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A Naturalistic Interpretation of the Yoruba Concepts of Ori by Adebola Babatunde Ekanola

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A Naturalistic Interpretation of the Yoruba Concepts of Ori

Adebola Babatunde Ekanola

Department of Philosophy

University of Ibadan, Nigeria


Ori is a central concept in Yoruba-language conception of human personality.’

The Yoruba are said to believe that the personality of each individual is predeter-

tnined Ori. In this paper, I aim to show that the available accounts of Ori consti-

tute an inadequate explanation of this determinism—what is popularly translated

as destiny—in Yoruba thought. In place of the spiritualistic predetermination of

personality implied in the idea of destiny, I wish to offer a naturalistic, humanistic

account of Ori.

The Myth of Creation

One of the available versions of the Yoruba account of the creation of the hu-

man person holds that the human body [ara] was moulded by Orisanla (one of the

deities in Yoruba traditional religious system) out of sand. It is thereafter that the

lifeless body is infused with emi (life or breath of life) by Olodumare (supreme de-

ity). The body at this stage becomes activated with life and then goes to Ajala (de-

ity responsible for making Ori) to select an Ori.^

The act of selecting Ori in Ajala’s house has three important aspects:^ First, it

is supposed to be one of free choice. You are said to be free to choose any of the

Ori available in Ajala’s storehouse. Second, the Ori selected determines, finally and

irreversibly, the life course and personality of its possessor on earth. Third, each

individual is unaware of the content or quality of the chosen Ori, that is, the per-

son making the choice does not know if the destiny embedded in an Ori is good or

bad. Other terms used to symbolize Ori include Akunleyan (that which is chosen

kneeling), Ipin-Ori (allotment), Ayannto (that which is chosen or affixed to one-

self), and Akunlegba (what is received kneeling).

Apart from the above account of the determination of destiny through a choice

of Ori in Ajala’s house, there are other versions of the Yoruba belief on the determination of destiny. One such version has it that it is Olodumare who confers destiny on each human person, which is later doubly sealed by Onibode (the keeper of

the gate between heaven and earth.)” However all the available versions agree that

destiny is determined by the Ori, either chosen or conferred upon a person. They

also agree that by the time people arrive in the world, through birth, they are totally ignorant of the type of destiny awaiting them.

A Critical Analysis of the Myth

For present purposes, we shall concentrate on the version of the creation myth

that maintains that Ori is selected in Ajala’s house. Our aim is to see what philo-

sophical implications may be derived from it, since other versions of the myth may

have different philosophical implications. Many of the scholars who have written

on the Yoruba concept of human personality seem to accept one version or the

other of the mythical account of the creation of human beings as descriptive of

what actually happens before each person is birthed. Some African philosophers

have even used the creation myth as a primary premise from which many conclu-

sions on the nature and meaning of human life are derived.

These mythical accounts are subject to two general criticisms. The first is that

they lead to incompatible consequences, while the second is that they are not sup-

posed to be taken literally but should be understood as allegory. The following are

some of the problems arising from the literal interpretation of the Ajala version of

the creation myth. First, the way the Yoruba are said to perceive the relationship

between Ori on one hand, and the destiny and personality of individuals on the

other, cannot be consistently held for some people. For instance, it appears that

physically deformed people have their destinies and personalities determined by

their deformed ara (body) and not by any prenatal choice of Ori. In the Yoruba

culture, people like the abuke (hunchback), aro (cripple), afin (albino), and arara

(dwarf) are all called eni-orisa (special people of the gods). They are denied, by vir-

tue of their physical deformities, the full opportunities open to normal people. They

are not allowed, for example, to function as heads of household, village heads, or

kings. After death, they cannot become ancestors because they are not buried in

the lineage grave site but in the evil forest.^

Also, in societies where there are no established manners in which people with

physical deformities are treated, they remain limited in very important respects by

their deformities. A cripple, for instance, can never aspire to be the world’s fastest

sprinter, the world’s best swimmer, or the world’s number one footballer. In this re-

gard, we can meaningfully say that a cripple has been destined by his deformed ara

(body) not to be an outstanding sprinter, swimmer, or footballer. Hence, it seems

unacceptable to attribute at least some of the aspects of the destiny of a cripple to

a prenatal choice of Ori, because the deformity which limits him and shapes his

destiny is an aspect of his body which, going by the Yoruba creation myth, was

fashioned prior to the selection of Ori.

