Friday, January 12, 2018

~ Communal Taboos In Ifa/Orisha Communities Part 2 ~

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

Agbo ato,

Continuing on about communal taboos in Ifa spiritual communities I believe that there is a clear taboo against sexism. This taboo works both ways, men are not better than women and women are not better than men. There is a concept in Ifa that I call gender equity, a concept where both men and women have the opportunity to make equal contributions to the growth and elevation of the community. Gender equity is an aspect of suuru which is the Ifa idea of inner peace. When we look at the symbolic representation of inner peace as a white bird on a white staff we have the female symbol of the bird resting on the male symbol of the staff or phallus. Together they represent the androgynous balance of Obatala as fully developed male/female Orisa.

Another symbol of gender balance is when male initiates of Sango dance with their hair tied in female braids and when they use a dance apron to represent a skirt. There is also the example of the male chief of Agemu. In Ijebu state Agemu is the Orisa worshipped by the body guards of the Oba and the Chief of the body guards has a taboo against wearing men’s cloths. The reason for this taboo is to insure that he does not use his power of incantation for inappropriate reasons. In the home of the Alaafin of Oyo there is a group of women called Iya Obara who shave their heads to represent male female balance, the elder mothers of Obara are advisors to the Oba of Oyo. In Ile Ife there is egbe Iya Irun which means bearded women and the bearded women are the advisors to the male Oni of Ile Ife. All these references suggest spiritual growth is a result of the balance of male and female elements of consciousness found in all men and women.

On a communal level the idea of gender balance is expressed in a number of ways. One of the functions of Ogboni is to make sure each male awo in a community is protected by a female Iyaami. The women of Iyaami are extremely effective guardians and warriors in the Spirit Realm and they have the responsibility of protected Igbodu or sacred space for men during male initiations.  For me on a personal level I rarely do divination without support from at least one elder mothers to make sure every problem solution is informed by a female perspective.

If we look at Ifa scripture there appears to have been a time in ancient when women controlled Ifa and Egun. The scripture suggests that this might have created an imbalance and men took control of Ifa and Egun which has since created another type of imbalance. It is clear to me that the elders in Ifa have made a historical effort to rectify this situation by re-opening Ifa and Egun to women. This has led to some controversy. In my own case my insistence on gender equity influenced my decision to switch egbe’s late in my career as an awo. In ancient times there might have been political and social equity in villages where female Iyaami was treated as equal to male Ifa. Unfortunately during the British occupation of Nigeria the British outlawed both Iyaami and Ogboni and this had a devastating effect on the reality of gender equity on Ifa related traditions in Nigeria. The point being that as a result of the British/Christian assault on our faith there are different approaches to the question of reclaiming the original idea of gender balance.

In the Diaspora I feel the important question is: do women feel as if they have equal status, power and influence as men? If the answer is no then structural changes need to be made to fix the problem of unequal treatment. At present I see a situation where a significant number of women are initiated into Ifa but they are not included by the men in Ifa ritual and they are rarely given any training. 
For me these questions are simple to resolve. First I reject out of hand the Christian ideal that women are either evil or the source of evil in the world. Absolutely nothing in traditional Ifa supports this silly notion. Second Ifa is based on nature worship, nature exists as a result of gender equity, if our Ifa families do not reflect that equity then our nature worship is based on a false view of the world. 

In simple terms Ifa never was, never is and I pray never will be based on the insane idea that men are better than women. Ifa is based on the idea that men develop male ase, women develop female ase and we come together to fuse that ase in a way that elevates the community and co-creates the world we live in.

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