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Order, Wisdom and Death

A study of Yoruba cults and their interrelation to If


by
Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold
MA Thesis
Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Spring - 2006

Chapter 1
Introduction
1.1
On selecting a methodical approach
1:2
Problems and challenges in approaching the other

p. 3
p. 7

Chapter 2
Cultural Translations
2:1
Challenges in translating culture
2:2
A Survey of contemporary research
2:3
Translating the Yoruba identity
2:4
The Emissaries of Christ and the shaping of the Yoruba.

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Chapter 3
The Yoruba Cosmology
3:1
Introduction to Yoruba Cosmology and metaphysics
3:2
Aiy and rn Placement in Time, Space and Beyond
3:3
Or Consciousness and Divinity
3:4
rs ml, Ebora - Divine beings

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Chapter 4
Order, Wisdom and Death
4:1
The Yoruba World View
4:2
If The Cult of Wisdom
4:3
ym srng The Cult of Power
4:4
snyn The Cult of Medicine
4:5
Egngn The Cult of Death

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Chapter 5
Death and Wisdom in Rituals
5:1
With Death as the Guide in Life
5:2
Healing the community with understanding

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p. 83

Chapter 6
Loosing the Translation
6:1
The roots of If in the Diaspora
6:2
Ifs practical philosophy understood as religion

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p. 87
p. 90

Chapter 7

p. 94

Bibliography

Conclusions

p. 95

Chapter 1

1.1

Introduction

On selecting a methodical approach

Seeking to understand a culture on its own premises for a man not naturally a part of the
culture in question, by upbringing and cultural relation, can present problems in the
translation of the culture. To translate a culture into a language that are true both to the
culture in question and to those who will be the readers of the ethnography are a difficult
task and the complexity of one study creates difficulties in the process of selecting material
and also avoiding making judgments based upon an unseen drive within the researcher to
understand the culture in question of premises known from his own background. In the case
of the Yoruba of West Africa, mainly Nigeria, one is faced with a complexity not only of
religious life, but also with diversity of this complexity and matters easily seem to be
contradictory if one goes from one village to another, one diviner to another. This factor
seems to be one of the expressions of the inherent dynamic in the tradition of If - the Cult
of Wisdom amongst the Yoruba. Understanding can be problematic. One solution to this
problem is suggested by Benjamin Ray who suggests western ethnographers to apply a
poly-methodic approach (Ray 1976: 16), which for Ray indicates the use of all possible
material and accounts he can find and then use a methodical approach that seems fitting on
the material at hand. Rather there is reason to remind about the principle of parsimony,
known as Ockhams Razor that stresses simplicity in ones research and to rely only on the
data that is needed in order to explain the phenomena in question, a poly-methodic
approach will run the danger of raising more questions and create more confusion than
clarify and answer questions.

In the case of If and its interrelation to other Yoruba cults the needed data in order to
explain the phenomena in question are with difficulty ascribed to the empirical realm. The
factual history, the mythical history and the history of a given family are all factors
intertwined and loaded with deep meaning. Accordingly in this thesis I will try to account
both for the making of the Yoruba and attempt to define the many impulses and changes,

historically and cultural that has led to the making of this peoples identity as this is also
reflected in their systems of belief. In other words, there is a realm of metaphysics that are
mirrored in the practical philosophy and daily concerns of the Yoruba people that can not
be extracted in a study that confines it self to the empirical realm alone. Accordingly a large
part of this study will be related to the challenges of ethnography and a historical outline of
the Yoruba in order to situate the existence of If within a proper frame. Actually such and
approach will not only fail in presenting all the needed information into the picture, it will
also fail in explaining a different reality present within the culture in question. As such, a
study referring only to social structures and ritual actions and their meaning in the social
life will present an inaccurate picture of a dynamic and fluid religious tradition. Ritual
practices, philosophy and sacred oral tradition will walk hand in hand with mythical and
linear history in order to forge a picture coherent and true about the practice of If and its
relation to other Yoruba cults.

Most studies concerning the other in terms of religious life seem to focus strongly on the
meaning of symbols, as in the case of Levy Strauss and Turner or the more sociological
domains like Durkheim and much of British Anthropology until the 80s. I would suggest in
this study a different approach, focused in the idea of discourse as an inter-action
between the one who study and the studied. Most academic studies in the field of religion
are written from a outsiders perspective, no matter how interested, engaged and dedicated
to the task of revealing the knowledge in questions the professional must be. It would
perhaps be better if the professional places himself on the threshold of otherworldly
belief and academic protocol as suggested by Andrew Chumbley (1999). This approach
was taken by for instance Slotkin in The Peyote Way where he mediates between
observations as a member of the group he is studying and academic protocol given that
he is doing research in his own congregation (Slotkin 1955).

The greatest problem a western academic is faced with in terms of understanding African
cultures is a living belief in invisible beings affecting the world of man. These beings are
not considered projections from the psyche, it does not represent ideas belonging to a past
phase in the evolution of civilized man and even if it did, it would not give much useful

knowledge about the subject in question in terms of knowledge. Peel, in his study about the
influence of the Christian mission in Nigeria encountered problems that led him to similar
conclusions (Peel 2000). Western society is reared upon a belief that all phenomena have
either a psychological or logical explanations. There is always present an explanation in
terms of cause and effect that can explain the unexplainable, the problem is more one of
finding the explanation, not that the rational explanation perhaps is not reflecting a true
portrait of the culture in question. This exclusion of the intervention of invisible beings
might introduce bias and narrows ones perception and one fails in understanding the culture
on premises that are true for its structure and function. At least the professional attempting
to understand how a worldview as this can influence ones perception should adhere to
openness for the possibility of otherworldly beings interaction. Certainly one run the risk of
going native daring to impose ones self and emerge ones being in a place between
academia and embracing the other, but if the otherworldly is an integrated and
unavoidable facet of ones study and ones approach is to revel secure knowledge, to
understand the world one is setting out to study it will be quite impossible to limit one self
to studies of a pure anthropological or sociological nature. A poly-methodic approach as
suggested by Ray run the risk of being to objective, to rational and to empiric in its search
for finding models of explanation that will fit the data, without questioning if the need for a
poly-methodic approach do not suggest that the right approach is yet to be found.

In the course of this study, it will be evident that If is based and understood upon a
geocentric holism and such view cannot be explained by references to the empiric realm
alone. Without entering and try to envision and understand this particular perspective on
world, creation and history one will simply present facts as understood on ones own
background in an amputated and probably distorted way. The proposal is therefore a fusion
between scholarly objectivity and religious engagement in order to engage in a meaningful
discourse. Other researchers and other academics that have done research related to the
Yoruba, who have found research difficult without being open to the possible reality of
otherworldly beings, also present this suggestion. Dr. Lawal when confronted with this
problem in his study of Gld, a cult celebrating the feminine powers including its
connection to healing and witchcraft, says: Although the use of Gld for social control

may remind the reader of the functionalist school of social anthropology (Durkheim,
Malinowski and others) which treats art as one of the cultural mechanisms for maintaining
social equilibrium (Ben-Amos 1989:36-8), the Yoruba situation is different. Whereas the
functionalists often emphasize the social factor as the primary motive for art (downplaying
the influence of religion), and Durkheim himself traces the origin of religion to an
awareness of social forces rather than to a perception of the spiritual Other in nature, the
Yoruba consciously and sub-consciously trace the beginnings of both their religion and art
to divine or mythological beings (Lawal 1996: xvii). This would suggest that functionalist,
symbolist or sociological models would always be limited in scope and often fail in
presenting the cultures religious life on the cultures premises. The exclusion of the
mysterious other is like understanding a text with only a limited dictionary of reference.
The suggestion given in this thesis of placing one self at the threshold between
otherworldly possibility and scientific objectivity certainly opens up for a number of
different forms and shades of distortion to ones study, but apparently bias is at all times a
side effect given the countless third variables that will always reduce the accuracy of a
study. Given the goal for ones research being aimed towards revealing knowledge, this
approach as suggested would serve just as well as any other approach. Perhaps even better,
as both the empirical and the a priori dimensions will engage in a discourse with the goal of
revealing knowledge and a descriptive and objective presentation of the findings.

By understanding the other a priori one tend to create an escape route from objective
scientific investigation and rather opens up for a philosophical calculation of possibilities or
an interrelation by the otherworldly and the empiric that reflects the philosophical
position of If and thus can better explain and make understandable this complex issue at
hand. By merging the factual, mythical and philosophical into a coherent whole a dynamic
can be introduced into ones study that hopefully can mirror the dynamic in what are being
studied. In this case, mirror a cult signified by its adherence to fluidity, change and tradition
at the same time. It has therefore been considered better to try to reflect these values within
the thesis, so the thesis it self can aid in the deepening of understanding the subject at hand.
Rather than utilizing a poly-methodic approach or comparative approach the approach is
the placement of the scientist, as a man on the threshold, between the world of science

and the world of the other in order to allow the worlds to engage in a discourse leading
towards knowledge.

1:2

Problems and challenges in approaching the other

To speak of Nigerians in a homogenous way is troublesome, since Nigeria consist of


many tribes. This study will focus on the largest tribe in Nigeria, actually one of the largest
tribes south of Sahara, the Yoruba. The Yoruba have in common the practice of If and
similarities of language, but still the term is troublesome as it dates back to mid nineteencentury colonialism and really capture a illusory homogeneity (Drewal 1992: 12). Drewal
has done extensive research on the Yoruba and their ritual performance is basing her
understanding of the enactment on an observation that creates a great problem for a western
mind to breach and understand. She says: The level and quality of Yoruba exegesis is
particularly sophisticated, demonstrating a remarkable reflexivity rarely revealed in the
literature on ritualPerhaps the most stable aspect of the ritual is the knowledge that each
performer brings to a given performance (Drewal 1992: xvi). This reflexivity can be
problematic since it might suggest that a very different understanding of order and
organization of the world and cosmos is at play, an understanding that are not focusing on
defining phenomena into a conclave with a fixed and static label. The ethnographer is faced
with the problem of interpretation. As Brown says in her study Mama Lola, I still
understand Mama Lola as and exercise in interpretation this interpretation is focused on
making meaning out of others processes of meaning making (Brown 2001:x). Santos
stresses the same points in her study about Yoruba metaphysics and segments the
challenges of the ethnographer into the following levels (Santos 1975:18):

The factual level, meaning the material and easily descriptive parts of the research
The critical revision, meaning the difficult work with sorting out what is valid and not
The interpretation, meaning how one understand ones material and thus ones selection.

Brown also touches upon a similar reflexivity in her study of the Voudon priestess Mama
Lola in New York and emphasizes the cultural conglomerate she is with her Haitian

ancestry and the long time adaptation to life in New York. An adaptability that seem to be
present also amongst the Yoruba as Brown describe Mama Lola as being gifted in using
whatever cultural elements (that) serve to support her and her family, regardless of
whether they are Haitian or American or come from any of the other peoples and cultures
she routinely encounters in New York City (ibid.xi). The problem the ethnographer is
faced with is not only a meaningful selection of data and interpretation but also a
meaningful geographical orientation. One need to seek to avoid a to large generalization as
this will distort the whole idea of reflexivity inherited in the Yorubas understanding of
what lies at the root of ritual action and philosophy. Easily the western idea of order as a
basically social construct referring on the organization of civilization fail to see the greater
order that are naturally a part of the Yoruba world view. No condition is seen as permanent
or fixed; all things are in a state of change as dictated by a natural order mirrored in the
changes present in the yearly cycle of seasonal changes.

The Yorubas of the Southwestern Nigeria is not only one of the largest ethnic groups south
of Sahara, it is also a people that has contributed significantly in shaping the religious life
in Caribbean cultures, in particular Cuba and Puerto Rico as well as Brazil and both South
America in general as well as the southern parts of North America. The influence started
already in the15th Century by both the slave trade as well as the internal developments
amongst the communities of slaves established in the locations they settled after the slavery
was abolished in the 19th Century. The customary image of the slave trade is one set in
motion by European colonialists, but actually the purchase of slaves was to some degree
possible by the common practice of slavery already present in Africa and certainly
escalated by the Yoruba-Dahomey Wars in the years between 1698-1892. Slavery was
common amongst the various tribes of western Africa, but they tended to be far more
humane in their treatment of their slaves than the degrading attitude, equaling the black
man with cattle, exposed by the European colonists (Bascom 1968:12). Lagos was one of
the most important ports for the Portuguese and Dutch to obtain slaves. In addition to this
massive and long war between what is today known as Benin and the Yorubas there was
also internal wars and upheaval going on from 1817 and until 1893, and before that minor
wars and bickering between the various tribes. The 109 year long British control in the

country started in 1851 in an attempt of abolishing the slave trade that lead in 1861 the
King of Lagos to sign a treaty that made Lagos a British protectorate, even if king
Dosunmu of Lagos later complained that he had not understood what he was signing. This
was however the beginning of British control in Nigeria in a northern and western
protectorate and not until 1960 Nigeria became an independent nation. Nigeria today is not
only populated by Yoruba but also by Hausa, Nupe, Igbo, Fulani as well as many other
tribes that are referred to as Yoruba usually by language similarities.

Within these historical and geographical borders rests a problem of identity understood in a
meaningful way by western man where the tendency of creating borders and subject all
things studied to a given label, like African culture, not realizing that one is speaking
about a whole continent measuring from morocco in the north until South Africa in the
south. On one side there is the more comparative researchers that try to generate all African
religions into a coherent understandable whole, like Benjamin Ray, Victor Turner and the
more famous anthropologists both British and French in the 50s and 60s contributed to
shape an Africanesque picture of the religious practices in this large continent. The
understanding that Africa was a composite and varied continent started to be evident first in
the mid 80s with the publication of Karp and Birds collection of essays in Explorations in
African Systems of Thought (1987).

Today it seems that ethnographers are increasingly aware the uniqueness of the various
African religions and their great variety. Some research done the last few years like
Drewals Yoruba Ritual or Karen McCarthy Browns Mama Lola or Vergers major studies
about the Yoruba are all based in a limited geographical and cultural area. Brown is
focusing on the life and work of a Mambo or Voudon priestess in New York Drewal is
focusing on the life and practice of her main informant and Verger is focusing his work on
If as thought in y state Nigeria - and how this is mirrored in Brazil, in particular Bahia
where he lived. In other words, he focused on his own spiritual family and their roots as a
man on the threshold. Being confronted with the great variety of religious practice
amongst the Yoruba Babalwos (priests of If) it seemed imperative to follow a similar
pattern, namely to base the research in the practice and understanding within one given

family and use other information as additional to this main source of knowledge. This great
diversity was also expounded upon in William Bascoms seminal research on If (1969).
Accordingly, research already published as well as observation of practices and interview
with informants from other areas has been used as complementary to the practice and
understanding of If as represented by the family Aiydn, especially Baba Apena Kehinde
Aln Aiydn and the ynif Gbdb ymss of Apapo Awon Awo Funfun from the
cities of Odd and Il If. Il If is considered by the many villages that share the Yoruba
identity as being the cradle of Yoruba civilization and is therefore interesting by itself. The
family Aiydn also carries influences not only from Il If and Odd, but also from
Abeokuta and thus represents a rich and varied source for knowledge. In addition
informants from both Nigeria, America, Cuba and Brazil has shed light on similarities and
differences in the practice from district to district, which will be discussed in the last
chapter of this thesis.

Given the proposal outlined so far in this thesis, concerning the challenges of ethnographic
research it will be important to stay with this subject for one more chapter where the culture
known as Yoruba will be expanded upon in light of its influences, detailing the complex
sources for the creation of this culture. These complex sources contains a vivid belief in
otherworldly beings as well as theories, speculations and philosophies of a purely
metaphysical nature, challenge the idea presented by Ray that African societies are not
particularly interested in anything else than the terrestrial plane and the practical conditions
concerning healthy and happy life. Yoruba cosmology and philosophy as well as ritual
practice and mythical history will be focused upon in detail after discussing the difficulties
in translating a culture.

The use of the word cult in this dissertation has been chosen due to its reference to a
system of ritual and religious belief that is not uniform in relation to a institutionalized
regime of religious doctrine. Rather If and its interrelated cults are in harmony with
Kershaws definition, which says that a cult is a system of religious worship or ritualthat
can be widespread or local (Kershaw. 2000:x). In cases where sources are not quoted in
the explanation of meaning of various concepts the origin is to be found in conversations

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with Apena Aiydn and other members of his family, knowledge that are shared in
informal conversations where important subjects naturally arises for discussion and
explanation in a variety of circumstances.

Chapter 2

2:1

Cultural Translations

Challenges in translating culture

The problem of understanding a culture which is considered as other indicates that one is
using ones own cultural belonging in ways that translate the foreign culture into a product
born by the observance of ones own viewpoint. Mudimbe vividly debates this problem in
his treatise The Invention of Africa (1988) who reflects his thought solidly in Michel
Foucault and especially his The Order of Things (1966/70). This means that the other is
seen as something opposed to the same, creating a category of belongingness that are
illusory and created by a seemingly resemblance and this resemblance difference to the
other, that are introduced solely to create stronger border around the label one has created.
Again, the approach referred to as the man at the threshold seems to be proper in order to
breach these illusory differences. Researchers like Maya Deren went into a given culture
and made it her own, thus embracing the other and from this she gave an account aiming to
be true both to the culture she studied and her self as an involved academic.

Asad points out this to in how the west are occupied with identifying, making categories
and describe the rational levels of other cultures thus running the risk of inducing
meaninglessness into the research and create something that is actually not existing (Asad
1993:196). For instance the understanding of death in Yoruba society is resting on
foundations so deep and all embracing and so other than the understanding of death in the
western world that it is needed to go deep into the cosmology and world view of the
Yoruba in order to understand this phenomena that strikes down in all humanity. Not only
this, but the relation death has with wisdom, power and healing seem to arise naturally by
entering deep into the exercise of the cult of Wisdom If. In the end the most problematic

11

challenge for the ethnographer is as Brown observed: Most anthropologist understand


different cultures (a problematic term for which there is no good substitute) to be, at
minimum, different ways of making meaning of the world. So, an ethnography is written by
making meaning out of others process of meaning making. (Brown. 2003:xi)

In order to make meaning, many tools are needed and perhaps Deren is pointing out an
often neglected tool in the repertoire of the researcher when she comment that: sensitivity
to form provides the artist with a vast area of clues and data that might elude the
professional anthropologist whose training emphasizes, precisely, that scientific
detachment which may muffle even his normal sensitivity and responsiveness to formal
nuance and subtlety, so, that he becomes dependent upon the vagaries of informants
memory, intelligence and articulation (Deren 1953:11). She exemplifies this by referring
to a painting of Czanne depicting fruits and says that there are many ways of viewing such
painting. Both as fruits on a canvas that could be cut out and sorted within categories of
fruits. But there is also the question of form, due to this being a work of art belonging both
to a certain artist, culture and genre and also the subjective experience that will differ
between those who are observing the painting those who has an artistic point of view. The
artist will focus on form, driven by a sensitivity to form (ibid. 10). In addition she also
comment on the differences between occidental thought that tend to separate experience
into dualistic concepts and ask: Is it valid to use this means to truth in examining Oriental
or African cultures which are not based on such a dualism and are, on the contrary,
predicated on the notion that truth can be apprehended only when every cell of brain and
body the totality of a human being is engaged in that pursuit? (ibid. 9).

Another observation made both by Asad as well as Mudimbe is how the western culture
and its religious institutions, like monastic life and their ideals have coloured the perception
of western scientists. In one example Mudimbe is referring to the anthropologist Barleys
research in northern Cameroon and says about his fieldwork: Frankly, it seemed then, and
seems now, that the justification for fieldwork, as for all academic endeavor, lies not in
ones contribution to the collectivity but rather in some selfish development. Like monastic
life, academic research is really all about the perfection of ones own soul. (Mudimbe.

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1988: 21). This is a hard critique and the foundations for it would be interesting to enter
into, but this excursus will take to much time and lead us to far away from the study in
question. This is brought in simply to question a source of bias that the researcher him self
can influence in his or her study.

Objectivity in ones research is quite utopist simply because it is unavoidable to avoid


bringing ones own values, heritage and background into the research. This is why the
importance of entering in discourse with the area of study, where the position on the
threshold is just one of several possibilities of diminishing potential bias from the
researchers native upbringing mediated by cultural factors. The tools to the ethnographers
disposal is forged on the basis of needs in a European academic climate, and it is not given
that the tools fit exactly the material one seek to work with. Ricoeur asks: Did not Europe
invent history, geography, ethnography and sociology in their explicit scientific forms?
(ibid. 20). Mudimbe is in this regard discussing extensively the problem of Africanism
and point out that the dynamic processes where concrete experience is integrated into an
order of concepts and discourse which lead him to speak of the African gnosis (ibid.ix) as
opposed to mere opinions. The word gnosis means to know and Mudimbe understand this
to refer to seeking to know, inquiry, methods of knowing, investigation and eve
acquaintance with someone (ibid.). He distinguishes gnosis as different from doxa
opinion, and at the same time he separate it from episteme, in terms of being a science and
an intellectual configuration. The African gnosis is knowledge different than the Western
world-view; still, Western interpreters as well as African analysts have been using
categories and conceptual systems which depend on a Western epistemological order. Just
by referring to one discipline, namely history the level of accuracy of historicity as a
reliable tool of research can be disputed, because history became related to evolution,
conquest, a notion of superiority of the white race and the economic necessity that
developed in Europe where it was seen as useful for strengthening the European
economical structures to expand to virgin areas (ibid.). This cultural arrogance is suggested
in the work of the early anthropologists, both French and British by the way of
evolutionistic categorization of civilization seen European culture as the peak of this
evolution. Foucault suggest a solution to this problem: discourse in general and scientific

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discourse in particular, is so complex a reality that we not only can but should approach it
at different levels and with different methods (ibid.). In this there might be a crucial point
to observe, which is why the scientific consideration and ethnographic attitudes of Drewal,
Deren and Brown has been brought to attention as these studies demonstrate an awareness
of the difficulty inherited in making research and thus producing meaning amongst people
that are reared within a world-view quite different from the ones held in the European
modern age. The purpose of ones research should focus on the production of knowledge, to
establish meaning whether this is for a general or personal purpose is perhaps less
important, what seem to be important is the discourse it self. It could be now be proper to
look at the contemporary research relevant to the understanding of African cultures.

