Differences between traditional isese V.S Afro-Cuban Lucumi system of worship.
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Differences between traditional isese V.S Afro-Cuban Lucumi
Here you will find a few basic examples of how Yorubaland practices of S.W Nigeria of what is called isese or aka (the great tradition ) . Verses the possibly more extensively known and practiced Afro- Cuban Lucumi system of IFA- Santeria in the diaspora (outside of Africa). Now iam not doing this with the intention to make one seem better than the other. This is not the intent at all here . It’s for educational purposes only . And to save time explaining to people repeatedly. The differences between the two practices . This I strongly believe ,this small write up , will help in diminishing. A lot of confusion, for GOD knows we already drowning in confusion as is.
Here below , you will find a few differences, this list is not all encompassing nor is it all inclusive by any means. But it shall serve as a basic comparison template to education oneself . No one tradition, or way of practice is better than the other. As far as I am concerned “ Best “or “better” boils down to the individual and how each tradition has served each person on a personal level . And where life and destiny has lead each particular person. Down each path via whatever branches of whatever tradition. They now find themselves in currently or even end up in . In the end , destiny will take you to where you need to be for how ever long you need to be there for. With this being said down below are yet but a few of these , mentioned differences enjoy.
I will also add to this write up that within yorubalnd for example. I will say that no one house , no one egbe of ifa and orisa do the exact same thing across the board . There many similarities as would be obvious. But there might be , even more differences than , you will think would be possible. This means for example , that a traditional house in OYO. Will do initiations construct orisas icons . And make and have rituals . That a house in lets say Ogun state about an hour plus drive south of OYO . May not even have a clue of or recognize or have any value or significance to them particularly . And also vice versa, Which is why a lot of the confusion in these traditions stem form . And why confusion and doubt will always linger and be aprt of these traditions.
Because in the end truly is different strokes for different folks. Remember there is no such things as “RIGHT WAY” OR “WRONG WAY”. We as human beings and specially in these traditions we get sooooo…. Caught up in this nonsense of right and wrong. That we forget to ask the real question. Which is did it work? Did you get the outcome or the results you wanted . Where you satisfied with what was done on your behalf. If whatever was done, in the way that it was done for you . Worked in your favor, or served you in a positive manner . Than it’s really and open and shut case as far as iam concerned . Keep in mind that spirituality is NOT COOKIE CUTTER! ONE SIZE FITS ALL. And never will be .
With that being said , one usually follows . What has been done traditionally . Via one linage , and this is also fine and acceptable. But to many times we close off our minds . And stay so ridge in our thinking that it actually . Becomes a issue in our expansion of consciousness and spirituality.
I will give one brief example of how this tradition can be confusing. If one is not opened minded to how spirit manifest itself in different areas throughout yorubaland and the world at large. You will be confused beyond to the beyond and extremely frustrated. Might even give up on the tradition all together . We will take the example of the icon of egbe orun for educational purposes. The egeb orun form OYO look totally different form how they are. Constructed and look in other places across yorubaland like that of ijebu area or that of Abeokuta as well as even in Osogbo.
Now you may ask as the human mind loves to do. The million dollar question , which one is the ‘real” one? the answer they are all real. Because that’s the way that those group of people decided to make and worship egbe orun the heavily mates as an icon . I had to touch on this topic to let readers know that . Even in yorubaland which is what iam more familiar with and practice . You will see these differences because again, different strokes for different folks .
I have come across a lot of babalawos . In Yorubaland that see, these differences and have expressed. That one particular way is rubbish and or fake and the one they are familiar with is the best and real one. This is totally absurd thinking and shame on them for having this type of elitist mentality. Iam here to tell you, to not fall for this. Because people will try to shake you in what you have received for financial gain. Remember that whatever icon you may have. Could very possibly be very different looking than . The same orisa which iocn you may posses . From another linage or town in yorubaland . This doesn’t not make it lesser than or fake in any way shape or form .All it makes it is different and nothing more . Its just how one set or group of people decided to traditionally, make that certain icon for that specific orisa. I hope this also helps some for future references as well.
