Oyeku Ofun Temple

Ifa and Orisha Temple in Arcata, Humboldt County, Northern California // A Peaceful Place for Divine Worship

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IFA on what is Isese

IFA on what is Isese:

The ocean is filled to the brim
The lagoon is filled to capacity
Alasan is going to Asan
Alasan is going to Asan, the Awo of the top of the rock
The elders thought the matter over
And realized that it was no longer favorable
They used their mustaches to cover their faces
And spread their beards firmly over their chest
These were the declarations of Ifa to Isese (Traditionalism)
What is one’s Isese??
Olodumare is one’s Isese
It is Isese we ought to appease
Before appeasing any Orisa
One’s Mother is one’s Isese
Before appeasing any Orisa
It is Isese we ought to appease
One’s Father is one’s Isese
It is Isese we ought to appease
Before appeasing any Orisa
The male genital organ is one’s Isese
It is Isese we ought to appease
Before appeasing any Orisa
The female genital organs one’s Isese
It is Isese we ought to appease
Before appeasing any Orisa
Please let us appease Isese
Isese if the father of all Etutu
The Isese of your mother’s lineage
The Isese of your father’s lineage
May they all give approval to this Ebo
Before we appease any Orisa

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Ejiwapo: The Dialectics of Twoness in Yoruba Art and Culture by Babatunde Lawal

Ejiwapo: The Dialectics of Twoness in Yoruba Art and Culture

by Babatunde Lawal


The notion that reality has two aspects (i.e., spirit/matter, visible/invisible, male/female, good/evil, essence/ existence) is a universal and ancient phenomenon. However, its implications vary from one culture to another. In some, the two aspects are thought to be interdependent, as in the duality of twins or the primordial couple whose union gave birth to humankind. In others, the two may be viewed as complementary, as in Hinduism; mutually independent and sometimes antagonistic, as in the eschatological dualism of the Zoroastrian, Manichaean, and Christian Gnostic doctrines of good and evil, in which one is expected to overcome the other in the end; or eternally coexistent as in the Cartesian epistemological distinction between mind and body (see Eliade 1969, Bianchi 1978, Lovejoy 1996). This paper examines how the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin perceive and visualize this phenomenon.

The Yoruba regard the number two as sacred apparently because of the duality or “twoness” (ejiwapo) apparent in nature, such as day/night, sun/moon, life/death, hot/cold, wet/dry, right/left, and male/female. Apart from associating the number with balance, they expect it (especially in a ritual context) to influence the supernatural and bring about a desired result:

Eji koko Iwori, Oluwo Isulorun! …

Ki o ko reree temi wa a fn mi

Eji koko Iwori

Ki o gbe orun gba a wa sile Aye

Bale ba le, a foju foorun

Eji koko Iwori

Sure tete wa koo wa fire temi fun mi

Eji-koo-koo-koo, Iwori! (Adeniji 1982:96) (1)

Iwori-The-Formidable-Two, Master Diviner of Heaven! …

Bring me my blessings

Iwori-The-Formidable- Two

Bring them [my blessings] from heaven to earth

When the night falls, Sleep takes over our eyes


Move swiftly and bring me my blessings

Iwori-The-Formidable-Formidable-Formidable-Two! (my trans.)

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Yoruba are world famous for their adoration of twins (ibeji), regarding them as wielding spiritual powers with which they protect as well as attract good fortune to their parents. This adoration easily explains why much of the previous scholarship on the significance of twoness in Yoruba art focused primarily on the rituals and images of twins. In what follows, I broach the subject within the dialectics of Yoruba cosmology, which explains the universe as an interface of opposing yet interrelated elements. IGBA iwa: THE COSMIC GOURD WITH TWO HALVES The popular Yoruba saying “Tako, tabo, ejiwapo” (“The male and female in togetherness”; Lawal 1995:45) is loaded with meaning. In addition to hinting at the life-producing potential of the couple–the source of the family–it recalls the Yoruba conceptualization of the cosmos as a “big gourd with two halves” (Igba nla meiji sbju de’ra won). (2) The top half signifies maleness as well as the sky/heaven–the realm of invisible spirits (Fig. 1). The bottom half represents femaleness and the primeval waters out of which the physical world was later created. A mysterious power called ase is thought to hold the gourd in space, enabling the sun and moon to shine, wind to blow, fire to burn, rain to fall, rivers to flow, and both living and nonliving things to exist. This power emanates from a Supreme Deity known (among other names) as Alase (‘Owner of ase’), Olorun (‘Lord of the Sky’) and Olodumare (the ‘Eternal One and Source of All That Exists’). Assisting Olodumare in administering the universe is a host of lesser deities or nature forces called orisa. Said to number four hundred or more, each orisa personifies an ase associated with a natural or cultural phenomenon. For example, Obatala represents artistic creativity; Orunmila, intelligence; Oduduwa, divine kingship; Yemoja/Olokun, water and motherhood; Osun, fertility and beauty; and so on. The deity Esu-Elegba occupies a special position among the orisa because of his role as the divine messenger and the link between them and Olodumare, on the one hand, and between the orisa and humanity, on the other. He is regarded as the custodian of ase. Unlike the Supreme Divinity in other African cultures, Olodumare seldom creates directly but does so through the orisa. For example, on deciding to create land out of the primeval waters, Olodumare commissioned Oduduwa to do so. After that, Olodumare instructed the artist deity Obatala to mold anthropomorphic images from clay, animated each image with a life force (emi) and then asked the newly created humans to go and inhabit the land below the sky. In short, these events, among others, transformed the bottom half of the cosmic gourd, also called Igba Iwa (‘Gourd/Calabash of Existence’), into the material realm and domain of female Earth, Ile, one of whose other names is Iya Aye (‘Mother of the World’).


According to one creation story, the two halves of the cosmic gourd fitted closely in the beginning, with Olodumare (male Heaven, alias Ajalorun) ruling the top half and Ile (female Earth, alias Ajalaye), the bottom half. But one day, they quarreled over the only bush rat they caught while hunting together in the forest. Ile insisted on keeping the rat because it came from her domain and she was the “senior.” Olodumare gave up the catch, caused the top half of Igba Iwa to separate from the bottom, and prevented rain from falling from the sky, thus disrupting the reproductive cycle in the terrestrial world. This obliged Ile to give in and acknowledge the apical position of Olodumare as the head of the cosmos, and life subsequently returned to normal in the physical world (Idowu 1995:46-7, Abimbola 1975:261-91).

It may be asked: Since Olodumare allegedly created Ile (through Oduduwa), why should she claim to be the senior? The answer probably lies in another version of the Yoruba creation myth (collected by Samuel Ajayi Crowther, 1852:207) to the effect that the Yoruba once regarded Oduduwa as the Supreme Goddess, an embodiment of Heaven and Earth. According to J. Olumide Lucas, one of the pioneer scholars of Yoruba religion and himself a Yoruba elder:

In the early myths she [Oduduwa] is credited with the priority of

existence … She is regarded as having independent existence, and

as co-eval with Olorun [aka Olodumare], the Supreme Deity with

whom she is associated in the work of creation … Oduduwa is known

as Iya Agbe–‘Mother of the Gourd’ or ‘Mother of the closed

calabash; She is [sometimes] represented in a sitting posture,

nursing a child. Hence prayers are often addressed to her by

would-be mothers (Lucas 1948:45).

D. Olarimiwa Epega, another Yoruba elder, makes a similar point: “Odudua is the Self-Existent Being who created existence. He is both male and female … The word Olodumare is a praise title of Odudua” (1971:13-14). (3) [FIGURE 3 OMITTED] [FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Other scholars have drawn attention to the appearance of the word odu (chief) in the names of Ol-odu-mare and Oduduwa, suggesting that both apparently refer to one and the same deity (Idowu 1994:22-7, 31-2; Bamgbose 1972/73:28-9). (4) Indeed, Olodumare is also known as Eleduwa, which recalls the duwa in Odu-duwa. Thus the narrative attributing the creation of the terrestrial world to Oduduwa may very well reflect a divine act of self-extension, identifying Olodumare as a sexually biune Supreme Deity. In other words, is Ile an alter ego of Olodumare?

The reference to the bottom half of the cosmic calabash/gourd as the “mother” (Iya Agbe) is in consonance with the Yoruba identification of a container’s lid as ideri (‘cover’) or omori (lit. omo, ‘child’ + ori, ‘on top’). This is because a container, usually the bigger, supports its smaller cover in the same way a mother carries her child. Two questions then arise: Does Olodumare have a mother? Can the two halves of Igba Iwa also double as a Mother-and-(male) Child? This is not unlikely, given the fact that (as Olumide Lucas noted) Oduduwa is sometimes portrayed as a mother breast-feeding a child (Idowu 1962:Fig. 3b). It is interesting to note that a popular Yoruba folk etymology derives Olodumare’s name from Olodu-omo-ere, that is, ‘Olodu, the child of a female python’ (Idowu 1994:32-3, Bamgbose 1971/72:28-9). The following divination verse identifies him as such:

Ahere oko sisun nii mu opolo to lu ni oru

A dafun ere

Ti o nfi ekun se irahun omo

Nwon ni ki o rubo ki o le bi omo: ewure kan, aso kijipa ara re,


O gbo, o ru

Ere si loyun, o si bi omo

Awon enia si beresii wipe ‘lodu ni omo ti ere bi yi”

Nigba ti omo naa si dagba, o si joba ni oju iya re

Oun ni gbogbo enia si npe ni Olodumare titi di oni.

When we sleep in the farm hut, frogs jump on us in the night.

Was the one who cast Ifa [performed divination] for Python

When she was weeping and moaning for a child

They say she should sacrifice one she-goat, the homespun cloth

she was

wearing and eleven shillings so that she might be able to

have a child

She heard and made the sacrifice

And Python became pregnant, and she gave birth to a child

And people began to say: ‘One who has Odu” was this child that

Python bore

And when the child grew up, she lived to see him become a king

He is the one whom all people are calling ‘One who has Odu, child of

Python’ (Olodumare) until this very day (Bascom 1969:322-3, also

cited in Bamgbose 1971/72:27).

The Yoruba deity that immediately comes to mind is Osumare, who appears as the rainbow and whose symbol is the python (ere). Frequently represented as a pair of serpents or a single serpent with two heads (Fig. 2), Osumare is associated with wealth and prosperity. Curiously, the word mare (‘the immense, infinite, or eternal’) appears in both Osu-mare and Olodu-mare (Idowu 1994:30, Bamgbose 1971/72:27, 32; see also Babalola 1972/73:104-105). One folk explanation of the rainbow is that it encodes a message from Olodumare to his mother (the python?) in the underworld (Idowu 1994:30). That a snake deity might have played a much more prominent role in Yoruba religion in ancient rimes than it does today is apparent in the frequent representation of python motifs in Yoruba art. For example, a fourteenth-century terracotta vessel from Ile-Ife (Fig. 3) features a big snake looming above what seems to be an abstraction of an altar displaying three human heads, one naturalistic and the other two highly stylized. There is another snake at the back of the vessel (Garlake 1974:Fig. 6, pl. XLVI; see also Drewal, Pemberton, and Abiodun 1989). Note the emphasis on the creature also in the carved ritual bowl in Fig. 4. With its head on top of the female figure and its tail resting on the head of the male figure–as if uniting both sexes–this python seems to be watching over the cosmos, paying special attention to humanity. As noted earlier, the divine messenger Esu-Elegba is the keeper of ase, mediating its positive and negative powers. Hence, as will be seen below, he is perceived as an orisa with good and bad tendencies. The carved female in Fig. 5 conveys his generous disposition by touching her left breast. However, note the snake on her head that proclaims his other side! Besides, the snake reminds us of Esumare (another name for the rainbow deity Osumare) and Edumare (another name for the Supreme Being Olodumare; ibid., p. 31). As we shall see, the latter is the wellspring of existence in all its positive and negative aspects. In any event, the view held by some Yoruba informants that (a) Olodumare has a mother, (b) s/he embodies the male and the female principles of the cosmos, and (c) s/he may have something to do with a celestial python, has parallels among the Fon of the Republic of Benin, whose cosmology, many scholars believe, has been heavily influenced by that of their Yoruba neighbors (Maupoil 1943, Verger 1957). For example, the Fon conceptualize their Supreme Deity, Mawu-Lisa, as both male and female in essence. Its most sacred symbol is a closed calabash, like that of the Yoruba. The top half of the calabash symbolizes Lisa, the male Heaven, associated with day, heat, fire, fatherhood, and virility. The bottom half signifies Mawu, the female Earth, associated with night, coolness, water, fertility, motherhood, generosity, and nurture. Notwithstanding, the Fon often call the two aspects Mawu (Argyle 1966:179). As Melville and Frances Herskovits put it,

Any discussion of the Great Gods with [the Fon] will make apparent

at once the importance of the Sky-God. When the ultimate control of

the Universe is referred to, Mawu is the god usually named. Yet when

one speaks to persons immediately connected with the Sky-God cult

…. the name given to this deity will be the

hyphenated one of the two

principal members of the Sky pantheon, Mawu-Lisa … It is generally

held that Mawu whose domain is in the moon, is female, and that

Lisa, who rules the sun is male. Bur mythological accounts vary. One

version we collected tells that Mawu is androgynous and that Lisa

is the son of Mawu … Another relates that Mawu and Lisa are two

beings in one, one-half a female whose eyes are the moon, the

other a

male whose eyes are the sun. This version, it is claimed, explains

the meaning of the word Mawu (body-divided; 1933:11).

