By Iyalemole Dr. Queenchiku Ngozi-Fabuluje
April 9th, 2020
US, Florida: Racism runs deep in the Ifa and Orisha practices. Racism comes in many forms. Google defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Many cultures can exhibit prejudice and discrimination. Even when it comes to customs and religious rituals.
For centuries, the one-drop rule was a way to assign a person minority status. Davis (2014) said the “one-drop rule” declared that if a person had one drop of African blood in the diaspora (America), the person is Black (African American). It is also “known as the one black ancestor rule, [and] some courts have called it the traceable amount rule” (Davis, 2014). Today, the people this rule is applied to are called “mixed race” or “other”. The one-drop practice dates back to 1662 in the U.S. (Bradt, 2010). There are more questions than answers here when we apply it to Ifa and Orisha practices. To illustrate, the Lucumi/Santeria Orisa/Ifa odu provide prescriptions which tell a person to not marry a Black person, or a mulatto woman, or only marry a white person. Regardless, if you are a mixed or mulatto individual – you are an African descendant (Miller, 2017). We observe the non-white person is disqualified as white. My theory is that time caused the interpreters to change the Odu to fit the communities they served.
“The anomalies of personal identity resulting from the one-drop rule are apparently never ending” (Winthrop, 2014). One-drop indicated the person had African ancestry regardless, gender, age, and ethnics. Chronometric assessment of a person skin complexion, which is referring to hue-man of color (Winthrop, 2014). Yorubas use the word “Oyinbo”. Does that reflex a foreigner or a Caucasian person? What is the Black person with one-drop Caucasian blood? Or would a person be called mulatto because they are neither Black nor White. Winthrop (2014) stated that “the one-drop rule has always depended on racial physiognomic distinctions.” I am saying all this to give a brief summary and provide a conceptual view on who is the owner of Orisa/Ifa.
In the years of 2009 and 2010, there were heavy battles between various cultural groups and the Ifa Council on the initiation of P. Ricans, whites, and so-on. I received an “open letter to Ifa Council attachment June 24, 2010” that was posted in the Orishanla-yahoo group. The major concept was the views of the African American men “place in the unfolding cosmos is such that he is totally unable to comprehend the major questions on the existence of the Almighty (Olodumare).” For instance, does Olodumare, Ifa, and Orunmila belong to one race and does Orunmila and Olodumare appear for one race more over the others. Also, the open letter stated that “They [Black men] lack the comparative sense of being able to see Yoruba (ifa) religion as just, another system – superstition, belief, world view, cosmogony or whatever.” Does the “invisible blackness”, the one-drop rule, count as the right for all to be initiated into Ifa/Orisa? In addition, Emerwo Biakolo wrote in ‘Nigerian Guardian’ of 28th November 1992: “Do men believe just because they want to or because the object of their faith is credible?” Is it credible to accept that racism, discrimination, partiality and crass ignorance of the future are part of the God-concept?” (Open letter, 2010).
One major question which keeps popping up in the orisha and Ifa practices in the diaspora is who has the right to be initiated to Orisha or Ifa. This in addition to the question of who has the right to maintain the information and rituals of the Orisha and Ifa. It has been a push and pull (Odu Ika meji) situation with the appearance of photos of various cultures dressed in Ifa initiation ceremonial attire or changing their social media names to Yoruba names. Many people of color feel betrayed, while the Lucumi/Santeria folks feel that they have been betrayed by their priests who initiated African Americans in the diaspora. Who is right? Who is wrong?
From the traditional odu Ejiogbe it says, “Ifa says that this person has a light-skinned woman at home… He should offer a sacrifice so that Death doesn’t take her away.” Also, in the same odu Ifa says, “Saara ga, Eji furu cast Ifa for Oyinbo the child of the one who transforms Ogun (the deity of iron) into an idol when they were going to leave Ile-Ifẹ.” Further in the odu Ejiogbe Ifa says, “the Oyinbo [white people] in the time of the ancestors when they left Ile-Ifẹ. This was because at that time, their parents, the ones who gave birth to them, Ọrunmila told them that the children would be strange and peculiar, the children that they would have.” KTravule (2013) defined the word ‘Oyinbo’ as being “Igbo words that produced ‘Oyi – ibo’ instead of ‘onyi igbo’ meaning ‘Igbo person’ just as he ‘the white man’ was called ‘onye ocha’ meaning ‘white person… This would later be adopted by other Southern Nigerian tribes as the standard name for the white man and coupled with dialect variance one obtains different pronunciations such as ‘Oyinbo’ in Yoruba and other western Nigerian tribes.” In time, Oyinbo was also referred when speaking about any foreigner whether they be American, Cuban, Brazilian, and so-on.
Technically, if every individual has DNA connecting to one woman originating in Africa called “Eve,” then we can be considered as one cell divided into many cells of existence. Ifa has no color line or ancestors as well as orisha because odu will state who you should be with regardless who is sitting on the mat. It is understandable that the practice belongs to a group of people because they gave birth to the practice. However, initiation to Orisa or Ifa shouldn’t be based on the color of a person’s skin or the purity of their African lineage, but on the integrity of that person’s character. I believe that Nigerians and Cubans can be selfish when it comes to initiating African Americans or any other culture, race, or gender. In reverse, African Americans too can be selfish with the orisha and Ifa along with their Olowus who taught them to be so. It is sad that each selfish culture’s interpretation of how to practice mixed with racism are dictating how Ifa and orisha practices will survive in the future. There is too much division between Orisa and Ifa initiates, devotees, Awos, and oloshas. The survival of the practice will vanish.
Bradt, S. (2010). One-drop rules persists. Science & Technology: The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/20120/12/one-drop-rule-persists/
Davis, F. J. (2014). Who is Black?: One nation’s definition. PBS WUFT. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/mixed/onedrop.html/
Jordan, W. D. (2014). Historical origins of the one-drop racial rule in the United States. Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies, 1(1). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/91g761b3
Miller, Y. (2017). U.S. still clings to one-drop rule. The Bay State Banner. Retrieved from https://www.baystatebanner.com/2017/12/27/U-S-still-cling-to-one-drop-rule/
n.d. (2009). Chapter 14: Racial inequality. Retrieved from https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/
n.d. (2020). “Yoruba Culture faces extinction. Araba Ifayemi Elebuibon” Retrieved from https://youtu.be/8WK7Paawwns