Orisa Is a Tree of Life Best appreciated for its Roots and Branches, it’s Leaves and Fruit
The Ifa Orisa Tradition is wide and vast. Orisa as a specific tradition relating to the forces of nature extends to the Diaspora on 6 Continents. It finds itself everywhere the trans Atlantic slave trade went. Ifa extends far beyond Yorubaland but also among the Ewe in Ghana, in Togo, the Fon in Benin, the Igbo, The Wolof in Senegal just to name a few. Each may bring their local deities to Ifa but still practices under Afa, Fa, Ephoh, or Ifa. It’s beyond one religion , one lineage, one ethnic group or religion but speaks to the soul and it’s codified relationship to nature itself. Each denomination and lineage brings its own nuances based on the experience of those ancestors and the lands they found themselves on. These variances are as a beautiful tree with roots, branches, leaves, and fruit. Some may focus on the root and others, the branches but we must always understand it is one tree.
It is with that understanding, I bring up this topic of holding Ifa or Orisa hostage based on one lineage, or one way of doing things. As African diaspora are waking up to their ancestral heritage, they are seeking our ancestral traditions their ancestors may have practiced. This has led to droves seeking priesthood and connection. This has also led to those who would take advantage of the money that can come with it. With that, came the need to take action against those who were taking advantage of others unethically. It’s understandable to want to protect a tradition so many have benefited from and hold dear and one who almost ended due to outside assaults.
Unfortunately what I also see emerging is the danger in extremism based on one or two lineage and the danger of self proclaimed guardians of the tradition. Fundamentalist sects that pit one against another or force people to practice one or the other…and excludes most other variances. This fundamentalism has created significant division among the tradition, some building accords that formally separate the tradition to others dominating social media to influence the viewpoints of other to practice their way. It’s a product of cultural ego and an extension of ethnic disputes. This extremism has produced unfair allegations of one being less valid because they don’t do it the way another one practices or because they incorporate multiple parts of the tree and not just one. It’s deepened in some cases to cyber bullying and harassment as a means to control the masses . I heard the other day a priestess say she would gladly see another priest burn to death because they mixed lineages of Lucumi and Isese. I was shaken by such an extreme posture toward another priest or even human being. That level of extremism, historically, has never boded well for any group of people on the planet. Masses have literally died from extremism on that level. While it was first intended to protect the traditions from outsiders, its methods by some, have produced the opposite. It’s made the tradition vulnerable through its focus on what separates us rather than what unifies us. The assault isn’t from the outside. It’s from within among its members. Disunity from within will certainly produce vulnerability from without.
As much as I Practice Ifa, I’ve never considered myself Yoruba. I’ve never validated anything by if it was Yoruba or not. Why? Because Yoruba is an ethnic group consisting of over 300 sub ethnic groups, each with their own practices…I was not born nor married into any of them. I was married to an Igbo man for a time. Still, I don’t refer to myself as Igbo. The same goes for not referring to myself as Lucumi. A term that came from Cuban lineages and the branch that emerged from them. I was born African American. My culture is African American. My ancestry , like most African Americans expands the continent by DNA through west Africa and the South Central Congo. That background opens me up to ancestors from multiple lineages. It’s one reason I read bones and do Dafa. To ask people to deny one group for another is no different than forcing a colonial view on religion. Colonialist disrespected any practice or religion but their own. They used fear and harassment to force Christianity. They killed and hung heretics and those who dared go against the establishment or to pray to God directly rather than through a priest. To do it with lineage is the same concept…and will produce the same results.
It is for this reason, I focus on embracing the whole of the tradition…the roots and the branches. I may not practice all of the variances. I practice mostly African Isese because that is what most of my training consist of. But I acknowledge them as valid and ancestral just the same. I acknowledge that Isese refers to one’s progenitors and as an African American my progenitors extends beyond one ethnic group. Being in the diaspora, I also appreciate how things have evolved and emerged based on diaspora needs and experiences. The ancestors did not stop when they left Africa. In fact, special ancestors were chartered with the task of helping it survive in a new world. Some were tasked with returning back home when the time came. Some were tasked with the job of synthesizing the old and for new world and new generation.
It is here that I find pause.. Religion vs tradition. Religion is a system of worship based on a specific doctrine and common values. It finds itself creating structures and organized systems to practice and control those who practice. Tradition is the transmissions of customs or beliefs from one generation to another. Isese is tradition…because of its emphasis on ancestral customs, not necessarily religion. All diaspora traditions are Isese too. It’s based on family and the ways of our ancestors…and what worked. So when we find those who try to force it as a religion, it gets placed into a box of right and wrong, them or us, and the judgment that comes with the right way based based on what we were taught vs someone else. This is the basis of fundamentalism and strict literal guidelines for practice. Then people begin to think that one branch has more rights or authority over another when all came from the roots and even the roots are spread out.
One thing I’ve learned is this tradition , if you work it from a self development perspective is about finding balance and wholeness. That is the opposite of extremism. It’s also not full carte blanch to do whatever you want because some boundaries are there to support growth just as a child needs discipline…and love to be healthy. So balance means learning discipline, but showing love.