Extracts from Yoruba Heathenism, by the Right Rev. Bishop JAMES JOHNSON, and Astrological Geomancy in Africa, by Professor J. A. ABAYOMI COLE. [Transcription note: diacritics have been ignored in the following].
Yoruba Heathenism, by the Right Rev. Bishop James Johnson, is so intensely interesting that when once you begin to quote from it it is very difficult to leave off doing so. The work was written some years ago, which may account for its title which I am sure my friend the Bishop would now call by some other name. A native of Africa, Bishop Johnson stands out not merely as a learned and earnest divine, but as a patriotic African anxious to instil into his fellow countrymen true nobility and independence of spirit and character. It has been my privilege to have discussed with him on many occasions some of the religious problems now troubling the mind of the educated African, who is beginning to be conscious of the higher teaching in his own mythology. I take this opportunity to thank the Bishop for having placed this work at my disposal and allowing me to quote so liberally from it.
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God is commonly called “OLORUN,” a contracted form of “Eniti-o-ni-orun,” “the Owner of the Heavens; or of “Olu-orun,” the Chief in the Heavens; or “Orun,” the heavens, which is an abbreviated form of Olorun, and is intended to imply both heaven and earth together, which are sometimes spoken of together as the Universe. “ALAIYE,”‘ a contracted form of “Eniti-o-ni-aiye,” “the Owner of the Earth,” or of “OLUWA-AIYE,” “the Master of the Earth,” the term “Aiye” being understood to include both the earth and the heavens together; “OLUDUMARE,” which some interpret to mean The Chief, or The King who is the Son of “ERE,” and some regard as representing THE “EVER RIGHTEOUS ONE,” and some “God the Almighty“; and “Oloni,” a contracted form of “Oluwa ini,” the Owner of all our possessions, and other like names, many of which are commonly applied to inferior and subordinate Deities, as was the case with some of the ancient nations, as, for instance, the Greeks and the Romans.
Man, both from his inability to fully grasp the Infinite and for his own convenience, has been wont to represent this Being to himself by some attribute of His that impresses him more forcibly than others, or, through some special blessing from Him to which he attaches unexceptional value, and sometimes to content himself with transferring to Him a name he had applied before to some subordinate deity. Thus the Greeks like other Aryan races speak of Him as “Zeus” or “Jupiter,” “The God of light,” or the “God of heaven,” and “Theos,” the “Being who has made and arranged all things”; the Jews speak of Him amongst other names as “The Mighty One”; the English still apply to Him the Saxon name “God,” “a graven image,” which they had before their conversion to Christianity applied to an inferior deity; and the Yorubans speak of Him as “Olorun,” “the Owner of the Heavens,” or, “The Chief One in, or, The King of the Heavens.”
The number of Yoruba gods commonly reckoned is 401, but it is strictly more correct to say that the number is 600, arranged generally under two divisions, 200, as the Babalawos would say, placed on the right-hand side, and 400 on the left-hand side. But the gods more commonly worshipped are Ifa, Oduduwa, Obanta and Obanla his wife, Osun, Ogun, Yemaja, Buruku, Obalufon, Orisa-oko, and Soponno, Sango and Obatala.
These Deities are generally known among us as “Orishas, ” a term which, after the religious tradition of the country, was originally applied to some being whom Ifa, or Orunmila, the Son of God, had sent out with others to search about for and collect together the wisdom which he had strewn about, and who were successful in their search and collection whilst others failed, and who were then spoken of as “Awon ti o ri sa,” i.e., those who were successful in making their collection, and who after, and in consequence of this, became objects of worship. But others have represented the term “Orisha” as derived from the circumstance of a serious difference on a
[1. Compare the BAKICI BACI of the Bavili and the EBAMI of the Bini.]
particular occasion between two friends named Arin and Ogba, a difference in which some elders interfered, over a potsherd, “Isha,” which the one had made a present of to the other, but a return of which the giver afterwards from envy demanded, and which after its return was accounted sacred and became an object of worship; and they say that from this every other object of worship has been called an “Orisha” (Ori-isha), in allusion to the potsherd over which there had been a severe difference.
Sango, the god of the atmosphere; Aramife, the god of fire; Aje, the god of trade; Obalufon, the god of a prosperous empire; Korikoto and Oke, gods of child-birth; the gods of the sea, Yemoja, Okun or Olokun, and Osun; the god of war, and the goddess of hunting (Ogun and Oranmiyan, Ososi and Uja his wife, Obalogun and Akipo his wife, and Ikuligbogbo); the god of agriculture, Ogun; the gods of prophecy and song, Ifa and Erinle; the god of eloquence, Obatala; the god of love and beauty, Olokun; the god of wisdom, Olokun; and the deities of the hearth fire, the Egun, or spirits of deceased ancestors.
Some of the Yoruba Divinities have been borrowed from other tribes.
Sango, from the Niger territory; Eko-Ifa, from the Akoko tribe; and Aje, from the Egun or Popo tribe.
Yorubans, whose heathen and idolatrous worship is a recurring festival at which a particular divinity is worshipped, have from this circumstance often denominated a day in every cycle of five days from the name of the deity to whose worship it is devoted, e.g., thus we find one day named Ojo Jakuta, i.e., the day when Jakuta or Shango is worshipped; Ojo Obatala, i.e., the day when Obatala is worshipped; Ojo Ifa, i.e., the day when Ifa is worshipped, or when he sits on a throne like a king; Ojo Abameta, i.e., the Abameta day; and Ojo Yemaja, which is Ojo Oro as well, when both Yemaja and deceased ancestors’ spirits are worshipped.
The Yorubans bury their dead in their houses, and believe in them, in their power after death, and in their interest in their surviving friends; this is the family Oro and Egun worship, i.e., the worship at some fixed place in a house of the spirits of deceased ancestors, male and female, by surviving members of a family of which they had been a visible part, the fixed place being commonly marked by coloured designs on a wall of the house
[1. Shango is an imported “power,” see the days of the week of the Bavili and Bini, pages 64 and 214.]
or on the floor, and called “Olojuba-Baba,” or “Oju-Egun, Baba,” i.e., the spot specially assigned to the worship of the spirits of our deceased ancestors, and to which has been added the worship of such spirits as Esu, the devil, whose image is often placed on the left-hand side of the entrance into a premises; Esi, whose own is often in the piazza; whilstIfaor Orunmila’s ORO, which consists of 32 sacred palm nuts in a bowl, is generally placed at the sleeping apartment of the head of the house, and on an elevation raised above that occupied by the images of other orishas kept in the house to mark his superior importance.
Yorubans, like many other African tribes, make use of groves which they regard as sacred to some of their gods, and consecrated for worship to them in connection with their idolatry, and which they sometimes designate as “Igboro,” i.e., groves sacred to the spirits of our ancestors-” “Igbo Egun“, or “Igbale Egun“, or “Opa,” “Igbo Osonyin,” “Igbo Oluwa-Olofin,”, or “Igbo Oluwa Aramife.”
The practice of appropriating individual trees to purposes of devotion is indulged in by many African tribes, including the Yorubans.
