Sixteen Cowries
799 pages
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Sixteen Cowries


Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus
799 pages


" . . . a landmark in research of African oral traditions." —African Arts

" . . . a significant contribution to the understanding of Yoruba religious belief, magic, and art." —Journal of Religion in Africa

Yoruba texts and English translations of a divination system that originated in Nigeria and is widely practiced today by male and female diviners in the diaspora. A landmark edition.


Part One: Sixteen Cowries

Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The Divination Verses
Chapter 3 The System of Belief

Part Two: The Verses of Sixteen Cowries
Chapter 4 Eji Ogbe 8 cowries
Chapter 5 Ofun 10 cowries
Chapter 6 Osa 9 cowries
Chapter 7 Okanran 1 cowrey
Chapter 8 Eji Oko 2 cowries
Chapter 9 Irosun 4 cowries
Chapter 10 Ose 5 cowries
Chapter 11 Ogunda 3 cowries
Chapter 12 Obara 6 cowries
Chapter 13 Odi 7 cowries
Chapter 14 Owonrin 11 cowries
Chapter 15 Ejila Sebora 12 cowries
Chapter 16 Ika 13 cowries
Chapter 17 Oturupon 14 cowries
Chapter 18 Ofun Kanran 15 cowries
Chapter 19 Irete 16 cowries
Chapter 20 Opira 0 cowries

References Citeds



Publié par
Date de parution 22 mai 1980
Nombre de lectures 6
EAN13 9780253013675
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 42 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0025€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Sixteen Cowries Sixteen cowries, in the configuration known as Eji
Ogbe, eight mouth up, eight down. Sixteen
Yoruba Divination from
Africa to the New World
William Bascom
Bloomington & Indianapolis First Midland Book Edition 1993
Copyright© 1980 by William Bascom
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any other
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
The Association of American University Presses' Resolution of Permissions constitutes
the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American
National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanance of Paper for
Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
Manufactured in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Bascom, William Russell, date.
Sixteen cowries.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Yorubas-Religion. 2. Divination-Nigeria.
3. Blacks-Latin America-Religion. 4. Cowries.
I. Title.
BL2480.Y6B37 299'.6 78-3239
ISBN 0-253-35280-0
ISBN 0-253-20847-5 (pbk.)
4 5 6 7 8 04 03 02 0 I 00 99 Contents
Preface vii
Part One: Sixteen Cowries
Introduction Chapter I. 3
The Divination Verses II. 15
The System of Belief Chapter III. 32
Part Two: The Verses of Sixteen Cowries
Chapter IV. Eji Ogbe 8 cowries 54 (A1-49) V. Ofun (B1-14) 10 186
Chapter VI. Qsa (C1-19) 9 cowries 224 VII. Qkanran (D1-7) 1 cowry 278
Chapter VIII. Eji Oko (E 1-7) 2 cowries 296 IX. Irosun (F1-22) 4 318
Chapter X. (G1-15) 5 cowries 388 9~~ XI. Ogunda (H1-12) 3 448
Chapter XII. Qbara (Il-19) 6 cowries 494 XIII. Odi (J1-18) 7 582
(K1-13) Chapter XIV. Qwqnrin 11 cowries 666
(Ll-8) XV. Ejila ~~b9ra 12 718
(M1-2) Chapter XVI. Ika 13 cowries 742
(N1-2) XVII. Oturupqn 14 cowries 750
(01) Chapter XVIII. Ofun Kaman 15 764 XIX. (P1) 16 cowries 768 Ir~t~
(Q1) Chapter XX. Opira 0 772
Appendix 774
References Cited 787 To the memory of Salak9 Preface
Divination with six teen cowries is related in mythology, perhaps historically,
and certainly morphologically, to I fa divination. For a full understanding of
what is reported here, readers should consult !fa Divination: Communication
Between Gods and Men in West Africa (Bascom 1969), and the references to
this work are made to enable them to find the relevant passages more readily.
My acknowledgments to colonial officials and Nigerians in this and other
earlier works still stand, and I am grateful to the Social Science Research
Council of New York for supporting my first fieldwork among the Yoruba in
1937-3 8. But the principal support for the research for this book was provided
by a Fulbright grant in 1950-51 when the divination verses of sixteen cowries
were tape recorded. Grants from the University of California's Institute of
International Studies in 1960 and the Social Science Research Council in
1965 made possible briefer visits to Nigeria for further research.
My acknowledgments to M.O. Oyawoye, who did the initial translation
and most of the transcription, to the two other Y oruba men who helped in
transcribing, and to my wife, Berta, who did the recording, are expressed in
Chapter I. There also, and in the dedication of this book, I express my great
indebtedness to SalakQ, the diviner who dictated the divination verses of six­
teen cowries which are presented here. This page intentionally left blankPart One
Sixteen Cowries This page intentionally left blankIntroduction
"Sixteen cowries" (~rindin16g(ln, ow6 m~rindin16g(ln) is a form of
divination employed by the Yoruba of Nigeria and by their descendants in
the New World. It is simpler than Ifa divination and is held in less esteem
in Nigeria, but in the Americas it is more important than Ifa because it is
more widely known and more frequently employed. This may be due to
its relative simplicity; to the popularity of Shango, Yem<;>ja, Qshun, and
other Yoruba gods with whom sixteen cowries is associated; and to the fact
that it can be practiced by both men and women, who outnumber men in
these cults, whereas only men can practice lfa.
3 4 Sixteen Cowries
The differing importance of these two systems of divination in Africa
and the Americas probably explains the neglect of sixteen cowries by students
of Yoruba culture compared to students of Afro-Cuban culture. There are a
great many studies oflfa divination among the Yoruba (see the bibliographies
in Bascom 1961 and 1969, plus important subsequent publications), but I
know of only two that discuss sixteen cowries in Africa. One devotes only
seventeen pages to the topic (Ogunbiyi 1952: 65-81) and the other less than
three pages (Maupoil 1943: 265-268). In contrast a number of publications
about sixteen cowries in Cuba, where it is known as dilogun or los caracoles,
have appeared (Lachatafiere 1942, Hing 1971, Rogers 1973, Cabrera 1974,
Elizondo n.d., Suarez n.d., Anonymous n.d.). Although Ifa divination is also
practiced and highly regarded in Cuba, sixteen cowries is probably the most
important system of divination in the Afro-Cuban cults. In Brazil it is known
as 'dologum, edilogum, endilogum (Alvarenga 1950: 157-158), merindilogum,
or Exu (Bastide and Verger, 1953: 378).
Whereas Ifa divination is employed by the Ewe and Fan to the west of
the Yoruba and by the Benin Edo to the east, and perhaps by other neigh­
boring peoples, I know of only one report of sixteen cowry divination in
Africa which may not refer to the Yoruba. This is Maupoil's brief note from
Dahomey. He says that it is of Nago (Yoruba) origin and that it is known as
4gba-kika. An Qshun worshiper at If~, Nigeria, also called the divination
~:I~gba, another name for Eshu, or Exu, as he is known in Brazil. The names
of the deities associated with the figures, as given by Maupoil, are predom­
inantly, but not exclusively, Yoruba, suggesting that his informants were
Nago rather than Fan. Provisionally, at least, sixteen cowries may be taken
as a specifically Yoruba form of divination. The Yoruba, who number some
thirteen million, live in the West and Lagos States and the southern portion
of Kwarra State in southwestern Nigeria and in eastern Dahomey, with
enclaves farther west in central Dahomey and along the Dahomey-Togo
Divination with sixteen cowries is employed in the cults of Orishala
and other "white deities," and in the cults of Eshu, Shango, Qya, Qshun,
Qba, Yemqja, Yewa, Nana Buruku, and, in some towns, Qshqsi and Shqpqna.
Yewa is the Goddess of the Yewa River, Qba the Goddess of the Qba River,
and Nana Buruku is a goddess associated with a kind of snake that is said
to live in the water; the nature of these other deities will be discussed in
Chapter III.
The present study is based on information supplied by Salakq (Sahikq),
a diviner in the cult of Orishala at Qyq, Nigeria, who was born, initiated, and
trained in Igana, a town some fifty miles to the west that was subject to the Introduction 5
Alafin, king of 9Y9· To my knowledge it is the first serious study of sixteen
cowries among the Yoruba and the first collection of its divination verses to
be published. Moreover it reputedly represents the total body of divination
verses known to a single, knowledgeable diviner.
Compared to Ifa divination with its manipulation of sixteen palm nuts
or even the casting of its divining chain, sixteen cowry divination is simple.
The cowries are cast on a basketry tray and the number of shells facing
mouth up are counted. There are only seventeen positions or figures- n + 1,
or zero to sixteen. However, memorizing the verses is as difficult and time
consuming as learning those of Ifa. The cowry shells that are used in divina­
tion are not the ones (ow6 yYQ) that were formerly used as money, but a
smaller cowry ( ow6 ~r9 ). The basketry tray (aty) is flat and of the type that
is used in displaying beads, salt, and other small materials for sale in the
market (see verse A40).
The seventeen figures of sixteen cowry divination have names, many of
which are cognates of names of the Ifa figures. In Table 1 the initial numeral
indicates the number of cowries facing mouth up, and this followed by the
name of that figure. Because the order of the figures in Table 1 differs from
that in which their verses were recited by SalakQ, the latter order has been
identified in alphabetical sequence for ease of reference to individual verses.
For example, A40 indicates the fortieth verse of Eji Ogbe, the figure which
has eight shells with their mouths facing up. Following the letters are the
names of the deities or other superhuman entities associated with the figures,
as given by SalakQ. The fmal column of numerals indicates the number of
verses recorded for each figure.
All these names also apply to figures in Ifa divination {Bascom 1966)
except Eji Oko {2), Ejila ~~bQra {12), and Opira {0). As in Ifa, there are
alternative names for a number of the figures, some of which are given in the
Appendix. Also in the Appendix, Table 2 presents the names of the figures
given by other Yoruba sources, and for Dahomey, Brazil, and Cuba; Table 3
presents the deities and other superhuman entities associated with the figures
by some of the same sources.
When the figure {odu) has been determined by the first toss of the
cowries, the diviner begins to recite the verses {~s~) that are associated with
it. The verses contain the predictions and the sacrifices to be made, based on
the case of a mythological client which serves as a precedent. Unless he is
stopped by the client, the diviner recites all the verses that he has learned for
that figure. As in lfa divination, it is the client who selects the verse that is
applicable to his own case. And as in lfa, more specific information can be
obtained by making additional casts of the cowries to choose between specific 6 Sixteen Cowries
Shango priest, M~kQ, Nigeria, 1950. For divination
sixteen cowries would be selected from the smaller
cowries on the tray. Introduction 7
1. Okannln D. Oranyan 7
2. Eji Oko E. Ibeji (twins) 7
3. Ogilllda H. Yem<;>ja 12
4. irosiln F. Qbalilf9n (i.e., Orishala) 22
5. Q§~ G. Qshun 15
I. Qrilllmila (i.e., Ifa) 6. Qbara 19
7. Odi J. ~gb~ Qgba (i.e., abiku, children "born to die") 18
8. Eji Ogbe A. Orisha Rowu (a "white deity") 49
9. Qsa C. Qya 19
10. Qfful B. Qbanla {i.e., Orishata) and Odua {i.e., Odudua) 14
11. Qwc?nrin K. Egful (i.e., Egunglin) 13
L. Shang6 8 12. Ejila ~~b<;>ra
13. ika M. Sh(;>p~ma 2
14. Oturup{m N. Okirikishi 2
15. OfUn Kanran 0. Oglin 1
16. irete P. Olu9fin (a "white deity") 1
; ;
o. Opira Q. Ogb6ni 1
alternatives {ibo) on the basis of the rank order of the seventeen figures.
For some reason that was not expl';uned, both the order in which the
figures are listed in Table 1 and the order in which their verses were dictated
by Salako, 8-10-9-1-2-4-5-3-6-7-ll-12-13-14-15-16-0, differ from this rank
order, which he gave as 8-10-4-3-2-1-12-11-9-7-6-5-13-14-15-16-0. In choosing
between the right and left hand, the right hand is indicated with a single
throw if 8, 10, 4, 3, 2, 1, or 12 appears. If 11, 9, 7, 6, or 5 appears, a second is required; if then one of these less powerful figures the right
hand is selected, but if one of the more figures appears on the
second throw, the left hand is chosen. If 13, 14, 15, 16 or 0 on either
the first or second throw, neither hand is indicated-there is no answer.
Ogunbiyi does not discuss ibo or this rank order, but some confirmation
comes from the Cuban sources. The "major figures" in Cuba are given as
1-2-3-4-8-10-12-13-14-15-16, and the "minor as 5-6-7-9-11 (Hing
1971: 60; Rogers 1973: 23; Suarez n.d.: 37-38; Anonymous n.d.: 6). How­
ever both Hing and Rogers say that it is the left hand that is indicated when
a major figure appears on the first throw. Cabrera (1974: 188) gives
1-2-3-4-810 as major figures and 5-6-7-9-11-12 as minor figures.
Unlike Ifa divination (Bascom 1969: 54-58), there are no simultaneous
choices between five specific alternatives, according to SalakQ. The choice 8 Sixteen Cowries
is restricted to two alternatives, right hand and left hand. The choice between
more than two alternatives is made only by asking about them in sequence
and receiving "Yes" or "No" answers. The client holds a small object in each
hand, for example, the breast bone of a small tortoise symbolizing the un­
known (hlmQ) and a small pebble symbolizing long life (ruku), and asks
Orishala to indicate by the sixteen cowries which hand is selected.
Thus when the verse has predicted a blessing, the client may learn its
nature by asking "Yes" or "No," in the following order, whether it is a
blessing of long life (ire aiku), a blessing of money (ire aje), a blessing of
wives (ire obinrin), a blessing of children (ire QmQ ), or a blessing of a new
place to live (ire ibilj6k6). These are similar to the five kinds of good fortune
selected simultaneously in If a divination: long life, money, marriage, children,
and defeat of one's enemy. If none of these five blessings is indicated by the
cowries, it is understood that the answer is all (ire gbogb6) or peace
and contentment (ahifia).
If the verse has predicted evil (ibi), the client may inquire in sequence
whether it is death (iku), disease or illness (an'm), a loss (ofo), a fight (ija),
or a court case (9ran). These are also similar to the five kinds of evil selected
simultaneously in Ifa divination: death, illness, fighting, the want of money,
and loss. If none of these five kinds of evil is selected, it is understood that
the answer is all kinds of evil (ibi gbogb6). The client may then inquire, for
example, whether the evil indicated is predicted for himself, his wife, his
child, his elder sibling, his younger sibling, or a friend.
The client may then ask what is necessary to insure the promised blessing
or to avert the predicted evil. This is done by asking in the following order
whether a sacrifice (~bg) to Eshu is required, or whether it is to be given to
the Egungun (Egun), Orishala (Ori§a), the client's head (ori), children "born
to die" (~gb~ Qgba), Qrunmila (Ifa), Orisha Oko, Yemgja, the Earth (II~), an
iroko tree, an o~e tree, ground inside the house (al~ ile), ShQpQna, or witches
(awgn agba.Iagba). Salakg maintained that it is never necessary to mention
more than these fourteen alternatives; one of them is sure to be chosen.
However, if the first alternative (~bQ) is indicated, meaning that a sacri­
fice is to be made to Eshu, it is necessary to inquire whether it is to be
offered at the chunk oflaterite (yangi) that serves as his shrine in front of the
house, at a crossroads or fork in a path (orita m~ta) where he is said to live, in
the back yard (~hinkunle), or at a refuse heap (atan). As in Ifa divination,
the objective of divination is to determine the correct sacrifice, and nothing is
gained if it is not offered. As stated in several verses (C 18, 03, F 15, F 16),
"Offering sacrifices is what helps one; not offering does not help anyone." Introduction 9
Salakq's full name is Maranoro Salakq, QffiQ Gbqnka Igana. His first
name means "Don't send spite" (Maran or6). The second is his orisha name
meaning "Open white cloth and hang it" (So ala k9) at the shrine of Orishala.
It is a name given to boys who are born in a caul (ala, gk~) and who are thus
identified as sacred to Orishala and destined to become his worshipers. The
last three words identify SalakQ as a child of chief GbQnka at the town of
SalakQ identified his deity (ori~a), Olufqn or Ori~a Olufqn, as a kind of
Qbatala. However, on other occasions he said it is the same as Qbatala (King
of the white cloth), Ori~ala (Deity of the white cloth), Ori§anla (Great deity),
Qbaluf9n (King OlufQn), or Qbanla (Great king). On other occasions he iden­
tified Qbanla as another name for Qlqrun or Olodumare, the Sky God.
It is safe to say that Ori~ala, Ori~anla, and Qbatala are alternative names
for the same deity. However, it is indeed difficult to determine whether these
other names are different names for the same deity, names for different mani­
festations of the same deity, or names for different deities. All are "white
deities" (ori§a funfun), for which I have recorded some ninety-five names;
many are derived from place names and some are said to refer to children of
Orishala. SalakQ said that each "white deity" has its own group of worshipers
and its own separate house of worship (ile orl§a), but the houses are similar
and only the worshipers know the differences between them; all are from
Orishala and all worship him. They use only white things: white beads (§~~
~fun) and white cloths, and bracelets, staffs, and fans of whitish lead (oje)
similar to pewter. They cook with shea butter (ori) or oil from melon seeds
(~gilnsi) instead of the reddish-orange palm oil (epo) that others use, eat
white kola nuts (obi ifin) instead of the usual reddish kola nuts (obi yipa),
and drink maize beer (qtin ~~k~t~) or gin (9tin oyinb6) instead of palm wine
(~mu). Snails and white chickens are favorite sacrifices for Orishala and the
other white deities.
