WHAT IS IFA?
IFÁ is a sophisticated and complex system of divination developed by the Yoruba of what is today southwest Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. Ifá is based on 16 major odù or chapters and 240 minor odù making a total of 256 odù Ifá as it is commonly refered. Within these 256 odù Ifá there are literally thousands of stories, myths, verses, songs, prayers, proverbs, ritual sacrifices and offerings called ebo, cultural history, social and cultural taboos, medicinal preparations, and dietary recommendations to include some of the most commonly featured themes in Ifá literature. The repository of this literature, which nowadays is partially and frequently in written form but in the past was entirely oral, is in the hands of priests of Ifá called Babalawo. They and adepts of Ifá believe the entire literary corpus is the message of God the creator or Olodùmare as witnessed by the all-wise, all-knowing deity or Òrìshà named Òrúnmìlà or, who presides spiritually over the system. Ifá is believed to encompass the entire spectrum of human experience. Such a body of text would obviously have to be very extensive and complex. However, the interconnecting thread that weaves the entire Ifá corpus is nature. Indeed in virtually every odù Ifá there is at least mention of some bird, mammal, fish, reptile, insect, plant, tree, mineral, or geographic location.
The origins of Ifá in Yorubaland seem to be shrouded in myth and cultural history. However, it is fairly certain how Ifá came to be known in the "New World" or Diaspora. Along with millions of other Africans who were brought to the Americas via slave ships, hundreds of thousands of Yoruba were brought to the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Trinidad, and Haiti as well as Brazil. A large contingency of these Yoruba were brought in the late 19th century to Cuban shores. Undoubtedly among those captured Yoruba were Babalawo versed in the literature and knowledge of Ifá. The names of these Babalawo are maintained orally and recalled frequently in ceremonial settings by many present-day diviners in the diasporic hubs like Cuba, Miami, Puerto Rico, and New York. Many of the same stories, myths, verses, songs, proverbs, etc. relating to nature that have been recorded in recent studies on Ifá in West Africa have been preserved by present-day Babalawo in the Diaspora.