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Friday, January 18, 2008

Further thoughts on Odu Ifa and cultural relativism

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

As I read one of my books this morning I had alot of really interesting revelations, one of which surrounded this idea of Odu and cultural relativism. I do believe there is much truth in the understanding that certainly not every Odu is meant to be universally accepted as law/mandate. And that in fact, I believe a priests main obligation, aside from worship, helping others, and divining, is to interpret the will of Ifa. As a backdrop to further this idea let's discuss Ifa's apparent support of slavery in the Odu Ogbe-shee (Ogbe Oshe)

Oju ti a pon Awo, aponku ko
Osi ti n ta Awo, atala ni
Bo ba pe titi
Aso Feyin ti
A o foro yii serin rin
A o na'se mejeeji gboro-gboro-gboro
Dia Fun Orisanla Oseeremagbo
Ti yoo loo f'aro sakora eru
Won ni k sakaale, ebo ni sise
O gbegbo, o rubo
Nje eru ti mo ra funfun lo nse
Eru ti mo ra lo la mi
Eru ti mo ra, funfun lo nse o

The suffering of an Awo is not forever
The poverty of an Awo shall turn to prosperity
Before long, we shall recline in comfort
And laugh over this matter
These were the declarations of Ifa to Orisanla Oseeremagbo
When going to but a cripple as his first slave
He was advised to offer sacrifice
He complied
Now, the slave I bought is a nice slave
The slave I bought had brought me prosperity
The slave I bought is a nice slave

Clearly this Odu establishes slavery as an accepted Yoruba practice, and provides for remedies to deal with an ill-mannered/bad slave. This would of course be the obvious and literal interpretation and also establishes as codified in Ifa's tenets, the history that the Yoruba were active participants in the slave trade, playing a key role in the middle passage. Just as with the dilemmas raised by literal interpretations of the Bible, we have to consider deeply and profoundly what Ifa is trying to say. Is it condoning slavery at all times? Or, is it simply using the language of the day to show a culturally and contextually relevant message, from which we can extract our own message, leaving out that which is no longer socially acceptable?

As a Babalawo, and a person of the 21st century, slavery is not acceptable to me, nor to the social norms that surround me. That said, the interpretation of this Odu would be that Ifa is trying to say two important things. One, the Awo (which would represent the adherent being divined for) may be having a difficult time, but Ifa says this will not last forever. Two, the adherent has a problem with people who work directly for them (and who probably are direct reports) and the only way to deal with this problem is by doing ebo, and by remembering that they need to have patience (suffering is not forever). These are today's messages of Ifa for this Odu.

I go through the exercise of interpretation to make a point, Ifa is fluid, and while certainly I believe there are some moral absolutes, Ifa is not so rigid as to think that everything must be taken literally and verbatim. Because of the changing environment, almost all Odu Ifa require some level of interpretation be it major, such as this, or minor to get its point across. Whoever thinks of Ifa as black and white misses the beauty and difficulty in trying to comprehend infinity.

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is amazen to see how God preserve life and culture. Very few people would be an adherent of Ifa in Nigeria, though many Yoruba could go or secret consultation with Babalawo (hypocricy). I love Odufa. Demola Adewoye