Technology Rx: Yoruba Ontology and the African Worldview

Technology Rx: Yoruba Ontology and the African Worldview

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What does it mean to be human?

What is the purpose of human life on earth?

From whence does life come?

How are we to treat other humans? Other life forms?

These are questions that sages and thought systems animated by questioners in various contexts perpetually address.This paper examines a traditional thought system generally silenced and absent from Western mainstream philosophical considerations: the West African Yoruba/ traditional Ifa cosmology. This system has successfully established itself in most places where Africa’s progeny reside and is one of the most rapidly spreading spiritual systems. What can we learn from Africa about identity and transcendence? What potential might African ontology have to repair the ills that plague us all? The author focuses on aspects of African traditional religion, particularly the Ifa system of the Yoruba people. Reciprocity between human and divine, visible and invisible serves to explain reality, guide conduct and sustain human purpose. The interrelatedness of all things from a single Source is central to this belief complex.

The paper opens with the contours of Africentric method which guides the approach to issues discussed. Africentric thought considers nomenclature, and the politics of knowledge. The frailty of agency in the twenty-first century is a cause for alarm that prompts a search for ideas that may anchor us. Attention is then given to some defining features of the Yoruba population on the continent and selected elements of Ifa cosmology also acknowledged in the Black Atlantic world. The concept of eniyan–what it means to be a person or full human being and the criticality of iwa pele are considered. The paper concludes by suggesting that the unifying potential of Ifa cosmology and African traditional religion merit stature among the world’s great spiritual traditions. These traditions are distinguished by their capacity to empower, restore and heal.

Method

The Afrocentric enterprise is framed by cosmological epistemologiocal, axiological and aesthetic issues. (Asante,1990.p.8)

Considering the central role that race plays in many modern societies, every researcher approaches socially textured issues with all the historical and emotional baggage that have accrued from the centuries of Black and White contact (Reviere, 2001, p. 724).

The dominant positivistic paradigm’s objective investigations ignore the social context and historical setting crucial to an understanding of culturally specific phenomena (Cherryholmes, (1988). The study of African peoples from an Africa-centered prism constitutes Afrocentricity, sometimes spelled Africentricity (Asante, 1987, 1990; Milam, 1992; Mazama, 2002; Oyebade, 1990; Reviere, 2001). This paper is grounded in Africentric method which digresses substantially from the Western positivist research criteria of objectivity, quantifiable reliability and validity in the inquiry process. The Afrocentric position construes that an emphasis on objectivity and dispassion results in methodological considerations taking precedence over those of how knowledge is constructed. (Mazama, 2002; Reviere,2001) Asante (1987) avers that the Afrocentric researcher is expected to examine and to place in the foreground of inquiry any and all subjectivities or societal baggage that would otherwise remain hidden and, hence, covertly influence the research activity.

Afrocentricity expresses the need to change hegemonic cultural aggression through research and writing from the African perspective. But it aims beyond this. Apart from asserting a valid perspective from which Africa will be objectively studied, it aims at the humanization of the universe by the Black man (Oyebade,1990, p .233)

In light of a socially corrective mission, (Karenga, 1982) three basic tenets ground Afrocentric researchers. They must:

  1. be responsible for uncovering hidden, subtle, racist theories that may be embedded in current methodologies;
  2. work to legitimize the centrality of African ideals and values as a valid frame of reference for acquiring and examining data; and
  3. maintain inquiry rooted in a strict interpretation of place (Asante, 1990; Banks, 1992m`Reviere, 2001).

“Place” is the most important consideration since its content is a self-conscious obliteration of the subject-object duality and the enthronement of “African Wholism” (Asante, 1990, p. 5). Moreover, it serves to establish Afrocentricity as a legitimate response to the human condition. Researchers who claim to be objective describe an approach that is elitist and control-centralized, with criticism limited to experts rather than those whose experiences are being described (Cherryholmes, 1988). The concept of place, therefore, is “a fundamental rule of Afrocentric intellectual inquiry… because the Afrocentric place is the perspective that allows the researcher to put African ideals and values at the center of the inquiry” (Asante, 1990, p. 5).

Research in the Eurocentric framework has tended to protect social theory from the scrutiny that would reveal how knowledge production has served the interests of the ruling classes.(Ani, 1994, Dozier, 1985) By maintaining control “of the rhetorical territory” (Asante, 1987, p. 25)and the right to define what constitutes good research and who has the right to conduct it, the empiricist tradition fails to acknowledge that human actions cannot be understood apart from the cultural definitions, attitudes, and emotions of a given context. Further the Western Eurocentric paradigm either minimizes or ignores the effects of a particular inquiry on the construct of community. This approach violates a fundamental and “natural consequence of the African cultural environment, which encourages communalism” rather than individual separation (Nobles, 1986). This sense of community is pivotal to any understanding of the African worldview and/or Yoruba ontology (Ani, 1994; Ejisu, n.d.; Gyekye, 1987; Farris Thompson, 1984; Idowu, 1973; Lawal, 2001; Leroy et. al, 2002; Matory, 2000; Mazama, 2002; Ogbonnaya, 1992; Smith, 2003, Wiredu, 1996).

Researchers are also required to define themselves and the perspectives they bring to the inquiry. A description of this perspective must include consideration of who the researcher is historically, socially, culturally, and politically. Therefore I launch this inquiry with a description of my “place”: a complex of identity addresses as a Diasporan African living in the U.S., woman, wife, mother, scholar/activist with Pan African intellectual proclivities and allegiances conceived in the ‘60s including that of a student of Ifa. These locations indubitably influence my lens and subsequent assessment.

Below I offer a lens with which to view the endless appetite for “quicker, better, faster” manufactured in and exported by nations of privilege(Galtung,1995; Lawson, 2006; Meyerowitz, 1985). The surrender by nations of privilege to ever proliferating technology has not come without human costs. Under the banner of globalization, (a new world imperialism), forces of the market are matched by forces of alienation and malaise. (Lawson, 2006; Muncy & Putnam, 2002; Postman, 1992; Schrader, 1992; Wood, 1996). As we consider the array of worldviews, thought systems and philosophies that offer succor to sojourners on the road of life, the wisdom of African spirituality, or African traditional thought systems is bereft of inclusion. I agree with Nantambu (1996) that religion “represents the deification of a people’s cultural experience, politics and political power control intent” which is distinguished from spirituality which portends a “direct connectedness/interrelatedness with nature, the cosmos, the universe and the spiritual God-force” (Nantambu, 1996 quoted in Mazama, 2002, p. 224).