Orisha Ogiyan, whose worshipers practice flagellation, seems to be a
distinct "white deity," or at least a quite different manifestation of Orishala.
So does Orisha Rowu or Orisha Lowu, described as the first son of
The hill deities (ori§a oke), for whom I have recorded another sixty-five
names, are also considered to be "white deities." Orisha OlufQn may be more
precise, but in discussing SalakQ and his divination with sixteen cowries, I
shall use the more common name, Orishala.
SalakQ was born in Ile GbQnka, the house of chief GbQnka, in Igana
about 1880. He says that he was about fifteen years old and knew how to
make a farm before Captain R. L. Bower bombarded QyQ and destroyed the 10 Sixteen Cowries
palace of the Alafin in 1895, in Salak9's words, "When Bower carne to QyQ
and frred guns 'pepe"' (Nigbat1 Bawa wa si Qy<} wa lu p~p~). Shortly after
his birth he was taken to an If a diviner and his foot was placed on the divining
tray; the diviner consulted If a and confirmed that he belonged to Orishala.
He was not initiated until he was fifteen because his mother's mother did not
have enough money. The expenses of his initiation were paid by his father
and by his mother's mother, who was a worshiper of Orishala. When she was
nineteen years of age, Adeyc;>yin, his younger sister by the same mother, was
also initiated in lgana, and his father paid for it.
As described by Salakc;>, for initiation the sponsors must provide fish
(~ja), rat (eku), Tullberg's rat (~mQ), pangolin (aka), tortoise (ahun), elephant
meat (~ran ajanaku), guinea fowl (~tit), hen (adi~ ), pigeon (~iy~Ie), snail
(igbfn), and soap (c;>~e). After the initiate's head has been completely shaved
and a small cut (gb~r~) has been made in his scalp, bits of these ingredients
and some hair from near the cut are pounded together and fashioned into a
small lump about the size of a large cowry shell and put on the cut. This
"medicine" must not fall off, but when he goes to sleep his senior wife or his
female sponsor takes it off and keeps it for him to put on again after bathing
the next day. This is done for seven days, and thereafter the initiate must
never shave his head again. He may plait his hair like a woman, as SalakQ
did. He can carry things on his head, but he must cover his head with a cloth
whenever he goes outside, even at night. At his death his head is shaved to
take the orisha away (lati mu ori§a kuro l6ri r~, ti 6 ba ti ku).
As chosen by Orishala through casting sixteen cowries, a cock, ram,
or snail is killed for the deity and the blood or the water from the snail's
shell is put in the initiate's mouth. At this time Orishala "mounts" the
initiate, takes possession of him in a trance, and speaks through him. Salak9
said, "Orisha mounts a person" (Ori§a gun enia) or "Orisha enters his body
(Ori§a wara r~). Thereafter any initiated person can be possessed when dancing
and Orishala can speak through him. Both Salak9 and his younger sister have
been so possessed after their initiation, but they cannot speak like the official
"mount" (~l~gim). This person is chosen by specific alternatives, casting the
sixteen cowries while naming the initiated cult members in order of seniority
-not in terms of relative age, but the dates of their initiation. The person so
chosen must make an atonement (etutu) and must hold a celebration (iwtiye)
like that of a chief to mark his or her installation. Neither Salak9 nor his sister
became an official "mount," but when their mother's mother died the sister
was chosen in the same fashion to take care of her shrine.
The new initiate is given a symbol of Orishala to take home, a white
piece of bone or ivory (irin) which is treated with blood from the cut in Introduction 11
his head. He may add others if he wishes, but he must not lose this first
one. He may also buy sixteen cowries for his personal shrine, but he does
not need to learn how to divine with them. Salakg's sister, for example, is
ignorant of their use.
Salakg learned how to divine in Igana from his babalorisha, who initiated
him. He said it took him three years to learn how to use the cowries and three
more to learn the verses. At the age of fifteen, it would seem that the first
period probably took less time, and the second more. Later he learned the
uses of leaves and herbs, and after he began his career as a diviner he con­
tinued to learn new verses by listening to other diviners. Learning continues
throughout a diviner's lifetime.
Like the Ifa diviners, all Orishala priests are herbalists. They learn to
make infusions of leaves ( omi ~r9) to purify their shrines and ritual para­
phernalia and some medicines, like soap with love medicine (Q~~ awure), but
they use different leaves and make different medicines. Salak9 knew that
some of his verses are the same as those in Ifa divination. He described his
work as similar to that of an Ifa diviner, but different. An Ifa diviner is called
"father has secret" (babalawo), whereas Salak9 is called "secret (i.e., diviner)
of orisha worshipers" (awolori~a, awo olori~a).
About 1926 Salakg came to Qyg and the Alafin (king) kept him in
the city to divine for him. He joined the principal Orishala shrine, with over
a hundred worshipers in 1951, at the house of chief Ashipa in Isal~ Qyg
quarter. When his mother died, he brought his shrine from Igana and made
a place for it in his home in Qyg. This requires an atonement (tHutu) before
removing it and a second atonement before installing it. The sixteen cowries
are cast to determine whether Orishala requires a he-goat, hen, snail, or
something else to be sacrificed at each spot. In addition to Orishala, Salakg
had to worship YemQja, the deity of Ile Gbgnka, and he returned to Igana
each year for the annual festival of YemQja. He said that both deities were
important for him, but Orishala was the main one because Orishala had
claimed him at birth.
When we met in February, 1951, SalakQ was about seventy years old.
Slight and delicate of build, and with his hair plaited like a woman's, he had
a somewhat effeminate appearance. Although often timid in ordinary con­
versation, he was self-assured when it came to talking about Orishala and
divination with sixteen cowries. He had travelled little, and had the air of
someone who had spent his life in a cloister. Nevertheless he was aware of
some of the changes taking place in Nigeria, particularly as they affected
his profession. Not so many years earlier the Alafin had been converted to
Islam, and many of the people of Qyg followed his lead. Salakq's only Six teen Cowries 12
apprentice had died three years earlier, and few people came to him for
divination anymore, sometimes ten and sometimes only two a week, most
of whom were the Alafin's eldest wives. He felt that no one was interested
in the knowledge that he had acquired through his life-long study, and that it
was doomed to be lost when he died.
Toward the end of our three months in QyQ, SalakQ agreed to recite all
the verses that he knew into a tape recorder so that they could be preserved
for the future. We were leaving for Ilesha for our final three months in
Nigeria, but he said he would come to visit us. Because he seemed so out of
touch with the modern world of Nigeria, it seemed most unlikely that he
would do so; but he did. By himself he took a lorry to the teeming city of
lbadan, transferred to another lorry, and found us in Ilesha, never having
made the trip before.
He then sat down before the tape recorder with Mrs. Berta M. Bascom
and recorded five and a half solid hours of verses. Learning the procedure
quickly, and appreciating the experience of hearing his recordings played
back, he soon began each reel by saying "Tt;:sti, tt;:sti" (Testing, testing), as
Berta had done. At first our servants looked down on SalakQ as a rustic
(ani oke) and a person out of the pagan, oral past. But when they had had a
chance to hear the verses that he was reciting, their attitude changed to one
of respect, and they would gather at the recording sessions in their free time
to listen to him with delight. But they still felt that he was not able to cope
with the modern world, and when he needed a new pair of sandals one of
them went to the market with him to see that he was not "cheated."
Our recording equipment, purchased on a limited budget in 1950, was
far below the standards that are available today. Our source of power was a
converter run off the battery of our automobile, and the engine had to be
kept running while recording so that the battery would not run down. The
result was imperfect recordings with passages that were difficult to under­
stand, even for native speakers of Y oruba. Some of the recordings were
transcribed by Mr. Adedeji in Nigeria. He was able to ask Salak<;> about some
of the doubtful passages, but most were transcribed in Evanston, Illinois
after our return home, by Mr. Nathaniel Adibi and Mr. M.O. Qyawoye, who
became Nigeria's first Ph.D. in geology and who is presently the Professor of
Geology and head of the department at the Uniyersity of Ibadan. To these
three men, to my wife, and especially to Salak<;>, I owe a deep debt of grati­
Qyawoye also did the initial translations, which I have edited, and when
he returned home to Nigeria he took with him a copy of the Yoruba texts. He
made a special visit to Salak<;> and went over the verses with him, making the Introduction 13
SalakQ at the microphone 14 Sixteen Cowries
corrections that he noted. SalakQ was older by then and did not always re­
member exactly what he had said, but this field check eliminated some of the
errors caused by faulty recording. Others may still be present, but this was
the best that could be done.
Just before Nigeria's independence in 1960, I revisited SalakQ in Qyq
briefly and obtained additional information. Again in 1965 Berta and I went
to see him, but we found him ill in bed and unable to carry on further dis­
cussions. I presume that by now he has died. With him has passed a gallant
and surprisingly brave man, but at least his great knowledge is preserved for
the future in this book. The Divination Verses
SalakQ said that he would dictate all the verses that he knew, and a total
of 210 verses is presented here. Nevertheless, it is possible that some verses
that he knew were not recorded. One reel of tape dealing with the verses
from Eji Ogbe {A, also known as Ogbe Meji) begins:
They took palm oil and poured it into the room
And Ant came out;
They took fire and heated the walls
And Cockroach came out.
Orisha said, "That is what happened.
"Qrunmila, you took all my slaves and hid them."
15 16 Sixteen Cowries
It seems that, due to an error in recording, a verse similar to A12 was missed.
On another occasion Salako inserted the following lines, which are obviously
out of place (A35, note 2), suggesting that they belong to another verse that
was not recorded:
That is why Shango does not eat kola nuts any more,
And why he is eating bitter kola nuts until today.
Shango said, "The kola nuts that I ate and they deceived me like
"I will not eat them again."
And he never ate kola nuts again;
He is eating bitter kola nuts.
After he finished the divination verses, SalakQ recorded an additional
71 texts, mostly about the deities. Of these 26 are repetitions, making it pos­
sible to study the variations in the way in which they were told. Six are
miscellaneous, 25 are myths, and 14 are obviously additional divination verses.
One which probably belongs to Ofun (B) tells how the king of Ketu had to
keep house when he and his wife were taken captive. One which may belong
to Irosun (F) tells how Rain Conquered Fire and why fire must not be near
Orishala. One which may belong to Ogunda (H) tells how YemQja made her
home by the river. Another, from Qwc;mrin (K), tells how Orishala's wife,
Aladun the snail, broke his tabus by eating salt and drinking palm wine, and
how Qsh9si shot his mother with an arrow. A fifth, from Oturupsm (N), tells
a well-known folktale, "Returned to Captivity" (Aarne Thompson 155)
involving Eshu. But since the figures with which the others are associated
cannot be identified, and since it cannot be determined whether even these
five are from sixteen cowry or Ifa divination, they are not included here.
Tape recording the verses revealed something that I had missed in my
analysis of the verses of Ifa. These had been painfully transcribed by hand,
and because of the necessarily slow pace at which they could be dictated,
they appeared to be prose and I presented them as such. However, the tape
recordings show that they are actually recited in short phrases, as a form of
free verse. Both Adibi and Qyawoye recognized this internal structure, and
their phrasing is followed here. It had also been recognized by Yoruba scholars,
including 'Wande Abimbc;>la, who calls them "poems," although verses seems
equally appropriate.
Yoruba is a tonal language, with a high ('),mid ( ),and low(') tone,
as well as rising and falling tones C). In recent years it has become the
practice to indicate rising and falling tones by double vowels, the tones of
which are individually marked, but I have had to rely on the transcriptions
provided me. I am not sure that the tonal markings are always correct, even The Divination Verses 17
where they are indicated, but here again I have had to rely on the Y oruba
men who made the transcriptions. For ease in reading, the diacritical marks,
which can be found in Yoruba text opposite, are omitted in the translation,
and §is replaced by sh, its English equivalent. In Yoruba 9 is the vowel:> as
in the German Gott, ¥ is E as in the English bet, and other vowels have con­
tinental values. The consonant p is pronounced kp, and n represents nasaliza­
tion except where it appears initially or between two vowels, when it is
pronounced as in English.
The standard pattern of punctuation in English is not appropriate
for the verses because of the number of times a quotation is interrrupted,
most often by "He said." To make it easier to identify the beginning and
end of a quotation, and thus who the speaker is, quotation marks are not
used at the end of each line, but only at the end of the statement, as in the
following example from verse 110.
He said, "You, Viper,
"Lie down so they can kill you;
He said, "With an iron rod they will pin down your head.
He said, "You, Python,
He said, "Lie down so that they can kill you.
He said, "You Scorpion,
He said, "They will pin you down on your back with a stick
"And turn your chest to the sky."
So he cursed them.
Translation also presented problems. The Yoruba texts include archaic
words and phrases whose meanings were not known even to SalakQ, and
others that were dismissed as meaningless song refrains, praise names, and
divination phrases. These untranslated portions are given in italics in the
English version, but the proper names of the divination figures, deities, towns,
and persons are in roman type.
Another problem concerns a frequently repeated phrase, "oke ipgrlrf'
or "oke ip~mr( r~," to which sacrifices are offered. Qyawoye did not know
what it meant, and on the basis of earlier work I interpreted it as "his ances­
tral guardtan soul" (Bascom 1960: 405409). However, when the verses were
checked in the field, Salak9 explained (A8, A26, A28, 119, J18) that it meant
"the store of his divining materials," which I have shortened to "his divina­
tion set." I have followed this interpretation although in some instances (e.g.,
A28, E4, G8) "his ancestral guardian soul" seems to make more sense. In
other verses (A12, B6, G3, 112, J8) "his divination set" is clearly correct.
The sentence "6 kawQ leri, 6 t~ m9lf' has been translated as "He put
his hands on his head, he went to the diviners." The first half seems to be a 18 Six teen Cowries
literal translation, which Abraham (1958: 361) gives freely as "he showed
sorrow"; the last half is a free translation. Another doubtful sentence is
"Q ja 1'6ju 9mu, 6 ti l'~yin a~a" (F2, J6); this has been translated freely as
"Their lives were troubled, and they were unhappy." Although Salak9 inter­
preted it as meaning "They were coming from the first 9Y9 to the present
Qy9" (C8, F22, G7), the sentence "W9n nti k9le c;>run be) wa ikc)Ie aiye"
has been translated as "They were coming from heaven to earth."
In the divination verses and in Yoruba myths there are references to
a market and a town whose name is given here as Ejigbom~kun (A3) or
Ojogbom~kim (C3 note 1, G3, G9, Jl). An informant at M~k9 gave the name
as Agbom~kun and translated it as "Ram takes leopard" (AgbO mu ~kim), but
this seems very unlikely. In If~ informants interpreted Ejigbom~kun both as
the name of an ancient town, no longer in existence, and as referring to the
original inhabitants of their land (Bascom 1969: 257, 267 note 5, 475).
SalakQ said that it was at Ojogbom~kun that land was created on the primeval
waters, rather than at the city of If~, as is generally believed, and that the
gods lived there before moving to If~; but during the field check he identified
it as the first QyQ.
There are also references to the town of Gb~ndugb~ndu (A13, B5, G5),
which is identified in one verse (G5) as Ibadan, with Oluy91e as its first ruler.
Two verses (G4, G5) refer to the founding and expansion of this large Yoruba
city, and another verse (K5) tells how the ~gba Yoruba took refuge under a
rock on Olumg Hill, giving the city they founded the name Ab~okuta, meaning
"Under a rock."
According to Yoruba myths, sixteen cowry divination was introduced
by the river goddess, Qshun. She learned it from Qrunmila (Ifa) while she was
living with him, although some Qshun worshipers deny this. In one version,
while she was still learning Ifa, began divining for <;>runmila's clients
when he was not at home, and when he learned of this he drove her away;
this is why <)shun did not fully learn Ifa divination (Bascom 1969B: 90). This
incident does not occur in the following myth about how <;>runmila and
Qshun learned divination, as recorded by Salak9. His version also differs from
the widely held belief that it was Olodumare, the Sky God, who assigned the
deities their powers; here this function is attributed to Salak9 's own deity,
identified as Orishala Qsh~r~gbo, with Apodih9r9 as another of his praise
When Father Apodih9r9, Orishala Qsh~r~gbo,
Father gave birth to 401 children,
Apodih9r9, Father created 401 professions. Orishala Qsh~r~gbo, The Divination Verses 19
Father created 401 talents.
He said each child should choose his own.
And there was Qrunmila;
He is not strong.
Just like a termite hill,
To hold a hoe gives him trouble;
To carry it is difficult,
And even just walking.
There is no work that is easy for Qrunrnila.
Father said, "What are you going to do?"
He said he would be a diviner.
"What kind of a diviner?"
He said, "For everything that people come to you for."
It was kola nuts that they brought to Father in those days (for
If someone spoke to the kola nut
And laid it down,
Father was the one who gave advice.
"I want to know the answer to my question,"
And Orishala would tell him.
So he called Qrunmila
And Qrunrnila got a divining bag.
Father took the Ifa bag,
He said that Qrunmila should learn it
So that if anyone wanted something
They should go to Qrunmila.
