WHAT IS IFA?
IFA is the religion of the Yoruba peoples of Africa. Unfortunately, within the last 100 years traditonal forms of religion in Africa have declined under the influence of colonialism, Western acculturation and proselytizing by Islam and Christianity. In the African Diaspora (mainly in the Americas) African-derived belief systems are in a state of impressive growth.
Today Yoruban religion has undergone a phenomenal surge in popularity and interest. Santeria, the adaptation of Yoruba and Ifa with Catholicism, came to the U.S. - first with Puerto Ricans in the forties and fifties and then with the flood of Cuban refugees in the sixties. The pantheon of major Yoruba deities has survived virtually intact, along with a complex of rites, beliefs, music, dances and myths of Yoruba origin.
WHO ARE THE YORUBA?
Yorubaland in AfricaThe Yoruba, of whom there are more than twenty-five million, are defined by their shared language and certain geographical boundaries. They occupy the southwestern corner of Nigeria. To the east and north the Yoruba culture reaches its approximate limits in the region of the Niger River. In the north-west, it extends across Benin Republic (formerly the Republic of Dahomey) into central Togo. The main neighbors of the Yoruba are the Edo, Igbo, Igbira and Igala to the east, the Nupe and Bariba to the north, and the Fon, Mahi, Egun and other Ewe-speaking groups to the west.
The name Yoruba was applied to all these linguistically and culturally related peoples by their northern neighbors, the Hausas. The old Yoruba cities typically were urban centers with surrounding farmlands that extended outward as much as a dozen miles or more. A common Yoruba belief system dominated the region from the Niger, where it flows in an easterly direction, all the way to the Gulf of Guinea in the south.
Traditionally, Yorubaland consisted of semi-independent states governed by kings. Under those twenty or more kings, a greater number of subordinate rulers, at least 1000, were responsible for single towns and villages. Therefore there was never much political unity. The principal source of ethnic identity was language, which distinguished the Yoruba from the neighbouring traditions such as the Hausa speaking peoples.
However ancestral cultures directly related to the Yoruba once flourished well north of the Niger. Portuguese explorers "discovered" the Yoruba cities and kingdoms in the fifteenth century, but cities such as Ife and Benin, among others, had been standing at their present sites for at least five hundred years before the European arrival. Archeological evidence indicates that a technologically and artistically advanced, proto-Yoruba (Nok), were living somewhat north of the Niger in the first millennium B.C., and they were then already working with iron. [Note: This is a measure of a civilizations' "advancement" for scholars].
Ifa theology states that the creation of humankind arose in the sacred city of Ile Ife where Oduduwa (the first king) created dry land from water. As a result, a large but undetermined number of Africans migrated from Mecca to Ile Ife. At this point the Eastern Africans and Western Africans synergized. Ife was the first of all Yoruba cities. Later, the cities of Oyo and Benin were created, and expanded as a consequence of their strategic locations at a time when trading became prosperous.
Ife, unlike Benin and Oyo, never developed into a true kingdom. Though it remained a city-state it had paramount importance to Yoruba's as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought. Until relatively recent times the Yoruba's did not consider themselves a single people, but rather as citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yagba and other cities, regions or kingdoms. These cities regarded Lagos and Owo, for example, as foreign neighboors, and the Yoruba kingdoms warred not only against the Dahomeans but also against each other. Both Benin and Oyo are said to have been founded by Ife rulers or descendants of Ife rulers. Benin derived its knowledge of brass casting directly from Ife, and the religious system of divining called Ifa spread from Ife not only throughout the Yoruba country but to other West African cultures as well.
SPIRITUAL CONCEPTS OF THE YORUBA
The royal dynasties are said to descend from a single ancestor, the first king of Ile Ife - Oduduwa. During Oduduwa's lifetime, or soon after his death, his sons and grandsons are said to have left Ile Ife to found their own kingdoms. In several oral traditions, the founders of the principal kingdoms are presented as the children of Oduduwa specifically by his principal wife, Omonide or Iyamode. In Cuba this King and Queen are known as Obatala and Yemaya. There are many variations on the story of creation and how the Orisha were born from the coupling of Oduduwa and Omonide (Obatala and Yemaya). An example is given in this excerpt from Dr. Marta Maria Vega's Altar of My Soul:
The Orisha Olodumare, the Supreme God, originally lived in the lower part of heaven, overlooking endless stretches of water. One day, Olodumare decided to create Earth, and sent an emissary, the orisha Obatalá, to perform this task. Olodumare gave Obatalá the materials he needed to create the world: a small bag of loose earth, a gold chain, and a five-toed hen.
Obatalá was instructed to use the chain to descend from heaven. When he reached the last link, he piled the loose earth on top of the water. Next, he placed the hen on the pile of earth, and ordered her to scatter the earth with her toes across the surface of the water.
When this was finished, Obatalá climbed the chain to heaven to report his success to Olodumare. Olodumare then sent his trusted assistant, the chameleon, to verify that the earth was dry. When his helper had assured him that the Earth was solid, Olodumare named Earth "Ile Ife," the sacred house.
Before he retired to the uppermost level of heaven, Olodumare decided to distribute his sacred powers "aché". He united Obatalá, the Orisha of creation, and Yemayá, the orisha of the ocean, who gave birth to a pantheon of orishas, each possessing a share of Olodumare’s sacred power. At last, the divine power of Olodumare was dispersed. Then one day, Olodumare called them all from Earth to heaven and gave Obatalá the sacred power to create human life. Obatalá returned to Earth and created our ancestors, endowing them with his own divine power. We are all descendants from the first people of the sacred city of Ile Ife; we are all children of Olodumare, the sacred orisha who created the world.
For every Yoruba in the Diaspora, the ancient city of lle-lfe is their ancestral home and root. It is incontestable that Oduduwa who all sources of history proclaim as the progenitor of the Yoruba race, had his house (sacred grove) in lle-lfe. Oduduwa is believed to have had several sons (16 in number) who later became powerful traditional rulers of Yoruba land: Alafin of Oyo, Oni of Ife, Oragun of Ila, Owa of Ilesha, Alake of Abeokuta and Osemawe of Ondo.
Yoruba believe in a supreme being, in primordial divinities, and spirits that have been deified. God is known as Olodumare (the one who has the fullness of everything) and Olorun (the owner of heaven, the Lord whose abode is in the heaven above). Other names are also used that reflect the Yoruba belief that God has all the possible attributes of a person. As the Supreme Being created heaven and earth, he also brought into existence hundreds of divinities, and the spirits (Orisa, or Imole, and Ebora). Other historical figures, such as kings, culture heroes, founders of cities, etc. were deified, and are invoked along with personifications of natural forces such as earth, wind, trees, river, lagoon, sea, rock, hills and mountains. As in other African societies, Yoruba also believe in the active existence of the deceased ancestors.
The Yoruban philisophy includes the beliefs that:
* There is One Supreme God
* Except for the day you were born and the day you are supposed to die there is not a single event in ones life that cannot be forecast and if necessary, changed.
* Your spirit lives on after death and can reincarnate through blood relatives
* You are born with a specific path.
* Divination serves as a road map to your path.
* Our ancestors exist and must be honored, respected and consulted.
* The Orisa (forces of nature) live within us and deal with the affairs of men.
* You must never harm another human being or the universe, which you are apart of.
* Spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional realms of our existence must all work together and be balanced.
* Sacrifice is necessary to assure spiritual success.