2:2

A Survey of contemporary research

One of the more prolific writers on the subject of African religions is Benjamin C. Ray as
well as Evans-Pritchard, Claude Levi-Strauss and Victor Turner. In this case it shall suffice
to refer to Ray and Turner since they are more contemporary. Ray in his book: African
religions. Symbol, Ritual, Community (1976) presents an attempt of comparative analysis of
a variety of African religions. In all fairness, it should be mentioned that he is focusing the
various paradigms of scientific approach such as the decline of the evolutionary theories
and the coming of social anthropology and fieldwork divided in the French and British
school (ibid.7). While the French researchers were occupied with the cosmological and
symbolic dimensions the British focused on the socio-political factors and tend to
understand their observations along such patterns. Ray comments that the historical
perspectives has been neglected by both schools and finally states that he chose to organize
him self by adopting a flexible and synthetic approach, using a combination of
perspectives depending upon the nature of the materials involved (ibid.16). In essence this
will indicate that he is quite eclectic in his approach focusing his attention primarily on
history and anthropology. In terms of the subject of this treatise, If, Ray says that: Hence,
Ifa is surrounded by images and symbols of Eshu, the Yoruba trickster-messenger of the
gods, who brings irrationality and confusion into the world. As the opposite of Eshu, Ifa

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performs an important stabilizing function, which is how he interpret the research done by
Robert Farris Thompson (1983) he is basing this observation on in his book (ibid.110). As
will be evident in due course terms like irrationality and confusion is a part of a larger
scheme in If cosmology and metaphysics and hence it easily misleads the reader to assume
conclusions like the one Ray is stating, that Eshu is the opposite of Ifa - simply a
troublemaker in opposition to the calm wisdom of If, that for a Western mind surely tend
to be experienced as irrational. As will be demonstrated in Chapter Four s and If is
complementary and not in any way in opposition. Victor Turner on the other hand is
approaching his study in northwestern Zambia of Ndembu ritual customs in a different way.
After discussing the various implications and benefits of anthropological tools in order to
establish a meaningful correlation between symbols and social organization and action he
presents a very interesting observation saying: On the other hand, each participant in the
ritual views it from his own particular corner of observation (Turner 1967:27). It is such
bi-sentences that in this thesis will be seen as so valuable for the understanding of Yoruba
cults. But this would also include the corner from where the researcher is doing his
observation. More contemporary researchers have expressed an awareness of their own
placement in time and space and also their own cultural origin. It is like the other meet
the other to paraphrase some important themes in Foucaults considerations of scientific
understanding of phenomenas (Foucault. 1966/70). The collection of articles edited by
Karp and Bird summarize in many ways the phase of research more aware of this problem
as it start to surface, like Fernandez comment, the colonial mentality was also a set of
beliefs about mentality it self (Fernandez in Bird & Karp (Ed.) 1987: 44). This growing
awareness of the impact of colonial mentality reaches its summit in Mac Gaffys
reflections, where he says: If the people in question do not distinguish witchcraft from
sorcery it makes no sense for the anthropologist to do so The same kind of criticism is
applicable to other contrasted terms such as spirit possession and spirit mediumship,
ancestors and shades, spirit possession and soul loss. None of these pairs is related to any of
the available bodies of theory in social science by which we might be able to comprehend
its nature and occurrence (Mac Gaffy, in Bird & Karp (Ed.) 1987: 302). Assuming that
one is studying a culture that operate within parameters and realms that are not comparable
to ones own there would be good reason to show caution in order to avoid translating a text

15

into a amputated and muffled language without sufficient knowledge of the language in
order to make sense of the text neither the translation. Hodder who in paraphrasing Derrida
says expands upon this observation: meaning does not reside in a text but in the writing and
reading of it. As the text is reread in different contexts it is given new meanings, often
contradictory and always socially embedded. Thus there is no original or true meaning
of a text outside specific historical contexts (Hodder in Denzin & Lincoln 2003:156). This
might seem to lead to a conclusion where a study in foreign cultures is nearly impossible, at
best a vain and pointless enterprise. This is not so, actually, the variety of interpretations is
exactly what touches the nerve and essence of Yoruba beliefs due to its dynamic and
holistic approach to change and movement. Deren saw the rituals of Haitian Voudon as a
way to open the veil between the world of man and spirit, thus inviting a dynamic
interaction between the worlds, as also suggested my more contemporary researchers like
Drewal and Brown. And in this scope Derridas commentaries can be seen as shedding light
and opportunity to a research aiming towards the production of valuable knowledge rather
than setting out to search for truths than anyway will be only a construction of a possible
truth.

Seeing the different research available maybe the ethnographic enfant terrible, the
researcher that goes native perhaps has a better chance of extracting meaning from the
area one want to study. At least this way of meaning making is a result of the religiously
engaged academic and thus might have better chances of extract a coherent picture by his
discourse. In a way, the researcher that goes native must strive to keep one foot in each
camp and be conscience about his or her role as a researcher as well as his or her role as a
formal member in a given cult. In a way this reflect the dynamic between the worlds on
each side of the veil and perhaps lead to an unusual intimate proximity to this problematic
issue. Karen McCarthy Brown in her biographical portrait of the Vodoun priestess Mama
Lola in Brooklyn is a result of going native. Still, the research is rich in information that
expands ones understanding not only factual knowledge - about Voudon from
perspectives both of a scientist and an initiated orientation. It is rich in many ways and
contributes to the existing knowledge in a useful way. Another researcher that
demonstrated the same dynamic and reflexive nuances is the French anthropologist and

16

photographer Pierre Verger who did extensively study of If and rs cult both in Africa
and northeast of Brazil, Bahia where he lived and worked as a Babalwo. Another rich
source is William Bascom, who also ended up going native, but still produced research that
still are valuable and insightful, even 50 years later. What differentiates these researchers
and those who strictly stick to their academic position solely is a lack of depth in the
presentation of the material and also the understanding of the many dimensions at play in
the cult concerned. While for instance Turner solely set out to analyze the function of ritual
in the social organization, Verger includes a far wider range of aspects towards an
understanding of the phenomena. For instance in his book Notas sobre o culto aos Orixs e
Voudons (1998) he is in detail discussing the rituals for initiation into the Cult of rs
known as Candombl, taking into consideration the social aspects, the symbolic aspects, the
action made and their consequences on both a practical and metaphysical level. It is a wellbalanced account from the religiously engaged academic. The research are experienced
more rich probably because his access to a more complete material given his position as
being on the threshold. Taking another researcher, Jim Wafer, that made his research in
the same area as Verger, both in terms of cult and geographical location present a picture of
the slightly puzzled academic in his The Taste of Blood (1991). Probably this is caused both
by cultural alienation as well as limited access to secrets of the cult which he solves by
restricting him self to a autobiographical account of the factual incidents and some more
metaphysical analyses of what is actually happening echoing the line of thought from
arcane British anthropology focusing on the social values. Even useful and interesting,
there is a difference of depth in the study of those that went native and those who
remained in their position as purely academic observant researchers. Yet another example
is Anthony D. Buckley and his study of Yoruba Medicine (1997), which is a personal
account of the difficulties of cultural translation. He details in particular how he first
needed to understand how to use language in such ways that his informants would be
helpful and actually give information and not patronize him. What the research ended up
with was to be focused on a few informants and the initial plan of having an extensive
research counting many informants had to be cancelled. However, focusing his research of
a limited number of informants led to a book signified by richness in detail regarding
Yoruba philosophy about healing and the art of medicine, known as Onisegun. Other types

17

of research tend to be more journalistic in format, like Rod Davis recounting of American
Voudou (1998) or the vivid political oriented research by Elizabeth McAlister where she
analyses the Voudon festival known as Rara! (2002). It seems that research in the modern
(or post-modern) age is quite open to diversity in both style and approach. It is not possible
to say that one approach is better than the other, only different. This openness might be the
best possible of approaches in order to study African cultures, since added together they
might be able to communicate the complexity of African culture and the holistic dynamic
inherited in many of them at least in the beliefs of the Yoruba. Drewal arrived to similar
conclusions when she said: Treating fieldwork as a performance means placing the
emphasis on the participant side of the participant/observer paradigm; breaking down the
boundaries between self and other, subject and other, subjectivity and objectivity; and
engaging in a more truly dialogical relationship with our subjects of study so that both
researcher and researched are coeval participants in performance discourse (Drewal
1992:11) In a way, it seems that modern researchers are more focused on breaking down
the boundaries between self and other, quite similar to the suggestion of Foucault who
states: all the familiar landmarks of my thought our thought, the thought that bears the
stamp of our age and our geography breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the
planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and
continue long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction
between the Same and the Other (Foucault. 1966:xvi).

2:3

Translating the Yoruba identity.

The term Yoruba signify both a language as well as one of the largest cultural group of
people in sub-Sahara, mainly based in what is today known as Nigeria. However, the
identity of being Yoruba needs to be clarified to some extent, since The term Yoruba as
a cultural designation dates only to mid-nineteenth century colonialism (Drewal 1992:12).
So what was the Yorubas before they became Yoruba by designation of the British
protectorate? Actually, the importance was more on family line and belongingness to

18

village or district more than in the form of a nation, as perhaps the many hundred years of
war between rivaling villages through the history of the Yorubas to some degree
demonstrates. Peel, in his study about the Christian mission and their influence on Yoruba,
raises many important points that can lead towards a clarification on this issue (Peel 2000).
At the heart of the matter lies the issue of identity. What is known as Yoruba is actually a
gathering of inhabitants from different villages that was defined by the British protectorate
as being the same using religious and linguistic similarities as the tool for defining the
Yoruba. In an interesting map from around 1890 one see some of the various districts and it
was in relation to origin from a specific place the Yoruba defined them selves, not in terms
of the boundaries that today is know as Nigeria. One interesting point is that on this map
these distinctions seem to have been kept in tact considering that the term Yoruba is written
in as a singular state surrounding the city y. As will be demonstrated this is more
accurate than defining every Nigerian settlement as Yoruba per se. However, there is today
no good reason to start to change this notion of Yoruba not being a heterogeneous people,
since much indicate that in present day, Yoruba is a adequate and good term for the
designation of the many districts that is said to be inhabited by Yoruba people considering
the changes the culture went through and come to see it self as a nation in modern days, in
spite of differences.

19

A short recapitulation of main historical interventions amongst the Yoruba will be


clarifying in this regard. This recapitulation starts with war. From 1698 and for almost 200
years there was a constant war between the Yoruba and Dahomey (present day Benin) that
only finished upon French intervention that colonized Benin and Togo and ended this war
in 1892 (Bascom. 1969: 12). This war based it self largely upon slave-trade In addition the
years between 1817 and 1893 was signified both by internal wars as well as attacks on the
Yoruba speaking population from tribes in the north and the west of modern day Nigeria,
especially Hausa and Fulani. Especially devastating was the Fulani Jihad ignited by Mallam
Usuman dan Fodio in 1904-1810 that laid into ruins both Hausa and Nupe villages along
with Yoruba settlement on the border of Yorubaland before conquering the proud kingdom
of y. This invasion was just the start of the internal wars beginning with the mutiny of
the Afonja of the city Ilorin that in 1917 invaded y and forced the Alafin Arogangan of
y to commit suicide (ibid.) This led to a declaration of independence of Ilorin (that used
to be under y control). Afonja then allied him self with the Fulani Mallam Alimi and
hoards of Hausa warriors that were released from captivity in y and raided nearby towns.

20

In just a little more than ten years the once proud kingdom of y was reduced to ruins and
most of the people had moved out of the city while the once insignificant city Ilorin had
become both larger and more rich that y used to be. In 1831 Afonja was killed by the
rebel-squad he had created and also Alimi died later the same year opening up for a dynasty
of Fulani emirs in Ilorin and also a war that became problematic and vast and confused in
proportions. Naturally after the death of Afonja y tried to take back their pride but was
outsmarted by the Fulani that cleverly used the internal struggle to their advantage (ibid.).
Finally they managed to defeat the armies of Ilorin but the Alafin Oluewu was betrayed and
killed in battle leading to a complete desertion of y in 1839 with a consequently
rebuilding of new y by the next Alafin, Atiba. Quite close to the then deserted Egba
village, Ibadan. Ife and Ijebu joined forces with y and destroyed the city of Owu. The
people of Owu was driven south of Egba and founded the city of Abeokuta in 1830 (ibid.).
After this the chaos reaches tremendous proportions and history becomes a difficult affair
as one need to rely on verbal accounts that varies from district to district. It seems, however
that betrayal and change of alliances led to a concentration where y and Ibadan was
alone against the rest of the cities in Yorubaland. As late as 1897, Ilorin continued to
harass neighboring Yoruba towns until 1897, when it was occupied by forces of the Royal
Niger Company in other words the British Protectorate. This led to the boundaries
marking the various Yoruba kingdoms as being Nigeria. The British control reigned from
1851 and until 1960 and it was actually with the advent of the British that slavery was
abolished. While the Portuguese and Dutch abused the access to slaves from the
seventeenth century and onward the British issued a prohibition of bringing slaves on
British ships or be taken to British colonies already in 1808 and actively sent squadrons out
to suppress the slave trade both amongst the African kings as well as the other European
countries that was immersed in the slave trade. Bascom comments that they were probably
sincere enough in their desire to abolish the slave trade, but motivated also by the chances
of establishing a trade route to West Africa (ibid.16). In 1851 however the British came to
Lagos and settled their first protectorate with the aim of abolishing the slave trade, which
was not very successful until in 1861 when the King of Lagos, Dosunmu handed over
Lagos to the Queen of England. Prior to the British rule the Yoruba tend to think about
them selves in terms of belonging to a given district or village of rather small proportions,

21

as the massive strife between cities in the period of internal war can suggest. There is
however some elements that needs to be extracted from this, that likely has influenced the
identity of the Yoruba. One thing is the movement of people that occurred in the years
between 1817 1893 that mixed people together across their traditional village belonging
and even led to the foundation of one of the more prolific centers of If worship in
Yorubaland today, Abeokuta. It seems that to this area people both of Fulani, Hausa and
Nupe heritage together with the many Yourbas from other parts of modern day Nigeria
came together. This happened in most Yoruba cities, but in a somewhat lesser degree. In
addition to this there is also the British influence that came with a new religion to the
Yorubas, Christianity. The foundation, Church Missionary Society (CMS), that was
established by The Church of England in 1799 made a great impact on the population and
contributed especially to the production of written material about the Yorubas, as shall be
demonstrated. The Yorubas had already been familiarized with Islam, both peacefully by
trade and through the mentioned Jihad the Fulani tribe executed against the pagans in
Yorubaland. The advent of Christianity in Nigeria raises many interesting issues, especially
related to the sympathy between African Christianity and Christianity in Africa, that
perhaps is not the same issue. How a peoples identity colours the religion it meets and vice
versa is an interesting and important field of study, but at this point it has to suffice to
expand on the impact Christianity had by referring to some of the important African
converts. One of these were Samuel Johnson, who played an important role in the ending of
the wars between the Yorubas and who wrote down the first history of the Yoruba people.
The book was completed in 1897 and was published in 1921 and gave an account of the
history of the Yoruba proper, meaning with this that he wrote his history assuming y was
the proper Yorubas. Even good as a historical narrative, the book is not confining to all
rules of good historicity and is perhaps quite biased by what Peel comments, that: all
history is in a sense the history of the present (Peel 2000: 46). In terms of history there is
yet another problem that will surface. Firstly it is the various accounts of what happened
that makes a factual history at best inaccurate, demonstrating quite a lot of diverging stories
in the historical remembrances from district to district. In addition to this there is also the
mythical history that in some level has influenced the event-oriented history and
memories of the past. The mythical history is important as the Yorubas take much of their

22

identity from mythical history. In a way, their perception of history is mirrored in how they
consider the world and the cosmos as something interlinked and not something apart. A
history of events played out on earth and a history of a mythical past would not present any
problems of co-existence and being of equal importance which makes a historical account
based upon events on a historical time line difficult.

The influence from Christianity did not only came through Samuel Johnson, but also
through Samuel Crowther that later became bishop. These men contributed quite a lot to the
Yoruba identity and to explain the religion amongst the Yoruba, which the British referred
to as paganism as opposed to Christianity. This tendency is still prevailing in modern day
Nigeria, perhaps most evidently in the late professor E. Bolaji Idowus book about the
Yoruba religion in his books Oldmar. God in Yorb belief (1994). The book is written
by a minister in the Methodist Church that insists in the preface of the book that it is written
from a Yoruba viewpoint (ibid.i). His viewpoint is distinctively Christian in choice of
words and also by analogy it is an adaptation from a Yoruba Christian. This must
necessarily be somewhat different from the notion of heathenism and paganism that the
British first labeled the customs of the Yoruba when they arrived in Lagos, seeing in their
customs practices that reminded them about the cults of the Greeks and Romans and even
the practices of the idol-worshipping people of the biblical Canaan (Peel. 2000: 88). This as
Peel says: it was identified, not merely as a well known type of religion, but as standing at
a particular stage in the history of religion (ibid.). So, in addition to the turbulence created
by war and strife, there is also the notion about a people occupying them selves with
outdated customs, representing earlier stages in the development of religion, a quite
common view amongst British and French anthropologists in the years of the British
protectorate and onward to the independence of Nigeria in 1960. Before embarking on the
task of presenting If its cosmology and interrelated cults, the influence of Johnson and
Crowther should be discussed more in detail.

23

2:4

The Emissaries of Christ and the shaping of the Yoruba.

Reverend Samuel Johnson started at the age of 24 to write a journal. He was then working
as a schoolmaster in Old y, the proud city that Johnson considered as the cradle of the
Yoruba proper. It was in the city of Ibadan and y his history was formed and it is from
this point of view his historical imagination was formed. Johnsons purpose with writing
this extensive The History of the Yorubas (1920) was to reconcile the contradictory
claims of Christian faith and Yoruba identity, not by any kind of theological argument
about what either of them essentially was, but by a narrative of their providential resolution
on the terrain of historical practice (ibid.305). Johnsons parents had converted to
Christianity in Sierra Leone, while being enslaved and they returned to Yorubaland when
Samuel was eleven years old. He came to his land as a Christian and was accordingly
forced to re-imagine and re-configure his native homeland, which he did on basis of
being a Yoruba proper, as he was a descendent of the Alafin Adiodun of y and a
Christian. Johnson readily adopted the term Yoruba as a label strictly defining the people
from y (and by extension involves Ibadan). Peel states that this word was the term
created amongst the Hausa to label the people from y. The Hausa referred to Yorubas as
yarriba (ibid. 283). It is also possibly linked to a prestigious figure in Arab genealogies
with the name Yarub (ibid.). The Hausa term became used by travelers, merchants and
diplomats and was known collectively as Yoruba by the British as early as 1820. This
collective term was something new, as the Europeans that visited the west coast of Africa
prior to the British knew these people by their indigenous names referring to geographic
location in terms of villages. Peel points out that There is no evidence that the Yourbaspeaking peoples, despite their affinities of their dialect, their shared customs, and their
widespread traditions of origin from If, used an all-embracing name for themselves in their
homeland (ibid.). The identity based upon cultural similarity and language did emerged
especially with the slave trade and the labeling of the British protectorate as a label
constructed upon other terms than belongingness to a given village seemed to be necessary.
Still, the people referring to as Yoruba was in Sierra Leone referred to as Aku and Peel
speculates whether this is the original terms for the group of people we today know as
Yoruba. This people has in Brazil also been termed as Ng and Ket respectively, Ket

24

being a district in the upper part of Nigeria ordering to Benin and Ng being another term
to designate the Yoruba.. This phenomenon is probably caused by the fact that there was
no prior Aku/Yoruba nation until it began to emerge in exile and was later re-imported to
its homeland by the mission (ibid. 284). The term Yoruba seemed to be finally adopted by
Reverend Samuel Crowther when he composed his Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language in
1843. This decision was motivated by a expedition in Niger Crowther participated in and
during this expedition Crowther became aware that the term Yaruba was consequently
used for both y people and non- y people, which stroke a cord of resemblance with
the 12 tribes of Israel united into one nation for Crowther. Accordingly the Bible was
translated into Yoruba and the label of Yoruba as the many different tribes that spoke
dialects of Yoruba language was united both by the British protectorate as well as a
Christian understanding of the Yorubas as tribes gathered under one single identity, like
the tribes of Israel. In other words, many factors contributed to Yoruba being the term
designating the identity of this people. During the work with his Vocabulary Crowther
expressed a great concern to avoid pagan associations and also to understand Yoruba terms
within a framework distinctively Christian, thus imposing values that were unknown to the
indigenous people. A few examples should suffice to demonstrate this. Peel comments on
the problems Crowther encountered in translating the Lords Prayer, especially the sentence
deliver us from evil, Crowther could not find an indigenous noun that was sufficiently
general and absolute to render the full meaning of evil (Ibid. 195). He could have adopted
the rs s as being the figure of the devil or Satan as many missionaries inaccurately
did. Instead he introduced a Hausa word, tulasi, which means trouble that was later
changed to bilisi, originated from the Arabic iblis a name for Satan (ibid.). To make a long
story short, Crowther made a semantic shift in the language that involved adopting a
complex of meanings holiness, purity, ritual cleansing, and so forth that were strongly
emphasized by Muslims in relation to their own faith (ibid. 197). Perhaps this tendency of
leaning towards the Arabic vocabulary was made possible by the similarities between the
practices of the Muslim clerics known as alufa and the Bablwos of If, the spiritual
tradition that flowed like a fruitful river through the practices of all people now known as
Yoruba.