Everyone who wished to ask
Should go to Qrunmila,
And when Qrunmila looked at his lfa,
Everything they wanted to know, Qrunmila would tell them;
Whatever they wished to know,
Qrunrnila would tell them.
No one went to Father any more (for divination);
They went to Qrunrnila instead.
A woman with a one day's pregnancy,
Qrunrnila would know it,
And so on.
So Qrunrnila became a diviner.
He said, "Father,
'What about the leaves?" 20 Sixteen Cowries
Father said,
"A person who comes with this complaint,
"This is the leaf (herb) to give him.
"One who comes with that complaint,
"That is the leaf to give him."
So Qrunmila became a diviner.
All the others wanted to be diviners too.
Egungun wan ted to be one;
Father said, "You, who are strong?"
Ogun wanted to be one;
Father said, "You, who are strong?
"You should be a trader."
Today all the worshipers of certain gods can divine,
Shango worshipers, and Qya worshipers,
And the worshipers of Orishala.
This was due to Qshun.
It was Qshun who would not let Qrunmila rest,
She would not let him go;
She insisted, until Qrunmila taught her divination.
It was from Qshun that all the others
Were learning to divine.
But Erin!~ did not learn;
Orisha Oko did not learn;
Ogun did not learn;
Egungun did not learn.
They did not receive the sixteen cowries.
ShQpQna's sixteen cowries
Were always in his hand,
But fighting did not let him divine.
By being weak
Qrunmila became a diviner.
He was singing, "ApodihQrQ, Orishala Qsh~r~gbo,
"Father had 401 children;
"ApodihorQ, Orishala Qsh5!r~gbo,
"Father created 401 professions.
"ApodihQrQ, Orishala Qsh~rS!gbo,
"Father created 401 talents,
"He gave those who would learn a means of livelihood,
"Apodihor9. 21 The Divination Verses
"With the one I learned, I am now eating,
"With the one I learned, I am eating kola nuts and pepper,
"With the one I learned, I am eating salt and palm oil,
"With the one I learned, I take money from others,
This is how Qrunmila became a diviner.
Further research is necessary to determine the occasions on which the
two systems are employed. However, I believe that when affairs of state are
to be settled, Ifa divination is employed (Bascom 1969: 77, 95); but when the
personal religious matters of kings or chiefs are involved, they may rely on
sixteen cowries if they are worshipers of Orishala, Shango, or the other
deities in whose cults this form of divination is employed. If they are not,
they would probably tum to Ifa for personal questions, rather
than relying on other forms of divination that have no explanatory verses,
such as the casting of four cowries or the four segments of a kola nut. Even if
a ruler has been converted to Islam, I suspect that he would rely on Ifa
divination for affairs of state, although for personal matters he would probably
tum to the Islamic form of divination, "sand cutting." From SalakQ's account
of his own career it would seem that all who are neither Muslim nor Christian,
at teast, take their children to an Ifa diviner to determine their destinies at
birth, but that at initiation and other important rituals sixteen cowries are
cast in those cults which use this system of divination.
Ifa and sixteen cowry divination are distinguished by the names for
these two systems and for the diviners, and they differ in the sexes of the
diviners, the apparatus used, the number of figures involved, the choice
between specific alternatives, and the presiding deities. For Ifa the diviners
are known as babalawo, who must be men; sixteen palm nuts are manipulated
in the hands or a divining chain is tossed on the ground; there are 256 figures;
a choice can be made simultaneously between two or five alternatives; and
the presiding deity is (>n!nmila, also known as Ifa. For ~rindinl6gun (as prac­
ticed by Salak?), the diviners are known as awo olori~a, who may be men or
women; sixteen cowries are tossed on the ground; there are 17 figures; a choice
can be made simultaneously between only two specific alternatives; and the
presiding deity is Chi~a Oluf<;m, also known as Ori~ala.
However, there are a number of similarities. Both the babalawo and
the awo olori~a are referred to as awo, and both are herbalists as well as
diviners. In both systems the figures are known as odu and the verses as ~s~. 22 Sixteen Cowries
The names of the figures are similar. The memorized verses constitute the
core of both systems, and they distinguish them from other means of divina­
tion known to the Yoruba, such as casting four cowries, casting four segments
of a kola nut (Cola acuminata) or bitter kola nut (Garcinia kola), water
gazing, trance utterances, Islamic "sand cutting," and casting four divining
chains (agbigba), although the latter does have short verses associated with
its figures. In both lfa and sixteen cowry divination, the verses contain the
predictions and the sacrifices to be made, the client selects the verse appropri­
ate to his case, the purpose of divination is to determine the correct sacrifice
necessary to avert the evil or insure the blessing that has been predicted, and
some of the verses are similar.
Three examples may suffice to show the similarities in the verses. The
following lfa verse (Bascom 1969: 446451), rendered as prose, seems only
to be a more complete rendering of verse A27 in sixteen cowries:
"Dog laps up water on the side of his mouth; fly does not display beads
for sale" and "If reproach refuses to go forward, then we carry it backward"
were the ones who cast Ifa for Osu, who was the child of the King of 9Y9,
AjQri, who had not experienced the pains of childbirth, and who was weeping
because she had not born a child.
"Dog laps up water on the side of his mouth; fly does not display beads
for sale" and "If reproach refuses to go forward, then we carry it backward"
were the ones who cast Ifa for Arera, who was the child of the King of If~
and who was weeping because he had not begotten a child.
The sacrifice of Arera was one ram. The sacrifice of Osu was one ewe.
Arera should raise his little ram. Osu should raise her little ewe.
Both were trying to get children; they met and Arera had intercourse
with Osu, and Osu became pregnant. Arera told Osu that his child should
be called Ojodu. Not long after this there was a conspiracy against Ojodu.
The people of If~ wanted to buy him so that the Qni could sacrifice him.
When they tied Ojodu down, he began to weep that he had been taken to his
own town as a captive. He said that the Qni should give him eight kola to
cast, and if they should come out four face down and four face up, they
should begin to sing:
"Ojodu comes, the child of Arera; the child of
"You should give thanks with me that the kola turned out good.
"Ojodu comes, the child of Arera;
"You should take an animal ~s the sacrifice;
"You not take the head of a kinsman.
"You should take an animal as the sacrifice; The Divination Verses 23
"You should not take the head of a kinsman;
"Ojodu comes, the child of Arera."
From that time on, we have sacrificed she-goats to Ifa.
Another Ifa verse (AbimbQla 1968:24-25; 1976:160-162) rendered as
poetry, may be compared with verse A6. Some of the variations are simply
discretionary differences in translation.
You are known as Qlal~kun
Whose other name is Omininkun;
Elephant cannot be turned over for carving
Who is also named Atatabfa-kun.
The short and terrible man at night.
A male dog means honor
A male aguala is known as moon.
One's own child is for one a source of okim beads.
One's own child is for one a of all wealth.
Whilst the buttocks of one's child are without beads,
One won't decorate with beads the waist of another person's
Ifa divination was performed for Oild~s~ the light-complexioned
man of Apa hill
Whose house was haunted by Death and Disease, house was persistently by all Ajogun.
His If a priest therefore asked him to offer plenty of buje as
They took part of the bUje and rubbed it on his body
And he became a very black person.
As a result, the Ajogun could not recognize him.
He started to dance,
He to rejoice.
He started to praise his lfa priests
Whilst his Ifa priests praised lfa.
Gongs were beaten at fp6r6,
Aran drum was beaten at fkija,
Sticks were used to produce melodious music at ~~~rimogbe.
He opened his mouth a little,
And the song of Ifa was what he uttered forth.
As he stretched his legs,
Dance caught him.
He said, "Death, do not kill the bilje man mistakenly.
You who are now bound to mistake man for something else. 24 Sixteen Cowries
You who henceforth must mistake man for another being.
Disease, do not afflict the buje man mistakenly
You who are now bound to mistake man for something else.
You who henceforth must man for another being.
Warriors of heaven
Turn your backs and hurry away,
You who are now bound to mistake man for another being.
The following narrative, told by an Ifa diviner at Ifr and recorded on a
typewriter as prose, may be compared with Al2. Qrunmila woke up early one
morning and went to Orisha. Orisha said he should divine for him because his
slaves were lost. She-goat (ewur~), the slave of Orisha, Frog (QpQlQ), the slave
of Orisha, and Chameleon (alag~mQ ), the slave of these three were lost.
They had looked and looked for them, but could not find them.
Qrunmila told them to bring hot water, yarn peelings, and a parrot's
red tail feather, and they brought these three things. They poured the hot
water in the bathroom drain, and Frog came out. They put the feather against
an akoko tree, and Chameleon turned red and they caught him. They took
the yarn peelings to the granary, and Goat came out. Orisha was surprised at
how quickly Qrunmila had found the three slaves and said, "You, Qrunmila,
1 are the one who stole my slaves."
Qrunmila wept and went back to his house. On the way he met Eshu.
Eshu asked him what was the matter, and Qrunmila told him that Orisha had
called him a thief. Eshu said, "All right. Just be patient. I am going there to
hang myself." When he got there, Eshu tied a rope around his ankles and put
2 it up in the air; Qramfj: held the rope, and Eshu hung in the air with his
head down. People saw him and said, "Eshu has hanged himself." Then Alara
3 and Ajero and Qrangun dressed themselves in fine clothes and sat down with
Orisha. They said they should call Qrunmila. Orunmila sent the messengers
back to tell them that the three kings should drop all their fine clothes and
run away, because no one should see Eshu hanging there. They should not
take anything with them, but go naked.
Qrunrnila went there and found all the clothes. He said he would send
for people to take care of Eshu who had hung himself. When he was returning,
he met his friend, the priest of Qbameri, on the way. The priest took all the
clothes the three kings had left behind, and he looked at Eshu hanging there
when no one else was there. When Eshu saw him, he told Qrarnf~ to release
1 · This is why QrunmJla says that if we cast If a, our prediction must not come to pass
the same day, because people will be suspicious. Cf. Al2, note 2.
2 · The If~ God of Thunder. Cf. Bascom 1969B: 87.
3 · Three kings. The Divination Verses 25
the rope. He dropped down and stood before the priest. The priest took the
clothes, two ewes, and two she-goats from Orisha, and took them to Qrunrnila.
Qrunrnila took them and asked, "What name should we call the man who
brought these things to me?" He said that his name should be " 'One who
walks is one who meets his friend on the road,' is the one we are calling
Lokor~' the priest who cuts hanging" ceniti 0 rin, li 0 ko Qr~ lQna, la npe ni
4 Lokor~, i~oro ti on ja i~o ).
Other parallels between Salak9's verses for sixteen cowries and those in
lfa divination include the following:
B8. The origin of Muslim fasting. AbimbQla N.D., IV: 87;
1971:449450; 1977: 128-131 (Otura Meji)
B9. Spider spins his thread like magic. AbimbQla N.D., IV: 14; 1976:
218; 1977:54-55 (Iwori Meji)
C11. Potto escapes from Ram. Epega N.D., I/II: 121-124 (Ogbe Qsa)
C18. Itchy Bean. Abimb9la N.D., IV: 101-102; 1976: 230-231 (Qs~
E6. Squirrel's children. Abimb9la N.D., IV: 85; 1976: 199-200; 1977:
126-129 (Otura Meji)
Fl. Stout Foreigner goes to 'Peri. Bascom 1969: 314-317 (Edi Meji)
G14. Qrunmila's wrestling. Gleason 1973: 175-177 (Q~r Meji)
H8. Anger, Hot-headedness, and Coolness. Epega N.D., I/II: 116-117
(Ogbe Ogunda)
Il. Qbara's pumpkins. AbimbQla 1969: 63-66; 1977: 82-87 (Obara
Il 0. Viper, Python, and Scorpion. Abimb9la 1968: 78-79 { Qbara Meji)
Il2. Poye'schild,Gleason 1973:164-168 (Ir~t~Meji);Bascom 1969:66
Il6. Eshu lets game escape. Gleason 1973: 223-225 (Ogbe Otura)
Il8. Hombill's coffin. Abimb9la N.D., IV: 46-48; 1976: 212-215;
1977: 88-93 (Qbara Meji)
15. Measure. AbimbQla 1968: 57; 1976: 106-107 (Odi Meji)
16. Kite dives into smoke. Gleason 1973:247-250 (Otura Qsa)
112. Stout Foreigner goes to Benin. Abimbqla 1969: 137-139; 1977:
62-65 (Odi Meji)
Less similar are the stories of Pigeon and Dove (A15. Bascom 1969:
268275, Iwori Ogbe), Olokun becomes king of all waters (A47. AbimbQla 1968:
154-155; 1976: 59-60, Ofun Meji), Lily draws water for Olokun (B. Epega
4 · This explains the title of the priest of 9bameri, Lokorr (li o ko qrf), "One who
meets his friend," who is the one who cuts down those who commit suicide by
hanging and makes atonement for them. The figure associated with this verse was not
recorded. 26 Six teen Cowries
N.D., III: 38-39, Ogunda Qy~ku), and Pigeon bears twins (18. AbimbQla,
N.D., III: 5-7; 1976:206-208, Ogbe Meji). Only seven (A6, G14, ll, llO, ll8,
JS, and 112) of these twenty-three verses are associated with similarly named
figures in both systems of divination, e.g., Odi in sixteen cowries and Odi Meji
in Ifa (112). Similar explanations of the name Olodumare are given in differ­
ing verses (B12. Bascom 1969: 322-323,Edi Qkanran), and two quite different
verses explain why iron rusts, but brass and lead do not (CS. Bascom 1969:
300-303, Iwori Meji).
Three of the five verses of sixteen cowries published by Ogunbiyi are
also similar to those given by Salak9: Tela Oko finds .money on the farm
(E2. Ogunbiyi 1952: 68-69), Foolish Monkey pulls Leopard from a pit
(F13. 1952: 76), and Eshu lets game escape (II6. Ogunbiyi 1952:
73). Of these the second (F 13) is ascribed to lrosun by SalakQ, but to Qsa
(C) by Ogunbiyi. However, there is agreement on the figures to which the two
other verses belong.
The narrative about the tabus of Yem<;>ja and Qk~r~ (HI2) was recorded
as a myth in Is~yin, Igana, QyQ, and Koso, and the one about Qrunmila and
Poye's child (Il2) as a myth in Igana (Bascom 1969: 66). Other narratives in
Salak<;>'s verses have been recorded as African folktales (C9, Ill, J8, K9);
and the verses contain proverbs (K8, L 7) and a riddle (M2). Myths, folktales,
proverbs, and occasional riddles also occur in Ifa verses.
Although the three Ifa verses cited are not identical with their counter­
parts in divination with sixteen cowries, Ifa verses also differ from one diviner
to another and even as told by the same diviner on different occasions. This
was also true in the case of SalakQ, who recorded some of the verses more
than once. The following version may be compared with L4. The phrase,
"Cast for Day and shared with Sun" means that the divination for Day also
involved Sun, even though he did not consult the diviner, and that both
should offer a sacrifice. "Twelve Elders" refers to the twelve cowries facing
mouth up.
Orisha says a blessing of long life is what he predicts
Where we see the Twelve Elders.
"Round hill with a pointed head does not fall"
Cast for Day and shared with Sun.
Day, what should he do so that others' arms would not hold him?
Sun, what he do so that arms not hold him?
He said that others' arms would not hold him;
A sacrifice was what he should offer.
What should he offer?
They said he should offer 24,000 cowries, 27 The Divination Verses
And they said Sun should offer 24,000 cowries.
They said he should offer the imported bowl that he had.
Day collected the sacrifice, he offered the sacrifice;
Sun appeased the gods.
Both of them came to earth;
They were enjoying the earth,
And their lives were pleasant.
Day was dancing,
Sun was rejoicing;
They were praising the diviners,
And the diviners were praising Orisha
That their had spoken the truth.
"Round, round hill
"With a pointed head does not fall"
Cast for Day
And shared with sun.
He sang, "Day, I offered a sacrifice because of mouths;
"Sun, I a of
"No arms can hold Sun;
"No mouth can command Day."
Orisha says others' mouths will not be able to command us.
Although the differences are not great, it is clear that the verses are not
memorized word for word; the diviner has some latitude in reciting them. For
example, L4 adds "When Sun appeared people said, The sun is hot today.' Or
they would say, 'We did not see the sun at all today."' Both versions were
recorded as divination verses. As might be expected, the divergences are even
greater when verses were recorded as myths.
Some of the differences may possibly be due to imperfect recordings,
and some may be due to lapses of memory because of Salakp's age and the
declining frequency of the times he was called upon to divine. For example,
in L4 the question is "Day and Sun, what could they do so that others'
mouths could not command them?" but here it is "Day, what should he do so
that others' arms would not hold him? Sun, what should he do so that others'
arms would not hold him?" Because of the song, which is identical in both
recordings, I suspect that the correct version is "Day, what should he do so
that others' mouths could not command him? Sun, what should he do so that
others' arms could not hold him?"
I have noted errors (AlO, Al2, A30, A35, F6, Gl2) and possible errors
(C6, Cl7, D6, 19,116, K7, Kl2, L4). There may be others, but errors in only
14 of these 210 verses would be by no means a bad record even for a younger 28 Sixteen Cowries
man who had to rely entirely on memory. There were other times when
Salak9 repeated himself or inserted what might be called "fillers," when he
obviously hesitated and stalled for time in order to recall what came next.
However, as Abimbgla points out, some repetitions are for emphasis. For
literal transcriptions of a purely oral tradition, his recitations are remarkably
accurate and straightforward. Salakq had obviously learned the verses well.