Ani (1994) noted that one cannot use the language of another to adequately explain one’s own thought. Wiredu (1996) and Yai (1999) argue that language is not conceptually neutral since syntax and vocabulary are apt to convey definite modes of conceptualization. Thus, the use of Western ontological terms cannot be presumed to be “one size fits all.” Europe’s impulse toward “inventing globally ‘administrated’ replicas of itself”, to use Serequeberhan’s terms, is entwined with the subjugated putting into question of their very existence. I concur with Serequeberhan’s (2003) argument,

Broadly speaking, Eurocentrism is a pervasive bias located in modernity’s self-consciousness of itself. It is grounded at its core in the metaphysical belief or Idea (Idee) that European existence is qualitatively superior to other forms of human life. (p. 64 )… More than through physical force, Euro-America today rules through its hegemony of ideas, ‘through its “models” of growth and development, through the statist and other structures which…are today adopted everywhere (p.75).

African reality is therefore transformed into a politicized space, whereby the concerns of philosophy are not only the pursuit of abstract truth, but also the transformation of that reality. Within the contours of Africentric method and the ethos of Ifa, to be human is to bring about a better world. African philosophers and scholars’ aims, in contrast to Western sages, cannot be content to merely interpret the world, but to change it.

Human problems in technological change

We live in a time of cultural disarray and social decay, an age filled with ruins and fragments…- Cornel West

The twentieth century’s unequivocal deification of scientism and its handmaiden, technology, obscured attention to important questions of human agency and ontological meaning (Galtung, 1995; Illich, 1873; Muncy, 2001; Putnam, 2000). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of the dissemination of information. Nations of privilege currently pride themselves on being “information” economies as they are positioned to control who accesses what and how. History attests that from Kemet’s (Egypt) Library at Alexandria to Gutenberg’s press to the first incarnation of the Internet, each acceleration of information stimulated radical change. Each shift created conditions which revised ways of living and relating. With the changed character of modern life came threats to the health and balance of the human personality and the landscape in which we live. The impact was felt in science, the arts, philosophy and politics (Fairbanks, 2004).

Virtually every advance in communication technology during the last century paradoxically resulted in increased human isolation (Wood, 1996). The computer and telephone eliminated face-to-face contact for much of our social interaction. The Internet altered the speed and form of written communication, almost rendering written discourse obsolete. Wood (1996) observed that “video rentals of Hollywood films isolate us even further from the neighborhood theater; videocassette sales and rentals now bring in more revenue than do theater box office receipts. Television has become our personal entertainer, electronic babysitter, teacher, preacher, and talk-show conversationalist. As we insulate ourselves further, we confuse isolation with privacy” (p. 114).

More than forty years ago Ivan Illich (1973) maintained that technology and bureaucracy had become enemies of truly human living. He introduced the term “convivial” as a technical term to designate the needed alternative of “a modern society of responsibly limited tools”(p.xxiv) Moreover, Illich noted that instead of acting as servants to humanity, technology and bureaucracy had become landlords, making their human tenants sad, alienated and enslaved. Illich’s concerns about tool supremacy’s effects on the human condition were prophetic. Astutely he noted the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed (http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Silence.html para 1 retrieved 11-11-07; emphasis original).

Years later, Neil Postman (1992), a great critic of encroaching visual media dominance, would characterize society’s unquestioning capitulation to technology as “technopoly”. The unintended consequence of technopoly heightened alienation, contributed to psychological debilitation, loss of perspective and self-sufficiency. Technology’s concomitant impact on human values and relationships has bearing on Western society’s late twentieth century malaise and in some sectors of discontent, a renewed search for meaning.

The 1960s were impacted by cultural schisms in U.S. society: the baby boomer generation; significant economic and demographic changes; the emergence of a palpable teenage subculture; society’s failure to instill unquestioned values and patriotism in its young; domestic racial and ethnic conflicts, and the war in Vietnam. The war itself was a televised panorama permeated by new technologies (radiotelephone to “call in” air strikes, Agent Orange and other chemical weapons etc.) increasingly effective at snuffing out human life). Postman (1992) noted that television was becoming “the command center of our culture”. As killing fields expanded, so did the manufacture and distribution of military equipment. (Epstein, 1998). “What was later called “globalization” – the worldwide marketing, primarily commodities, by multinational corporations – was first battle-tested. (Betts, 2004, p. 25) Brought to its knees by a war it could not win, oil prices it could not control, the U.S.’ reign as the premier global power began to topple.

On the heels of the human rights and antiwar movement emerged deep concerns for the future of the U.S. ecosystem and the need for external resources accentuated by muscle flexing of the oil producing economies. The crisis of faith and the lack of vitality of traditional “American” institutions prompted many young people (under 301) to grope for grounding. Despairing, disillusioned and adrift without moral compass, the “under 30s”experimented with psychedelic drugs, communal living and/or what were called “New Age” philosophies. Interest in non-Western philosophies by many young Whites suggested frustration with the Western pace of life and perceived poverty of what Ogundipe (2005) called the Abrahamic religions.2 Horn (2003) expressed concern that “Westerners are increasingly embracing primal beliefs” (p.57)

Meditation and contemplative practices were drawn from Asian traditions particularly as ways to cope with inner strife, stress and to journey into the soul. 3. African spiritual systems were largely invisible and ignored in both academe and circles of religious practice.

Few audible voices raised any questions about society’s unquestioned capitulation to the supremacy of technology.(Meyerowitz,1985) The Western scientific research community seemed to lack interest in the social erosion that accompanied growing materialistic appetites and proliferating technology. As the U.S. was forced to revisit its previously unquestioned status as the number one economic and military power in the world, the ‘80s ushered in an era of social retrenchment with the elevation of experts and proliferating technology as problem solvers. Inclusive initiatives (multiculturalism, expanded histories) and gains (affirmative action) of the 70s came under attack (D’Souza, 1991; Lefkowitz, 1996; Ravitch, 1990; 2002; Schlesinger, 1992) Schools and teachers, subjected to conservative scrutiny were due for an overhaul (Bloom, 1987; Shor, 1992)

African Invisibility

Old paradigms die hard. Although Black Studies had gained a toehold in U.S. universities in the late ‘60s and ‘70s (Dozier, 1985), the idea of significant African spiritual ingenuity or any unique African intellectual contribution to world thought was continually contested. With the introduction of the Afrocentric idea (Asante,1987) Eurocentrism’s defenders moved front and center to reaffirm that before Whites came, Africans had nothing of either intellectual or spiritual value (Bloom, 1987; D’Souza, 1991; Lefkowitz, 1996, 1996a; Ravitch, 1990; Schlesinger, 1992). The colonization of Africa had been rationalized previously by the myth of the inferiority of the African mind. This perception was aided by the apparent divide between spiritually oriented, naturalistic, communitarian traditional Africa and the individualistic, materialistic, scientific West (Smith, 2003).

