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Ife (ēˈfā), city (1991 est. pop. 262,000), SW Nigeria. Located in a farm region, the city is an important center for marketing and shipping cacao. According to tradition, Ife is the oldest Yoruba town (founded c.1300). All Yoruba chiefs trace their descent from the first mythological ruler of Ife, Oduduwa, and they regard the reigning oni (king) of Ife as their ritual superior. Ife was the most powerful Yoruba kingdom until the late 17th cent., when Oyo surpassed it. Terra-cotta and naturalistic bronze sculptures made in the area as early as the 12th cent. are considered among the finest works of West African art; some are displayed in the Ife Museum. The Univ. of Ife is in the city, which is sometimes called Ile-Ife [old Ife].
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Ife (Nigeria)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Ife (aka Ilé Ife), an ancient city in southwest Nigeria, is believed by the Yoruba people of Nigeria as the place where creation occurred. The orisha Olodumare, the Supreme God (the one who has the fullness of everything), gave certain materials to his emissary (or perhaps son), the orisha Oduduwa. He brought these to the place known now as Ife and used them to create the earth, separating the land from the water. Archeologists have suggested the city is at least a thousand years old, and the region inhabited for another thousand years.

The Yoruba were divided into various groups, each with royal leadership. The royal families believe they have descended from the first king of Ife, Oduduwa. After Oduduwa’s death, his children left the city to found their own kingdoms. Oduduwa is believed to have had sixteen sons, who later became powerful traditional rulers of Yoruba land.

Through the centuries, Ife existed as a city state whose paramount importance was its role as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought, including the divining technique known as Ifa, an indispensable tool in defining the course of one’s life. At Ife one finds the acknowledgment of a basic pantheon of Yoruba gods, or orisha, estimated variously to number 201, 401, 601, or more. Some divinities are said to have existed when Oduduwa created the earth, while others are outstanding individuals who have been deified. Among the more popular deities are Shango (god of thunder and lightning), Ifa (or Orunmila, god of divination), and Ogun (god of iron and of war). These deities have been brought to the Americas by the practitioners of Santeria.

The old Yoruba kingdoms have been superseded by modern Nigeria, but the royal leadership persists at a less formal level. The kings of the Oni people of Ife and the Alafin people of Oyo, further to the north, are still the most highly respected Yoruba kings and religious leaders in Nigeria. Ife is home to the palace of the Oni.

Ife was destroyed in 1849 and rebuilt in 1882. Today, approximately 300,000 people live in Ife.


Abimbola, Wande, ed. Yoruba Oral Tradition. With a contribution by Rowland Abiodun. Ile-Ife, Nigeria: Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Ile-Ife, 1975.
Bascom, William. Ifa Divination: Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press. 1969.
Dennett, Richard Edward. Nigerian Studies; or, The Religious and Political System of the Yoruba. London: Cass, 1968.
Forde, Cyril Daryll. The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of Southwestern Nigeria. London, International African Institute, 1962.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a city in Nigeria, in the Western State. Population, 154, 600 (1970). Highway junction and center of the cocoa industry. It is the site of a university, founded in 1961, and of the Ife Museum. Gold is mined near the city.

Ife is one of the most important centers of ancient civilization in West Africa. From the 12th century to the 19th, Ife was the city-state of the Yoruba people. The Yorubas still revere Ife as their ancestral homeland. The city has been studied since 1908, and systematic excavation began in 1953.

The flowering of Ife’s artistic culture, apparently related to the earlier Nok culture, occurred between the 12th and 14th centuries. The bronze and terracotta sculpture found in the city has become famous throughout the world. The terra-cotta heads, which were placed on sacrificial altars, are outstanding for the perfection and beauty of their forms. The softly modeled faces have an unusual delicacy of textural nuances. The bronze heads depicting gods and rulers are executed on a relatively large scale and employ a simplified stylization. The elaborate headdresses and facial markings impart a certain decorative quality. Equally striking are the bronze half-figures, apparently of the kings of Ife, in which elastic plasticity and harmonious proportions combine with a wealth of ornamental decoration. The rich and varied plastic forms (gods of the Yoruba pantheon and deified kings, called oni) created by the anonymous artists of Ife, were apparently used in sacrificial ceremonies in honor of the Yorubas’ ancestors. Ife’s bronze sculpture greatly influenced the development of Benin’s artistic culture. Certain stone relics date from an earlier period, such as the 5.16-m granite pillar called Opa Oranyan (Staff of Oranyan, a mighty warrior and the son of the founder of Ife, Oduduwa).


Ol’derogge, D. A. Iskusstvo narodov Zapadnoi Afriki v muzeiakh SSSR. Leningrad-Moscow, 1958.
Frobenius, L. The Voice of Africa, vols. 1–2. London, 1913.
An Introduction to the Art of Ife. Lagos, 1955.
Willett, F. “Ife and Its Archaeology.” Journal of African History, 1960, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 231–48.
Willett, F. Ife in the History of West African Sculpture. [London, 1967.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a town in W central Nigeria: one of the largest and oldest Yoruba towns; university (1961); centre of the cocoa trade. Pop.: 229 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005