In spite of the claims that the Yoruba believe that the prenatal choice of Ori

determines, finally, the destiny and personality of man (used generically) on earth.

Idowu, Makinde, and Gbadegesin argue that the Yoruba believe that there are still

some ways by which a bad Ori can be changed for the better and a good Ori al-

tered for the worse. They maintain that t:he Yoruba are of the view that a had Ori

can be improved through consultations with Orunmila (a deity in Yoruba tradi-

tional thought), etutu (sacrifice), and hard work. Conversely, an originally good

Ori may also be altered for the worse through the activities of malicious agents like

the aje (witches), laziness, or bad character.*

The claim that destiny can be altered seems inconsistent with the Yoruba idea

of predestination, as consisting of the belief that a prenatal choice of Ori deter-

mines, finally and irreversibly, the destiny and personality of each human person.

The opinion that destiny is irreversible is reflected in many Yoruba proverbs and

wise sayings. For instance, the Yoruba often say that Ohun Ori wa se ko ma ni

salai se eo (what the Ori has come to achieve must definitely be fulfilled).^ Other

Yoruba proverbs depicting the inalterable nature of destiny include

Akunleyan ni ad’aye ba

Akunleyan pin

Adaiye tan oju nro ni

(We knelt down and chose a portion

We get into the world and are not pleased)

A-yan-mo o gbogun

(That which is affixed to one cannot be

With soap)«

In addition, going by the definition of destiny as connoting “what must happen

and cannot be changed or controlled,”‘ it seems unlikely that what has been pre-

destined can be altered. Hence, it is contestable that a consistent belief in predesti-

nation is synonymous with fatalism, which is the viewpoint that whatever happens

is unavoidable and could not have been otherwise.

Ironically, however, many of the available accounts of the Yoruba belief sys-

tem suggest that the Yoruha hold on to these incompatible beliefs. They are said

to believe that a prenatal selection of Ori determines each person’s personality and

life course and also that a man’s destiny can be affected negatively or positively.”

While some scholars have tried to explain how the Yoruba can consistently hold on

to these seemingly contradictory beliefs, others have resorted to a fatalistic inter-

pretation of the Yoruba idea of destiny.. While putting forth a fatalistic interpreta-

tion, Abimbola, for example, stated categorically that even the gods cannot change

human destinies. Supporting Abimbola’s interpretation, Makinde argues that the

best the gods could do in regard to a human’s destiny is merely to guide the fulfill-

ment.” The implication of this is that humans are not free agents but are merely

acting out a previously written script. Hence, they should not be held morally re-

sponsible for their actions.

To avoid the above implication, Makinde rejected the fatalistic interpretation

and introduced his weak conception of Ori, which sees Ori as a mere potentiality.”

He argues that the Ori chosen in heaven is just a potentiality which needs certain

things to be done before it is actualized. Therefore, one needs to work hard, con-

sult with Orunmila, and make necessary sacrifices before a potentially good Ori is

brought to fruition or a potentially bad Ori is improved.

A problem with Makinde’s conception of Ori as a mere potentiality is that it

seems to be inconsistent with the idea of predestination, which he also wants to

defend. Predestination, as rightly observed by Makinde himself, “presupposes that

one’s position on earth as well as the activities that led or would lead him to such

a position were already pre-ordained from heaven and the situation could not be

or have been otherwise.”” This suggests that all the things identified as required

to actualize a potentially good Ori or improve a bad one are really either activities

in futility or those that have been pre-ordained for specific individuals as part of

the fulfillment of their destinies; when an individual works hard or consults with

Orunmila before he is successful in life, he is merely following the path of destiny.

He would not have worked hard or consulted with Orunmila if it was not so pre-

ordained. Hence, the actions and inactions, which Makinde classifies as acts of free

will in his effort to make the Yoruba belief in predestination coherent,”’ should

really be classified as part of what has been pre-determined. These actions can be

described as free actions only if we completely give up the notion of prenatal deter-

minism. Hence, it appears that the notions of free will and predestination cannot

be consistently held together in any discourse on the Yoruba concept of Ori.

In essence, consistent predestination is equivalent to fatalism, while inconsis-

tent predestination amounts to a negation of predestination. Either we maintain

that there is predestination, in the sense that whatever happens to an individual

and whatever steps he takes in life are mere manifestations of his destiny, or we as-

sert that there is no predestination at all. Consequently, as Makinde’s weak concep-

tion of Ori portrays the Yoruba as inconsistent with their belief in predestination,

it follows that they do not really believe in predestination but pay mere lip service

to it.

