Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 77-80
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 77
A Critique of Maduabuchi Dukor’s
“Divination: A Science or an Art?”
O. A. Shitta-Bey
Department of Philosophy, Fa culty of Arts, Lagos State University, Lagos, Nigeria
Email: ,
Received August 29th, 2012; revised Septem ber 30th, 2012; accepted October 14th, 2012
In this paper, we examine Maduabuchi Dukor’s article titled “Divination: A Science or An Art?”, where
he endeavours to demonstrate the character and nature of African science as well as explores the issue
whether some practices in Africa can be accorded a scientific status. These tasks to explore and demon-
strate the scientific nature of African practices led Maduabuchi Dukor to focus on divination as his work-
ing example; and specifically identified Ifa divination. In sum, Maduabuchi Dukor argues that African
(Ifa) divination is or can be made a science through formalization and quantification. The main thrust of
his argument is that with the aid of formalization and quantification, divination as practiced in Africa can
qualify as a science. Our contention as regards this exercise by Maduabuchi Dukor runs from the begin-
ning of the article through to the end of it. That is, our critique of the article concerns some suppositions
employed to build up the argument that supports the claim that (Ifa) divination is a scientific enterprise. In
other words, the premises and the conclusion so provided, we argue, are full of contestations; and it is
these contestations that we showcased in this paper. It is important to make it clear that our contention has
nothing to do with the thinking of Maduabuchi Dukor that Ifa divination is a science or can be made to be
so; rather, our contention is the suppositions that he deployed to articulate his thought.
Keywords: African Science; Ifa; Odu; Formalisation; Quantification
For some time now, the practice of divination among the lo-
cals in Africa has been subjected to rigorous intellectual dis-
course; one of the several questions that have been raised about
the practice is whether it is an art or a science, in other words,
should divination be categorise as a form of art or should it be
classified as a scientific enterprise? Categorically pertaining to
this question, Maduabuchi Dukor, a renowned contemporary
African philosopher, has contentiously responded. This re-
sponse by Maduabuchi Dukor, however, is not without some
fundamental problem.
Fundamentally, this paper visits and contends with some
propositions and submissions articulated by Maduabuchi Dukor
in his argument to demonstrate that the practice of Ifa divina-
tion among the Yoruba is not just a form of art, but it is equally
a scientific endeavour or can be made to be so if properly for-
malized and quantified.
Specifically, the propositions and submissions of Maduabu-
chi Dukor being contended by this paper concern formalization
and quantification as regard their capacity to determine the
scientific status of practices like the Yoruba divination system
called Ifa. Serving as the major source of example that
Maduabuchi Dukor draws from, his views about Ifa that we
contend in this paper cannot but be visited and addressed, be-
cause they are very important such that if not addressed could
lead to unwarranted misunderstanding of the body of the
Yoruba indigenous system of knowledge called Ifa.
Accordingly, the structure of this paper is organised into two
(2) sections which excludes the introduction and conclusion. In
a comfortable order, the first section is titled “An Exploration
of Dukor’s ‘Divination: A Science or An Art?’”, and it explores
the article of Maduabuchi Dukor on the matter of divination as
a science. The second section is titled “A Critique of Dukor’s
Suppositions”, and it deals with our own criticisms of Madua-
buchi Dukor’s suppositions.
An Exploration of Dukor’s
“Divination: A Science or an Art?”
In Maduabuchi Dukor’s view, some practices in Africa and
divination in particular is (or can be made) a scientific enter-
prise. This point is made clear when he states that,
To better understand what African science is and to know
whether some of its practises can be accorded a scientific
status, let us examine divination as an example. I am in-
clined to believe that Ifa divination or divination in any
part of Africa is a science or can be made a science
through formalization and quantification (Dukor, 2010: p.