But with all this being said you will find similarities across all houses as well . Because most if not all of the adaptations made in the diaspora . Where not needed and or practiced or spread throughout Yorubaland. For the slave trade and hundreds of years of separation . Has been the root cuase of these various differences. That will be explained here below. And these are primarily the examples given below.
1.) As far as I know no one in yorubaland gives what is termed in Spanish (collares) or what is traditionally know as ilekes ceremony as the first step into the tradition . The collares ceremony is something that developed in Cuba for whatever reason. Yes we in yorubaland give ilekes or in simple common terms orisa color necklaces. Respective to the orisa you maybe initiating to or receiving. Depending if said orisa even has a respective ileke that goes with it or not. In some houses the ileke maybe different colors form that of another house . Or may not have an ileke at all . It boils down to region and costumes etc. So ilekes are given but not as a set of 5 with a head rogation and etc like is it done in the lucumi way of worship. Again nothing wrong with the way the afro-cuban system does this collares ceremony . we just don’t preform it . And this is difference number 1 between the 2 branches.
2.) One does not receive warriors or what is termed in Spanish guerrors . Warriors usually are the second step in the afro-cuban tradition . You typically receive a set of orisas together all at once. Mainly but not limited to Ogun, with will have in it oshossi . With the small metal steal looking or aluminum Osun . Which atop has a little rooster molded at top and a cup like shaped middle base with connected to a small pole with a flat bottom to keep it steady. You also get an Esu and also in many cases your what it termed mano de orula or one hand of ifa . We do not give these icons mentioned in this manner. Each of those icons minus the osun which is a adaptation of the babalawo iron osun staff. And is only given to babalawos to posses. Give Ogun, osoosi, and esu. All separate and only when IFA through divination has , ordained that the person need to have such an icon . To bring home to worship and attened to for there and there family well being etc. For us the frist step into the tradition is giving the individual what we term isefa . Which is more popularly known as “mano de orula” or the one hand of ifa.
3.) In Yorubaland we don’t consult lost muertos first when we embark on our spiritual duties . Nor do we give los muertos the first sacrifices before any other spirit or deity. If anything we feed Esu first so that he can give us the blessings of open road and push away any and all negativity that maybe lurking around . . In the Lucumi tradition, in almost always the case. When ceremonies are conducted . Divination with coconuts at ‘el pie de egun or el muerto” will be conducted to receive the word and the blessing for the ceremony at hand. This is not the case in Orisa as it is practiced in yorubaland . Paying homage to the ancestors and the deceased priests etc are done in different forms. But it is not a standard practice in Yorubaland to give acknowledgment to the ancestors firstly .That custom of giving acknowledgment to the dead first before beginning a ceremony is the custom ,that developed and is now pretty much standardized in the Afro –Cuban system.
4.) In Yorubaland we don’t do any divination with coconuts or what is termed or called obi . We use what is called kola nuts or obi abata. The adaptation of using coconuts was used as the formal “obi” . Because the actual obi as they call it . Grows on a tree that is not available on the island of Cuba. So a second best substitute had to be found. And hence the coconut divination was birth as the standard way of asking or deriving yes or no answers form Orisa and spirit alike.
5.) We also don’t have 7 “ misas espirituales” or spiritual séances to see if the person that is about to initiate into IFA cult fully as a Babalawo . Eguns are ok and on board with what the individual is about to do or undertake. Once IFA ok the person for initiation . He or she is then already good to go for the initiation , when finances are ready and the spiritual GOD parents give the go ahead etc.
6.) We do not give women there what is known as “cofa’ or mano de orula or one hand of ifa with only 1 or 2 ikin: ( palm nuts) . Which is traditionally done in lucumi afro- Cuban tradition . We usually give 16- 21 ikin . Mainly you’ ll typically see 21 because of the fact that . They are sold in sets of 21 here in the states .But as a bare minimum 16 ikin need to be in the pot which contain IFA . This is because each ikin or palm nut . Is a representation of the 16 major odus of IFA. Ogbe meji – Ofun Meji . Also our ikin IFA are of 4 and above eyes . These eyelits are found ontop of the head of each ikin. The Afro- Cuban tradition use exclusively 3 eyed ikin . For everything IFA when turning in IFA implements such as ikin ifa or the scared palm nuts. Traditionalist in arent appose to having some 3 eyed ikin but it shouldnt be the majority talkless of it fully being all 3 eyed ikin. I believe that 3 or anything numbered 3 is someting that invokes contention where as 4 eyed ikin which is what is more often times used has a different resonance to it than 3. And for now i will leave it at that.
