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Iyaaláwo or Iyalawo (Iyalao or Iyalaô in Latin America; literally meaning 'mother of the secrets' in the Yoruba language), also known as Iyanifa (meaning 'mother of Ifá') is a spiritual title that denotes a Priestess of Ifá. Its male counterpart is called Babalawo (meaning 'father of the secrets'). Ifá is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Orisha Orunmila, the Orisha of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of Olodumare. The Iyalawo ascertain the future of their clients through communication with Ifá. This is done through the interpretation of either the patterns of the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm nuts called Ikin, on the traditionally wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.

Iyalawo in an Ifá community[edit]

Iyalawos undergo training in the memorization and interpretation of the 256 Odu or mysteries, as well as in the numerous verses or Ese of Ifá. Traditionally, the Iyalawo usually have additional professional specialties. For instance, several would also be herbalists, while others would specialize in extinguishing the troubles caused by Ajogun. The Iyalawos are, however, generally trained in the determination of problems, or to divine how good fortune can be maintained, and the application of both spiritual and related secular diagnosis and solutions. Their primary function is to assist people in finding, understanding, and being in alignment with one's individual destiny, Ori of life until they experience spiritual wisdom as a part of their daily experience. The Awo is charged with helping people develop the discipline and character that supports such spiritual growth called "Iwa Pele", or good character. This is done by identifying the client's spiritual destiny, or Ori, and developing a spiritual blueprint which can be used to support, cultivate, and live out that destiny.


The position of Iyalawo is found in both West Africa and in the Americas. The title is denied in the Lucumí tradition as well as several parts of Yorubaland where women are forbidden to initiate into Ifá. As with the various lineages throughout Africa and the diaspora, the Lucumí lineage is distinct and separate from African lineages as can be seen in an accord reached by a group of Lucumí Obá Oriatés, Babalaos, and Olorichás on June 2, 2010.[1] Some areas of Nigeria such as Ode Remo and parts of Ijebuland also forbid women from Ifá initiation and the spiritual capital of Yorubaland, Ilé Ifé, did not begin to initiate women into Ifá until the 1990s. In the book, Orisa Devotion as World Religion, Dr. Eason recounts how in 1992 the King of Oyotunji Adefunmi, under pressure from women at Oyotunji to allow them to be initiated as Ifá priestesses, was forced to go to Benin to initiate them because Ilé Ifé still did not permit it at that time.[2] However, Ode Remo demonstrates a history to the contrary as noted in "Women in the Yoruba Religion"[3] by Ode Remo author Oluwo Olotunji Somorin and other sources.[4] It is interesting to note neither of the terms Iyalawo nor Iyanifa are mentioned in any of the thousands of verses accompanying the odus of Ifá used as religious precedents.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Ramos, Willie (2010). "Lucumi Oba Oriate Council Agreement". 
  2. ^ Eason, Ikulomi Djisovi. “Historicizing Ifá Culture in Oyotunji African Village.” In Orisa Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yoruba Religious Culture, edited by Jacob Kehinde Olupona and Terry Rey, 278–85. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.
  3. ^ "Amazon". 
  4. ^ "OdeRemo Iyanifa Corner". 

Oyeronke Olajubu, Women in the Yoruba Religious Sphere ISBN 978-0791458853

Ayele Fa'seguntunde Kumari, Iyanifa:Woman of Wisdom ISBN 978-1500492892

Oluwo Olotunji Somorin, Women in the Yoruba Religion, Teledase Publishing, Ode Remo, Nigeria 2009