In my analysis of lfa verses I found as a general pattern for most
verses, (1) the statement of the mythological case which serves as a precedent,
(2) the resolution or outcome of this case, and (3) its application to the client
(Bascom 1969: 122). This also holds for the verses for sixteen cowries,
although the sacrifice required of the client is not spelled out as specifically
as in the lfa verses; it is usually understood to be the same as that which was
made in the mythological case. The first section usually includes several
obscure but often very beautiful lines which are interpreted as the names of
the diviners in the case which serves as a precedent; these are enclosed in
quotation marks in the English translation, and are often repeated near the
end of the verse.
'Wande Abimb9la (1971: 40; 1976: 43) has proposed an eight-part
structure: (1) names of Ifa priest(s) in past divination, (2) names of client(s)
for whom divination was performed, (3) reason for divination, (4) instructions
to the client(s), (5) whether or not the client(s) complied with the instruc­
tions, (6) what happened to the client(s),(7) reaction of the client(s),and(8) a
moral based on the story. Parts 1-3 and 7-8 are memorized and recited as
accurately as possible, being chanted rapidly. The remaining parts (4-6) are
not memorized, but are recited slowly in the diviner's own language and in a
freer form of poetry that resembles prose (Abimb9la 1976:63). Thus there is
considerable latitude in my second part, the resolution of the case or what
the clients did and what happened to them as a result.
Although Abimbgla indicates that the instructions to the client (4) are
optional and not memorized, I find it surprising that the sacrifice the client
is instructed to offer varies in different recordings of the same verse. In the
two recordings under consideration, the cock and the pigeon mentioned in
lA are omitted from the sacrifice in the second version. The order in which
the items to be sacrificed are mentioned seems to be immaterial, but on
several occasions SalakQ made a special effort to name an item that had been
omitted, for example F 12, where the stool is mentioned after saying that the
sacrifice had been made, and N2 where two crabs are similarly added. Never­
theless, there are instances where it is clear that an item that was not men­
tioned has been sacrificed (811, Gl2, H8, Pl) and others where items are
added or omitted in a second recording (Cll, FlS, G3, 16, Ll, L2, L3, IA, The Divination Verses 29
L5). The sacrifice is often not specified (A10, A23, A41, C7, Cl3, C15, E5,
F2, F5, F7, G8, H12, K8, K11) and often not even mentioned (A1, A9, A17,
Al8, A20, A22, B3, Bl2, C2, C8, D7, E1, E6, FlO, K9).
As in lfa, the verses instruct the client to sacrifice a wide variety of
domestic fowls and animals, wild animals and wild meat, and other foods
and products. Many of these are sacrifices appropriate to particular deities.
When birds or animals are to be sacrificed, the head and blood are "fed" to
the deity indicated in the verse or identified by means of specific alternatives,
as is the liquid in the shell of a snail; the flesh is cooked and eaten by the
diviners. Cloths, tools, and other objects included in the sacrifice are also
kept by the diviners unless otherwise specified in the verse.
When money is included in the sacrifices, it is to be kept by the diviner
as payment (eru) rather than offered to a deity. The amount is expressed in
cowries, which formerly served as money. The value of cowries has declined
in time as the result of inflation (Bascom 1969: 64-65), but when currency
was introduced, the value of 2,000 cowries was stabilized for the purposes
of divination at six pence, now five kobo, or 80,000 cowries to the pound
sterling,now two naira. In these verses, as in lfa, 2,000 cowries ({:gb~wa, ~gb[) is
the basic unit of counting money, and in this case the amount specified is
usually related to the number of cowries cast facing mouth up, as shown
A. Eji Ogbe 8 cowries. 8 x 2,000 or double that amount
B. Ofun 10 10 X 2,000
C. Qsa 9 cowries. 9 X 2,000
D. Qkanran 1 cowry. 11 X 2,000
E. Eji Oko 2 cowries. 12 X 2,000
F. Irosun 4 4 x 2,000 or more often 14 x 2,000
5 cowries 5 X 2,000 G. Q~~
H. Ogunda 3 cowries. 3 x 2,000 or more often 13 x 2,000
6x 2,000 I. Qbara 6
J. Odi 7 cowries. 7 X 2,000
11 X 2,000 K. QwQnrin 11
12 cowries. 12 X 2,000 L. Ejila ~~bQra
M.Ika 13 33 X 2,000
N. OturupQn 14 cowries. 14 X 2,000
0. Ofun Kanran 15 15x2,000
16 cowries. 16 X 2,000 P. Ir~t~
Q. Opira 0 No money specified. 30 Six teen Cowries
Only Ika (M) does not follow the regular pattern. For 5 cowries and
above, the number facing mouth up is simply multiplied by 2,000. Presumably
because they are too small, the amounts for one and two cowries (D, E) are
increased by adding 20,000 cowries, and this may or may not be done for
three and four cowries (H, F). For Eji Ogbe (A) the amount is frequently
doubled. It can be doubled for any figure by asking for the same amount on
the right- and left-hand sides, or tripled (17) by asking for 12,000 cowries on
the right side, 12,000 cowries on the left side, and 12,000 cowries in the
middle. In certain cases the amounts have been increased tenfold, specifying
120,000 cowries(ll4), 140,000 cowries(J6, Jl3, J15), 220,000 cowries(K3),
240,000 cowries (E3), and 320,000 cowries (A30, A48). If a verse specifies
20,000 or less in multiples of 2,000, it should be possible to identify
the figure to which it belongs, even if the figure is not named.
The cowry count may also influence the number of items in the sacri­
fice, for example, eleven portions of cornstarch porridge, eleven fritters, eleven
is~, and eleven cups of beer (Kl3). It may also influence numbers in the
narrative, as when Qrunmila demands eight loads of yams, eight lo~ds of corn,
eight loads of beans, and eight men (AlO).
Many aetiological elements appear in the verses and, although they are
fanciful, they were presumably accepted formerly as explanations of the
characteristics of birds, animals, insects, plants, and objects, and of the
origins of customs and institutions (Bascom 1969: 127-128). As in the lfa
verses, these characteristics are generally the result of having offered the pre­
scribed sacrifice or having failed to do so, and since the characteristics are
common knowledge or readily verifiable, they substantiate the truth of the
verse, with its prediction and prescribed sacrifice, and the system of divination
as a whole. The explanations may be implicit, or stated explicitly in the
Thus the verses tell how parrots got their red tail feathers (G 11 ), why
pigeons live with men and doves live in the forest (Al5), why Village Weaver
birds strip palm trees of their fronds to make their nests (F21 ), and how the
Hornbill bird got a tuft on its head (118). They tell why rats are caught by
their tails (B3), why cocks are sacrificed (B3), why cocks crow as they do (B3
note 1), why leopards are feared by other animals (B7), why monkeys are
tied with chains about their waists and fed bananas and papayas (Fl7), how
the ground squirrel got its tail (14), why civet cats sleep more than all other
animals _(Ill), and how hares got the white lines on their foreheads (14 ). They
explain why snakes must crawl on their bellies and why they shed their skins
(A38, B 12), how crocodiles got their teeth and scales and became kings in the
rivers (Hl 0), why it thunders before crocodiles deliver thw children (L6), The Divination Verses 31
and how the Konko frog became king of all frogs (C13). They explain why
guinea worms can fell human beings (A49) and why spiders spin their threads
like magic, without a spindle (B9).
They explain the origin of the papaya (D7), why kola nuts are used in
rituals and in divination (C 17, J1 0), why people eat butter beans and leave
itchy beans alone (C18), why coco yams grow in mud (F6), why the ficus
tree grows in the market place (12), and how two herbs (Amaranthus and
Kalanchoe crenata) became noted for their freshness (J3). They explain why
hills never die (A21), why iron rusts but lead and brass do not (CS), and why
rainbows disappear on the day that they appear (F22). They explain how the
sh~k~r~ rattle got its net of cowries and why it and the iron gong sound as
they do (B4, ES), why the bata drum cannot leave Shango (L8), why cold
weather causes discomfort (Bl1), how evening got the fruit of morning's
labor (F3).
Of special interest are the explanations and legendary accounts of the
origins of customs and institutions. Thus the verses account for the great size
of the city of lbadan (G4, GS) and the importance of the city of Qy9 (A30,
G9, 114). They explain the origin of the office of ArymQ, the "Crown Prince"
and heir apparent of the king of 9Y9 (116), and of the king's "master of the
horse" (G3); and they tell how Atiba, the Alafin who established the capital
at new QyQ, took land from Ashipa, one of his chiefs (A31 ). They tell of the
origin of court trials (Hll), and how competing for titles began (A3).
The verses explain why men do not borrow the wives of other men to
take with them on a journey (A36), why newborn children are petted and in­
dulged (A45), why a husband should not be present to receive his bride when
she arrives at his house with her wedding party (K3), and why a younger
brother takes the widows of his elder brother (K3). They tell how farming
surpassed all other occupations (17), and why traders use measures in selling
corn and beans (JS) and basketry trays to display their wares (A40). They tell
of the origin of a name (C8), a saying (C12), and a proverb (K8). They tell
why albinos do not enter the town of Ejigbo (J17), why a ram is killed on the
grave at funerals (Cll), why people pray for the blessings of evening (F3),
and how fasting by Muslims began (B8). There are also many explanatory
elements which account for religious belief, ritual, and ritual paraphernalia. The S4stem of Belief
As an introduction to the divination verses which follow, information
about the Yoruba deities and other elements of Yoruba belief is presented
here, together with what the verses tell us about religion and world
view. The verses confirm, supplement, and at times contradict what is known
about Yoruba religion, revealing how beliefs vary, with cult members often
assigning greater importance to their own deity than is generally recognized.
Thus while ShQpQna is especially prominent in Ogunbiyi's (1952: 67) study
of sixteen cowries, it is Orishala who controls Salak9's sixteen cowries, who is
repeatedly mentioned in his verses, and who preempts some of the functions
usually attributed to other deities, including even Ql<;>run, the Sky God and
32 The System of Belief 33
supreme deity. If the divination verses recited by worshipers of Eshu, Qshun,
Yem<;>ja, and other deities associated with sixteen cowries were analyzed, they
would probably reveal a similar glorification of their own deities, as the verses
of Ifa divination also do.
There are a great many deities (~bQra, ~bura, imQie, ori~a) according
to Yoruba belief, the full number never having been recorded. Informants
frequently speak of 401 deities, as do the verses (A10, G9, K8), but one
verse (A18) mentions 3,200 deities. Each deity has special attributes and
some have specific functions or powers, but all can give children, protection,
and other blessings to their faithful worshipers. It is believed that all the
deities, except QlQrun the Sky God, once lived on earth and that they went
into the ground, went up to the sky, or turned into rivers or hills and became
deities. One verse (A32) tells of Egungun, Oro, ShQpQna, and Ogun going into
the ground and becoming immortal, and another (H12) tells how Yemqja and
Ofiki turned into rivers. Many of the deities are associated with towns where
this is said to have happened or where they lived. One verse (A34) names the
towns of Shango, Orisha Oko, Ifa (Qrunmila), Qya, Egungun, ShQpQna,
~lc;gba (Eshu), and QbalufQn, and another (117) identifies the town of Orisha
Above all other deities is the Sky God, Olodumare, the"One who owns
the sky" (Ql<}run) or "King of the sky" (Qba ¢run), who has been syncretized
with the Christian God and the MuslimAllah. The verses identify Marvel (Ani)
as his son (B13) and two of Qrunmila's wives, Aina and Qr~, as his daughters
(A9). QlQrun has no special worshipers, no cults, and no shrines; no sacrifices
are offered directly to him, but anyone may pray to him (F3). He lives on
high, above the rainbow (A2), but as the lfa verses show (Bascom 1969: 104)
he can intervene in human affairs. In SalakQ's verses, also, he sends Death to
bring Ond~sh~roro to heaven (A6), a farmer says that Ql9run has given him a
slave (B6), and when Qshun cures children people say that QlQrun did it (M2).
One verse (F20) predicts that QlQrun will help the client catch someone who
wants to steal from him, and another (K9) advises that we should be patient
in demanding the return of a loan "because we do not know what QlQrun will
say in the future." One of the characters is named "If QlQrun does not kill me,
people cannot kill me" (18).
Most important, it is QlQrun who assigns and controls human destinies
(Bascom 1969: 115-118). The Yoruba believe in reincarnation and in multiple
souls. The most important soul is the ancestral guardian soul (~l~da, ip9nri,
ip¢ri), which is associated with a person's head, his destiny, and reincarnation.
The second is the breath (~mi), which resides in the lungs and chest and has
the nostrils to serve it like the two openings in a Yoruba blacksmith's bellows. 34 Sixteen Cowries
The breath is the vital force that makes man work and gives him life. Some
say there is a third soul, the shadow {ojiji), which has no function during life
but simply follows the living body about. One can see the shadow and hear
and feel the breath; but no one hears, feels, or sees the ancestral guardian soul
while the individual is alive. The shadow is without substance and requires no
nourishment; the breath is sustained by the food which the individual himself
eats; but the ancestral guardian soul must occasionally be fed through sacri­
fices known as "feeding the head" {ib9rf, ib9 orf).
Before a child is born-or reborn-the ancestral guardian soul appears
before Ql9run to receive a new body, a new breath, and its destiny (iwa,
ipfn) for its new life on earth. Kneeling before Ql9run, this soul is given the
opportunity to choose its own destiny, and it is believed to be able to make
any choice it wishes, although QlQrun may refuse if the requests are not made
humbly or if they are unreasonable. Destiny involves the individual's per­
sonality, his occupation, and his luck; and it a fixed day upon which
the souls must return to heaven. The ancestral guardian soul is sometimes
spoken of as the head (ori) or as "owner of the head" {ol6ri), and in Salak9's
verses it is personified as Head {A28, A34, A35, 113, J9). One verse (A35)
tells how Head chose "all the destinies." In another {AS) a woman named
"One who has small children" said that "her earthly blessings were late; she
said her heavenly blessings were late. She did not know her head chose a
destiny of beads, her head chose a destiny of brass, her head chose a great
abundance of money." A lucky person is called "one who has a good head,"
implying a good destiny, and an unlucky person is "one who has a bad head."
Informants stress the importance of the ancestral guardian soul, some
even calling it a deity. "The head is the individual's principal deity. The head
is more important to everyone than their own deity. The head is the eldest
and most powerful of all deities" (Bascom 1960: 408). One verse {A34) tells
how Head threw nine deities to their towns, where they prospered, and
"That is how Head surpassed all the deities." Qrunmila sacrifices to his head
and marries Money; he praises himself for this until his wife objects, he
praises Money until his diviners tell him to praise the one who made him
succeed, and finally he praises Head (A28). The characters in the verses are
often instructed to sacrifice to their heads (A28, E4, F12, H2, H9, Ill, J1,
J8, J9, L3 note I), but we are told, "If our head will heed our supplications,
we do not know" (C8). There are many praises of the head in the verses.
"There is no land where Head is not known" (A28). "Head is a better de­
fender, one whose head is good has no equal" (A34). "One's head is what
makes him wealthy" (116). "Head is what makes a boy a man" (A28). "There The System of Belief 35
is nothing the head cannot make of a man; a person's head makes him king"
The day of one's death can never be postponed, but other aspects of
one's destiny may be modified by human acts and by superhuman beings
and forces. If one has the full support and protection of his ancestral guardian
soul, of Qlr;>run, and of the other deities, he will enjoy the destiny promised
him and live out his allotted span of life; if not, he may forfeit the blessings
destined for him or die before his time. Throughout his life an individual
makes sacrifices to his ancestral guardian soul and to the deities; he has
charms or "medicines" prepared to protect and assist him; and when he is in
trouble he consults a diviner to determine what should be done to improve
his lot. He also consults a diviner before any major undertaking to learn what
sacrifice is necessary to insure a successful outcome.
At death the multiple souls leave the body and normally reach heaven,
remaining there until the ancestral guardian soul is reincarnated. Persons who
die before their time remain on earth as ghosts, staying in distant towns
where they will not be recognized until the day appointed by Ql9run arrives,
when they "die" a second death and go to heaven. When the three souls reach
heaven, Qlr;>run assigns them to the "good heaven" or to the "bad heaven"
depending upon their behavior on earth. Those who are sent to the "bad
heaven" can never be restored to the living through reincarnation; nor can
suicides, who never reach heaven but become evil spirits that cling to treetops
like bats or butterflies.
If a woman has several children in succession who die at childbirth, in
infancy, or even when somewhat older, they may not be a succession of
different ancestral guardian souls, but one ancestral soul being repeatedly
reborn, only to return shortly to heaven where it retains its childlike form.
It does not want to remain long on earth, preferring life in heaven or wishing
only to travel back and forth between heaven and earth, and has been granted
short spans of life by Ql9run. Such children are known as abiku (abfku) or
"one born to die," and their mothers may join the t:gb~ Qgba, a cult which
propitiates abiku and whose members have large iron rattles made for their
children to wear on their ankles. The corpse of a child may be marked by
shaving a spot on its head or cutting a notch in its ear to prove that it is an
abiku when it is reborn with the same mark; and the corpse of an abiku may
be threatened with burning or with having a toe or finger cut off to frighten
it into staying on earth when it is reborn again. In the verses clients are told
to sacrifice because of an abiku (F22) and so that the child they will have will
not be an abiku (12). Qrunmila offered a sacrifice before he married an abiku, 36 Sixteen Cowries
and she did not die (A26). Foolish Rainbow "keeps on dying like an abiku"
because his parents do not know his real name (F22).