The agentic struggle for definitional control and the power of interpretation over one’s experience is an ongoing element in the struggle of African people for freedom from Western domination (Dozier, 1985). The muting of African voices that name the world and etch particular sensibilities on the stone of human understanding serves several purposes. Of course, it is necessary to objectify the humanity and obliterate the history of those slated to be enslaved or killed. The essential purpose appears to be the sustenance of White male supremacy. Europeans’ repulsion by the physical appearance of the Africans influenced their attitudes and behavior toward them. To Elizabethan era Europeans blackness symbolized everything that was negative (Dozier, 1985). Race and color, as two criteria used to determine a person’s place in society, are not remote aspects of history. Rather, they are persistent features of human behavior that have morphed into this century’s thinking under a general guise of “culture wars”.

What some scholars refer to as “culture wars” (Buchanan, 1992; Hunter, 1991; Ravitch, 2002) is in fact, accelerating tension between variant worldviews. The ubiquity of the Internet in particular has deflowered all but the most remote preserves of the planet. Intentionally or unintentionally it markets Western worldviews and products with the side effect of values consumption as well. Images of wanton sexuality, sanitized and real violence penetrate former boundaries with abandon; the consequences of this intrusion on traditional non Western cultures remain to be seen.

Given this context, the persistent invisibility in academe of non Western worldviews should give us pause. The array of worldviews, thought systems and philosophies should be the proper terrain of academic investigation yet when consideration is given to the great wisdom systems, African spirituality is bereft of inclusion. Holmes (2004) observed “Contemplative practice remains a subliminal and unexamined aspect of Black religious life”(p. 1). Copeland, cited in Holmes (2004) avers that Black religion in the U.S. is an historical phenomenon neither Protestant nor Catholic. (p. 47, emphasis original). Despite its apparent Christian face, he avers that Black religious expression is “normatively centered in an African worldview”.

According to http://www.adherents.com/Religions_a minimal estimate of African traditional and Diasporic religions is 100 million adherents, ranking number eight of the world’s major religions. African spiritual systems are successfully ensconced in most places where Africa’s Diasporic progeny reside and is one of the most rapidly spreading. Before directing attention to the Ifa cosmology of Yoruba traditional religion, one may ask, “But who are the Yoruba?”

The Yoruba “a river that is never at rest”.

As a large ethno-linguistic group or ethic nation in West Africa, there are substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in the Republics of Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone, numbering about 10 million, with about half that figure scattered in various other parts of the Africa continent. …..In Asia, it is estimated that there are about 2.5 million Yoruba residing in various parts of the region (http://nigeriaworld.com/articles/2006/aug/183.html retrieved 1-7-08)

The Yoruba are a large ethnic group spanning several nations in West Africa. According to their legends, they came from the East, to settle in what are now Nigeria, Togo, and the Republic of Benin (Dahomey) (Lucas). Many historians believe that the Yoruba migrated to their present home from Upper Egypt, between 600 and 1000 A.D. City-dwellers primarily, Yoruba people have the highest twinning rate in the world. Their ancient cities of Ife and Oyo were founded between 800 and 1000 A.D. (Leroy et.al,2002; http://www.prenhall.com/divisions/esm/app/ph-elem/multicult/html/chap3.html retrieved 2-22-08; http://www.urhobo-world.org/Egypt%20History%20of%20Urhobo.htm;retrieved 12-1-07; Lucas,1970). The Yoruba have descendants throughout the Western hemisphere. Within Nigeria, the Yoruba dominate the western part of the country. They are, in fact, not a single group, but a collection of diverse people bound together by a common language, history, and culture (Abimbola, 2005).

Ethnographic, missionary, and travel monographs by Leo Frobenius, R. S. Rattray, H. A. Junod, W. C. Willoughby, Edwin Smith, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, John Middleton, Godfrey Liendhardt, Geoffrey Parrinder, and Marcel Griaule ignited Western scholarship on indigenous African religions. African scholars Bolajii Idowu, John Mbiti, and Gabriel Setiloane also published works on African religious life and the social history of specific communities. Studies by Terrence Ranger, I. Kimambo, Wim M. J. van Binsbergen, Matthew Schoffeleers, Thomas Blakely, Walter E. A. van Beek, and Dennis L. Thompson stressed the historicity of African religions and draw on oral traditions and archeological records (http://science.jrank.org/pages/8036/Religion-Africa.html retrieved 12-11-07).

Tradition avers that all Yoruba people descended from a hero called Oduduwa.4 The name Oduduwa has been translated to mean “the one (“O/Ohun”) who created the knowledge (“odu“) of character (“iwa“)” or “o dudu, o l’ewa/o n’iwa“: he’s black and beautiful/well-mannered, signifying the figure’s paramount role in establishing Yoruba philosophy and blackness, whether mythical or historical. Yoruba people are always referred to as “Yoruba, Omo Oduduwa (O’odua),” sons of Oduduwa. The name is also linked to the literature of the Yoruba geomantic divination system, Ifa. (Falola&Childs, 2004. emphasis added) Today there are over fifty individuals who claim kingship as descendants of Oduduwa.

The name Yoruba was actually dubbed by their Hausa neighbors. Abimbola (2005) reports the Yoruba originally referred to their homeland as ile a Kaaaro oo jiire which translates as “the land [where they greet each other] good morning, did you wake uyp with ire?(Ire is a word that means health, longevity, prosperity and being blessed with children)([p.30))Traditionally the Yoruba organized themselves into networks of related villages, towns, and kingdoms, with most of them headed by an Oba [King] or Baale [a man of stature and title who is similar to a mayor]. Kingship is not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic government systems. A structure akin to an “electoral college” of lineage heads is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families, and the selection is usually confirmed by an Ifa divination request. The Obas live in palaces usually in the center of the town. Opposite the king’s palace is the market known as the king’s market. These markets form an inherent part of Yoruba life. Traditionally the market traders are well organized, have various guilds, and an elected speaker.