25

Nothing can be said with certainty, but these elements seem to have been very influential in
the forming of Yoruba into a nation. The importance of the place of origin however
remained, as will for instance be demonstrated in the chapter about the Cult of Death,
where both place of origin and ancestry is of grave importance. It is also present in
Johnsons History as he highlights y, given his origin is from this district, being
descended from the Alafin of y. The departed ones are of great importance for the living
and much identity is resurrected upon the bones of the dead. Another element is both the
politico-geographical boundaries the British created as well as the existence of both Islam
and Christianity in a country that did not had any vocabulary ready to understand these
religions. The inter-tribal wars in addition created a rotation of people from various
districts moving to villages that was not theirs by birth and thus a mixing of tribes and
villages contributed to what Peel precisely defines as a people in the making (ibid.).
These factors mentioned here contribute to make research amongst the Yoruba difficult if
one search for uniformity of cultic practice. The observations made by Drewal in Yoruba
Ritual are highly accurate. She says: Performance is a multilayered discourse employing
multiple voices and perspectives. And as we recognize this, it should also be apparent that
fieldwork itself is performance (Drewal 1992:11). Multilayered discourse it is indeed and
the discourse is not only related to the empirical and historical factors that contributed to
shape the Yoruba identity but also a complex cosmology and metaphysic that need to be
explored in depth in order to breach yet one more layer of the discourse.

26

Chapter 3

3:1

The Yoruba Cosmology

Introduction to Yoruba Cosmology and metaphysics

In most African societies there is little speculation about the origin of the universe.
African thought tend to be bound up with daily life, and hence there is little interest in
questions that do not concern practical matters, says Ray and go on expounding the
complex cosmogony amongst the Dogons of Mali (Ray. 1976:24). By word and deed he is
presenting a discrepancy and also, assuming that Africans are not interested in
metaphysical speculation. In the case of the Yoruba most people will have to focus on the
day-by-day needs, given the poverty all over the country. When faced with the choice of
food and metaphysical speculations there is a tendency to choose food. However, the
Yoruba diviners, called Babalwos often have a great interest in the metaphysical side of
creation and do enjoy philosophical discussion. Santos seminal study Os Ng e a Morte
(1975) is focusing on the symbolic and metaphysical side of If such as the origin of the
world, the nature of spiritual beings, mans consciousness, destiny and the world of
symbols. In other words, it is not that the interest in transcendent issues is little - you just
know who to ask and how to ask.

The Yoruba seem to not understand their religious practices as a religion per se. Rather they
see their religious system as a practical philosophy (Olayinka, Transcript A-1). This is in
accordance with the observations Peel presented in his study as well. As already stated, this
differences between Christianity and the customs amongst the Yoruba reminded them about
the Greek and Roman pagan religions, a pattern and form of religious performance that was
recognized for the British as heathenism or idolatry, something roughly along the
lines of the religions of the Ancient Greeks or Romans (the original paganism) and of the
Anglo-Saxons (ditto heathenism) or the cults of local idols which the Israelites found in
the land of Canaan (Peel. 2000: 88). Another important observation in this regard is that
the Yoruba was not occupied in defining their religious practices as something separate and
fixed within their society. Actually: they had no generic concept of religion as a discrete

27

field of human activity or a fortiori of particular religions as bounded entities (ibid.89).


Actually, Yoruba religion seems to be religion in the same sense as Hinduism is a
religion, meaning that religion is not a very good term as it fixes what is naturally volatile
in a way that hardly confines to the dynamic mutability of the belief it self. Hinduism is
rightly called santatana dharma as a reference to the orderly cosmos and the actions man
has to do that are in accordance with his or her dharma. It designates a system where man is
a part of a bigger order, where the whole cosmos and creation are interrelated. Even having
their rites and ways of worship it is not an institution as one find in the case of monotheistic
religions. This is evident considering the many cults all of over India based upon a minor
deity important for a given village. The Yoruba word for religion is esin. This word means,
to serve and this term is used only when referring to Muslims or Christians. The
Yorubas on the other hand tend to denote and identity ones religion by referring to cult
belonging. Like by using the term to designate ones religious belongingness Els, a
devotee of the rs s and accordingly a member of his cult. The Yoruba is not using
esn to denote their own religion, rather they use asa ibile or oro, which means Customs of
the country or simply Custom. The oro (custom) of the White man was Christianity,
but the oro of the natives were A nse Oro ile tabi baba wa, meaning We are performing
the Established Customs of our Land and our Ancestors (ibid.). Peel is using the phrase
country fashion in order to define the natural customs of the Yoruba and says that this
term; serve to blur any sharp division between the religious and non-religious; it implies a
shifting and unbounded body of customary practices rather than a definite and integrated
religion. It is interesting that the British saw in the customs of the Yoruba what they
recognized as paganism which originally referred to the practices of the people in the
outskirts (as pagan literally means a peasant, a heathen living in the countryside) that
worshipped their idols and adhered to practices different than Christianity in pragmatic
ways.

To go even further in disclaiming the idea that metaphysical thought is lacking amongst
African religious traditions the following narration was given by Awo Falokun Fatumbi
who in turn was told this by Chief Solagbade Popoola. The narration is a free rendering of
the main contents in what is disclosed in the ese If (divinatory verse) called s gnd.

28

Here it is said that creation concerning both cosmos and mankind follows five stages that
are outlined in the following way:

In the beginning as the Akamara (God, The universal spirit of the Universe) created
itself, dews/gases commenced to spread throughout the universe. Origun, an Irunmole, was
ordered to solidify the dews/gases. As the dews cooled, the stars came into being but there was no
order so the stars began to collide with one another.

Then

Baba-Asemu-Egun-Sunwa

another

Irunmole, was ordered to bring order to the stars. This Irunmole made it so that the stars had the
same pattern and rotation. In the third stage Olu-Iwaye, another Irunmole, was ordered to
extract the planets from the stars. In our solar system there were first 7 planets created. The
other two were brought later. Our moon was also created from the planets and stars. As our
planet was created (Earth), Olodumare gave our planet to an Irunmole named Aye. This was a female
entity and although an Irunmole, she is not considered part of the 401 Irunmole. Hence, our planet
was given the name Ile Aye (Home of Aye). During this time only the other Irunmole could visit this
planet and the planet had no permanent residents. Aye became lonely and wanted others to live there
premanently with her. Hence, Olodumare first sent Ogun to the planet earth to make it habitable
for Human beings to live. Ogun came with his entourage which included Ija, Osoosi, and some
others but Ogun was unsuccessful and had to return back home. He did manage however to
chart the way to the planet earth. Obatala was then sent next. Obatala followed the path Ogun had
charted to the planet and brought with him Alaanu, Oloore, Sungbemi, Magbemiti, to name a few of
his companions, but was also unsuccessful so he returned back home. The third Irunmole sent was
Orunmila. Before leaving on the journey Orunmila met with "Agba

Dudu

Ori

Imo"

(The

Babalawos in Heaven) and found out exactly what he would need to make the earth habitable.
Orunmila was succesful in making the earth habitable. He planted many herbs first and then

the

animals came next. After the earth was made habitable, the first set of beings was sent to the planet,
which were called Eniyan. These beings at first lived in harmony with everything on earth but with
time gained super natural powers and began destroying what was created on this planet and on
others. Olodumare then ordered the waters to rise up on the planet and killed most of the Eniyan.
Some of the Eniyan however survived and would later be the ones who would give the witches
their power. Entering the fourth stage the world was filled with water. Olodumare then sent Obatala a
second time in order to re-habitate the planet. Olodumare favored Obatala but once again Obatala
was unable to complete the task. Obatala failed and had to return home. After Obatala, Olodumare
then sent "Olofin Otete" another name for Oduduwa. Before embarking on the journey to earth,
Oduduwa consulted Ifa with Orunmila. Orunmila told him what he would exactly need to re-habitate
the earth and he was successful. The world began to solidify and the point at which the waters began
to recede was named Ile Ife. The plants, animals, insects, fish, etc were recreated and it is during this
stage that human beings were first created. It's also important to know that all human beings,

29

regardless of color, lived together in harmony at this time. The first race created was the Black
Race, then the Asian (Mongoloid) Race, then the Brown Race, and then the Whites. It is important to
note that we are still in this stage of existence. Ifa says that during this stage, human beings will try
to manipulate nature instead of working in harmony with it and that we would destroy the
environment. The fifth stage is yet to come and in this stage human beings will become more
intelligent and wise and will learn how to live in harmony with nature and each other. There will be a
major movement to go back to Traditionalism and living in harmony with Olodumare. (Transc C-1)

At this stage it should be evident that the Yoruba concept of creation, cosmos, divinity and
mankind both are sophisticated and elaborate and not lacking in any level, especially not
the metaphysical. In this story the creation was ascribed to a class of spirits called Irnmle
or ml, which is a reference to the forces of nature in their primordial manifestation. The
word it self means House of Light. These terms are used both as a designation for a given
class of spiritual beings in reference to the ray given off from stars, like ml rw,
meaning light of star, ml rn meaning light of sun and ml osupa meaning
light of moon. Actually, the stellar lore or the teachings of the rw is also found within
If divinatory systems and teachings and constitute a complex lore known as Gdd,
similar in its principles to classical astrology (This would in the western world indicate
astrology prior to the 1700 that rest on renaissance principles which is a cosmology that
have many features in common with what is expounded in If). The complexity of
Irnmle and other divine and spiritual beings will be further discussed in the section
dealing with rs. For now, it will be imperative to disclose more in depth how the world
of men and the world of the other-worldly are conceived and what relationship may be
found between them.

3:2

iy and run Placement in Time, Space and the Beyond.

Santos comments in her study that existence are running parallel in two planes: iy,
which is the world and run, which is the beyond (Santos 1975: 53). It is important to note
that she is using the term beyond (From the Portuguese alem) in order to denoted what
is usually translated into heaven. Santos points out that the run in question is a
supernatural space, the other world (ibid.), not a placement in physical space in terms of a

30

visible earth and a visible sky. Rather it is a concept of a metaphysical nature. The EarthHeaven distinction in a more materialistic form is usually named il (earth) and snm
(sky/heaven). This term denotes atmosphere and designate the realm of the atmosphere that
makes life on earth possible, what makes us breath and sustain life. When speaking of run
and the ar run, the inhabitants of run the reference is to supernatural beings, the
inhabitants of the beyond or the other-world. Actually iy and run are conjoined
words, interacting with each other. This interaction and natural state of being joined
together is disclosed in the mystery of Od, also known as Igbd or Igbaw, meaning
The Calabash of Existence (ibid.) as its most common translation. But the word Od also
refers to darkness (O d) or the Womb (od) as well and are sometimes translated to The
Womb of Creation (Fatumbi 1993). Both translations are meaningful and also demonstrate
the level of flexibility in the Yoruba language. There would be good reason to stay with the
idea of the rounded calabash in order to continue the various metaphors in this sections,
since the calabash will be of central importance in order to understand both creation,
consciousness and the nature of divine beings such as rs. Aiy designates the world
between the abode of God, ldmar and men, a common realm of interaction between
spirit and man. In this field we also find the principal se, a word that are used in a variety
of situations. This word signifies power, but a specific power of movement that carries
another power, the one of transformation (Aiydn, private conversation). All things has
its specific and particular se, in many ways similar to the idea contain in the form of
Aristotelian philosophy that can be activated by words of power, prayers and physical acts
of transformation as rituals and the more alchemical procedures of the herbalists. All things
have their own particular se from minerals to deities and this is also something men can
possess both in terms of secret knowledge and profession. A blacksmith has the se to forge
metal and the Babalwo has the se to look into the world of divine patterns and find
solutions to problems and discover peoples destiny. The se is kept by the deity s who
represents chance, change, opportunity and transformation and is seen as the needed
mechanism to ensure the dynamic interaction between all realms of existence as well as the
nucleolus between the world of men and the world of spirit.

31

The deity known as Od or Igbd is represented by a physical vessel that in one way or
the other are made up of two conjoining halves, this being a calabash severed in the middle
and then joined or a vessel with a lid that are placed on top of the vessel. In any case the
vessel contains secrets (awo) and after the two halves are conjoined the vessel are sealed
up, usually with tying up cloth around the vessel. Both the contents of the vessel, the rituals
for induction into this mystery and the vessel it self carries knowledge that speaks about the
relation between these two intersecting worlds as well as the principles of creation and how
the world here and the beyond is interacting, partly related to the narration from s
gnd quoted. The initiation to this deity and its mysteries should only be given to
Bblwos (male priests) in good standing or ynf (female priests) after menopause. A
ynf that are still in a condition where they can give birth to children or feed children
milk can not learn the secrets of Od. ynf ymss said about this restriction that
woman, when she looses her menstruation is no longer a woman, she is different,
something else. There are reasons to associate this transition from woman to other in
terms of the power referred to as j, which usually are translated into witch, which is
not that accurate as will be demonstrated in the chapter of the Cult of y M. Finally Od
also refers to the signs marked on the divination tray of the Babalwo when he is making
divinations, this will be explain in depth in its proper place, for now it will suffice to say
that these signs also called Od is also divine beings, that originated in the matrix of
existence beginning, as patterns or rays shining forth from Igbd. Bascom says in this
regard commenting on the process of If divination that: The complicated nature of this
process is shown by the fact that behind each of the sixteen nuts are sixteen subordinated
deities. Each such deity is termed as Odu i.e. a chief or head (Bascom 1969: 20). Often
one is faced with a problem of linguistics in studying Yoruba beliefs, as many terms and
principles carry dividing meaning when they get translated and also since words can be
both noun and verb alternating between the action, the result of the action and the one
performing the action. This linguistic complexity will be demonstrated through out in the
remainder f this dissertation and also in the discussion of Consciousness or Or, to follow
largely recapitulated on basis of oral teachings by Baba Aiydn.

32

3:3

Or Consciousness and Divinity

Or pl
Att nran
Att gbeni k`osa
K sosa ti dni gb
Lyn Or eni
Or, I hail you,
You who do not forget your devotees
Who bless devotees more quickly than other gods.
No god blesses a man
Without the consent of his Or)
(From the ese If Ogbgnd, in Abimbola. 1976: 132)

Or is the most fundamental principle to gain insight into in order to understand If. The
word Or is often translated into the phrase To receive one self as the words composition
O signifies he or her and r denotes to receive. It can also mean head or summit.
Again one is confronted with a way of using the words that indicate that the symbol and
what it symbolizes is one and the same and the meaning in turn depend on context. Or is
the physical head, its contents as well as the spiritual quality associated with the head, its
se. These qualities are first and foremost, consciousness. Without Or nothing can be
accomplished and no evolution can be done, no wisdom can be comprehended and nothing
be understood as stated in another ese If from Ogbgnd that says: Eni t gbn. Or l
n gbn (trans.: He who is wise. Is made wise by his Or (ibid.114).

Or is at the same time mans consciousness, his physical head and also mans most
important rs. Or can remind about the idea of mans Guardian Angel or Socratic
daimon as it is ones personal protective deity that oversee each individuals evolution and
assist him in his travel on earth and the return to run. Or is because of this considered to
be the most arcane and ancient of all the deities created in run and the most important of
all deities. Without consciousness there can be no perception. Or is further composed of
the following segments.
1. Or ode, which signifies the physical head.

33

2. Or in, which signifies the inner head, this means that we are speaking about all forms
of consciousness, perception and our experience of identity and selfhood. The Or in is
further segmented into two segments, Apr-in and Or peere. Apr-in refers to the seat
of ones inner consciousness. This aspect of the consciousness is responsible for cultivating
ones character, which is one of the most important tasks for our personal Or to perform,
namely to develop good character. Only by developing good character one can attract good
fortune to ones life. The development of good character is intimately connected to being
conscious. The teachings we find in the ese If from Od brtr serves as a reminder
about this, as here it speaks about the importance of being conscious about all good things
and all bad things that happens in life. That the bad things serves to harden ones integrity
and character and gives the lesson that life is indeed a challenge and it is the way we
conceive of these challenges that makes the difference between developing good character
and failing in this task. This idea is again related to another concept known as r okn,
which means the testimony of the heart. In If this signifies that ones has a good
consciousness which is indispensable for ones cultivation of good character. One can say
that this concept carries with it the key to unlock the condition of ones consciousness that
makes possible how to develop ones character. The other concept Or peere speaks about
the standards of Ods creation and speaks about the alignment or the particular se
inherited within all that is created. For instance, the element of water remains the same
element but takes on various forms depending on it being found within the clouds, within
ponds, under earth and within the creatures on the earth. This means that each and every
one is more prone to exhibit a specific elemental feature depending on their constitution,
creating diversity amongst all things created or variations within the sameness, if you
will. This concept is also related to the transmigration of souls and is as such the source for
divine afflatus, responsible for incarnating and setting limits to the various forms of
consciousness.

Incarnation, transmigration and such terms will naturally raise questions about death,
afterlife and the nature of the soul. In this regard If teaches that each soul was pre-existing
in run. It is a purely esoteric concept that speaks about the elevation of selfhood through
the successive visits to the earth. If retains the view that the invisible abode is our true

34

home. This process of constant purification or elevation is called pnr. This word denotes
the circle of incarnations (atunwa) and is related to the goal of mans incarnations ending in
peere, denoting perfection or rather an ongoing spiritual transformation until perfection.
This concept naturally touches the heart of If as it speaks about ones destiny and character.
A significant aspect of peere is its connection to destiny. With destiny or Ipin there are
two aspects of importance. The one called ynm, the aspects of ones destiny that is fixed
and unchangeable and the one called knlyan, which is the changeable factors, related to
development of good character and therefore to good fortune. Good character are brought
into development by demonstrating honesty, humbleness, generosity, honour, wisdom and
kindness, traits that are believed to evoke benevolence from the divine beings which in turn
lead one on the path of ones destiny. If states in numerous verses the importance of good
character as the source for all good things in life - especially wealth, prestige and
prosperity. It is usual to consider a person that has achieved a good character to be cool
minded and calm in the face of joy and sorrow alike, to be signified by moderation and w
pl or w rr that denotes a condition of joyful contentment. The Or as the seat for
character and guidance from the beyond, summarized in the development of ones self, is
only one of the factors under the domain of Or. In addition to this there are also three
centers located where spiritual congress or possession by spirit is made possible. These
centers are as follows;

Iwj Or refers to a powerful center within the brow, where the third eye is to be found.
This point is said to be the source for divine inspiration and also a center responsible for
developing ones character.

tr is the center found in the crown of the skull. In If this center is referred to as Lyly or lala and signifies a state where one is experiencing the source of creation. Ones
being merge outside the confinements of time and space and enter into communion with the
essence of origin. Its in this realm the wisdom of Od is retrieved and in turn made
manifest by the Babalawo. This center is activated more strongly as the Babalawo is
practicing the tradition and search to unveil destiny and secrets resting within the fabric of
creation. During divination the Aw activates this center and is said to return in some

35

degree to the time when rnml, the Prophet of If, walked the earth and thus se is
released. This se can also manifest in the form of vision and dreams as well as deep
insight in the complexity of situations, well aided by prayers, enchantments and mysteries
embedded in poetry. It is a condition or state beyond the intellectual and relativistic reality
as it is of a purely mystical nature.

pk signifies the point in the nape of the neck where mans older brain is to be found. This
point is connecting man not only to the variety of animal forms but here also rests the
natural powers of nature, those that are usually referred to as rs. The mystical vision can
also flow from this point, but will carry a different state of being as it operated on more
tangible forces that in the state of tr and is more easy to connect to than lala. This
center is also activated by prayers, songs, music and rhythm and facilitates possession by
divine beings that enter within the body and consciousness of the worshipper and take
control over the person and uses the person as a medium for interaction with the people.