Furthermore, certain Fon oral traditions identify Mawu-Lisa as the offspring of a Mother Goddess called Nana Buluku (Nana Buruku or Nana Bukuu in Yoruba) who derives much of her powers from a primordial python Dan or Dambala, who is associated with the rainbow, wealth, and dynamism. Usually signified by a coiled snake with its tail in its mouth to connote eternity, Dambala itself is believed to have two aspects: Dambala-Wedo (male) and AidoWedo (female). These parallels seem to increase the possibility that, before the impact of Islam and Christianity on Yoruba religion, Olodumare might have once had attributes similar in some respects to those of the Fon’s Mawu, Mawu-Lisa, or Nana Buluku. (5) Another equally popular Yoruba creation narrative identifies the top (male) half of the cosmic calabash/gourd (Igba Iwa) with Obatala, the creativity deity, and the bottom half with Oduduwa in her role as female Earth (Lucas 1948:95). Apart from casting the two orisa in roles comparable to those of Olodumare and the Fon’s Mawu-Lisa, this tradition makes Obatala the Supreme Deity, as implied in nicknames such as Orisa Nla (‘Great Deity’) and Alabalase (‘The Wielder of Great ase’). Indeed, as Idowu points out, “he is called by some of Olodumare’s significant appellations. For instance, he is called Atererekaye–‘He who stretches over the whole extent of the earth'” (1994:70). Some stories even identify Obatala as the husband of the primordial python, mentioned earlier, that allegedly gave birth to Olodumare (Bascom 1980:212-15). And a number of scholars of Fon culture suspect that Mawu might derive from the Yoruba goddess Yeye Mowo, one of the wives of Obatala (Verger 1957:449, 552, Morton-Wil liams 1964:250 n.2, Bay 1998:95) whom some scholars identify as Oduduwa (Lucas 1948:96). [FIGURE 5 OMITTED]


It may then be asked: How did Olodumare displace Obatala in many of the creation narratives, assuming that he was, as some suspect, the equivalent of Lisa (Argyle 1966:175-6, Bay 1998:95), the top half of the (Fon’s) cosmic calabash? Did the names Olodumare, Oduduwa, and Obatala once refer to different attributes of the same Supreme Deity before they became dissociated and then identified with different beings? Admittedly, the answers to these questions must await the collection and close analysis of more oral traditions. Nonetheless, what is abundantly clear so far is that certain events in the Yoruba past would seem to have resulted in the modification of some aspects of their cosmology in order to accommodate new political developments. As mentioned earlier, Oduduwa reportedly created the earth out of the primeval waters. But one version of the creation narrative claims that Olodumare first asked Obatala to do it, giving him a hen and a bag of sacred sand. Unfortunately, Obatala got drunk after receiving the sacred instruments of his commission and fell asleep by the roadside. It was an opportune moment for Oduduwa: He picked up the sacred instruments, descended from the sky and created the first land at Ile-Ife, the cultural capital of the Yoruba. When Obatala woke up and discovered what had happened, he challenged Oduduwa and a fierce fight ensued. Olodumare later settled the rift and gave Obatala another task-to mold the image of the first human. Strangely enough, some legends identify the same Oduduwa as a powerful warrior and the leader of an immigrant group that invaded Ile-Ife in the first millennium of the Christian era. After conquering the aboriginal population headed by Obatala, Oduduwa established himself as a divine king in Ile-Ife, from where his descendants spread to other parts of Yorubaland, founding new kingdoms, sometimes peacefully and sometimes by force of arms. The resolution of the Oduduwa-Obatala conflict in Ile-Ife led to the formation of a government based on the rotation of the kingship between the two warring parties. Initially, the descendants of Obatala took charge of spiritual affairs, while those of Oduduwa controlled the political realm (Johnson 1913-14, Beier n.d.:25-32, Stevens 1966:184-99, Adedeji 1972:321-29, Law 1973:207-22, Eluyemi 1985:20, Smith 1988:3-12, 14-27, Adediran 1992:77-95, Adediran and Arifalo 1992:305-17).




As Oduduwa, the male warrior, gained the upper hand in the dynastic conflict, why is he associated with the bottom/female half of the calabash and not the top? Or does the bottom half represent the temporal powers of Oduduwa, the first divine king of Ile-Ife? (6) I have been unable yet to elicit a categorical answer to these questions from field informants. Suffice it to say that the alleged conflict between the two orisa may very well explain why Oduduwa now has a double identity, being worshipped as a male deity in much of eastern Yorubaland, but as another aspect of Ile, female Earth, in the western part. Oddly enough, those who regard Oduduwa as a male orisa still occasionally address him as Iya Imole (‘Mother of the Divinities’; Idowu 1994:22-5). This confusion has given rise to two speculations: one, that Oduduwa’s male (warrior) aspect might be a later development imposed by a new dynasty to legitimize its hegemony (ibid., p. 26); and the other, that there might have been more than one Oduduwa in the past (Euba 1985:11). Both speculations might suggest that the original Oduduwa–alias the ‘Mother of the Gourd’–is not necessarily the same as the warrior now venerated as a male orisa and the progenitor of the Yoruba. (7) In sum, the metaphor of a cosmic gourd with male and female halves would seem to suggest that the Yoruba notion of a bipartite Supreme Being is much older than the current one that identifies Olodumare as a self-created Sky Father also called Olorun (‘Lord of Heaven’).


The metaphor of a bipartite omnipotent and omnipresent cosmic power surfaces again in the edan Ogboni, a pair of male and female brass figures usually joined at the top by an iron chain (Fig. 6). It is an insignia of membership of the Ogboni society, which wielded considerable religious, political, and judicial powers among the Yoruba in the past and, to some extent, still does today. (8) Also known as Osugbo, the society derives much of its authority from its role as the vital link between a given community and Ile, who sustains it (Biobaku 1952, Morton-Williams 1960, Williams 1964, Lawal 1995). The term edan has two principal meanings, referring at one level to the brass emblem of membership of the Ogboni society and at another level to the goddess Edan, the daughter and alter ego of Ile and the link between the latter and the Ogboni society (Lawal 1995:41-3). As a result, both names, Ile and Edan, may be used interchangeably to allude to the same female Earth. Yet the altars dedicated to her inside most Ogboni lodges usually feature two large male and female figures (Fig. 7) called Onile (‘Owner of the House’) or Onile (‘Owner of the Earth’).

In view of the Yoruba conception of the cosmos as a gourd with male/female halves, some scholars have suggested that the Onile pair may represent the union of the male Heaven and female Earth or the couple as the founders of human society (Williams 1964:142, Witte 1988, Drewal 1989:161). These interpretations cannot be ruled out altogether, given the recent attempts by some Yoruba to modernize the Ogboni. In 1914 the society split into two factions, the Aboriginal Ogboni Fraternity (AOF) and the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity (ROF). While the AOF continues with many of the old rituals and symbolism, the ROF has been modifying them to attract new members, especially Christians and Muslims. This has complicated the interpretation of Ogboni art because certain ROF members now identify the Onile pair as the Yoruba equivalent of the biblical Adam and Eve (Lawal 1995:37-49). Yet that the pair does not represent two different characters is evident in the fact that both the AOF and ROF factions refer to the two figures as Iya (‘mother’), treating them as one unit (Daramola and Jeje 1975:1323, Ojo 1973:51). Besides, all members of the society metaphorically regard themselves as Omo Iya (‘Children of Mother Earth’), not as children of two parents, a father and a mother (Lawal 1995:43-9). Some Onile figures are joined back to back to emphasize the oneness of the pair. Certain altars have only a fe/male figure with two heads, one representing the male and the other the female; one example of this type is in the museum collection of the Obafemi Awolowo University Museum, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. A fe/male altar figure in the collection of the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, Holland, wears a hunter’s hat to symbolize the maleness within her femaleness (Witte 2004:Fig. 73). Other fe/male figures are hermaphroditic, sporting beards, hornlike coiffures (Fig. 8), or other unusual features, in allusion to the transcendence that enables Ile to sustain different manifestations of life in the physical world (Lawal 1995). These features reverberate in the edan Ogboni as well (Fig. 91).

Though this emphasis on androgyny in Ogboni iconography may reflect parity or male-female interdependence and the pre-eminence of motherhood in the physical world, it also explains why Ile (fe/male Earth) is sometimes addressed as Obinrin b’Okunrin (‘a manlike woman’; Adeoye 1989:336). Of special importance here is how androgyny has been used by the Ogboni to communicate the ambivalent character of female Earth. Her kindness to humanity through agriculture is acknowledged in the praise Ile Ogere, a f’oko yeri (“Earth, the mother goddess who adorns/combs her hair with a hoe”). At the same time, she is known to be cantankerous, taking life at will through different environmental hazards: Alapo ika. Ari ikun gbe eniyan mi (“Owner of a bagful of evil, with a stomach big enough to engulf human beings”; ibid., p. 359-60). She deals ruthlessly with liars and traitors but rewards the righteous. And since the Yoruba often associate femaleness with sofiness and coolness and maleness with hardness or harshness, the female figures of the Onile/ edan pair evidently refers to the motherly disposition of the goddess, and the male figures to her punitive or potentially dangerous tendencies. That is why the chained edan Ogboni brass figures may be detached for sending coded messages. A male figure connotes bad news and may be used to summon those who have committed serious offences to appear before a special court. The female figure, on the other hand, hints at good news, such as being cleared by the court of a crime or selected to receive a chieftaincy title. However, the significance of each figure varies from one context to another. Some edan Ogboni are specially made for healing purposes. When worn like a pendant, the male figure is expected to energize the body, facilitating speedy recovery from illness. The female figure, on the other hand, may be prescribed for relieving muscular pain and high blood pressure. Above all, the juxtaposition of the male and female figures sends clear signals about the interconnectedness of the opposite sex in the perpetuation of life and preservation of the social order. Needless to say, when worn in public, the edan Ogboni denotes the male/female membership of the society (Lawal 1995:37-49).





In the Zoroastrian, Manichaean, and Christian Gnostic traditions, there is an attempt to trace the origin of Good and Evil to two separate and antagonistic cosmic principles. This is not the case with the Yoruba. That they regard both phenomena as two sides of the same coin is evident in popular sayings such as “Tibi t’ire la da’le aye” (“The physical world evolved out of Good and Evil”; Lawal 1996:22, Akiwowo 1983:23) and “Buburu ati fere ni o nrin po (“Bad and good things work together”; Lawal 1974:239-49, Allen 2003:57). In other words, the same Olodumare created both Sopona, the dreaded smallpox Orisa, and his opposite Osanyin, the orisa that cures diseases. He also created creatures that prey on each other, making life a struggle for survival (Abimbola 1997:3).

A dose examination of Yoruba cosmology reveals two opposing forces (Fig. 10). On the right side are the benevolent forces, consisting mainly of the orisa and deified ancestors who watch over the interest of humankind by virtue of their human essence. On the left are the malevolent forces, known as ajogun (‘warriors’). They include Iku (death), Arun (disease), Ofo (loss), Egba (paralysis), Oran (trouble), Epe (curse), and all the environmental hazards militating against human existence and well-being. As Wande Abimbola has observed, “there is no peaceful coexistence between the two powers. They are always in conflict” (1997:3, see also Abimbola 1976:151-94). Notwithstanding, they partake of one another’s characteristics, given the Yoruba belief that nothing is good without something bad in it, and vice versa. Hence the following aphorisms: “Aigba ire, ka ma gba ibi” (“Anything Good has some Evil in it”) and “Ninu ikoko dudu ni eko funfun ti njade” (“The white porridge comes from a black pot/A good thing may come from a bad one”; Lawal 1974:243). Similarly, the right and left sides of the cosmos are not mutually exclusive in terms of the benevolent and malevolent. For instance, the left side (despite its association with the malevolent ajogun) has positive aspects as well, being associated with femaleness and comfort. Note the following prayer for a good festival:

Kodun nyi yabo …

Abo lala bo mo

Abo nii tura …

Ki odun wa ma ya’ko.

Ako lo ni lile.

May this festival turn out to be female in nature,

It is in femaleness that peace is buried

It is the female that comforts …

May our festival not turn out to be male,

For it is in the male that toughness lies (Apter 1992:111).

