A look into the West African Aboriginal Religion (part 1)
We took a journey into the Yoruba religion. The Origin, practice and all that it entails. This will expose us to the other side of the Yoruba culture and tradition.
The Yoruba religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practice of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in present-day Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, commonly known as Yorubaland. It shares some parallels with the Vodun practiced by the neighboring Fon and Ewe peoples to the west and to the religion of the Edo people to the east. Yoruba religion is the basis for a number of religions in the New World, notably Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha Haitian Vodou and Candomblé. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of Itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts which make up the Yoruba society.
According to Kola Abimbola, the Yoruba have evolved a robust cosmology. In brief, it holds that all human beings possess what is known as “Ayanmo” (destiny, fate) and are expected to eventually become one in spirit with Olodumare (also known as Olorun, the divine creator and source of all energy). Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person in Ayé (the physical realm) interact with all other living things, including the Earth itself. Each person attempts to achieve transcendence and find their destiny in Orun-Rere (the spiritual realm of those who do good and beneficial things).
One’s ori-inu (spiritual consciousness in the physical realm) must grow in order to consummate union with one’s “Iponri” (Ori Orun, spiritual self).
Iwapẹlẹ (or well-balanced) meditative recitation and sincere veneration is sufficient to strengthen the ori-inu of most people. Well-balanced people, it is believed, are able to make positive use of the simplest form of connection between their Oris and the omnipotent Olu-Orun: an adura (petition or prayer) for divine support.
Prayer to one’s Ori Orun produces an immediate sensation of joy. Elegbara (Eshu, not the divine messenger but accuser of the righteous) initiates contact with spiritual realm (not heavenly places) on behalf of the petitioner, and transmits the prayer to Ayé; the deliverer of ase or the spark of life. He transmits this prayer without distorting it in any way. Thereafter, the petitioner may be satisfied with a personal answer. In the event that he or she is not, the Ifá oracle of the Orisha Orunmila may also be consulted. All communication with Orun, whether simplistic in the form of a personal prayer or complicated in the form of that done by an initiated Babalawo (priest of divination), however, is energized by invoking ase.
In the Yoruba belief system, Olodumare has ase over all that is. Hence, is considered supreme.
Olodumare is the most important “state of existence”. Regarded as being all-encompassing, no gender can be assigned. Hence, it is common to hear references to “it” or “they” (although this is meant to address a somewhat singularity). “They” are the owner of all heads, for during human creation, Olodumare gave “emi” (the breath of life) to humankind. In this, Olodumare is Supreme.
Perhaps one of the most important human endeavors extolled within the Yoruba literary corpus is the quest to improve one’s “Iwa” (character, behaviour). In this way the teachings transcends religious doctrine, advising as it does that a person must also improve their civic, social and intellectual spheres of being; every stanza of the sacred Ifá oracular poetry (Odu Ifa) has a portion covering the importance of “Iwa”. Central to this is the theme of righteousness, both individual and collective.
The Yoruba regard Olodumare as the principal agent of creation.
According to a Yoruba account of creation, during a certain stage in this process, the “truth” was sent to confirm the habitability of the newly formed planets. The earth being one of these was visited but deemed too wet for conventional life.
After a successful period of time, a number of divinities led by Obatala were sent to accomplish the task of helping earth develop its crust. On one of their visits to the realm, the arch-divinity Obatala took to the stage equipped with a mollusk that concealed some form of soil; winged beasts and some cloth like material. The contents were emptied onto what soon became a large mound on the surface of the water and soon after, the winged-beasts began to scatter this around until the point where it gradually made into a large patch of dry land; the various indentations they created eventually becoming hills and valleys. Obatala leaped onto a high-ground and named the place Ife. The land became fertile and plant life began to flourish. From handfuls of earth he began to mold figurines. Meanwhile, as this was happening on earth, Olodumare gathered the gases from the far reaches of space and sparked an explosion that shaped into a fireball. He subsequently sent it to Ife, where it dried much of the land and simultaneously began to bake the motionless figurines. It was at this point that Olodumare released the “breath of life” to blow across the land, and the figurines slowly came into “being” as the first people of Ife.For this reason, Ife is locally referred to as “Ife Oodaye” – “cradle of existence”.