This same complexity is found everywhere in the wisdom of If, denoting an understanding
of creation, life and death as being part of a greater order than the socially order structured
by manmade society. Society is merely just a reflex of a more extended and all embracing
order. Interestingly also Or is often represented by a closed calabash, signifying the unity
of the two intersecting realms into a beneficial completeness. If the calabash of existence or
the calabash of consciousness is broken rnml can solve the situation. As one ese If
says: If was going to mend the life of the king of If. As one mends a broken calabash.
(Abimbola 1997: 154)

36

3:4

rs ml, Ebora - Divine beings

won irnw irnmal oj ktn


At won bg male oj ks
The four hundred Irnmle from the right side
The two hundred Irnmle from the left side
(Santos 1975: 74 from the Od j Ogb)
rnmal and/or ml can be understood as the primordial beings released from the womb
of creation, each one with their designated powers. The right side, otun, represents the
physical strength of the male, and the left, osi, the concealed spiritual power of the female
(Joseph 2003: 20), but there is more to this. Santos says: the four hundred Irnmle from
the right side are the rs and the two hundred Irnmle from the left side is the Ebora.
The left side, the concealed powers are also related to the phenomena of Eniyn or Eleye,
referring to the powers of witchcraft and capable of assuming the form of birds whenever
they want to work against Mans interest. (Abimbola 1997: 152) The left side is also
reputed to be associated with ajogun, which are forces considered disruptive to mans
happiness. Ajogun are influences like: Ik (death), rn (disease), gb (infirmity) and
f (loss) (ibid.). The only being excepted from this distinction is s who came from
both sides. Santos makes a further distinction in separating the beings that came from the
right side to be under the dominion of Obtl and being the progenitor of a class of spirits
referred to as funfun or white, meaning that these spirits are calm, humid, observant, orderly
and thrives upon silence (Santos 1975: 76). The rs funfun is related to the trees,
signifying both a deep connection to the passage between the worlds as well as the realm of
spirits known as wn, which often are translated into names similar to fairies. Obtl is
the deity who created the human race and is as such the progenitor of the human race and
rs is considered to be spirits associated with the order of creation, as it is useful and
meaningful for human kind. As a consequence rs is manifesting in natural phenomena
and natural sites useful for mankind. They also take an interest in the social organization of
man as well as man and his development towards perfection. Ebora on the other hand is
according to Santos arriving from the left side and is headed by Oddw, the deity that
was assigned to create earth it self and is considered to be the progenitor of the Yoruba.
37

Oddw is in some areas of Yorubaland considered to be female, actually the same as


Od. This however depends on what district in Yorubaland one is considering and in the
scope of this thesis, Oddw is considered in the view of Il If where he is male and
different than Od. Still, she refers to Ebora as a class of spirits that begot female children
and was associated with violence and disorder and accordingly kept to means for
stabilizing this, whereupon she recounts an tn from the Od If telling how the Ebora
went to the four corners of the world to make sacrifice for the earths stability (ibid. 80). In
yet another version of this Od If it is said that there came 200 from the left side and 20
from the right side as an explanation on why there are so much misfortune in the world, it is
simply to keep the orderly balance in creation. One needs both fortune and misfortune in
order to sustain the cosmic order, but the good will always outnumber the bad, eve if it is
only by one. Irnmle is often seen as a class of spirits not necessarily involved with
human affairs and if they are, often they are considered to be disruptive to mankinds
happiness. These spirits however take a prominent place in the cult of If as will be
demonstrated in the chapters on wisdom and also on power. The Ebora is also involved in
human affairs and in this class we find also deities usually referred to as rs. Actually, it
seems that the epitaph is more referring to type of action performed by the deity than an
innate fixed quality. This means that a given spirit can be both rs and Ebora, given the
use of the beings se in a given context. This deserves a more close investigation.

The class of spirits referred to as rs is deities associated with natural phenomena and
sites in the nature, while Ebora is confined to the organization of mans social organization
and the equilibrium of the earth. rs are found to be manifest in natural phenomena, such
a lightening, thunder, wind or in the natural landscape it self, such as rivers, lakes,
mountains, forest groves, even resting within various stones and metals. But, as Peel points
out: natural is not quite the right word here, since what we are already talking about is
forces from out there (Peel 2000: 93). At the same time as natural substances have their
particular se they also have their celestial correspondence. For instance the deity Oy is
not only representing the wind in terms of allegory, but she is the wind. In the same way
the yang or laterite rock that is sacred to s at the same time is the symbol and what it
symbolizes. The physical objects have their particular se but the rs is the forces that

38

create movement in this se. The movement is created by musical harmony by means of
music, rhythm and song or by the power of the word as in the various forms of prayer and
ritual action in the form of eb or sacrifice. This is made possible just because the close
proximity between il, aiy and run that are conceived as being in constant interaction
with each other. It is not uncommon to be given purely materialistic answers when one ask
what rs is, as also Peel experienced (ibid). This suggests that for a Yoruba man the
physical vessel of representation and the force that animates or work through this vessel is
one and the same. A similar understanding of the use of words can be seen in the use of the
word awo. Awo means secret but it refer at the same time to a mystery in the sense of
something concealed or hidden as well as being a term used to denote the Babalawo. In
other words, both the secrets of a given cult as well as the practitioner are awo. Maybe this
reflects a natural perception of a world, a creation that is interrelated. A perception quite
different than the common dualistic conception found in western cultures where one
segment into classes based upon sameness and otherness (Foucault 1966/70: xxi).

The beyond is not a realm where a distant god is looking down of creation, but the worlds
are constantly interacting, a phenomena demonstrated by the idea that all things on earth
has its double in run. This is seen as the origin of man and the place to where man will
return upon his death. run is considered the true home of man while aiy is considered as
a market or a journey, themes that will be dealt with in due course. To bring this complex
issue into an even more subtle avenue, the word aiy is not solely referring to the physical
earth either (for this the word il is used). Aiy is suggested to be the realm where the living
and the dead meet (Fatumbi Awo Yoruba. unpublished). This is also in agreement with
Santos when she comments on aiy and says: The rs regulate the relations between all
systems, the gn regulates the ethical or moral systems within the group or parts of it
(Santos. 1975: 104). She is here referring to the activities in aiy and present a model of
rulership of mans organization inspired both by divine beings (rs) as well as the dead
ones (gn).

The word rs seems to be compounded of Or meaning head and S, meaning to select or


choose (Mason 1992:4). There is also the theory that it is derived from r, which means to

39

see and S and then means One who sees the cult." (ibid.). There is also another story told
by Ellis, that are perhaps less sensible in etymology, but makes meaning by referring to the
closed calabash as an important symbol for unity and perfection as well as the joining
together of the realms of existence. The story tells about how the calabash of se broke
over the heaven and earth and released divine se to every corner of creation. In one
versions of the story Obtl is put to the task of joining these pieces together and in
another version story it speaks about the dispute between two brothers, Arin and Ogba over
a potsherd filled with se. Potsherd is called Is. The end of this story is that this Is
became an object of veneration and from this potsherd all powers that were born was called
r-s (Ellis 1894: x). Given the words uncertain origin there is even another theory about
what it means, this says that the word is a contraction of the word or and se. The
contraction of small sentences into words is a common practice amongst the Yoruba
speaking people and there is just as much reason to assume that such theory is correct as
any other. Returning to contractions again, the beings known as rs are referred to in the
research of Johnson by referring to the Yoruba proverb; Awon to o ri sa who concludes that
the term rs is the contraction of this sentence, which means Beings who were
successful in their collection. The collection referred to is the collection of se that
rnml and other beings were sent out in heaven and earth to search for, released by
Oldmar. It is probably from this tn (historical narrative mythical or factual) we find
the origin of the various rs taking their se from various natural phenomena and
presences. Santos also points out that: the fact that all the rs with their myths and
legends and parables that allows us to understand their significance constitute familiar
situations and the word rs can easily induce a comparison to the human race (Santos.
1975: 103).

The various rs can be seen as matriarchal or patriarchal founders of families or villages.


They can also be seen as protectors over various Craft guilds, such as Sng is the patron of
woodcarvers and gn is the patron of blacksmiths and artists. The question of which
rs is the most important one has to be an open ended one, because: If one asks the
worshippers of each of the other Yoruba major deities, one finds that each group claims that
its own god is the most important one (Abimbola. 1976: 8). Since it is the idea of Wisdom

40

and its cult that are focus for this dissertation it would be assumed that rnml is the
most important deity in his role as adviser, but his importance is only supreme given the
context of this dissertation. It however remain that the cult of If is a nucleolus that
connects all the cults together, all wisdom of all things are to be found here and nowhere
else. Given the unique role ascribed to rnml one must also acknowledge the grave
importance of s. This will be discussed in the next chapter, but before that a listing of the
most well-known and widespread rs cults would be useful to mention - this excepting
rnml and s that will be discussed below and Or that has already been discussed. If
is intimately connected to the cult of medicine represented by the rs snyn, the cult of
Death, represented by Egngn and the Cult of Power, represented by ym srng that
will be discussed in subsequent parts in the chapter to follow.

Oddw is the progenitor of the Yoruba and is considered the first King of If. He is also
the architect and molder to the earth that became the home for Imole Aiy, symbolized by
the mud. To claim decent from Oddw is accordingly important in order for the Ife king
to possess a valid decent and therefore the right to the throne. In some areas of Yorubaland,
Oddw is considered female and referred to as Oda, the female counterpart of Obtl,
symbolized by the lower part of the calabash of existence. This might be a linguistic
confusion of terms or simply a perception of origin that is meaningful and true in those
districts this concerns. There are also those that consider Oddw as a darker path of
Obtl, like what is common in Cuban If. Actually there is a dynamic conflict between
Oddw and Obtl due to the task of creating the earth that was lost to Oddw. The
story tells how Obtl was assigned the task of making the earth a suitable habitat for
living beings, but in the process he discovered alcohol and got lost, the task was then given
to Oddw. When Obtl resumed consciousness he saw that the earth was made into a
beautiful habitat still, humans had to be formed and Obtl was given this task. One
version of the story tells that it was in the shaping of men he discovered alcohol and
accordingly made cripples and disfigured people (Courlander 1996: 189-192). However
this created some sort of dynamic friction between the creator of earth and creator of man.
The worshippers of Oddw observe different taboos that the priests of Obtl and they
also have a special relationship to the priests of the little known deity Obameri, whose

41

priests must be called to supervise the burial of people who hang themselves (Bascom
1969b: 81) also Oddw never possess his worshippers and they are free to drink palm
wine, which is an absolute taboo for the priests of Obtl.

Obtl or rs Nla means Orisa of the White Cloth or can also mean King of
dreaming, given that al means dream which in turn is closely associated with
consciousness and the meeting point between run and aiy through the dream state.
Obtl was also ascribed the task of creating mankind and is therefore referred to as The
Owner of Heavens sculpture. As seen in the foregoing discussion of Oddw it is said
that disfigured people and albinos. Some informants say that Obtl did this deliberately
so his worship will never be forgotten (ibid.). The al or white cloth which he maybe is
named after probably refer to the white cloth that children and the dead are clothed in, thus
he is representing the totality of human life, from womb to grave, which is seen in the need
of calling the priest of Obtl to oversee the funeral if a woman should die during
pregnancy. However, there are often seen a dynamic conflict present between these two
deities. Obtl belong to a class of deities referred to as rs funfun, white deities that
have a different functions in the world of men than the class of spirits where Oddw
belongs given their respectively association with the principle of expansion and contraction.

gn is iron, maleness, the patriarch of hunters, where also deities like ss, Inl and
Loguned make part of in the form of Il Od, the society of hunters. gn is considered
the father of civilization and the other deities of Il Od are often considered to be stages in
mans social evolution or representing different forms of social organization. ss is
referred to as the spirit of the tracker and is associated with tools of sorcery, the silence and
magnificence of the woods, a focused deity that always hit what he is aiming at. Inl
represents the more mellow organizations of society while strains of humanity while
Loguned, being similar in many respects to ss also represents the simplicity of life
and a well oiled social machinery. In rituals of transitions gn is indispensable, as
demonstrated in studies like Herberts Iron, Gender and Power (1993) and the compilation
of texts, Africas gn edited by Sandra Barnes (1997). He is the patron of blacksmiths and
barbers and oversees the rites of circumcision and cicitrization (scarification). gn is

42

considered a deity who clears away obstacles, like a strong warrior cutting his way through
the woods with his machete. gn is also associated with justice and to swear or iron is a
serious undertaking. Actually in many instance a witness in the court of law can choose
between swearing on the bible, the Koran or iron. gn is the chief deity of the city Ilhesa,
but his cult is widespread everywhere and in particular Abeokuta where he is seen taking on
the identity of Oddw as the progenitor of men..

Sng is the son of Oranmiyan, a famous Yoruba hero that some myths says was the son of
gn, others that he was the son of Oddw (Courlander 1996:196). He is attributed to
the lines of kings both in Oyo as well as the second or some says fourth king of Ife. He is
associated with the thunder and it said to be an energetic deity, prone to fight and are easily
offended. The historical Sng, an early king of Oyo is said to possess the ability of letting
fire out of his mouth when he spoke, he is also famous for his mythical suicide said to be
motivated by a deep realization of hit rude, violent and brutal attitude towards his people.
In spite of this, as a warlord he was very successful and highly skilled in the art of
woodcarving. He is related to everything fiery and burning, like hot coals as well as being
the patron for woodcarvers.

Obalway holds a specific position being the god of infectious disease, like smallpox
and cholera. He is also known as Sopona. This deity is associated with the hot summer
winds that brings with them all kinds of infectious diseases that thrive upon hot climate. He
is said to be the king of the earth as is seen in his name Oba king and aye and
alternate writing of aiy the realm of living men and is said to live in the sub terrestrial
planes, this being the cause why he is an ebora, the relation with the stability of the earth
(Santos 1975:x). He is said to reside in the termite hill and his vessels that are used as
receptors for the powers of this deity are often shaped like the termite hill, ants, termites
and mosquitoes are considered to be his messengers. This deity represent the natural
regulation of life on earth and is a deity that commands great respect. He is sometimes
associated with healing and wealth, but these functions are not widely associated with
Obalway, in the foreground is found his misanthropic manifestation and his concern with

43

the stability of aiy, not the organized life of men, unless by regulation of mans order by
the use of disease.

The female deities is associated with rivers, but the mighty rivers that run through Nigeria,
like gn river are enormous, in some places it is difficult to look from one edge to the
other and one is taken back by the proportions of such river. It is from such monumental
collections of water the female deities are seen to have risen from. They are many, but the
principal ones are: Oya Osn and Yemoj. These deities are the most well known ones and
is also intimately related to the principle of healing and the powers of the water and the
female principle as will be seen in the discussion to come about the cult of ym and
another cult known as Gld in many parts of Yorubaland.

Oya is the deity of the Niger River in Nigeria and she is symbolized by polished stone celts
from the rivers that have smooth edges. She is said to be both the queen of the cemetery as
well as residing in the wind and the lightening. She also has a deep connection to the cult of
Egngn, being considered the mother of this deity. Mason says: Oya is the air which
sustains life on earthShe is symbolized by the lungs, and is the carrier of musicShe is
also associated with the bellows, sailboats, windmills, weathervanes, vacuum cleaners,
kites, balloons, gliders and propellered airplanes. (Mason 1985a: 95). She is also
understood to be Sngs wife, a perfect couple, he the thunder and she the lightning.

sn is the deity of the sn River and her main center of worship is situated in sogbo.
Her importance is great as she is given the title of ylde, which is a title of dignity and
supremacy. Mason gives the following commentaries on her sacred tools: the brass fan
(abb), which is the symbol of supplication and reflection; the brass needle (abr) which
binds the fabric of society; and the brass bells (agogo ide) for summoning the rs. As a
flower she is represented by the sunflower (ibid.99). She is associated with beauty and
elegance, the patron of tailors and of dyers. She is further associated with crocodiles and
the bloodstream and is seen as the apetebi of rnml, meaning wife of rnml She is
also seen as the patroness of the oracle called merindinlogun, that uses sixteen cowrie shell
for divination that is an oracle used to communicate with rs and in spite of using Od

44

and ese (verses) are different than If, especially considering the source of answers given
through the oracle.

Yemoj is also a river deity, associated with the gn River and her main center of worship
is found in Abeokuta. She is said to preside over all streams of water in the world and one
story tells how she also became the Queen of the Ocean due to being received with
ingratitude by people leading to her turning away from humankind and go to live with
Olkn, the Lord of the Ocean who made her his queen and from where her name Ye mo
ej came from, which means mother of fishes (Olayinka, private conversation). She is
associated with fertility and protection, the metal silver and the energies of the moon. She is
also the patron of the Gld society, which will be more closely discussed in the chapter of
ym. Gld society is a society celebrating both the fertile powers of women as well as
the concealed powers of women in the form of witchcraft, this leads to Yemoj in some
districts are considered to be the greatest witch of all (Mason. 1985a: 87). Furthermore
Yemoj is seen as the point of evolution when creatures of the sea started to walk on land
and is considered to be a sweet and caring deity, but also unpredictable, moody and
dangerous. The peacock is sacred to her as it is to sn as is the vulture, while the Ibis and
the seagull is seen as her sacred birds, she is often depicted as a mermaid, which is also the
case of sn in some cases.

These are some of the more well known rss, which all of them ties in with If by being
represented in the Od If, the wisdom at the disposal of rnml. tns (historical
legends and narratives) and various ese If (sacred verses) tells of the work of the rs in
the world and how these particular energies has been introduced in good ways and bad
ways. If ties in the knowledge and wisdom of nature with the more concealed domains as
well as the purely metaphysical realms into a practical and celestial philosophy used in
order to aid individuals and society, by its connection to wisdom handed down through
ages, understanding of the ways of nature and its powers and the affinity with medicine,
death and power.

45

Chapter 4

Order, Wisdom and Death

4:1 The Yoruba World View

The complexity of religious belief and cosmology as well as the historical changes present
the ethnographer with many challenges and a need to understand many other aspects of the
Yoruba than only the cult-related beliefs and practices. As demonstrated so far If is found
in a culture that has been subject to changes so grave that the culture is still in the making.
This is mirrored within a dynamic flux between spirituality and society, where all is
interrelated, this being the social order and the cosmic harmony, the history of the people
factual and mythical in its way of providing practical guidance and insight or
metaphysical wisdom. This is found within an elegant and intricate cosmology where Aiy
connects everything together in a universe filled with se that by wisdom and insight can be
used in order to bring good fortune to man, so man can perform those actions that fulfill his
or her destiny. It is on earth that merit is collected and good fortune found. The world and
the beyond interact all the time and all things on earth mirrors the principles found in the
beyond. The existence on earth is important and the link between run and il namely
aiy is mediated through the rs. The one who mediates between the spiritual realm and
the world of men is the priest or priestess of rnml during the manipulation of the
oracle referred to as If. The priests of If are called Babalawo from Baba nlawo meaning
father who have the secret. The secret disclosed is related to ipin (destiny) and is
accordingly the secrets of happiness and contentment. These secrets are disclosed in myths
and stories, prayers and songs. And also in the realm of herbs and powers that makes the
Babalawo into a representative of the prophet and sage rnml on earth that through
mediating between, heaven and earth, death and natural sprits do healing by herbs and
prayer and disclose the means for obtaining lfi and understand what type of se that
need to be moved or manipulated in order to help those that are not in a state of well being.
In order to aid him in this work he uses a system of divination called If. By manipulating
this oracle the Babalawo will produce a given sign made up of eight markings in the form
of double or single lines. This sign comes with advises and procedures in order to solve the
situation in question. The advises and solutions are found in songs, incantations, myths and

46

moral stories that speaks of mens action, gods interventions and the wisdom of rnmls
priests to solve the difficulties of men. This corpus is referred to as If or Od If
suggesting Wisdom from the Womb in a reference to the origin of all things. If is also
used to denote rnml him self. Again one sees the usual way of words where the act and
the person performing the act are denoted by the same word.

In this image there are many classes of spirit, that possess particular se that can be used in
order to alter undesired conditions of life into desired ones. The most frequent sources for
appeal in turning the bad into good seem to be related to the influence of j, the witches,
the dead (Eegun, Egngn) and Or. This would indicate that one need to have a peace of
mind in order to have a good flow in ones life. The dead are considered as advisers for the
living and neglect of this realm will in turn affect the persons Or and one start to make bad
or less good decisions. The proverb: We are where we are today because we stand on the
shoulders of those who come before us is a reminder about the importance of ancestral
awareness and reverence Fatumbi 1994: 17). The third factor is related to the invisible and
supernatural powers in the world, known as os or j. Again it is worthy to mention that
these words both denotes the person as well as the act the person is doing and also the type
of force activated. A Babalawo and priest of the cult of Egngn by the name Agbomola
once told that the se of the Babalawo came from os or j and Egngn and explained
this with the Egngns association with the sub terrestrial planes and the association of j
in particular with eleye, birds (private conversation). The Babalawo gains his se from
these two poles (heaven and the sub-terrestrial) and in the space between he can reach out
to the realm of spiritual beings or to the herbs of the earth.

The Yoruba world-view is understood on basis of in particular two principles, se and


lfi. The term lfi signifies the desired outcome of life and is perhaps better
understood as a state of contentment and satisfaction. Peel notes that lfi is: usually
translated peace but which has a much broader connotation, to embrace health, success,
and prosperity (Peel. 2000: 92). lfi reflects all possible conditions and situations that
make one experience life on earth in a good way and can include concepts such as physical
gifts, like money and children, to peace of mind and honour. lfi is made possible by the

47

movement of se. This word is in common Yoruba translated to mean things like
command or directive (Fakinlede 2003:501). It is also interesting to note that the same
word in combination with in (fire) into se in means flame and also the similarity with
the word se, meaning menstruation (ibid.). In Yoruba prayers one meet often the word se
in the end of the prayers and it is often translated into So mote it be or similar variants.
This is just one effect of the domain of se. se is the force that pulsates in the totality of
cosmos, in the entire world, the force that causes movement, that sustains and that
transforms. It is perhaps possible to understand se to be similar in type as the Azoth of the
Alchemists or the Eros of the Neo-Platonists, a subtle divine force that perforate everything
in both this world and the invisible realm. Speaking of se one need also to speak about
s and the cult of If.