7.) There is no big discord and or big separation between the priesthood of IFA and or other priesthoods of other orsia secs. In yorubaland all priest and priestesses work together for whatever common goal or undertaking. IFA is seen as any other orisa is seen as what it is an ORISA! Each orisa may have its cult and adherents to the specific cult as such. But there is no sense of elitism of exclusivity . Because of one person being and babalawo and the other person being what is termed and olorisa of any specific orisa. We are for the most part a unified front. That works hand and hand in the common worship of orisa at large.
8.) In Yorubaland one can initiate into any orisa then initiate into the IFA cult as Babalawo or iyanifa . And later on if need be or required initiate into other orisas . Even after having IFA fully made. The belief that nothing goes over the “head of IFA”. Is not a believe the Yoruba in west Africa hold . And you can easily find people with several orisas fully initiated or “ crowned “ as the term is more widely known here in the diaspora. As for in Afro – Cuban lucumi system the men. Slated for IFA initiation ,initiate into there head orisa firstly . Then into IFA and thats where the bucks stop . For anything done after that . Would be seen as taboo a disrespect of the highest degree to Orunmila the prophet of the IFA cult. And is never allowed to be done. Even if the individual never got initiated into his governing orisa. They will have will and awo Orunmila and that it.
9.) In yorubaland women are allowed to fully initiate into the IFA cult and become what we call iyanifa. Something that is for the most part very taboo in the afro-cuban tradition . This topic is very controversial and may remain as such probably as long as we live. Even in Youbaland still a few small group of houses refrain form initiating women into ifa. But about 99% of all Yorubaland ifa and isese houses do practice initiation into the IFA cult for women . As what is termed iyanifa which Is for the lack of a better analogy . The male equivalent which is called or termed or commonly known as Babalawo.
10.) In Yorubaland we do not have what is termed the year of “iyaworaje” which is dressing entirely in white every single day . For and entire year after one initiates into the priesthood of any orisa. This term iyaworaje can be further broken down for better understanding. Iyawo : means “New wife” and or bride .This is actually a common term used in yorubaland . It signifies that the newly initiate person . Rather a man or women sex is not of any concern here . Has now become a wife spiritually and symbolically of that very orisa they have initiated into . The suffix added to the word iyawo/raje the raje part is a Spanish added suffix to the word iyawo. In some instances through divination even in west Africa . One will be recommended to wear white colored clothes as often as possible . But this is never something that is 100% compulsory to be done . Or costmary after an initiation into orisa like it is in the Afro- Cuban system after initiation into orisa.
11.) In Yorubaland there is no such thing as Espiritismo as its known in Latin-America and beyond (Spiritism) or mesa blanca or any of the Allen Kardec type systems of spirit or egun worship. The Yorubas know absolutely nothing of this at all and whatsoever . Certainly there are many concepts found in Yorubaland that also exist in Espiritismo, as commonalties can be found in many spiritual practices. Such as the companions of heaven (spiritual guides or the spiritual room in Espiritismo), trance-possession by deities, reincarnation, etc. But these concepts are not exclusive to Espiritismo, and they come most notably from traditions that had existed from far before the existence of Espiritismo. Which is a relatively young practice in and around 400 years old . By far the yorubas in west Africa have been dabbling in ancestral worship for enons .Before. Allen Kardec ( not is real name) would found the spiritual system that would gain its popularity . Which spread and Migrated from France as spiritual séances to the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico and beyond . To what is now called or commonly know as Espiritismo at large .
