Can you name an orisa that does not give children? How about one that does not bring wealth? Or how about an orisa that does not defend and protect its devotees? I assure you that you will not find any such orisa. Likewise, can you tell me an odu that has nothing to do with long life? Or an odu that does not define a path to victory? An odu that does not address human destiny? I don't know them all, but I am certain that you will never find such an odu. What does this mean to you?
It is so very unfortunate that people have dumbed down their practice to the point of over simplification. It is no wonder we are inundated with so much confusion over the most basic aspects of Orisa Lifestyle. Whenever we are exposed to the real truth about exactly how expansive our tradition is, we become overwhelmed by internal questions that refute everything we thought we knew about Orisa Lifestyle. Most of us would rather cling to a comforting lie than take a chance on an inconvenient truth.
For example, there is the linguistic fantasy. We get infinitely creative about interpreting isolated Yoruba vocabulary words in a desperate effort to prove some kind of obscure cultural position. This seems to be particularly appealing to people who don't want to be Yoruba, per se, but they love the products of Yoruba civilization and have not been able to eliminate them from the conversation altogether. The best they can do is use Frankenstein linguistics to piece together a grotesque culturo-linguistic monster.
Then, there is the Afro-hippie movement. Here, anything goes. Orisa Lifestyle is seen as an African alternative to the oppressive, male chauvinist, individualist, WASP world. So, anything that is perceived to be in opposition to the mainstream is supposedly welcome and celebrated in Orisa Lifestyle. These are the people who assume that orisa is somehow obliged to accept them, as they are, now matter what. They want to be accepted but only on their own terms. In their minds, none of the rules apply to them: They don't have to learn the language or adhere to gender roles or follow instructions. Some don't even have to be initiated in order to have license to practice. This is a class of people who want timeless tradition without any of the obligations that actually sustain the tradition.
Finally, we have the conciliatory enablers. These are the ones who know better but refuse to tell. They are well-versed in the language and culture, yet they allow the inaccuracies to continue. They seem to listen with both ears and speak out of both sides of their mouths. This particular group of people are the most important to understand. Contrary to how you might feel about their social psychology, their ethics and values, they are gatekeepers of precious knowledge and rare technical skills. But their logic is not quite as simple as the apparently contradictory information they dole out. To illustrate, please consider this verse and story of the Holy Odu Iretengbe:
Somuroga Awo Ewi
Sawolololo Awo Oke Ijero
Aparijajoogun Awo Ewi
Awon meteeta ni won nsefa fun Ewi Olo
Omo asiyun sorun bawon jo gbedu
Won l'Ewi o lowoo, Ewi lowo
Won l'Ewi o l'obinrin, Ewi l'obinrin
Won l'Ewi o kole, Ewi kole...
Here, Ifa teaches us of Ologbojigolo, the genius awo of Ilawo town. As it were, the three awo mentioned above had been the king's diviners for many years. On this fateful day, they predicted wealth, wives and homes for Ewi, the king. But the Ewi also wanted a child. They recited numerous verses but could not find one that defined the way to children. And so, they went in search of an awo who knew the appropriate verse of Iretengbe.
They were advised to find Ologbo Jigolo, the awo of Ilawo town. When they found him, he was ready to recite the verse on the spot but the awo stopped him, preferring to let him tell it directly to the Ewi. Ologbo went before the Ewi and recited the verse. Then he solved the problem and the king made him a rich man that day.
Later on, the Ewi's friend, the king of Apa was threatened by war from Oyo kingdom. And so, the Ewi sent his diviner, Ologbo Jigolo to assist. Ologbo transformed every blade of grass into Apa soldiers. They defeated Oyo and again, Ologbo was compensated generously by the king.
But Oyo kingdom was not pacified so easily. They also consulted Ifa to know the secret of Apa's success in battle. The babalawo told the Alaafin to capture the awo named Ologbo Jigolo in order to conquer Apa. To do so, the Alaafin was required to send his own daughter, Isokunronke, along with a basketful of obi abata into Apa. The night before she arrived, Ologbo Jigolo had a nightmare. He consulted Ifa and advised the king of Apa that a beautiful woman would come selling obi abata and that she should be totally ignored.
As predicted, Isokunronke arrived and everyone ignored her, except... Ologbo Jigolo himself! He was smitten by her beauty and bought kola from her. He eventually married her there in Apa, and she gave him twins. It was later on that Ologbo and his wife were chatting comfortably, sipping wine, that she casually asked him the secret of Apa's success in battle. Without thinking, he told her the secret and the way to defeat the soldiers made from grass.
The very next day, Isokunronke packed herself and the children and fled towards Oyo. Ologbo however awakened and prepared an incantation that immobilized her in her tracks before she arrived at Oyo. She begged him and explained her desire to protect her family. He felt compassion for Isokunronke and restored her legs, then escorted her into Oyo. The king received them happily. The princess quickly explained the way to defeat Apa and no time was wasted before the war drums sounded. The people of Apa tried to invoke the grass to become soldiers, but in vain. And so, Oyo conquered Apa and the king was beheaded, according to custom.
As a final test, the Alaafin called all babalawos to see the covered calabash, which held the king of Apa's head. He asked them to disclose the contents, using Opele. One by one they tried and failed. It was finally the turn of Ologbo Jigolo. He cast opele and the Holy Odu Iretengbe appeared and he declared:
Even if I don't know how to cast ikin Ifa in my palm,
Even if I don't know how to print odu Ifa with iyerosun
I can boldly say that the head of Alapa is inside the calabash.
Ologbo Jigolo was honored by the king and given a house which stands today in Oyo kingdom.*
There are many lessons to learn here. But I wish to merely highlight the position taken by Ologbo Jigolo. Likewise, it is important to emphasize the fact that, while Oyo and Apa were at war with one another we are not. And so, it is more wise for us to approach Ifa in a more uniform fashion, with a shared vision in mind. This vision does not allow for cutting corners or practicing a religion of convenience. Our mission is to bring about the Good Condition. Anything that compromises that must be rejected.
* Agboola, Awodiran. Ifa Ohun Ijinle Aye. Page 88
Live the Medicine
Obafemi Origunwa, MA
Thought leader, Ifa priest and author of four definitive books, Obafemi Origunwa inspires metamorphosis through living the medicine that will heal your life and heal the lives of the people you're destined to serve.