4:2

If The Cult of Wisdom

Oro s to to to akoni
s ori mi ma je nko o
s ohun nima wa kiri
s ma se me o
The Word of The Divine Messenger is always respected
The Divine Messenger guides my head on the path of transformation
The Divine Messenger has the voice that roams the universe
Divine Messenger do not confuse me
(Yoruba text and translation by Falokun Fatumbi 1992b: 18)
s is probably the most complex and mysterious of deities and the loyal companion of
rnml. He is at the same time the youngest and the oldest, he deliberately play upon
gender roles and attack fiercely any attempt of setting down dogmas. The missionaries
and later Samuel Johnson, saw in this being the image of the devil and he became also
associated with misfortune and all kinds of evil, but on Christian premises. s is a
trickster, but this mischief is rather an effect of s and his presence being the power of
chance, movement and transformation as Chumbley suggested in his dissertation Sacred
Mischief, thus the interpretations of s in the image of devils and demons might suggest

48

that the chances has passed by and opportunities missed. In the ork (prayer/praise poem)
quoted in the beginning of this section the areas of influence of s are stated clearly. It is
transformation. It is also apparent that this authority is quite absolute and that his domain is
everywhere, as his voice roams through the universe. It is interesting to not the last
sentence where one prays that s should not confuse the worshipper. This is related to
chance and fortune where the missing out of ones opportunities or making the wrong
choices leads to misfortune and the experience of life as less good. One important symbol,
or item sacred to s, is a conical seashell known as kt. This shell, with its spiral shape
symbolizes transformation in time and therefore transformation in the life of humans. As
Santos concludes in this case: The kt symbolizes a process of growthwith its limits
opening up to infinity s is THE multiplication of infinity (Santos. 1975: 133). She
elaborated further on this and says: in the myths of the birth of the cosmic elements, s is
the result of the interaction between water + earth, the masculine element + the feminine
element, this same principle underlies the story where s is the child of rnml and
Ybir, the white and the red (ibid. 138). Ybir is translated into being a contraction of a
sentence, which meaning is a reference to Ybir being the mother of all kinds of children.

The birth of s and how he came to preside over this specific se is told about in and tn
in the Od If setr where it is explained the type of se many divine beings has and
what purpose they serve. It is worthy to mention that it all starts with the primordial beings,
Irnmle, goes to a Babalawo and ask for a consultation before they descend to aiy.
Instead of reproducing the 525 lines in the tn in question the summary and conclusions
given by Santos will have to suffice, she summarize the contents of this tn in the
following way:

se-tw is a direct reference to s, symbolized by one of his most important aspects, as the one
who transports the offerings, jise-ebo, made evident by his character as s Elebo, whos domain is
to control and regulate the ebo or ritual offering. s is also called Elr, Lord of er, carrier of
ritual. se-tw reproduces the model of all myths speaking of the birth of s and the result of the
interaction between couples: born by the womb and by the se of sun Olori y-m Aj, the
supreme feminine power and the se of the sixteen Irnmal gb Od from the side of masculinity.
Like in all other previous myths a harmonious relationship between the masculine and the feminine

49

is reestablished and made fertile, made able to give birth and enabled to descend. On two accounts
se-tuwa reestablish this relation:
1) By the fact of being generated and born as a male child he reestablishes the harmonious
relationship between the y-mi and the sixteen rs-gb saving the earth from chaos and its
annihilation.
2) Being the only entity who can open the gates to run, whereupon the relationship run-iy stayed
dry in tremor that almost destroyed the earth, he was the only one that could transport and make the
ebo acceptable, and consequently bring the rain in order to fertilize the earth, thus reestablishing at
the same time a harmonious and dynamic relationship of run-iy. (Santos. 1975; 161)

By this role, s is present in all activities that contains movement and transformation both
in the beyond and on earth or as the same tn says: every thing, every being could not be
without its own s in its constitution, it could not exist, neither be aware of its existence
(ibid. 181). s and rnml have a deep bond facilitated by their common position as
intermediaries. While s mediates the path of sacrifice, rnml mediates the path of
solution and accordingly declares what sacrifice should be given in order to solve
situations, as Abimbola says: If a community is to make sacrifice to one of its gods, it can
only know this by consulting If. So that in this way, If is the only active mouthpiece of
Yoruba traditional religion taken as a whole (Abimbola. 1976: 9). So, rnml declares
what s will bring in terms of offerings. Since rnml is the one who know all things,
he naturally enjoys a high position amongst the Yoruba deities. Nothing can be known and
nothing can be done without the intervention of these two deities. The myths about If are
many and Abimbola present some of the more famous ones (ibid.).

1. If came from run and together with the other major deities he settled in If. The
purpose o the decent was to establish order in aiy. rnml was said to be renowned by
his great wisdom and settled in a city outside If called k gt (Igeti Hill) and then
moved to Ad kt where he lived most of his life. While living in If, he gave birth to
eight children, all of them princes that took possession of various districts in western
Africa. He thought his sons as well as eight other persons the art of If divination. One day
a student insulted him and rnml returned to run. The sons and students went to run
as well and searched for rnml, trying to persuade him to come back. But he refused.

50

Instead he gave them the authority to use the sixteen ikin (pal nuts) so they could engage
them selves in divination them selves.

2. Another story is quoted from Johnsons The History of the Yoruba where he says that the
If cult came to the Yorubas from the Nupe by means of a blind sage by the name Setilu,
His expertise made the Muslims living in the area jealous and Setilu went away and found
his place to present day Benin and then to If. This myth also says that the progenitor of the
Yorubas, Oddw sought out Setilu and thus introduced If amongst his people.

3. Yet another myth says that rnml was born at If and was a skillful diviner who
became a king. He was considered to be a great prophet and sage and many people came to
study with him. Of all these people only sixteen were chosen, one for each sign in the
oracular system of If.

4. Another myth says that rnml came from the land of the Muslims and suggest that he
was a Arabic mystic with great insight into the divinatory art al raml also known as sand
cutting as it is practiced amongst some Muslim sages. The similarities between these two
oracles are many and interesting. Burton had noted similarities between the Dahomean Fa
and the geomancy of the Greeks, much cultivated by the Arabs under the name Al-Raml,
The sand, because the figures were cast upon desert floor (Bascom. 1969a:8). This way
of divination is referred to as the art of sand-cutting (iyanrin tite) practiced amongst the
alufa, Muslim diviners and accordingly distinguished from If at some level (ibid.).
Bascom concludes that the differences are far more poignant than the similarities, which in
turn suggest the possibility for different origins of If than being derived from Al-Raml or
other non-African origins, in spite of sharing the geomantic orientation. Accordingly this
theory is perhaps the less convincing one and might suggest confusion with Oddw, who
is by some has suggested as coming from Mecca, which perhaps is a confounding of the
myth of Setilu

The various myths should perhaps not be seen as contradictory stories, but rather serve as a
reminder of the inclusive dynamic that is inherited in If and made evident by the attitude

51

and way of approaching the world amongst many Babalawos. In the case of Baba
iydn, the most markedly feature with rnml in his vision is that rnml is a pactmaker. He never fights, instead he search for solutions and answers to understand the
nature of the conflict in order to make a pact.

In order to perform If divination one need the following tools: a divining tray (opon if) a
divining bowl (opon igede), ikin (palm nuts) or pl (divining chain), divining bell or
tapper (iro if), divining dust (iyerosun) and a cow tail switch (irukere) and ibo (objects use
in order to determine the orientation of the divination in terms of good fortune or bad
fortune)

The If divination it self is done by the manipulation of palm nuts (ikin) or a chain stringed
with eight pl seeds (from the tree Schrebera golungensis), also called pl. By using
one of these two methods a sign is produced, called Od. This sign consist of eight marks.
There are sixteen principal Ods and in addition there are 240 omo-od by multiplication
16x16, meaning 256 different combinations in all. To each of these combinations there are
specific myths, principle, prayers, incantations and eb or sacrificial rites and procedures to
be found. The principal element pertaining to each sign is ese If or If verses that usually
narrates a situation in the past that were brought into existence by the configuration
presented by the signs. This means that there are 256 main patterns of being, each and
everyone with its variations as is evident by the vast amount of ese If and tn related to
each of the 256 combinations. In addition to this the diviner also uses ibo, which is small
items such as bones, potsherds, shells and seeds in order to define the orientation of the
reading, mainly if it falls in a part of fortune that is considered good or if something hinders
the good fortune to manifest. Further the source of fortune or affliction is also divined thus
creating a seemingly infinity array of possibilities. This suggest that the mere memorization
of ese If is not enough, the diviner is also in need of a specific se that are gathered and
seated in the Babalawo during his tef or initiation into the Awo If. After receiving the
needed se, the Babalawo will continue to study according to the advise in one ese If that
says: w t nif o, K o tnra e t meaning We have initiated you into the secrets of
If. You should re-initiate yourself.(ibid.24).

52

Divination with pl is the most used tool for divination since it reveals the sign in
question with one throw, while manipulation with the ikin takes more time and also
involves that the signs are marked on the divination tray (opon If) that are covered with
the yellow dust known as iyerosun which is gathered from a tree (Baphia nititda). The
diviner will then place all the sixteen nuts in his left hand and try to grab as many as
possible with the right. Only one or two nuts will remain in the hand and a single or double
line are marked on the try according to the number of nuts. If one nut remains in the hand a
double line is marked, if two nuts remain in the hand a single line is marked. The two other
instruments used in divination are the iro if and the mouth. The iro if is simple
instrument reminiscent to a bell that are held in the hand and used for purposes of
invocation. The iro if is also used to tap on the tray it self. Both forms are used in order to
draw the attention of spirit and also awaken the lala of the diviners Or. To this purpose
the various forms of enchantment are used, such as ork (evocations/prayers), orin (song),
dr (prayers), b (prayers) and of (special enchantments used to accelerate the se)
(Salami 1999: 38). The power of the word is central to the mystery of If and the tongue is
considered to be of grave importance given the power of the word to make or break, to
bring cures or blessings. The combination of spiritual connection and many years of
practical study and memorization of endless ese If constitute the foundation of If
divination.

As mentioned the corpus of d found in If consist of sixteen main signs, called Mji or
pairs. It is these sixteen that are combined with each other in order to produce the full range
of 256 combinations. These sixteen principal ds and their properties are as follows:

1. ji Ogb is considered the most important of the ds being associated with light and
plenty and is intimately linked with destiny. Potentially this sign speaks about man and
his connection with destiny. It is a d sacred to Obtl and represents the principle of
expansion pure light and enlightenment. .
2. yk Mji is the d that brought darkness and night into creation. Death came to earth
in this sign, as did all tings concealed and hidden. It is the principle of contraction.

53

3. wr Mji is a sign that speaks about difficulties, especially related to enemies and envy
and is accordingly a sign that speaks about personal transformation and the challenges man
faces in his growth
4. d Mji is a sign related to fertility and rebirth represented by the vagina. It also speaks
about difficulties, especially in terms of unsolved issues in the past
5. rosn Mji is a sign that speaks about traps and a need to listen to advise. It warns
against arrogance and gives advices on how to assume ones destined goals.
6. wnrin Mji is a sign related to the mystery between aiy and run, it is related to the
mystery of s and speaks about victory over adversity and also it is a sign speaking of
people being untrue and present false gossip. In a way it is a sign speaking about sudden
transformation that can appear chaotic in its form. It is a d sacred to s and Sng
7. br Mji speaks about poverty and difficulties, but also the end of these things as one
is advised to execute understanding in ones dealing with other people and avoid forcing
ones will upon improper issues.
8. knrn Mji is a sign that speaks about good fortune and enemies. Fatumbi
comments that this sign speaks about the alignment between the heart and the head or the
thoughts and emotions (Fatumbi 2001:28)
9. gnd Mji is a sign sacred to gn and speaks about the works of the male element in
the world, also war and victory as well as the idea of clearing a path (ibid.).
10. s Mji is a sign sacred to the j and the female powers. It also speaks of many
riches, fertility as well as the decent of the spiritual beings to aiy. It is a sign speaking
about chaotic forces entering from the beyond, rather than from within as in the case of
wnrin Mji
11. k Mji is a sign that speaks about sickness and hidden enemies and it speaks about
ones latent or achieved personal powers that can be used for ones growth or destruction.
12. trpn Mji is a sign speaking of the birth of the cult of Egngn, about witchcraft
and the occult in the world. It is also a sign speaking about the reasons for weak health and
diseases.
13. tr Meji is an important sign for If and very sacred to s since this d is related
to the tongue, the vehicle of se. It is a d denoting victory over adversity but also

54

speaks about deserters and lies. It is also related to a sense of purpose in the world, mystic
vision (ibid.)
14. ret Meji is a sign sacred to Obalway, the god of disease. It is a sign where
stubbornness is born, but also the ability of create good fortune (ibid.)
15. s Mji Even speaking about all kinds of fragility in the world it is a sign that speaks
about good fortune and victory. It is a sign related to the erotic and abundance (ibid.)
16. fn Mji is a sign denoting greatness and arrogance and related to supernatural
manifestations. It is also a sign sacred to Oddw. In this d the fundamental principles
of aiy is born, while in Ogb, mankind is born. However, these two ds are in a special
relationship of a mystical nature and the contents of the first and the last chapter of the d
If is meeting each other, almost like the Oroborus biting its own tale to complete the circle
of eternity.
17. str is the d that gave birth to s and is accordingly said to be the d that
causes the sixteen principal ds to interact and produce the remaining 239 omo-d.
Emphasizing the importance of his function in If

These signs, Ods are considered to be deities them selves as they arise from the matrix of
the source of creation as Bascom remarks (1969a: 24). This means that the Od marked by
the Babalawo is not only representing a given pattern, but also manifests a given cosmic
energy that mirror the situation in question.

In all stages s are involved as both the element that simultaneously solidify and
transforms the se. s is found in the lives of men when they enter na pade, meaning
juncture in the road (Fatumbi. 1992b: 6). Western man will associate this with a situation
occurring in life where a choice has to be made. If says that there are only two kinds of
choices, those that are in tune with ynm, meaning destiny, and choices that are not. s
is this juncture in the road and If possess the answer. This is in fact one of the key features
of tef, to gain insight into ones ipin or ynm. Mans destiny is related to the experience
of fullness in life, to be blessed by the gods, that life is moving smoothly. But at the same
time life gives what ji Ogb represents plenty, of both good and bad. As the
manifestation of choice s can be considered as mans foremost teacher on the path

55

towards his destiny. He is choice it self, neither good, neither bad and therefore the very
power of transformation, either a good one where man is making decisions that are bringing
good fortune or bad ones that brings lessons that results in a need for growth and
understanding. s is the one who carries the se and as such his position amongst men are
mirrored in the cosmic. Fatumbi says:
If teaches that the visible universe is generated by two dynamic forces; one is the force of inlo,
meaning expansion and the other is the force of isoki, meaning contraction. The first
manifestation of these forces is through imo, meaning light and through aimoy, meaning
darkness. In If myth, expansion and light are identified with Male Spirits called Orsko.
Contraction and darkness are identified with Female Spirits called Ors bo. Neither
manifestation of ase is considered superior to the other and both are viewed as essential elements
in the overall balance of nature. In If cosmology both imo and aimoy arise from the matrix of the
invisible universe called Imole, meaning The House of Light. Within the House of Light there is
an invisible substance that transforms spiritual potential into physical reality. The invisible

substance

that moves between these two dimensions is called ase and it is s who is given the task

of

guiding

the distribution of ase throughout Creation. (Fatumbi. 1992: 8)

It is from this matrix that the d If are born and naturally s is the mediator between
these cosmic patterns that are born or manifested during If divination. But If also
mediates between the forces from beyond, what is commonly (and misleading) referred to
as witches, the realm of death as well as the powers manifested in nature, such as herbs.
It is accordingly necessary to look at these realms of power, death and medicine and also
what Od they are said to arise from.

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4:3

ym srng The Cult of Power

Soso mule ni jennejenne


b o b loni o
b y mi pk na nknk e
y o olb a o je d
A secret pact with a wizard
Honor, honor today oooo
Honor to my mother, nknk e
Mother whose vagina causes fear to all
(Text and translation by Drewal & Drewal. 1983:42)

In connection to the cult of ym srng the epitaph j, is often used. This word is
almost without exception translated into witch. This seems to be incorrect or at least it is
just a part of the secret. This se related to the powers of j, is in its most strict sense a
reference to the Spirit of Birds that are used in the Society of Powerful Women (the
yms). It is also the same power that is used to consecrate the crown given to the kings.
There however seem to be some differences between the domestic cultivation of ym
srng and her cultivation in the Gelede Society with their masquerades and public
spectacles that serve similar functions as the Egngn masquerade. In the next chapter the
public format will be explored, at this stage the domestic forms of worship will de
discussed. The reactions the word j evokes amongst people are quite varied. From
uttering guttural sounds in and indication of fear, to referring to this power as a vampire
and avoid it and to understand this power as tremendous and neither good or bad, but filled
to the brim of the calabash with power that can be used in works of justice and vengeance
alike. It seems that all three views carry kernels of truth.

ym is said to be seated upon d, that she is crowning the feminine powers or that
d is a ym. She is also referred to as ym eleye The Owner of the birds and y
gb The elderly woman is respectable and ym srng which means My mother
the Powerful Sorceress or Witch. This raises some controversial issues, since witchcraft is

57

both associated with anti-social acts as well as a natural power accessible for women
members of societies like egb eleye and egb ml where the secrets of manipulating
supernatural powers are preserved. Anti social witchcraft is sad to stem from j burk,
but there are also another type of witch referred to as j rere. The difference is one of
character. The word burk refers to everything that is bad, broken and corrupted. For
instance the term or burk signifies a person incapable to make choices that are good for
him or her self and that are considered bothersome and destructive for them selves and
society. (footnote: Actually, there are many features in common with Ginzburgs recounting
of the good and the bad witches in various parts of Europe in the late medieval ages and up
through the modern age.)
Rere on the other hand also used interchangeably with w pl refers to a state of
contentment and happiness, where ones character is good and one is a good and benevolent
addition to society and one self. There is one interesting comment Lawal is making in this
regard referring to women being less physical strong was blessed by nature with cunning
(ogbn ay). Lawal says that ogbn ay also means deceit or slyness, the cunning of
women is expressed in the saying:
ogbn ay, to obnrin ni (Worldly wisdom belongs to women). In general ogbn means wisdom,
which may be positive (ogbn rere) or negative (ogbn burk). Even Ifogbontayse (using
wisdom to remake/improve the world) sometimes entails diplomacy or cunning if deemed necessary
for individual or corporate survival, or to ensure peaceful coexistenceIt is interesting to note that
Or, the ancestral spirit used in executing women convicted of witchcraft, is the executive branch of
the gbni (literally gbni refers to a gentleman, an elderly and mature wise person), one of the
most powerful religious and political institutions in Yorubaland. Yet the gbni derives its divine
authority from Il, the earth goddess whose propitiation is crucial to peace, happiness, social
stability, and human survival. (Lawal 1996: 34)

A recurring theme both in books and when speaking with Babalawos and Iyanifas is the
constant reference to iwa rere, iwa pele or ori rere. All of these terms are referring to good
character, a person that is calm, honest and truthful. Good character is considered to draw
luck, meaning good fortune to the one who display good character. w rere is considered a
life long task, there are always human traits that need to be developed and a good man or
woman can always be better.

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The d speaking specifically about ym are the following:

Ogbyn speaks about the temperament of ym, that she is always sin a state of range
and seek to cause disturbance but it also speaks about how rnmil managed to calm here
temperament and make her good disposed towards mankind. This is done by discovering
what items in the kingdom on mineral, vegetal and animal that are sacred to hear and bring
forth a peaceful state of this power, mediated by wisdom and understanding of her secrets
and he power.
Ogbs speaks about what kind of trees ym consider sacred and the d teaches that
there are seven trees that she dwells within. Tree of them serve good purposes and three of
them bad purposes, the seventh is neither good nor bad.
d Mj tells about how s gave the powers to the yms, upon agreeing to ways humans
could protect them selves against their malignant influences. This was done by asking
rnmil to interfere and divine what could be used for protection against their powers.
The j agreed to the following terms:
1. Not to eat a tortoise with its shell
2. Not eat a ram together with its horns
3. Not eat a porcupine with its spine.
4 Not eat birds along with its feathers.
Certainly, these prohibitions explain subtle secrets on many levels, where the deeper
meaning of the tortoise and its function and ritualistic use are considered as well as the
metaphysical level, as Lawal says: witchcraft is thought to operate at the metaphysical
level, it is also combated at that level. (Lawal: 12)
s Mj speaks about the birth of the powers of the j in aiy. Here it is spoken about
how three rs came to aiy, two male, Obtl and gn and one female, d.
Oldmar gave to the two male rs the power of sculpting and artistry and to gn the
power of metallic forging and dominion over iron. d then asked to Oldmar what se
she would be given. Oldmar pointed out the wonderful and great importance of
motherhood to d, that she was the sustainer of the world and gave her a calabash and

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inside this calabash was a bird. She declared that she would use this magnificent se to
fight those who disrespected her and to defend those who adored her. It is also spoken
about the decent of the female powers and how rnmil made a pact with the j and was
able to understand and therefore control these potentially disruptive powers with his
wisdom. Also this d speaks about how the clothes for the Cult of Egngn was given to
the society of men by Obtls intervention in establishing the cult of death was under the
presidency of men. It also speaks of the organization of the masquerade found in the society
of Gld,
rt Mj speaks about the secrets of d and the intimate link with the mysterious bird
Aragamago. In this d it is spoken about the decent of the ym to the aiy and how a
pact is made according to rnmil and his intervention The d further expands of the
taboos and observation of the physical dwelling of this spirit referred to as Igbd, what has
earlier been discussed in relation to existence it self. All Babalawos that has been initiated
to this spirit need to consider her as his wife.
rtogb speaks about how d became rnmils wife and also the taboos concerning
her when she has been received and is speaking about the need for a deep relationship
between ym and If.
rt wnrn speaks about how rnmil learned the secrets of ym d, which is
related to the principle of contraction and expansion in the creation.
syk speak about the procedures for animating the secrets of d and how this been
done make sure that one avoids being confused and instead are being subject to protection,
prosperity and good fortune. Further procedures for appeasing this power is also given.

