A Brief History of the Ifa Heritage Institute

By Professor Wande Abimbola

In November 2005, UNESCO proclaimed Ifa, along with 85 other traditions of the world, as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In the year 2006 UNESCO got a grant from the Japanese Government to establish programs of safeguarding and sustainability for twenty of the 86 traditions, including Ifa. That was how the Ifa Heritage Institute was created in the year 2008 with a grant of $80,000 US dollars from the Japanese Government through UNESCO, and a counterpart fund of $137,000 US dollars from the Federal Government of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the Federal Government of Nigeria never fulfilled their own part of the bargain. However, an NGO created by Profesor Wande Abimbola under the name Global Forum for Yoruba Religion and Culture decided to make sure that the support promised by the Japanese Government was not lost. Professor Wande Abimbola therefore found money from his own personal resources to continue the program even without monetary support from the Federal Government of Nigeria. He has almost singlehandedly provided funds for the construction of two huge structures housing staff offices, classrooms, conference halls, kitchens, restrooms, storage rooms and a bedspace for international students. The Assistant to the President, M. Ifaboyede McElwaine Ajisebo Abimbola, also donated her salaries received from UNESCO to the development of the school. In addition to serving as the Assistant to the President, tirelessly reporting to UNESCO on the project’s action plan, implementation, and adjustments, she also doubles as Lecturer of Languages.

Since the Federal Government of Nigeria did not meet the expectation that they would pay monthly staff salaries, we have been doing that from our own personal resources. We salute the faculty and staff of the Institute, who have been working relentlessly for meager stipends that do not reflect their qualifications. It is important to put on record the commitment of our Vice President, Professor Bade Ajuwon. He has been a pillar of strength since the inception of the school, managing daily operations when the President is not available.

We are grateful to the Oduduwa Investment Company and two of their subsidiaries, namely Askar Paints who helped to paint the first building, and Nigerite, who provided roofing sheets through the kindness and generosity of Mr. Yemisi Shyllon. Also worthy of mention is Alhaji Arisekola Alao, the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, who donated one million naira to the school.

Even though the Federal Government of Nigeria has not made any monetary contributions so far, the Ministry of Culture and Nigeria’s National UNESCO Office have been very prominent in the activities of the Board of the Institute. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Culture is the Secretariat of our Board.

The support from UNESCO and the Japanese Government has been used mainly for research, payment of a few months of salaries of some staff, and support for publication of this newsletter. The bulk of UNESCO’s money, however, was used for the provision of VSAT equipment which will be useful as we implement online courses in the Fall of 2015. The Ifa Heritage Institute formally started on November 3, 2008 by hosting a conclave of Nigerian Babalawos and Iyanifas. During that historic meeting, Ifa was cast and ebo was done.