Who is a Babaláwo? By Adérẹ̀mí Ifáòleèpin Adérẹ̀mí

Who is a Babaláwo? By Adérẹ̀mí Ifáòleèpin Adérẹ̀mí

Who is a Babaláwo? By Adérẹ̀mí Ifáòleèpin Adérẹ̀mí


I. Ordinarily, a Babaláwo or Onífá (Ifá Devotee) refers to anyone "who have Ifá"; possessing two or more sets of or "hands" each of 16 great and also sacred palm nuts widely known as Ikin Ifá (Gbafá, Ṣẹ́fá and or Tẹfá) and who follow and worship Ifá (Ọ̀rúnmìlà Baraà mi Àgbọnnìrègún) including men who inherited, accepted or are initiated into the worship of Ifá without being Ifá Diviners, and women who are instructed by Ifá to be his Adherents or married to Ifá Worshipers or Devotees and or (Apẹ̀tẹ̀bí aya Awo) but can "never" become a Babaláwo. "It's only men that can become Babaláwo"!

II. Ifá Diviner is most commonly called Babaláwo (father of secrets or mysteries) or simply Awo Ifá - man of secrets or mysteries. A typical and practising Babaláwo is also an Ifá priest serving other Ifá Worshipers / Devotees as well as divining for those who worship other Divinities (Irúnmọlẹ̀s / Òrìṣàs) and other members of the larger society and general public.

A Babaláwo is trained through a system of apprenticeship similar to that in the arts and crafts. A father often prefers to have his son learn Ifá (kọ́ Ifá) from another Babaláwo, so that he will be given sufficient displine to learn well; and if the father is dead, there is no choice but to apprentice the child.

And no fees of any sort are required, but an Ọmọ Awo / Ọmọ Ìkọ́fá must serve (ṣìn) his Master (Baba Awo / Olúwo) by fulfilling any task assigned to him, including running errands, purchasing materials in the market for client's sacrifice and or rituals, searching and fetching for spiritual, sacrificial, and medicinal materials and "leaves of Ifá" (Ewé Ifá) in the forest and other places, and carrying his Baba Awo's divining bag (Àpò Ifá / Àpò Àbìrà / Àpò Jèrùgbé) on his shoulder when he goes out; because he is Akọ́pò or Akápò (Akọ́ àpò) to him, while both of them (Ọmọ Awo and Baba Awo) are Akápòs to Ifá - Ọ̀rúnmìlà Baraà mi Àgbọnnìrègún.

It's traditional and also conventional that Ọmọ Awo is fed, clothed and lodged by his Baba Awo / Olúwo, but
Ọmọ Awo may also sleeps and takes his evening meal at his parent or guardian home.

Individuals (particularly foreigners and scholars / researchers) who learn Ifá as adults may pay a Babaláwo to teach them rather than serving his teacher (Baba Awo / Olúwo) as Ọmọ Awo / apprentices; there are no fixed rates for this, but they most time pay huge sums of money.

Whether Ọmọ Awo lern as an apprentice or is taught by his father, instruction may begin as early as six or seven years of age. The duration of the period of training to eminently qualify for an independent practices as a Babaláwo is varied but it used to be between an average of four and ten years; but he must not stopped learning when the duration is completed.

Any practising Babaláwo must continue to study Ifá as long as he live, either by associating with his colleagues while they are divining, or by paying other Babaláwos to teach him specific "Àkóṣe Ifá" (spiritual Ifá works or medicines). Ordinarily, no Babaláwo is expected to charge for any Ifá verses or required to pay for ẹyọ Ifá (Ifá verses).

When the apprenticeship is ended and the newly independent Babaláwo begins to practice on his own, he must give his Baba Awo / Olúwo part of whatever he receives as payment / benefits (èrù) through divining, and this "obligation" continues as long as the Master (Baba Awo / Olúwo) lives. He is also expected to go to the assistance of his Master whenever he is called upon to do so.

One becomes a Babaláwo in much the same way that he becomes a worshiper of any other Divinity (Irúnmọlẹ̀ / Òrìṣà): by following the worship (and vocation) of his father or ancestor, by being instructed by Ifá through divination that one should become a Babaláwo, by personal interest or conviction (particularly nowadays), or by combination of these reasons.

The language of Ifá: essential to the aesthetic appreciation of Ifá as Literature is the prior consideration of the forms of its expression such as poetry, prose, chant litany and song and its genres such as proverb, story, myth, allegory, and incantation.

Needless to emphasise, a knowledge of Yorùbá language is a sine qua non since translations seldom succeed in convening the nuances and euphony of the original text.

Naturally, Babaláwo is expected to always demonstrate honest practice and professional competence; and that his name is also always found in the same sentence with encyclopedic knowledge of Ifá and exemplary character.

Àbọrú bọyè o. 

Adérẹ̀mí Ifáòleèpin Adérẹ̀mí
(Olúwo Ifákòleèpin) 
Founder / Chief Coordinating Officer
Society for the Ifá Practice in Nigeria (SIPIN)