A sacrifice is also prescribed to twins (18). Twins (ibeji) are not bad like
abiku, but they are feared because they are powerful and may harm or even
cause the death of their parents. When twins are born two small pots are
partially buried in the corner of a room and sacrifices are offered near them
annually. When a twin dies the parents have a woodcarver fashion a small
twin figure (ere ibeji) of the same sex and with the facial marks of its lineage.
If the second twin dies while young, a second figure is carved. Like abiku,
twins retain the form of children in heaven, and spend their time at play.
Twins and abiku are not deities; the sacrifices offered to them are for their
souls. One verse (AS) tells how people began cooking seasoned mashed yams,
boiled corn, fried plantain, and fried yams for twins.
One verse (Gl) tells how QlQrun gave one of the seventeen figures (0~~)
all the destinies he asked for. However, in another verse (A35) it is Orishala
(Ori~anhi) who dispenses destinies, and, as we have already seen, according to
Salak9 it is not Qlf;>run but Orishala (Ori~ala Q~~r~gbO) who assigned the
deities their powers. This theme is repeated in other verses (Al8, A35). The
verses, as they were taught to Salak9, obviously aggrandize the importance
of his own deity.
QlQrun is also called Ol6dumare (A6, Bl3, G 1). Various interpretations
of this name have been offered (Bascom 1969: 104), including the one in
verse B12, "Olodu child of Python" (016du 9m9 Ere). However, this verse
(B 12) identifies Olodumare as Orisha Olu9fin, one of the "white deities" and
the child of Python and Orishala. This clearly diverges from the widely held
belief that Olodumare is above all other deities (Idowu 1962: 56) and from
the creation myth as told by Orishala priests in If~.
In their account, Olodumare gave Orishala some earth in a snail shell
and a five-toed chicken and sent him with Chameleon to create the earth on
primeval waters. However, Orishala became drunk on palm wine and fell
asleep, and his younger brother, Odua, took the materials and descended
from heaven on a chain, accompanied by Chameleon and Horn bill. Chameleon
threw the earth on the water and placed the five-toed fowl on it, and Odua
commanded it to spread the earth. When Orishala awoke and saw what had
happened he tabued palm wine (and all things from the oil palm) to his wor­
shipers and followed Odua to earth, where they fought for the ownership of
the earth. When Olodumare heard about the fight, he sent Qrunmila to settle
it. Other versions add that as Creator of the Earth, Odua was given the right
to rule over it. He became the first king from whom Yoruba kings claim 37 The System of Belief
direct descent. Orishala was given the power to mold human bodies, and he
became the Creator of Mankind.
Despite his importance in Yoruba mythology, Odua (0dua, Oduwa,
Oduduwa) does not appear in Salak9's verses although he was named as
associated with the figure Ofun (B) and is mentioned in one of Salak<;>'s
myths as having followed Orishala to earth. In discussion, SalakQ described
Odua as one of the "white deities," and as a messenger of Orishala in If~
whom Orishala used to send to help in his work of fashioning unborn children.
Even in his version of the creation, told as a myth, it is Orishala (Qbanla)
rather than Odua or Chameleon who put down the bit of earth on the water,
set down the five-toed chicken to scatter it, and created the birds, animals,
trees, shrubs, and grasses. Both versions are reported by Idowu (1962: 19-22),
who favors Salak<;>'s account.
Qranmiyan (Qninm1yan, Qranyan) is another important deity who does
not appear in these verses, even though Salak<;> mentioned him as the deity
associated with the figure Qkanran (D). He is said to have had two fathers and
to be half white-skinned like Odua and half black-skinned like Ogun, the God
of Iron. He became a great warrior like his father, Ogun, and it is curious that
he is not mentioned because he is said to have been the founder and first king
Orishala, the God of Whiteness and the Creator of Mankind, has already
been discussed, but requires further consideration because of his importance
in Salak9's version of divination with sixteen cowries. Having been given the
power to mold human bodies, he created the first man and woman; according
to Salak<;> they were Gb~gbade and M<;>taw~de, other names for Orisha Rowu
and Orisha Yemo. Orishala also fashions the form of human beings in the
womb before they are born. Salak9 said he did not know how this is done,
but other informants say that, working in the darkness with a knife, he molds
their bodies and then, like a woodcarver, separates the arms, legs, fingers, and
toes, and opens the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. He is sometimes called
Ql9run's sculptor, and two of his praise names are "One who carves in dark­
ness" (Agbokunkiln §<;>na) and "The person who makes the eyes and makes
the nose" (t:ni to ~oju ~emu;cf. Idowu 1962: 72). In one of the verses (A18),
Eshu found Orishala carving, and from him learned how he made feet, mouths,
and eyes.
Another of Orishala 's praise names is "One who creates a person as he
chooses" (Adimi b6 ti ri). Children whom he fashions as albinos (afin),
hunchbacks (abuke), cripples (ar9), dwarfs (arani), and dumb mutes (odi)
are sacred to him. A fourth praise name is "Husband of hunchback, husband 38 Sixteen Cowries
of cripple, husband of dwarf who has a flat head" (QkQ abuke, 9k9 arQ, QkQ
arani aborfp~t~), and the verses mention both cripples (A41, A43, G12) and
albinos (A43, 117). Those who are born in a caul (9k~, ala) are also sacred to
Orishala, and names that are given to children born in a caul are also men­
tioned (Bl, KIO).
He appears in the verses with the names Ori~a-hi and Ori~anla, often
shortened to O~a-la and O~anla, or with his praise names Ori§ala O§~r~gbo and
Erijialo (A25). Qbafunwa, which may mean "King gives destiny," appears to
be another of his praise names (KIO). The names Qba.lilfQn, whose town is
identified as $rin (A34), 01Uf9n (C16), and Ori~a Wuji (A7, G8) or Ori§a
Agbowuji (G8) are also used. More frequently he is referred to simply as
"Father" (Baba) or "Deity" (Ori~a, or its shortened form, O~a). While the
word orisha translates as deity, it commonly refers specifically to the "white
deities," distinguishing them from other deities(~ b9ra, ~bur a, im9l~).
It is clearly Orishala who controls Salak9's divination with sixteen
cowries, as Qrunmila controls Ifa divination. Repeatedly the verses say "Orisha
says" when giving the prediction, and the client is asked, "Do you see the
way that Orisha says that this is so?" A frequently repeated refrain is that the
client "was praising the diviners, and the diviners were praising Orisha, that
their diviners had spoken the truth," or literally "that the diviners had spoken
with good mouths." This means that the diviners were praising Orishala
because he had caused the divination to be accurate, so that the prediction
had come true.
The verses identify Aratumi (AI), Qshun (A25), Ere or Python (Bl2),
Oro (Cl6), and Yemo or Yemuo (116), who is also known as M9tawyde, as
wives of Orishala, and SalakQ added Adun or Snail and Yem9ja. Eshu (K2)
and QmQniyinr~ (G8) are said to be his children. The verses tell how Orishala
acquired the power (a~~) to have his predictions come true, but why they do
not come true in a day (Al2, F8), and how he was told to use white cloths
(116). When Qshun joins Orishala at his shrine, she is told to wear a white
cloth, a white hat, and white trousers, and that "They must be clean!" (A29).
When Orishala's white cloth is splashed by palm oil and palm kernel oil, both
tabu to him, and dirtied by black wood, Yemo gives him clean white cloths to
wear (116). Other verses tell how he began to eat the unseasoned stew that is
offered to him in sacrifices (Dl), and how he made salt a tabu for albinos
References are made to his white beads (B13), his special metal, lead
(CS, Cl9, 116), and his agba drum (111), and the sacrifices he is instructed to
make include white cloths, white chickens, white pigeons, and snails (B13,
116). In one verse (A20) Orishala meets Snail collecting tolls at the town The System of Belief 39
gate, and Qrunmila and Ogun similarly meet their favorite sacrificial animals,
She-goat and Dog. Most of these points confirm accepted beliefs about
Orishala, but I cannot explain why a sacrifice to him should include a black
chicken, a black pigeon, and a black she-goat (Pl).
Several other "white deities" are named in the verses. Orisha OluQfin,
already mentioned as identified with Olodumare, carries the white cloth of
Orisha Rowu, who takes the title from Orisha Olojo (A3). According to
Salak<,>, these are three different white deities, and Orisha Rowu is the eldest
son of Orishala, but Idowu (1962: 75) identifies Orisha Rowu as Orishala at
the town of Owu. One verse (118) prescribes a sacrifice to an unidentified
white deity. Orisha Ogiyan, who is called "One who enjoys honor," is beaten
with clubs by seven albinos at Ejigbo, his town, an apparent allusion to
flagellation, which is practiced by his worshipers (117). This same verse pre­
scribes a sacrifice to Ogiyan Hill, and others prescribe sacrifices to an un­
named hill (113) and to Orisha Oke, a hill deity (L3 note 1, L4). Hills figure
prominently in several verses (e.g., A21), including Osinnido at Ibadan (G4,
G5) and Olum<,> at Ab11okuta (K5).
Eshu (E.~) is the divine messenger who delivers the sacrifices offered at
his shrine, as prescribed by diviners, to QlQrun. He is also the divine trickster
who not only delights in trouble-making, but also serves the other deities by
causing trouble for human beings who offend or neglect them. He is called
"Eshu is not good" (E.§u C>dara; A44, CIS), and he is also known as .e1~gba
(A34) and Juorfwa (K2). His town is Iworo (A34). Regardless of what deity
they worship, all the people pray to him so that he will not cause them
trouble, and a portion of every sacrifice is set aside for him. His shrine is a
chunk of laterite set outside the house to which sacrifices are offered, or a
crude mud figure set at the crossroads, to which passersby give cowries or bits
of food.
Eshu is the youngest and cleverest of all the deities created by QlQrun,
although Salak<,> again departs from common belief in attributing this act to
Orishala. In one of SalakQ's verses (K2), before Orishala begat Eshu he was
warned that Eshu "will want to surpass you" and "will take your world from
you if you do not pay attention"; afterward Eshu carved cudgels and used
them to surpass everyone on earth, and "everything that Father was doing,
Eshu was doing." And again it was Orishala who sent Eshu to live at the cross­
roads and collect something from everyone who passed by; and thus Eshu
became wealthy and "is greater than all his seniors" (A18). He is lazy (K2)
and has no work to do (Al8). The statement, "Lazy men live by their
wisdom; only fools do not know how to manage their affairs" (A18) refers to
Eshu. 40 Six teen Cowries
As in the Ifa verses, Eshu appears here primarily in his role as the
"divine enforcer" who punishes those who fail to make the sacrifices pre­
scribed by the diviners and rewards those who do. His remarkable even­
handedness in this role (Bascom 1969: 105-106, 118) and his role as ames­
senger of the deities, are hardly consistent with his identification as Satan by
Christians and Muslims alike. Abimb9la (1976:86) describes him as a police­
man, but Eshu does not simply arrest people or bring them to trial; he per­
sonally dispenses divine justice, both rewards and punishments. Nor is this
role consistent with his identification as "the uncertainty principle" (Fagg
1960) or as "a spirit of chance, and uncertainty" (Elisofon and Fagg 195 8:
114). There is nothing more certain than that when Eshu assists someone, it is
because that person has offered the prescribed sacrifice or done something
else to please him, or that when someone fails to sacrifice, refuses to follow
other instructions, or commits some other offense, Eshu will punish him or
rejoice at his misfortune.
Thus one verse says that Eshu spoils the work of a boy who refuses to
stay home to learn Ifa, the sacrificial rites, and how to appease the gods (C 15).
Ogun breaks a tabu and then kills the toll gate keeper, and Eshu makes him
flee into the forest (A20). A woman sacrifices and has children; but she mocks
the diviners, and Eshu causes her children to throw fruit at her (AS). A warrior
calls Eshu a thief and refuses to sacrifice, and he is killed in battle (113). When
Akinsa ~m~;r~; defies the gods and refuses to sacrifice dried meat, Eshu ex­
claims, "He shouldn't behave like that!" and Akinsa ~m~;r~; chokes on the
meat while Eshu rejoices (11 7). Egungun and Agunfsm refuse to sacrifice their
swords, and Eshu says, "They did not offer the sacrifice." Egungun beheads
AgunfQn with his sword, and Eshu rejoices (Nl).
The agba drum is beaten with the stick that he failed to sacrifice, and
Eshu rejoices (111). Kola Tree does not complete her sacrifice, and Eshu tells
people to use her children (kola nuts) in their rituals (Cl7, 110). A weed fails
to complete its sacrifice, and Eshu tells farmers to chop it down with the
hoe that it did not offer (A37). Although we are not told whether or not she
sacrifices, Squirrel apparently does not follow the instructions not to talk;
farmers then kill her children, and again Eshu rejoices (E6).
When Dove refuses to sacrifice, Eshu has farmers eat her children and
Qya break her eggs; but because Pigeon does sacrifice, Eshu has farmers take
her home and keep her as a pet (A15). When Butter Bean refuses to sacrifice,
Eshu has farmers eat her beans; but because Itchy Bean offers the
they leave her alone {Cl8). When a creeping plant refuses to sacrifice, Eshu
has farmers cut it off Ochra, who does sacrifice, allowing Ochra to grow (K6).
When Anger and Hot Headedness refuse to sacrifice their knives, Eshu causes The System of Belief 41
them to kill themselves with their knives; but he gives Coolness the three bas­
kets of beads that their mother had sent to her three sons (H8). When 'Jegbe
does not sacrifice,Eshu revives the animals he has killed and they escape; then
'Jegbe does sacrifice and Eshu helps him get a horse, six gowns, six servants,
and six wives and become the king's heir apparent {116). When the chief of
Wata sacrifices but his wife does not, Eshu saves him but lets his wife be
killed (C 12).
In fact, in these verses Eshu assists those who offer the prescribed sacri­
fices in many more instances than he punishes those who fail to do so or re­
joices when they meet with misfortune. The king of Igede sacrifices a knife,
and Eshu uses it to save him when he tries to hang himself {H6). The chief of
Ifc;m and the chief of Ejigbo sacrifice, and Eshu helps them end their quarreling
(118). The chief of eju sacrifices, and Eshu helps him and his relatives live
long lives (115). Lagbonpala and an old woman sacrifice, and Eshu helps them
marry each other (11). Blind Man sacrifices, and Eshu helps him shoot birds
and an antelope when others have failed (E7). RQjuforiti borrows money to
make the sacrifice, and Eshu helps him become wealthy (A33). Eshu multi­
plies MQloun's sacrifice and saves her from the Egungun {Kl3). He multiplies
the sacrifice of On'dere's mother and saves her son from death, enabling him
to become chief of ldere {F9).
Foolish Monkey sacrifices, and Eshu helps him escape from Leopard
{Fl3). Crocodile sacrifices iron pegs and palm nut shells, and Eshu makes
them into his teeth and scales {HlO). Potto's mother offers a sacrifice, and
Eshu saves him from death {Cll note 4). Plover sacrifices, and Eshu helps
him get cloths, money, and a wife (C7). Eluju Palm and Eshu helps
her deliver her children {Al6). Hill offers a sacrifice, and Eshu helps him with­
stand the attacks of birds, rats, and men (A21).
Head sacrifices, and Eshu defends him when he takes all destinies {A35).
Destiny and Eshu convinces Orishala to forgive him for having been
insolent (C 19). On three occasions Qrunmila sacrifices, and Eshu saves him
from death (118), helps him become wealthy {Gl4), and convinces Qshun to
give him money and children (G 15). Orunmila initiates Eshu into I fa, and
Eshu helps him become wealthy {Al9). The lessons of the verses are obvious:
please Eshu, do not offend him; and "Offering sacrifices is what helps one;
not offering does not help anyone."
Qrunmila ((}runmila), from whom divination with sixteen cowries is
said to have been derived, is frequently mentioned in the verses. Although it
is evident that lfa {Ifa) is also a name for Qrunmila (Al2, G13, Gl4, GIS,
112), we will refer to him as Qrunmila and to his system of divination as lfa.
Qrunmila is often spoken of as a clerk or scribe because he "wrote" for the 42 Six teen Cowries
other deities and taught his diviners to "write," i.e., to mark the Ifa figures
in wood dust on their divining trays.
He is also described as a learned man or scholar because of the wisdom
in the Ifa verses. Here he is called "Wisdom" (C2), "The small one who lives
by his wisdom" (A34, 814), and "One who is stronger than medicine" (N2).
We are told that:
Great wisdom
Is the key to getting great wisdom.
If we don't have great wisdom,
We can't learn strong medicine.
If we don't learn strong medicine,
We can't cure serious illness.
If we can't cure illness,
We don't earn great wealth.
If we don't earn great wealth,
We can't do great things (86).
We also learn that "It is in poverty that a boy learns Ifa; it is afterward that
he becomes prosperous" (C14). We have already seen that Qrunmila is physi­
cally weak, and that he became a diviner and herbalist because no other work
was easy for him. Yet one verse (G14) says that wrestling was his profession
and that he felled several kings before Eshu told him to lose. His skin is black
(N2) and his town is Ado (A34). He is also called "One who has a crown"
(A9) and Oluwara Okun (A34).