The Palm tree, the Cotton tree, the Iroko tree, the Akoko tree, and the Ekika, whose leaves are commonly employed fresh on occasions of installation to the position and rank of a sovereign, and to the office of a priest of high rank, and the Omiyolo tree, the Iporogun and the Atori shrubs are among others accounted sacred trees and shrubs in Yoruba.
The Palm tree, on occasions of both private and public festivities connected with religious worship. Its branches are commonly employed to decorate places and objects of worship, both as a mark of reverential regard and adoration and as a token of the belief and confidence of worhippers in their divinities, and in their attributes also which the height, strength, and durability of the tree itself and the upward direction of its younger branches are regarded as representing, exactly as the tree was regarded as sacred both by the Etrurians and the Greeks, and the Oak by the Jews and Greeks, and the ancient heathen nations of Gaul and Britain.
The great Oracle of the Yoruba country is Ifa. He is represented chiefly by 16 palm nuts each having from four to 10 or more eyelets on them. Behind each one of these representative nuts are 16 subordinate Divinities. Each one of the whole lot is termed an Odu -which means a chief, a head. This makes the number of Odu altogether 256. Besides these, there are 16 other Odus connected with each of the 256, and this makes the whole number of Odus 4,096. Some increase this large number still by an addition of 16 more to each of the last number of Odus, but the 16 principal ones are those more frequently in requisition.
There is a series of traditional stories, each of which is called a road, a pathway, or a course, and is connected with some particular Odu. Each Odu is supposed to have 1,680 of these stories connected with it, and these, together with those of the other Odus, every one aspiring to the office of “A Babalawo,” who is a divining or sacrificing priest, is expected to commit to memory, though scarcely has any one been found to perform the feat. Many learn by heart a very, considerable number, rather an appreciable number connected with the principal Odus. Upon the appearance of an Wit on the divining or consulting bowl, the “Babalawo,” thinks of some of the stories attached to it, and from any of them that appears to him to suit the case upon which he is consulted, he delivers his Oracular response, and prescribes the sacrifice that would be accepted.
These, each of which is always represented in a pair, and is spoken of as two, are named thus:Eji Ogbe, Oyekun meji, Iwori meji, Edi meji, Bara meji, Okaran meji, Urosi meji, Owaran meji, Osa meji, Ogunda meji, Eture meji, Oturupon meji, Ose meji, Ofu meji and Eka meji. Eji or meji means two, double, or a pair.
Eji Ogbe is regarded the most principal, “The Dux,” or “Imperator” and “King,” whose appearance on the consulting bowl is always regarded as indicating the communication of a message of very great importance, since earthly sovereigns are not accustomed to come and. stand out before their people themselves and set aside for the time being their representatives or deputies except when the communication to be delivered is one of uncommon importance.
Subordinate Odus are constituted and represented by the conjunction of two principal Odus at one and the same time upon the consulting and divining bowl, the one on the right and the other on the left, this simultaneous appearance and their conjunction uniting to give them their respective names, e.g., when Eji Ogbe and Oyekun appear together, they are joined together and named Ogbe-Iyekun; or if Eji Ogbe appear with Ogunda, they are both together named Ogbe-Ogdnda, and so on with all the rest. The first of the two names in combination is always that of the Odu which appears on the left-hand side.
Each nut, or the collection, is commonly described as Ikin or Akin, which means a strong one, after they have been, with an elaborate religious performance, set aside for the sacred purpose of divination. The collection is usually topped by an Ikin, called an Oduso, which is regarded as above being consulted or delivering a message, hence the parable,-
“Akin li a I pa- a ki lu Oduso.”
“An Akin is the one we may strike for divination: we have: no right to strike an Odusu.”
An “Adele,” or a “Watch Akin,” is that which happens not to be taken up with the rest by a consulting priest, when he takes out with one grasp of the palm of his right hand 16 and 1 Odus from the number of ikins in his bag or from the face of his consulting bowl for consultation and divination. This one, left behind, does the duty of a keeper of the house for both himself and his comrades, till they should be returned to their place again.
Ifa is known by a great many descriptive and attributive names, among which are the following:-“Orunmila” (Heaven is the wise and successful Arbiter or Reconciler; again, Heaven, knows him who will be saved or how to save), “Olodumare” (Olodun, Omoere, Olodu, the son of Ere) “Ikuforiji” (the Being whom death honours and pays obeisance to), “Olijeni” (the Master of the seventh (7th) day festival), “Oba Olofa Asun l’ola” (the Ruler who draws blessing and prosperity after Him, and who sleeps in the midst of honours), “Nini,” ti ise “Omo Oloni” (the Possessor, who is -the Son of the greater Possessor), “Erintunde” (laughing comes back to the world, or the Being whose advent into the world has brought back the laugh of joy and gladness), “Owa” (the Being whose advent into the world from heaven filled men with joyful and thankful surprise which caused many to ask, “Is it Thou who hast come?” “Iwo li o wa?” and the Being from heaven whose constant cry to all in the world is that they should come to Him), “Owo, Alarun jarun” (the Parent who has given birth to five children and has lost none of them by death), “Olubesan” or “Olu-li ibi Esan” (the Chief Avenger of wrongs), “Edu” (the Black One, or the Great One whom, as tradition says, troubles have ma-de black), “Ope Ifa” (the palm sacred to Ifa), “ljiki-ti ki f’ori ba le f’enikan” (the Being whom all honour with the daily morning salutation, but who is above paying respect to any other being), “Abakuwijo” (the Being whose power is so great that he calls death to account), “Baba ye omo” (the Father who reflects honour on his children, or of whom his children may justly be proud). “Okitibiri, a-pa-ojo iku da” (the Being who, turning himself over as it were in a struggle, postpones for his client the day of death).
Divination is taken by a Babalawo on a highly esteemed broad circular bowl or four cornered fan of a moderate size, which is generally covered with white flour from a dry tree, and upon which he works, and with one of the fingers of the right hand imprints certain signs, representing such Ifa representatives as may be left in the palm of his left hand, after he has attempted with one grasp of the palm of his right hand to take up all the 16, where they were all held. These small signs or marks which would represent a number of efforts, and would be placed one after another horizontally would, according to their number and respective positions, represent one or other of the principal or subordinate Odus, or Divinities. From that Odu or Divinity, and one or other of the traditional stories connected with it, and with the aid of lot casting and of Opele, divination is taken and delivered.
Ifa, to speak more properly, an Odu delivers his responses in and through the channel of Parables, which every Babalawo is expected to be able to interpret. Hence it is commonly said:-
Owe ni Ifa ipa,
Omoran ni imo-
Bi a ba wipe mo-
Omoran a mo-
Nigbati a ko ba mo,
A ni, ko se!
Ifa speaks always in parables,
A wise man is he who understands his speech,
When we say understand it
The wise man always understands it,
But when we do not understand it –
We say it is of no account or the prediction is not fulfilled.
A Babalawo may sometimes be seen sitting over his Ifa Bowl, attempting to consult the god and divine for an applicant who is present with him, and who, it may be, desires to know whether a business he thinks of embarking in would prosper. He uses his Ikins in the manner described above, and Eji Ogbe, the prince of all the Olodus or Odus appears. Upon this he casts lot to find out from him what the business is in regard to which he has been asked to consult him, and what the result of embarking in it would be to the applicant. The business known and its issue foretold, if this issue should be favourable, the Babalawo may sometimes be heard delivering himself thus and saying amongst other things with the authority of Eji Ogbe, of whose appearance he will have imformed the humble applicant-
Bi a ba bo oju,
Bi a ba bo imu
Isale agbon ni a ipari re.