As in many African societies, the family unit is central in the life of every Yoruba. The concept of the family extends far beyond one’s own parents, siblings, wife and children to include the clan which often is composed of more than a hundred people among which mutual assistance is compulsory. Within the clan, the senior is always superior to the junior. The former, however, has the obligation to support the junior. If needed, he must, for instance, take over the role of the junior’s father (Leroy et. al, 2002). In addition they have the highest incident of twin births of any ethnic group on the planet. (Leroy et. al, 2002)

The sense of community and harmonious living are highly cherished values of traditional African life (Fatunmbi,1992;Gyekye,1987;Idowu,1973;Mbiti,1990;Ogbonnaya,1992;). This statement remains true in spite of the apparent disarray in the experience of modern politics and brutal internecine wars in many parts of the Continent. For traditional Africans, the community is basically sacred, rather than secular, (Ejisu, n.d.; Horn, 2003; Idowu, 1973; Mazama, 2002; Ogbonnaya, 1992; Olajubu, 2004; Smth, 2003); and surrounded by several religious forms and symbols. The interest of the community takes precedence over any individual or sub-group interests within the community. Horn (2003) argues that traditional African life negates individualism “because there is no psychic separateness”:

The individual is not expected to function on his/her own. He/she functions intrapsychically through the community. The community, its laws, customs and taboos are the only context within which individuals may pursue personal security, happiness and success.
(Horn, 2003, p.56)

Protection, meaning, identity and status emanate from community.

Similar to the Egyptians or Kemetic civilization, the Yoruba have always had a divine ruler believed to be descended from Divinity. This “priest-sovereign” or Oba governed each city state of the Yoruba nation. Fatunmbi (1992) described the position as a form of hereditary monarchy which required each Oba to undergo an initiation that made them a spiritual descendent of the ancestral founder Oduduwa. However, the Yoruba government and social structure are not dictatorial. Responsibilities are shared. Although recognition and respect for rank is evident, there is also the possibility of moving up in rank through hard work.

Located close to the Niger River, Oyo historically was the strongest political state with the largest political and military system. Rich soil in Oyo allowed residents to grow more crops than they needed which contributed to a trade advantage with neighboring groups. They also created a strong military. Oyo was in control of 6,600 towns and villages by the end of the 18th century. The Yoruba chiefdoms were united under the supreme authority of the powerful Alafin, king of Oyo .Internal wars and fighting with neighboring groups, along with the beginning of the slave trade or Maafa (Ani,1994), eventually led to the decline of these great federations. As a consequence of the “scramble for Africa” 1884 conference, “the British were granted the right by the other European nations to colonize Yorubaland, and in 1893 Yorubaland became part of a larger colony known officially as Nigeria.” (http://wysinger.homestead.com/yoruba.html retrieved 3-18-08)

During the four centuries of the slave trade, Yoruba territory was known as the Slave Coast. Uncounted numbers of Yoruba were forced to the Americas. It is estimated that they number more than 100 million worldwide(http://nigeriaworld.com/articles /2006/aug/183.html retrieved 8-9-07) Within Nigeria’s borders, Yoruba religious affiliations indicate more than 40% of the population are allied to Islam, less than 40% are Christians with the remaining 20% exclusively practicing the traditional religion. Of note though is that most Yoruba people belonging to the Islamic or to the Christian faith also adhere in one way or another to the traditional religious practice.

The Yoruba people value manners much more than most African ethnicities. According to Falola & Childs(2004)when greeting an elder, a man must bow and a woman must curtsy. When greeting someone of the royal house, a woman or girl is to kneel and then rise quickly (http://www.rootswomen.com/ayanna/articles/10042003.htmlious retrieved 12-11-07). A man is to lie down on the ground before the important person, and then get up. The author was struck by the custom of greeting each person outside the household no matter how many times they made be encountered during the day. Often a little proverb or some conversation would be added.

Fatunmbi (1992) asserts that Yoruba traditional political institutions are “very much integrated with Yoruba traditional religious institutions” (p.1) They do no believe in the separation of the physical and the spiritual and see eternity as ongoing and not as a result of linear transcendence. Every aspect of their socio-political lives is anchored in spirituality. The family is the single most important micro-political entity and the crucible for education and development.

The Ifa corpus of oral scripture remains a body of lore which Yoruba Christians and Muslims consult . The Yoruba have succeeded in adapting the traditions of other world religions to meet their needs, while at the same time maintaining Yoruba cultural identity. Indicative of the worldview preference for both/and rather than either/or. (Dixon,1976), the traditional Yoruba worldview has remained fairly constant.

Abimbola (2005) noted:

As a result of the TransAtlantic slave trade, contemporary economic migration and voluntary cultural identification, close to one hundred million “black”, “white”, and multicultural. Peoples in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, France, Haiti, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, UK, USA and Venezuela now organize their day to day lives on the basis of Yoruba beliefs and cultural practices (p.36-37)

The Yoruba system of Ifa is deeply implicated in the well-being of its people and is profoundly ensconced within the historical memory of the Diaspora. Fandrich (2007) cites that the enormous impact of the Yoruba religion on the African Diaspora has been well established by scholars, especially when referring to the heavily Yorubanized popular Creole belief systems of Cuba (Santeria/ Lucumi, Palo) and Brazil (Umbanda, Candomble). Connections between the Yoruba faith and the African-based religions of Haiti (Vodou ) and New Orleans (Voodoo/Voudou) are less visible in the literature. The ability to recreate, reconstruct, and rebuild new forms from old techniques is the legacy of orisa worship wherever it is found today.

Ifa Ontology and Practice –The only rival to its beauty is its complexity.(Matory,2005)

African myths sketch a conceptual world presided over by a divinity that is responsible for the emergence of humanity and the development of a community. Myths provide the legitimacy of local authority, settlement, and social organization, and describe the moral universe of the people.( http://science.jrank.org/pages/11037/Religion-Africa-Myth-Cosmology.html retrieved 12-11-07)

A common denominator of African spiritual practice responds to a deeply interdependent, responsive universe through shared experience.(Ani,1994, Farris Thompson,1984; Karade,1999) The human was at the center of a spirit filled universe; time was generally felt to be under the control of man, not the reverse; the body was not the antithesis of the soul or mind, communalism outweighed individualism . Deeply held convictions anchor the belief complex :that the dead influence the living and that the present is filled with the past and pregnant with the future.Indigenous African people trace their origins to an ancestor/divinity.It inclines toward a mystical and communal spirituality reverent with regard to ancestral spirits. This facilitates the use of the term “African traditional religion;” since a familiar current runs through diverse ethnic expressions of ontology.