This prayer clearly shows that maleness can potentially be negative, notwithstanding its association with the benevolent Right side of the cosmos, to which many of the orisa belong. So, there are elements of the right side on the left, and vice versa (Lawal 1995:43-4). In fact, the panegyrics of some of the orisa portray them as unpredictable. The creativity deity Obatala is a good example. Although well known for his gentility, his nickname A da ni bo ti ri (‘He who creates us as he wishes’; Idowu 1994:72) speaks volumes about his fickleness. Aside from commending him as a great artist who enjoys a lot of creative freedom, it reminds us of the drinking bouts that led him to create people with deformities. In short, the Yoruba cosmos is a binary fusion of opposites. There is no absolute good or absolute bad. To enable humanity to cope with the dialectics of the existential process, Olodumare reportedly gave special powers to two orisa, Esu-Elegba and Orunmila. In his role as the divine messenger, Esu-Elegba acts as an agent between the powers of the Right (orisa) and those of the Left (ajogun). He frequently succeeds in keeping them under control, even if he has been unable to stop their perennial conflict. Yet that role has turned him into a double agent, earning him the appellation Asotun-sosi lai n’itiju (‘The one who befriends the Right and the Left without feeling ashamed’; Daramola and Jeje 1975:299). Several panegyrics portray him as a deity who delights in mischief by making enemies of close friends and even causing misunderstanding among fellow orisa, if only to create an opportunity for himself to serve as a mediator (Wescott 1962:337-54, dos Santos and dos Santos 1971, Pemberton 1975). In one story, Esu-Elegba decided to test Orunmila’s generosity. In disguise, he accompanied the ajogun to Orunmilas house. But seeing through Esu-Elegba’s intrigue because of his intuitive power, Orunmila lavishly entertained his guests and won their praises and blessings (Abimbola 1976: 187-9). On another occasion, the very same Esu-Elegba sided with Orunmila to ward off Death (ibid., 189-91). (9) He plays a similar role in his dealings with mortals in order to teach them how to negotiate the complexities of earthly existence. It is enough to say that many symbols of Esu-Elegba embody these betwixtand-between roles. [FIGURE 13 OMITTED]


The staff in Fig. 11 has two faces, looking in opposite directions, to underscore the deity’s association with the threshold from where he monitors development from the inside and outside, the front and the back, and so on. Other staffs may represent him with a flute to stress his role as a monitor, instigator, coordinator, and mediator. Some emblems of the deity feature paired male/female figures (Fig. 12), like the edan Ogboni, in reference to his ambivalent and transcendental powers. Certain dance vestments for the deity (Fig. 13) consist of four alternately male and female figures (2 x 2 = 4), emblematizing his association with the crossroads–a junction of forces from the north, south, east, and west. A number of vestments have three, five, or seven figures, so that the one in the middle divides them into two groups, underlining the intercessional role of this orisa. His function as a lodestone is implied in the lump of laterite (yangi) that usually represents him in front of a house or at the crossroads. According to some Yoruba elders, the word ‘Esu” derives from the root verb su, (‘to cluster, form into a ball, or gather into a mass’). The same root verb is implicated in Osumare and Esumare, recalling the ball-like coil of a python. This verb is also present in asuwada, the Yoruba creation narrative, which declares that, even though all things were created individually, their survival depends on how well they are able to cluster and coexist with one another (see Akiwowo 1986:113-23).

In spite of his close association with Esu-Elegba, the double agent, the divination deity Orunmila has a significantly different character. The exact meaning of the deity’s name is obscure. However, many Yoruba informants believe that it is a contraction of either Orun l’o-mo-atila (‘Only-Heavenknows-the-means-of-salvation’; Idowu 1994:74) or Orun-li-omo-ilaja (‘The-one-sent-from-heaven-to-settle-conflicts’; Lijadu 1908:2). Nonetheless, the deity is widely revered as Ogege A-gbaiye-gun (‘The-stabilizer-of-the-World’; ibid., p. 67), Oloore Ajiki (‘The predictably generous one, worthy of worship every morning’), Apijo’ku da (‘The averter of death’), Eleri Ipin (“The witness of creation and human destiny’), and Amoimotan (‘The One not known in full’; Epega 1971:14-15, Simpson 1980:13-14, Adeoye 1985:181-2).

In one word, Orunmila uses his divine intelligence to help humanity and fellow orisa to diagnose and find solutions to problems, offering advice and providing remedies to avert trouble and dissolve tension. He is consulted through the divination system called If a whose most popular symbol is the opon Ifa (divination tray; Fig. 14). By throwing sixteen sacred palm nuts four times from one hand to the other and recording each throw with one or two finger prints on the dust in the tray, a diviner creates a set of signs or figures (ode) associated with one of the 256 verses in the literary corpus called Odu-Ifa. The diviner then recites the relevant verse in which a problem similar to that of the client would be mentioned. In the end, the diviner advises the client to follow the solution recommended in the verse.

It is significant that each of the sixteen principal ode, from which the others derive, is said to be both male and female and therefore paired (Fig. 15), being identified as such: Ofun Meji (the Ofun pair), Ose Meji (the Ose pair), and so on. According to Daniel Epega and William Bascom, the marks on the right half signify the male and those on the left, the female (Epega 1971:16, Bascom 1969:40). The tight bond between the two halves is often invoked to bless marriages or settle disputes between lovers:

Aji koni ro

Ajipani po

Ese kan Ogbe ko ki i se orogun.

One who brings us together on awakening

One who unites us on awakening

One half of Ogbe (odu-Ifa) does not quarrel

[with the other] (Simpson


[FIGURE 14 OMITTED] Yet, as Wande Abimbola points out,

Each of the 256 Odu has its own character. Broadly speaking, one Odu

may denote evil while another one denotes good. The same Odu may

also stand for both good and evil … If a good Odu appears … it

means that the client can expect a good omen on the subject of

inquiry … and if an evil Odu appears, it means that the client

should expect evil (1976:30).

And whatever the outcome of a given consultation, Orunmila is expected to advise the client on what to do in order to pave the way for the predicted blessing or ward off the evil lurking in the dark. The divining tray on which the diviner fingerprints the odu has three basic forms: circular, semicircular, and square/rectangular. The most common, the circular tray, evokes Igba Iwa, the cosmic gourd. Human, animal, and mythological motifs carved in high relief frequently adorn the tray’s border, leaving a recessed open space in the middle (Fig. 14) called aarin opon, the space for finger-printing the odu signs. That this recessed space is the intersection of heaven and earth and a stage for metaphysical theater is evident in the popular saying “Aarin opon niita Orun” (“The middle of the tray connects with heaven”; Abimbola 2000:177). A typical tray has a human face called oju opon (‘face of the tray’) carved on the border, said to represent Esu-Elegba, the divine messenger who acts as a kind of “secret agent” for Orunmila. The face is oriented to look at the priest during the divination exercise. Some trays may have two or more faces; in that case, the one on top, looking directly at the diviner, becomes Esu-Elegba’s. Since he represents the unpredictable factor in life, in addition to his role as the divine messenger, Esu-Elegba must receive a portion of all the sacrifices offered by a client toward the solution of a particular problem. Thus, through If a divination, there is an attempt to enlist the services of this unpredictable orisa to make life more predictable. Paired animal and human figures as well as patterns adorn many trays, hinting at the continuous interaction of opposing forces in the cosmos.


This oppositional complementarity in the Yoruba cosmos finds one of its most eloquent expressions in the ose Sango, the double-ax ritual staff of the thunder deity Sango (Fig. 16). The staff stands for the polished stone ax or the thunderbolt (edun ara) that this orisa allegedly hurls down from the sky during thunderstorms. A collection of these stones represents Sango on an altar, alluding to the deity’s virility and firepower. A typical ose Sango usually takes the form of a human figure–frequently female–surmounted by a pair of carved stone axes, signifying the interaction of heaven/earth, male/female, creation/destruction, etc., in the Yoruba cosmos. It is also a visual metaphor for spirit possession, through which Sango manifests in the body of a devotee (Fig. 17). As Evan Zuesse rightly observes in his study of African religions, “the spatial universe of the body is absolutely crucial for ritual. Religious meaning is mediated through the spaces that ritual establishes for the body” (1979:142). While both male and female priests use their bodies to reveal Sango, the female body is considered the most ideal. Hence the initiation of a male devotee involves a ritual that virtually feminizes his body, which explains why most male priests wear female hairdos. In effect, the female body relates Sango–an epitome of virility–to the feminine principle in the cosmos personified as Yemoja/Olokun, Ile, Oya, and Osun, among others. That is why Sango is known as A f’edun ko’le b’ebe isu (‘The one who uses the thunderbolt to till the earth into heaps like those used for planting yams’), Akata yeriyeri oko Oya (‘Flashes of lightning, the husband of the tornado deity called Oya’), and Baba wa ojo omo olomi ti ije Yemoja (‘Bringer of rain, the son of Yemoja, the mother of the waters who gave birth to Osun’). Sango’s most sacred color is red, symbolizing blood and fire–a color often combined with blue and white, both sacred to the water goddess Yemoja/Olokun. (10)




In essence, the thunderstorm dramatizes the interrelatedness of Heaven and Earth as well as male and female. The resulting synergy is expected to regenerate the cosmos, making life more abundant in the physical world. This imagery is apparent in the Agbena, a priest carrying a pot of fire during the annual festival in honor of the deity (Fig. 18). He is male, but often wears a female hairdo to signify his twoness. The fire connotes the maleness of the lightning from the sky and the pot the femaleness of the “Mother of the Gourd” containing the primordial waters out of which habitable land emerged at creation. The same phenomenon is evident in the arugba, the female caryatid figure (Fig. 19) holding a bowl of thunderbolts on some Sango altars. The two halves of the bowl recalls Igba Iwa, the cosmic calabash, while the kneeling female figure reinforces the sustaining power of the bottom half–the “Mother of the Gourd.”

The twoness of Sango as a conflation of humanity and divinity also resonates in the ose’s double-ax motif. Legend has it that Sango once ruled as the fourth king of the ancient Yoruba kingdom of Oyo some time in the fifteenth century. Because he had a special charm for invoking the thunderstorm, he was deified and identified with that phenomenon after his death. He is said to have fathered many twins; hence his nickname Baba Ibeji (‘Father of twins’; Thompson 1971a). Therefore, the double-ax motif may reflect his association with twins as well. At the same time, the motif epitomizes the paradoxical nature of the thunderstorm: The rainfall that fecundates the earth to benefit humanity is frequently accompanied by violent gales and destructive lightning strikes that may result in loss of life and property.


The fact that the Yoruba trace the origin of the human body to a piece of sculpture created by the artist deity Obatala and then animated with a life force clearly shows that an individual has two aspects as well. The body represents the material self, and the life-force, the spiritual self. Its bilateral symmetry is sometimes said to reflect the contributions of one’s parents to the self, the right being identified with the father and the left with the mother (Idowu 1994:183, Epega 1971:16). Different parts of the body manifest this twoness as well bone is identified as male and flesh female; semen male and breast milk female. Even the head is divided into an outer layer (ori ode) comprising the hair, forehead, eyes, nose, cheek, mouth, chin, and ears; that is, those features that physically identify a person. A naturalistic portrait (Fig. 20) focuses on these details of the visible self, which may also include the whole body. The inner head (ori inu), on the other hand, refers to an inner, spiritual core which, to the Yoruba, enshrines the ase on which depends one’s success or failure in life. The symbol of this inner core is called ibori (‘altar to the head’). Its abstract form hints at the mystical nature of the spiritual self, though a stylized sculpture with an emphasis on the head may also allude to the preeminence of the inner head. (Fig. 21; see Lawal 2000:93-109). The belief that the latter controls the outer head is evident in the popular prayer: “Ki ori inu mi ma ba t’ode je” (“May my spiritual head not spoil the physical one”; Drewal, Pemberton, and Abiodun 1989:26, Olajubu 2003:33).:: Also, the eye is thought to have two layers, the outer eye (oju ode), which has to do with normal quotidian vision and the inner eye or mind’s eye (oju inu), associated with insight, intuition, meditation, critical analysis, etc. (Lawal 2001:516-17).



The Yoruba idea of beauty has two components as well: physical beauty (ewa ode), referring to visual appeal, and inner beauty (ewa inu), character or moral worthiness (iwa). That they place a premium on the latter can be discerned from the popular saying: “Iwa l’ewa” (“Character determines beauty”). The reason for this is obvious: Physical beauty is a natural endowment. Since, as noted earlier, Obatala is “He who creates us as he wishes” (A da ni b’o ti ri), to make external beauty the sole criterion for the beautiful is tantamount to penalizing the physically unattractive for a biological fact they could not have personally prevented. The stress on character, on the other hand, affords everyone an equal chance of living up to a moral ideal in order to be fully admired. Self-discipline thus becomes the key to social mobility, enabling an individual to make up for a physical deficiency or maximize the potentials of a natural endowment (Lawal 2005).

