Hoodoo and Ifa
Many already know that the Ifa Orisa tradition was taken by our African ancestors And brought to the new world. What people may not know is that it was brought To America as well. While the tradition as an organized religion was not there, what was passed down are the medicines and stories and even rituals through the African Hoodoo tradition. Thank goodness for Zora Neal Hurston for documenting and capturing some of it for future generations. Written now as folk tales Ive come across some that seem to be directly from Odu Ifa. Especially With women.
My beloved husband Okikola Akanji is an Awo and avid collector of Hoodoo tales and traditions. He pointed out to me how simular the following story is to a story in Osa Meji when Olodumare gives Odu the Power of motherhood when she was Inquiring why the men got something and not her. Olodumare said that she had the power of motherhood and nothing could come into the world without her. It also reflects a verse that speaks on when Obatala was trying to rule over Odu. There are numerous stories that speak about Obatala and Odu being married and arguing in Pierre Vergers Iyami book as well as The Yoruba Speaking People’s of the Slave Coast of Weat Africa in 1894
“According to a myth Odudua is blind. In the beginning of the world she and her husband Obatala were shut up in darkness in a large, closed calabash, Obatala being in the upper part and Odudua in the lower. The myth does not state how they came to be in this situation, but they remained there for many days, cramped, hungry, and uncomfortable. Then Odudua began complaining, blaming her husband for the confinement; and a violent quarrel ensued, in the course of which, in a frenzy of rage, Obatala tore out her eyes, because she would not bridle her tongue. In return she cursed him, saying “Naught shalt thou eat but snails,” which is the reason why snails are now offered to Obatala. As the myth does not make Odudua recover her sight, she must be supposed to have remained sightless, but no native regards her as being blind.“
The following story is documented by Cultural Anthropologist and Hoodoo Priestess, Zora Neal Hurston in Every Tongue Got to Confess as told to her by Old Man Drummond in Gainesville, Florida in 1921. It is written in Southern Black Vernacular as told to her and , like many other mistranslations due to Christian propaganda , Esu is the Devil here. The story however captures the essence of the Odu Ifa none the less.
“When God first put folks on earth there wasn’t no difference between men and women. They was all alike. They did de same work and everything. De man got tired uh fussin ’bout who gointer do this and who gointer do that. So he went up tuh God and ast him tuh give him power over de woman so dat he could rule her and stop all dat arguin’.”
“He ast Him tuh give him a lil mo’ strength and he’d do de heavy work and let de woman jus’ take orders from him whut to do. He tole Him he wouldn’t mind doing de heavy [work] if he could jus’ boss de job. So de Lawd done all he ast Him and he went on back home—and right off he started tuh bossin’ de woman uh-round. So de woman didn’t lak dat a-tall. So she went up tuh God and ast Him how come He give man all de power and didn’t leave her none. So He tole her, “You never ast Me for none. I thought you was satisfied.” She says, “Well, I ain’t, wid de man bossin’ me round lak he took tuh doin’ since you give him all de power. I wants half uh his power. Take it away and give it tuh me.” De Lawd shook His head. He tole her, “I never takes nothin’ back after I done give it out. It’s too bad since you don’t like it, but you shoulda come up wid him, then I woulda ’vided it half and half!” De woman was so mad she left dere spittin’ lak a cat. She went straight tuh de devil. He tole her: “I’ll tell you whut to do. You go right back up tuh God and ast Him tuh give you dat bunch uh keys hangin’ by de mantle shelf; den bring ’em here tuh me and I’ll tell you whut to do wid ’em, and you kin have mo’ power than man.” So she did and God give ’em tuh her thout uh word and she took ’em back tuh de devil. They was three keys on dat ring. So de devil tole her whut they was. One was de key to de bedroom and one was de key to de cradle and de other was de kitchen key. He tole her not tuh go home and start no fuss, jus’ take de keys and lock up everything an’ wait till de man come in—and she could have her way. So she did. De man tried tuh ack stubborn at first. But he couldn’t git no peace in de bed and nothin’ tuh eat, an’ he couldn’t make no generations tuh follow him unless he use his power tuh suit de woman. It wasn’t doin’ him no good tuh have de power cause she wouldn’t let ’im use it lak he wanted tuh. So he tried tuh dicker wid her. He said he’d give her half de power if she would let him keep de keys half de time. De devil popped right up and tole her naw, jus’ keep whut she got and let him keep whut he got. So de man went back up tuh God, but He tole him jus’ lak he done de woman. So he ast God jus’ tuh give him part de key tuh de cradle so’s he could know and be sure who was de father of chillun, but God shook His head and tole him: “You have tuh ast de woman and take her word. She got de keys and I never take back whut I give out.” So de man come on back and done lak de woman tole him for de sake of peace in de bed. And thass how come women got de power over mens today. —OLD MAN DRUMMOND.”