Ada fun Orunmila nigbati o nlo gba ase l’owo Olodumare; o rubo. Olodumare si wa fi ase fun u. Nigbati gbogbo aiye gbo pe o ti gba ase l’owo Olodumare nwon si nwo to. Gbogbo eyi ti o wi si nse. Lati igba na wa ni a nwipe. A Se!
“If (when) we wash the face,
If (when) we wash the nose
We are accustomed to finish the operation at the bottom of the chin.”
Ifa was consulted for Orunmila on the occasion when he would go to receive authority and power from the Almighty One and he offered the sacrifice prescribed to him. After this the Almighty One gave him authority and power.
When the people of the world learnt that he had received authority and power from the Almighty, all of them began to flock to him, to consult him on their affairs.
It was since then we have been accustomed to say “A se!” – “It will be as predicted.”
Opele, or Opepere, is an Oracle of inferior rank to Ifa, and who is regarded as his constant attendant and is commonly spoken of as his slave. He is always represented by eight flat pieces of wood, or metal, or something else, strung together in two rows of four on each side, placed at equal distances from each other and joined together. The disposition of one or other of these pieces when the whole ensign is thrown and made to spread out upon the ground would represent at once a particular Odu; and one of Opele’s chief duties is to show to the Babalawo what particular Odu he should consult upon a case referred to him.
Opele is often and frequently thus consulted by Babalawos, who usually carry about them its ensigns, because, consulting it carries with it less labour than, and is not so difficult as the work of consulting the Master, Ifa, himself; but this would be on matters of minor importance, and its response would be that of a servant for his master, and which is not always absolutely relied upon.
Opele is expected to be referred to and consulted every morning that a devotee might know whether the day would be for him prosperous or not and, if it should be seen to be a non-prosperous one, what sacrifice he should offer to conciliate the goodwill of his divinity in order that he might convert the day to a prosperous one for him, and also, that he might generally secure the blessing of his guidance and other assistance throughout the day; whilst a Babalawo is expected to ordinarily consult his Ifa every fifth day, which is the close of a week of Oses or worshipping days. Hence the parable runs:-
(1) Oju mo ki mo ki Awo ma sode wo
Agbede a gbon ada-
(2) Bi oni ti ri, ola ki ri be, li o mu ki Babalawo ma da Ifa ororun.
(1) “There is never a morning when a Babalawo or a consulting Priest does not consult his Opele, as there is never a morning that a blacksmith is not called upon to sharpen a cutlass for a farmer.” (2) “The possibility of to-morrow not being like to-day in regard to the events which may transpire in it, is what induces a Babalawo to consult his Ifa and sacrifice to it every fifth day.”
There are three grades of priests. As the sacred nuts are given by Babalawos in two sets of sixteen Ikins and one Oduso to applicants, those who receive only the first set, which is called “The Olori,” or Chief, form one grade, and this is the first. Those who receive both the first and the second, which is called “The Orisa,” or the next in rank, make another, the second grade; and those who have, each one with his right foot in conjunction with those of his own Babalawo’s, and any of his fellow or senior Babalawo’s with him, resting upon his own and moving in a circle with him, trodden upon his Ifa nuts deposited in a lump of Eko or Agidi (comflour pudding), and who are generally spoken of as “Awon ti a te ni Ifa,” or “Those who are trodden together with Ifa nuts,” form the third grade. Those of the first grade are entitled to worship their Ifa always, but not to divine with it or suffer it to be so employed. Those of the second grade can both worship their own and divine with it, or suffer it to be thus used; and those two first are spoken of as “Awo egun,” or “Elegan“; whilst those of the third class, who have been brought to their position through the services of Olodus, or chief Babalawos, are, besides being entitled both to worship their own Ifa and divine with it, also privileged to eat of any sacrifice that may be offered to or before the “Igba Odu,” or the calabash or gourd vessel sacred to Odu, a privilege which is denied to those of the first two grades, as it is to any non-Ifa owning man, or, as the eating out of a sacrifice of any kind offered to Ifa and that which has been placed upon it and is called Irefa, is denied to women generally; and are also known as “Awo Olodu,” the Principal Ifa worshippers.
The ceremony on the part of the Babalawo consists, after divining with his Ifa for it, in collecting the palm nuts that he would consecrate, burying them in the solid earth or at the head of a river, or in some other convenient place, three days before the public performance of the giving and receiving service, bruising them, washing them and the candidate also when he is of the second grade, and when he is said to wash the devil away from himself or wash Ifa water, this water having had what are known as Ifa leaves bruised in it, enclosing them in the same kind of leaves, placing the packet on a plate and solemnly depositing it in the palms of the hands of the candidate kneeling before him with closed eyes, after he shall have answered to his name called out the third time, and when he would signify his glad acceptance of the parcel by touching his forehead and breast with it, saying “May my head, or the divinity of my destiny, or my Creator accept it! My own heart accepts it.” He will have paid the fees prescribed for every part of the ceremony and furnished victims and other offerings for sacrifice, which, in the case of those of the second grade, are expected to be, in every item, the double of those provided by candidates of the first grade, whilst by all, an observance with feasting is had on the third and on the seventh day respectively of the formal acceptance.
To these belongs the privilege of being led to a stream of water after the performance of the above ceremony, accompanied by their Babalawos and their assistants, to be further washed, in order to a greater purification, and escorted home triumphantly with a parrot’s tail tightly tied to each one’s forehead as a consecration token, with the praises of Ifa or Orunmila being lustily chanted after them.
There is the ceremony of extinguishing the Odu fire-(Pinodu, i.e., Pa-ina-odu). Under it a candidate receives upon the open palms of his hands, previously and frequently dipped in consecrated Ifa water, dropping flames from a new lamp lighted with a new wick and held by a Babalawo, and rubs the different parts of his body with them, without experiencing any injury. This is accepted as a token of his having become a proof against the fire of sickness, or having gained a victory over it and over bereavement, disappointment, or any other trouble and death also. He is escorted, after his performance, to a stream, led by his Oluwo and followed by the latter’s assistant or Ajigbona, carrying on his head animal and other sacrifices that have been offered on his behalf, and holding them to it with both hands, they being wrapped in a clean white sheet covered over with both a fine and a coarse mat, and having a rope wound tightly around them. When the parcel is removed from his head and thrown into and deposited in a muddy part of the stream, into which he would descend, his head is held forward and it is washed with water whose droppings are allowed to fall on the bundle, and which the stream would carry away. This is regarded as a token that all his uncleanness and all the ills that might have befallen him are carried away from him.
