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  • Writer's pictureAwo Ifasola Sangobolade

Do i have to pray in Yoruba? to the Orishas?

Being a what you could call a traditionalist follower of ifa and orisa the way it comes out of S.W Nigeria most specifically form Ogun state Ode Remo. It is obvious that yoruba is the language used to communicate in the region and with the orisas. Interestingly enough even within that same small region city i found out there is several different dialects that are still yoruba in essence but different in some other aspects of speaking and or pronunciation's etc i.e a different dialect or sorts. I have been around different yoruba speaking people form oyo, ile ife, ososgbo, lagos, and i can tell you . You can clearly notice the difference when they speak Yoruba regardless of actually knowing fluent yoruba.

So the question is it true or do i need to know yoruba to pray to my orisas? Well the answer to that is an outstanding NO! Many in Yorubaland traditional elders even will have you believe that if you dont learn or know Yoruba language then you should not be in the tradition and helping others or whatever there hang up is which is really all just based in control. Most of us come to these traditions as adults with families . Yoruba language is not an easy language to learn an entire new language which is tonal and ancient language isn't going to be mastered overnight if at all . Let alone to learn a language were even learning it from any source is quite difficult . Its not like learning Spanish were you have tons of options schools classes etc.

Yoruba language is diverse and not as a cut and dry language like that of Spanish or English would be as stated above. Hell even the versions of 'yoruba" that did leave the shore of yorubaland . Like for example the corrupt Yoruba langauge that was inherited during the transatlantic slave trade in Cuba. One of the biggiest HUBS in diasporian yoruba orisha practice. Is still largely well.... corrupt . Over the years as expected many things had been lost mistranslated and misinterpreted. Like for one small example the word "Abure". Which is a word often or common used amongst the Afro- Cuban orisha practioners to basically greet one another as brother. Sadly though the word 'Abure" is not even a word in the yoruba language . And if it is its certainly not one used to refer to one as brother . The correct word is ABURO! And even aburo mean junior brother not just brother as in the reference word used as abure. So you can see the complex dilemma with the yoruba language and all its difference facets. And how they have manifested over eons across Nigeria and outside those African shores.

It is said that Orunmila the prophet deity of the oracular system named ifa is known or referred to as Afedefeyo : That means that he can understand all human languages on the earth. So to could all other orisas surely. I mean we would be very limiting to these cosmic forces if we boxed them in to say they don't understand anything other than Yourba language and even if that was the case which its not which version of Yoruba? would be the ideal one they prefer to hear? See how this starting to make some sense i hope lol. Below i will leave a write up from an old baba . Which shares his own experience with his initial struggles to assimilate to praying in Yoruba . Like many of us including myself, this is an all to common theme in the mind of many orisa worshippers across the board. Take a read below and take in baba jaap experience and journey . Might find it to be interesting and refreshing and help you in your practice.

One of the original languages of our religion is Yoruba, which often prompts the question from diasporian practitioners: do I have to pray to the Orishas in Yoruba?

Naaah, you don’t, not at all, for various reasons – the first being: what Yoruba? Egba? Oyo? Egbado? Ife? Ijesa? Edo? Ketu? There are dozens more, and all of them are different. Even nowadays “standard” Yoruba is a misnomer: there are essentially two different “standards”: Oyo and Lagos. And for the “ancient, archaic” Yoruba: see above! There are just about as many ancient archaic versions of “Yoruba” as there are different peoples and tribes in the “Yoruba cluster”.

The second and main reason why it is not necessary at all to pray to the Orishas in whatever kind of Yoruba, is that it would be a very dumb Force of Nature indeed who is limited to one language only, and a human one to boot! Orishas are not people, they are cosmic forces that couldn’t care less which of the 30,000 or so languages on earth is used to address them. It is much more the force and the conviction of your prayer that makes it work, and this force and conviction should be evident to you!

Long time ago I used to do a lot of prayers and invocations in Yoruba, and only occasionally I switched over to my native Dutch. At one of these occasions a couple of Nigerian Yoruba friends were present in order to assist me, and they politely said: “Uncle Jaap, when you pray in ‘Yoruba’ we hardly understand what you’re saying, so badly mispronounced it is. You mean well, but it sounds silly, especially since you do not know exactly what the words and the idioms mean.

When you pray in Dutch however, the force of your prayers and invocations immediately increases and becomes much more effective, because you know exactly what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. When you invoke in Yoruba we smile, but when you invoke in Dutch (even if we don’t understand a word!) we literally get goose pimples from the force of your invocation, and the presence of the Orisha is immediately felt. So, Uncle Jaap: if you want to raise a mighty amount of Ashe, just pray and invoke in Dutch. Simply forget the ritual gibberish, and get the job done in your native lingo”.

Well friends, I’ve heeded their advice ever since, and my communication with the Orishas has never left anything to be desired. So: use whatever language makes your invocations and prayers the most forceful, and more often than not that will be your own language.

Baba Jaap Verduijn

My final words on this topic is as follows. When you pray yes it great to if you like and are able to pray in yoruba. i do and try my best not being native Yoruba man myself its challenging but over the years i have mastered to a certain degree of Yoruba . I think its great to learn only when you have a clue of what it is your saying if not your just speaking rubbish and nonsense. Basically just empty words that mean nothing to no one and have no value whatsoever ! Regardless of how well you pronounce the Yoruba language which ever version you are mastering at the moment . Its always best to pray in the tongue that holds the most power that you yelled. So if that's English then pray in English! Because you'll know the full extent of the meaning of the words you are uttering in prayer. And that's what truly ends up moving mountains .

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