You are on page 1of 13

Orunmila

and the Sixteen Evils



Yoruba Divination Poetry in Comparative Context

by

Anbal Daniel Meja

Compilation and Commentary by

Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju

Recreating and Studying Ese Ifa, Ifa Literature


Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems


Compcros

Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge

The Conclave at the Womb of Time Opon Ifa


The avian ambassadors look on as humans and non-humans constellate
at the fecundative infinity
Titling and interpretation of this example of a primary functional

and symbolic form of Ifa

by Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
2










Abstract

A retelling of a story from Yoruba divination poetry and a
comparison of this narrative with the vision of Christian saint Francis
of Assisi and Tibetan Buddhist hermit and poet, Jetsun Milarepa.
























ppr m ni farabal ni jogunda


Adia fun Orunmila
Ifa nl ba wn mul budo
Nita Iku nita Arun,
Nita Ajogun Mrrindilogun
Te nb lode oalaiye.

Slender-Palm-Frond-is-Patient-In-Taking-Its-Revenge revealed the
way to Orunmila when he was looking for a place to settle down.
Orunmila found a place in Deaths neighbourhood, where also lived
Sickness, Loss, and Bad Times, the neighbourhood of all the Sixteen
Evils that are in the world.

Orunmila said, Yeah, this is the place for me. So what can I do to
make it work out? They told him to make an offering on his
divination tools, (so that his practice of divination would show him
the way.) Offer money, a pigeon, a hen, the clothes he was wearing;
offer it at the place he was going to live.

So what happened when he got there?


He got to that place, near Deaths house, and started up the fire (like
turning on the lights). Death saw that someone had moved in next
door.

Whos that? he asked. Thats Orunmila. Ill go fix him. Said
Sickness. Loss said, No. Let me go. Bad Times spoke up and said, Ill
show him what for. No. Spoke Death flatly, If I dont go over there
you guys wont be able to stop him. He threw his huge club up in the
air and caught it with one hand.

When Death got over there, who did he meet? Our father Orunmila.
Our father saluted Death and asked him to stay awhile; he offered
him something to eat and cracked open a few beers, made sure he
was good. When Death finally got up to leave our father gave him the
chicken from the offering, asking him to take it with him.

When Death got back to his crew, he said, Uhlets back off. Back
off?! You saying back off?! retorted Sickness, I thought you said
you were going to give it to him with that club of yours? Well, well
just go look in on him ourselves.


Sickness, Loss, Bad Times, and all the other Evils of the World went
to visit Orunmila. The whole bunch of them, all naked, because thats
how they were back then. They didnt even have clothes. After theyd
greeted Orunmila, he asked them where they were going. They said
they were just passing by. Our father asked them to sit down, to take
a break and have a little rest. He gave them food, and something to
drink. Seeing that they were naked Orunmila took out some clothes
and handed them out.

Theyve been telling you things about us, havent they? asked
Sickness. No, no ones been talking about you said our father.
Come on, they must have been telling you things said Sickness. No,
no ones been talking about you. Not at all said our father. Then
why are you doing this? asked Sickness. Our father said, I just saw
you and did what I usually do. Orunmila said, I saw you and did for
you what Id do for anyone, what Id like done for myself. OK.
Sickness said. That first guy that came in here, you knowthat was
Death. And I am Sickness he said. And this here is Fight. This one
is Loss and that guy there hes Bad Times. He said, We wont mess
with you todaybut youll be hearing from us. They left Orunmila
alone.

Anyone that gets sick, laid up in bed, should go call on Orunmila so
they can feel better. Anyone thats lost something, should go call on
Orunmila, and get it back. Anyone having bad times, they should go
call on Orunmila, and have a better time. Anyone facing what appears
to be the end of the line, they too should go call on Orunmila. To go
about it any other way, you end up living with no one but the evils of
the world, with Death. Never forget the thankfulness and generosity
that are your true self; stay in Orunmilas house. This is how
Orunmila became wealthy. This is how our father became immortal.

When Orunmila was looking to settle down in the neighborhood of
Death, of Sickness, of Loss, of Bad Times, of the Sixteen Evils found in
the world, he said:

Iku wa forijin mi - Death forgive me.

Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan. Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan. Arun wa forijin
mi - Sickness, forgive me.

Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan. Ofo wa forijin mi
- Loss, forgive me.

Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan. Gbogbo Ajogun
to wa forijin mi - All Evils that exist, forgive me.

Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan Ajikan, ajikan rere, ajikan.

~ Odu Eji Ogbe


In like manner, we find a parallel in the prayer and supplications of a
Revered saint:


Where there is charity and wisdom,
there is neither fear nor ignorance.
Where there is patience and humility,
there is neither anger nor disturbance.
Where there is poverty with joy,
there is neither covetousness nor avarice.
Where there is inner peace and meditation,
there is neither anxiousness nor dissipation.
Where there is fear of the Lord to guard the house,
there the enemy cannot gain entry.
Where there is mercy and discernment,
there is neither excess nor hardness of heart.
~ St. Francis of Assisi

Commentary by Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju

Previous page

The unity of being as evoked by St. Francis' "Canticle of Creatures"
also known as "Canticle of the Sun"
From "Canticle of the Sun" by Featherpen
in A Pasture Green : Faith, Reflection and Prayer



Next page

The cosmos within the divine transmutation
represented by the self sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
a central conception of Christianity, in a stained glass window
depicting St. Francis cosmic vision
in his Canticle of the Creatures
From St. Francis of Assisi Church, Chiara Center (Springfield, IL).
Posted by Bob and Kristi Rice in " St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi"
in Embracing Hope: The Blog of Bob and Kristi Rice, Serving in the Congo

This delightful poem is a retelling, by Anbal Daniel Meja, in terms of


a colloquial but still beautiful version of English deriving from the
United Sates of America, of a story from the literary corpus of Owo
Merindinlogun, a divination system developed by Nigeria's Yoruba
people world and earlier translated in William Bascoms Sixteen
Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World from the
corpus known to Merindinlogun diviner Maranoro Salako. Anbal
Daniel Meja presents this retelling in How Orunmila Becomes
Immortal in his blog Anbal Meja: Out from the Storm Cloud.
The poem and its comparison with the words of St. Francis of Assisi
came to my attention through their posting by Gboyega Adejumo at
the Facebook group The Cosmos of World Art and Correlative
Cultural Forms.
The poem belongs to Eji Ogbe, one of the Odu, organizational
categories of Merindinlogun, under which its imaginative literature
is organized as the primary carriers of information in the verbal
form of this multidisciplinary system, which, like Ifa, the central
Yoruba cognitive system, is organised in terms of the correlation of
mathematics, literature and the visual arts. This recreation by Meja
suggests the value of making Merindinlogun and the identical ese ifa,
literature of Ifa, contemporary in relation to various social contexts.
The imaginative, literary character of Merindinlogun poetry and ese
ifa, as demonstrated, par excellence, by the pioneering work of
Wande Abimbola, represented by An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus,
Ifa Divination Poetry and Sixteen Great Poems of Ifa, along witha good
number of essays, is slowly developing in appreciation in a context in
which Ifa enthusiasts seem more attuned to its sacred character,
leading to a tension between the spectrum of possibilities of
response to the sacred demonstrated by the sacred seen as
autonomous of humanity, and at times, as transcending humanity,
the sacred as co-creative with humanity, the sacred as expressed by
human creativity or as an invention of this creativity, a point related
to Karin Barber's exploration of Yoruba religious expressions in
"How Man Makes God in West Africa : Yoruba Attitudes Towards the
Orisa" and to Noel Amherd's investigation of similar questions in
Reciting Ifa : Identity, Difference and Heterogeneity, described as
insightfully expounding on ese ifa as a "philosophical heritage that
privileges heterogeneity. "

