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Friday, May 25, 2007

Prayer and the Orisha faith . . .

Prayer and the Orisha faith:

My Apetebii and I were talking and the subject of prayer came up. It seems like an obvious thing, almost self explanatory, but there is an underlying fundamental ideology that isn't so obvious.

Prayer can take many forms, whether it is the act of supplicating to the Orisha, petitioning that they act on our behalf to positively affect our life or the lives of those around us. There is also the act of praising the Orisha as an act of thanks for the good in our lives or from saving us from some bad. Lastly is the act of simply praising the Orisha without any expectation (sometimes the most important and the most forgotten of acts).

A very important but often overlooked part of prayer in Yoruba culture is that it is almost always physically spoken. While in many other cultures, especially western culture, prayer can be an inward act in which verbalization is not necessary, it is quite the opposite in Yoruba culture. Any act of praise or prayer is by definition verbal and most often performed in a communal setting. We see this in traditional African practice, but in some ways, what is most striking is that in the diaspora this concept has not changed or diminished in any way. This is not to diminish one's personal reflection, meditations or internal prayers which are certainly part of how we can worship.

On a literal level, our vocalization produces sounds, which can travel, whether only a few inches or several meters or more. Through initiation, and sometimes powders and medicinal preparations, it is believed we can give power to those sounds/vibrations allowing them to reach Orun (heaven). As Olorisha and Babalawo, we are considered to not only be mediators between man and Orisha, it is believed that our voices are able to reach Orun and catch the attention of Orisha. That is why before every Ebo, before every divination session, before every religious act, we pray. Through that prayer, we hope that our vocalization may reach heaven.

This explains why as Babalawo we pray before casting Ikin or Opele, and it is why before we chant or interpret Odu we say:

Aboru, Aboye, Aboshishe

Which roughly translates to:
May our ebo reach Orun (heaven) - Aboru
May our ebo be accepted - Aboye
May our ebo allow what we desire to come to pass - Aboshishe

It is also why we must say "Ase (Ashe)" to affix and affirm things. By saying Ase (Ashe) we not only legitimize the prayer, we also send out the vibration of the holy phrase so that the prayers may reach Orun.

In the Orisa faith prayer can occur in many different ways:

Adura - Very simply meaning prayer, the most common of which is the Iba or Mo Juba meaning I/we give praise. In both traditional African and the Diaspora practices, the Iba/MoJuba is quintessential, and is often the very first thing an Olorisa or Babalawo learns. There are Adura for every Orisha, and Adura can be done in any language, for in the end, Orisha are all knowing so there is no language they don't understand. Those of us who are not Yoruba natives learn prayers in Yoruba as a way of respecting the past. The Yoruba have a saying, We stand on the backs of those that came before us. Without our african ancestors, without the slaves of the diaspora, we would not be here.

Oriki Orisha - Oriki are praise names which we have for all the Orisha, they reference acts of the Orisha in Ese Ifa, Iyere and all the other forms of stories in which they take part. They extol the deeds of the past, reminding us of the wonderous actions they performed. There can also be Oriki for kings, ancestors, etc.

Iyere - Iyere is the poetry of Ifa and Iyere is said to be have been a son of Orunmila who transmitted the word of Orunmila through a type of poetry. Upon his death began the Iyere style of Poetry. Chief Eleribuibon mentions that there are two types of Iyere: Iyere Sisun (Iyere singing) and Iyere Pipa (Iyere chanting). There are Ifa priests who specialize in this style and in Nigeria there are even competitions. Also worth mention are other Orisha's praise/poetry: Ijala - chanting for Ogun, Iwi chanting for Egun, and Sango and Oya Pipe.

Of interesting note, Chief Eleribuibon talks of Iyere poetry being used as a means of telecommunications. Noting several Odu Ifa where the chanting is used to communicate thanks or grief across distance. (see Iyere Ifa, Yemi Elebuibon chapter p. 41), which gives credence to the idea that vocalization is an important part of prayer.

