Another of the thousands of poems associated with the Ifa oracle of the Yoruba people (see also How Leopard got his honour). There are 256 different Odu or branches of lfa poetry, and many hundreds of different poems are associated with each Odu. The Ifa priest learns these poems during many years of training. Each poem is associated with a set of ‘throws’ of the divination instruments (cowrie shells, kola nuts etc.) to indicate which poem is suitable when a client comes to him for advice. He recites the poem to the client who must find his own meaning in the words. The Ifa priest will also direct the sacrifices to be made to the relevant Orisha following the divination.

The twisted wooden stump which crosses the road in a crooked way. (1)
Ifa divination was performed for Lion,
on the day he was going into the forest to hunt for animals.
He asked whether the hunt on which he was venturing
would give him plentiful rewards.
He was asked to make sacrifice so he might triumph over his enemies.
But Lion boasted no one was so bold as to oppose him,
swearing he would not make sacrifice.
Before long, Lion entered the forest to hunt.
Eshu became into a wind and followed him.
When Lion got well into the forest,
he saw one ira and killed it, (2)
but as he was trying to feast on its intestines
Eshu plucked a fruit of the afon tree (3)
and hurled it against Lion’s hips.
As soon as it struck, Lion ran away,
And before he could return
Eshu carried off the carcass.
When Lion came back,
he searched for a long time without seeing the animal.
When killed another, the same thing occurred.
Lion began to be very hungry,
and he hastened to go and perform sacrifice.
After making his sacrifice,
he returned to the forest to hunt for animals,
and Eshu didn’t frighten him again.
He started to dance,
he began to rejoice,
praising ‘The twisted wooden stump which crosses the road in a crooked way.’
Ifa divination was performed for Lion (4)
on the day he was going into the forest to hunt animals.
He was told to honour the divinities,
he was told it would be a good thing
if he performed sacrifice.
It is not a long time,
it is not a distant date,
come and meet us in conquest.

from Ifa Divination Poetry,
Wande Abimbola,
(NOK, New York, 1977).


Footnotes

  1. This is said in praise of Eshu, the Yoruba trickster god (see also Eshu, God of Fate). This beginning indicates the tale that follows turns on chance.
  2. Ira: Wildebeest
  3. Afon: Breadfruit tree. It’s fruit is the size of a football and extremely heavy.
  4. These last 8 lines are to be assumed as spoken by Lion, indicating his submission to Eshu.