a tapper in the Johnson Museum’s collection search for object number 91.001.034 in the keyword search box.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?Notice the face at the top of the tray. This is typical of divination trays, and all three of the trays in the Johnson Museum’s collection have faces on them. (To see the other trays, search for object numbers 88.026.022 and 92.005.056 in the keyword search box.) Diviners have interpreted this face in different ways. Some have claimed that it is the “face of the tray” as though each tray had an individual identity. More frequently, diviners say that it is the face of Eshu Elegba, the Yoruba messenger of the gods. As the divine messenger, he mediates spiritual communication. Eshu stands at the crossroads: between the earthly and spiritual world; between men and women; and even between buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

Discover More

Fetish in the form of a bear or mountain lion

Zuni (Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico (USA))

Mask

New Guinea

Cermonial knife

Kuba (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Korogo Mask

Oceanic

Create an account

Please take a moment to fill your information to create your account.

Reset Password

Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive mail with link to set new password.

Save Artwork

Save the artwork in any of your exhibitions or create a new one.

You have not made any exhibitions.

Create New Exhibition

Create New Exhibition