Orin - Song, like prayer and poetry, is an important part of the process of invocation, supplication and praise. This is probably one of the most recognizable to the non-initiate, and in the diaspora is in large part, the outward face of the Orisha traditions (as outsiders are often able to participate/attend these ceremonies). It should be of important note that singing is not only a way to beckon the Orisha to come to earth, but a way to communally give praise in an environment that eventually leads to an actual two way communication as Orisha's mount their priests/omo. Unlike any other form of prayer, this is the only one where the Orisha physically manifests to speak with us one on one. It's both visceral and profoundly humbling when you are in the presence of an initiated who is truly mounted by Orisha.

I might add at this point an oft overlooked part of the practice of prayer, which is the role of Ayan (Anya/Aña) bata drums. In the diaspora the repertoire of the drums is quite deep, and includes (as do traditional african Ayan) the notion that the drums mimic the speech patterns of the Yoruba language (which is tonal). In this way, you can even recognize certain prayers and songs that match a rhythmic pattern. So in this way, the drums too are a vocalization of our prayers to Orisha.

It's also important to note that sacred (consecrated) drums are additionally imbued with the power of speech. It is these consecrated drums whose vibrations are able to reach Orun, and in doing such lure the Orisha to Aiye (earth) to mount their omo (children) and physically manifest amongst humans. This is essentially the same role played by the Yoruba talking drum, dundun or gangan, which was used to talk across vast expanses from four to some say as much as 15 miles (during the night). This is where it becomes critical to understand that unlike western languages, Yoruba and other dialects of the area are tonal and each word can have several meanings depending on tone, a fact often lost or forgotten in the diaspora (which get into some of the famous Yoruba Puns or double meanings). This allows the drums to mimic phrases in an uncanny way.

Ofo - This is an area of study that is somewhat obscure with few that are truly masters, and is virtually non-existent in the Diaspora. This chanting is the basis for Yoruba "magic" and through the use of magical and secret names, the enchanter can control inanimate objects, spirits, people, animals, etc to use to their own ends. Ofo can be used for good, and likewise for evil. There are Ofo for money, Ofo for health, Ofo for summoning the Aje, Ofo to cause death, the list is long and numerous.

This is not an exhaustive list, as I believe many different Orisa have their own types of prayer, but should be at least a beginning point for those who don't have significant contact with traditional Yoruba practices.

It is important for us as followers to always pray and be proud. It affirms our existence, it affirms our beliefs, it affirms the Orisha, it affirms the positive desires for the world and it affirms Egun, Egbe and Isheshe. I'll end this with a short Song sung by the group after an Iba:

E e e e, Baba mi iba ni n'o f'ojo oni she e o o
Baba a ni, iba n'o f'ojo oni she e.

E e e e, father I will spend the entire day paying homage,
Father, I will spend the entire day paying homage.

Ase o!!

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The raw data on initiation/ceremony costs

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe . . .

When I first proposed this idea, I had no illusions. Money is a delicate subject. People are apt to get irritated if there is a perceived threat to their livelihood. Likewise, people are apt to get upset if they appear to have been taken for a ride. These factors contributed to a pretty low turnout (less then 15 people responded). That said, I decided to publish the raw numbers with no analysis other then creating a column adjusting the numbers for inflation to 2007 dollars. My hopes are that this initial data will spur people to send me emails with their costs, which I will gladly keep anonymous (as you see these are). Should you be interested, please answer the questions listed at the bottom of this posting.

Now, I want to again preface this by saying:

1. This is only meant as a comparison, it is not meant to dictate what should or shouldn't be charged.

2. There are good, decent priests who earn their living through Orisa/spiritual works, please support them and don't use this as a means to "negotiate" a better price.

3. Like anything else, quality costs. There are many hard costs involved in these ceremonies, goats can run upwards of $80 each, and I've paid as much as $900 for one Jutia (African bush rat). This doesn't include the many people that need to be fed and given some compensation for their work. There are also hidden costs, remember if your Oluwo/Godparent is doing your initiation, it may mean as many as 7 days without the ability to work, and that's part of what you're paying for. There are also often several ceremonies or days of preparations that are not a part of the ceremonies that you see. Often you don't know about these, and while you should be told about the time used doing them, you can't ask what exactly they are doing.

