African binary code

Angel Brown
2 min readSep 2, 2021

My understanding of Binary is used to represent all instructions and data in a digital computer system, and in all communications between digital systems. Mostly all of the data and instructions I express in programs I create are ultimately converted to and/or represented in binary. Most of the history that I know traces back to a German polymath Gottfried Leibniz with the invention of the system in 1689. It is also know that he acquired his knowledge of the system from ancient Chinese teachings of I Ching , there are notable examples of binary systems that predate Leibniz.

I was surprised to find out that in West Africa , there is a system called Ifá. It is common across various people groups and cultures of the region. Ifá remains in use in West Africa and throughout the Diaspora . In 2005 it was officially been added to the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. The Ifá corpus is comprised of 256 parts similar to modern computing you are likely to see hardware such as RAM , flash drives and memory cards divided into increments of 256. This is due to each decimal number being represented by eight integers and various combinations of ones and zeros when converted to binary.

The Ifá corpus is a 16 bit system which was a way to communicate with religious Yoruba Gods , Orishas. The ritual , which involves a priest holding six sacred palm nuts in his left hand . Then attempts to grab all of them out at the same time with his right hand. If one nut remains in his left hand , he makes a mark on the divination board which represents a zero. If two nuts remain, he makes two marks which represent one. If none or more than two nuts remain he makes no marks at all. This is continued until four pairs of unique marks are left on the board which generate an 8-bit binary code. The code corresponds with one of the 256 corpuses or Odù, and there is almost a divining chain which is a similar process.

Knowing that there is a religious divination that relies on mathematics than faith alone , is very impressive knowing that I have Nigerian ancientry. Also that my anciently has a part of what makes technology function today.