Our point of contention in the above supposition shall be
concern with the criteria of formalization and quantification as
determinants of scientific enterprise, especially as regards the
scientific status of (Ifa) divination. The truism of this claim we
shall attempt to explore in our next section. But it is important
to point out an important question concerning this claim here:
do formalization and quantification determines the scientific
status of any practice? If no, there will be no further discussion;
but if yes, there is the need to find out how and possibly where
the duo of formalization and quantification derive their charac-
ter of determining what should qualify as a science.
In the rendition of his own understanding of Ifa divination in
Yoruba thought, Maduabuchi Dukor believes that the custodian
of wisdom and knowledge among the divinities in Yoruba the-
ology (called Orunmila) is the child, the deputy, and the oracle
of Olodumare on earth. To avoid miscomprehension of his
believe, Maduabuchi Dukor himself posits that “in Yoruba
thought, Orunmila is believed to be the child of Olodumare, his
deputy and oracle on earth” (ibid). Anyone with accurate in-
formation concerning Yoruba theology will be sure that there is
a lot that is wrong with this supposition. Again, it is important
to take note of this point as it constitutes one of the issues we
shall address in our next section.
Another important supposition, which we think, calls for
mentioning is the one that concerns the outcome of Ifa divina-
tion. In the first instance, he submits that “according to the
editor of Orunmila Magazine (a bi-annual magazine of the
Orunmila Youngsters of Indigene faith of Africa), Ifa is not a
magic and if applied correctly through the use of any instru-
ment of divination, the outcome will be certain” (ibid). On this
same issue of the outcomes of Ifa divination, the professor also
posits that “the editor of Orunmila magazine and the chief
priest of Ifa contend that divination can be thought and that if
correct procedures are taken, there will be correct result” (ibid:
181). What we should take note here concerning the outcome of
Ifa divination, as supposed by Maduabuchi Dukor, are the
words certain and correct. That is, our emphasis concerning the
issue of outcome is on the words certain and correct.
In his attempt to justify Ifa divination as a science, Maduabu-
chi Dukor further supposes that:
Ifa divination has certain fundamental principles from
which an advanced science can possibly sprung. And that
a number of propositions ... are axioms or postulates in the
divination. They include 1) Cowries as sign of well-being;
2) Seed as sign of new baby; 3) Broken plate as a negative
sign; 4) Bone as sign of death; 5) Stone as sign of long
life and; 6) Principles of similarity and contiguity (ibid).
Whatever relevance that is to be derive from this supposition,
we do not know and it is not part of our contentions in this pa-
per. But what we do know is that this supposition invokes a
serious contention that will also be part of our focus in the next
In addition, Dukor equally supposes that an Ifa priest also
qualifies to be addressed as a scientist. In fact, for the professor,
he (i.e. the priest) is either called a native scientist or a priest.
Whether he is addressed as a scientist or a priest is not our con-
tention here, but what is expected of this priest is our concern.
According to Maduabuchi Dukor, an Ifa priest is expected to
commit to memory some over a thousand verses. In his own
Ifa has 256 symbols known as Odu. 16 are the major Odu
and 240 are combinations (minors). An average native
scientist or a priest is expected to memorise at least one
thousand three hundred and sixty verses (ibid).
As with the suppositions we have pointed out above, the
problem with this too shall be looked into in our next section.
However, it is important to have a clue of what and where the
problem may be with this supposition just like we have been
doing with the past ones.
In the supposition, one will notice that the professor did
mention 16 major and 240 minor Odu to sum up to 256 Odu as
the total number of symbols in Ifa; and suddenly, the professor
talked about committing at least 1360 verses to memory by an
Ifa priest. The contestation likely to be raised here is obvious,
but we shall address this, as earlier said, in our next section.
The grandiose of all suppositions in Maduabuchi Dukor’s ar-
ticle, for contestation by this paper, appears when he states that
“the 16 major Odu and the 240 combinations represent scien-
tific laws” (ibid). More clearly and in a diagrammatic manner
in the preceding pages, the professor assumes to have demon-
strate the scientism of Ifa divination by way of presenting the
symbols of the 16 major Odu and reducing same to other kind
of symbols he so created. The problem that arises from this
scientism of Ifa divination through diagrammatic representation
will be fully treated in our next section.
