Search Ifa articles

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Esu, guerreros and the nature of "caminos" of the Orisa

Aboru, Aboye Aboshishe,

I was recently asked a question regarding the differences between Esu and Elegba, why one might receive more then one Esu/Elegbara, and what is the difference between Ifa Guerreros and Olorisa Guerreros in the lucumi system. I take a moment to answer the question, but it leads us to a larger and more interesting question about the nature of “caminos” or “roads” of the Orisa.

From the Traditional Yoruba perspective, Elegbara – “Owner of Vital Force” in Yoruba (translation by John Mason), or Elegua in lucumi, is simply a praise name for Esu. They are one and the same. From a Lucumi perspective, Esu is the entity that is given by Babalawos, and is the primordial force that lives with Ifa and is the one who can block or aid in any offering/ebo/request. Elegba/Elegua/Elegbara is only given by Olorisa (santero/a) and is not, as far as I recall, known to have as much of the destructive tendencies as Esu. The Elegba of the Olorisa has fewer "roads" (I've heard 12 or 21) whereas the "roads" or avatars of the Esu of babalawo are at least 121.

The split in the way these are given may have been the result of politics or power struggles when the lucumi changed to a standardized and joint system of initiations (ie, any priest of any Orisa, can initiate virtually any other priest of any other Orisa as long as they have received the secrets of that Orisa and do not have ewoo (taboo) against initiating that Orisa). It's not that traditional Yoruba priests can't initiate into other Orisa mysteries, they can, and sometimes do, but when you joined a priesthood and were initiated to that Orisa, it was done by other priests whose teutelary Orisa were the same (so if Elegba was initiated, it was done only by Elegba priests, Yemoja by Yemoja priests, etc).

It seems that somewhere down the line, some felt it important to distinguish between Olorisa/Santero and Babalawo, which by extension gets into the whole question of the lucumi "guerreros". There is also controversy as to who is authorized to "give" these out, and depending on the Ile (house) you come from, it's either babalawos or olorisa (santeros). In truth, the only two Orisa in the “guerreros” that are given in traditional Yoruba Ifa practice are Esu and Osun, and further, Osun in Yorubaland is only given to Babalawos and no one else. This it not say other Orisa are not in Ese Ifa, but that typically they would not be given by a Babalawo who was only initiated to Ifa.

So where does this leave the question? Well, it's lucumi tradition that Esu is the province of the Babalawo, and Elegba the province of the Olorisa/santero. How this evolved, I don't think anyone will truly know.

With respect to “Caminos” or “roads”

Receiving multiple Esu or Elegba, is a practice that comes from the idea that there are multiple caminos/roads/avatars of the Orisa. This practice extends to many other Orisa other then Esu, such as Oshun, Yemoja and Obatala. What is important to clarify from the beginning is just because you may have multiple Orisa, or multiple roads, the Orisa is still only one thing in spiritual essence. What happens is that the sacred objects of an Orisa (which are the Orisa manifest on earth literally) manifest in different ways, drawing upon a particular energy. The Otan of Esu (or any Orisa for that matter) is in essence a focal point for calling on certain energies of the Orisa. Through a blend of specific ingredients, incantations and rituals, the Otan (rock) becomes a portal for the specific energy of the Orisa to come through. The name acts as an incantation that begins the process of calling down that specific energy (see my article on prayer) and the fact that you have a particular road of a particular Orisa is because the Orisa themselves (through divination) determined that that particular energy is what is most suitable for you/will be there to help you when needed. Typically, these roads can come from three sources: Oriki (praise names), Objects/places in nature (as in Oshun Ibu apuaro (Oshun river of quail), Olokun (owner of Ocean) or Esu Alaketu (Esu from Ketu)), or manifestations of deified people/royalty (as in Sango, Obatala Ajagunnla, or Ogun Onile (Ogun, king of Ile).

Therefore, you may want to have an Esu Laroye (Esu owner of titles of honor) is known to protect Obatala’s door, and therefor is good for protecting your door, or perhaps Esu Bi (Esu is born) is known to cause accidents, so he is called on because you are prone to accidents in hope of avoiding them, Esu Alaalubanshe (Esu owner of medicines that help me to be fulfilled) because you will require medical help or will be someone involved in the medical field, etc etc etc. Esu is prescribed to people based on Odu that come out in their Ita or a reading, those Odu indicating the predominance of a particular type of energy, and an Esu is prescribed for that Odu based on that energy, either to balance it out, or to combat it. A special note, Esu is the only Orisa that you might recive multiple times, this is because upon Esu there are no limits, and he does as he pleases and manifests everywhere at all times in multiple ways.

The same regarding roads can be said in the Ita of Dosu/Kariosha, the particular Odu that comes out for that Orisa may indicate to the Oriate a particular road/avatar that he might ask about when it comes time to divine and find out the Orisa’s camino. And likewise, the names of the roads indicate the energies of the Orisa via oriki, place or deified ancestor. For instance there is, Obatala Orisanla (owner of white cloth, highest of Orisa, an Oriki for Obatala), or Obatala Ajagunnla (ayaguna-lucumi) who was the son of Princess Adetinrin, the daughter of Oduduwa (a male in this story). She gave birth to a son, ajagunnla, who was known as a great fighter and used the “ada ogbo” or curved cutlass his Oriki is

Omo Alada koromodo
Ada aramanda
To fi nko omo re mona
Tifi o fi de le Ila Ajo
Nibi ti o ti njoba tori

Possessor of the curved cutlass that brings wealth
Strange and wonderful cutlass
The cutlass used to clear the way for his people
Until he reached Ajo
Where he sits in state
(see “Yoruba Sacred Kingship”-John Pemberton p. 31).

Though this is a Yoruba story, this aligns perfectly with the qualities/emblems of Obatala Ayaguna of the Lucumi.

I believe this is an often misunderstood and understudied studied area of Orisa theology. But if we see the caminos/roads/avatars as a particular energy of the Orisa, we can understand how to better work with them, and how to understand what they mean in a theological context.

The Odu Okanran Oturupon reminds us of our need to study in saying:

It is through constantly studying Ifa that we come to understand Ifa
It is through missing the way that we come to know the way
It is the road we have not traveled before that causes us to wander here and there

Ifa ki ko nii mu ni mo Ifa
Ona sisi nii mu ni mo ona
Ona ti a ko rin ri
Nii se ni sibasibo

Aboru, Aboye, Aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola


Iya Esubi Olorisa said...

Aboru Aboye Baba;
Once again all praises to elegguacito, Thank-you for the teaching it is so clear to me about my father Esu Laroye and my Esubi the meaning. Odabo Iya Esubi Olorisa

Anonymous said...