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  • Writer's pictureAwo Ifasola Sangobolade

Is IFA and Orisa ,Tribal or Universal?

Down below is a write up from a baba that some may not agree with but I find resonance with . It is true that the Yoruba people of S.W Nigeria have been the traditional keepers of what is called isese . They have been blessed to have been the keepers of orisa as a spiritual practice since time and memorial. A practice which now, has been spread all over the globe in some varying forms . Due to slavery, all said practices which there roots all date back to Africa or the Yoruba people.

With that being said , it is reasonable to think that although the above is true and factual. It is also very true the points that baba japp makes down below. Can see say IFA and Orisa or just tribal? And not Universal ? Might be a controversial issue I suppose. But if you think outside the box for a bit . You have to see Ifa and orisa as something beyond a subgroup of a certain tribe. This is with giving the Yoruba people all the respect and honor in the world .

For all my initiations have all taken place in Nigeria and I practice IFA in or under the traditional way as we tend to call it . All the same! I still agree that although seemly tribal to a certain sub group on Nigeria mainly the Yoruba people . It much, much, much, more than just a “tribal practiced” “owned” exclusively” by the Yorubas. And I think that something they should be very proud of as a people. In anycase food for thought if nothing else ! enjoy the write up below.

There are basically two ways to look at Ifa. The first way is treating it as a human invention, that only came into existence when it was made and had been given a name by its inventors. The other way is seeing it as part of (or even preceding) Creation, that was already there long before human beings evolved from the sometimes very weird ancestors we and our animal cousins share.

Ifa as a divination method is the quintessential binary system. Binarity is not a human invention - it existed before life as we know it existed. Nature itself is not a human invention, lava is not a human invention, rivers are not a human invention, cowries are not a human invention... even humans are not a human invention.

Even Yoruba Ifa itself says about Orunmila that he was "Witness to Creation". Now creation, whether you want to interpret it as a Big Bang or in any other "creative" way, happened long before Homo sapiens walked the earth, long before Homo erectus walked the earth, long before Graecopithecus freybergi walked the earth, even long before Saccorhytus stuck its silly head out out of its shallow pool.

When Ifa says about itself that it (Ifa/Orunmila... for the sake of convenience I equate the two in this little article) predates everything (and “everything” includes Yorubas, Dutch, Americans, Danes, Inuit etcetera), I believe it. Orunmila existed long before you and I existed – even long before our ancestors the pre- and proto-humans existed.

And now for something very remarkable Ifa is, as far as I'm aware, the only spiritual way of life that claims to be a large world religion and a tiny tribal religion at the same time. I find this very remarkable. Very remarkable, because these viewpoints are mutually exclusive. Either Ifa is a universal spirituality/religion for everybody and everything, or Ifa is a human invention by a bunch of locals, invented at a fixed place in a fixed moment in time when it was made and given a name by its inventors... in other words: a cultural phenomenon. I don't think we can have it both ways.

To a certain extend I understand the tribal approach, because in Ifa ancestor reverence plays an important role, and ancestors by definition belong to ones tribe and culture. This is true, and to me it doesn't seem an issue to get heated about. However, to a surprising number of Ifa practitioners it is! Many Black practitioners, most of them not African but American (I have rarely encountered this attitude amongst Africans), have the feeling that Ifa should be for Black people only, and that White practitioners are guilty of usurpation, cultural appropriation, or whatever term happens to be in vogue at that particular moment.

Well now, fair enough. You want it that way? Then have it that way. But then please also draw the logical conclusion that your religion, your philosophy, your spiritual way of life, is a local and tribal thing without universal significance or value. By accepting this limitation you have taken your particular version of Ifa out of the spiritual realm and made it a cultural phenomenon. Nothing more.

Spirituality can't be appropriated Spirituality can't be appropriated. I know. I have a large bunch of Scandinavian ancestors who were dedicated worshipers of Odin, Thor, Frigg and the likes of them. Since several decades one finds the re-established worship of these old Scandinavian deities all over the world, amongst people of all shades, hues and colours. I don't get heated about this, I don't get my knickers in a twist. I just think: my ancestors would have appreciated this very much. They would have been proud of their achievement... apparently having "created" a spiritual way of life that people from other cultures find sufficiently universal as to adopt it as their own. Cultural appropriation? Naaaah... at the very most spiritual "appropriation". And spirituality can't be appropriated: it is universal, and belongs to all of us. To me, Ifa is universal. Older than any culture. Even older than humankind itself. And Ifa itself says so too.

Written by baba Japp Verduijn

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