The Igbadu is a covered calabash, containing four small vessels made from cocoanut shells, cut, each into two pieces in the middle, and which hold besides something unknown to the uninitiated, one a little mud, another a little charcoal, and another a little chalk, and another some camwood, all which are intended to represent certain Divine attributes, and which, with the vessels containing them, represent the four principal Odus-Eji Ogbe, Oyekun meji, Ibara meji, and Edi meji-and this calabash is deposited in a specially and well-prepared wooden box called Apere. The box is regarded as very sacred and as an emblem of Divinity, and is also worshipped. It is never opened, except on very special and important occasions, as when perhaps a serious difference is to be settled, and not without washed hands and often the offering of blood to it, when the opener would, as a mark of reverence, turn his face away from it as he opens it, saying, “Bi omode ba si isa, a ye ojun fun oru re” “If a child opens a boiling pot, he would turn away from the heat.” Whatever is offered as a sacrifice to or before the Igbadu is to be eaten at once; no portion of it is to be left to the next day, and none but Olodus, i.e., those who have undergone the trampling ceremony, are to partake of it; whilst the room where it is deposited is considered so sacred that no woman nor any uninitiated man is ever permitted to enter into it, and the door opening into it is generally beautified with chalk and charcoal colouring, giving it a spotted appearance. One who receives his Ifa with trampling is usually received into this room and into the company of waiting and expectant Babalawos with much ceremony, after he has been escorted from the Igbodu and here it is he offers his first homage to Ifa after his initiation.
An Igbodu is a grove where the ceremony of giving Ifa with trampling is performed by the ObaIodu, or the chief Olodu priest, for those who desire to have it from him. The grove always contains three extemporized partitions, built of young palm branches and the Omu shrub. Into the first of these partitions any woman or any uninitiated person may enter, and here such. persons are expected to tarry as spectators or waiters. Into the second, Babalawos, and all Olodus, all those who have received Ifa by trampling are privileged to enter and remain. The third is entered only by the Obalodu, the ceremony-performing priest, who would take the candidate with him into it and who also would have brought his Igbadu into it previously under cover of night to preserve the sacred object from public gaze, and there perform his ceremony with the aid of such fellow Olodu priests as he might have seen fit to invite.
Ifa lays claim to every plant in creation as sacred to his worship, and thus it is come to pass that upon consultation by a Babalawo, one Odu will advise the use of the leaves of certain plants; another will prescribe one of these, or others totally different along with them, and so other Odus. But the plants whose leaves are always in demand, and which are considered as specially sacred to Eji Ogu, the Prince of all Odus, are Tete, Odundun, Renren, Gbegi, the Oriji herb, lpoye, omini, and the Iwerejeje plant; but some of these are known and described by sacred names on occasions of, or for purposes of divination. Then the leaves of the Tete herb become Ewe attedaiye, i.e., the herb that betokens our seniority in our entrance into the world; Renren becomes Ewe tutu, the herb of pacification; and Gbegi become Ewe Agidimogboyin.
Ifa or Orunmila is believed to know all and everything and is therefore consulted upon every circumstance of life, that of sickness not excluded; and he, through a consulting Babalawo, always prescribes medicines for the diseases referred to him; and for this, there is a foundation in the circumstance that in the traditional sayings of every Olodu, or Odu, mention is always to be found made of sufferers from this or that form of disease and of the remedies that cured them effectually. Hence every Babalawo is necessarily a physician in his own way, and he is often resorted to by professional practitioners for consultation with Ifa for aid to them in the exercise of their art.
Ela is evidently one of the many attributive names by which Ifa is described, and a very principal one among them. It is a contraction of the term “Orun mila,” and is intended to represent the Divinity to all its worshippers and devotees, principally as a Saviour and Deliverer, and one that is strong and mighty and is unconquerable by Death itself, so that all that look to him for help in trouble and against any other evil, death not excluded, will find that their confidence has not been misplaced; and this, although the name is often used as if it represented a separate and distinct Divine personality, and although a separate and distinct representative ensign made of pieces of ivory, carrying four eyelets each and corresponding in number to the Ifa palm nuts (Ikin) which, with one Oduso, are 17, are chosen and employed to represent him.
He is sometimes described in songs of praises and in other speeches as “Ela omo Osin” Ela the child of “Osin” (the Ruler); sometimes as “Ela omo Oyigi (Oyigiyigi) Ota omi” Elathe offspring of a stone, i.e., the hard stone from the bed of a spring of water (an emblem of great strength), a quality which believed in, enables devotees to identify themselves with him, and regard themselves free in consequence from death, or protected against it, and say also when they utter the above praise, “Awa di Oyigiyigi, a ki o ku mo,” “We are ourselves. become Oyigiyigi, that is the stone which gave birth to Ela, and will no longer die,” or, at other times to say, “Ela ro a ki o ku mo-Okribiti, Ela ro (sokale) Oruo Ifa,” “Ela has descended to the earth-we shall die no more-and this is Ifa’s name.” Sometimes he is described as “Eniti ngba ni la,” “He is the one that saves us, and devotees may be heard saying sometimes of a friend, “Nwon se ebo Ela fun u” “We have made the Ela sacrifice, or the delivery or salvation sacrifice for him.” One of them may be heard thus to confess his ignorance of the saving power of Ela, “Emi ko tete mo pe, Ela ni nwon mbo la ni ile wa,” “I did not know in time that it is the Ela that is worshipped and sacrificed to in our family for salvation,” or “Ko tina, ko to ro, beni on (Ela) ni gba ni la ni Ife,” “He is of no account, he is too small to be thought of, yet he is the one who is accustomed to deliver us from trouble in Ife,” or the world, for which the term Ife is often employed. And at other times he may be heard spoken of as 1″Oba-a mola” “The king, by knowing whom, we have come to salvation.”
Ela holds a very important place in the Ifa system of worship. It is to be found in connection with each of the 256 Odus of the system, a circumstance that suggests that the system aims especially at impressing its followers with the idea that Ifa is a Saviour and Deliverer at all times and under all circumstances. It, besides the Odu Osetura, is always first humbly and reverently invoked and its favour sought for acceptance whenever Ifa is to be worshipped with a sacrifice, and is thus addressed-
Ela! Omo Osin, mo wari o! or, Ela meji, mo wari o! or Ela! Mo yin aboru
Ela! mo yin aboye-
Ela! mo yin abosise.
O Thou Ela, Son of the Ruler,
I humble myself before thee!
or, O Ela! I praise the sacrificing that meets with acceptance or opens the way to blessing,
O Ela! I praise the sacrificing that brings life-
O Ela! I praise the sacrificing act that accompanies or precedes labour;
and it is the divinity to which harvest offerings are always presented by worshippers-especially in the yam season, before any portion of the harvest is partaken of, and when they are said to split the Ela yam (Pa isu Ela, or Pa Ela), and when also the following song may be heard sung lustily to Ela’s praises, and Orunmila is said to come and partake of the yam with them-
Eni esi si wa soro odun,
Odun ko, mo wa sodun, Iroko oko!
Iroko oko! Odun oni si ko. Ela Poke!
Ela has reappeared!
Our friend of the past year has come again to observe the yearly festival-
The anniversary has returned. I am come O Iroko (Lord)
of the cultivated field to observe the yearly festival.
O Iroko of the cultivated field, this day’s anniversary has returned.
Ela has reappeared!
Baba wa okirikisi!
Omo at’ orun ro s’aiye
Ti o ko wa da s’aiye
Baba wa okirikisi!
O Thou, our worthy Father!
The Son who hast descended from heaven to this earth
Who hast placed us in the world-
Thou our worthy Father!