12.) In Yorubaland we make direct initiations to Orisas such as Obaluwaye, Oba, Aganju, Osumare, Iyewa, Oduduwa, Olokun, etc. Which are only received as adimu and are not crowned in Cuban Lucumi system. Moreover, each one of these deities has its own ancestral lineages inside direclty as the Orisa Alagbatori or Main Orisa of the person . Like for example in Cuba if you are omo Agnju they will initiate you into chango. They will call it Chango ORO para Aganju . And you will then just recive Aganju as a adimu orisa . Several other are done in similar fashion as the example given aboove.
13.) In yorubaland there is no such thing as and orisa assigned to your head and one to your feet. Or pie y cabeza as it is known in Afro- Cuban tradition. You get crown your principle orisa that governs your head to use a term of reference . And that is it ! More often then not you will not recieve any adimu orisa with your main orisa that you just initiated into as is done in the Cuban Lukumi system. it is not compulsary to recieve anyhting else other than the icons of the orisa you initiated into.
14.) When you initiate into orisa you don’t automatically get along with that . The 5 main orisas as adimu orisa or santo lavado . Which are typically osun, yemaya,obatala, sango, etc. You get the icons of your main orisa which you have initiated into and basically on rare expectation nothing more.
15.) In yorubaland there is no such thing as “Olokun of babalawo, or “Olokun of olorisa”. Olokun is Olokun and that is it . There maybe some differences in variations of how icons look or ceremonies are conducted but this is common across the broad for any orisa . Prespective to the town or peoples or group preforming the work etc. Also in yorubaland there is not such thing as “Oduduwas of babalawo” or the “Oduduwa of olorisa”. There are initiated persons to these deities that are ordained to preformed them for others via initiation . And if it ithe person happens to also be a babalawo totally fine and nothing is seen wrong with that. There is no one way of construction of one orisas for iyalorisas and then another for a babalawo like those examples given above.
16. In the Orisa tradition of Yorubaland one does not use crowns for the new initiate to wear on the head on the “dia de medio” or middle day of the initiation process. Nor does one call the place where the iyawo ( or newly initiate ) is seated a “trono” ( a throne) these are Afro Cuban adaptations in regard to term used during the initiation process of a newly initiate.
16. In our tradition the clothing of the iyawo under going initiation of orisa. Is worn during initiation are simple garment something like a flat bed sheet containing the color corresponding to the orisa that is being initiated into .It simply just to cover the initiate . During the initiation process. The “ropa de gala” as it is termed in Afro-cuban tradition . Is not used during the initiation process in traditional initiations . Many times the vestment of the new initiate can be a idabora, or cloth tied over the left shoulder of the initiate. Something very similar to a toga of the ancient Romans era . Towards the end of the initiation on the day of celebration usually the simple toga-like cloth or other simple styles of clothing with inexpensive fabric may be worn .
Or just simple traditional attire is worn so that the iyawo may have a little be more or a lavish coming out ritual. Than a simple toga that has been worn during the initiation process. The dress in truth is insignificant, to what was done during the actual initiation process. Dressing nice or lavishly is a nice touch if one wants to have a very nice coming out on the final day . Only for individual self purposes of memories and pics etc. But it is surly not a make or break type thing. If you come out in simple cheap dress on the final day or a gala dress worth thousands makes no difference whatsoever in the grand scheme of things.
17. For us it is not essential to use the river for bathing of the initiate during the initiation of a person into Orisa or Ifa. This binding rule of always using a river developed in Cuba, but does not exist in Yorubaland. In other words, if one can initiate fully into Ifa and to many other Orisa .In Yorubaland, even in places without a river and it is 100% acceptable . And this is usually dependent on the locality and whether a river is even accessible at a short distance or even a decision that can be made at the moment of initiation.
18. Not all the sacred objects of Orisa i.e icons in Yorubaland are composed of exclusively stones. Or have stones as aprt of the icon in some way. Different orisas have different implements some that do not require stones or “otas/otanes).