Clearly, the ym represent great power, the power even to alter and disturb the natural
order. As in Ogbyn, when she says that: the Odundun leaf is whatever leaf I say is the
Odundun leaf (Prandi 2003: 252) It is a force present in the world that contributes to
movement and transformation, a power that lend it self to the building of w rere by being
disruptive but possible to calm. It also seems to be the main characteristics of ym that
she is connected to the power of women, often elderly women (but this probably because
they have developed ogbon and is able to use these powers more wise and more clever than
younger women). ym is associated with birds, both predators that fly by day and night,

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such as hawk and owl. As demonstrated in the stories from the various Od sacred to her,
especially rt Mj, rtogb and rt wnrn and syk she lives in dark places
and dark confinements.

Fld makes a distinction of j into three categories (Fld 1998: 514):


j dudu, or Black Witches that are considered harmful and brings discord and confusion,
death and barrenness. But they can be appeased
j pupa or Red Witches that are considered to be hot, violent and merciless (some also
says that these witches are ambivalent, that they are a middle-ground between the black and
the white witches)
j funfun or White Witches that are beneficial to society and instead of bringing havoc and
barrenness they seek to neutralize such conditions. However, it can also be suggested a
intimate connection to the realm of wn given the properties of the spirits designated as
funfun, suggesting that the effect of these powers are associated with the wind and are in a
way, quiet in their exercise, rather than good tempered.

The effects of witchcraft can be stopped, not by intervention by Ors, but by appeasing the
witches them selves, meaning feeding the witches in a procedure known as ps. On the
collective level these forces are propitiated by the Society of Gelede that brings potentially
disruptive forces into harmony with all things which is evident in the strong relation of this
society to the concept and idea of gelefun, where the female powers are used for healing
and restoring and maintaining health. These collective forms of ritual will de presented in
the next chapter where the masquerades of Gelede and Egngn and their function will be
discussed.

There is also another element that needs to be commented upon. That is the ancestral
element. ym is considered to be the ancestral progenitor of the female sex as Os is the
progenitor of the male sex. This would perhaps mean that while ym represent supreme
and transcendent womanhood, Os represent the supreme and transcendent maleness, also
because Os is said to take his se from the realm of s placing this deity in the realm of
transformation and change. Maybe one can understand that j and Os is the same

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essential power but taken into two different direction by the natural rhythm of creation and
there becomes something different altogether as crude and original maleness and crude
and original femaleness. One also see this in the reflection this have in cults, Os is deeply
related to the cult of Ors Oko (verger: 17). Ors Oko is the ors of the Farm and is said
to serve as a judge and middleman in cases of accusations of witchcraft. He is considered to
be a calm and tranquil force, just and wise with a deep knowledge about witchcraft and
sorcery. Maybe in Os is found the idealized male mirrored in the ways of Ors Oko? One
might see this by the birds sacred to ymi and Os as well. The birds of ym are
predators, while in the case of Os the vulture is sacred, a bird that do not pray on anything
than meat that is already dead. It is not a predator but a purifier. This can be one
explanation for the respective ancestral relationship related to these two deities and their
similarities and differences. It also harmonize with the Yoruba view of cosmos: as a
dynamic interplay of such opposites as heaven and earth, day and night, male and female,
physical and metaphysical, body and soul, inner and outer, hot and cold, hard and soft, left
and right, life and death, success and failure and so on. (Lawal. 1996: 22)

On can ask however why it is important to understand these powers, why they are so
integral to the work of If, why these disruptive forces are present in the world. The d
s Mj says: Ogbon kan nbe n kn omo s mrn kan nbe kkn omo wd kan
nn re Okan nin mi Okkn nkn ara wa Sef fn rnmil If nlo b j mul
Mrr Wn ni ntori knni n ntor k nkan un lgn ggg ni which means: The
hawk has one wisdom. The falcon possesses one knowledge. One in my mind. One in your
mind. One each in our minds. These were the declarations of If to rnml when going to
enter in to a covenant with the witches at Mrr. They asked him why he was doing this.
He said that it was for his life to be perfectly organized. (Fld. 1998: 710)

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4:4

snyn The Cult of Medicine

Sin Ewe, Sin Orisa


No Herb, no Orisa
Herbs and their properties are of crucial importance both in If and in the practice of
medicine. People well versed in the lore of plants and their use are usually Onsegn or
Ologn, both terms are names both of the practice it self and the person with this
particular knowledge. Also Babalwos are usually very knowledgeable about both the
property of herbs them selves and the various ofo (words of power or incantations), p
(curses) and p (prayer). As for p and p Buckley comments interestingly that both
these ways of charging a medicine is related to truth (t), not as stating the facts, but that
ones words has an positive or negative impact on the world and on ones environment
(Buckley 1997:141). Maybe this idea of truth can explain why the d, tr Mj is said
to carry the essence of sanyn and ym srng since this d is related to the use of
the tongue and where incantations are born. One proverb says that. s is the father of the
lie and tr is its mother. A lie, do not necessarily mean to not stating the fact, but that
ones words has a negative impact on the world, meaning that this proverb more speak about
the power of the word and the power over the word possessed by these two spirits. This
dual quality of the medicine is also noted by Awolalu who says: the mysterious power in a
medicine may be used for good or evil end (Awolalu1996:74). With herbs one can cure
illness or provoke illness, this seem to be related to the idea of all diseases naturally being
present in the body of man and that disease is seen as a either a symptom of excess or a
result of excess, usually by food, wine or sex. If calls for a lifestyle of moderation and this
is also a view held by the majority of the Onisegun (Buckley 1997: 53). Illness is
understood on premises of the threefold color scale, blackish, reddish and whitish as
encountered in the discussion about witches, so it is in medicine and thus ties in with
Yoruba metaphysics as related to the geocentric and holistic understanding of the world.
This is related to phenomena of the earth and the body simultaneously where blackish
refers to matters hidden, reddish to matters dangerous and white to matters fertile. This is

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seen both in the black fertile earth of il and the reddish earth covering it in seasons where
rain is absent the rain seen as the whitish that fertilizes or mingles with the redfish. In this
way, the cosmos with earth as its center is not much different than the fertilizing of an egg
in the mothers womb, where the whitish of the father (sperm) and reddish of the mother
(menstruation) are met and develop in the blackness of the womb, hidden from sight.
Buckley see on the background of this both illness and spirituality in terms of what is
hidden and what is revealed in relation to overflowing i.e. disease boiling up and out
of the body.

This important realm of knowledge is presided over by a force known as snyn. A spirit
that was said to have fallen down from run and upon hitting the ground was immediately
buried. He however resurrected again in the shape of a plant. There is also the story telling
how rnml bought snyn as a slave to help him on his farm. Coming to this farm he
was drawn to the woods where he met a ugly looking dwarf by the name rn. rn was
a spirit of the woods that gave to snyn his friendship and knowledge of herbs (Prandi.
2001:152). This tn suggest perhaps that this spirit was actually imported to the cult of If.
Mason says that: y benefited from the trans-Saharan trade during the period of the
Songhal ascendancy (in the 1500s), which at its height held both Nupe (Tp) and Borgu
(Ibrib) in its sway (Mason 1985: 94). This is interesting to note, since some of the orikis
to snyn is pronounced in a secret language. This secret language is similar to tp
dialect. This is also the case in Cuba, where they even refer to snyn as mandingo or
mande speaking. This would suggest that the idea of rnml as a pact maker is quite
important. rnml goes to the dwelling of the witches to make a pact with them and he
buys snyn as a slave ending up being his student. In Yorubaland the consensus seem to
be that snyn is from the city rw that are close to the border of present day Benin. The
word rw however means stars and can perhaps just as much be a reference to the myth
telling about how he fell from the stars and to the earth. Interestingly enough the alchemist
Paracelsus presented an axiom that is quite proper in this regard: to seek the star in every
plant, to seek the plant in every star (Paracelsus). This is of course an excursus, but an
interesting one given snyn and his features, habitations and foreign origin. He is r, a
stranger. Mason also points out that snyn was not one of the sixteen companions of

64

Oddw when they came to If. His outlandishness is further represented with his
habitation, the thickness of the woods where he is accompanied by strange creatures,
converse with plants and are in communion with spirits of the woods. His helpers are
rn, a disfigured gnome with the head and tail of a dog and j, which is the female
counterpart of rn. These two beings are reputed to abduct children into the forest and
challenge them, if they are considered fearless they will be trained in the lore of herbs and
medicine and send them back to their communities when their training is finished. There
are also other spirits close to snyn, like gn, the god of Iron, ss, the god of hunt
and Erinl, a spirit that is considered to be Obtls physician, but is also connected to
silent rivers and more mysterious forces of the woods. All these three spirits use the wood
and since snyn is the owner they need to be in a deep relationship and agreement with
him in order to use his kingdom. snyn also has strong ties with Sng, whom he gave
support in his warfare, both by making magic and making cures and healing illness.
snyn is a very complex figure, both by origin and function, Mason says that he;
embodies the idea of coming to grips with the evil side of existenceHe is the balanced
mind flying up and soaring over all adversity. He possesses the mind ever on guard against
mans inhumanity to man (ibid.98). The priests of snyn are usually referred to as
Olsnyn, literally meaning owner of the spirit of the forest. snyn is one of the most
important spirits of If, nothing can be done without the use of this spirit. The wooden tray
of divination, the yrsn used to mark the d in during the divination, the ikn used for
divination is everything extract from snyns realm. In rituals, every object that is about to
be made sacred need to be washed in herbs that are blessed by song and incantation. The
body of the one who will be initiated is also washed. Nothing is made sacred without the
intervention of herbs. Also snyn is related to the d of If where specific traits of
snyn are illustrated in various ways. It is interesting that the many itns of If often
portray the rs in situations that are embarrassing, when they are making wrong decisions
or is doing actions that are morally questionable. In the case of snyn a main feature is
this spirits tendency to arrogance and jealously guardianship of his secrets, his refusal to
share. This is perhaps because all rs represent currents of energy and its unfolding on
earth. In portraying the rs in situations that are everything but good If teaches how this
specific energetic current behaves in the world and accordingly how blessings and lessons

65

can be achieved. In the case of snyn, If warns against arrogance, that this do not bring
anything good with it, on the contrary, since your position is so important and supreme this
should inspire a spirit of kindness and awareness instead of jealous guardianship. This is a
part of the practical philosophy underlying the complexity of If.

The d important for snyn are the following:

Ogbs speaks about snyn interacting and making a pact with aggressive people on
earth in order to avoid the destruction of the earth
brd speaks about how snyns medicine saved a city from being taken as slaves.
brret speaks about snyns sense of justice. That truth will always come for a day.
knrn Mj speaks in general about suffering and afflictions and mirrors the difficulties
snyn had to face in order to grow.
knrntrpn is the sign where snyn is given the ase of herbs and its knowledge by
rnml and is recognized as a herbalist.
knrnfn speaks about snyns ability to heal both afflictions of the body as well as the
mind
gndarosn speaks about the cure of all afflictions and snyn prominent position in
this.
kd the story of burying the children.
trbr explains why snyn speaks with a very small soft and whistling voice, almost
like wind blowing in tiny metal rods, which is because he failed to observe a sacrifice
trgnd speaks about snyns power to make charms of protection and dispel
negativity and witchcraft.
ret Mj speaks about snyns temperament, which is one of stubbornness.
retogb speaks about pride and selfishness. It also speaks about how the goat tried to kill
snyn, but fate took another course and goat was made a prerequisite as an offering to
snyn.
retd is the d that speaks about the birth of snyn or how he came to the earth. It is
told that he fell from run and entered the earth (il) to grow up like a plant.

66

retwnrn speaks about the sacredness of turtles for snyn and the need for sacrificing
this animal to snyn.
syk speaks about how snyn told Obalway to make a sacrifice that made people
sick so he could gain profit on treating the sick
fn Mj speaks about snyn being rich of wisdom due to his prevailing through
sufferings.

Amongst the many tns in these d if one find stories telling about how snyn
managed to extract the secret name of a kings daughter that he would give in marriage to
the one who could discover her real name. snyn spoke with a beautiful bird and
charmed it to fly into the castle and play with the daughters of the king, thus he came to
know the true name of the princess and was given her in marriage. There is also the story
about how snyn jealously guards the secrets of herbs and refuses to give this away to
any other. In one story Obtl intervenes and demands that snyn give a few herbs to
each of the rs in other accounts of this myth it is said that Oy, the goddess of tempest
and lightening tried to persuade snyn to take her on as a student but snyn refused
whereupon Oy released a wind in the woods that blew away the herbs so that the various
rs could pick them. So, it come that some of the secret of the herbs also become a part of
the knowledge of many various rs. There are yet many other myths telling about the
struggle for power and acknowledgment instigated by snyn against rnml and how
he is repeatedly humbled in his arrogance.

While the ym is related to the invisible realms of supernatural existence and malefica
in the world, snyn is the deity presiding over a very visible realm, vegetation. As he is
the Lord of every plant and knows the secret contained in each and every one of them. The
knowledge of Ewe (herbs) and Onisegun (medicine) is another field of expertise amongst
Babalwos. Onisegun is also seen as being under the domain of snyn, and accordingly
he is often referred to as the doctor amongst the rs. This places snyn in another
interesting context in relation to the threefold segmentation of creation into run (the
heavenly realm), aiy (the world) and il (the earth). He fell from run and was buried
inside il in order to be a powerful spirit in aiy. This is quite different than most other

67

spirits, with exception of Egngn and Obalway that was said to enter within the earth
and make sacrifice to the four corners in order to bring stability to the creation. These three
spirits are all of them earthbound and all of them are deadly dangerous. Each of them seems
to be able to heal and kill with equal efficiency and has uniquely important functions in If
related to the dynamic interaction of the three spheres, so to speak, of existence.

4:5

Egngn The Cult of Death

Egngn is regarded as the collective spirits of the ancestors who occupy a space in
heaven, hence they are called Ar run (Dwellers of heaven). These ancestral spirits are
believed to be in constant watch of their survivors on earth. They bless, protect, warn and
punish their earthly relatives depending on how their relatives neglect or remember them.
(Babayemi:1). According to Dr. Obafemi Jegede, Egngn is a special class of divine
beings all together and notes that Egngn did not came from heaven together with the
other Orisa and Ebora, but entered the world of men at a later stage when the
communication between the worlds were crumbled. Usually Egngn is considered to visit
the earth in given festivals where the masquerades are prominent. For Egngn the main
festivals are in June, that means around midwinter, when the season are changing and the
longest nights are to be found. These masquerades functions both as a reinforcement of the
link between run and aye as well as a vehicle for advise to the living, by the spirit coming
down and possessing the dancers mask and clothes. Egngn can be contacted either
collectively or individually in order to provide guidance, advices and protection against
malignant forces. The collective veneration will be detailed in the next chapter where two
forms of masquerades and their function will be presented The complexity of this cult is
further demonstrated by these beings association with family lineages and accordingly can
be a source for great prestige in the community when the songs recounting the heroic deeds

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of a specific family line are retold by performance and song. The cult it self is a secret cult
and even if some information is available, the secrets are never disclosed. In order to get a
notion of what these secrets are about one is advised to turn to the d If in order to
understand the complexity of this cult and thus make possible assumptions of the secrets
the cult are preserving.

Jegede says: Death is not bad as death is a transition from the terrestrial realm (aiy) to the
celestial (Orun). Death therefore is not a curse on humanity but a blessing. (Transcript D1). Introducing the deity Ik perhaps solves the mystery of Death. Ik is death in the sense
of loss of em or life sustaining breath, the end of terrestrial life, but unlike Egngn, it was
one of the beings in run that came to Aiy. To Ik was assigned the task of ending peoples
life. The great difference between these beings are also understandable through the d If,
where Ik is said be manifest in the family of d related to Oyekun while Egngn is said
to be manifested in the d Oturupon Mji. Ik further has a very different role in creation
than Egngn as recounted by Santos. She says:

Ik is an Irnmal from the left side, and consequently in the strict sense and ebora in the
sense of being a child of these spirits. Like them, he is a warrior and is represented by a p or
Kmn, the symbol that also makes a part of the emblems of Oblaiy. The Kmn is a packet (in
the shape of club) approximately thirty cm, in all, sometimes with a head carved from this full
wood that vaguely is representing a cranium. It is at the same time an emblem powerful and
dangerous as it serves to killHe is not found in any fixed place, but is roaming around
everywhere in the world to do his workIk is deeply related to the myths of the origin of the
human race on earth: When Olrun was looking for a suitable material to create human
beings, all the ebora went to look for it. They brought different things: but none of them were
suitable. They went to take the mud but it cried and shed tears. None of the ebora would then take a
bit of it. But Ik jgb-Als-na came out and took a bit of the mud eerp and was not
merciful to its weeping. He took it to Oldmar, who asked rsl and Olgama to mould it and
He himself breezed into it. But Oldmar said to Ik that, because he was the one who took out a
bit of mud, he will have to replace it there anytime that is why Ik takes us back to mud each time
(Santos. 1975: 106/107)

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Egngn has a quite different purpose that Ik, while Ik takes man back to the mud,
Egngn is the link between the living and the dead, involved in morals and ethics of
families and society. Meaning, that Egngn is actively working for the smooth movement
of life on earth, while Iks task is to terminate this same existence. As such he is the
needed vehicle for turning the living into ancestors and bring man to his celestial home in
run.

The ds that speak about Egngn, beside trpn Mji are wr yk, wrdi, wr
k Rek (wrs), br s, wnrn Asyn (wnrns), Ogbrks (Ogbs),
knrn elgun (knrngnd) and it would be enlightening to look at the contents in
some of these verses as retold both by Babayemi as well as Apena Aiyedun.
trpn Mji speaks about the transmigration of souls and emphasizes that mans spirit
leaves the body upon death. This d also speaks about the funeral rites and gives the
reason for the complete covering of body and head to the fact that during the funerals the
body are complete covered with cloth.
Ogbrks (Ogbs) speaks about how Agbo (the Ram) tried to offer Iki (an honest man)
as a sacrifice to the divinities by tricking Iki to engage him self into a game that would lead
to his death by deceit. Three diviners come from heaven to rescue Iki from death and as a
consequence Agbo are used as a sacrifice. It speaks accordingly about the types of offerings
given to Egngn and also that Egngn protect the honest man against deceit.
wr yk speaks about the use of masks and clothing in the masquerades and how this
arrangement neutralizes the elements of chaos and untimely death and brings respect and
wealth. The d also speaks about the importance of the family line of Egngn, from the
line of the father.
wrdi speaks about principles such as rebirth and immortality and also how Egngn was
considered the force that brought orun and aiye into communication and interaction.
wr k Rek (wrYk) speaks about impeding danger for death (Ik) and tell how this
can be averted. It is also a sign speaking about the phenomena Abik, those whoa re born to
die, meaning infant death syndrome.

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br s speaks about how the society of witches threatened to spread discord in aiy
and how Egngn intervened in order to change this situation, as a good example of the
being that make things straight.
wnrn Asyn (wnrns) is one of the most interesting {ds speaking about the
origin of the Egngn cult. This d speaks about how Edun, a red monkey made a woman
pregnant by raping her. The woman took revenge by again entering the woods and offering
her self to the money whereupon he killed the animal and buried it in the woods. The son
she gave birth to became a successful man, in fact a king of his town at the age of twenty.
There was however one much needed fortune that did not manifest for the king, children.
He went to a diviner with this problem who said that this sterility was caused by the neglect
of the funeral rites for his dead father. The kings mother divulged the secret and it was
decided that the bones of the Edan should be brought to town for a proper burial. At night a
procession was made and the covered bones of the kings father was brought into the town.
Babayemi comments in this regard (ibid.6) that the word Egngn means masquerade
while the word for bones is egungun. I would suggest that the linguistic similarity are
connected into the masking of the bones in harmony with the secrets of the cult. The
Edan is also called Er and this suggest, according to Babayemi, that this d also speaks
about the origin of another cult related to Egngn called Or given the wild and untamed
nature this procession caused. This specific monkey is reputed to possess incredible
magical powers and its cultivation is subject within a side cult of the Egngn, Agemo,
which is based upon the more aggressive nuances of this otherworldly being. Edan is
believed to be the cause of the supernatural powers in possession of the priests of the cult of
Egngn. The cult of Or was unlike Egngn not headed by the king but the members of
the Ogboni society and used in legal disputes, especially in cases touching anti social use of
the powers of witchcraft. Easily one can jump to the conclusion that Or therefore is
opposing the society of female powers for instance but this is not so. Rather the various
cults are in discourse with each other and are established in order to retain a balance
between forces, both the good and the bad ones.
knrn elgun (knrngnd) gives another account of the origins of Egngn. In
this d it is said that Egngn was the ninth son of Oya, whereupon she received the
praise name Iyansan, mother of nine, fathered by Sang. It speaks about how Oya used

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the Queen ant as a fertility charm in order to be pregnant and was told to deliver the ninth
child inside an anthill. The ants disfigured the face of the ninth child in such way that the
people thought Egngn was an br, which Babayemi defines as a spirit of the
underworld endowed with supernatural powers (ibid.10).