In sum, since the inner head localizes the life force, it influences not only one’s character, but also one’s self-consciousness, mind, thought, conscience, wisdom, behavior, and physical power–all manifested in the body (Abimbola 1971:73-89; Morakinyo and Akiwowo 1981:19-38, Allen 2003:37-64). The latter then becomes a kind of mask, through which the life force exerts one’s presence in the visible world. This interaction between the material self and its spiritual Other differentiates the Yoruba notion of twoness from the Cartesian identification of body and mind as two irreconcilable absolutes (Morakinyo and Akiwowo 1981:28). As a popular Yoruba proverb puts it: “T’oju, t’iye l’aparo fi nri iran” (“The bush fowl surveys the land with both eyes and wings”). (12)


In addition to their notion of the two selves, the Yoruba also believe that every living person has a spirit-double in heaven called enikeji (Idowu 1994:182-3, Prince 1964:93, Abimbola 1987). Before being born, an individual enters into an accord with his or her spirit double, promising to achieve certain goals on earth, observe certain taboos, refrain from certain actions, and so on. As Marilyn Houlberg has observed:

In the case of twins, the spirit double has been born

on earth. Since there is no way of telling which is the heavenly

being and which is the mortal, both are treated as sacred from

birth. As one 45-year-old man from Ibadan commented: “We do not

think of each twin as having its own counterpart in heaven; they are

the counterparts of each other.” Thus, everything that is done for

one must be done for the other (1973:23; see also Thompson 1971,

Lawal 1989, Chemeche 2003).

In other words, the prenatal bond between an individual and his/her spirit double was such that one could not leave the other behind. As a result, both were born together; hence their name ibeji (‘double-birth’) or ejire (‘the intimate, inseparable two’). And because of their association of the number two with good luck, twins are expected to attract spiritual and material blessings to their parents:

Ejire Okin Ara Isokun

Ile Alakisa l’oti ki won

Ejire so alakisa di alaso

O so alagbe di olounje

o so otosi di oloro … (Daramola and Jeje 1975:282).

Twins, beautiful egrets, native of isokun town

You entered the house of the poor

Twins turned the poor into the rich

You turned the beggar into somebody with food to eat

You turned the wretched into the wealthy … (my trans.)

Legend has it that the Yoruba once abhorred twins partly because multiple birth was associated with animals and partly because of the fear that one of the pair was an enikeji and therefore a bad omen for a given community. This resulted in the killing of newborn twins and their mother. The practice reportedly stopped when, some time in the fifteenth century, a powerful king’s wife gave birth to twins. Instead of having them killed, the king ordered that the woman and her children be banished to a remote part of the kingdom and regarded as dead. But, miraculously, the twins survived in the wilderness and eventually founded new settlements where they became kings (Johnson 1921:25). (13) This encouraged ordinary citizens to retain their twins, keeping their birth a secret from the general public. Some simply went into exile and settled in areas where their twins survived to become culture heroes (Chappel 1977, Abimbola 1988). In one case, which is said to have occurred during the eighteenth century, a couple that had twins consulted a diviner about what to do with them. The diviner advised them not to abandon or kill the twins, provided certain rituals were performed. The couple fulfilled all the instructions. The twins not only survived, their parents became very rich. The news soon spread to other parts of Yorubaland that the preserved twins had attracted good fortune to their parents (Chappel 1977; see also Thompson 1971b: Ch 13/2). Another legend locates the original Isokun at OyoIle. There, one of the king’s wives gave birth to twins six times (Abimbola 1988). [FIGURE 21 OMITTED] To some Yoruba, the dose bond between twins is due to the fact that they share the same life force; others disagree, contending that they have separate souls and that the two are preordained to stay together. Nonetheless, there is consensus that though they are physically two, twins are spiritually one. Thus if one of them should die, a memorial, ere ibeji, would be commissioned (Fig. 21) to localize the soul of the deceased and maintain the spiritual bond between the living and the dead. If both twins should die, another memorial would be commissioned and the two statuettes treated like living children in the hope that they be born again to the same mother. Tradition requires that the carver give both memoriais the same facial features to emphasizing the oneness in their twoness, even if the deceased twins were not identical (Fig. 22). The memorial is normally carved from the wood of the West African rubber tree (Funtumia elastica). Apparently because its sticky latex binds two surfaces together, the wood of the rubber tree is believed to possess a high spiritual sensitivity. In fact, the local name of the tree, ire, derives from the root verb re, which means ‘to unite, befriend, or reconcile” Note that the same verb occurs in ejire, the synonym for twins-the inseparable two–which explains why different parts of the ire tree–leaves, bark, roots, etc.–are used in making charms or articles aimed at bonding friends, lovers, and social organizations. This notion is illustrated by the popular saying “Ire oko, loni ki o wa ba mi re” (“The ire of the forest has asked you to bond with me”; Lawal 1989). The same root verb re is implicated in words such as ore (‘friend’) and irepo (‘social harmony’). Thus, to the Yoruba, twinship connotes a mutually beneficial relationship that infinitely doubles the dynamic that bonding generates in time and space, stabilizing families, societies and nations.



This dynamic is the focus of the Gelede mask (Fig. 23). Found mainly in southwestern Nigeria, especially among the Ketu, Egbado, Ohori, Anago, and Awori Yoruba, the Gelede masking society performs in a variety of social and religious contexts (i.e., to mark important events in the life cycle or to enlist the aid of deities in times of crisis). Its ultimate goal is to promote peace and happiness on earth. To this end, the society directs much of its ritual and artistic activity toward the pacification of the maternal principle in nature personified as Iya Nla. In some areas, she is identified with Yemoja-Olokun or with Odua/Oduduwa/Ile. In other areas, she combines the attributes of all the female deities.

The frequent reference to Iya Nla as “My mother [the dreadful bird] Osoronga … with the beautiful eyes …” (Lawal 1996:74) bespeaks the mixed feelings of the public towards her. For, as mentioned earlier, the same “mother” who sustains humanity through nature’s abundance also destroys life through environmental hazards such as flood, drought, crop failure, infertility, forest fires, epidemics, and snake bites. Simply put, she is benevolent and malevolent at the same time. According to popular belief, certain Yoruba women called aje have direct links with Iya Nla and so are capable of harnessing her powers for positive or negative purposes. These women are euphemistically addressed as awon iya wa (“Our Mothers”), receiving special homage at the beginning of most Gelede performances in order to encourage them and females in general to let humanity benefit from their special endowments, most especially their procreative powers. In addition, the Gelede focus on the pacification of Iya Nla provides a forum for appealing to all members of a given community, regardless of age, sex, rank, and status, to live in harmony (irepo) with one another, like siblings.





A typical Gelede performance has two phases, a night concert and an afternoon dance session. During the night concert, a mask called Efe (the poet or humorist), prays for the blessings of Iya Nla, the orisa, deceased ancestors, and all the powerful women of Yoruba society. In the afternoon sessions, colorfully attired masks entertain the public with intricate dances. The masks usually dance in identical pairs, synchronizing their body movements and the jingling of their metal anklets, evoking the virtues of collaboration and teamwork (Fig. 24). Costume iconography also reflects this twoness, for while all the maskers are men, their attire usually includes female motifs, most especially the baby sashes/head ties normally used by a mother to secure her child on the back. A typical mask thus combines male/female as well as child/adult elements.

Although there are many legends on the origin of Gelede, the most relevant here is the one that traces its beginnings to a succession dispute between twin brothers (Lawal 1996:40-48, Drewal and Drewal 1983:226-31). According to the story, when Alaketu Akebiowu, the king of Ketu, died sometime in the fifteenth century, his twin sons Akan and Edun competed for the throne. Realizing that his brother planned to kill him, Edun fled from Ketu, taking with him certain sacred royal symbols, without which his twin brother Akan could not be crowned king. Edun sought refuge in the town of Ilobi to the southeast of Ketu. Shortly after, Akan and his group invaded Ilobi at night, but Edun frightened off the invaders with a device that they mistook for divine intervention. According to some informants, the device was in the form of masked figures, which later became known as Gelede. The two warring twins eventually reconciled and Edun returned from exile to become the king of Ketu. The peaceful resolution of the crisis is said to have ushered in an era ofprosperity that lasted until the nineteenth century, when the French colonized that part of southwestern Yorubaland and incorporated it into what is now known as the People’s Republic of Benin



This conflict seems to be partly responsible not only for the emphasis on identical pairs in the Gelede dance (Figs. 25-26), but also for the frequent references to twins on the carved headdresses (Fig. 27). When asked about the emphasis on twoness in Gelede, one informant declared, “It is because women give birth to twins. That is why there are two masks” (Drewal and Drewal 1983:134). The headdress in Fig. 28, from the Baltimore Museum of Art, (14) is in the Ketu style–probably carved by Lagbite–so the wrestling motif on it reminds us of the historic succession dispute between Akan and Edun. A dose examination of the two figures, however, reveals deeper levels of meaning. For instance, they both sport the osu hairstyle worn by priests and royal messengers, who sometimes participate in ritualized wrestling contests held during annual festivals in different parts of Yorubaland. Some of the contests commemorate the aforementioned conflict between Obatala and Oduduwa after the creation of the earth as well as the dynastic struggle in Ile-Ife in which Oduduwa prevailed but later reconciled with Obatala. Other contests reenact historical feuds between neighbors or between aboriginal and immigrant groups. These festivals are intended to recall the past, in addition to drawing moral lessons from the conflicts, especially how they were resolved amicably (Lawal 2004:114-17.). As a result, most Yoruba festivals begin with a major sacrifice to Esu-Elegba, the agent provocateur who, as mentioned earlier, often instigates quarrels, if only to provide himself with an opportunity to settle them and thereby teach humanity.


The figure on the left returns the viewer’s gaze with what appears to be an uneasy calm on his face, recalling the Yoruba proverb “Adie ba lokun; ara ko r’okun; ara ko r’adie” (“A hen perches on a rope; the rope feels uneasy, the hen feels uneasy, as well”; Lawal 1996:248). This proverb is often quoted by Yoruba elders when advising individuals or communities against the use of force in resolving disputes that may ultimately result in injuries to both parties. The proverb is sometimes visualized in the form of two creatures–usually a bird and a serpent–interlocked in a mutually destructive combat (Fig. 29).

Thus the wrestling motif on this headdress (Fig. 28) seems to warn the viewer of the negative consequences of violence, for much more can be achieved through peaceful resolution of conflicts and from being one another’s keeper. That the pair is not really fighting but miming the concept of togetherness becomes evident when the mask begins to dance. As the mask moves or swirls to the rhythm of music, the wrestling figures suddenly cease looking like antagonists. Rather, they appear to be balancing and holding on to one another in a precarious situation in which their survival depends on ejiwapo (‘twoness, togetherness, comradeship’) and ejire (‘bonding’; Lawal 2004:117).

By and large, the emphasis on “twoness” in Yoruba culture reflects at the secular level, an attempt to educate the public about the virtues of social living and the need for individuals to work together for the good of all. As a popular Yoruba folksong puts it:

Oju meji riran joju kan lo

Ese kan soso ko se e rin

Ajeje owo kan o gberu d’ori

Otun we osi, osi we otun

Ni owo mejefi fi i nmo.

Two eyes see better than one

It is difficult to walk with one leg (15)

One hand cannot easily lift a heavy road to the head

It is only when the right hand washes the left

and the left washes the right

That both hands become clean (my trans.).

At the religious level, however, this notion, also articulated in popular sayings such as “Tibi t’ire la da’le aye” (“The physical world evolved out of Good and Evil”) and “Buburu ati rere ni o nrin po (“Bad and good things work together”), reflects a pragmatic worldview that life is not always a bed of roses. It is full of inherent contradictions or oppositional complementarities that must be taken in their stride, as there is little humanity can do (despite its technological advancements) to prevent certain unfavorable events in nature. This “fatalistic resignation,’ often expressed in the aphorism “Ise Olodumare, Awamaridi” (“Olodumare’s action is unfathomable”), has enabled the Yoruba to carry on with the struggle of living in the hope that the orisa, who administer the universe on behalf of Olodumare, will always be on their side. Hence the emphasis on divination in the past with a view to knowing the wishes of the orisa and so minimize the risks of offending them. The consciousness that anything that lives will eventually die has led the Yoruba to accept death as the price to be paid for living:

Gbese n’ iku; gbogbo wa ni yo san.

Awaye, aiku o si

Ohun a ntoro ni ire owo, ire omo, ire alafia ati emi gigun. (16)

Death is a debt; all of us must pay.

There is nothing like living in this world without dying.

What we pray for are the blessings of wealth, children, good health,

and long life (my trans.).

Nonetheless, a belief in the self as an interface of spirit and matter has encouraged them not to accept death as the end of life. Instead, they view it as a separation of the inner (spiritual) from the outer (material) self, resulting in a translocation from physical to metaphysical existence–a kind of afterlife (Ehin-Iwa), where a dematerialized soul may choose to stay forever or reincarnate as children in the same family (Lawal 1977). To the Yoruba, this ability of the soul to reincarnate in a new body–a work of art by the creativity deity Obatala–reveals the divinity that abides in humanity. References cited Abimbola, Wande. 1971. “The Yoruba Concept of Human Personality.” Colloques Internationaux du CNRS no. 55, pp. 73-89. Paris: CNRS.

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This article is a revised version of a paper first presented at the 13th Triennial Symposium of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) held at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 31-April 3, 2004. I am grateful to Professors Akinsola Akiwowo and Mark Wood for reading an early draft of this article and making useful suggestions.