In addition, Makinde fails to realize that saying that something is predestined

is completely different from saying that there is a potential for one thing or the

other. For instance, a person may have the potential to be a good lawyer, a promi-

nent politician, or a distinguished academic without actually becoming any of these

things. But when we say that a person is predestined to become something, we are

not merely saying that he has a potential. Rather, we are saying that becoming that

thing is unavoidable and could not have been otherwise. Hence, it is a mistake to

define predestination in terms of the mere possession of potentials.

Another difficulty arising from the mythical explanation of the nature and ori-

gin of man is seen in the area of free will and moral responsibility. The myth holds

that the prenatal selection of Ori is one of free choice, by virtue of which a person

can be held to be morally responsible for his or her personality and life course.

Makinde, however, convincingly argues that there is no free will involved in the

selection of Ori from Ajala’s house.^^ His argument is outlined thusly: One, all

choices are preferential choices. Two, the types of Ori, good or bad, are unknown

to the persons making the selections. Three, if an individual knows the types of Ori available, he or she is Hkely to prefer a good one to a bad one. Therefore, the al-

leged prenatal selection of Ori is not of a free choice at all, and it follows that we

cannot rightly hold anyone morally responsible for the quality of Ori selected, or

for the consequences arising from it.

The above argument by Makinde seems to have established that the notions

of free will and moral responsibility cannot be consistently held together in any

discourse on the Yoruba concept of Ori. But, since the Yoruba in their everyday af-

fairs operate the notions of moral responsibility and free will in conjunction with

the belief in a prenatal selected Ori, we need to make further attempts to identify a

sense in which these notions and beliefs can be consistently held together.

This brings us to a different attempt, to reconcile the notions of free will, moral

responsibility, and prenatal determination of destiny by Olusegun Oladipo.^^ He

subscribes to the view that human destiny is determined by a prenatal selection of

Ipin-Ori after it is “doubly sealed” by both Olodumare and Onibode.” He, how-

ever, describes Ori, symbolizing destiny, as a “covenant or agreement with Olodu-

mare as to what a person intends to become in the world.”^^ Ori is seen as “a

series of events agreed to in a covenant with O/o^Mware.” ^’Conceived in this man-

ner, Oladipo argues that it is meaningful and consistent for the Yoruba to say that

a person’s destiny can be changed through any of the various ways we have iden-

tified earlier.^” What he is saying, in essence, is that an earlier agreement between

a person and Olodumare, which was doubly sealed by Olodumare and Onibode,

can yet be changed under certain conditions.

I must say that Oladipo’s effort to reconcile the belief in predestination is quite

attractive. It appears to be very compatible with the Yoruba beliefs in the freedom

of humans and their being morally responsible. However, he needs to clarify what

is meant by “destiny being doubly sealed.” If it means some kind of approval or

ratification, then I would agree that destiny may be altered just like any party to an

agreement may later alter some aspects of the agreement or even nullify the agree-

ment completely. But it appears that the actual meaning of destiny goes beyond

an agreement or covenant. When we say that something is predestined, we are

not merely saying that it has been agreed upon or that it is included in a prenatal

covenant. Rather, the main claim is that something cannot be prevented no matter

what anyone tries to do.

I believe that it is in an attempt to buttress the inevitability of whatever has

been predestined that the idea of destiny being “doubly sealed” by Olodumare and

Onibode is introduced. This seal, in my opinion, is not just a kind of approval or

ratification, but a means of ensuring that destiny is irrevocable, certain, and with-

out any possibility of change.

As rightly pointed out by E. O. Oduwole,^^ the fact that destiny is inalterable

is illustrated in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame.^^ Here, we see Odewale

eventually killing his father and marrying his mother, as was predestined in spite of

all efforts made to forestall the fulfillment of these events. Indeed, Abimbola seems

to be quite right to have stated that it is simply because people find it to be quite

difficult to accept a bad destiny that they make serious, but fruitless, attempts to

rectify or alter it.^^ Even consultations with oracles and the offering of relevant sacrifices cannot bring any change in human destiny. The best that these can achieve,

according to Abimbola, is that “every man would be able to thread the path al-

ready laid out for him without beating about the bush.”^” Similarly, such virtues as

hard work and good character are as incapable of changing a hitherto bad destiny.