An Orisha (spelled Òrìṣà) is an entity that possesses the capability of reflecting some of the manifestations of Olodumare. Yoruba Orishas (commonly translated unique/special/selected heads”) are often described as intermediaries between humankind and the supernatural. The term is also translated as “Deities” or “Divinities” or “Gods”.
Orisha(s) are revered for having control over specific elements by nature, thus being better referred to as the divinities or Imole. Even so, there are those of their number that are more akin to ancient heroes and/or sages. These are best addressed as Dema Deities. Even though the term Orisha is often used to describe both classes of divine entities, it is properly reserved for the former one.
Orunmila / Ọ̀rúnmìlà The Yoruba Grand Priest and custodian of the Ifa Oracle, source of knowledge who is believed to oversee the knowledge of the Human Form, Purity, the Cures of illnesses and deformities. Babalawos are Orumila’s subordinate as priests and followers.
Eshu / Èṣù Often ill-translated as “The Devil” or “The Evil Being”, Eshu is in truth neither of these. Best referred to as “The Trickster”, he deals a hand of misfortune to those that do not offer tribute or are deemed to be spiritual novices. Also regarded as the “divine messenger”, a prime negotiator between negative and positive forces in the body and an enforcer of the “law of being”. He is said to assist in enhancing the power derived from herbal medicines and other forms of esoteric technology.
Eshu is the Orisha of chance, accident and unpredictability. Because he is Olorun’s linguist and the master of languages, Eshu is responsible for carrying messages and sacrifices from humans to the Sky God. Also known for his phallic powers and exploits. Eshu is said to lurk at gateways, on the highways and at the crossroads, where he introduces chance and accident into the lives of humans. Known by a variety of names, including Elegbara.[
Ogoun / Ògún Orisha of iron and metallurgy.
Yemoja / Yemọja Mother of Waters, Nurturer of Water Resources. According to Olorishas, she is the amniotic fluid in the womb of the pregnant woman, as well as the breasts which nurture. She is considered the protective energy of the feminine force.
Oshun / Ọ̀ṣun A second wife of the former Oba of Oyo called Shango (another Yoruba Orisha, see below), she is said to have entered into a river at Osogbo. The Yoruba clerics ascribed to her Sensuality, Beauty and Gracefulness, symbolizing both their people’s search for clarity and a flowing motion. She is associated with several powers, including abilities to heal with cool water, induction of fertility and the control of the feminine essence. Women appeal to her for child-bearing and for the alleviation of female disorders. The Yoruba traditions describe her as being fond of babies and her intervention is sought if a baby becomes ill. Oshun is also known for her love of honey.
Shango / Ṣàngó Associated with Virility, Masculinity, Fire, Lightning, Stones, Oyo Warriors and Magnetism. He is said to have the abilities to transform base substances into those that are pure and valuable. He was the Oba of Oyo at some point in its history. He derived his nickname Oba Koso from the tales of his immortality. Shango is the Orisha of the thunderbolt, said to have ruled in ancient times over the kingdom of Oyo. Also known as Jakuta (Stone Thrower) and as Oba Koso (The King Does Not Hang).
Oya / Ọya The third wife of the former Oba of Oyo called Shango (another Yoruba Orisha, see above), she is said to have entered into the River Niger. She is often described as the Tempest, Guardian of the Cemetery, Winds of Change, Storms and Progression. Due to her personal power, she is usually depicted as being in the company of her husband Shango. Orisha of rebirth.
Irunmọlẹ are entities sent by Olorun to complete given tasks, often acting as liaisons between Orun (the invisible realm) and Aiye (the physical realm). Irunmole(s) can best be described as ranking divinities; whereby such divinities are regarded as the principal Orishas. Irunmole, from “Erinrun” – 400, “Imole” – Divinites or Divine Spirits.