(1) One text described The-Sacred-Two as “The one who left home as a wretched person, but later returned with good fortune” (Olatunji 1984:44).

(2) Another saying describes the cosmos as “Igba nla meji, a de isi: aiye ati sanma” (“Two mighty calabashes, one on top of the other, representing earth and sky”; Ojo 1967:196).

(3) Oduduwa is sometimes pronounced “Odudua” or “Oodua.”

(4) It is worth mentioning that another creation narrative identifies “Odu” as one of the senior female orisa who later married Orunmila, the orisa of divination (Adeoye 1989:360-61).

(5) Pierre Verger has drawn attention to an ancient Fon Supreme Deity known as Se/Segbo that he suspects may have something to do with the Yoruba concept of ase (‘enabling power’); see Verger 1966:19-40. Among the Baga of Guinea, the Supreme Being is associated with a celestial serpent; see Lamp 1996.

(6) Some Yoruba and Benin oral traditions suggest that the present-day city of Ife might not be the same as the one mentioned in the creation narratives. As a result, archaeologists have been looking for the “original” Ife, hoping to find it someday, if these traditions do in fact contain some elements of truth. But the antiquity of the archaeological finds in present-day Ife, coupled with its numerous shrines and annual festivals, strongly indicates that the city played a major role in the historical development of what we now call Yoruba culture.

(7) The identity of that warrior is further complicated by a recent story from the Edo of Benin City whose current ruling dynasty was reportedly founded about the fourteenth century by one of Oduduwa’s sons. According to the story, the name Oduduwa was the title of a powerful ancient ruler whose extinct kingdom, known as Uduwa, was once located near the River Niger to the north of present-day Ile-Ife and Benin City (Omoregie 2004:1-9).

(8) The Ogboni society is known as Osugbo among the Ijebu and Egba Yoruba. But since the terra Ogboni is more popular, I will use it throughout this essay to refer to the Osugbo as well.

(9) This shows that the ajogun are not engaged in evil activities all the time.

(10) While some Yoruba identify Yemoja as the mother of Olokun, others claim that one is an alter ego of another or that they are two distinct deities.

(11) Thus, a person who fails to succeed in spite of hard work is said to be troubled by his inner head (see Idowu 1994:181-2).

(12) I am grateful to Professor Akinsola Akiwowo for bringing this proverb to my attention.

(13) Another version of this legend identifies Pupupu as the wife of Oduduwa, the first king of Ife, not Alaafin Ajaka of Oyo-Ile; see Smith 1988:52, Olupona 1991:23-4, Abimbola 1988.

(14) There is an identical headdress in the collection of the Everhart Museum (Scranton, Pennsylvania) that might have been carved by the same artist to pair up with the BMA’s piece during the performance.

(15) Osanyin, the one-legged orisa of herbal medicine is said to be an exception because he has a special power that enables him to spin like the whirlwind and move faster than those with two legs.

(16) Another version of this prayer is in Adeoye 1985:9.

[Article info:

Title: Ejiwapo: The Dialectics of Twoness in Yoruba Art and Culture.

Contributors: Babatunde Lawal – author. Journal

Title: African Arts.

Volume: 41.

Issue: 1.

Publication Year: 2008.

Page Number: 24+]

About the author: BABAYUNDE LAWAL is Professor of African and African Diaspora Art, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and, in Spring 2008, the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College, Williamstown, MA.


How Oshun Saves the World Through the Birth of Osetura by Apetebi Oyaseye Fakayode

How Oshun Saves the World Through the Birth of Osetura
By Apetebi Oyaseye Fakayode
Long ago, when the Earth was still very young, Olodumare sent 17 chosen Irunmole to Earth. Before they started their journey from the Heavens to Earth, they met with Olodumare to hear their task.

Olodumare, with Her powerful voice, said to them, “You have all been chosen especially for this mission. Earth is now very young and new. I am sending you all to go and make it flourish with good things. For this to happen, you must all work together. When everything is good, report back to me.”
Among the seventeen Irunmole, the only female was Oshun. The other sixteen male Irunmole thought little of Oshun. Because she was very beautiful they thought that she was much too delicate for such a task. When the seventeen Orisha arrived on Earth they quickly started to get to work. They had brought their machetes, axes, hammers, and other gear. Oshun saw this and pulled out her comb, her mirror, her fan, and her sweet jar of honey. They laughed at the sight of her tools and said to her “Oshun, do not worry yourself. Go home to do your womanly things. We can handle this task without you.” Rejected and hurt, Oshun ran away. But she did not go back home, she hid in the forest. Nature flourished around her and she made a beautiful home for herself, away from those who did not appreciate her or her sacred, divine attributes.

Many months later, the other sixteen Orisha were struggling. Everything they did was going wrong. Whatever was built up, would fall down. Rain had not fallen to nourish the Earth in a very long time. Sickness was spreading around rampantly. The entire world was a great mess. Soon Olodumare called for them to return to Her. When they arrived they hung their heads down in shame. Olodumare counted them — there were only sixteen of them. “Where is Oshun?” Olodumare asked the Irunmole.

“We have failed you! We sent Oshun off and everything we did after that, it was unsuccessful.”
Olodumare nodded as She understood the true root of the problem. “You must find Oshun and beg Her for forgiveness. Only Oshun can change the misfortune that has come upon Earth”
The sixteen Orisha immediately headed back to Earth and searched for Oshun. They searched day and night. When they finally found her, deep in the forest, their jaws dropped at Her beauty and the beautiful home She had made for herself there. They saw Oshun coming back from bathing in a nearby river and they dropped to the ground, bowing in Her majestic presence. “Please Great Oshun, Ore Yeye O, we bow to you and beg you for your forgiveness. Please come with us, help us to make the world as healthy and happy as you have made the home for yourself here in the forest. “

Oshun let them beg for a while while she thought to herself before she gave her response. She said that she was now pregnant and they must beg to their own Ori and The Creator, Olodumare, that the child she delivers will be a male. She said that if the child is a male, all matters in the world will be well. But if the child is a female, there will be war and destruction. They used their powers to peer into her womb, and they saw that the child was to be born a female. ‘
They were distraught. They began to pray. Orunmila, the Father, then pointed to Oshun’s womb with his Ado Asure (Calabash with the power of blessings) and declared that the child would be a male. Just as Orunmila declared it, immediately the fetus changed and became a male.
When the child was born, Orunmila held the child close. At Esentaye on the 3rd day after birth, Orunmila divined for him and Ifa named him Osetura. He took Osetura with him everywhere he went, including him on all spiritual missions and endeavors. It became so that whenever Ifa rituals were performed, Osetura would need to be invoked. If any person was suffering from illness, as soon as Osetura came and touched the person, that person would be well instantaneously. Everything then that they built stood very strong. The rivers filled, the trees grew, and everyone was healthy and happy. They were all dancing and rejoicing, giving eternal praise to Oshun, Orunmila, and Osetura.
Olodumare looked and saw this and She was very happy. Not just because the world was good, but because the Orisha had learned to respect and honor each other, for all of them were special and only together could everything be good. And most importantly that the male Orisha had learned to respect and honor the female Orisha, and had learned that without honor to women, nothing will ever be prosperous or even possible. Oshun was proud and very happy that her son was deeply involved in the good work of Ifa. It was then proclaimed:
“From today on, all women without any exception,

They must not know Oro
And they must not enter the shrine of Eegun (Egungun)
Eegun must not come out in their presence
This must be observed as a taboo

But all other things
 you are doing

You must involve Oshun in them (women)
Their lives then became smooth
They said that if someone is pounding yams
Without the knowledge of Oshun

His or her pounded yam will not be smooth

If someone is preparing okra
Without involving Oshun in it
His/her food will not come out fine
We will involve Oshun in whatever we do

We will involve Oshun in all our deliberations.

Our Great Mother
Who must be present at every important deliberation
We will involve Oshun in all our deliberations
Agberegede ajuba

Ajuba agberegede

Divined for Oshun Sengesi
Owner of a hair comb decorated with iyun
When she was in a secret place
She spoiled the sacrifice of other divinities

Who is performing a sacrifice

Without involving the owner of sacrifice
Oshun whose other name is Ewujı
We are all on our knees.
We are all begging you

Let us all kneel and prostrate before women

We are all born by women
Before we become recognized as human beings

[Reference: The Bag of Wisdom: Osun and the Origins of the Ifa Divination by Wande Abimbola]
About the Author: Apetebi Oyaseye Fakayode was born and raised in Santa Rosa, CA. She is a very devout worshiper of the Orisa, especially Orisa Oya. She and her husband together founded and run Oyeku Ofun Temple, a traditional Ifa and Orisa temple. She is a talented artist, bead-maker, seamstress, and craftswoman. Also, she is a loving wife and mother. She currently resides on the beach in Northern California with her family. 
Photo of Author:
Iyalorisa Oyaseye Fakayode

Iyalorisa Oyaseye Fakayode




My aim in this paper is to examine, as much as possible, the Yoruba traditional account of human personality. Such critical examination will have to include the process of creation in the Yoruba belief: the concept of Ori in the Yoruba account of creation. I wish to apply philosophy as a tool to the account. Some notable scholarly works which are available would be of immense importance in this research project. Some common sayings in the society may also be, as a matter of explanation, useful in the understanding of the topic.

According to Yoruba myth the decision to create earth had to come to maturity. Eleeda, God the creator availed himself of the clairvoyance of Ifa, the oracle, in order to ‘remember ahead’ so as to determine in what way and by whose agency the awakening of life, this transcendental spiritual instilment of profane matter was to proceed.
According to Susan Wenger, “Obatala, the god who personifies the strength of purity, fecundity of truth and of white as the sacred sum of all colours in light-most-sacred-was to carry out this task in person. Ifa instructed him to pack the following paraphernalia of primordial creation in his ritual bad (Laba).
1) Efun, the sacred and potent natural chalk with which one masks oneself against the dangers of taboo.
2) Iyere osun, the wood-powder produced by termites eating the African Rosewood tree, the ritually potent powder in which Ifa, through his priest, writes his sacred number symbolisms.
3) Igbin, the great (vineyard) snail, Obatala’s own sacrificial food. The slimy fluid of the snail allows it to slide into and out of its shell with effortless ease. This fluid (Omi igbin), which is reminiscent of sperm, has great importance in all kind of proprietary sacrifices. Also, the spiral post that centrally holds up the central formation of the shell and roots the uniform contractile muscle of the snail’s soft body is the living symbols-analogy of the proto-helix and is the ‘post’ that is sacred to the goddess Iya Moopo (as the pillar that supports heaven). The strange, twofold, parthenogenetically sophisticated love life of the snail, which includes both anima and animus, is a hermaphroditic eroticism of both androgynous partners who stimulate each other to procreative activity by shooting tiny phosphorous arrows from the pores of their wet skin onto each other. This astonishing sophisticated primal procreative activity reverses our preconceived ideas of the atavistic comparative order of the evolution of species because it has no parallel with anything human. Reminiscent of the proto-motion of life in the nuclear cell that is the proto-helix of existence, Opo, the spiral post that we know so well from the Baroque Madonna is the symbol of a sacred fecundity. It is also in Igbin’s house, the snail shell.
4) Adie elese ma run, a chicken with five-toed feet, which is preferred as a sacrifice to Osun. The five-toed footprint of this hen is like the magic-mystical pentagram (Drundenfusz) with which Faust too held the Devil captive. It is said that Obatala let himself down ‘by a chain’ from heaven onto the primeval ooze. According to the statement of an Obatala priest, this chain is Obatala’s own source of force (Ase), his individual sacred energy, the hierarchical launching of evolutionary stages that led (and lead) continuously to the creation of the world.
Obatala Let himself down with this, his Ase-chain, but as it was too short; he landed on the palm tree, which grows on the boundary of the two distinct heavens which have self-evidently distinct precepts of taboo. Resting in the crown of leaves at the top of the palm, he intended to await the growth of his Ase-chain (that is till ‘the time is ripe’ for the event). He refreshed himself with the cool water of life –the wine-of the palm tree. H e got drunk and went to sleep. (The palm is the tree-aspect of the mother-goddess, Iya Moopo, as it was the symbol once of the Cretan mother of Apollo. Since this palm wine intoxication of Obatala, palm wine has been a taboo for all his priests)
In heaven, they got impatient. They were waiting for news of Obatala’s arrival below, where earth was to be. When it had taken too long, Oduduwa was sent out the ‘junior’ god. He found Obatala drunk and sleeping on the arms of the palm tree, and he made off with the bag containing the creation paraphernalia. As in the case of Jacob and Esau, it was the ‘junior’ who got the better of the ‘senior’.
Over the expanse of the still inanimate water (Omi, ordinary water, nameless and not yet entrusted with the spirit) was suspended Agemo, the chameleon, Obatala who had travelled in the gods armpit. The chameleon is an indispensable component of many sacred medicines and of medicine in the service of witch-craft. It is even ingested ritually and remains physically unabsorbed and active, ‘living on’ in the stomach of wizards and priests of quite dissimilar cults.
5) Agemo (or Oga) is not only a potent medicine; he is also a living metaphor of wisdom. Meta-intellectually, he is the symbol-antipode of the Tibetan ‘cloud of wisdom’ that is often depicted on the temple paintings, books, scrolls. The analogy lies in the assumption shared by both religion and opposite poles of ethical mankind, that wisdom is that which most sensitively react, ingest, transmutes ethically, adapts and reflects back on its author the ill all-inherent spirit of sacredness. The cloud reacts and adapts its form and volume through even the slightest atmospheric changes. The chameleon takes on its surrounding colouration without changing its own nature.
Agemo neither let loose of Obatala nor did he loose his grip on the Laba, the ritual bag containing the tool of creation, now in Oduduwa’s possession. Stretched out between them, he remained attached to both by his prehensile tongue and tail. And then Oduduwa created the world by scattering chalk and the Iyere osun power into a soft, wobbly base for the hen. He puts the hen down , and she tries to keep her balance while treading laboriously, covering this first surface with pentagonal points of her five-toes feet; more and more pentagons-running, scratching and distributing matter that was magically impressed in this way until there was enough landing space to receive Oduduwa. He climbed down and found Ile-Ife as the ‘beginning’ of mankind and its fate in this world.
Meanwhile Obatala awoke and saw that he had been out-manoeuvred. In a towering rage, typical of him as a bull-elephant, he raised up his sword of light and let of fall on Oduduwa. It fell with such ferocity that Oduduwa sank into the earth forever. There he rules in absolute autonomy. He is revered as a god that highly esteemed as he personifies the sacredness of the primacy of the earth, earth that has been impregnates once and forever with sacred fecundities like the queen bee after her nuptial flight.”1