To close this section, it is worthy to state that so far we have
identified six suppositions by Maduabuchi Dukor in his article
entitled “Divination: A Science or An Art?” Although, there are
other suppositions in this same article that call for questioning;
but for certain constraints, we shall limit our scope to the six
suppositions identified above. In to avoid ambiguity in our
contestation, we shall attend to each supposition sequentially as
presented above.
A Critique of Maduabuchi Dukor’s Suppositions
Maduabuchi Dukor’s first supposition is that (Ifa) divination
is a science or can be made a science through formalization and
quantification. And like we earlier raised the question that on
what ground, if there is any, is formalization and quantification
qualifies to determine what should pass as a science or not? To
this question, we don’t think that there is any good (even bad)
answer. How be it, probably the professor meant to say that
divination, like formal logic (since we also have informal logic),
when formalized can acquire the status of a science; and that
when it is consistently built-upon, it can also have a theory of
quantification as we have it in logic. However, we are not sure
if this is what the professor meant to actually say; but then, we
should remind ourselves of the controversies surrounding the
scientific status of logic itself. Thus, even if the professor meant
what he actually said, then formalization and quantification
(which are the hallmarks of logic) cannot stand to determine or
qualify Ifa divination as a science.
To the second supposition, that Orunmila (the god of wis-
dom and knowledge in Yoruba belief system) is both the child
and deputy of Olodumare as well as Olodumare’s oracle on
earth. This is neither true nor false, but half true and half false
because of the way it is been stated. Our contention here seems
ambiguous, therefore, let us re-state it as: Maduabuchi Dukor is
wrong to have identified Orunmila as the deputy of Olodumare,
but would have been right if he posits that Orunmila is one of
the deputies (or a deputy) of Olodumare, because all Orisa (i.e.
the arch-divinities) are deputies of Olodumare. In other words,
Orunmila is just one of the deputies, he is not the deputy. This
view is supported by the submission that
The divinities (called, variously, IMALES or IRUN-
MALES, or ORISAS in the Ifa corpus) were the first
creations of Olodumare; and that they were created by
Him in His capacity as Eleda, for the primary purpose of
assisting Him in the management of the planetary system
(Akintola, 1999: p. 52).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Indicative in the submission above is that the divinities were
created by Olodumare to assist in theocratic governance of the
universe. That they are to assist suggests that they are deputis-
ing Olodumare, which make them all the deputies of Olodu-
mare. Hence, it is utterly wrong to adduced Orunmila as the
deputy of Olodumare, to be more precise, it is better to state
that Orunmila is one of the deputies of Olodumare.
As regard been the child of Olodumare, this is totally wrong
because in Yoruba belief system and culture, it is popular to
hear the people say Olodumare kobi mo, Enikan kobi, that is
Olodumare begets no child (ren), and no one begets Olodumare.
In addition, there is nowhere in Yoruba oral scriptures where it
is stated that Orunmila is the child of Olodumare. Hence,
Orunmila is not the child of Olodumare.
The third point like the first in the supposition under consid-
eration, Orunmila is not the only oracle of Olodumare on earth,
therefore, it is wrong to say that Orunmila is the oracle of
Olodumare on earth, rather it is better to say that Orunmila is
one of Olodumares oracles on earth. This is why Abimbola
states that “Ifa is, of course, famous as a divination god al-
though he is not the only god connected with divination”
(Abimbola, 1976: p. 10).
Without much ado, anyone will notice that the problem with
the supposition been considered is the problem of semantic and
misconception. Thus, in dealing with Yoruba belief system, it is
important to be very careful with the way we express issues,
otherwise, one may be articulating an important view in a
wrong way. Correctly stated, therefore, 1) Orunmila (and any
divinity or person) is not a child of Olodumare; 2) Orunmila is
one of the deputies of Olodumare; and 3) Orunmila is one of
the Oracles of Olodumare on earth.