4. As we say in the computer industry, "garbage in, garbage out" or "you get what you pay for". Remember, you shouldn't skimp, this is not the time to cut corners, and neither should your Oluwo/godparent (if they do, confront them). Finding a priest who will charge less, but has no experience, does not care, will not teach, or worse, won't do the ceremony correctly just hurts you in the end. The flipside is just because it's expensive, doesn't mean you got "more" then someone who paid half what you paid. If the ceremonies were done correctly, then you are equals. Fancy titles or someone who wears shiny bling and charges a bundle doesn't make them better then a modest priest who has no titles and dresses conservatively, but loves, lives and breathes Orisa. In the end, you should be paying for knowledgeable priest, and hopefully one that will pass on some of that knowledge to you.

5. Be wary of mass initiations. For some initiations/ceremonies, it is understandable to perhaps have a few people do them at once, this is often done to lower the price. If you have 10 people receiving a ceremony at once, this isn't right. This is not about production line ethics, and it has not place here. My Awofakan was done this way and it was simply wrong. As far as I could gather, 12 people at between 1500 and 2000 a person added up to alot of money to split 3 ways. My Ita was less then 10 minutes and other less then that. Don't do it. Even if there are a few people doing it at once, ask why, ask how it will affect things.

6. Respect. Respect Orisa, respect the Ori you have that no one can take from you and respect your priest.

I'll preface this with a verse from the Odu Obara Oworin
Oro banta a wuwo bi owu
a difa fun aye,
Nijo ti gbogbo omo araye npon owo pe
Kosi ohun miran mo ninu aye ti o tun ni iyi mo rara
won ni awon o ko ohungbogbo sile,
Awon o maa sare mo owo
Orunmila ni eyiti e nro niti owo beeni
Ati eyiti e nro niti owo beeko si
Ifa l'a ba maa ye
Ogbon l'a ba ma ye
Awon l'a ba bu iyin fun
Agbeniga laa pe owo; abiwaje l'aa pe owo
Eniti ba feran owo l'afeju, iwa re a baje
Iwa rere ni oso eniyan
Bi e ni owo l'owo ko wipe ki e ma di afoju
Ko wipe ki e ma di ashiwere
Ko wipe ki e ma di aro
Ko wipe ki e ma di olokunrin ati beebee
Abuku ara gbogbo le de ba yin
Ki e tun ero gba
Ki e mu iwa rere
Ki e mu ogbon
Ki e wa rubo
Ki ara le ro nyin tinutode

Heavy words have the weight of an anvil
This was the teaching of Ifa to the world
At a time when all the people of the world were overpraising money saying:
There is nothing else in the world that is more respected then money
They said they would give up everything
And they would continuously run after money
Orunmila said: what you think about money is so
And what you think about money is also not so
It is the teachings of Ifa we should honor
It is these we should regard highly
It is said money is a raiser of status and a corruptor of character
A person who loves money excessively, his character will be ruined
Good character is the finest beauty of a person
Even if you have money, it does not mean you will not become blind
It does not mean you will not go mad
It does not mean you will not become lane
It does not mean you will not become ill and the like
You still can become disabled in any part of your body
Therefore you should go and get more wisdom so that you may think deeply about things
You should cultivate good character
You should acquire wisdom
And you should come and sacrifice so that you may be at ease inside and out.

The data:

a. Orisha made
b. year made
c. geographic location of ceremony (city, state, country)
d. cost of ceremony (ie, what your godparent/oluwo/etc charged)
e. What this cost included
f. related costs (clothes/other misc. items not included in the original cost)
g. special circumstances
h. Orisha sect (ie lucumi, candomble, palo, Ifa/lucumi, Ifa/traditional, Orisha traditional, Egbe, Ogboni)
i. Were there other ceremonies that you can recall the cost of? If so, what was that cost/what was the ceremony/what was the year and location?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Politics and religion, my view

I recently had a conversation with someone about politics and religion and the following statement I made covers it quite well:

Politics and religion are identical twins separated at birth . . . in growing up apart their belief systems may be different but they have the same DNA. - Obara Meji