At best, they seem to be mere means by which destinies are fulfilled. The Yoruba

have many proverbs depicting the inalterable nature of destiny. Some of these have

been mentioned earlier. A Yoruba adage asserting that a good destiny can never be

changed or perverted by evil agents is omo ar’aiye ko le pa kadara da won kon le

fa owo ago s.eyin ni (malevolent agents can never alter or pervert a good destiny,

the worst they can do is to delay its fulfillment).

The above analysis of Oladipo’s account suggests, contrary to his own conclu-

sion, that destiny is alterable. One implication of this is that the Yoruba seem to

be irrational, because while they recognize that destiny is inalterable, they still go

ahead to make efforts to change it. Another implication is that the notion of free

will and belief in the moral responsibility of humans is unjustifiable and baseless

within the context of the Yoruba culture.

However, before we accept this conclusion, let us attempt to transcend the

myth in order to see if we can arrive at a more plausible naturalistic explanation of

the Yoruba idea of Ori and predestination. Our presupposition in this effort is that

the Yoruba mythical account of human creation is not meant to be taken literally

but understood metaphorically.

A Naturalistic Interpretation of the Yoruba Concepts of Ori

It is granted that the Yoruba believe that each individual person is composed

oiara, emi, and Ori (body, spirit and spiritual inner head). Other spiritual elements

identified in some accounts of the Yoruba traditional thought system are owo and

ese (spiritual hand and leg). It is also accepted that the Yoruba believe that individ-

uals exercise free will and are morally responsible for many of their actions.

Ordinarily, the Yoruba recognize that an individual is free to do or not to do

certain things. For example, the Yoruba will agree that each individual is free to

decide whether or not to steal, tell the truth, or be kind to people. But they also

recognize that in some cases, individuals may not be free to do or not do some

things. For instance, the Yoruba would agree that a blind man is not free to help

somebody read a letter, just as a cripple is not free to save a drowning child. It is

because they are able to distinguish between areas in which people are free and

areas in which they are not free that people are held to be morally responsible for

only those actions they are free to carry or not carry out.

However, it seems that no one is free in an absolute sense, even in those ar-

eas where freedom may be exercised. This is because a number of external factors

which people do not have much control over, and of which they are frequently not

conscious, often affect or influence the way of their actions and characters. These

may be classified into two sorts: Factors of heredity and factors of environment.

Factors of heredity include all those inborn propensities common to a race or fam-

ily, like certain physical characteristics, diseases, habits, and so on. Environmental factors include earthquakes floods, droughts, and various climatic changes. So-

called social environmental factors are those happenings in society that may influ-

ence individuals either at the level of specific actions or at the level of dispositions

and characters. War, for instance, usually predisposes people to violence in a way

they may not be predisposed to when society is at peace. Similarly, harsh economic

conditions may propel some people toward such vices as prostitution, stealing, and

armed robbery.

The fact that human acts, characteristics, and dispositions are not products of

absolutely free choices suggests that the practice of praising and blaming people is

really meaningless and unjustifiable. This is because the system of morality presup-

poses that people make free choices. To save morality, within the Yoruba context,

from the charge of meaninglessness, we need to identify precisely how people can

plausibly be said to be genuinely free in such a way that will be consistent with the

Yoruba concept of Ori. An option is to say that an individual is free only when he

is not compelled to do or is restrained from doing certain things. That is, when he

is free from external constraints. Moritz Schlick is an advocate of this view, and he

affirms that “free acts are uncompelled acts.”^^ Hence, he sees all problems of free

will and moral responsibihty as pseudo problems.

However, a more plausible sense in which individuals may be said to be free,

consistent with the Yoruba concept of Ori, is that each person has the power to

introduce a new energy or to make an effort of the will to transcend environmen-

tal or hereditary factors that may want to constrain, compel, or predispose him or

her to do or not do certain things. For instance, we still find some people embrac-

ing and practicing the ideals of Pacifism in war situations, in spite of the general

tendency toward violence. Similarly, in spite of the fact that poverty predisposes

people toward such vices as steahng and prostitution, it is still open to poor people

to choose whether or not to steal or become a prostitute.