The ceremony connected with the giving of Ela to one applying for it is identical with that with which Ifa is given to those who come under the first two grades of recipients who are generally spoken of as Awo Egan, and drawbacks and privileges are like those to be found in both cases.
The male sex is the sex which particularly gives itself to Ifa worship. There are, however, times when divinations may recommend and prescribe that worship to a woman. Whenever this should be the case, a woman would receive from a Babalawo only one Ikin or Consecrated Palm nut called Eko, which she would carry about her body for her protection, and whenever divination should recommend and prescribe to her sacrifice to Ifa, she would, for the time being, hand over her Eko either to her husband or to her brother, or any other male relative according to prescription, who would include it in his own Ikins for the purpose of the worship and sacrifice in which she would participate.
There is a particular Palm tree that is known by the name of Ope-Ifa, or the Ifa Palm tree, because that class of palm trees commonly yield nuts carrying four eyelets each, and these are the only nuts employed in Ifa worship, and are devoted to it. They are regarded sacred to this purpose, and are often spoken of as Ekuroaije, i.e. “Nuts that are not to be eaten”; and if nuts carrying two or three eyelets should be found among these yielded by such trees, these would be called Ekurq-Ososa-i.e., the palm nuts whose beauty has deserted them through the loss of one or more eyelets -oso-sa.
The cost of supplying Ifa to a candidate varies from; £5 to £150, and more, according to the circumstances of the individual; and often children are pawned, slaves sold, and other sacrifices made to raise the funds necessary to cover the expense of the elaborate ceremony.
There are other oracles; but some of these are local, and are resorted to only by particular tribes or townships, e.g., there is the Oro Ilare of Ijesha land, which is said to come down from heaven to Ilare or Aiye, or the world, once a year, to be waited upon by those who may need his Oracular assistance, and whose temporary residence is always a grove, where he is always attended by an Aworo Oro Ilare till his return to heaven. The Aworo would deliver his responses to inquirers. His advent is always looked forward to with joy, and the public roads and thoroughfares of a town are always specially cleaned and put in order for his reception, whilst the number of men and women repairing to the grove for his Oracular assistance is always large. There are such divinities as Osun, Yemaja, Ososi and Elegbara, &c., which are often consulted, mostly by women, using sixteen cowries for their consulting signs; and among some of the tribes, Eluku and Agemo, which also are regarded as possessing much predicting capacity, and are often resorted to, as their predictions are always esteemed infallible.
An Ogberi or lgberi is one that is not initiated into the mysteries of the religion with which a Babalawo, from the nature of his office, is expected to be fully acquainted.
The Cola-fruit holds a very important and sacred place. Both it and the tree bearing it are considered sacred. Every Orisha is worshipped with the fruit, whilst a woodman’s axe should on no account be laid upon the tree. Hence the parable which is commonly heard, “Orisa ti o yan igi obi li ayo, on-li o da awon iyoukun li Eru- A ki iyo Ida ba Orisa ja; Ayasebi Eke ati Eyo ni i be igi obi danu o” “The divinity that has chosen the Cola tree as his specially valued and loved representative has made all other trees subservient to it. We are not accustomed to draw out the sword to fight a divinity with; and no one but a liar and a perfidious person ever thinks of cutting down and throwing away a Cola tree.” The fruit is very commonly and extensively employed by men and women all over the country for purposes of consultation and divination, the majority using it as if they sought divination through it, each one, from his own god, or as if it were a divinity by itself, whilst Babalawos and other intelligent persons use it with the idea that divination is being sought for from Ifa with it. It is commonly split into halves and thrown upon the ground, as is always done with Opele, the position assumed then by the pieces, either that in which their faces are turned upwards or that in which they are turned downwards, or that in which some look upwards and others look downwards at one and the same time, being understood to declare either good or evil, as the case may be, care being commonly taken previously to precede this ceremony with a libation of pure and clean water poured out upon the ground in humble worship of the god Earth, the parent, after a sort, of all mankind, as from it we have all been brought into existence, and upon whose surface the split Cola pieces would be thrown for divination.
It is sometimes described in praises by the honourable title of “Baba, abebe oloran ku si oran, Oran oloran li obi i ku si.” “Our father who intercedes in another person’s matter till he dies over it; Cola is commonly put to death over other people’s affair,” which is evidently intended for the divinity which it represents, and which refers to his work of intercession between parties at variance with each other with a view to peace making, and that death over it which it entails on him, and which, together with a further division into plugs and into smaller pieces, and an immediate mutual consumption of them by the parties interested in the peace making, and their respective friends, confirm and sea] the peace made. It is this circumstance that has given rise to the phrase so often used, “A ti pa obi si oran na.” “We have split Cola over the matter,” which is equal to saying, “We have settled the matter.”
It, or the god it represents, is often spoken of as one whose entreaty or intercession is on no account to be refused; hence the saying, “Ebora,” or ” Ebo-ara ki ko ebe fun obi.” “The gods are not in the habit of refusing to listen and accept entreaty or intercession from the Cola nut;” and it is this that has suggested the presentation of Cola nuts amongst other things by a suitor for the hand of a young woman in marriage to the parents, urging with them his suit, his desire and request for a betrothal, and his prayer for their acceptance of it.
There are among the heathens those in our country who profess to exercise the office of speaking with the dead, and of being mediums of communications from them to the living, and who are known as “Awon Abokusoro”-speakers with the dead-and whose deliverances have generally been found to be true. But the system does not appear to be so elaborate with them as it is with their fellow-professors in Europe and America.
There is a great variety of sacrifice, and each prescribed sacrifice or each set of such a sacrifice takes its name generally from the object for which it is offered. Among them may be mentioned the following:-The Redemption sacrifice; the exchange sacrifice; the wealth and the longevity sacrifice; the sacrifice for recovery from illness and for preventing death – those for the possession of strength, and for the avoiding of losses of any kind; those for protection against being a cause of trouble to one’s own self; those against being successfully plotted against; those against a fire accident, and for the removal of drought or the prevention or the cessation of a flood of rain; that for attaining to some title and office of dignity, and that for securing a long enjoyment of the office, especially if he who seeks it had been told beforehand through Ifa divination that his enjoyment of it would not be long; that for securing the sign or mark on one’s forehead that would assure him of his safety from the approach and touch of the angel of Death, and of victory and triumph over difficully and trouble – and that for acquiring superiority to others, &c.
These various sacrifices mentioned, being atonement sacrifices, suggest the existence originally in the mind of the Pagan Yoruban that sin and the anger of an offended god are the cause of the various ills incidental to human life: that blessings are to be had only from him and according to his will, and that for this he is to be propitiated by means of sacrifice and offering, since he who desires them is a sinner.
Animals for sacrifice range from reptiles to man. Meat-offering includes all variety of food and drink; but for every particular sacrifice a certain victim is prescribed, and sometimes the same animal may be prescribed for more than one sacrifice; and so it is with meat and drink offerings, eg., against death in sickness, a sheep, and for longevity, a dog; for strength to the body, a ram sheep and a cock; against losses, a basket of eggs, most of which are usually employed with leaves sacred to Ifa; against being lied upon, domestic pigeons and palm nut shells; against trouble and misfortune, rats; against drought, small crabs from which water drops each time each makes a leap; against a flood from incessant rain or for confusion of a plot, snails; against a fire accident, a wild hog or a duck with different kinds of Ifa leaves; for victory in a time of war a ram sheep and an old cock together; against the death of a very young child, a hen that had had chickens; to be permitted to come to a title and for the destruction of a plot, a wild hog.