Yoruba traditional religion holds that there is one non-gender specific Supreme Being, Yoruba conceptualize the universe in terms of two halves of a closed calabash that represent the whole: Orun, the metaphysical and invisible world; and the Aye, the visible world inhabited by all life forms. The Yoruba cosmos contains Olodumare, the supreme deity; the Orisa, or assistive divinities; ancestral spirits, and a number of other categories of spiritual beings. The various forces in Nature which guide consciousness are called Orisa which typically translates as “selected head”. Yoruba ontology assigns some form of consciousness to everything in Nature. Humans select an ori which is aligned with his/her destiny in life. Each human, animal and plant is understood to be guided by a specific orisa which has the quality of a particular consciousness. There are many orisa, each with its own awo. Farris Thompson (1984)described orisa as simultaneously embodiments and messengers of ase…...God’s own enabling light rendered accessible to men and women”(p.5;emphasis added)Nonhuman creatures and plants have emi. Injunctions are usually made not to maltreat nnkan- elemi, things “inhabited” by emi.” (Adeofe,2004,p.70)

Humans are composed of corporeal and spiritual elements of both worlds; the spiritual elements have a variety of functions related to Yoruba beliefs about destiny and reincarnation. “Humans fulfill their individual destinies (ayanmo) through piety, divination, sacrifice and by recognizing and paying homage to the power of the Orisas, thus soliciting their help and that of ancestors” (Bascom,1969,p.163).

Some adherents maintain that ori is “the first orisa” The prominence of the head in Yoruba sculpture lead Lawal (1985) to consider the symbolism of ori. It is almost always the biggest and the most elaborately finished part of a typical figure sculpture, frequently adorned with headgear or regal hairstyles that resemble crowns. Lawal (2001)describes ori as the governor of the body. As such, it is due acknowledgement and given pride of place.Alignment with one’s Ori brings, to the person who obtains it, inner peace and satisfaction with life. To come to know the Ori is, essentially, to come to know oneself.Karade (1999) referred to the odu Ogunda Meji where Orumila,5 the eleri ipin or witness of creation, called all the divinities together to determine who would remain with their devotee until the very end despite the trials and hardships of life. Only Ori affirmed his commitment to support his devotee until the end (p.44)

Oludumare is unfathomable and not directly responsive to humans. Hundreds of orisa, or aspects of the Supreme serve as assistive functionaries. The worshipers of a deity are referred to as his/her “children.” Some of the orisas are divinized ancestors like the orisa Shango who was the fourth king of Oyo. The orisa Esu is a cunning warrior who commands obstacular forces and serves to opens the door that enables humans to access o orisas as humanity’s linguist . Orunmila is the orisa of wisdom and divination, having been the eleri ipin or witness to creation while Ogun is the orisa of iron and war. The female great mother orisa Yemoja is associated with the river Ogun and in her Black Atlantic avatar, owns the oceans.

African traditional religion relies on the natural world as a medium for instruction. Orisas manifest through the properties of the natural world: fresh water, rain, thunder, disease, beauty and sweetness etc. Nature is thus highly revered. The practice of traditional “religion” varies from community to community. A deity may be male in one village and female in another. This is not seen as a contradiction. While in the West it is appropriate to separate religion, philosophy, worldview and everyday life, this is almost pointless in Africa. Religion is not something separate and apart; it is endemic and experienced within the rhythm of everyday life. This seamlessness bewildered European exploiters whose destruction of African civilization was done partially under the guise of “saving souls.” The successful imposition of Christianity on Africans at home and abroad encouraged the perception that before Whites came, Africans had nothing of either intellectual or spiritual value. Contempt, not curiosity, was the European response to African indigenous knowledge. What was deemed worthy of respect was appropriated to Europe and the African mythic origins submerged.6

The use of magic, here defined as a force that transforms according to the will of the wielder ,cannot be extracted from African traditional religion. Its purpose is to effect changes in reality and the course of events. Trances, ritual utterances/ spells and incantations are directed towards communicating with and/or controlling spiritual powers and beings in order to obtain information which is otherwise impossible to know. These techniques further the aim of African spirituality which is human acquisition of the gaining the power needed to live a good life (Mbiti,1990).

According to Horn(2003), traditional Africans are moral pragmatists. They believe moral rightness or wrongness is not determined by the method or behavior employed, but by the goal towards which the pertinent behavior is directed. If the end is adjudged to be good, any behavior and action to attain it is in principle adjudged to be good. Within a pragmatic moral frame the only relevant question is whether the method works. Thus, magic is ‘good’ if its fruits are judged to be ‘good’. (Turaki,1999 cited in Horn,2003,p.55).

Ani (1994)Mazama (2002), Nantambu (1996) adroitly discuss the damage inflicted on African people in the name of Christianity. Among the more insidious consequences of Christian imposition was the dogmatic suppression and demonization of other faith systems and their adherents. Traditional Africa believes the world is definitively spiritual and that nature, humans and the spirit world “constitute one fluid unit” (Turaki, 1999, p.98 cited in Horn,2003,p.52). Christians regarded Africa’s worldview pejoratively and determined that radically different views of God and other spirits were simply irreconcilable. Their solution, sanctioned by their God, was to obliterate any alternatives. Other worldviews were reduced to ”mere superstition”(Mazama,2002 p.225). Through only one prophet could a soul ascend or the world be saved: via a Europeanized Jesus.7 Christian missionaries called themselves “Christian soldiers marching as to war” in the offensive to strip Africans of their history, traditions and cultural worth. Indigenous practices were replaced by the “ hypervalorization of European culture”(Mazama,2002,p.231). The “coffin nail” was hammered by ushering in European literacy with its reliance on the printed word via the vehicle of the school(Dozier,1985). Under European hegemony, indigenous knowledge succumbed to disrepute and eventual rejection by those Africans “privileged” by schooling.8

Ifa’s incredible adaptability survived the Christian colonial onslaught and crossed the Atlantic (Dozier-Henry, 2003; Farris Thompson, 1984;Matory,2005) illustrating what Matory (2005) refers to as “black ingenuity under duress, an ingenuity that created transnational, transimperial, and transoceanic networks before the word ‘transnationalism’ was ever known”(p.3). Extensive scholarship addresses what Herskovits (1964, original1941) referred to as retention of Africanisms in the Black Atlantic region.