Although the term will is ambiguous and quite problematic, for our present

purpose it means the mental powers manifested in making a choice between two

or more alternatives. An example may be helpful in clarifying this: Let us suppose

that an individual, Joseph, is aware of two things. First is the strong conviction

that it is always morally right to tell the truth. Second is the equally strong desire

to continue to live in the house he has lived in all his life. Let us suppose further

that this second desire is incompatible with his deep conviction that he ought to al-

ways tell the truth, because the only way he can continue to live in this house is to

lie under oath. C. A. Campbell describes such a situation as the “situation of moral

temptation.”^* In the example above, even if Joseph’s desire to live in the house in

question is stronger than the desire to tell the truth, the choice remains with him

to exert or not exert some effort of the will which will enable him to tell the truth.

If he decides to tell the truth, his action can rightly be described as a free one be-

cause he could have lied. Similarly, his decision to lie would be a free one because

he could have told the truth.

In essence, factors of environment and heredity may determine the nature of

the situation within which decisions are taken,^^ but individuals can still exercise

their free will in allowing or disallowing factors of heredity or environment to dictate their decisions and actions. In Joseph’s case, above, the desire to continue

living in the house and the desire to tell the truth constitute at least some aspects

of the moral situation in which Joseph finds himself. But the actual decision taken

to either lie or tell the truth in pursuit of either of the two incompatible desires is a

function of his free will.

In my opinion, it is how an individual exercises his free will, which is made

manifest in his various free choices and free actions, which determines his charac-

ter, that is, each person’s character (iwa) is formed by virtue of his past acts of free

choice, and it is in recognition of this that the Yoruba praise and blame people for

their good and bad characters. For instance, a habitual thief may be blamed for his

stealing habits because it has formed part of his character through his past acts of

theft. Hence, the Yoruba are of the strong conviction that Owo eni ni aafi’ntun iwa

ara eni se (we use our hands or make individual efforts to improve our individual


Given the above understanding of how individuals could plausibly be said to

be free, I will now present an alternative naturahstic understanding of the Yoruba

concepts of Ori and destiny. To begin with, let me quickly address the Yoruba be-

lief in the prenatal determination of Ori and destiny. I am of the opinion that the

fact that hereditary and environmental factors, which infiuence the situations in

which people find themselves, exist prior to and independent of the birth of the in-

dividuals they affect contributes to the Yoruba view that certain aspects of human

lives are determined prior to birth in heaven. But there seems to be no good reason

supporting the Yoruba prenatal thesis. Rather than maintain that there is a prena-

tal choice of Ori which determines one’s destiny, personality, and entire life course,

I argue that the idea of a chosen Ori is no more than a combination of all the vari-

ous acts of free choice made by an individual up until any specified time in his life.

Three key factors seem to be vital in the determination of a person’s life

course: hereditary factors, environmental factors, and character. The relation be-

tween the first two factors and the third one is such that in the formation of char-

acter, each person has a choice to either allow or disallow facts of heredity and

environment to dictate the particular decision and actions which will ultimately

form the character.

By character we mean the distinctive quality of a person or the peculiar ways

in which each person manifests his or her existence.^^ It is formed by virtue of

the various previous acts of choice made by the individual and it is what, to a

very great extent, determines the destiny of persons. Take as an example a habitual

smoker who develops lung cancer as a result of the smoking habit. This habit con-

stitutes part of the character of the smoker, by virtue of which it makes sense to ar-

gue that he or she is predestined to develop lung cancer. Therefore, it might be said

of the habitual smoker in question that it is his or her Ori to develop lung cancer.

Going by this, the claim by Moses Oke that “a man’s character is his destiny” is

quite plausible.^^

From the above considerations, what the Yoruba describe as a choice of Ori is

actually made by individuals during the course of human existence, through the di-

verse acts of choices made, not by any prenatal choice in heaven. This implies that the concept of Ori is meaningful only in a retrospective sense. It is only with the

benefit of hindsight that we can plausibly say that an individual is predestined to

be one thing or the other, or that an event is predestined to occur. Before an event

occurs, I do not think that the Yoruba would say that it is predestined to occur,

except if by some special powers they have some insights into the future. Prior to

the occurrence of events, the best that can be said is that given the way a person is

living, behaving, or manifesting his character, he is likely to end up this way or that

way. It is only when such predictions come to pass that the Yoruba would say with

some measure of authority that the events have been predestined.