Concerning the outcome of Ifa divination, Maduabuchi Du-
kor creates a confusion when he uses “correct” to describe the
outcome of Ifa divination in one paragraph, and uses “certain”
in another. One is not sure which one is the appropriate one to
use between “correct” and “certain” to describe the outcome of
Ifa divination, except we may want to guess that the professor
permits the use of the two interchangeably; that is, the words
certain and correct are synonymous with respect to the out-
come of Ifa divination, provided that Maduabuchi Dukor grants
the permission to do so.
This is the best that can be assumed of the professor usage of
the two words in the context that they appeared. Our contention
here, is not about which one is the appropriate one to use be-
tween certain and correct in describing the outcomes of Ifa
divination; but that it is utterly wrong to describe the outcome
of Ifa divination as either correct or certain, for correctness or
certainty is mostly avoided in the practice of Ifa divination
itself, how much more its outcome.
Hence, it is interesting to note that Ifa divination is some sort
of prediction, and because it is, one can only talk about good or
evil outcome of the prediction. It is in line with this that Abim-
bola submits that,
It is the belief of the Yoruba that if the prediction of Ifa is
good, a sacrifice will help further to make it come to pass,
and that, if the prediction is evil, a sacrifice will help the
client to dispel the evil (ibid: 35).
The fourth supposition, by Maduabuchi Dukor, for contesta-
tion is the statement that “... a number of propositions ... are
axioms or postulates in the divination” and these axioms and
postulates are listed as 1) cowries: a sign of well being; 2) seed:
a sign of new baby; 3) broken plate: a sign of negativity; 4)
bone: a sign of death; 5) stone: a sign of long life, and the last
being what he called; 6) the principles of similarity and conti-
guity. Wherever Maduabuchi Dukor must have gotten this in-
formation from, we do not know and neither did he informs us
of the source of this information nor did he quote any authority.
Hence, it is important to put the record straight.
It is a fact that some Ifa diviners make use of some materia ls
in course of their practice like cowries, bones, fish, stone, sand,
and other sort of materials, but whatever these things meant or
symbolised cannot be ascertain. However, what we do know
from oral conversations with some Ifa diviners is that the ser-
vices of some of these materials are employ to symbolised dif-
ferent things at different times, and this is not necessarily as
supposed by Maduabuchi Dukor in his article. Thus, these rep-
resentations should be discarded in their totality. In fact, as
regard materials being employed by Ifa diviners, Abimbola
submits that
Different kinds of materials are usually required for sacri-
fice by Ifa priests. These materials include cooked food
and raw foodstuffs, cloths, live animals including goats
and rats, fishes, birds, plants, leaves and roots of plants,
sand and stones etc. (ibid: 36).
On the fifth supposition, there is the problem of correlating
1360 verses to be memorise by an Ifa priest with the 256 Odu
as stated by Maduabuchi Dukor. That is, what correlation exists
between the 256 Odu correctly stated to be contained in Ifa and
the 1360 verses so mentioned alongside with it. In plain lan-
guage, there is serious ambiguity in this supposition; and if we
pretend to understand what is been said, then we will still raise
the question that how many verses there are? Since the profes-
sor uses the expression “at least 1360 verses”.
To put the record straight on this, some scholars have rightly
inform us that an average Ifa diviner is expected to commit to
memory at least sixteen verses of each of the 256 Odu, meaning
that rather than the 1360 verses as supposed by Maduabuchi
Dukor, it should be 16 verses of each Odu multiply by the 256
Odu in Ifa corpus. The total we shall arrive at is 4096 verses.
Hence, instead of the wrong supposition of at least 1360, an Ifa
diviner is expected to commit to memory at least 4096 verses.
The point being made here is clearly articulated by the follow-
ing submissions:
There seems to be no fixed number of Ese (i.e. verses)
which each trainee must learn before he qualifies for ini-
tiation, but most of my informants confirm that in ancient
times, nobody would be respected as a good Ifa priest
unless he has learnt by heart at least sixteen Ese each of
the two hundred and fifty-six Odu (ibid: 19-20).
