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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Odu Ifa and cultural relativism

I decided to write on the topic of Odu and cultural relativism because I think it is an interesting and important concept and because it leads to the idea that 1. If Odu is in fact the codification of all things past, present and future, there certainly can be reference to anything within the realm of possibility within Odu and 2. Odu must be a living and breathing thing, and as such, will continue to evolve.

In both Lucumi and Traditional Ifa practice, we see references to other religions like Christianity and Islam. I can only imagine that 300 years ago, there was likely no reference to catholicism or going to church as you see in the Lucumi Odu Ifa, and perhaps 500 years ago, there were no references to Muslims, as you sometimes see in Traditional Yoruba Odu Ifa. This is clearly an addition, and likely post trans-atlantic passage. What I can imagine is that there may have been Ese Ifa that referred to perhaps someone giving veneration to their ancestors, or someone specifically going to an Orisa's particular shrine to give praise. At some point this was contextualized to the surroundings of an day Awo Ifa or Olorisa, and they interpreted it to mean, go venerate your ancestors, however the client, or the area they were in had multiple religions such as Catholicism or Islam, or you in the cuban diaspora, you couldn't just go to a shrine because you might get caught and be persecuted, so you went to the church to venerate Shango in front of "Saint Barbara", etc. In this way, outside religions interjected their presence.

In my mind, what makes Odu Ifa, Odu Ifa is the transcendence of the themes of humanity, evoking interpretations that are appropriate to the cultural norms of the time. We see that time and time again, no matter how we evolve, history repeats itself, and the same issues that plagued us 500 years ago, plague us today but with variations. Shakespeare's plays highlighted common themes which resonate even in todays world, as does Ifa. Love, hate, jealousy, need to shelter, need for food, revenge, power struggles, etc. all remain in our vocabulary. What is important for us as Awo Ifa is to be able to extract the keys of knowledge that are locked within Ese Ifa for our clients.

There are truths which remain with us, Odu Ifa provides the wisdom and insight in order to unlock the doors so that we can avoid the problems which can come from the misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. In the famous words,

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -George Santayana (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284)


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