They are sometimes burnt with fire, and in some cases, like that of the Irapada or Redemption offering, the whole victim is roasted with fire within doors till it is reduced to ashes, and after this water is thrown into the hearth from behind it to extinguish the fire, and all the ashes and fire-brands are collected and taken outside, and as with all other offerings and gifts to Esu or Satan are placed on a public road for him. Sometimes they are taken out of the town alive and across a river, if any is near at hand, and left in the bush whereto they are supposed to bear the sin, guilt and trouble of the offerer which had been transferred to them. Sometimes they are thrown into a river to be carried away by it with the offerer’s sin and sorrow. Sometimes they are buried in the earth, with or without a chain attached to them, and a portion of it standing on the surface, the subject for whom the sacrifice is offered making a sleeping place of the spot to assure himself of the protection and security sought for and alleged to be given, and which the chain symbolizes. Sometimes they are placed at the edge of a river. Sometimes as in the case of Ebo Aba, i.e., a purpose sacrifice or a sacrifice to the divinity of purpose or that divinity which enables one to make a purpose, and Ebo Ase, i.e., an accomplishment sacrifice or a sacrifice to the divinity of will that accomplishes his purpose or enables a man to accomplish a purpose, the blood of a sacrificed victim is sprinkled first upon the right lintel, which is sacred to the Alaba, and then upon the left lintel, which is sacred to the Alase, and after this, upon the surface of the door hanging on one of them, some of the feathers of a fowl or other winged animal offered being affixed at the same time to each blood-sprinkled surface, whilst the flesh of the victim is either roasted or boiled and eaten altogether quickly and in a standing posture. Sometimes the sacrifice is taken at once outside and left on a street or some highway, as in the case of another Ebo Irapa or Irapada, a redemption or exchange offering, which consists of a 16-wicked lamp lighted, and which is usually employed in the case of the serious illness of an important person to change his fate and deliver him from death. Sometimes they are thrown from one priest to another, they standing together in a straight line, as in the case of Ebo Agbeso or the heave offering, which is not to be suffered to fall to the ground during the performance of the exercise, the object sought being to secure the offerer against the triumph of his enemies over him. Sometimes they are living creatures, left to be devoured by other living creatures, as in the case of a sacrifice in which seven very young chickens are usually employed, and taken out to some public highway and left there to be devoured by hawks, the death of the individual for whom it is offered being supposed to be substituted for and averted by that of the chickens. Sometimes the head of the offerer is streaked with the blood of the victim, exhibiting him as one for whom an atonement has been made, and assuring him thereby of his acceptance, as in the case of the Ebo isami, or the sign-marking sacrifice, when some of the blood of the victim is mixed by the Babalawo and hi assistant, the Ajigbona, with both mud and some bruised sacred or Ifa leaves in a sacred grove from which the preparation is usually brought out ceremoniously for those waiting for it, to be employed in marking their foreheads in order to secure to them escape from death and assure them of it. These may be heard saying and singing amongst themselves, “Edu, i.e., (Orunmila) ti sa ni li ami a ko ku mo, Iwerejeje ni Edu fi sami.” “Edu, or Orunmila, has marked us we shall not die again. It is the leaf of the Iwerejeje herb he has employed in doing it.” Sometimes an offerer’s hands are laid upon the victim before it is slain for the transferring of his guilt and death to it, and at other times the offerer touches his head with that of the victim or the body of the victim is passed over and made to touch every part of the body of him for whom it is offered, as is the case with the “Ebu iparo ori,” the sacrifice for exchanging or substituting one’s head, fate, or destiny with that of another. Sometimes sacrifices are eaten after they have been offered up, and sometimes they are not to be eaten, especially when they are offered for one in a dangerous illness. Sometimes in a case like this the sacrifice is buried in the earth with the bedding and covering of the sick person, and his body is washed over the spot if he is able to stand it. Some, like Ebo Osu, are to be eaten at once, as soon as they have been offered up, as is the case with either the Aba or the Ase sacrifice, and unlike it, are not to be suffered to remain to the next day. Some are attached to a light fan suspended upon a pole firmly planted in the ground and left to be waved about by the wind. Some victims are paraded through a town, city, or village for whose welfare they are to be sacrificed, and sometimes they are dragged about also on the solid ground before they are sacrificed in order that they might carry away with them the sin, guilt, and death of the inhabitants, and other troubles to which it may be they are liable.
Human sacrifices have been practised by all the different sections of the Yoruba nation and other West African tribes, especially at periodical festivals and on other great occasions; but till the recent conquest of the kingdom of Dahomey (on the East of the Yoruba kingdom) by France, and the unresisted and bloodless conquest and annexation of the great and powerful kingdom of Ashantee (on the South-east) by Great Britain, they were very common and abundant in them in connection with their respective ancestral worship.
The king of Dahomey is reported, as far back as 1664, to have built a royal dead-house, the mortar of which had been mixed with human blood.
In Yoruba the human victim chosen for sacrifice, and who may be either a free-born or a slave, a person of noble or wealthy parentage, or one of humble birth, is, after he has been chosen and marked out for the purpose, called an Oluwo.
He is always well fed and nourished and supplied with whatever he should desire during the period of his confinement. When the occasion arrives for him to be sacrificed and offered up, he is commonly led about and paraded through the streets of the town or city of the Sovereign who would sacrifice him for the well-being of his government and of every family and individual under it, in order that he might carry off the sin, guilt, misfortune and death of all without exception. Ashes and chalk would be employed to hide his identity by the one being freely thrown over his head, and his face painted with the latter, whilst individuals would often rush out of their houses to lay their hands upon him that they might thus transfer to him their sin, guilt trouble, and death. This parading done, he is taken through a temporary sacred shed of palm and other tree branches, and especially of the former, the Igbodu and to its first division, where many persons might follow him, and through a second where only the chiefs and other very important persons might escort and accompany him to, and to a third where only the Babalawo and his official assistant, the Ajigbona, are permitted to enter with him. Here, after he himself has given out or started his last song, which is to be taken up by the large assembly of people who will have been waiting to hear his last word or his last groan, his head is taken off and his blood offered to the gods. The announcement of his last word or his last groan heard and taken up by the people, would be a signal for joy, gladness and thanksgiving, and for drum beating and dancing, as an expression of their gratification because their sacrifice has been accepted, the divine wrath is appeased, and the prospect of prosperity or increased prosperity assured.
A sheep or any other brute creature chosen as a victim for a propitiatory sacrifice for one who desires to come to a great and important public office, and in respect of whom Ifa had predicted a short enjoyment of the position and an early removal from it to make room for another person who would enjoy it longer, would be similarly paraded through the town that it might be loaded with the ill-will which his enemies are believed to entertain against and wish the offerer and with the death pronounced against him, and when after this it is being led back into his house it would be clubbed to death at once at the entrance by some specially appointed persons.