It is of interest to note that various world religions and cultures subscribe to

the view that some individuals are able to accurately predict future events. The

Yoruba traditional religion is no different, as its practitioners often consult with

the Ifa oracle to know the future of their children. This, in Yoruba language, is de-

scribed as knowing the Iko-se waiye or the es-n-taiye of a child.^” All that the ora-

cle does is to foretell the kind of life the child will have, as well as the major events

that will occur in his or her life. Subsequent efforts to avoid the occurrence of some

revealed unsavory events, for all we know, would end up as fruitless efforts. Such

efforts may be likened to the efforts to care for an individual who is sick with an

incurable ailment. Just as relatives would not want to leave an incurably sick pa-

tient without doing anything to alleviate his or her pain, and perhaps hope against

all hope that the ailment will miraculously disappear, the Yoruba also make fruit-

less efforts to alter a destiny that is foretold.^^

Going back to our discourse on the relationship between destiny and charac-

ter, my position is that it is a person’s character, which is a product of past acts of

free choice, that determines destiny on earth. There are several suggestions of this

view in Idowu’s writings.^^ According to him, Orunmila recited thusly:

Iwa nikan I’osoro o

Iwa nikan I’osoro,

Ori kan ki buru I’out ife

Iwa nikan I’osoro o

(Character is all that is requisite

Character is all that is requisite

There is no destiny to be called unhappy in Ife city

Character is all that is requisite)

In essence, the idea that is being conveyed here is that human well-being and suc-

cess on earth depend upon character. Similarly, Idowu stated that “a good character

is a sufficient armor against any untoward happening in life.”^^ As such, the recog-

nition of the fact that each person is free to develop either a good or bad character

underlies the Yoruba’s practice of blaming or praising individuals for the quality or

type of character they have and also for the ways their lives eventually turn out.

They say to the woman having marital problems, Obinrin so wan u o’loun o mori

oko wa’aiye (a woman is devoid of a good character but she complains of not be-

ing predestined to have a husband).

However, the view that destiny is determined by character seems to be under-

mined by the fact that there are occasions in which some significant occurrences

take place in the lives of people which cannot be accounted for in terms of the

characters of the individuals concerned or their past free choices. For instance,

when a person who has never smoked before or engaged in anything that we know

can cause lung cancer suddenly develops the ailment, the Yoruba may want to say

that it is such a person’s destiny to have cancer without us being able to say that

the cancer is a product of past choices, habits, or character. In such situations, we

are unable to offer any plausible explanation for the occurrence, except to say that

it is the destiny of the person concerned to have that experience at that time. This

is the kind of explanation offered when strange and perhaps tragic events defying

rational explanations occur.

In such circumstances, the Yoruba make use of explanations in terms of des-

tiny only because they lack any other rational explanations for the event. This is

similar to the way other people may explain away events in terms of such notions

as the “will of God,” “chance occurrence,” or “luck.” However, we need to note

that it is not in all cases in which the Yoruba need to explain events affecting peo-

ple that they offer explanations in terms of predestination. In many cases, they are

able to give plausible natural explanations as to why certain events take place or

why a person has become a success or failure in life. For instance, the Yoruba often

encourage young men to be hardworking and honest so as to make a success out

of their lives. Thus, it is not uncommon for the Yoruba to attribute a person’s suc-

cess to such factors as hard work, consistency, and patience, without any reference

to destiny. Likewise, failure is often explained in terms of such factors as laziness,

rashness, foolishness, and impatience. It is usually when the Yoruba are unable to

identify empirical reasons behind the success or failure of an individual that they

resort to explanations in terms of destiny.

For instance, it is only when an individual, after doing all that is required to

prosper in a venture, ends up in failure that the Yoruba may say that he is predes-

tined to fail in the venture. But, in this context, the way the notion of destiny is em-

ployed is quite similar to how some other people might simply say that the person is

just unlucky, because they cannot offer any plausible explanation for the ill fortune.

Indeed, the Yoruba term for luck is the same as the term used to denote des-

tiny. When the Yoruba want to say that a person is lucky or unlucky, they say

that ose orire or ose ori buruku (he has a good head or a bad head). Perhaps it

is because reference is made to the head when the Yoruba are talking about both

destiny and luck that some of the difficulties surrounding the Yoruba notion of Ori

and destiny are accentuated.

What is being suggested, in essence, is that there are at least two senses in

which the Yoruba employ the notion of Ori: First, to signify the choice of character

made by each individual through the particular choices of actions made. Second,

to denote the lack of plausible explanations in a perplexing situation that defies

any reasonable naturalistic or empirical explanations. In such situations, there is

the tendency to say that what has happened cannot but occur because it has been

so predetermined in heaven. But as we have tried to show, such explanations cannot be rationally defended and they are the products of a number of incompatible


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