19. The use of tobacco smoke is strictly prohibited because it offends deities such as Obaluwaye, Sango, Eegun (Egungun – the ancestors), etc . Even though at times Ifa or Eerindinlogun can recommend smoking it or the use of it as incense for prosperity or in order to attract positive spirits, no one can blow smoke of tobacco on to an Orisa. Neither can one smoke near the sacred objects of Obaluwaye, Sango, Egungun, etc as it is seen as a strong taboo. In very little cases there are exceptions in certain places with the sacred objects of Ifa...but they are occasions that do not usually happen with frequency if at all .
20.) In the Orisa/Ifa Tradition it is not taboo to eat the food of one's principle Orisa(s). In fact, it is preferred that one share food with one's deity that governs on head. An example is Sango that usually receives amala with gbegiri; after Sango is give his portion, the adosus of Sango eat his food during his religious service, festivals, initiations, and functions etc.
21. The initiates of Sango do not have the taboo of the use of red clothing nor eating red foods. It is more appropriate that the initiates dress in red when they make service to Sango in his days of “ose”. Or better known a ajakuta day on the prayer calendar cycle. It is not taboo for children of Sango to eat red apples in Yorubaland because first the color red is not taboo for the great majority of the initiates of Sango, and apples are foreign fruits and are not native to Yorubaland as a staple fruit. Nor is it recognized as a sacred fruit to sango in anyway.
22.) In Yorubaland we do not make one orisa through another for example making Oba through Osun (Oshun)...simply because one does not make an Orisa through another in Yorubaland (the famous “oro pa tal”). Each Orisa one initiates into is done directly with several priest of that same priesthood. In yorubaland we believe that to give an orisa . You have to have that ase of that orisas placed “ on your head” as it is commonly known or termed. We strongly believe you can not give . What you don’t have to give. This is why for example making Sango para agaju will never be done in yorubaland . This concept of doing orisa this way is completely foreign to them .
23. In Yorubaland one makes divination with the Oosa/Eerindinlogun (the “Caracol”/the “Shells”) of the titular Orisa of the priest and not with the shells of Elegbaa. As it is common in the lucumi Afro – Cuban system . If one is an omo sango and has fully initation into him. Those are the cowries shells that will be used when and if the initiate ever uses them once the system of divination is learned. By the priest or priestess.
24. The babalawos initiated and trained do not have use if the “ajitenas” following the Cuban meaning...So, we do not incorporate our practice of Ifa signatures of Odu mixed with the firmas of Palo nor the anaforuana (called “nsibidi” between the Efik de Nigeria) of the Abakua. That league of symbols happened in Cuba, and also there are examples of other sigils type leagues that come out of Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. Neither do we have a sacred object of Osanyin that is a league with a prenda/nkisi de Palo. This is compeltly foreign to yorubaland Babalawos . Just how it ended up developing in the diaspora after the mixing and melding of all the African based traditions.
25. In our tradition of Orisa of West Africa, the olorisa that used Eerindinlogun in order to make divination for his clients are not prohibited to initiate in Ifa. There are babalawos that can throw Erindinlogun and are well versed in the system. It is true, there are certain individuals that by their itefa odu of Ifa are prohibited form using anything other than ifa paraphernalia . But ifa a babalawo is initiating into orisa other than IFA. And he is versed and knowledgeable on the Erindinlogun system .He can then cast the cowries for making of divination and ebos for the initiation there absolutely no problem in that at all .
26. In Yorubaland a person that has been or that mounts regularly or get mounted by Orisa or spirit is not automatically prohibited or disqualified form initiated into IFA as a Babalawo. unlike in the afro –Cuban system. As well as children of Ogun are also not by virtue of being his omo or by crowing Ogun are prohibited to pass to IFA and under go tefa so as to become a Babalawo
27. In yorubaland , the babalawo do not make divination and then ebo for themselves. The awo should invite other babalawos or at least one of his omo awo (godchild) that knows how to perform ebo in order to make the prescribed ebo on behalf of the babalawo in need of sacrifice. A babalawo in our tradition is allowed can make his own divinations. But is not advised for the babalawo to make his own ebo. By putting his own money for the ebo, which will later be put back into his own pocket . It is as if the sacrifice was never made. The same holds true for any olorisa that is an erindinlogun diviner....they can perform their own divination/reading for themselves. But they must have someone else perform the ebo riru for them .