Egngn is apparently a very distinct class of spirits, but the function is more similar to the
Eboras as this cult is related to organization and order. It is also interesting to note that
people mistook Egngn for being ebora or did they? The anthill is said to be a dwelling
for Oblwaiy, the god of smallpox and disease an ebora in his own right. The order in
question is however the order between aiy and run, which is why Egngn are
understood to be gn gn, which means the force that straightens reflecting the function
of making possible the interaction between aiy and run. This gives ample room to
suggest that Egngn actually belong to the class of spirits known as ebora. This can be
emphasized further with ebora associated with sub-terrestrial forces.

Lastly there is also the tn telling about how Obtl instigated the first cult of Egngn
by tricking ym into teaching him the secrets of the cult. This is told about in the d..

Historically speaking the cult it self is said to have come from the people of Nupe in the
sixteenth century and consequently been thought to the people of y that was conquered
by the Nupe. Nadel in turn claims that this cult goes back further in time and was originally
a Yoruba cult introduced to the Nupe and then entered back to the Yorubas during the Nupe
attack in the sixteenth Century (Babayemi: 19). These more historical based data and dates
seen together with the widespread geographic location, being found in various locations all
over the Western Africa, from Ghana to Nigeria, of the cult makes it more plausible that the
cult was born as a result of multiple exchanges. At least it is difficult to state anything
certain as far as the true origin in a historical and geographical timeline, probably because
ancestor veneration is a common feature in the religious practice amongst the people of
Wet Africa. It also seems likely that one can assume that the cult of Egngn spread from
y in the sixteenth century to the various locations in Yorubaland it is found as a means

72

for political control initially, since the Oj (high priest of the Egngn-cult) was placed in
important offices in the court of the y Alfin (king).

There are six main classes of Egngn which are given to be the following (Fld.1998:
92):

Egngn Bb which is connected to the line of paternal ancestral spirit; Often it is this
kind of Egngn that are coming down in the festivals together with the Also, which is the
case also in the Diaspora as for instance in the festivals celebrated in the island Itaparica in
Brazil.
Egngn Also is the deity that comes down during masquerade and is efficient in repelling
malignant influences from the community in general
Egngn Onm which is related to If
Egngn Or Od (or Alakoro) is the Egngn sacred to Sng (the one who resides on
mortars) and is used in situations of war. It is said that Oyo took back its power by the
intervention of this Egngn.
Egngn ru The Witches (the ones of the night)
Egngn y, which is connected to the line of the maternal ancestral spirits

In addition to this there is even the notion that all rs has their own Egngn (Babyemi:
2), like all rs have their own s, meaning that Egngn is involved in all things related
to rs and accordingly will be involved with order both between the worlds and in aiy.
Also it must be stressed how important the lineage Egngn is, representing the line of the
family both living and dead and therefore is a source of honour or ill repute. The Yoruba
people place much worth in being honorable people, to keep a level of dignity as in the
Yoruba saying: w rere ls nyn, meaning Good character adorns a person, what is
good is beautiful, it adorns the person and establishes admiration, respect and
love(Lawal. 1996:xvii). These are basic goals and implies a code of conduct based upon
cultivating tranquility and understanding, especially for the Babalawos, since they are the
advisers of kings and people and need to display a great sense of comprehension for both
the human condition and the spiritual condition. As such they should try to manifest the

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qualities of rnml as much as possible and rnml is conceived as the peaceful pact
maker. The great healer of a suffering community.

The various guilds or societies also have their specific Egngn cults, but unlike most
others they are not subject to the control of the Oba (king), like Egngn Lyw which is
the Egngn of the Egb Ode or hunters society and Egngn Olgun, which is an
Egngn endowed with magical power used by the herbalists.

Chapter 5

Death and Wisdom in Rituals

5:1 With Death as the Guide in Life

Yoruba ritual is based upon the repetition of a given theme and Lawal comments about
repetition that: one of the purposes of repetition is to establish extraterrestrial connections
and a framework for order and predictability (Lawal: 38). Still, all things change, so a
repetition can only be a repetition of events with the dynamism it bring with it. This
dynamic change present in ritual performance are a natural consequence of the Yoruba
world view, which can be partly explained linguistic by reminding that a word can both
signify the action and the one executing the action as well as a condition as in the
example of aw which means secret, but are used both as a term for the diviner as well as
the secret he is holding. Drewal comments in this regard: (they are) turning the static
equation between two related things into a double-voiced process. To signify is to
revise that which is received, altering the way the past is read, thereby redefining ones
relation to it (Drewal. 1992: 4). In other words the Yoruba ritualists is not concerned about
an exact replica of events in the past, it seems more that the past is brought in so it can both
guide the community as well as open up for communication and advice for those who are
living. Yoruba ritual is not a rigid structure that participants adhere to mindlessly out of
some deep-seated desire for collective repetition in support of a dominant social order
(ibid.23). The point is that the ritual creates a fertile ground for a discourse between the

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community and the otherworldly, after all aiy is not a remote heaven, but the sphere of
movement and spirit, in proximity to il. Ritual is used to reinstall social order or maintain
harmony. It serves as a reminder to the community of their origin and it contains lessons
and blessings from aiy. The gates to the realm of death are open so they can mingle with
the living and share of their wisdom and understanding so that social order and harmony
can prevail. There are in particular the two masquerades Egngn and Gelede that will be
interesting to look at in this regard, both connected to death, wisdom and order, but in very
different ways.

As seen in the chapter of Egngn, these mysteries are of a quite dark nature, related to
death, spirit congress and communication with the spiritworld. The Egngn society has a
political and ethical function in society and both opens up for communication between the
living and the dead as well as being an organ for justice as well as being largely a secret
society that allegedly possess magical secrets of a powerful nature. The society of Gelede is
very different in this regard. Instead of being an organ for ethical and political order, it is a
society dedicated to creating harmony between potentially contrary forces. What they have
in common is the use of masks and dresses, the drumming and dancing and the singing in
impressive masquerades. Even if both societies are occupied with death or mortality and the
otherworldly and how to use these forces to effectuate order the approaches are very
different as is the mythical origins of the cults. While Egngn is rooted in the masking of
the Edun, the magically endowed beast-father of the king who needed a proper burial in
order to bring fertility and harmony to the society the origins of Gelede is far more soft and
loving in nature.

The origins of Gelede are spoken about in the d wr Mj and s Mj. wr Mj is


largely focused on elements of transformation and belong to the element of fire, it is a sign
denoting passion and determination. s Mj on the other hand is a sign that manifested
the female powers on earth and is the sign where aj was given power and the female
became the reservoirs for supreme power. This sign is also related to transformation but of
a cataclysmic nature as well as animals crawling in the night, such as lizards, bats, rats and
such beings. This dual observance of influences from d If is mirrored in the

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performance of the Gld as well, by the segmentation of a performance that has to be


held at night (f) and the other part in the daytime. The arena for the celebration is the
market place. In wr Mj it speaks about Yewjob, which is another name for Yemoja
that had problems being pregnant with her new husband Olweri. She went to a diviner and
consulted If. She was told to offer mashed corn, clay dishes and to dance around with
wooden images on her head and metal anklets around her feet (Lawal: 40). She became
fertile and gave birth to a boy called f, which means the humorist, first and then to a
girl who got the name Gld , which was a nickname for being obese. When these two
kids married they also had problems with barrenness and accordingly went to a diviner and
was prescribed to do the same sacrifice as her mother had done and they became fertile.
From this the cult was born. In s Mj it speaks about how rnml wanted to go to the
dwelling of the ym and was advised to disguise him self with a wooden mask and to put
on a baby sash and metal anklet (ibid.). He did as he was told and found that he could go
to their dwelling unharmed. The use of masks, baby sash and metal anklets together with
dance is therefore considered away of attracting the beneficial and protective influence
from the ym. There is on other story retold by Lawal that are interesting as it ties in with
the stories told in the two ds. He tells about two testimonies from Abkta. The first of
them says that this masquerade started as a thanksgiving to Yemoja. A diviner had
recommended as sacrifice for a barren women to bring foods, head wraps, wooden carvings
and a baby sash to the banks of the river gn. Not long after she became pregnant and
went back to the place where she left the offerings to thank the goddess. She saw that the
things she had left as an offering was still there and tied the baby sash around her and took
the wooden carvings on her head and danced back to the city together with the women that
accompanied her. The other account is collected from a former high priestess of Yemoja
who said that Argb ni Gld je fun Yemoja, meaning that Gld is Yemojas spirit
children, but these spirit children are of a especial class, namely bk. This priestess said
that anyone that worships Yemoja also must worship rgb. (ibid. 42). Lawal further
comment that Yemoja is the grandmatron of the j. This association has perhaps been
mediated by associating Yemoja with y Nl. y Nl is sometimes associated as Obtl
wife and other times as d ym and maybe one can say that Yemoja is the classical form
of j funfun, given the outgoing and socially content image she tend to be presented in.

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There is also the tendency of ascribing multiple identities to y Nl and the seemingly
discrepancies in the If corpus, like for instance in s Mj where the first yn is
identified as d, while in Ogbt Ymow (an alias for Yemoja) is identified as the first
female, both said to be married to Obtl or Baba Nl, which Lawal interpret to be
different manifestations of the same phenomena (ibid. 73). Probably this is right, but on
the level of womanhood, more correctly the womb and the vagina. In one prayer to the
ym it is said: y elyinj eg Onirun ab sk, which means Mother with the beautiful
eyes. Who has a bunch of hair between her legs (ibid.). Her beauty is confined to the eyes,
which also include in addition to perception it self the ability to bless and cures, and throws
charms by the use of the eyes. That her vagina, the entrance to her womb is very hairy both
refer to concealment and fertility and power. This is the great and hidden power of the aj.

There is also one account that says Gld is a corruption of Gbrd, the one who stole
the show, a reference to a Nupe man who won a theatrical contest and these are just a few
of the many myths. Again one is faced with a great level of uncertainty in a historical
reconstruction of how this or any other Yoruba cult came into being. The tendency of using
ones own city as a focus for events, the various individual differences between
communities by the work of different diviners and an awareness that equals mythical
history and linear history in importance makes an analysis of historical facts quite
impossible. Even a work like Johnsons The History of the Yoruba is written from the point
of view of a man that identified him self as a Yoruba proper meaning that he was from
y and this colours his history. What is happening during the Gld is however related to
the children of Yemoja, f and Gld. The foundation and aim is to bring solutions to
barrenness and facilitate social harmony. rgb being so important in these celebrations
also relates it to the realm of the dead. rgb is a deity presiding over a class of spirits
that is referred to as Egb or bk. The word bk means born to die while Egb refers
to a company of spirits. It is believed that children that are born to die is still attached
to run by their peers or doubles there threatening the m (soul or literally breath) to leave
the body of the child. In the Gld masquerade metal anklet are used both around the
wooden carvings carried on the head and around the foot of the dancers, the same is done
with children believed to be bk. The iron anklet with its small bells is believed to attach

77

and secure the bk to the earth. gn being the patron of all transitions of life like
circumcision and scarification and in addition the one who clears the road is naturally
good to secure that the child stays in its place and also demonstrate the great importance of
iron amongst the Yoruba. In the past the birth of more than one child was considered an
anomaly, something outside the natural order. The children were killed, the mother exiled
and the father had to pay a substantial punishment to the king for bringing such evil
amongst them. In some cases the children were not killed but left in the woods. Some of
these children came however back to their community and was said to have been endowed
with magical powers and strange talents. Considering that they were placed in the haven of
snyn, a deity that in him self is liminal and mysterious, they would perhaps naturally
been seen as students of this deity upon returning. This is also evident in the meaning of the
word Egb that more precisely defines these spirit companions to be in the wood or the
water. The association with the woods is also evident in the d knrn Mj where it is
spoken about how parents that gave birth to twins kept one and buried the other one in the
forest, but the parents had to offer sacrifice to the spirit of the twin that they buried in the
forest. This because in spirit twins are one, even if they have two different bodies. It is the
same m in both of them. This is usually depicted by woodcarvings of twins that both are
used at the shrine of Egb and also in the masquerade. There is also important to point out
that in places where Gld do not exist, like bdn and sogbo they do have a special
mask for a deity called Egb, which is a tutelary goddess of bk (ibid. 62). There is an
annual celebration for this goddess in the areas where they do not have Gld but the
prospect is the same, to appease this ambiguous deity so she do not steal away the soul of
children to join them with rgb. Some commentators (such as Simpson quoted in
Lawal) say that this deity is believed to be the female counterpart of Egngn. Certainly
both cults have in common that they are concerned with fertility in their foundation and
they are both masking cults, but apart from this the prospects and functions are very
different and there are reason to think of these cults as complementary rather than in terms
of being counterparts especially if one consider the d If that gave rise to the
establishment of these cults there is little that indicates that these cults are counterparts.
This idea of Egngn and Gld being two sides of the same coin probably came into
being due to the phenomena of bk which would naturally confined them to a similar

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realm as Egngn. There is also the case of associating Egngn to these phenomena in
eastern Yorubaland where the female mask is called ghb and is associated as the same
as an Egngn called Olmoyoyo, considered being an ancestral spirit of small children.
Here there is also a myth saying that Olkn (the spirit of the Ocean) brought Egngn
from run because the children was born without faces and when Egngn came, he came
with fertility and sculpted the faces of children (ibid. 63). The ceremonies for bk is
played out in the night where the feasting, offerings and good mood instigated by the
humorist f is believed to appease these spirits of the woods that threaten to harass and
kill children. The spectacle do not need to be dedicated to Yemoja, but can be held in
honour of any rs or cultural hero even if the most common is to dedicate the celebration
to y Nl and the aj. Thus at Aytr, Gld is performed in honour of Ondfy, a
divine ancestor associated with snakes, at bar, in honour of Yemoja, who is associated
with the gn river; at lar and Ket in honour of da, an earth goddess; at OwdeKet in honour of Omolu (smallpox deity), and at br, in honour of Eyinni, a deity
associated with twins, among others (ibid. 71).

One common feature is found however, and that is that the arena for the Gld
masquerade is usually happening in the market. The market is rich in symbolism and
meaning as the meeting point not only by people from all kinds of trades and professions
and inclinations, but the market is also considered to be a place where all kinds of spirit
beings come and interact with mankind. It is the meeting point between the invisible and
the visible world and properly enough this is the arena of Gld spectacles. Being
pacificator in nature, the Gld spectacle is a form or ritual (tt). Its main objective is to
use aesthetics to neutralize evil (ibi) and stimulate warm affection (iyn) at the same
timeit also provides a focal point for all members of a given community to relate a
children of Yewjob (The Mother of All) and to appreciate the importance of fellowship
and connectedness to human survival (ibid. 97).

The Egngn masquerade is different in many respects than the Gld and is infused with
much more seriousness and awe. This because this masquerade will bring down the ara
run and ancestors, it is far more than placating deities and enters into sacrificial

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communion with potentially disruptive forces. The Egngn is an otherworldly being with
the power to bless and curse, even kill. The community festivals, that are usually held
around the Yoruba New Year in the beginning of June +/- a month) is based upon the
particular lineage of a given family. It is the lineage Egngn that are made ready in the
sanctum of the Egngn grove and presented to the community. When the lineage Egngn
is coming out it is celebrated with songs particular important to this family and the rss
important to the family is sung for as well. The Egngn is then expected to dance around
the village and bestow blessings and advises to the community and receives presents in
return. In many cases it is considered deadly to be touched by the Egngn and the priests
marking the distance between the Egngn and the people with atri whips, keeping the
Egngn to touch people directly, avoid a direct contact with the Egngn. These scenes
are accompanied with a mixed atmosphere of fear and anticipation of the more joyous kind
as a kind of play. These rules seem to be not adhered to by the members of the Egngn
society, at least not as strict as with people that are not Oj Egngn. Usually these
celebrations are done during the daytime, but there is also a nightly masquerade known as
Lagbookun and Panpata, their processions marked by lamenting songs and shrewd sounds
from horns creating an atmosphere of lewd fright and otherworldliness. These masquerades
visit homes and require gifts from the male family head in the houses they visit. The master
of the household must deliver the gifts with his back to the Egngn and never look
directly on the face of this Egngn. The dresses of Egngn are usually made by multiple
pieces of cloth, bringing to mind how the Egngn functions as unifier and mender of
broken parts into a coherent whole in its function as the straightener. The dresses are
often colorful and beautiful in the cases of the lineage Egngn and are thus an outward
sign of prestige and authority. As with Gld the purpose is to bring forces into harmony
and communion with each other or in discourse if you will.

The Egngn speak usually with a thin inhuman voice or in some cases with a deep
roaming voice, equally inhuman. When speaking with people he often makes people feel
well, being playful and even sometimes tell jokes and inspire a sensation of happiness. The
dead is considered to be families most important source of advice in life, to develop and
maintain a strong relationship with the ancestors is the cornerstone of Yoruba belief. This is

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partly rooted in the belief of atnw or reincarnation and the conception of the interactive
condition of aiy as the space where run and il meet, where spirit and flesh can interact.
This outward function is just one of the aspects of this cult, contrary to Gld it is a secret
society that are only partly revealed by the masquerade, but many clues to what elements
do constitute their inner secrets are given on their headdress. The headdresses usually
depict were animals, monkeys, snakes, and creatures of the night that usually induces fear
in people. This is probably connected to the belief that a person on the way to run is
transformed into a shade of a beast, which is also implicated in the funeral rites. In order to
avoid the departed one being stuck in such form and stray the earth in a ghostly or fearful
shape, stalking and harassing the living, the funeral rites must be performed in order to
make a proper ascent of the dead one. This would also indicate that the Egngn society is
preservators of secrets akin to those possessed by aj. To bring down the dead ones are a
serious undertaking and this seriousness are reflected both in the joyful fear in the
community as well as the many veils of secrecy held by the members of the society. The
hierarchy of beings are segmented into four categories. These are; Ar Aiy, meaning the
living, Oku-run, the ordinary dead ones that has not be elevated to a aware state in the
afterlife, Egn referring to a venerable spirit that is aware in the afterlife and Egngn
which is the male ancestral spirit. Spirits like bk will not be raised to the level of
Egngn as they belong to a class outside the hierarchy of interest for the Egngn society.
The priests of the cult are called Oloje or Oj and the priestesses Iya-Agan, which are
usually priestesses of Oy, who has a special relationship with Egngn being the mother
of this spirit. This is also evident in the initiations to Oy, where the first part of the ritual is
done by the Egngn denoting the deep connection between Oy and this cult. In some
families, as in the case of Aiydn of Abeokuta also the cult of Igunnoko is included. This
cult Is originally of Nupe origin, but is in some cases included in a triad of initiations
related to Egngn where this cult form the second step and Or the third step. Igunnoko is
said to be a middle stage between the living and the dead and is a force with one foot in the
world of the living and the other in the world of the dead. Funeral rites certainly are one of
the most important functions of the Egngn society, as they know how to elevate the soul
of the deceased one and thus secure the flow of the family lineage. This is something of a
mystery, the concept of rebirth and the elevation of the deceased. Buckley was puzzled by

81

the same and asked his informant how it come to be that it is possible to worship ones
ancestors while at the same time they are reborn (usually reincarnation is happening in the
family line as names like Babatunde indicates, meaning Father is returning). Fatoogun
gave the following explanation:
When a man dies his heart (kon) goes to heaven and it is this that men worship. It is the mans
head (or) that is reborn as a little child. When this child grows old and dies, his own heart goes to
heaven. There are always only a certain number of people in the world. When the head (or) of a man
is reborn it becomes the heart of the child, and it is the heart of the dead man that is now worshipped,
because it is in heaven and can go to God (Oldmar) and beg for us. Sometimes the head is born
into the heart of a small child before the person who is still alive wants to return to heaven and he
will soon die. (Buckley. 1997: 63)

Clearly this demonstrates that the Egngn that are worshipped is not the same as the living
person, only a specific part is shaped into the lineage Egngn, the heart. To associate the
heart with the seat of emotions and ones spiritual aspirations or ones soul might be
explanatory in these cases. Perhaps the idea is that this specific trait of the person joins the
spirit known as Egngn? It seems to be like this, since in the masquerades the lineage
Egngn is often referred to as Baba gn and not Egngn. The deceased one seem to be
both of its own nature as well as partaking in a spiritual force that is rooted in something far
more old and at the same time divine and earth-bounded than in the case of Baba gn that
return for some time to give advise and support to the living family. The Egngn is in it
self liminality, both in function and construction. The vessels that are builded to draw down
this force in the grove of Egngn are both similar to rs as well as totally different, due
to Egngn being something neither or but the link between.