The verses tell why a she-goat is Qrunrnila's principal sacrificial animal
(112). They refer to his diviner's cow tail switch (14 ), and mention his gong
(112, N2) and two of his drums, aran (112) and ogidan (111). They account
for the origin of the divining bowl (C}p~m ig~d~) in which his sixteen palm
nuts are stored, and the iron staff (osu, osun) that stands by his shrine and
must not fall over (J9). They explain the origin of casting the divining chain
( G 14 note 4) and probably refer to the way in which it is manipulated ( G 15
note 1 ). They describe the way in which the If a figures are marked on the
divining tray, and tell how Qrunrnila gathered palm nuts with four "eyes"
each and the herbs with which to wash them to prepare them for use in
divination (86). In one verse (A10) Qrunrnila plants only herbs for use in
medicine, but fills his storehouses with corn, guinea corn, beans, and·yams
grown by other deities. His knowledge of the properties of herbs is sur­
passed by that of Qsanyin, the God of Medicine (19), but he defeats Qsanyin
in a contest of magic and takes his gong from him (N2).
Qrunmila marries the daughter of the chief of lwo (H7), Poye (112), The System of Belief 43
Odu (Bl4), J;r~ (Kl2), Aje~una (A28) or Money, Emere (A26) an abiku,
Qshun (C2), and Aina and Or~ (A9) daughters of OlQrun. He also rapes
both Qshun (FlO) and Poye (112) and is accused of adultery (112, Kl2);
and he breaks Qshun's tabu by pouring guinea corn beer on her (GlS). He
appears as a principal character in many other verses (A8, Al2, Al9, A20,
C6, Gll, Gl3, 110,113,118, 119).
Qshun (Q~un) is Goddess of the Qshun River, which rises in Ekiti in
the east and flows past the city of Oshogbo, where her principal shrine is
located. The verses tell that she married Orunmila (C2) and Orishala (A2S),
and informants add that at other times she was married to Ogun, Shango,
ShQpQna, and Qsanyin, and that she took other gods as lovers. In one of his
myths SalakQ remarks, "Qshun is fonder of intercourse than all other women."
Because of her promiscuity her worshipers describe her as a harlot, but they
take pride in her amorous adventures because they add to her reputation for
beauty and desirability. The Yoruba Venus, Qshun is renowed for her beauty
and for her meticulous care of her appearance; and she is as famed for giving
children as she is for her beauty. Her worshipers in OY9 say that Qshun's
work is to cause conception, creating children in the womb after intercourse,
before Orishala begins to shape them into human form. She also uses cold
water to cure fevers (M2).
Qshun is called "Owner of Cold Water" (A2S, A29, M2), "Qshun gave
me" (G2), "Knowledge" (C2), "Our Mother" (F4), "My mother, Otolo ~f<;m"
(A24, C4, G2, G6, G9, GlO), and Qladekoju (GlS). An Qshun worshiper at
Ilesha interpreted 'Ladekoju as meaning "Has many crowns," referring to her
crowns of cowries, and Otoro l;fQn as "She settled at I;f<;m" in Ekiti. Her
worshipers at Oshogbo say that she came from Igede (FlO), a town seven miles
west of Ado Ekiti.
In one verse (G 1 0) Qshun gives the people of Oshogbo children, but
they neglect her; so she causes their children to have fever, and then cures
them when the people begin to sacrifice to her again. Her sacrifices include
wild lettuce, fritters, cornstarch porridge, kola nuts, and chickens (G I 0, GIS).
She drinks maize beer, but guinea corn beer is tabu. Qrunmila says, "She does
not have any tabus that are greater than guinea corn," and when he pours
guinea corn beer on her, Qshun is seated on her throne in full splendor
(GIS). In this verse (GIS) the client is instructed to g1ve Qshun her tabu, and
then to offer her her favorite foods. Another verse (C4) tells how she gave up
guinea corn beer and drank maize beer in order to have children. Qshun cap­
tures the Town of Women and brings the women to Ojogbom~kun where
they all worship her (G9). Her special metal is brass (G2), "the first born of
Qshun" (CS), and her worshipers wear brass bracelets as their insignia. 44 Six teen Cowries
Shan go (Sang6) is a God of Thunder. Living in the sky he hurls thunder­
stones to earth, killing those who offend him or setting their houses afire. His
thunderbolts are prehistoric stone celts which farmers sometimes find while
hoeing their fields; they are taken to Shango's priests, who keep them at his
shrine in a plate supported by an inverted mortar, which also serves as a stool
when the heads of initiates are shaved (cf. Bascom 1972: 6). The stones in
Shango's sacrifices (A46, E2, Ll, L3) may be an allusion to his thunderbolts,
and in one verse (FS) Shango kills a leopard by putting an inverted mortar
over it. He has a special type of drum known as bata (cf. Bascom 1972: 18),
and one verse (L8) explains that Bata, who had been Shango's friend from
childhood, became his deputy or representative; Shango sacrificed a bata
drum and "This is why Bata cannot leave Shango today" and why people
give Shango money, gowns, and chickens. Shango's favorite foods include
bitter kola nuts and yam porridge (A46, Ll), but neither rams nor ochra stew
is mentioned.
Shango is said to have succeeded his father, Qranmiyan, as one of the
early kings of QyQ, and several verses say that he became king (A48, L7, L8).
He was noted for his magical powers and was feared because when he spoke,
fire came out of his mouth. One verse has Shango lighting a fire in his mouth
with itufu (L3), oil-soaked fibers from the pericarp of the oil palm, which is
used in making torches and starting fires. In a state of possession it is said that
a Shango worshiper may eat fire, possibly using itufu, carry a pot of live coals
on his head, or put his hand into live coals without apparent harm. Another
verse (C17) advises, "We should use itufu to receive the help of Shango."
According to a myth, it was a defeat in a magical contest that led Shango to
leave QyQ and hang himself, although when lightning flashes and thunder
rolls his worshipers shout, "The king did not hang himself," a greeting that
appears in one verse (A46). We learn that his town is Koso (A34), where he is
said to have hanged himself, and that Shango, Dada, and Egungun are siblings
by the same mother, YemQja (H2 note 2).
Many names are given for Shango in these verses, but not the com­
monest, one who "Fights with stones" (Jakuta), referring to his hurling
thunderstones to earth. He is called "One who inverted a mortar and killed a
leopard at Enpe" (FS), "Mad Man of Ij~bu" (FS), child of "One who sees
200 enemies and conquers them" (Ll), "Leaves help me" (L3, L8), and
Awalawulu (Ll), which refers to the sound of thunder. Many names for
Shango could not be translated, including LakiQ (A34), Jagba (A46), J~miade
(A48), T~la Oko (E2), Olubambi (FS, L3, L8), J~nrQla (Ll), child ofOjogbo
(Ll), Oromajogbo (L3), and AfQnja (A48, L7), which is also the name of
Af<;>nja of Il<;>rin, who revolted against the king of OYQ· The System of Belief 45
In the verses we are told that when Crocodile could not deliver her
children, Shango shouted and all her children were born, and "this is why
thunder crashes before Crocodile's children come out" (L6). Shango "opened
the door of water a little" and rain fell for seven days, causing leafless trees
to sprout, dry rivers to flow again, and the people of Ire to prosper (J4 ). He
sacrificed and no one could stand up to him any more; he took a cudgel in his
hand and defeated his enemies (Ll ). He drove away the hartebeeste that had
been killing the children of the people of Ijagba, and became the deity that all
the people of Ijagba worshipped (A46).
Qya (Qya) is the favorite wife of Shango, the only wife who remained
true to him until the end, leaving 9YQ with him and becoming a deity when he
did. She is Goddess of the Niger River, which is called the River Qya ( odo
Qya), but she manifests herself as the strong wind that precedes a thunderstorm.
When Shango wishes to fight with lightning, he sends his wife ahead of him to
fight with wind. She blows roofs off houses, knocks down large trees, and
fans the fires set by Shango's thunderbolts into a high blaze. When Qya comes,
people know that Shango is not far behind, and it is said that without her,
Shango cannot fight. The verses tell that Qya is the wife of Shango, "The wife
who is fiercer than the husband" (H5). Her town is Ira (A34 ), which is said to
be near Qfa.
In the verses Kite calls on Qya, who makes a wind so that he can dive
into the smoke and take a stone out of a fire (J6), and Eshu tells Qya to
shake a tree (with wind) so that Dove's eggs fall to the ground and are broken
(A15). Potto's mother sacrifices to Qya and Qshun, and he is saved by a wind
(Cll note 4). We are told that "Buffalo's horn is good for rubbing with cam­
wood; we rub it red with camwood and give it to Qya" (ClO), a reference to
the reddened buffalo horns that are placed on Qya's shrine. We learn that Qya
made ewe meat tabu because she had eaten it in order to bear children, and
that she is also called "One who has children" (QlQmQ) and "Mother of Nine"
(Iyansan, 'Yansan) because she had nine children (C3). Another of Shango's
wives, Qba, who is also a river goddess like Oshun and Qya, is not mentioned
in the verses, although she appears in one of Salak9's myths.
YemQja (YemQja) is Goddess of the River Ogun (odo Ogun), sometimes
referred to as the River YemQja ( odo YemQja), which flows southward through
Yoruba territory past the cities of OYQ and Ab~okuta. Although Salak9 iden­
tified her as a wife of Orishala, it is generally said that she came from the city
Bida in Nupe territory to old Qy9, where she married the king, Oranmiyan,
and by him bore Shango. Later she left Qranmiyan and married Qk~rt;, the
chief of Shaki, a town about seventy-five miles northwest of QYQ· One verse
(H12) tells the most important myth about Yem9ja, how she and Okt;r~ 46 Six teen Cowries
promised to respect each other's tabus, but when she entered the forbidden
arrow room to take his arrows out of the rain, QkE$r~ broke her tabu by
ridiculing her long, drooping breasts, which reached to the ground; she then
broke his tabu by ridiculing him because his teeth stuck out, and fled, fell to
the ground, and became the River Ogun while her junior co-wife became the
River Ofiki, a tributary of the Ogun.
In a variant of this myth told by Yem9ja worshipers at IsE$yin, Yem9ja
entered a forbidden room in 0kf1rfs palace to get food for his guest, and he
broke her tabu by ridiculing her long, dangling breasts; she replied by ridi­
culing his huge testicles and took her pots and fled. Qk~r~ pursued her and
knocked her down and she turned into a river which flowed from her pots.
Qk~r~t turned himself into the 0k~trf1 Hill to block her course, but Shango
came to her aid and split the hill with lightning so that the river could flow
A third variant, told by an lfa diviner in lgana, says that she and Qk~r~t
did not respect each other's tabus, as they had agreed to do. QkE1r~t said
Yem9ja's breasts were too long, and she replied that his testicles were as big
as calabashes. Qkt;r~t picked up a knife, and YemQja fled with her pot, fell
down, and turned into the River Ogun.
A fourth version, told by YemQja worshipers at Qyp, does not indicate
why they parted, but says that Yem9ja left carrying her baby on her back and
her water pot on her head. Qk~r~ followed, but she set down her pot and
turned into a river which flows out of it. Qkf1rf1 turned into a hill in the path
of the river, but Shango dashed against the hill, breaking a way for the river
to flow through.
A final version, told by the Shango priest at Koso, tells only that
Yem9ja quarreled with Qkt;r~ and went to live in the river, but it makes
Qk~tr~, rather than Oranmiyan, the father of Shango.
The name Yem9ja is usually interpreted as meaning "Mother of fishes"
or more literally, "Mother of children of fish." (Yeye or lye 9m9 ~ja). She is
also known as "Water takes a crown, whom we compete for to marry" (H2),
child of "One who ate palm weevils and bore six hundred children" (H2),
Atalamagba (HI), M<;>a~9gb<;>gb<;>gbayo (HI), and Qm<;>j~l~wu or 'M<;>j~l~wu
(HI2), a name also given by Is~yin and Igana informants. She is identified as
the mother of Shango, Egungun, and Dada (H2 note 2).
Ogun (0gt1n) is the God of Iron and the patron of all who use iron tools.
He is a patron of hunters and warriors and thus a God of War, a patron of
blacksmiths, of woodcarvers and leatherworkers, of barbers, of those who The System of Belief 47
perfonn circumcision and cicatrization, and in recent times of automobile
and locomotive drivers. Without him people could not have their hair cut,
they could not be circumcised or have facial marks, animals could not be
hunted or butchered, fanns could not be cleared or hoed, paths to the farms
and water holes would be overgrown with weeds, and no one could have
made fire without strike-a-lights, which were used before matches were im­
ported. The other deities are also dependent on Ogun, because he clears the
path for them with his machete; but he is most renowned as a blacksmith and
a great warrior.
Ogun is the owner of iron and of young palm fronds, which are used to
mark his shrines; palm fronds may be used on the shrines of other deities, but
they belong to Ogun. We are told in these verses that Iron is the firstborn of
Ogun, and why it rusts when Brass and Lead do not (CS), and that "Young
palm fronds make the body of Ogun" (BS). He is also the owner of dogs;
male dogs are one of his favorite sacrificial foods, and are eaten by hts wor­
shipers. Against the advice of Qrunmila and Orishala, Ogun went to "Endure
Suffering" market, taking a staff and a sword. He met Dog collecting tolls
at the town gate, and cut off Dog's head. Frightened by Eshu, Ogun fled into
the forest, where his clothes were torn off by briars and thorns. So he cut
young palm fronds and put them on; "this is what they tie for Ogun, and why
they do not let Ogun have any rest" (A20).
Ogun's town is Ire. When the chief of Ire neglected Ogun, his father's
deity, his life became troubled; he was told by the diviners to sacrifice to
Ogun and his two friends, Shango and Orisha Oko, and to sing, asking Ogun
to come home (J4). We are told that "Ogun kills the creditor" (Ill). He is
described as very strong and very black, and he is referred to as "Black Ogun"
(BS). His other names include Onijaole (A20) and Ti~l~ (BS).
Qshqsi (<)~(lsi) is a God of the Hunt and, like Ogun, a patron of hunters.
He was a hunter and he gave all the animals he killed to Orishala (F7). He is
called "Finery" and child of "One who without working wears a gown of
beads"; when the members of his club decided to make new gowns for their
annual festival,Orishala gave him a gown of beads and all the others prostrated
before him (F7). Yoruba clubs customarily make identical costumes so that
their members may be readily identified when they go out together; but in
this verse they made different kinds of gowns. Another version of this verse
adds that Orishala also gave him a beaded cap and beaded trousers (F7 note
4). A third recorded version adds that Qsh<;>si was an archer and hunted with
brass and copper arrows given to him by Orishala (F7 note 2). Whereas the 48 Six teen Cowries
gun is a symbol of Ogun, the bow and arrow .are symbols of QshQsi. One of
the objects kept at his shrine is a miniature bow, often with an iron arrow
forged to the iron bow and bowstring.
When prunmila and Qshun go to visit Orishala, they are met by Qsh9si,
who tries to keep them from seeing him; the verse adds, "Just as Ikud~fu
waits at the house of the king of Qy9, so Osh9si waits at the house of Orishala"
(C2). Ikud({fu is an attendant (llari) of the king of pyp who sits near the
entrance of the palace to observe all who come and go. A third version of
another verse (F7) repeats this statement, adding that Qsh9si is the speaker
or "linguist" (good~ gb~y9) of Orishala, and that no one would be able to
find Orishala if he did not go through Osh9si (C2 note 3). This interesting
role was never mentioned in my discussions with Qshpsi priests, nor was his
beaded costume or the name "Finery."
Orisha Oko (Ori§a Oko) is called God of the Farm, but he is another
God of the Hunt. Despite his name he is not a "white deity"; nor is he the
god of farming or agriculture, as often has been said. He takes his name from
the fact that he lives in the farm; he does some farming, but he is primarily
a hunter. He is a friend of Ogun (J4) and, like Ogun and Qsh9si, a patron
of hunters. "Hunter of elephants who keeps his house clean" (Qd~ erin a
mule m9) is one of his praise names; the word hunter (Qd~) is incorporated
into names given to his worshipers; and he is referred to in songs as a hunter.
In the two verses in which he figures prominently he is described as a hunter
(Al4, ClO). In one, he was told not to be stingy but to give a feast with the
first animal he killed; he did so and since then anyone who is seeking children
or is sick comes to him and he gives them cold water (ClO).
His town is in1w9 (A34, ClO), about ten miles south of Shaki. This
is where he "went into the ground" and where his principal shrine is located.
The most important object in his shrine is his staff. The lower portion is
iron and shaped like a blade, but is interpreted as the leg; the middle portion
is of wood; and the phallic-shaped iron top is interpreted as the head. The
phallic shape is referred to in another verse (A14). Because he was impotent
he went to the farm to hunt, and he carved a stick like a penis, leaned it
against the wall, and worshipped it. When his tum came to succeed to office,
he refused to go home. He said that whoever wanted children should come
and sacrifice to this staff, the one they sacrifice to today. Hence he was called
"God is a penis" (Ori~a l'Ok6), the one we now call "God of the Farm"
(Ori~a Oko). His name was Ajala, and he was also called Arog~g~ (A14). The
verses do not refer to his important role in punishing witches or to the ordeal
administered at his shrine in Iraw9 when there is an accusation of witchcraft. 49 The System of Belief
Qsanyin (Qsanyin) is the God of Medicine. He inherited the herbs and
became an herbalist or doctor (I9 note 1) and a rival of Qrunmila. His work
is to cure people with medicines made of leaves, stems, bark, and roots; it is
said that he cannot make medicine without some part of a plant. When he
became Qrunmila's pawn or indentured servant, he was set to weed Qrunmila's
farm, but he found a leaf for money, a leaf for wives, a leaf for children, a
leaf for stomachache, and a leaf for headache-all the leaves were useful;
he didn't find a single weed to hoe and prunmila cancelled his debt (I9). He
went to OYQ and cured a person with a headache, one with a stomachache,
one whose feet hurt, a woman who did not become pregnant, and one who
would not deliver; and the king of 0Y9 made him wealthy (16). His town,
Abt;, is not mentioned in the verses, nor is the fact that he has only one leg.
