A Yoruba diviner (babalawo) earns the right to wear a necklace such as this one only after intensive training in the rituals and oral literature (Odu Ifa) of divination. The necklace comprises fourteen wooden beads (representing a tree sacred to Orunmila, the founder of Ifa divination) and two beaded pouches, whose chromatic array suggests Ifa’s ability to interact with a range of forces in the cosmos. Together, the necklace’s sixteen segments refer to the sixteen major chapters of the Odu Ifa. Since beadwork was originally reserved for the Yoruba king, the beadwork here underscores the diviner’s importance to the Yoruba community. Protective substances were likely sewn into the pouches, which were worn to overlay the points of vulnerability: the chest and the base of the neck. Abstract eyes and a nose transform each pouch into a face that likely refers to Oduduwa, the first ruler of the Yoruba people. Though commissioned by the diviner according to symbolic conventions, the bead artist expressed his own creativity with a beaded fringe hanging from the pouches.
"The checklist of the John B. Elliott Bequest," Record of the Princeton University Art Museum 61 (2002): p. 49-99.