The Yoruba traditional account of the creation of man, partly like the biblical account identifies two planes in the cultural cosmology: the physical plane and the spiritual plane. The physical plane, they refer to as the ‘Aye’ and the spiritual plane they refer to as ‘Orun’.
Now, the Yoruba believe that human personality is made up of ‘Ara’ (body) and ‘Emi’ (soul) and the third metaphysical entity is the ‘Ori inu’ (inner head). Ara is the physical, tangible and empirical and it occupies space in time. This Ara is the handiwork of Orisa-nla a deputy Olodumare assigned the work of creating human body.2 Olodumare, according to the Yoruba, is the supreme head of the heavenly Orisas. As the supreme head, he then assigned to his deputies different assignments to assist him in the creation and administration of Orun and Aye. Apart from Orisa-nla, Olodumare assigned other duties to deputies like Oduduwa, Orunmila, Ajalorun, Oluorogbo and others.
Orisa-nla created different bodies, some good and beautiful while some were ugly and deformed. That is the major reason why he is being referred to as
Alagbede orun
Oko abuke
Oko aro
Oko arara bori pete
The heavens blacksmith
Husband of the hunch back
Husband of the cripple
Husband of the dwarf with a big flat head.3

On this creation of human body, one tradition paints Orisa-nla also known as Obatala, as a disobedient and deviant divinity. Babatunde explained the perfect design which Olodumare set up for himself: that of making a peaceful world. In doing this “he also appointed Obatala to form the human image and he wanted both to cooperate with each other to produce a peaceful world of perfectly-formed, nice looking creatures”.4 It will be quite evident that the supreme deity did not intend that any ugly or bodily-deformed person be formed. But, with what is seen in Wande Abimbola and what obtains in the society, full of deformed and ugly people in as much as we have the beautiful ones, one cannot fail to conclude that Orisa-nla faulted the perfect plan of the Supreme Being. These deformed people were banished from their linage household from holding any family posts and are also “denied the full opportunity open to normal people within the narrow limits of the hierarchical system of the society” not only that, “at death they cannot become ancestors because they are not buried inside the linage household”. 5 Considering the quote above, a lot of questions will come to mind. For example, why were the deformed banished from the linage house hold? This could imply that the people dislike the deformed. But why were they hated? Where they hated for their deformed body or for the totality of their being including them ‘destiny’? In this case does a deformed body have anything to do with the nature of one’s ‘destiny’ albeit the former was made before the latter? If they were hated for their deformed body’s sake and since they didn’t create themselves, truly speaking, it means that, people abhor some handiwork or Orisa-nla. Then, it could directly mean, as shown in E.D Babatunde, that Orisa-nla is a deviant who faltered the perfect plan of Olodumare.
Considering the banishment from another angle, it would be evident that the deformed people are of immense importance to the society. Although they were banished from opportunities open to normal people in the family household, they still took up the service as staff of ‘Obatala’. One could claim that probably, that could be part of the content of their destiny. In the Yoruba society, however, the priest and staff of Orisa are seen as virtuous more than the normal or deformed people. By that, many came to assume wealth without much struggle. They acted, in most cases as mediators between man and the Orisas. Then, can it be said that they deformed are, as a matter of fact, disadvantaged in the society? At this point, I can say that they hold most importantly a useful and helpful position in the society.
Quite different from my proposition was that view of Epega D.O who believed that the time of creation, it was Olodumare himself who prepared the materials with which man was created. According to him, the physical part of man was created out of iron and clay. For him, “man is called ‘Ako irin’ (Male iron) and a woman ‘Abo irin’ (Female iron). The term ‘Okunrin’ and ‘Obirin’ are derived from ‘Ako irin’ and ‘Abo irin’ respectively”.6 It is claimed that after this preparation, Orisa-nla came to fix these things together and that formed different physical parts of man. Probably, the deformed and ugly came out of Obatala’s inefficiency in the putting together of those materials.
There is another tradition which identifies Oris-nla as one of the chiefs of Ile-Ife. This deity used to plant Okro which is known as ‘Ila’. Hence from the contraction above, the name Orisa-nla came forth.7
However, from all indications, the Yoruba account agrees with the fact that Orisa-nla was responsible for the creation of the physical  part of man with clay. The Yoruba also believe that at death, the ‘Ara’ will get decayed and go back into the ground. According to the Yoruba, it could also be inferred that the body is just a house to the real man which is ‘Emi’ (soul).
The spiritual part of man is known as the ‘Emi’. While it is claimed that Orisa-nla moulded the body. This ‘Emi’ (soul) is invisible, intangible, not spacio-temporal bound and it is the one which gives vitality and life to the body. “Its presence in, or absence from the body is known only by the fact that a person is alive or dead”8 This ‘Emi’ is viewed as very fundamental to the existence of a person just like Henri Bergson’s conception of Elan-vital which differentiates between organic and inorganic substances and without which a person is only a lifeless carcass or a dead log (Oku).
The Greeks, Plato for instance, the soul is what gives life to the body which is also the essential part of man and it is this same soul that thinks, feels and chooses.9 It could be said that since Plato existed before the Biblical doctrine, some have argued that it may be possible that the Christian doctrine of life after death was taken from the Greek conception of the mortality of the soul.10 One cannot hastily infer that the Yoruba belief in the importance of the soul was influenced by the Greeks or western views. This is claimed because the Yoruba account of creation (even not documented) had existed long before the Europeans landed themselves in the then ‘dark world’. Neither could it be said that the Islamic view influenced it as well. It also existed centuries back before the infiltration of Islamic civilization to the Yoruba kingdoms took place. The Yoruba conception of soul developed independent of any other tradition in the world.
According to M.A. Makinde, the account of the importance and immortality of the soul was borrowed from Egypt by Pythagorean and later inherited by Plato. But then, there had not been any channel by which the south Sahara people could get in touch with the North African people vice versa. Makinde stated “that is, either the idea of the immortality of the soul was originally borrowed from the Yoruba or any other African country, south of the Sahara, or both the Egyptians (from whom Pythagoras first learned the idea) and the Yoruba held this quite independently of each other, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. In either case the idea of immortality if the soul among the Yoruba could be regarded as original with them…”11
What I am asserting here is that, though it may seem similar, each tradition developed independent of others. The Yoruba believed that ‘Emi’ (soul) is the part of Olodumare. They also believe, like Plato, that ‘Emi’ is immortal and has a separate existence outside the body. That is why “at death, the Yoruba will say ‘Emi re ti bo’ or ‘Emi re ti lo’, (the soul has slipped away or the soul had gone) respectively”.12 Never could Yoruba say at death that the ‘Emi re ti parun’ (the soul is destroyed). It is culturally believed that at death, the body gets destroyed and the ‘Emi’ escapes from the body to either “join itself with another body or continue existence” or “go to ‘Orun’ and become ancestors”.13
Opinions are different on the fate of soul after death. Those who maintain that the soul will continue the life in aye linked it with the fact that such a person that died must be a younger person who died accidentally without having fulfilled his destiny in ‘Aye’. Such a soul will have to look for another empty body, put it on and continue life in a distant place from the original place where he lived in his previous life. According to Makinde, the dead person could return to the former environment to continue life.14 This is of course open to questions like; where could the soul find an empty body since it was not reported that Orisa-nla created empty bodies without souls? At death also, the dead body decays, then where could such body be found? Such a body, if available, should of course have been seen before the soul will put it on since it is physical. Another point is that the soul and the dead person will put on the body which resembles the former. An instance is recorded in Makinde’s theory of immortality of the soul and seven heavens (Orun Meje).15 so, where does the soul find the body with such resemblance with the former?
Those who claim that the soul goes to ‘Orun’ to become ancestors linked it with the soul of old people who have fully spent their lives and have reached their destiny in aye. It is said that, such people die and their souls go to Orun, join itself with the company of spirit and become ancestor. Wande Abimbola attests to this, 16 those who die young without fulfilling their programme in ‘aye’ are said to appear in different places, since according to the Yoruba, they cannot go to Orun to become ancestors. These are what they refer to as ‘Akudaaya’ or ‘Abarameji’. Apart from Makinde’s example, the society is believed to be full of them.
However, in either case, according to the question raised by Makinde in ‘Orun meje’17 of the identity of the same soul after death. I want to agree with him that such identity may be very difficult if not impossible. This is so because each individual cannot describe the soul inside him and how it looks like moreover a soul has no identity as it lacks the characteristics of tangibility, not physical and doesn’t occupy space in time. We only feel its manifestation in our mental and physical events. The moment it disappears from the body, I don’t know how that identity can be formed except with the same body. But, with such platonic tradition of reincarnation, shared by the Yoruba, according to Makinde, it is quite difficult however, to arrive at such identity.
The major point to note here is that, the Yoruba takes ‘Emi’ as an imperishable part of man. To further elucidate on the immortality of the soul, Makinde states that “this seems to explain the mystery surrounding the soul. It is also believed that the creation of the physical body from clay makes it an object of destruction while ‘Emi’, the real thing that gives a body life, is not subject to destruction by human being precisely because it is not moulded out of physical substances but a spiritual gift from Olodumare- a divine breath of Olodumare himself”.18
There is another part of human personality which must be given a careful attention. Makinde observed the attendant importance in human ‘Okan’, which translates heart in English. It is noted that ‘Okan’ is biologically responsible for blood circulation in the human body system. The ‘Okan’ and the blood in his view, play important roles in the sustenance of the ‘Emi’ in a human person. In fact, in some sort of way, he actually identifies ‘Emi’ with blood and as that which represents the soul in the physical plane.19 This is evident in the fact that if there is no blood in the human body, the body can never be alive and if the blood is drained or removed out of the human body, it is identical with the removal of the ‘Emi’. Not only that, according to Makinde, in the traditional setting, it is a fact incontestable that whenever a person or life is sacrificed, it is the blood that stands for the life in its physical manifestation. This is also evident in Christianity, according to the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ broke bread in communion with his disciples. “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, this is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you”.20 In that statement, his blood was a representation of his life which he was sacrificing and the bread was the body as well, establishing the spiritual and physical importance of his death to his disciples before the actual occurrence.
As a matter of cultural understanding, I would agree with Makinde on the importance of both the heart ‘Okan’ and blood ‘Eje’ as agents of the soul which has a great influence on the Yoruba theory of human personality, but I shall disagree on the fact that the blood (Eje) alone is strictly identical with ‘Emi’ because the blood is only necessary for the existence of ‘Emi’ but not sufficient in the sense that, biologically speaking, there are some other organs in the body such as the Liver (Edo), Kidney (), Lungs () Brain (Okpolo) amongst many which are also identical with ‘Emi’. Even if the blood is present in the body and one of these afore mentioned organs are absent, it will sufficiently mean the absence of the ‘Emi’ as well. It could be argued that without blood, all these organs cannot work but conversely, without these organs the blood’s function is also irrelevant and useless therefore there is a dependence of one on another and it would be unfair to ascribe superiority of the blood over other organs.
Gbadegesin carries the importance of ‘Okan’ beyond mere physical level. He observed that since some mental and emotional events are attributed to ‘Okan’ apart from the biological function, and since these events are not physical, he then viewed that there is beyond the physical organ ‘Okan’. A spiritual Okan, just like ‘Ori’ Hence “this suggests that beyond the physical organ, there is a source of conscious identity which is construed to be invisible and more or less spiritual”.21 It is evident, from the fact that when Yoruba call a person ‘Alailokan’ (a heartless person), they don’t literally take it to mean that the person in question has no physical heart but they are using it in a metaphorical sense which could mean a cruel person or uncourageous person. Hence an ‘Olokan giga’ could simultaneously mean ‘a proud person or an optimistic person’, one who aims high, but not a person with a tall or high biological heart. As Gbadegesin portrays this, it is to mean that the Yoruba attached a kind of spirituality to the function of ‘Okan’, which as a whole, is different from the function of the physical ‘Okan’. The same significance of ‘Okan’ could also be observed in work of EB Idowu. 22 The whole point here is that in conjunction with the importance placed on Emi, Okan in its own part is also important.
What I have been able to do here is giving a critical account of creation and the make-up of human person from the Yoruba point of view. Then, I have been able to talk on ‘Ara’ (body), ‘Emi’ (soul) and ‘Okan’ (heart).

