Thursday, January 11, 2018

~ Communal Taboos In Ifa/Orisha Communities Part 1 ~

The following © information is courtesy of Awo Falokun and shared with his permission

Agbo ato,

I have discussed the personal taboos related to the development of iwa pele, I would like to discuss what can be considered the communal taboos of traditional Ifa. They are specifically taboos against; racism, sexism and homophobia. This is a tricky topic because the scriptural references in Ifa to communal taboo are not as clearly defined as the personal taboos. It is also a bit contentious because there are segments of the Ifa/Orisa community who believe Ifa endorses racism, sexism and homophobia.   I do not share that belief.


Technically the taboo against racism is an admonition in support of multi-culturalism. In the English language the word racism refers to institutional bias based on the implementation of ethic prejudice; for example discrimination in employment, discrimination in education, discrimination in access to social institutions and discrimination in access to political power. In the United States there is a long history of European American collusion to implement racist policies and institutions including slavery. Because privileged white men control the countries resources, the history of racism in American is not taught, politicians rarely address the issue, and the media pretends the only racism in American is when people of color treat privileged white men unfairly. The depth of the cultural inability of privileged white men to deal with the reality of racism is clearly evident in the emotionally traumatic response in the media to the idea that the group Black Lives Matters is addressing real issues, and the traumatic response in the media around black athletes and the national anthem. Apparently reporters and politicians cannot imagine the idea that an athlete suggesting social injustice is real can also be patriotic.


My point is that multi-culturalism is a hot button topic and the Ifa community is not exempt from the tensions associated with this issue.  I want to discuss the history of this issue in our communities and I want to preface my remarks by saying my opinion on this issue has, does and will create passionate disagreement. Based on my understanding of Ifa, disagreements are okay. The reason for bringing this issue to the table is to consider ways in which we kind begin to heal the wounds caused by racism and begin to establish guidelines for creating healthy extended families based on support from spiritual disciplines rooted in an African world view. This effort is, I believe, a healthy alternative to the confusion that plagues the political arena.


The scriptural basis for claiming Ifa is rooted in a multi-cultural world view is based on the re-occurring theme of the idea of the significant stranger. Perhaps the most famous of these stories describes a time when Sango wandered away from his village in Oyo and reached the region of Ijebu. At the time Ijebu was plagued by a panther that was attacking children. When Sango came to Ijebu he was caring a long stick used for pounding yam as his walking stick. The people of Ijebu asked Sango if he knew how to kill a panther. Sango who had never seen a panther said he was a skilled hunter and killing a panther was not a problem. He went into the woods climbed a tree and went to sleep. While in the tree a panther walked by and roared, Sango fell out of the tree and his walking stick hit the panther in the head killing it instantly.


The point of the story is that Sango confronted the panther because he had no fear of the panther because he had never seen a panther. In simple terms the solution to the problem comes from the significant stranger who introduces a new perspective on an old issue.   In many of these types of verses in Odu Ifa the significant stranger is called a foreigner. The word foreigner in Yoruba is Oyinbo from the elision oyin ebo meaning make an offering of honey. This word is frequently translated to mean white man and it is true that when the British arrived in Nigeria they were called oyinbo. The original meaning of the word was in fact a reference to the idea of strangers bringing a new perspective to the table. In the case of the British the new perspective was anything but sweet. This raises an issue of important concern about the contrast between the social ideals of a given spiritual tradition and the challenges of implementing those ideals in real life social situations.


Case in point; when Lukumi priests first came to the United States after Castro took control of Cuba, the Lukumi community was focused on efforts to reclaim their homeland. Because of this social concern and the need for secrecy Lukumi was closed to African Americans who wanted to reclaim their spiritual roots. In the late sixties one Lukumi house in New York opened its doors to African Americans. It was Ile Alaofun Iya Odedey who moved to New York from Puerto Rico and created an multi-cultural Orisa family. She helped train Reynard Simmons, Ed James, John Mason, Aina Olomo and Iyanla Vanzant who all became pioneers in the effort to bring Lukumi to a wider cultural community of devotees. On the West Coast this door was largely opened by Luisah Teish. At the same time Oba Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi traveled to Africa and with the blessing of the Oni of Ile Ife started Oyotunji village in South Carolina in 1970. He was joined by Baba Medahochi who was initiated into Ifa in Benin. Oyotunji village reached out to a largely African American community and Luisah Teish who co-founded Ile Orunmila Oshun created a multi-cultural family based on an effort to integrate the Lukumi and the traditional African traditions.


In simple terms, this means there are a number of choices for being a part of an Ifa community in the diaspora that provide different types of cultural and social support. I am not making an argument that anyone of these options is better than another. I am making the suggestion that traditional Ifa as it is practiced in Yoruba culture tends to me open to everyone.


In the early nineties the late Oni of Ile Ife, ire lona, was asked to expel me from Ifa based on my ethnic origins. The late Oni responded to this request by saying; “Jesus brought Christianity to Africa and Orunmila brought Ifa to the world.” The Oni’s statement clearly suggests Ifa is a multi-cultural spiritual discipline open to everyone. As the spiritual elder of traditional Ifa/Orisa I am of the opinion that he is sanctioned by the ancestors and the culture to make this kind of proclamation and to implement it in the form of an admonition. I am grateful for his support.
Ire

Baba 
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