“Within the discipline of Ifa, there is a body of wisdom called ‘awo’ which attempts to preserve the rituals that create direct communication with the Forces in Nature” (Fatunmbi, 1992,p.1). Usually translated by Westerners to mean “secret” (i.e. babalawo as father of secrets) traditional Yoruba culture comprehends awo as the esoteric understanding of invisible forces that sustain dynamics and form within Nature”(Fatunmbi,1992,p.2) Phenomena that can be known by the intellect is not awo. Fatunmbi (1992)explains:

The essence of these invisible forces are not considered secret because they are devious but they are devious, they are secret because they remain elusive, awesome in their power to transform and not readily apparent. As such they can only be grasped through direct interaction and participation (p.2)

Spirit possession is common not only to African traditional religion (and is usually a goal among Ifa practitioners) but tends to find expression in Africanized Christianity and Islam. In Africa, bbelief in spirit possession has not disappeared despite orthodox Christian and Muslim attack. Spirit possession is a complex spiritual engagement goes beyond what has been academically described as “psychological release for marginalized women” (http://science.jrank.org/pages/11039/Religion-Africa-Religion-Possession.html retrieved 11-20-07.) “In possession, a spirit takes control of an individual for a period of time. Such possession can be sudden and may be induced through music, drumming or medicine. Through life force offerings and “lavish ceremonies of spirit possession, the gods are persuaded to intervene beneficently in the lives of their worshipers and to keep foes of those worshipers at bay” (Matory,2005, p.1)Possession signifies a bond with the spirit that permits entities from the spiritual realm to communicate directly with human community. The possession experience can be a critical moment in creating self-understanding and personhood offering opportunities to resolve contradictions within the self (http://science.jrank.org/pages/11039/Religion-Africa-Religion-Possession.html retrieved 11-20-07). Messages and warnings, a call to the healing profession, rebuke of behavior and a demand for people to pay attention to public morality may call for the loan to spirit of a human vessel for communication. It is important to note that possession is important because the spirit that controls the devotee communicates messages to the community through that individual. It also affirms the existence of invisible worlds which can interface with this one. The inability of a human to genuine control trance possession also affirms that humans are not necessarily the pinnacle of creation, but only own a place in a diverse, interrelated cosmos.

The unifying essence of the universe is the invisible power known as ase. Ase is variously described as a vita force or the power to make things happen. In conversation it is typically used to praise and invoke manifestation. In the Yoruba universe, ase is the ground of being, the life force, and the warrant for existence in all its manifestations.

For Mazama (1992) the Supreme Being is ase. Mazama describes this energy :

Indeed the major articulation of African metaphysics is the energy of cosmic origin that permeates and lives within all that is-human beings, animals, plants, minerals, and objects, as well as events. This common energy shared by all confers a common essence to everything in the world, and thus ensures the fundamental unity of all that exists (p.219)

Mazama (2002)further cites the antiquity of this belief, acknowledging its presence among ancient Kemites ( Egyptians). Moreover she illuminates two profound implications of this belief: the principle of interconnectedness of all that is and the principle of harmony. This ontological position integrates rather than separates humans from a cosmos larger than them but yet centered around them. This understanding is crucial because it mandates reverence for all living things as a part of a divine creation of which we are part ,not sovereign. This point is in stark contrast to the Abrahamic religions which posit “chosen people”,(Judaism)humans as God’s proxies on earth (Islam) or the superiority of humans over other living beings, and Christians over other humans by virtue of being “saved”. Thus imminently local expressions, there is no missionary aspect or zeal to convert others to African traditional religious belief system complexes.

Without “our mothers”(iyami) the Yoruba community could not exist. Because of woman’s ability to give birth, it is believed that women know the secret of life and therefore possess power to bring life into the world, and to remove it.(Owomoyela,2005):

…the absolute dependence of human existence on the woman:
she is the only pathway through which people come into existence,
and whatever a man’s contribution to the process, it cannot compare in importance or in the awesome psychic implication of the truth that every
human being begins incarnation as an anatomical part of a woman,
concealed in the protection of her body, drawing sustenance from her
and relying completely for some nine months.(p.14)

This ase of the feminine is recognized as women’s sphere of power. The Gelede tradition salutes this power of women and is a celebratory spectacle performed annually by men to honor and appease this power. Ogundipe-Leslie(2004) and Olajubu (2004) highlight the integrity and importance of women’s roles in Ifa practice.

Divination is another tool for communicating with the divine. Divinities and spirits are all subject to the authority of Oludumare and implement Oludumare’s will. Throughout Africa, different natural phenomena are used to translate the language of spirits to that of humans. Ifa divination systems rely variously on pieces of kola nuts, cowrie shells, and palm nuts. Pemberton (n.d.)notes:

Diviners are also the agents of memory, the preservers of a people’s history, or, in times of crisis, the creators of a “past” or a “vision” by which the living may endure. A person’s status is often determined by what is revealed in rites of divination at the time of birth, coming of age, marriage, investiture to priestly or royal office, death, and other critical events. (http://pagesperso-orange.fr/africart/pages/pemb.htmretrieved 3-11-08)

Some level of divination is available to everyone; other more specialized systems require initiation into their mysteries and training before they can be used. As ritual specialists, diviners, help individuals to determine not only the course of their destiny, but also how to act in a way that will allow them to fulfill their destiny. Priests “command the technology to purify bodies, houses, and other vessels of unwanted influences and to insert, or secure the presence of, the divinities in the bodies and altars of their devotees”)Matory,2005,p.6) Communicating with divinities, they dispense remedies with the potential to heal and ameliorate the trials of earthly existence.

Eniyan

Kii lokan (Strengthen the heart)

The human is a composite of various energy manifestations. Personhood and individuality are recognized in the context of a communitarian ethos. In Yoruba cosmology Gbadesesin (1991) points out:

The Yoruba word for person eniyan.. However, eniyan has a normative
dimension, as well as an ordinary meaning. Thus it is not unusual, referring to a
human being, for an observer to say “Ki i se eniyan” [(He/She is not an eniyan].
Such a comment is a judgment of the moral standing of the human being who is
thus determined to fall short of what it takes to be recognized as such
(p.27)

Olodumare creates people and gives each person the opportunity to choose his or her destiny. Individuality is also spelled out in given names and in the concept of ori (head), which indicates not only the physical head but also an important part of an individual’s nature and character (iwa). It is often said that one’s ori is one’s first orisa, as nothing can be accomplished without the support of one’s ori.

The psychological aspect of the person is inu, and a sense of self is emi. For any individual characterized as a person, its history begins with the infusion of a spirit into a fetus and with the emergent composite accepting a destiny for its life. The spirit is called an emi’ and the emi’ gives both human life and consciousness to the fetus. . The composite of fetus and emi’becomes an individual who chooses a destiny. The words “individual” and “person” are not synonymous At the reception of the destiny, the individual becomes a person. A person, eniyan, is a conscious body that lives out its destiny. At death, the body dies, but the individual giving rise to the person may survive as an ancestral spirit. Ancestral spirits (egun) are capable of agency and can communicate intentions those to whom egun chooses to reveal itself. A Yoruba proverb says we become who we are by standing on the shoulders of those who come before us. From the perspective of traditional Yoruba culture, remembering those who come before us is a sacred obligation.