The Yoruba traditional belief conceived a man as comprising ‘Ara’ (body), ‘Emi’ (soul) and ‘Ori’ (inner head). The first two have already been discussed in the previous column. From all indications, the tripartite conception of human person is exclusively the view, which the Yoruba could claim its originality, although, it may be questioned and rigorously criticized, but then, there has not been any tradition around the world which held such belief before or after the Yoruba. The concept of ‘Ori’ as the third part of man and the second spiritual element of man is highly celebrated in the Yoruba belief. By way of explanation, we must not forget that when Orisa-nla moulded physical part of man, he moulded physical Ori so when we refer to Ori or Ori-inu, we must not think that we are referring to the physical head. But, when Yoruba talk of Ori they refer to a metaphysical entity which ultimately represents the bearer of man’s destiny and only the physical Ori as a mere correlate.
According to the Yoruba account of human destiny and Ori, it is believed that before coming into the world, everybody was obliged to go and choose an Ori from among a large number of Oris stored in Ajala’s warehouse. Ajala, (a potter) has the duty of moulding human heads. The process of human creation is not complete without him. While Orisanla (arch-divinity) is understood by the Yoruba to be the maker of Ara (body), who later passes the lifeless figure to Olodumare (Supreme Deity) to put Emi (life giving entity ), Ajala is responsible for the creation of Ori. Ajala is a skilled potter, a drunkard, a debtor and an irresponsible and careless creature. 23 In any case, Ajala through his utter carelessness is responsible for moulding heads of different shapes and qualities (some are good and many are bad). In the house of Ajala, every man makes a choice of his own Ori, after which every man coming into the world passes through the water of forgetfulness-Omi igbagbe, which is the boundary between heaven and earth. In another myth the acquisition of one’s Ori is done by kneeling before the high authority Olodumare (Supreme Deity), who confers one’s portion, that is, what a person would live up to on earth. This type of acquiring ‘Ori’ is referred to as Ayanmo (that which is affixed to someone). 24 In all these myths, Orunmila (arch-divinity), the founder of Ifa (Oracle) system of divination, is noted to be a witness of man’s choice of destiny. Little wonder he is referred to as Eleri-Ipin (the witness of destiny) and the only one competent to reveal the type and content of ‘Ori’ chosen by each person.
The implication of Ajala’s personality as a skilled potter, a drunkard, a debtor and an irresponsible person is that the badly made Ori represents a bad destiny. If every human being has to choose a choice of Ori then, it means many people stand to take bad Ori from Ajala’s storehouse of Ori. The Ori taken from Ajala’s storehouse stands for and strictly contains each person’s destiny – what will happen to that individual in Aye “once the choice of Ori has been made, the individual (now a complete human being) is free to travel from Orun to Aye. It is believed that the success in life of an individual depends on the type of Ori he has picked up in Ajala’s storehouse of head”25

According to Abimbola in the ‘Sixteen great poems of Ifa’;

125 Ifa ni oro o,
Ori nikan
Lo to Alasaan ba rokun.
Bi mo ba lowo lowo,
Ori ni n o ro fun.

130 Orii mi, iwo ni.
Bi mo ba bimo laye,
Ori ni n o ro fun.
Orii mi, iwo ni.
Ire gbogbo ti mo ba ri laye,

135 Ori ni n o ro fun
Orii mi, iwo ni.
Ori pele,
Atete niran,
Atete gbe ni koosa.

140 Ko soosa tii danii gbe,
Leyin ori eni.
Ori pele,
Ori abiye.
Eni ori ba gbegboo re

145 Ko yo sese”.

125 Ifa said, “It is Ori,
It is Ori alone,
Who can follow his own devotee to a distant
journey over the sea without turning back.”
If I have money,
It is Ori whom I will praise.

130 My Ori, it is you.
If I have children on earth,
It is Ori whom I will praise.
My Ori, it is you.
All the good things that I have one earth,

135 It is my Ori to whom I will give my praise.
My Ori, it is you.
Ori, I hail you.
You who always remember your devotee.
You who gives blessing to your devotee more
quickly than other gods.

140 No god blesses a man
Without the consent of his Ori.
Ori, I hail you.
You who allows children to be born alive.
A person whose sacrifice is accepted by his own Ori
145 Should rejoice exceedingly.26

In the very pertinent view of Bolaji Idowu, ‘Ori’ is the “inner person and this is the very essence of personality”. According to him, Yoruba believes that “it is this ‘Ori’ that rules, controls and guides the life and activities of a person”27 Gbadegesin passionately shares this view above in his Yoruba concept of a person. “Each newly created being picks up his or her preferred case without knowing what is stored there. But whatever is stored there would determine the life course of the individual in the world”. 28
Unlike other scholars, Bolaji Idowu didn’t identify ‘Ajala’, a personality responsible for moulding ‘Ori’ (Ori inu). This might be because ‘Ajala’ is not recognised as one of the Orisas, then Idowu might not see any reason why a due attention should be given to an irresponsible figure as ‘Ajala’ when it comes to the celebrated and significant issue like Ori and destiny. In that case, Idowu directly connects the reception of destiny (Ori) with Olodumare. He observes ‘Ori’ as a personality, kneeling down before Olodumare and receiving his destiny. Hence for Idowu, destiny could be received in any of these three ways, A kun le yan (that which is received kneeling). He may kneel down and receive his destiny – that is called A kun le gba (that which is received kneeling). Or he may have his destiny affixed on him – for this, Yoruba give the name Ayanmo (that which if affixed to one). For him also, once the destiny is received from the sealed by Olodumare and the contest becomes binding on the holder. It then guides and controls the activities of individual on earth. 29 The unchangeable destiny of Jesus Christ (crucifixion) and that of king Odewale (killing his father and marrying his mother) even after much untold effort to change them, could be seen as lending credence to the force of destiny.30
The Yoruba does not only see Ori as destiny but they also see Ori as a personality soul which is capable of ruling, controlling and guiding the life and activities of man. Generally, a fortunate person is called ‘Olori-ire’ (one who possess good Ori) while one who is unfortunate in life is described as ‘Olori-buruku’ (one who possesses a bad Ori).
Furthermore, the word Ori, which is used to describe the personality essence, is also used to describe man’s double (Enikeji) or guarding spirit. When Yoruba says ‘Ori mi ba ni se’, he is referring to the fact that it is the (Enikeji) that has helped him. If a person miraculously escapes from harm, he will say ‘Ori mi yo mi’. Apart from seeing Ori as Enikeji, it is also seen as a personal god just like the great Ifa poem which states that “it is Ori alone, who could follow his own devotee to a distant journey over the seas (without ever turning back)”31 Every man’s Ori is his personal god. If an enemy plans some evil against a person, and the mischief is miscarried, people will say of the fortunate person, Ori re ko gbabode. Ori is seen as the guarding spirit. When an individual encounters injustice in the course of life and accepts his fate about it, he says ‘Ori mi a ja fun mi’ (my Ori would fight my course in pursuit of justice).32 When a father says to his son, ‘Ori mi a gbe e’ (may my Ori support you), he is praying that his guarding spirit may also support his son. In all these usage, Ori is referred to as a different personality that is capable of warding off evil, guiding, guarding a person and retaliating where need be.
How does the issue of Ori as the bearer of destiny become a philosophical issue? It should be noted that destiny by strict definition is something predetermined and as such it is unchangeable. Such could be seen in the fatalist position of what will be, will be since everything was predetermined. 33 According to the Yoruba as held by Wande Abimbola and Makinde, though destiny is partly seen as  unchangeable, on the other hand, it is believed that one’s destiny could be changed or altered but hard work and sacrifice or lack of them. This prompted Makinde to raise a philosophical question; does the changing of one’s Ori imply the change in one’s destiny?
Although it might be difficult to associate the change in ones destiny with the change in ones Ori since Ori is metaphysical, the possibility of hard work and sacrifice make the change of destiny possible at least in the Yoruba view. I wish to agree with Makinde that Yoruba belief of predestination favours a weak destiny (WD) as claimed by Makinde.
In agreement with Makinde and Gbadegesi, it is quite impossibility to have a rational or preferential choice in the choosing of an Ori. Apart from the fact that for a rational choice to take place, the knowledge of the content of each Ori must precede the choice, the personalities who make this choice are incomplete as they are only potential human beings and haven’t attained the level of actuality according to Wande Abimbola. This is rationally inferred from “once the choice of Ori has been made, the individual (now a complete human being)…” 34 this implies that before the choice of the Ori, the individual was an incomplete human being, how then is an incomplete or a potential man to reasonable and rationally be said to choose a choice which will be absolutely binding on him in Aiye? I fail to see my rationality in that instance. This is like holding a day-old baby responsible for its fall.

It will not be difficult to see that the view of Yoruba conception of human personality is quite different from the western view. While the west views a person as comprising both mind and body, either mind or body respectively, Yoruba hold the tripartite view of man comprising of Ara (body) Emi (soul) and Ori (inner head). I have also been able to talk about Okan (heart) and its importance to human person.
I have also been able to show my agreement with Makinde and Gbadegesin that not only there was no preferential choice in the case of Ori but also that the personality involved in the choice itself is irrational, incomplete and that cannot be said to choose any choice.


1. Susan Wenger/Gert Chesi: A LIFE WITH THE GODS In their Yoruba Homeland. 1993 Perlinger Verlag Ges. m.b. H Brixentaler Strasse 61, 6300 Worgl (Austria) pp. 87-88
2. Abimbola Wande: La otion De persome en Afrique Noire ( on the Yoruba concept of Human Personality) (Paris, Central National de la Recherche scientifique, 1971), pp.3
3. Abimbola Wande: op. Cit, p.4
4. Babatunde E.D.: “Bini and Yoruba notion of the Human Personality”: in C.S. Momoh Ed: The Substance of African philosophy (African philosophy project publications, 1989) pp 283
5. Abimbola Wande: op. Cit, p.4
6. Epega D.O.: The basis of Yoruba religion (Lagos, Ijamido Printers and Publishers, 1971) pp. 13-14
7. Adeoye C.L. : Eda Omo Ood’ua: [Ibadan; Oxford University press, 1971, Chapter 2]
8. Idowu E.B.: Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief (Ibadan, Longman’s Publication, 1962), pp.169.
9. Craig Edward: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (New York, Routledge, 1998) pp.44
10. Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lan_vital)
11. Makinde M.A.: “Immortality of the Soul and the Yoruba Theory of Seven Heavens”, Journal of cultures and ideas, No 1 (December, 1983). pp. 31-59
12. Idowu E.B. op ci,t p. 169
13. Makinde M.A. “Immortality of the soul” opt cit, p.39.
14. Makinde M.A. opt cit, p.38
15. Makinde M.A. “Immortality of the soul” op cit, p 39
16. Abimbola Wande op cit, p.2
17. Makinde M.A. opt cit, p. 44
18. Makinde M.A.: “An African Concept Human Personality Yoruba example” p. 91
19. Makinde M.A. opt cit, p. 19
20. The Holy Bible, Luke Chapter 22 Verse 19-22
21. Gbadegesin S.: Eniyan; the Yoruba concept of person, Edited by P.H. Coetzee and A.P.J Roux, Routledge (New York, 1998) p.151
22. Idowu E.B.: Olodumare; God in Yoruba belief (Ibadan, Longmans Pub. Co., 1962) p. 170.
23. Morakinyo, O.:The Yoruba Ayanmo Myth and mental Health-Care in West Africa. Journal of Culture and Ideas 1(1) p.78.
24. Idowu E.B. Op cit, p.173-174
25. Abimbola Wande. Op cit, p.7
26. Abimbola Wande: SIXTEEN GREAT POEMS OF IFA, UNESCO and ABIMBOLA 1975. Pp. 170-173
27. Idowu E.B. op cit, p.170
28. Gbadegesin S. Op cit, p. 153
29. Abimbola Wande: Ifa: An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus (Ibadan, Oxford University Press) 1976 p.132
30. Heralds of Hope: Holy Bible: Mathew Chapter 26 Verse 36-46 &
Rotimi Ola: The Gods are not to Blame, (London, Oxford University Press, 1971)
31. Abimbola Wande.: SITEEN GREAT POEMS OF IFA, pp. 172
32. King Sunny Ade Old Wine Collection Ori mi ja fun mi
33. Ryle Gilbert: Dilemmas (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1966) ‘What is, was to be’
34. Abimbola Wande, “La Notion”, op cit, p.7

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

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


1 Comment

Newspaper article: “They are Americans, and They are Ifa faithfuls” by Adewale Oshodi

Newspaper article: “They are Americans, and They are Ifa faithfuls” by Adewale Oshodi
(from the Nigerian Tribune, originally published here: http://tribune.com.ng/quicklinkss/features/item/18635-they-are-americans-and-they-are-ifa-faithfuls)

"They are Americans, and they are Ifa faithfuls"

“They are Americans, and they are Ifa faithfuls”

At a time when Yorubas have distanced themselves from their traditional faith, a number of Americans are embracing it. ADEWALE OSHODI tells the story of four American Ifa faithful who have found peace in the religion, while urging the real custodians of the tradition not to abandon the faith.

