Ifa  in  Flight                                                          Dispersions  and  Adaptations  of  Classical  African  Spiritual  Systems                                                                                                                      Oluwatoyin  Vincent  Adepoju                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Compcros                                                                                                  Comparative  Cognitive  Processes  and  Systems                                                        “Exploring  Every  Corner  of  the  Cosmos  in  Search  of  Knowledge”™           Yesterday,   14th   Sept.2012,   I   had   the  privilege  of   interacting   with    the   wonderful   group   of    enthusiasts  in   the   study   and   practice   of   the   African   spirituality   of   Ifa   represented  by  the  Independent  Ifa-­‐  Orisa  Practitioners  on  Facebook.           The   'Independent'   in   the   group's   name   seems   to   mean   that  members  are   welcome  to  interpret  this  ancient  tradition  in  novel  ways  that  make  meaning  for   them.       The   group   was   founded   by    Jaap   Verduijn   and   is  currently  run   by   Brenda   Beek,   both   Dutch.   They  represent   a   powerfully  growing  trend   in   classical   African   spiritualities   in   which   some   of   its   most   innovative   developments   are   coming   from   non-­‐continental   Africans,   and,   in   some   cases,   even   from   outside   the   African   Diaspora.         The  African  Diaspora  as  a  community,  particularly  in  Cuba  and  the  United  States,   from   the   centuries   of   slavery    to   the   present,   has   been   at   the   vanguard   of  rethinking   and   reapplying   classical   African   spiritualities   in   new   ideological,   imagistic   and  performance  contexts.   They   created  syncretisms  fusing   dynamic   forms  from  various  cultures  to  generate  such  systems  as  Voodoo.       In   their  achievements,   some   light   is   thrown   on   the  ultimate   forms   that   may   be   demonstrated   by   these   systems   when   their  central  points   of  alignment   are   correlated,   their   points   of   divergence   better   understood   as  variations  on  central  features.       The   convergences   between   these   systems   and   others   from   other  continents,  religious  communities  and  non-­‐religious  disciplines  also  assists   in  appreciating  unifying   themes   in       efforts  at   arriving   at   meaning   across   time,   space  and  cognitive  forms.         Beyond  the  African  Diaspora,  these  traditions  are  spreading    fast  to  non-­‐Africans,   some  of  whom  come  to  Africa  for  study,  such  as  the  great  scholarly  work  among  

the  Dogon  and  the  Mande  by  Marcel    Griaule  and  his  team  and  their  successors,   to   study   and  practice,  as   the   wonderful   examples   of   the   Orisa  practitioners      Susanne   Wenger   who  spent  almost   all    her   life   in  Nigeria   and    the   great   writer   Awo   Falokun   Fatumnbi   who   seems   to   be   of    US    ancestry  and   now   people   like   Brenda   Beek   and   Jaap   Verdun   in   the   Netherlands.       A   profound   irony   about   these   developments   is   that,  in   Nigeria,   which   I   am  acquainted  with,  and  perhaps  in  much  of  Africa,  which  I  know  less  about,    an   outcome   of   political   and  religious  colonialism  in   which  Christianity  and   Islam   were    central,  is  the  enormous  loss  of  prestige  of  the  classical  religions.    As  these   systems   are   being  transformed  from   oral   to   written   traditions,   playing  centralised  roles   in   the   lives   of    Diaspora   Africans   and   non-­‐Africa,  the   systems   have   lost  prestige  so   enormously   in   some   of    their   ancestral   countries    that  identification  with  them   is   often   unhelpful   to   one's   social   image,  Christianity  and  Islam  being  the  'civilised'  and  'modern'  religions.       A   pastor   may    base   his   teaching   on   exorcism,   at   times   depicting   this   process   in   terms   of   inversion   of   the  central  cosmological   principles   of   the  classical  African  religions,  such  as   the  guardianship  of  ancestors   and  relationships   with   non-­‐human   and   non-­‐animal  agents,   known   as  spirits,   that   expand   human  possibility.   The   pastor   could  address  real   problems   people   face   with  mysterious  afflictions  but   seem   to   be   content   to   describe   the   world   of   spiritual  evil  largely  in  terms  of  a  negation  of  the  traditional  world  view.       On   the   other   hand,    non-­‐Africans    in   classical   African   spiritualities     have   often   brought    with    them   a   remarkable  capacity  for   both  immersion  and  creative  adaptation    that  demonstrates  par   excellence   the   creative  vitality  of  the  ancient  systems.       Brenda   Beek   sums   up   such   an  understanding  in   relation   to    Ifa   in   the  Netherlands   in   her  description  of   the  Independent   Ifa-­‐   Orisa  Practitioners    group  :       What  this  group  represents       This   is   the   place   where   we   do   impossible   things!   Traditional  Ifa-­‐Orisha  practitioners  may  shake  their  heads   in   disbelief   and/or   disagreement.   This   means   we   are   not   shy   to   peek   over   the   fence   of   traditional   Ifa-­‐ways.   Ifa   has   landed   again   on   new   soil,   and   again   will   undergo   an   adaptation  to  fit  in  a  new  home,  like  it  happened  once,  long   ago,   in   the   Diaspora.   And   more   likely   it   has   done   so   for   thousands  of  years.       As   Independent   Ifa   diviners   we   do   take   the   YTR   [Yoruba   Traditional   Religion]   as   a   base,   simply   because   it   is   the   most   prominent   leftover   of   something   that   was   much   wider   spread   (and   to   a   certain   extent   still   is!)   centuries  