Yoruba thought stresses the need for individuals to carry out their obligations in order to fulfill their destiny. A destiny in the Yoruba sense is something that a person ought to embrace, but can do otherwise if he or she chooses. The Ifa oral text of odus stresses over and over again that while remedies or healings can be prescribed, humans always have choice. Unlike the Western interpretation of fate, destiny does not purport that every action or behavior is strictly predetermined . It implies instead that some action or behavior in an individual’s life is inevitable. There is also a sense in which one’s
destiny refers merely to a way of living one’s life.This is not to imply a fixed set of rules, but entails living one’s life in such a way that one’s goals and destiny are accomplished.

Still, caveats and prescriptions apply.. The avoidance of negativity (usually referred to as witchcraft) is seen as any action that distorts interpersonal relations and brings about harmful social developments. Evildoers misuse magic and witchcraft and inflict violence on others, but that does not mean that witchcraft and other forms of powers are evil. Fixed categories of good and evil elude Yoruba practice, with mitigating situational factors always considered.

Iwa pele – conduit to transcendence

Iwa rerel’eso eniyan” (Good character, good existence, is the adornment of a human being). Yoruba proverb

IWA LESIN, Good Heart is the essence of religion
Where did you see Iwa? Tell me!
Iwa,, iwa is the one I am looking for
.

Fatunmbi states that Ifa teaches that everyone is born a good and blessed person (omo rere). As elders we make sure our dependents internalize this message so it continues to inform future generations. Ifa says we come to earth to make it a better place for those who follow us (ire aye). Based on the Yoruba belief in atunwa (reincarnation), future generations include our own return to the earth we have previously helped shape. This cyclical process is the foundation for both Ifa ethics and the Ifa view of history. The cycles of birth and rebirth on a personal level are reflected in the movement between creative expansion and destructive contraction that characterizes the traditional African view of history(http://www.awostudycenter.com/Articles/art_oduhist1.htm)

The development of iwa pele (gentle character) is what enables one to thrive in this world and ultimately transcend physical limits of the world . Iwa pele is the conduit to immortality and is the goal of eniyan. The afterlife is strong in African religions but whereas Christianity emphasizes it, African religions are preoccupied with realizing happiness during this ife. Heaven, hell, sin, and redemption are alien concepts in the Yoruba worldview. In exchange for respect ,material sacrifice, taboo observance, and possession trance, a pantheon of ancient African deities opens the path to prosperity, fecundity, and good health.Yoruba proverbs (owe)state that life here on earth is transitory; the world is a marketplace and heaven is one’s home. Currently it seems that our entire focus is the marketplace – the here, the now, the quick, material and easy. The realm of spirit is neglected and contested.

Implications and Considerations

Incredible power characterizes this era, and yet, in truth, most of us feel increasingly powerless. It is an era of enormous material power, and yet incredible social powerlessness. A billion of us, perhaps, live without even the most basic, primal power to meet our need for food and to take care of our offspring. The rest of us feel increasingly powerless to affect the most basic aspects of our lives, to protect ourselves and our children from violence, to secure healthy food and water for ourselves, to secure jobs that have some security. Increasing feelings of powerlessness pervade our lives.( Frances Moore Lappé, Speech Before The Teachers’ College, Columbia University from 1994 retrieved from http://gos.sbc.edu/l/lappe2.html)

“Ifa can mend our broken world”(Abimbola,1997)

Wole Soyinka, speaking to an audience in California noted that Yoruba is an “invisible religion,” because it is “overshadowed … by other elaborate and territorially rapacious world religions.” But Yoruba has much to teach people about tolerance, he said, because deities in the Yoruba pantheon make that religion one of “the most humane anywhere.” The Yoruba people have no hostility for the piety of other people, he said, and traditionally have been willing to look at another tradition and find equivalents in their own. As Du Bois warned of the tenacity of racism at the twentieth century‘s onset ,Soyinka warned that religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat to peace and democracy in the world today (2007,p.B2) .9

Hallen & Wiredu (n.d. )use a different metaphor to frame the friction of worldviews in light of historical struggles between naturalism and anti-naturalism which show no signs of abating. In our own time. spiritual openness is a critical need. What can we be open to learn from this worldview that might be palliative for our ills? The author suggests that several aspects of this worldview merit consideration, if not embrace.

1.Yoruba belief in the sanctity of a unified society prompts us to reevaluate our mutuality. Although defilement of the earth, unceasing violence and aggression affect all of us, there is a widespread escapist illusion of other peoples’ problems being just that: theirs, not ours. The fundamental Yoruba metaphysical principle is that the energy of divine cosmic origin (ase) permeates and lives within all that is -human beings, animals, plants, minerals, and objects, as well as events. This common energy shared by all confers a common essence to everything in the world, and ensures the fundamental unity of all that exists. Ethics of solidarity and hospitality is extended to the whole universe, since traditional Africans presume kinship with the whole natural world. What might change if we could see and value unity in the splendor of the planet’s diversity by demonstrating humility and respect for its many formations? What if we honored the earth as the deity she is, approaching with purity and realizing that raping her resources rather than sharing them is a desecration of profound magnitude?

2. The relationship of individual to community, broadly defined as the expansive terrain of living beings, is defined in African traditional religion as a reciprocal one. The maintenance of harmonious social equilibrium is a duty all have as error harms the public good. The sense of solidarity and community life is so entwined that it is unthinkable to celebrate social events without the participation of the whole village. Community includes in the broad expanse of living beings what Mbiti (1990) refers to as the” living dead”, or ancestors up to five generations removed.Dare we become as inclusive? What if we accepted and acted upon a covenant of reciprocity and interdependence ? How would we protect species from “overfishing” and extinction? What would happen if we trusted the adage that everything is here for a reason, called to a purpose? What if we did not assume that we were better than every other aspect of creation? Wider acceptance of this reciprocity could encourage interdependence on this sojourning road of life, open new languages and promote respect for the way human relations are conducted.

3. The equation of personhood with an ethic of increasing morality(eniyan) has the potential to move us from shallow assessments of others based on appearance to delve into their core values and integrity. Suppose society did not prize youthful appearances and instead acknowledged individuals to the extent that they approached eniyan or personhood in a moral context? What if you had to be a person in your community before you were affirmed an adult? permitted to parent? And what if your community felt responsible for helping you get there? What might our relationships look like in twenty years? “Owo ara eni, Là afi I tunwa ara enii se”(Each individual must use his own hands to improve on his own character). The Ifa corpus is clear that one may not rely on the works of one’s forbears for recognition. We each have a destiny to fulfill. What if each person had to work for her wealth rather than inheriting it?