Human sacrifices are generally offered in Yoruba and in many other parts of Africa by Sovereigns, especially when an expiation that is to be made is of a general character, and in the interests of their respective governments and peoples; and this is always, in Yoruba, according to the specific prescription and after the instigation of priests who, to reconcile them to the fearful and revolting deed and prevent to them qualms of conscience over it, usually seek by their language to magnify before them their great power and the importance of their office, and impress them with the idea that no one would or could call them into account for this use which they would make of a fellow man’s life.
Sacrifices are offered for and by private individuals, individual families, a particular quarter of a town or city, or the whole of it in the king’s name. When a sacrifice is a family one it is commonly spoken of as Ebo Agbole-a household sacrifice. When it is for a particular quarter of a town or city it is spoken of as Ebo igboro-or a district sacrifice; and when it is for a whole town or city it is generally spoken, of as Ebo Agbalu-a sacrifice for sweeping away evil from the town, or Ebo Oba, or the King’s sacrifice.
These sacrifices which are offered by heathens to their Orishas, who occupy the place both of subordinate deities and mediators, are believed to be taken to the Great One by a spirit whom they denominate “Agberu,” the carrier, whose special business it is to take them to him and wait upon him with them. He goes by the title, “Agberu ti igbe ebo re orun” ” Agberu who carries people’s sacrifices to heaven.” The basket in which he is supposed to carry the sacrifices to heaven is lined with leaves sacred to Ifa, as for instance “Ewe toto,” the toto leaf, ” which is symbolical of the wish and prayer of the offerer that he may be equal to those who are before and above him;” the “Ewe Ewuruju” the Ewuruju leaf, which is symbolical of his wish that he may surpass others; “Ewe Igberesi” the Igberesi leaf, which is generally spoken of and described as the Igberesi leaf which accompanies a sacrifice to heaven. ” Ewe Igberesi ti I sin ebolo si orun” and the Yeye leaf, which is often described as “Ewe Yeye ti ije ki ire ya si ile eni,” “the Yeye leaf that brings blessing into our houses.”
The Yoruban names of priests are the following:-The Babalawo, the Oluwo, the Ajigbona, the Aworo, the Odofin, the Aro, the Asarepawo, the Asawo, the Apetebi, who is sometimes called Ayawo.
The Babalawo is the president of the mysteries and the rites and ceremonies of religion and worship, and he is also the Sacrificing Priest, the teacher of the religion, and the Diviner by consulting the Sacred Oracles. He is always specially and in a formal manner consecrated to his office when he is to serve a king as his Consulting Priest.
An Oluwo in this class is a senior and chief of the class of Babalawos, whose directions the rest are all expected to obey; but often may a man be heard speaking of a Babalawo from whom he has received his Ifa as his Oluwo.
An Ajigbona is a chief assistant both to the Oluwo and any of the other Babalawos, and on an occasion of a great sacrifice, e.g., that of offering a human being, he is the only one, with an Aworo, appointed to accompany the Babalawo who would perform the sacrifice to what may be described as the most sacred place in the Igbodii, and which is the place both of slaughter and of offering.
An Odofin is a titled Babalawo next in rank to the Oluwo, and he is privileged to act for him in his absence.
An Aro is the third Babalawo in rank, and he is entitled to act for both the Oluwo and the Odofin in their absence.
An Asare pawo is a messenger whose office it is to call upon the Babalawos at their respective residences and invite them to a meeting whenever an appointment has been made, and he and all who bear the title with him are those who are also expected to prepare and extemporise an Igbodu whenever the Babalawos ask for one.
An Asawo is another attendant upon a Babalawo, and a special assistant to an Asare pawo.
An Apetebi or Esu or Ayawo is a woman who is regarded as the wife of Orunmila himself, and who may in reality be either a Babalawo’s wife or the wife of any one for whom a sacrifice is to be offered and who is always expected to give assistance at it.
An Aworo is a chief minister devoted to a particular Orisha, and to him is assigned the difficult and revolting task of putting to death a fellow human being devoted to sacrifice.
A candidate for the office and dignity of a Babalawo is expected to be a pupil to a Babalawo well known for his wide knowledge of the mysteries of the religion and his skill in the exercise of it, and especially in the art of divination, for at least three years and learn the profession from him. But pupils who are ambitious of being much superior to their fellows of the same profession sometimes elect to continue their pupilage and apprenticeship to four, five, six, and even seven years.
As the doctrines and practice of the profession are not committed to writing, the teacher only employs oral teaching, reproducing from his memory from time to time such things as the pupil should learn and commit also to memory himself; and his witnessing of his teacher’s performances frequently and assisting him at them are also expected to promote his education.
The course is divided into three parts covering the three years of ordinary pupilage. In the first year the candidate learns the names of all the Olodus and Odus,-the signs representing each of them and testifies by practice his mastery of them. In the second year he learns the one thousand and one traditions connected with the Olodus and Odus and-which are said to be so many that there has scarcely been a Babalawo found who has learnt and can recite the whole of them; but there are those who have learnt and committed to memory a much greater number of them than others have done, and who then can make a wider use of the consulting bowl. In the third year the candidate learns the method and use of lot casting and in connection with it assists at the consulting bowl.
A Babalawo, elected and appointed to wait upon a king always as his Babalawo who is to consult Ifa for him is always one who has distinguished himself above others by his superior knowledge of the traditions and his skill in using them and in the art of consulting the oracle Ifa. His term of pupilage must have exceeded three years, and he is generally formally set apart for this his very important and responsible office and the dignity connected with it by other Babalawos at a special meeting held for the purpose when they would amongst other ceremonies unitedly place on his head some leaves sacred to Ifa, to signify to him and to others his elevation to the office.
His specially appointed assistants are the Olwo Otun Awo, the right hand Babalawo, otherwise named Orisa; the Olowo Osi Awo, the left hand Babalawo, otherwise named the Osopo; and the Olopon ekeji awo, or the second consulting bowl Babalawo, each of whom has his own Ajigbona, who is sometimes called Lewere.
His ensign of office consists of a string of beads of various colours worn always round his left wrist; a cow’s or bullock’s tail which he always carries about with him; and a staff which is sometimes an Opa Osu, i.e., a staff sacred to Ofu; at other times an Opa Orerere, the Orerere staff, and at other times an Opa Osororo, or the Osororo staff.
The office is supported from regularly prescribed consulting and divining fees which are sometimes and indeed often exceeded on account of what is thought to be the superior financial position of an applicant for consultation of Ifa; the sacrifices and offerings made to the gods; and gifts from those whom they serve which these account it a duty and a privilege to make to them, especially at stated festivals.
The moral system of Yoruba heathenism teaches reverence to the gods, which is to show itself in, amongst other things, a daily early morning worship to them before their images before any business is done, the exercise of faith in them and their guidance and other assistances by consulting them on all important matters; respect and reverence for age and for all authority; filial regard and reverence for and obedience to parents-on the part of children always, and care and concern for them under the infirmities of sickness and old age, and in times of necessity produced by other circumstances; a great regard for marriage and the perpetuity of the bond, submission to their husbands on the part of wives, and care and protection on the part of husbands; the exercise of the duties of hospitality to all, and especially to strangers; fidelity to friendship under all circumstances; chastity, truthfulness in speech, honesty, kindness, and amongst some tribes courage also; whilst under its influence murder and theft, and sometimes the practice of witchcraft are punished with death; adultery and fornication with a severe social disgrace and fines and a selling into slavery, and, where the honour of a king’s wife is concerned, with death sometimes; suicide, with a dishonoured burial; and neglect and indifference to pay a debt, and insolvency, with much social dishonour; and it discountenances, amongst other things, pride and vanity and extravagance.