He is called "Leaves" (N2), i.e., herbs, "The supernatural one" (N2), and
Angberi (I6), and his wife is named "Leaves gave me" (19 note 1 ). Qsanyin's
sacrifices include a black chicken, a black pigeon, a black goat, and a black
gown (16, I9). Palm kernel oil is his principal tabu, as it is for Eshu. In a con­
test with his rival, Qrunmila, Psanyin was completely decomposed after being
buried 320 days, leaving only the iron rods, staples,jars, and potsherds that he
wore; Qrunmila survived, took Qsanyin's gong, and gave Qsanyin's worshipers
a rattle, like that of Shango (cf. Bascom 1972: 6), to use in worshiping him
Sh<;>p<;>na (~<)p(}na) is the God of Smallpox. Although his worship has
been prohibited by the Nigerian government because of charges that his
priests spread smallpox to obtain the property of its victims, the priests
maintain that their role is to try to cure smallpox and, if they fail, to make
an atonement to prevent a recurrence of in the family. He is a
cripple who uses a crutch or walking stick (<)pa itil~); this is not referred to in
the verses, but one of Salak<;>'s myths tells how he broke his leg like Akere,
the frog (Bascom 1969: 404407), with whom Qsanyin is identified by SalakQ.
People usually avoid mentioning the name Shqp<;>na, calling him "King
of the World" (Obaluaiye) or another of his many praise names, but in the
verses he is referred to as Sh<;>pc;ma and in one verse as "Owner of hot water"
(M2). We learn that his town is Egun (A34 ), a reference to Dahomey, renamed
Benin, and we are told that "Sh9p9na kills the enemy" (Ill). He appears
incidentally with other deities in a number of other verses (A9, AlO, A32,
Bl4, G9), but in a major role only in the two verses associated with Ika, 13
cowries. Here we learn that he sacrificed hot water and that when he im­
merses someone's child in hot water, it has a fever (M2). In the other verse
(M 1 ), people didn't give Sh<;>p<;>na his share, so he sacrificed leaves, flies, and 50 Six teen Cowries
fire, and the diviners made a medicine for him. Then he shook his rattle and
smallpox appeared on peoples' bodies and they said that as soon as you see
smallpox, you should give something to Sh9p~ll1a and ask him to help you.
This verse says that ShQp~ma was cutting facial marks without a razor, re­
ferring to the similarity between cicatrization and the scars left by smallpox.
Egungun (Eg(ingun, Egun) is a deity that is worshiped by men, often
referred to as "masqueraders," who are concealed in costumes. There are four
classes of Egungun, not all of which have carved masks as part of their cos­
tumes (Bascom 1969B: 89, 93-95). The most powerful, protected by many
charms, formerly executed witches and workers of bad magic. The most
numerous class dances in public at the Egungun festival. A third, wearing a
trailing, bag-like costume, impersonates a recently deceased male relative.
The fourth class, also very numerous, but for amusement only, entertains the
spectators by rapid changes of costume and by mimicking various peoples and
occupations while wearing carved wooden masks.
Only males may wear the costumes. Women may worship Egungun and
watch the masked dancers, but they must not see the costumes when not
being worn and they must not be told who is wearing a costume. "If a woman
knows the secret, she must not tell." One verse (K13) tells how a
took the costume of Alapinni, the highest ranking member of the Egungun
cult, in out of the rain and put it in the room where the costumes were
stored; Alapinni threatened to kill her, but Eshu saved her. Both the store­
room and the place at which she was to be killed are called Igbal11 (K13 note
3), the name of the sacred grove of Egungun where sacrifices are offered and
where witches were executed. It is named in two other verses (K11, K12).
When Disobedience ignored a warning and took farm land in the sacred grove,
Egungun appeared and sang, "You knew the tabu; why did you do it?" Then
Disobedience gave up farming and became a follower of Egungun, carrying
his cloths (Kll). Qrunmila made a sacrifice at the sacred grove and then
married the wife of AgQn (K12). This may be a reference to Ag(m, the
Egungun executioner (cf. Abraham 1958: 150), but as transcribed the tones
are not the same.
Egungun worshipers in If11 said that Amaiyegun is the name of the god
who taught people to make and use the costumes. In Salak9's verse (F1) it is
"Stout Foreigner," identified as Egungun, who went to 'Peri, cured people
and gave them children, and then told them to make a cloth and a net for
him. The cloth or gown that serves as the costume and the net through which
the masked dancers can see out are referred to in several other verses (J14,
K4, K8, Kll, K13), and we are told that "The Egungun that helps us is the
one for which we buy cloths" (F16). The System of Belief 51
Egungun has been called the cult of the ancestors, but informants differ
in their interpretation of the masked dancers. Some say that they are dead
ancestors returning from heaven, but Egungun worshipers in Ify, Qy9, and
Igana held that this applies only to the third class with its shroud-like cos­
tume, although the second class may dance during funerals. In Qyg they said
that this third class appears only at the funerals of Egungun worshipers and
lineage heads, and that while Egungun are called "people of heaven" (ar:i
¢run), this means only that the worshipers were dedicated to Egungun before
they were born, not that they are ancestors returning. Only three verses (14,
J3, 14) suggest any relationship to ancestor worship, "They (He) sacrificed to
the Egungun of the house; they sacrificed to the deities outside." But this
may simply mean that there were Egungun worshipers in the house.
We are told that when came to earth, he offe~,;•d a sacrifice
and "Egungun became more powerful than humans" (114). Two kinds of
Egungun refuse to sacrifice their swords, and Egungun J;:lyru beheads Agunf9n
(Nl). Egungun's town is Qj~ (A34). He is also known as Alukulaka; he goes
to the J;:gba Y oruba to divine, they worship him, and he begets Ahuja Aka
(K4). Egungun, Shango, and Dada are children of Yem9ja (H2 note 2).
Egungun is mentioned incidentally in other verses (A9, AlO, B9, B14, Fl7,
G9, I2), and he also appears with his rival, Oro. He and Oro were working
and living together, but Egungun spent all the money they earned to buy
cloths (for his costumes); this is why they do not go anywhere together any
more, explaining the proverb, "We do not see Egungun at an Oro festival"
(K8). The chief of Ejigbo, who is identified as (K3 note 5), is killed
at Oro's command. Although it is sometimes denied by informants, the
verses make it clear that both Egungun and Oro are deities; they came to
earth with Sh9p9na and Ogun and, like them, became immortal (A32). Both
receive sacrifices (K7, Kll), and offer sacrifices themselves (A32).
Oro (Oro) is the deity who is worshiped with bullroarers. Like Egungun,
the Oro priests were formerly called upon to seize and execute witches and
those who made bad medicine. Women are excluded from his cult, and in
some towns when the bullroarers sounded on these occasions or during the
annual Oro festivals, women had to stay in their houses behind closed doors
and windows. In a large town like Is<1yin, where the Oro cult is particularly
strong, the sight of the markets and the streets empty of women is an un­
forgettable one.
We learn that Oro's town is Olufqn (A34), and that the town chief of
Is<1yin is a descendant of Oro and is buried in K9itt;, the sacred grove of Oro
(K7). However, in 1960 I was shown the graves of the As<1yin in lie Aba ltQn,
the house of Aba, the head of Oro in ls~yin. We are also told that the mother 52 Six teen Cowries
of the first Asffyin or chief of Isffyin was named Erelu, and that his father was
a chimpanzee or baboon (K7). Oro is generally believed to be a man, but
Salak9 said that she is a woman, and Oro appears as a woman in two of his
verses. In one, Oro is a slave wife who expresses her contempt for her hus­
band, "OlufQn, Bah!" and this expression is identified as the cry of Oro,
meaning the sound of bullroarers (C16). In the other, the chief of Ejigbo,
who is identified as Egungun, is beaten to death at the command of his in­
tended bride, "Something Scarce," who is identified as Oro (K3). This verse
adds that "The market that she scattered when she was going to the house of
her husband is the market she is scattering today," referrring to the haste
with which women leave the market when they hear the sound of bullroarers.
A number of other Yoruba deities appear in the verses. Olokun, the Sea
God or Goddess depending on the locality, has water drawn for her by Lily (B),
and she becomes king of all the waters (A47). Olokun's counterpart, Ql9sa,
Goddess of the Lagoon, is not mentioned, although Ogunbiyi names her and
Olokun as the deities associated with the figure Ofun (B). Aje or Ajeshuna,
the Goddess of Money, whose symbol is the large tiger cowry shell, goes to
confer with Head (A34), and she becomes the wife of Qrunmila (A28). Dada,
whom Salak9 identified as Shango's elder sister, is mentioned only once;
Yem9ja gives birth to Dada, Shango, and Egungun (H2 note 2). Lapetiji, who
is caught stealing peanuts (F20), was identified by SalakQ as a deity wor­
shiped at the town of Ijaye.
A client is told to sacrifice to Orisha Qja, God of the Market (12), who,
from the context, appears to be Orishala. Again judging from the context,
Father Olopirigidi, who covered evil with a pot (I7), may be Orishala; but the
sacrifice of a black chicken, a black goat, and a black pigeon suggests that he
may be Qsanyin.
Oshumare, the rainbow, and Iroko, a tree, are not deities at OYQ as they
are at MffkQ and other western Yoruba towns, but they appear in Salak9's
verses. Because his mother did not offer a sacrifice, Rainbow returns to heaven
the same day he comes to earth, like an abiku who dies soon after he is born
(F22). Sacrifices to Iroko are prescribed (F16, 19), as well as to the shea
butter tree (K 7), the Terminalia (K7), and the Dracaena (D6) trees; and we are
told, "If a tree helps me, I can get kola nuts and sacrifice to the tree." Part Two
The Verses of
Sixteen Cowries Eji Ogbe
Eji Ogbe- 1
Ori re ni dade owo;
Qrun ire ni ~ediga ilyk~;
I di rere ni fi fni ore ~i ty
Lo da fun Ara tumi ti ~e obinrin O~a.
O~a la lori.
0 ni O~a ti mo ba tyty iry ni ilari iwp Ori§a ni mo da.
Ary oke ki t~ loju yni la lori.
Eji Ogbe ni jy bf
Eji Ogbe- 2
Qka lyly lybu;
Akitan ~e kyky gbily.
O~umare ygp ni ile,
A gboju Ql<;>run a gaga
Da fun Ql<;>fin
Ofo aiku.
0 da Eji Ogbe WQn;w<;>r<;> loju <;>p<;>n.
54 8 Cowries
"A lucky head wears a crown of cowries;
"A lucky neck wears jasper beads;
1"Lucky hips use a throne "
Was the one who cast for "My body is at ease" who was the wife of Orisha.
Orisha initiated her.
She said, "Orisha, if I use your throne, I am unfaithful to you, Orisha.
The first born of the hill is not disgraced in the eyes of his initiator.
Eji Ogbe is like this.
I. An expensive carpet spread on the ground as a throne or seat of honor.
1 "Little by little the oka snake becomes thicker; by little the refuse heap wider.
"Foolish rainbow in the house,
"With his face to the sea,
"And his back to the lagoon,
"He looks at Olorun on high"
Cast for the king
For long life.
He cast Eji Ogbe woroworo on the tray.
1. Variously identified as a boa constnctor, cobra, and Gaboon viper. Cf. Bascom
55 56 Sixteen Cowries
Irinwo adan,
~gb~rin odid~,
K~k~, Ori~a, so'kurQ.
Adan m~rindilogun l~bQ r~ nib~.
Eji Ogbe.
Eji Obge- 3
~ni to jin koto nlo kQ ara yoku lQgbQn.
0 nlo da fun Ori~ Rowu
NijQ ti nre joye lQja Ejigbom~kun.
Ori~ Rowu ni on yio joye,
Ori~ Oloj6 ni on ni on yio j~.
NwQn ni ki WQn o rubQ.
Ori~a Rowu ru bQ,
~gba m~rindinlogun,
Adi~ m~rindinlogun.
0 ru a§Q funfun;
0 ru a§Q osun.
O§a Oloj6 ni tani tun ku?
0 ni §ebi on ni agba tani yio ha tun j~?
Ori§a Oloj6 ko rubQ.
Nw9n wa ni ~iy~ ni yio fi WQn jQba;
Loru ni WQn yio si rin
Inu ~r~ ni WQn si rin.
Ni WQn ba nl9 titi titi.
Nigbati nwQn si de inu ~r~,
Ni WQn ba ya Ori~ Oloj6 sil~.
Ori§a Rowu mu a§Q funfun r~;
Odi ru 0~ Oluorm ni WQn ba nlQ.
Bi wQn ti de be; ni akukQ ba ke He-e-pa o!
Ni Ori§a Rowu ba joye
Lo ba gba oye lQWQ rc;.
Eji Ogbe ni jc; be;.
Idi ija oye ti §11 nu u. Eji Ogbe 57
Four hundred bats,
Eight parrots,
Quickly, Orisha, tie up Death.
Sixteen bats is the sacrifice.
Eji Ogbe.
"One who falls into a pit teaches a lesson to others."
He was the one who cast for Orisha Rowu
One the day that he was going to take a title at Ejigbomekun market.
Orisha Rowu was the one who was going to take the title,
But Orisha Olojo said he was the one who would take it.
The diviners said that they should offer a sacrifice.
Orisha Rowu offered the sacrifice:
32,000 cowries/
Sixteen chickens, pigeons.
He offered a white cloth;
2 He a cloth reddened with camwood.
Orisha Olojo said, "Who else is there?
He said, "It seems that I am the eldest. So who else will take it.
Orisha Olojo did not offer a sacrifice.
They said that a bird would make them king;
They would go at night
And they would walk through mud.
They went on and on.
When they came to the mud,
They left Orisha Olojo behind.
Orisha Rowu took his white cloth;
He gave it to Orisha Oluofm to carry, and they went on.
As they arrived, a cock crowed, "Heee-pa oh!"
And Orisha Rowu was crowned
And took the title from Orisha Olojo.
Eji Ogbe is like this.
That is how competing for titles began.
1 · Eight sile. In divination 2,000 cowries are valued at five kobo.
2 · Pterocarpus osun. The ground heartwood yields a dry red powder that is applied to
cloth and the body. Sixteen Cowries 58
Eji Ogbe- 4
<)tqt¢ at~r~,
(>t¢t¢ lat~ eruku
Da fun J;l~d~ ti nre isal~ abata
Re t~l~ qmq i bi.
0 ni mo ruru, mo ru osun;
Ariwo qmQ ko jt; ngbqran.
Mo ruru, mo ru <;yin;
Ariwo QffiQ o j(f ngb9ran.
Mo ruru, mo ru (fr(f;
Ariwo QffiQ o jt; ngb9ran.
Mo ruru, mo ru iyun
Ariwo qmq o j~ ngb9ran.
Ibiti o gbe fq ire QffiQ nu u.
Eji Ogbe ni jt; btf.
0 fQ ire 9m9 nibt; un.
J;,bq QffiQ ni WQn yio ru.
WQn yio ru <;gba mt;rindinlogun;
WQn yio ru t;iyt;le medi;
WQn yio ru agbebQ adi~ meji
Nitori QffiQ.
Ogbe mejeji.
Eji Ogbe- 5
Eji w~r~w~r¢ ni le QmQ lule;
Agba nla ojo ni mi ogiri titi l~s~
Da fun Ql9m9 w~wf
0 ni ire on p~ lode aiye;
0 ni ire on p~ lode 9run.
Ko mQ pe ori ni yan ori okun, ori ni yan ori id~
Ori ni yan j~butu aje jinwinjinwin.
0 ri m9l~ kan sin, babalawo QlQfm,
A gbo diw<;mran.
Eyiti yio dagbactagba ti qmq yio fi irni idi ry ~e oko jy. Eji Ogbe 59
"One by one we walk in mud,
"One by one we walk in dust"
Cast for Pig who was going down to the mud
To give birth to her children.
She said, "I sacrifice and sacrificed, I sacrificed cam wood;
"The clamor of my children does not let me hear.
"I sacrificed and sacrificed, I sacrificed eggs;
"The clamor of my children does not let me hear.
"I sacrificed and sacrificed, I sacrificed mud;
"The clamor of my children does not let me hear.
"I sacrificed and sacrificed, I sacrificed coral beads;
"The clamor of my children does not let me hear."
This is where Orisha predicts a blessing of children.
Eji Ogbe is like this.
He predicts a blessing of children here.
A sacrifice for children is what they will offer.
They will offer 32,000 cowries;
They will offer two pigeons;
They will offer two hens
For children.
Both Ogbe.
"A drizzle drives the child home;
"A torrent of rain water shakes the walls violently"
Cast for "One who has small children."
She said her earthly blessings were late;
She said her heavenly were late.
She did not know her head chose a destiny of beads, her head chose a
destiny of brass,
Her head chose a great abundance of money.
"One who has a deity to worship, the diviner of the king,
"One who grows to a very old age."
This person will become so old that her children will use her excrement
to make a farm. Sixteen Cowries 60
H~n. Qlc;>mc;> w~w~ ni.