... the trainee shall have learnt the recitation, scope and
meaning of, at least, sixteen (16) verses of each of the 256
Odus and Omo-Olodus (Akintola: 35).
On the total number of verses in Ifa, Akintola has this to say
... it takes about one thousand six hundred and eighty
(1680) verses for each of these 256 apostles of Orunmila
to express his own gospel. On this basis, the whole of the
Ifa corpus would comprise about four hundred and thirty
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 79
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
thousand and eighty (430,080) verses (ibid: 13).
Away from the fifth to the final supposition by Maduabuchi
Dukor, as listed in this paper, we have come to the grandiose of
all suppositions. As earlier noted, he submits that “the 16 major
Odu and the 240 combinations represent scientific laws”. Our
question is: In what sense does the total ity of the Odu represent
or constitute scientific laws? And we think, this is what Madua-
buchi Dukor endeavours to demonstrate when he laid down the
signatures (what he called symbols) of the 16 major Odu in
their order of seniority (rather than significance as he called it).
In order to achieve his goal of making Ifa divination to ac-
quire scientific status, Maduabuchi Dukor created symbols that
are not self explanatory in anyway. In what he called his pro-
gramme or system, we also realised that what he presented as
formalization of the signatures of the major Odu is very am-
biguous, and therefore, very difficult to comprehend. In fact, it
must be stated that the signatures of the Odu in their original
forms are easier to understand and construct more than the for-
malized programme by Maduabuchi Dukor. The signatures of
the 16 major Odu in their original formality are presented thus
(see Abimbola [1976]; Salami [2002]; Akintola [1999]):
1) Ogbe Meji 2) Oyeku Meji 3) Iwori Meji 4) Odi Meji
5) Irosun Meji 6) Oworin Meji 7) Obara Meji 8) Okanran Meji
9) Ogunda Meji 10) Osa Meji 11) Ika Meji 12) Otuurupon Meji
13) Otua Meji 14) Irete Meji 15) Ose Meji 16) Ofun Meji
Thus, we posit that the signatures of the Odu in their original
formality qualify Ifa divination as a science, provided that for-
malization and quantification are capable to determine what
should pass as a science or not.
As noted, thinking of Maduabuchi Dukor is that Ifa divina-
tion, and some other kinds of practice indigenous to Africa, can
be made to acquire the status of a scientific enterprise; and in
the first section of this paper, we examined some fundamental
suppositions of Maduabuchi Dukor that were employed to ar-
ticulate this thought. These suppositions, in the order in which
they have been treated above, are that 1) through formalization
and quantification, Ifa divination (and indeed, some other prac-
tices indigenous to Africa) can be made a science; 2) Orunmila
is the child of Olodumare as well as his deputy and oracle on
earth; 3) when Ifa divination is properly applied, the outcome
of such is always correct or certain; 4) in the process of divina-
tion, some materials are employed to symbolised specific signs;
5) an average Ifa diviner must memorised at least 1360 verses
of Ifa; and 6) the 256 Odu of Ifa are scientific laws.
For the purpose of clarity, our criticisms of these supposi-
tions in the second section of this paper followed the same or-
der that the suppositions are presented. Thus, we argue that 1) it
is doubtful that formalization and quantification, even if prop-
erly stated, can determine the scientific status of any practice; 2)
Orunmila is not a child of Olodumare, Orunmila is one of the
deputies and oracles of Olodumare on earth, and not just the
deputy and oracle of Olodumare; 3) since Ifa divination is a
sort of prediction, the outcome can only be describe as good or
evil, and not as correct or certain; 4) materials employed in the
process of divination do not symbolised any specific signs as
supposed by Maduabuchi Dukor; 5) an average Ifa diviner is
expected to commit to memory at least 4096 and not 1360
verses as supposed by Dukor; and 6) if by virtue of formaliza-
tion and quantification alone, the 256 Odu of Ifa in their origi-
nal forms are easier to understand as scientific laws than Du-
kor’s programme.
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