Among these may be reckoned revenge and retaliation, hatred, jealousy, malice, ill-will, worldliness, anger and wrath and selfishness, some of which have contributed to supply a basis for the system of slavery and the slave trade, and for the life of Polygamy which have ruled the country for centuries, and for the very long incessant inter-tribal warfares which have ruined it.
The motives for virtue are a belief in a retributive providence, either for good or for evil; the fear of social disgrace and of punishment also, which would fall not only upon an individual wrong and evil doer, but upon his relatives and other connections also; the prospect of a long life on earth, desire for prosperity, and dread of the anger of the gods and of punishment from them.
It teaches that the soul of man is not liable to death, and that after the death of the body, which results from its quitting it, it hovers about the earth for some time, and after this departs into the world of spirits above. Hence the following parable referring to the death of a Babalawo, and which is applicable to other persons also who have died:-“Awo ki i ku:-Awo lo si Itunla. Itunla ni ile Awo.” “Awo-or a Babalawo does never die; he goes to Itunla (the world where men live again after death). Itunla is an Awo’s home.”
The spirits of all the dead go after death to “Orun,” the heavens or the world above. It is divided into two parts. One part is commonly called “Isala Orun” or as a mark of excellence; “Orun” merely, or “Orun Afefe rere,” the heaven of sweet air, or “Orun Alafia,” the heaven of peace and happiness, where the souls of all the good from this world are admitted and live after death; and another part is called Orun Apandi, the world of potsherds, where the spirits of the wicked here pass to and live in after death as a heap of refuse and rubbish, a mass of God rejected souls-and who are treated there as potsherds are here where they are commonly flung to a dunghill. Sometimes this world is described as Orun ihariha, the heaven of the dry leaves, covering an ear of corn, or the heaven where the spirits that go there are treated as such leaves generally are here by being thrown into the fire, and it is also thus described, “Orun ihariha, ibi ti Orun ati ina pade ti nwon nho ye,” “the heaven of the Ihariha, where both the sun and fire meet together, and where the roar of their united flames and heat is like the shout of a great multitude.”
The spirit of a good dead returns from the spirit world to be again born into this world as had been the case with it before and into the family of which it had been before death a visible part. Hence it is that after a child’s birth and when a name would be given to it a Babalawo is consulted by the parents that they might know whether or not the child who is a departed one that has returned to them has come through the father’s or the mother’s line, that the family might know with what line they would formally connect it by the name that would be given to it. This accounts for such names as these given to children:-” Yeye-tunde“-“Our mother has returned to us; ” and “Babatunde“-“Our father has returned to us.” This transmigration is spoken of as “Yiya”-or the shooting forth of a branch.
There is some faint notion of a judgment after death, as may be inferred from the following occasional remarks of Yorubans, smarting under a sense of wrong and of their inability to revenge it-
” Ohun ti o se mi yi, ati emi ati iwo ni i ro o niwaju eni ti o ri wa.”
“As to this thing or this wrong which you have done me, I say, both yourself and myself will have to relate it to and before Him (God) who sees us.”
“Nigbati emi ba ku, ati emi ati iwo ni ilo ro o niwaju Olorun.”
When I die, both you and myself will have to relate it (our case) or (the alleged wrong) before God.”
“Ohun gbogbo ti a fe li Aiye a fere di idena orun (oju ibode orun) ka gbogbo
“With regard to what we do in this world we shall soon come to the entrance gate to the other world where we shall have to give an account of them all.”
Ignorance of letters has prevented the teaching of this system being embodied in a book for the followers of Yoruba heathenism: but it has been committed to the care of oral tradition for which the people’s well-exercised and strong memories afford a great help, parental teaching, the influence of the illustration afforded by the punishment awarded to evil and wrong doers, and the very many parables that enter largely into the language of the country and which have become in consequence of this an important vehicle of instruction, and the example of elder before younger people.
It cannot be justly and truly said that this idea of a hereafter has had any influence upon the people. It is not that it particularly influences their conduct in life. But very imperfect though it be, yet it certainly witnesses against those of them who riot in wickedness, injury, wrong and unkindness to their neighbours.
Extract from Astrological Geomancy in Africa, by Professor J. A. Abayomi Cole:-
In those early days of the world’s history, when the gods associated with men and rendered them valiant help in all their struggles for existence, sacrifices were offered unto them. At these offerings they became so delighted that they came down from heaven in such great numbers that it was not possible to obtain sufficient meat to distribute amongst them.
Having cultivated a taste for flesh, and the worshippers not being able to supply all they demanded, the gods were therefore obliged to resort to various pursuits so that they might obtain food.
Ifa, the God of Divination, took to fishing.
On a certain day Ifa returned from the sea hungry and exhausted, having caught no fish. He thereupon consulted the god Elegba (the devil) what to do.
Elegba, in reply, said that there was near the forest a farm belonging to Orunga, the son of the goddess (Yemaja). It was planted by Odudura, the wife of Obatala (Heaven). It bore only sixteen nuts, and if Ifa can succeed to obtain the sixteen palm nuts from Orunga-who now owns the lands-he would, with them, teach him the art of divination, by which food will be secured for the gods without resorting to labour; for every one wishing to consult the Oracles will pay a goat, and knowing the anxiety of mankind to pry into the future, he was sure that the gods would thereby have more flesh than they would need, stipulating at the same time that the first choice of all such should be his.
Ifa at once proceeded to the farm of Orunga. He bargained for the sixteen palm nuts, promising in return for them to teach Orunga how to forecast the future, assuring him that by this knowledge he will become very rich, and at the same time be of great service to mankind.
Orunga went and consulted his wife, Orisabi, who agreed that they would part with the palm nuts, if by so doing they would become both rich and useful. Both of them set out to get the nuts, which they collected by the aid of monkeys. All, sixteen in number, were wrapped in a bundle of clothes, and Orisabi tied the bundle on her back in the manner in which babies are generally carried, and she with her husband took them to Ifa.
Ifa received and took them to Elegba, who taught him, as he promised, the art of divination; Ifa in turn taught it to Orunga, who thus became the first Baba-alawo (i.e., Father of Mysteries).
Hence in all geomantic operations the Baba-alawoes use the common formula:
Orunga ajuba oh!-i.e., Orunga, I respect thee!
Orisabi ajubi oh!-i.e., Orisabi, I respect thee!
This accounts for the sixteen palm nuts used in Yoruba divinationall corresponding to the twelve houses of the heavens + two geomantic witnesses + one geomantic judge + one grand judge obtained by the permutation of the judge, the fifteenth figure, with the figure of the first house, all equal to sixteen figures.
There are various methods of divination, either with sixteen stones taken from the stomach of an alligator, used largely by tribes in the interior of the Colony of Sierra Leone, or with sixteen ordinary stones, beans, palm nuts, or cowries.