28.) In yorubaland there is no such thing as synchronism with catholic saints as in Cuba or the diaspora. In yorubaland there was no need to hide there orisa practice behind any other religious saints . It was only do to the transatlantic slave trade that the newly acquired slaves. Once on new lands had to someway preserve there beliefs system. So they did the best they could. To hide what was forbidden by the slave masters. So they, did what is termed synchronized the orisas . They combined the Yoruba deities behind . The slave masters catholic saints . So while the slave masters thought they the slaves where worshipping Santa Barbara for example .
In reality they were secretly worshipping Sango. Each major Yoruba deity had its catholic saint equivalent . In Nigeria yorubaland this is an absolutely foreign practice and they are unaware of this . And have absolutely no reverence or history of ever doing such a thing . Nor would they care to synchronize anything about how they worship orisa . As they have always been free to worship the orsias, as they always have . So this adaptation is purely a Afro-Cuban style of worship adaptation for survival purposes .
29. In West Africa and the Ifa Tradition of Yorubaland it is not prohibited for babalawos to dance. Those that visit religious communities in Yorubaland note that in the celebrations of Ifa the babalawos dance much and are very good in dance, as the rest of the olorisas. The babalawos in the Ifa tradition of West Africa can dance to religious music the same as popular and contemporary music. There are some in the Ifa tradition of Cuba that say that the babalawo can dance to religious music but that the babalawos cannot dance to popular music; while there are others that say that the babalawos can dance to popular music but not to religious music...each person that one asks will give his own explanation. But in the Ifa tradition of West Africa it is not taboo for a babalawo to dance at any time.
30. In the Orisa Tradition of West Africa when a person is mounted or taken into possession by an Orisa it is understood to be the Orisa itself that manifested in the body of the person and not the entity of some deceased priest that was devoted to said Orisa that is possessing the person. In the Afrocuban tradition the majority of the priests of that tradition say that it is impossible that a deity takes possession of someone directly, and that it is through a spirit of the deceased that was a priest of an Orisa that can mount someone. For us in the Orisa tradition of Yorubaland we think that each deity is a spirit that is like water . As it can be divided or is in the different places without ceasing to be the deity in its totality.
31. It is taboo to offer cooked fish to deities such as Iyemoja and Osun (Oshun) in Yorubaland. Whereas cooked fish is an offering made to these same deities in the Lucumi tradition without any fuss or problem at all .
32. The idea that someone initiated into Orisa and "born" by the Odu Ose Meji cannot initiate others nor practice the priesthood for others because the Orisa wants them for "themselves" is not a practice nor concept of Orisa Tradition in Yorubaland.
33.) In yorubaland we don’t hear that the orisa is angry with the devotee or adherent . And will , soon strike them down with there fury . Or destroy there lives with great rage . Unless something is done to placate them in someway. This is something that is heard in Afro- Cuban tradition when in consultations take place for the most part . Form time to time during reading with the oracles.
34.) In Yorubaland there is no such title for olorisas as “oba oriate” this title . Was introduced into the lucumi system . For oloisa or initiates of orisa that . Cast the cowries for clinets and sureved the community. It was developed as a way to have more acess to more odu. Via combining legs of odu , to have a more extensive corpus to work form . Similar like that of the babalawos, which in Cuba didn’t have a big influence as the wome olorisas did . At a point in time in Cuba. In Nigeria this oba oriate or king of the mat is a completely foreign title and or position within the olosa ranks.
35.) Yemonja as she is known not yemaya as she is known is Cuba IS NOT!! Seen as a deity of the ocean. Yemonja is a RIVER DIETY. Which origin is out of the Ogun river the runs through Ogun state Nigeria . And which birth place and strong hold is in Abeokuta. The confusion of placing her as and ocean deity my have arose . For the fact that yemonja :( owner of fishes) was ideally worshipped at the junction where the river lead out to the ocean. This is were over time and through separation form the source of hundreds of years. The assigning of yemonja has now become a deity of the oceans which is not her original origin.
This write up as done by Awoifasola ogbe sa
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