On tile ~ ti on yio fi bimc;> nile aiye?
Nwc;>n ni yio bimc;>.
0 ru yran, o ru malu;
Ko si ohun ti ko fi rube;>.
Qlc;>mQ w~w~ c;>run ko ri QID9 bi.
Qr~ r~ ni o tun ku awo ti a lQ.
0 ni lc;idc;> awo wo?
0 ni lQdc;> Eji wpr~w~r~ nkQ?
Nigbati yio fQn,
0 ba l9 si 9d9 Eji wyr~wyr~.
0 ni yio lc;> ru agbc;> c;>san kan;
Yio lc;> ru ygba myrindinlogun.
0 ni yio ru agbebc;> adiy meji;
0 ni ko ru gele ori ara ry.
Qlc;>m9 w~w~ si ko t:bQ o rube;>,
0 ru tan nu u.
Nigbati o wa rube;> tan,
Qlc;>mc;> w~w~ wa n~e Y¥Y¥ pe,
On ti on ru malu;
Ti on ru ewury;
Ti on ru agutan,
Ti on ko bimc;>.
Agb9n c;>san ni wc;>n yio wa pe ki on ko ru
Ti on yio wa fi bimQ kQ yi?
0 mu ikan ninu c;>san na o mu,
Lo ba gbe QID9 ry mi.
Nigbati o gbe c;>m9 c;>san mi ko di ij9 keji ki igbc;>nsy ko ~e;
Lo ba bQ si ~hinkule lo ba ~ 9m9 c;>san.
0 di aly ijQ keji
Ojo de, o r9 si QID9 c;>san.
Li c;>san ba hu,
0 si wa nhu nu u.
Ni Qlc;>mc;> w~w~ ni Ha!
Qsan ti on fi ~e irubQ,
Qm9 c;>san lo hu.
0 gbe ajadi ikoko
0 fi bo mc;>lt:.
Qsan E~u o sa ndagba; Eji Ogbe 61
Yes. There was "One who has small children."
What should she do to bear children on earth?
They said she would bear children.
She offered goats, she offered cows;
There was nothing that she did not sacrifice.
"One who has small children" of heaven did not bear children.
Her friend said, "There is another diviner we can go to."
She said, "Which diviner?"
Her friend said, "What about Drizzle?"
When she left,
She went to Drizzle.
1 He said, "You will offer one basket of star apples ;
"You will offer 32,000 cowries.
He said, "You will offer two hens;
He said, "You will offer the head-tie you are wearing."
"One who has small children" collected the sacrifice, she offered the sacrifice,
She finished the sacrifice.
When she finished sacrificing,
"One who has small children" began mocking the diviner:
"I have offered cows;
"I have she-goats;
"I have offered ewes,
"But I have not born children.
"And now you tell me a basket of star apples is what I should offer
"So that I will bear children?"
She took one of the star apples and ate it,
And she swallowed one of the seeds.
When she it, on the next day when she went to defecate,
She went to the back yard and voided the seed.
On the evening of the next day
Rain came, and it fell on the star apple seed.
The seed sprouted,
And it began to grow.
"One who has small children" said, "Ha!
"The star apple that I sacrificed,
"Its seed is sprouting."
She took a pot with a broken bottom
And covered the seedling (to shade it from the sun).
Eshu's star apple was growing quickly;
1 · Chrysophyllum spp. Six teen Cowries 62
0 ndagba sa.
Nigbati o ~e QlQrnQ w~w~ loyun. yio bi obi rneji l~kinni;
0 bi rneji lykeji;
0 bi rneji lykyta;
0 bi rneji l~kyrin.
Qsan yi wa nso;
Ko rna so nu.
Af~f~ wa nf~ Qsan yi r~ sil~.
Nigbati yio rna ry sily
A WQn 9rn9 WQnyi,
Nigbati wQn yio ba ko o,
~niti yio ko rneji;
~niti yio ko rnyta;
~niti yio ko rnyrin;
Ni w9n wanda si lara.
0 wa byry si SQkun.
NwQn sa bi bi bi titi.
NwQn ni y tun l9 pe Qfy ry wa,
NwQn si lQ pe Qf~ r~ peE ha ti ri?
Kilo tun ri?
0 ni on ti on ri
Aw9n QrnQyi.
Qsan ijQ kini ti WQn ni ki on o fi ~e irubQ
Ti owa nso,
On ni WQn wa nko ti WQn wa nda si on lara.
H~n! Qry ry ni a rna SQkun eni?
0 rna se,o rna SQ.
NijQti ti WQn nse asaro fun 'beji;
Ti w9n nse ~wa;
Ti WQn nse ipekele,
Ti WQn nse dundu ti ~~ nu u.
Lo b~r~ si gbogbo ohun ti ynu jy lo sa byr~ si se.
Ni wa njo, ni nyQ;
Ni nyin awQn awo,
Ni aw9n awo wa nyin O~a
Pe b~ ni aw9n awo ti awQn awo ti awQn n~e ynu rere wi.
Eji w~r~w~r~ nile QIDQlule;
Agba nla ojo ti rni ogiri lode Qrun.
Eyiti ko rnQ pe ori ni yan ori okun,
Ori ni yan ori id~, Eji Ogbe 63
It was growing quickly.
After a while "One who has small children" became pregnant.
When she gave birth, she bore twins the first time;
She bore twins the second time;
She bore twins the third time;
And she bore twins the fourth time.
The star apple began to bear fruit;
It was bearing fruit.
A breeze came and blew the fruit to the ground.
When they fell on the ground
Her children,
When they would pick them up,
Some picked up two;
Some up three;
Some picked up four,
And they were throwing them at her.
She began to weep.
They asked and asked why she was weeping.
They said they would go and call her friend to come,
And they went and called her friend to ask "What is the matter?"
"What is the matter?"
She said, "The matter is
"These children.
"The star apple that they said I should sacrifice the other day
"And that is bearing fruit,
"They are picking up the fruit and throwing them at me."
Yes. Her friend said, "Is that why you are weeping?
"You should be cooking, you should be cooking."
From that day on they were cooking seasoned mashed yams for twins;
They were cooking boiled corn;
They were fried plantain;
And they were cooking fried yam.
She began to cook everything that one eats.
She was dancing, she was rejoicing;
She was praising the diviners,
And the diviners were praising Orisha
That their were speaking the truth.
"A drizzle drives the child home;
"A torrent of rain water shakes the walls of heaven."
This one did not know that her head chose a destiny of beads,
Her head chose a destiny of brass, 64 Sixteen Cowries
Ori ni yan ori aje jinwinjinwin.
0 ri m91~ kan sin, baba1awo Q19fin,
A gbo diw9nran.
Eyiti yio dagbadagba ti QID9 wa nfi imi idi r~ ~e onj~ j~ 1oju ara r~.
E1eyini yio 19 b9 ibeji,
Nibiti a gbe da Eji Ogbe, Ogbe mejeji.
Eji Ogbe- 6
Ak¢ aja 191a;
Ag¢ ala niyi o~;
Qm9 bokun, 9m9 bi id~.
Qm9 ~ni 19m9 ~ni;
QmQ ~ni ko §e idi b~r~ bi ka so il~k~ m9 QIDQ ~1omi 1apa
Da fun Ond~~~roro oke Apa
Ti lku on Arun nkan ri r~,
Ti nba w9n gbe ode Opo1oro.
0 ni Iku wa §i Onibuje m<;>.
Nw<;>n ni ki o 19 rub9;
Nw<;>n ni lku nyi wo.
Kinion yio ha ru?
Nw9n ni ki o 19 ru ~gba m~j<;>;
W9n ni ko ru ~iy~1e meji;
W<;>n ni ki o ru adi~ meji;
W9n ni ki o ru a~Q ara r~;
W9n ni ko ru igi ti nfi ya ina;
W9n ni ko wa 19 ru buje.
H~n. 0~ pe e1eni ipara kan nb~ 19w9 r~;
Ki o rna §e afar.a si. Eji Ogbe 65
Her head chose a destiny of great wealth.
"One who has a deity to worship, the diviner of the king,
"One who grows to a very old age."
This person will become so old that her children will use her excrement to
grow food.
This person will go and sacrifice to twins,
Where we cast Eji Ogbe, both Ogbe.
"A male dog has honor;
1 "Venus is the glory of the new moon;
2 "A child is like beads, a child is like brass.
"One's own child is one's own;
"If one's own child has bad hips, one does not tie beads on the arm of
another's child"
3 Cast for Ondesheroro of Apa Hill
When Death and Sickness were thinking about him,
And he was living at the town of Opoloro.
4 He said, "Death comes but does not recognize the one who has buje. "
They said he should go and offer a sacrifice;
They said Death was looking at him.
What should he offer?
They said he should offer 16,000 cowries;
They said he offer two pigeons;
They said he should offer two chickens;
They said he should offer the cloth he was wearing;
They said he offer firewood;
They said he should go and offer buje.
Yes. Orisha says that this person has an ointment;
He should pay attention to it.
I. This planet (agq ala) IS spoken of as the "moon's dog" (aja Oiiupa) because it follows
the moon's course.
2 · Cf. Bascom 1969: 325, 331.
The name of this character could not be translated, but roro appears later with
reference to his crimson color or light complexion. Abimbqla (1976:160-61) gives
OridfSf pupa, translated as "Oitd~sf, the light complexioned man." Cf. Chapter II.
4 · A fruit (Randia spp.) whose juice is used to make ornamental blue-black patterns,
also known as buje, on the body. Six teen Cowries 66
NwQn si jeru gbogbo r~ tan;
WQn fun buje sinu omi.
WQn ni ki o fi para lo ba fi pa ara,
Ni Ond~~~roro Oke Apa enia pupa lo ba di patapata.
Nigbati lku yio de bi ti yi wo,
Bi ti m9 fo,
KomQ fo mQ.
A! A! Pupa ni Ond~~~roro.
Eleyi w~!
I;:niti on nwa kQ ni yi.
Ki on ko rna wa pa ~ni ~l~ni o jare,
Ni lku ko ba pa mQ; lo ba lQ.
Nigbati yio de ile,
Olodumare ni ~niti o lQ mu da?
0 ni on ko ba nib~.
0 ni pupa roro ni Ond~~~roro;
J;:niti on si ba patapa ta bayi lo si ri.
Ha! 0 ni ~ru r~ niyi.
0 ni WQn ti ko de.
0 wa ni on yio bQ si ita ki on ko tun lQ mu Ond~§~roro ni.
Olodumare ni gberigberi ki gberi l~meji.
Ni Ond~~~roro ko wale ku IDQ.
Ni wa njo, ni ny9
Ni nyin aw9n awo,
Ni awQn awo nyin O§a
Pe b~ ni awQn awo ti on §e ~nu rere wi.
Ak(> aja l9la;
Ag<) ala niyi O§U;
QmQ bokun, 9m9 a bi id¢.
QmQ ~ni lQmQ ~ni;
QmQ ~ni ni ko §e idi b~r~ ko so il~k~ mQ QIDQ ~lorni lapa
Da fun Ond~§~roro oke Apa
Ti Iku on Arun nkan ri r§!,
Ti nba wQn gbe ode Opoloro.
0 ni Iku wa §i Onibuje IDQ
SinimQ, §inim<), §inimQ.
Arun wa §i Onibuje mQ,
Sinim¢, §inim<), §inim¢. Eji Ogbe 67
They took all his offerings;
They put the buje in water.
They said he should rub himself, and he rubbed himself with it,
And Ondesheroro of Apa Hill who was red became striped.
When Death arrived and looked at him,
As he had known him very red,
He did not find him very red any more.
"Ah! Ah! Ondesheroro is red.
"This one here!
"The person I am looking for is not this one."
Lest he should kill the wrong person,
Death did not kill him; he went away.
When he arrived home,
Olodumare said, "Where is the person you went to bring?"
Death said, "I did not find him there.
He said, "Ondesheroro is crimson red;
"The person I saw was striped."
"Ha!" Olodumare said, "These are his loads.
He said, "They have brought them."
Death said he would go again and bring Ondesheroro.
5 Olodumare said, "The gberigberi snake does not raise its head twice."
So Ondesheroro did not die.
He was dancing, he was rejoicing;
He was praising the diviners,
And the diviners were praising Orisha
That his had spoken the truth.
"A male dog has honor;
"Venus is the glory of the new moon;
"A child is like beads, a child is like brass.
"One's own child is one's own;
"If one's own child has bad hips one does not tie beads on the arm
of another's child"
Cast for Ondesheroro of Apa Hill
When Death and Sickness were thinking about him,
And he was living in the town of Opoloro.
He sang: "Death comes, but does not recognize the one who has buje,
"Doesn't recognize him, doesn't him, doesn't recognize him.
"Sickness comes, but does not recognize the one who has buje,
"Doesn't recognize him, doesn't him, doesn't recognize him."
5 · An unidentified snake whose name means "raise head raise head." Six teen Cowries 68
O§a pe lku yio §i eleni me;> s~ o,
Bi O§a ti wi nu u.
Eleni you fi i§U kan rube;>;
l§u na E§U ni wc;>n yio lc;> fun.
Eji Ogbe ni; Eji Ogbe ni j~ b~.
Eji Ogbe- 7
Qtqt<} a jypa;
Qt9t9 laj~ imumu;
L¢t¢1qt¢ ni wqn SQ olu etutu s~nu
Bi erun ja bi erun ta,
Nwqn a fi iru ba ara wc;>n teleteletele
Da fun 'Kugbagbe ti §e qmq agba O§a Wuji.
0 ni Iku wa gbagbe mi loni.
Agb~ rokoroko WQn a ka§ai gbagbe ewe kan sebe.
Ikugbagbe ni on tile §e ti on ko fi nile ku mq?
Nwc;>n ni ko ni ku.
Kini on yio ha §e?
Nwon ni ko rubo.
' '
Kini on yio ha ru?
Nwqn ni ko ru ~gba myjc;>;
NwQn ni ko ru agbebQ adi~ kan;
Ko ru ~iy~le kan;
W9n ni ko ru a§Q ara r~.
Nw9n ni ko ni igbin myj\)
Ko rna l9 b9 O§a.
'Kugbagbe sa ko ybQ, o rubQ;
0 ko eru, o tu nu u,
0 si bQ Ori§a.
Ni 'Kugbagbe ko bale ku mQ.
Ni wa njo, ni nyQ;
Ni o wa nyin aw9n awo,
Ni o awQn awo wa nyin O§a
Pe b\) ni awQn awo ti on n~e \)nu rere wi. Eji Ogbe 69
Orisha says that Death will not recognize this person,
As Orisha has spoken.
This person will offer a sacrifice of one yam;
The yam they will give to Eshu.
This is Eji Ogbe; Eji Ogbe is like this.
"One by one we eat peanuts;
1 "One by one we eat tiger nuts;
"One by one we throw queen ants into the mouth.
2 "When driver ants fight, when driver ants sting,
"They touch each other lightly with their tails"
Cast for "Death forgets" who was the child of old Orisha Wuji.
He said, "Death, forget me today.
"Farmers hoe and hoe, they forget not one weed on the yam heaps."
"Death forgets" said, "What can I do so that I will not die?"
They said he would not die.
What should he do?
They said he should offer a sacrifice.
What should he sacrifice?
They said he should offer 16,000 cowries;
They said he offer a hen;
He should offer a pigeon;
They said he should offer the cloth he was wearing.
They said he take eight snails
And go and sacrifice them to Orisha.
''Death forgets" collected the sacrifice, he offered the sacrifice;
He appeased the gods,
And he sacrificed to Orisha.
"Death forgets" did not die.
He was dancing, he was rejoicing;
He was praising the diviners,
And the diviners were praising Orisha
That his were speaking the truth.
1 · Cyperus esculentus.
2 · Black ants with a ferocious bite but no sting. 70 Six teen Cowries
(>t¢t¢ la j~pa;
9t9t¢ a j~ imumu;
L¢t9l¢t¢ ni WQn s9 olu etutu s~nu.
Bi erun ja, bi erun ta,
W9n a fi iru ba ara w9n teleteletele
'Da fun 'Kugbagbe ti §e 9m9 agba 9~ Wuji.
0 ni Iku wa gbagbe mi loni.
Agb~ rokoroko w9n ka~ai gbagbe ewe kan sebe.
Arun gbagbe mi loni.
Agb~ rokoroko w9n ka§ai gbagbe ewe kan sebe.
Eji Ogbe ni.
Eji Ogbe- 8
ip~p~r~ im<) ni farabal~ ni jogunda
Da fun Qrunmila.
Ifa nl9 ba wQn mul~ budo
Nita lku nita Arun,
Nita Ajogun M~r~rindilogun
Ti nb~ lode O§alaiye.
Qrunmila ni il~ budo ti on nlQ yi,
0 ti §e le dara fun bayi?
NwQn ni ki o rubQ.
0 ni kini on yio ha ru?
NwQn ni ki o ru ~gba m~rindilogun;
WQn ni ko ru ~iy~le;
WQn ni ki o ru agbeb9 adi~;
WQn ni ki ru a§9 ara r~.
W9n ni ko ni agbeb9 adi~;
WQn ni ki o l9 fi bQ oke ip9ri r~
Nibi il~ ibudo ti o nl9 mu yi.
Nigbati yio de ib~ nk<;>?
Ile Iku ni;
Ile Arun ni;
Ile Ofo ni.
Nigbati yio do Qhun,
Bi o ti ru ina tu u,
B~ ni lku wo oke.

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