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5:2

Healing the community with understanding

B on ti ri
la k ri b
Ni babalwo fi n df ororn
Todays events
Will be different tomorrow:
That is why the diviner consults the oracle every five days
(Lawal. :274)
The awareness that everything is changing over a given pattern of possibilities result in the
Yoruba do not resist change but, rather, seek to reconcile the old with the new in a
cumulative process that has enabled their culture to survive the vicissitudes of time.
(ibid.). rnml is the sage who knows how to speak with the totality of creation and
aided by s is able to heal and restore the community either by inducing understanding or
give solution to problems. Yoruba ritual and in particular spectacles like the ones celebrated
by Egngn and Gld emphasizes what the individual bring into the movement of the
world in a drama of interchange between individuals, between individual and the
community, between the community and the otherworldly. As Drewal and Drawal says:
Gld spectacle as an otherworldly phenomenon served periodically to reevaluate and
shape the world. (Drewal and Drewal 1983: 246). They further comment of the fluidity of
the Yoruba religious system that can be seen as a melting together of descent and divination
(ibid.). This will naturally give rise to a vast number of possibilities, according to personal,
communitarian and regional needs and beliefs as well as to what other forces and cults the
particular region has incorporated or what has been considered as most helpful. For
instance, in y Sng is taking a supreme prominence, due to his intervention considered
most effective in this region, both in terms of mythical history and linear history, while in
Abeokuta gn and Yemoja is held in particularly high position while Osn is most
venerated in Osogbo. Also, since communities tend to have their own diviners, the advices
given tend to be particular for the community and accordingly facilitate differences

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between the various If communities bound together by their connection to If and a similar
worldview that look favorable upon change.

Drewal understand ritual in this context as a journey in terms of its function as marking
transition in some way or the other. As she says: As media of change and transformation,
rituals are conceived as journeys, the journeyhighlights the subjective experience of
participants, their capacity for reflexive self-monitoring, and their transformation of
consciousness through play and improvisation (Drewal 1992: 28). This is highly crucial
for understanding Yoruba ritual, the role of the individual and this also explains the many
differences and variations to be found from community to community. There is a story told
to Drewal about the foundation of Osugbo society, another name for gbni. In this story
the elders are entering earth and before entering earth they consult If and If tells them that
they are going in search of knowledge, truth and justice. In accordance with our destiny.
We are going to meet success. We will arrive on earth knowledgable (ibid.33). This search
must be observed in relation to ones kadara ayanmo or ipin, meaning destiny. This subject
has been touched upon before in the discussion of the Or, but as each person is different,
so is also the destiny different. The consensus in terms of destiny in If is more related to
alfia, the experience of fullness, satisfaction and contentment in life. It is again the theme
of the journey one is meeting, so also with the explanation of a Yoruba proverb by Fatumbi
that says: If it does not matter where you are going, any road will do (Fatumbi: 15). He
comments that: When If speaks of ancestors it is not merely referring to humans who
have passed away, ancestors include all those stepping stones that lead to human existence.
When someone turns to rs for assistance, it is always based on the assumption that
rs will guide him or her to his or her chosen destiny. If is based on the belief that
living in harmony with your chosen destiny brings the blessings of abundance, long life and
children (ibid.). The vehicle for understanding and embracing ones destiny and thus reap
its good fruits lies in the display of good character. However the individual will usually
exist in a community and it is in this space ritual unfolds. Drewal is making an important
point in this regard, paraphrasing Derrida, repetition is by definition a re-presentation,
indeed, a representation. It represents an earlier period of time, which itself may have been

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a repetition. As a representation of an earlier segment of time, repetition embodies


creativity, for representation itself is a form of creativity (Drewal 1992: 1).

In one praiseverse of rnml it is said: b rnml Elr pn (Fatumbi 1994: 211) This
phrase can be translated into meaning: rnml wisdom witness destiny or witness
creation This term refers to the origin of rnml wisdom, a place referred to s lala that
can be understood as the source of creation, this is the storehouse of all wisdom and all
secrets. Many Babalwos says that it is this realm they are tapping into while doing
divination or that they are going back in time to the days when rnml walked the earth
in order to connect to spirit and be able to understand what advice to give to each and every
one that is coming to If for advice. This means that the work of a diviner is a complex
dynamic between memorization of hundreds of verses and their meaning accompanied with
being in touch with spirit. The usual mechanism is incantations or prayers, and songs that
will open up for the inspiration from lala. It is because of this, wisdom, that If is so
central to both cultic activity and community as well as the individual, only If knows what
need to be done in order to achieve ones fullest potential and is able to reveal mans destiny.
In some cases If do not reveal everything that one feel is needed to know, in these cases
If opens for the intervention of s and choice to happen. Sometimes a wrong turn brings
invaluable lessons that are needed for man in order to continue to walk on towards the
destined goals. Another proverb is clear on this as it says: Those who do not know
suffering cannot experience pleasure (Fatumbi 1994: 20). This is related to the
interrelation of forces that are naturally present in the world. The word for misfortune in
Yoruba is ajogun, this term carries a somewhat martial sense of destruction and is said to
be influences like, loss, misery, death, tragedy and violence. Actually a meaning taking root
in the term fortune and a lack of fortune would be more proper in order to come close to a
more accurate definition of what this term contains. There is no such thing as evil in a
western sense amongst the Yoruba, you have wrong actions and foolish actions, noting is
premeditated evil as such. Further it is said that the calabash of ajogun is held in the hands
of ym and only s knows the secret of how to unlock this calabash of malevolent
forces. Man releases these forces by simply making the wrong choices. The wrong choices
need to be pointed out and here the malevolent forces enter the arena. In this arena of ones

85

journey through life ss role are reduced to merely a diabolical one by those who believe
that bad things are activated by bad spirits and not by bad choices. If is the guide through
life, both for the individual and for the community, the cult is therefore crucial both to the
execution of the various cults of rs as well as guiding people to discover and follow
their chosen destiny. In this way If is the great healer of all people, the one who heals with
understanding and insight and light a guiding torch for people to follow so they can achieve
contentment and happiness.

Chapter 6

Loosing the Translation

To enter into a discourse with Yoruba cults with a focus on If in the meeting point
between a western Babalwo in meeting with the African roots produces challenges in
terms of translation on many levels, linguistic, culturally and also in regard to the many
regional differences. In terms of cultural translation it can be interesting to shortly see how
If has adopted to foreign lands as a result of the slave trade to places like Cuba, Hispania,
Brazil and America. Here the situation is quite different since it involves a transportation
against ones will to unknown land where one had to adjust and survive through upheaval
and often inhuman conditions. To enter into the reasons and consequences and nature of the
slave trade will be to vast territory to cover and it have to suffice to give some
considerations based upon how If or the cult of rs has adapted to new places. So far it
has been pointed out that If is focused on change and adaptability, on understanding and
prevailing through suffering and through wise counsel and understanding be able to achieve
good fortune in the end. The context for the cults survival will in addition be challenged
with influences that certainly will contribute to shaping and molding the re-formation of If
and rs-cults in such circumstances. The translation can be said to have been lost - and
then retrieved again. One can ask if this text then is the same as when it was written and
also if the time from the text birth and to its re-reading have grave implications on the
understanding of the text. One can ask it the many various groups attending to the text and

86

give their understanding are in a creative reconstructing If upon the grains of


understanding available and the new context presented for its use.

6:1

The roots of If in the Diaspora

In the many years of slave trafficking slaves where largely taken from Porto Novo in
present day Benin, Cotonou in present day Togo and Lagos in present day Nigeria. Slaves
where taken from everywhere in this region, resulting in a great mixture of tribes and
families meeting each other under these circumstances. If was practiced in all these
regions then as it is now. In Benin and Togo the Babalwo is called Bokonon and the oracle
is called Fa and not If. Largely the corpus is similar but there are many differences as well
in relation to the meaning of the various d If in Fa and If. It seems that Fa is more
similar to the European art of geomancy that was popular in circles of magic and esotrica in
Europe in the 16th and 17th Century as demonstrated for instance in Hounwanous Le Fa
(1978). The point to be made is that there were already regional differences and if one
includes distances like from Cotonou to Lagos the differences would perhaps be even
greater than to neighboring tribes in Yorubaland.

Cuba is one example of how If has altered and become changed, introduced new
innovations into the cult and still has remained quite consistent in terms of the process of
initiation for instance. But much changed in the understanding of If when it came to both
Cuba and Brazil, as has been observed by both Roger Bastide and Pierre Verger who
studied the root and organization of Brazillian Candombl and If. What happened both in
terms of Cuba and Brazil is that the religious heterogeneity present amongst the Yoruba
went through an orderly organization that was quite different from the dynamic interaction
found in Yorubaland (Brown 2003:115). What happened was that deities found in almost
all parts of Yorubaland, such as Sng, gn and btl was conjoined with regional
deities like Osn and Yemoja, but were united around the leading orixa of each Bahian
terreiro, symbolizing the reassembly (reagrupamento) of those (people) dispersed by the
slave trade (ibid.). The same happened in Cuba where a hierarchical ordering of the
available rs was made. Also important to note is that every casa de ocha or house of

87

orisha was seen as being under the command of the tutelary deity of the owner of the
house. In reality what happened was that it was the cultic activity and deities largely
confounded to y that took precedence. As both Brown (2003) and also Thompson (1983)
observes is that that the many West African gods were mixed and blended with each other
into something altogether different than what it originally was. In Cuba the cult of rs
became Reglas de Lucumi (generally Yoruba dominated) and Arar (Fon dominated), in
Brazil it turned into Candombl de Ng (y based). In the case of Cuba the influence
from Congo, Cameroon and Angola created the foundation to another system, largely
considered to be a cult of sorcery by the name Palo Mayombe while these same influences
in Brazil was absorbed both into a fraction of Candombl as well as practices predating
modern day Umbanda in Brazil into Candombl de Angola and in terms of Umbanda, to
this cults darker side, Kimbanda. There is no need to go deeply into what these fractions
contain, the purpose is simply to demonstrate that the African heritage in the new world
was understood and even distributed into systems and orders very different from the
pragmatic and dynamic way of If. To stretch this even further, the same segmentation is
also seen in Haiti, where the Dahomean and Yoruba pantheon (footnote, in the Diaspora
one can rightly speak about a pantheon being formed, after the Greek, meaning council of
the gods) is largely seen as cool and spiritually beneficial or rada while to Congo spirits
influenced the constitution of the class of spirits referred to as hot or petro.

Bastide says in regard the regrouping and reorganization of the various African cults of
rs in Brazil under the guise of Candombl from various nations the totality of the
liturgical drama could be reconstituted almost in full. (Bastide. 1978: 247). One cans
question what Bastide is speaking about here. He considers Candombl in Brazil to have
revived or recreated the indigenous Yoruba cult in full, apparently not being aware that
there is no such thing as a total liturgical drama. Rather sociological factors and historical
factors contributed to shape the remnants of belief and worship people had access to into a
system. There are reason to believe that this was seen as necessary in order to preserve the
survival of the various cults based upon the assumption that rs was ordered into a
hierarchy and also the dominance of the rs to the person who owned the various houses
of worship in both Brazil and Cuba. Bastide also refers to a certain collective memory

88

based upon the social frames of the communities as the reason for a total liturgical drama
being possible (ibid.). Verger is far sounder in his presentation of the cult of rs than
Bastide in terms of focusing on the regional practices, accordingly he is writing about how
the rs are cultivated in a given district in the state of Bahia in Brazil by bringing in
parallels and differences from various African practices (Verger, 1998). There is also the
element of syncretism present both in Hispania, Brazil and Cuba where native Indian lore
mixed with the African beliefs and was assimilated by Catholicism either as a counter-faith
or as a useful mask to hide ones true worship as suggested by Rodrigues, Herskowitz and
many others, lastly by Wafer who suggest that Candombl sought to become a competition
to the Catholic Church and as he soundly observe is that there is a tendency to write about
it (Candombl) as an abstract corpus of beliefs deriving from Africa (Frigeiro 1983, 45),
rather than a living social form embedded in the realities of contemporary Brazil (Wafer
1991: 56). As subtly suggested by Verger and directly observed by Wafer, Candombl is
solely Afro-Brazilian. Just as Lucumi in Cuba is Afro-Cuban. The search for a house that
has kept to the traditional and original ingenious belief of the Yoruba, that are pure in its
ways of cultivating and executing the religion is absurd in and by it self as this idea of
religious systematization of the belief was hardly ever a field of interest for the common
rs devotee in Yorubaland. But where is If in all this? It seems that If entered quite late
into the religious environment created in the New World. Slaves started to come to these
various location already from around 1490 and If came for instance to Cuba as late as
1830, with the Yoruba slave o Remigo Herrera also known as Adechina who founded a
Cabildo (house of worship) to Yemay or Virgen de Regla. Some years later Joaquim
Cdiz, known as IfaOmi also came to Cuba and established a Cabildo for Santa Brabara
syncretised with Sng or Chango as it is often written in Cuba. In 1891 Cdiz reorganized
his cabildo and formed a society and thus If became more prominent and important and
was slowly emerging as a type of high priest office in relation to Lucumi. Both Cdiz and
Adechina was teenagers when they came to Cuba and certainly they were not fully trained
Babalawos and filled in the blanks using the needs of the society as a basis for using If in
an effective way. In present day one have houses that are Ocha-centric and those that are
Ifacentric in Cuba and even in terms of Ifa there are those whose that claim to be more
traditional and pure than others. The same tendency as is seen in Brazil. While Ifa in

89

Cuba enjoys a prominent status, the same cannot be said about Brazil. If came to Brazil in
the late 40s and it was only with the work of Verger in the 50s and the 60s that If became
known and of interest for people involved in the cult of rs, especially with Nigerian
immigrants taking up residence in Brazil and spreading If rather than rs to the people.
The practical philosophy of If in the Diaspora and its wise understanding of order and
death seemed to both have traveled late over the ocean and entered in Africanized soil
builded purely upon cults dedicated to various rs without the guidance of If. The
vehicle used for communication was rather possession and a system of divination more
simplified that If, known as Merendillogun, which uses sixteen cowry shells to seek
counsel from rs and not If as well as divination with the Obi or kola nut. All advice
was given from rs and the ancestors and theses two forces constituted the foundation for
Candombl and Lucumi. Over the years a systematized liturgy grew out and it took form of
a religion, more than a flexible and playful interaction with superhuman forces embedded
in all things. In the case of Brazil the late 60s and early 70s also saw the rise of a black
power movement that according to Carlos de Oxossi made priests and priestesses with
the speed of the baker making bread (private conversation. 2003). This might suggest that
a desire of understanding ones roots also was added to this massive fusion of influences
from the total array of West Africa entered the symbiotic mix and created even more
dissent and divergence, thus the need for a different order than what If proposed.

6:2

Ifs practical philosophy understood as religion

The cult of rs is intimately linked to If, or more correctly, it is an integrated part, in an


interrelation to each other. There are in particular Lucumi, also known as Santeria and
Voudon that took on the form of being soaked in a western religious structure and
accordingly understood as such. Santeria is often referred to by its adherents as the
religion and a typical Voudon ceremony take the shape of both honoring the Catholic
influence as well as the African by employing Christian hymns and prayers to the Saints as

90

well as calling the Lwa and entering into possession. In Santeria the Catholic influence is
less markedly in the ritual execution, but the syncretism between the saints and the rs is
poignant and many houses of Santeria do include baptism and blessing from the Church as
the first step in the process of initiation to rs. Santeria as well as Candombl and
Voudon - is regulated by rules and fixed procedures for how to perform the rituals, as it is
in Candombl, the creative part of the rituals are solely confined to possession and even in
possession there are expectations to how the spirit manifesting in the flesh of the devotee
are supposed to behave. By the dance steps, the body language and way of speaking one
will be able to recognize what force has come into flesh to walk the earth and give advise
and healing to the devotees. This form of communication with the gods, based upon
possession is different than the trancelike and more practical way of If and is similar in
Candombl, Santeria and Voduon. What these have in common is that they were all
established without the inference of If, they all used possession as a tool for divination and
way of seeking guidance. And they are a product ingenious to the land where they were
shaped. Desmangles says in relation to Haiti Voudou is thus an amalgam of religious
traditions from three widely separated regions, all of which have persisted throughout
Haitian history (Desmangles 1992:175). He also points out the many similarities between
Voduon as practiced in Benin, where they do have Fa, especially in terms of funeral rites
and rites to secure the voyage and memory of the deceased one. But, also he sees that the
Catholic rituals performed at the church and at the home of the deceased are in mosaic
juxtaposition to the Vodou rites (ibid. 76). The same is seen in Cuba but not in Brazil.
Rather it seems that in Brazil the practices of Candombl is to some extent opposed by the
Christians, probably due to an immense growth in Pentecostalism and regular attempts of
trying to make forbidden by law elements pertaining to the execution of Candombl as well
as a regular flow of pamphlets and books depicting the afro cults as Satanism. The
Christian voice heard most clearly in Brazil is the voice of Pentecostalism and
condemnation while the Catholic Church has somehow influenced Umbanda, a originally
spiritistic cult that seemed to draw in the multiple influence of spirituality into one coherent
whole in a predominantly Christian and Catholic context, but certainly quite altered
compared to the rituals of the church, as also here possession and the exercise of trance
states are a vital and integrated part. Another point is that: Vodou has no clearinghouse, no

91

seminary, no established orthodoxy, it is difficult to present complete documentation of its


myths. The task becomes more complex when one considers the multiplicity of
mythological detail, which vary widely from one ounf (voudon-temple) to another as well
as from region to region (ibid.63). Even if seminars and societies are established in order
to preserve and debate the fundamentals for the religion, this be Voudon, Candombl,
Umbanda or Lucumi/Santeria is stiller amines that there are a heterogeneous meeting. The
greatest differences, it seems, from a society guided by If and a society guided by rs or
Lwa is the tendency of adapting to the society, to incorporate the peoples history and
embrace all that are present around the deities and make this into an orderly system. It is a
different order than the order of If and there is a different wisdom than If reveals. As
seen, rs is considered to have an orderly function on society, the world of men is the
occupation of orisa, so society reflects it self on its organizations and thus a discourse is
established on this level and the creation of a religion with certain sets of procedures and
rituals that are confined to a norm and strict observance are gradually institutionalized. And
even in spite of this, there are great variations from house to house, village to village,
region to region. This is considered to be good in the perspective of If, to be under the
guidance or rs, it will improve ones life and it will lead one on the path of ones chosen
destiny. But the ways of going deep into this is not available if If is no longer amongst
the gods. This is certainly a hypothesis that is not all that secure, given the multi facetted
complexity surrounding both the phenomena religion and tradition and is simply based
upon observation of the organization of the rs cults in Brazil, Cuba and Hispania and
America and compared this to the religious practices of Babalawos resident in African
and/or Brazil that express quite different attitudes towards their system that seem to be
highly pragmatic and dynamic as the only rule that are observed is to speak with
rnml. There is also the temperament of most babalwos that are something else that
one often find amongst priests and priestesses of rs. Usually they are kind, gentle and
sage like people that do can be tricky and playful, but still there is a jovial serenity amongst
these sages that are something else. It is perhaps not anything new that philosophy can be
turned into religion, actually philosophy as influenced and shaped religion ever since
Aristotles seeped into the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church with Augustine. And
maybe this is the better illustration. A philosophy contributing to the establishment of a

92

religion will still be its own philosophy in spite of giving birth to a religion. There are
solely a difference in context and establishment.

If as the wise sage, the one who knows all and through this vocation can comfort a society
and guide mens heart to understanding of their destiny and an understanding of the tools to
be employed for improving ones life rests on a dynamic and fluid interaction with creation
in totality. Instead of presenting dogmas, rules, regulations as is often the case in many
religions, it is important to read the ways the universe are moving, the rhythm, of the breath
of the soul of the world. The ritual is based upon repetition, a re-enactment of what worked
well in the past and advises are given in the same scope, but at the heart of the matter is the
communication with the source of Wisdom and perhaps it is in this field, the field of If,
one can start to discern what separates a tradition from religion. Tradition is actions done
that are inherited, it is more speaking about customs and the country fashion described by
Peel, and the term cult is more proper in order to designate a long standing tradition that has
allowed it self to be altered and refined, changed and readapted as time and circumstances
has found it needful. A religion on the other hand seem to be missing this fluidity and
dynamic signifying a tradition and rather the creation of dogmas also creates a need for
defending it since the dogma becomes the cornerstone of the belief, it is an institution that
expresses a certain belief, usually a systematic belief of an otherworldly character. The
flexibility of If however seem to have survived in the heterogeneity of these religions
considering the variations from place to place and how the importance of deities and myths
are different from region to region whether it is Brazil, Cuba or Hispania. Still, the country
fashion has become an institution of beliefs and accordingly something else than the ways
of the eternal pact maker rnml.

93

Chapter 7

Conclusions

In this study If has been treated as the focus for a tradition of wisdom amongst the people
referred to as Yoruba. It has been considered necessary in order to understand the
complexity of If and its adjuring cults to give a rather lengthy account of the making of the
Yoruba, since the subject of study is not easily defined. Also an awareness of the roots and
becoming of this people is considered to reflect exceptionally well the dynamic fluidity and
friendly attitude to change in the religious beliefs of the Yoruba. If has been presented as
the axis where all matters socially, historically and religious is revolving around both
because of Ifs nature but also because in the corpus of If the history and beliefs of this
people is found in a n intricate mace of myth and facts which in turn details and explains
the specific world-view of the Yoruba. The point attempted to be made in this dissertation
is that the wide interrelation between the Yoruba, their cults and If in it self invites to a
discourse rich in complexity and rich in reward for the ethnographer as a study like this
undoable contributes to shape and change the researcher as well, especially given the
dominant approach to the study as the religiously engaged academic or a man on the
threshold between academic protocol and cultic involvement.

94

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