Here is the verse from Osa Meji in Odu Ifa
Osa is rich, makes a lot of noise,
the sound of the bell reaches earth”
were the ones who cast for Odu on the day
that she descended to Earth, and also
for Ogun and Obatala, among whom
Odu was the only woman.
“What will happen when we arrive on Earth?”
“Whatever you want to obtain in life,
I will give you the power to do so,
in order for the world to become a good place.”
Ogun marched in front, Obatala followed,
and Odu lingered behind.
Going back she asked:
“Oh Creator, down there Ogun will have
the power of war. He has a machete,
he has a gun, he has everything he needs
to fight with.
Obatala too has all the qualifications
to reach whatever goal he chooses.
What then remains for me, the only woman
among them? What shall I do?”
Olodumare spoke: “The power of motherhood
that keeps the Earth intact, belongs to you.
The power of the Birds belongs to you.
I will give you a large calabash,
filled with these things.
Odu, come back. Do you know
how to use them?”
“If humans don’t listen to me,
don’t even ask my advice,
then I will fight.
If people ask me for money or children,
I will be lenient towards them, provided
they are not impolite;
for if that happens I will take it all back.”
“That’s allright with me,”
the Creator said, “but use
your power with coolness and not
with violence, or I will take
it away from you.”
Since that time, because of Odu,
women have the power to always say what they want,
for in the absence of women
men can do nothing.
Odu came to Earth.
All groves sacred to Egungun she entered freely,
also the groves of Oro.
All places where Spirits were worshiped
the woman showed herself.
Ha!, the old one was exaggerating, and Odu
fell into disgrace.
Ifa was consulted on her behalf.
“Hey, you!” Ifa said,
“You will have to calm down!”
“Why would I do so?”
“Because of the power you have been given,”
explained the Awo’s, “in order for people
not to find out what it’s all about.”
“They won’t,” replied Odu, “for nobody saw
how the Creator gave me that power!”
“Sacrifice anyway!” the Awo’s advised.
“No!” replied Odu.
“Nobody will take
my power away from me.
They don’t know about it.”
Then she put on masquerader’s cloth
and went out in the open.
There was nothing she did not do in those days.
Obatala went to Ifa, said:
“Hey! The Creator gave me authority on Earth,
but this energetical woman takes everything over.
There is no place where she does not go.”
Ifa comforted Obatala:
“No one can wrench the world from your hands.
The world will not spoil. Sacrifice snails,
a whip, and eight pieces of money.”
When Obatala sacrificed Orunmila said:
“Don’t worry: worship will return to you.”
In the meantime it was so that when Odu said:
“Don’t look!”, and people still looked,
they went blind.
“Let us live together,” she said to Obatala,
“That way you can see everything I do.”
Obatala sacrificed snails to his Ori,
and then drank the fluid from the shells.
“Do you want some, Odu?”
She drank and her stomach calmed down.
“Oh, I have discovered delicious food,
snail fluid is sweet, snail fluid is sweet.”
And so Obatala gave her
all the snails she wished.
“But all the things you have,
all the things you do?”
“I will share it all with you,” Odu replied.
And then, when she went to worship Egungun,
saying she was scared,
Obatala went with her.
In the sacred grove she put on the costume,
but couldn’t produce a sound like Egungun.
Later Obatala added a face cover to the costume,
took the whip, and spoke with the voice of Egungun.
He went outside.
“Hey! Ha!” people said, “This truly is
an appearance from another world.”
He even scared Odu. Hey! Who put on
that costume so quickly? Who spoke
with that unrecognizable voice?”
So the man conquered the woman
Obatala went through the whole town
Seeing he was not at home,
recognizing her costume,
Odu stayed where she was and sent her Bird,
to go sit on the masked one’s shoulder.
From that moment on, all what Egungun could do
was because of the power of Birds.
When Obatala as Egungun had done everything,
he came home, put the whip down
and greeted Odu.
“You can have Egungun,” she said,
“Nevermore will a woman dare wear the costume,
but the power you used will be our property,
and when you go out I will dance for you.
From now on only men will go out as Egungun.
But nobody, children nor old men,
will dare to mock women.
The power of women is greater.
Women give life through giving birth,
and whatever men may want to do,
women must help them or they will mess up.”
So they sang together, and Obatala said
that every week everybody must praise women,
for the world to be peaceful.
Bend your knee, bend your knee for women,
for women brought you into this world;
women are the wisdom of Earth,
women have brought us into this world;
have respect for women.