ago   [alluding   to   the   pan-­‐African   and   global   similarities   among  a  family  of  divination  systems].  We  are  grateful  to   the   Yoruba   for   their   culture,   because   they   were   the   staunch  keepers  and  maintainers  of  something  wonderful.   Things  change,  that's  all  part  of  evolution,  that's  what  Ifa-­‐ Orisha  expresses.  Besides  the  inevitable  shaking  of  heads,   we  hope  that  there  are  also  people  out  there  whose  faces   light   up   with   joy,   because   due   to   their   dedication   to   a   religion   or   philosophy,   a   knowledge   of   Ifa-­‐Orisha   has   been   able   to   reach   new   soil.   In   this   particular   case:   The   Netherlands  –  Europe.       ...   due   to   a   social   environment   that   left   no   other   choice   than   changing   traditional   ways   that   have   no   roots   in   any   European   culture,   into   ways   or   lifestyles   that   suit   our   culture   and   still   maintain   the   essence   of   Ifa-­‐Orisha   knowledge.  Of  course,  in  the  way  that  it  'speaks'  to  us.       Jaap  is  even  more  forthright:           English  postings  and  replies  only,  please!  The  odd  greeting   or   interjection   in   Yoruba,   Portuguese,   Spanish[languages  native   to   Ifa   in   Nigeria   and   the   Diaspora]    or  for  all  I  care  Gheg  or  Tosk  is  perfectly  alright,   but  the  "communication  language"  of  this  group  is  English.     In   the   Ifa-­‐Orisha   religion,   just   like   in   every   human   endeavour,   tradition   carries   down   to   us   not   only   the   vast   wisdom   of   the   ancestors,   but   also   their   monumental   stupidities.  We  should  subject  our  traditions  to  continuous   investigation,   and   the   occasional   bit   of   damage   control.     Considering   that   both   in   Africa   and   in   the   Diaspora   the   religion   sometimes   behaves   more   like   a   reenactment   society  than  a  living,  ever-­‐developing  method  for  spiritual   and   moral   growth,   I   wouldn't   be   surprised   if   increasing   numbers   of   Ifa-­‐Orisha   practitioners   are   becoming   uneasy   with   the   "Because   I   say   so",   "That's   a   secret",   and   the   recently   surfacing   "If   you   don't   tiptoe   the   line   I'll   disown   you   and   take   your   Ashe[spiritual   power]   away"   attitude   that   they   may   encounter   in   their   Houses,   Ilé's   or   Egbes[formal  communities  of  spiritual  practice   in   the   tradition].   For   those,   being   an   "independent"   Ifa-­‐Orisha   practitioner  may  well  be  their  destiny.        The  very  rich  threads  and  documents  on  the  group  make  it  a  vital  resource  for   both  scholar  and  practitioner.      

New  synergies  are   emerging.   People   are   educating   themselves   on   points   of   intersection  of  ancient  and  newer  forms       forms  of  knowledge  across  the  globe.   A  movement  is   gathering  momentum  away   from    reliance   on   centralised    spiritual  authorities    to  one  where  the  individual  assumes  the  task  of   being    their   own   priest    and  theologian,   at   times   with   the   help   of  informal  groups   where  this  responsibility  is  cultivated  in  a  fraternal    spirit.             Begun  13th  October  2012                        Completed  and  first  published  14th  October  2012                                                                                                                                  00:12      ©Oluwatoyin  Vincent  Adepoju   This  essay  may  be  reproduced  in  full  for  non-­‐commercial  purposes  without  the   permission   of   the   writer,   Oluwatoyin   Vincent   Adepoju,   but   must   indicate   his   name  as  the  author  at  the  top  of  the  article.         Blogged  at  Ifa  Student  and  Teacher     Posted  in  Scribd  (PDF)    Tweeted     Posted  on  Facebook            

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