The saying that we don’t value what we have until we lose it is applicable to the Yoruba people of South West Nigeria and Benin Republic, who are fast losing their traditional religion, and more surprising is the fact that Americans are now accepting what these descendants of Oduduwa view as a fetish culture. Today in Yorubaland, a large number of people profess Christianity and Islam, while a tiny minority can only identify with the Ifa religion.

However, for this loss, the Ifa religion has gained new adherents. A number of them can be found in the United States. One of such is Chief Akinkugbe Karade, an African-American, who has been professing the Ifa religion for the past 16 years.

Chief Karade did not just decide that he was going to become an Ifa adherent; rather, he said in the course of finding spiritual satisfaction, he found the Ifa religion.

“I found my way to Ifa after a 16-year search for my religious truth that took me through Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and finally to Ifa.

“I came in contact with a book, The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, written by Chief Ifa Karade, and it brought answers to the questions I had. Chief Karade later divined for me and became my first teacher and initiator

“I was initiated in East Orange, New Jersey by Chief Ifa Karade in 1997. I was initiated again in Nigeria by Chief Fayemi Fakayode in 2010,” Chief Karade said.

Today, Chief Akinkugbe Karade is the chief priest and founder of Ile Imole Ifa, Inc. in East Orange, New Jersey, “and we have served the community since 2002 and continue to do so till this day,” Karade, who has also authored the book, Path to Priesthood: The Making of an African Priest in an American World, said.

One funny thing about Karade is that very early in life, he was told that he would become a priest, “and in my teenage years, I almost became a Baptist preacher like my great-grandfather, Ed Roberts, but things work in different ways, and today, I am an Ifa priest.”

It is not often easy getting the support of one’s family when one wants to make certain decisions in life, especially one that is as sensitive as religion, but Karade explained that his family has been supportive of his choice in life.

“My family was very supportive of me and my journey, although they didn’t really understand it. My mother was always encouraging all of her children to follow their dreams and make them come true.

“My experience in Ifa has been one of great self discovery. In my journey in Ifa, I have learned so much about myself and my lineage that I can almost make a book of it. I can truly say that Ifa has changed my life. I am definitely fulfilled because Ifa has given me the opportunity to actualise the path of my ancestors.

“As far as what I feel, I feel a very real connection to Orunmila, the egunguns (masquerades) and orisas (gods). A connection that allows my life to be better guided and help others to do the same. I will definitely spend the rest of my life doing just that,” the African-American priest said.

Iyanifa Ekundayo Adele Ifamuregun’s story resonates with Karade’s. She said she had been drawn to the issue of religion right from her tender years.

“I was drawn at a very young age to religion, philosophy and the question of why we are here on this earth; so by the time I was 12 years old, I had read the Holy Bible several times, the Koran, and also the works of Gautama Buddha.

“At that age, I made a commitment to live this life on a spiritual quest to work for God, and my ultimate desire was to be able to heal people, allowing God’s power to move through me and use me; so when I was 15 years old, my first spirit guide came to visit me, and that was how I developed interest in the Yoruba religious tradition, and I started developing until I became an Iyalorisa (priestess).

“However, it wasn’t as easy as said; I had lived a long life already at an early age, travelled, had businesses, working in my shrine, but at the same time, my orisa and guides were telling me that what I had learned and practised in terms of my religion, was not quite accurate.

“I began to look for answers and found that this was true. Then came a period of six months that I began to take stock of my life, and for some reason, I felt I was going to die. I did not know why, but I was making peace with that. I just felt it in my bones, my ori (god) was telling me so.

“So there was a time I asked myself what I have not done yet in my life? And knew I wanted to go to Nigeria and be initiated into Ifa before I die. That was my wish.

“So I travelled to Ogun State where I had full initiation, and during the traditional rites, the priests, who knew nothing about me beforehand, quietly told me the story of my life up until that moment, and they told me I had come to Nigeria because I was going to die, and that I knew I was going to die.

“I just sat there stunned on that sacred red earth under the trees with the sun shining above and cried. It was the day of my rebirth. They knew everything about me, my hardships, my struggles, everything. I must confess that that initiation was the happiest day of my life, because I cheated death. My ori, Ifa and the good babalawos gave me my victory over death, and it still makes me cry tears of joy thinking back on that day, so it is fitting my name, Ekundayo,” the Iyanifa said.

“Today, I am very happy with my life. Of course, there are trials and tribulations, but if God handed everything to us on a silver platter, would we still need to strive and grow as a spiritual being in a human body?

“However, it is painful that the Yoruba people are distancing themselves from Ifa; people in the diaspora are very interested in Ifa; there are many Ifa priests here in the US, in Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, among others,” the priestess said, while charging the Yoruba people not to lose their faith.

Mama Fayomi Falade Aworeni Obafemi, an African-American woman, born 62 years ago in Chicago, Illinois, USA, found the Ifa religion in a different manner entirely; she found it through the sound of drums in 1965.

“The sound of drums beating on the Southside of Chicago was not an unusual sound in the context of hearing people playing konga for entertainment in the parks by the lake front of Lake Michigan.

“I began in the tradition of Ifa and Orisa as a 14-year-old child in Chicago in 1965 when there was a great upheaval in world politics.

“African-Americans, in the 1940s through the tumultuous 1960s, were fighting for their freedom from oppression from Caucasian-Americans and were leading the charge by civil disobedience. With this in mind, many African-Americans were disregarding and moving away from Christianity of all sects and denominations due to the idea that they did not want to serve a god that did not look like them in appearance.

“Many of our people were looking towards Africa as a means of expressing their spiritual and religious philosophies and belief systems. So, I too, found dissatisfaction, not just because of the Christian church protocols and beliefs, but because I had certain spiritual gifts and was ostracised because of those gifts.

“Thus, I was seeking the needed information that could incorporate my belief in African spirituality and link this with my understanding. That was when I found the temple in Chicago by happenstance, ironically called ‘Ile Ife Temple.’

“Walking down the street, I heard the sound of African bata beats; it was compelling during the turbulent years in the 1960s, and it brought me into the world of Ifa, the Yoruba traditional religion, and I have been a faithful for 48 years now.

Mama Fayomi, who has lived in Ghana, as well as in Nigeria, is also an author, a teacher, a religious activist, among others; she practises as a priestess in Phoenix, Arizona.

Nathan Aikulola Fawehinmi was born as Nathan Lugo and raised in New York. He is of the Puerto Rican descent, and he started developing interest in traditional religion at a very young age.

“As a young person of Puerto Rican descent, I started becoming aware of the alternative spiritual traditions of my heritage, and that included African-based spirituality. Among the most common spiritual traditions outside of Catholicism is Spiritism in Puerto Rico, which is itself a diasporic creation with roots in European Christianity, some aboriginal, and African beliefs and practices. So it was not that difficult for me to settle for the Yoruba traditional religion.

“So I can say I simply followed my passion. It was in 1998 that I first travelled to Yoruba land for my traditional rites. In later years, I was also initiated to Oosaala, Ogboni, and Egungun, and the art and healing principle of this culture is making me to practise full-time as a priest.

“Today, my entire life has been shaped in a positive way through Orisa and the Ifa literature and divination system. I live modestly yet comfortably. I can be in several countries in the Americas, Africa, and Europe, and I have extended family and a home in each of those places. I live in the tropical climate of Miami Beach, and I continue to grow as a human being in terms of knowledge, character, and unforgettable positive experiences with the other wonderful people on this path,” Fawehinmi, who abandoned university studies to follow Ifa full time, said.

“I was an Anthropology and African Studies major, but I didn’t finish my university studies; my study and practice of Ifa was what opened the way for me to learn the Yoruba language and to travel to West Africa.

“Of course, my decision lended me the freedom to do exactly what I wanted to do, instead of having to follow the strict guidelines of academia,” Fawehinmi said.


He Woke Up and Put on a Befitting Outfit, He Adorned His Head with a Befitting Cap

He woke up and put on a befitting outfit
He adorned his head with a befitting cap
He wore befitting trousers
He cast a befitting glance at all things
They said Orunmila, the messenger has arrived!
He asked what did he bring along?
They said he brought 200 rats on his right side
And 200 fish on his left
Orunmila said the emissary of Olodumare had not yet arrived
They said he brought 200 birds on his right side
And 200 beasts on his left
Orunmila said the emissary of Olodumare had not yet arrived
They said he brought 200 male children on his right side
And 200 female children on his left
Orunmila said the emissary of Olodumare has truly arrived!
He said that out of 200 male children on the right side
25 will become hunters
25 will become farmers
25 will become traders
25 will become cloth weavers
25 will become musicians
25 will become sculptors
25 will become sanitary workers
The remaining 25 will be his Akapo (Ifa students)
And he said that out of the 200 female children on the right hand side
25 will become merchandizers
25 will become traders
25 will become cloth dyers
25 will become singers
25 will become weavers
25 will become palm oil makers
25 will become farmers
The remaining  25 will be preparing meals for Agbonniregun (doing IFA rituals)
Children are one’s prosperity in the end
Whether we go into the forest
Or travel into the plains
Children are truly our prosperity in the end

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ITADOGUN 9/21/14

ITADOGUN 9/21/14

On this Itadogun, IFA says that we will see ire aje, the blessings of wealth. IFA says that we should be making offering to ORUNMILA with oti (liquor) and epo pupa (red palm oil).
On this IFA says:
The Egun tree is marvelous to look at from a distance
Ifa’s message for Ire (Blessings)
And also for Ibi (Negativity)
They were advised to offer sacrifice
Only Ire complied
Ire, please stay with us
Ibi, turn around and go away

May Olodumare guide us and guard us. Ase.

Fágbémijó Amósùn Fákáyòdé
Director of Oyeku Ofun Temple
PO Box 4833
Arcata, CA 95518 USA

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Let Me Live Up To Their Expectations As Their Father

I walked stealthily and adorned my head with a befitting crown
I walked quietly and adorned my neck with Ejigbara and Okun beads
I know nothing and I am ignorant of all things
Nonetheless, I ascended the throne of the market leaders
The youths of Ife saw me and they put on befitting garments
The elders of Ife saw me and they put on gorgeous dresses
May evil not set me in contention with Gunnugun (the vulture)
May I live and grow as old as Gunnugun
May evil not set me up against Akala (another kind of vulture)
May I become as old as Akala
Elders do not make forceful sounds like the closing of the main entrance door Ifa, please turn me into a Babalawo
When a Babalawo becomes a full Babalawo
He will have a pony in front of his house
Ifa, please let me have a pony in front my house
Ifa, please turn me into a Babalawo
When a Babalawo becomes a full Babalawo
He will have a galloping horse in the backyard of his house
Ifa, please let me have a galloping horse in the backyard of my house Ifa, please turn me into a Babalawo
When a Babalawo becomes a full Babalawo
He will be blessed with 1,460 women in his house
Ifa, please let me have 1,460 women in my house
Ifa, please turn me into a Babalawo
When a Babalawo becomes a full Babalawo
He will have 1,460 children in his house
Ifa, please let me have 1,460 children in my house
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Alofoun of the farm land
You are the father of all grasses
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Torofinni is the head of all rats in the forest
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Alofoun of the farm land
You are the father of all grasses
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Odosu is the head of all ikin
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Alofoun of the farm land
You are the father of all grasses
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Akaraba is the head of all fish in the deep
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
Alofoun of the farm land
You are the father of all grasses
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father
The Peacock is the head of all birds in the forest
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father Alofoun of the farm land
You are the father of all grasses
Ifa, please let me live up to their expectations as their father

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May 2014 (Osu Ebibi) Ifa and Orisha Calendar

May 2014 (Osu Ebibi) Ifa and Orisha Calendar

1 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
2 Sango/Oya
3 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
4 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
5 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
6 Sango/ Oya
7 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
8 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
9 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
10 Sango/ Oya
11 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
12 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
13 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
14 Sango/Oya
15 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
16 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun ***
17 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
18 Sango/Oya
19 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
20 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
21 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
22 Sango/Oya
23 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
24 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
25 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
26 Sango/Oya
27 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna
28 Ifa/Esu/Osun/Aje/Yemoja/Olokun
29 Ogun/Osoosi/Orisa Oko
30 Sango/Oya
31 Obatala/Egungun/Iyaami/Sanpanna

*** = Itadogun