10

The poem's central figure is Orunmila, a symbolic figure in many


Merindinlogun poems and in ese ifa on account of his character as
the orisa or deity of wisdom whose knowledge the Ifa oracle
mediates. He is depicted as warding off negative attention from the
Ajogun by treating them with disarming kindness, thereby
dramatizing a perspective recurrently projected in ese ifa, the
absence of a sense of absolute evil, in a context centred on
recognition of possibilities which need to be negotiated with rather
than combated, such negotiation evident in Orunmila's kindness to
those dangerous powers, and even, in the prayer at the conclusion,
appealing to them to forgive him, perhaps in the understanding of the
perennial fallibility of human beings that could invite the misfortune
the Ajogun represent, the figure of Orunmila being also used in
Merindinlogun and Ifa literature in ways that dramatize the
complexity of being human.
Mejas correlation of the Orunmila story with the 13th century
Italian Christian saint, St. Francis of Assisi is sublime, particularly
since Francis represents an ecological wisdom in its broadest sense,
correlative with that active in Ifa, as in Francis' relationship with all
possibilities of existence, from natural forms to death, embodied by
his famous Canticle of Creatures, as well as a non-aggressive
engagement with reality as demonstrated by his words Mejia quotes
in conjunction with the Merindinlogun poem, a creativity actualized
in the cultivation of inward power as a primary means of combating
the challenges of existence.
The Merindinlogun story achieves even greater ecumenical force,
amplifying the timeless insight into the human condition
represented by these conjunctive accounts, when also correlated
with the great stories of the encounters with demons by the 11th-
12th century Tibetan Buddhist hermit and mystic poet Jetsun
Milarepa narrated and their doctrinal implications explained, most
likely, among other sources, in The Hundred Thousand Songs of
Milarepa, translated and annotated by Garma Chang, the essence of
which are similar to the two accounts of such adventures of
Milarepa's by Jacey Tramutt and Pema Chdrn. Jacey's account
includes a delightful painting by Susan Sorrell Hill incidentally
evoking splendidly the confluence between the Milarepa and the
Orunmila stories:

11

Inviting the Demons


Milarepa was a Tibetan saint. The story goes that he was
peacefully meditating in his cave when the demons of greed, fear,
and anger appeared. They were terrifying. The flesh hung from
their bones, and they smelled foul. They held bloody knives and
swords. Milarepa looked up and said, Ah, Ive been expecting
you. Come sit by my fire, have tea. They said, Arent you afraid
of us? He said, No. Your hideous appearance only reminds me
to be aware and have mercy. Come sit by my fire and have tea.



Avoiding Our Fear
Unlike Milarepa, we usually do not invite our fear for
tea. Instead, we push it away, kick it out the door, or pretend
its not there. We worry and obsess about our thoughts and
our life situation. We get angry at ourselves and become self-
aggressive, interpreting our fear to mean that something is
wrong with us. We escape through TV, alcohol, the computer,
food- whatever our style. We very rarely sit down and do the
one thing that would really be helpful- feel our fear.
Pema Chdrn, in Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate
Living, quoted in Goodreads, provides a more elaborate account that

12

resonates with Hill's evocative painting in its suggesting of


companionship between the otherwise frightening creatures and the
human figure, warmed into conviviality by his hospitality, the glow
generated by the bond of sharing a meal indicating the central
conception of the Milarepa stories in their depiction of the demons as
ultimately indistinguishable from the self in the unity of the self and
all aspects of reality, a cosmic vision expressed in the Tramutt and
Chdrn accounts in terms of the demons as expressions of the
unsavory aspects of the self :

One evening Milarepa returned to his cave after gathering
firewood, only to find it filled with demons. They were
cooking his food, reading his books, sleeping in his bed. They
had taken over the joint. He knew about nonduality of self
and other, but he still didnt quite know how to get these guys
out of his cave. Even though he had the sense that they were
just a projection of his own mindall the unwanted parts of
himselfhe didnt know how to get rid of them. So first he
taught them the dharma [ Buddhist philosophy] . He sat on
this seat that was higher than they were and said things to
them about how we are all one. He talked about compassion
and shunyata and how poison is medicine [aspects of
Buddhist philosophy] . Nothing happened. The demons were
still there. Then he lost his patience and got angry and ran at
them. They just laughed at him. Finally, he gave up and just
sat down on the floor, saying, Im not going away and it looks
like youre not either, so lets just live here together. At that
point, all of them left except one. Milarepa said, Oh, this one
is particularly vicious. (We all know that one. Sometimes we
have lots of them like that. Sometimes we feel thats all weve
got.) He didnt know what to do, so he surrendered himself
even further. He walked over and put himself right into the
mouth of the demon and said, Just eat me up if you want to.
Then that demon left too.

I am grateful to Anbal Daniel Meja and Gboyega Adejumo for giving
me the opportunity to bring together three of my favourite spiritual
contexts, Yoruba divination literature, St. Francis of Assisi and Jetsun
Milarepa.

13