4. Symbolic constructions of the Yoruba show that death is analogous to social dislocation. Social dislocation results from being outside of community, visible or invisible. Immortality is achieved via the remembrance of one’s name by progeny (Mbiti,1990)./

The Yoruba also pray for many blessings, but the most important
three are wealth, children and immortality: ire owo; ire omo; ire aiku
pari iwa. There is a belief in an afterlife that is a continuation of this
life, only in a different setting, and the abode of the dead is usually
placed at a place just outside of this abode, and is sometimes thought
of as separated by a stream. Participation in this afterlife is conditional
on the nature of one’s life and the nature of one’s death
(http://egbeomooduduwa.org/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=18 retrieved 2-27=08)

5. ATR is affirmative. Omo rere is a birthright that avows each person is born blessed and good. Everyone belongs.10 The union of opposites causes male and female principles to coalesce (Dixon,1976). A proverb states “women hold up half the sky”, referring to their centrality and value. Among Ifa adherents, women are uniquely endowed with ase because they naturally embody the creative principle. There is no spiritual support for their abuse. In fact, the odu Ifa admonishes that without their input, enterprises may fail. Olajubu (2004) argues that gender existed and played a significant role in Yoruba religious tradition but in ways quite different from its conception in Western cultures. Complementary gender relations, rooted in Yoruba cosmology ,suggest that for the Yoruba, “the question to ask about the state of the sexes is not which sex is dominant but, rather, over which areas does each sex enjoy prominence”(p.41).

6. Inseparability from a divine Nature distinguishes traditional African spiritual systems and opens the door to an African vision of human rights which are not exclusively human, integrating components of the natural world and the whole cosmos. Humans have worth and hospitality is a duty.11

7. The blind idolization of Western science has been costly. It stimulated the cult of experts and expertise, which leaves many of us outside and adrift. Theft of belief in our own capacity robs us of agency and purpose. Current generations are experiencing this anomie. Western society and landscapes under Western hegemony are acutely disjointed.

Spiritual practices from African traditional religion and Ifa in particular suggest hope and promise for those burdened with the weight of twenty first century anomie. Ifa’s prescription for human advancement is taken from the sacred odu Irosun Iwori. It simply describes a vision of what the world can become. It also admonishes us that until this ideal can be achieved, humans will migrate back and forth between earth (aiye) and heaven (orun.). Orunmila said, The following are the directions, the full knowledge of everything, joy every time; to live without any fear of enemy or confusion, without fear of disease or death; loss, witch, wizard, danger of fire or any form of accident; without fear of poverty. One must learn not to steal and create discomfort to the owner or bring disgrace to one door and to Olodumare. To refrain from evil deeds or we must go back to the darkness of the world that we shall certainly repay for all that we do. Until we do this, people will continue to travel between heaven and earth. (translation from http://ayodele_falade.tripod.com/id10.html retrieved 2-27-08)

This paper’s purpose was to open a channel for consideration of traditional African views of self and soul, with particular emphasis on Yoruban Ifa.. The author attempted to address how agency might be restored by expanded paradigms that offer alternative definitions of who we are and why we are here. Concern was expressed that as technology proliferates rapidly without attention to the human consequences, societies, souls and persons may find themselves adrift and disconnected. Spiritual tenets from African traditional religion and Ifa practice in particular offer hope and promise for reconnecting with ourselves and each other. These great systems belong at the table of enriching, powerful possibilities that humans have drawn from as they make sense of the world. As the Luba acknowledge in their proverb, “Bwino bonso ke bwino, bwino I kwikala biya ne Bantu”: true knowledge is to know how to live in harmony with our fellow human beings . Oosthuizen (1991) sums it up well:

The African traditional approach with its holistic emphasis has much to give to the modern world with its closed, limited, merely rationalist disposition. The post-modern worldview, which will hopefully become more prevalent, will find ready rapport with the traditional African worldview. If technology and science could help Africa to develop without becoming an ideology on this continent, and if Africa retains its sensitivity to the depth of human existence, this continent could be at the forefront of the restoration of mankind’s true humanity.( pp.48-49)

Ase!


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Endnotes

1During the late ‘60s and ‘70s in the US it was popular among the youth subculture not to trust anyone over age 30.

2The Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

3During the early 1970s new religions were becoming a public issue and a “growth industry” among religious scholars. For the continued invisibility of African traditional religion see Lewis, J.R. (2004) The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. New York: Oxford University Press. A mention of “black religion” is made on p.8 which precedes the main body of the text.

4“In some parts of Yorubaland, Oduduwa is regarded as a powerful warrior and the leader of an immigrant group that subjugated the aboriginal population of Ife and established a new ruling dynasty that eventually brought the whole of present day Yorubaland under its hegemony. In other parts, the same Oduduwa…is worshipped as a female earth deity who sustains humanity in the same way that a mother nurtures her children. The fact that Oduduwa, the male warrior, is sometimes addressed as a “mother” has led some scholars of Yoruba history and religion to suggest that the male aspect is a later development. “See Babatunde Lawal’s (Se[t.2001)‘Aworan: Representing the Self and its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art” Art Bulletin, 83, 3, 498-526.

5Ifa has many meanings. So closely is Orunmila associated with the oracle and excellence in divination that he is often referred to as Ifa. The names Or4unmila andEla are also used interchangeably, even though Ela is a separate deity in its own right Within the Ifa divination system.

6For example, aspects of the Kemetic or Egyptian mystery systems emerge in the Masonic traditions and Rosicrucian teachings.

7 It should be noted that the oldest sect of Christians, the Copts, reside in Ethiopia.

8 Hopefully the works of Abimbola (2005),Galtung ,(1995),Gbadegesin(1991) Mbiti,1970,1990), Serequeberhan (2003),to name a few, have put to rest needless debates about the existence and viability of African philosophy.

9 Actually Soyinka recalled Du Bois’ prophetic statement about the twentieth century:
The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” Soyinka used this to prophesy current fissures along religious lines.

1010Orisanla is also credited with the making of special people as his devotees. What might be considered as deformities are considered as the favor of orisa, a deliberate action inside of a Divine plan.

11Diasporan Africans often ruminate about what enabled Europeans to take advantage of Africans and perpetuate the slave trade. The strangers were met by hospitality, not hostility.