While We are Addressing Abuse, Can we Address the Environmentthat allow it to Thrive?
1. The elephant in the room is an overtly patriarchal culture and misogynistic attitude that is supported by men and women in the tradition under the guise of preserving culture and what has been. From how some Odus are interpreted to the historical actions implemented to minimize women’s influence. We are at a crossroads in that we really do have to look at what is working for us and what is not….particularly in the Diaspora. So many are seeking to return to our culture and preserve everything that we can’t fathom that some ways need to die and be abandoned.
It’s not new. We have stories and itans where when something was no longer suitable for the community, the practice was abandoned and a better way was implemented. It’s called evolution. As an Omo Oya, I know for sure change is inevitable and often necessary. We must discern where “culture” is valued more than spiritual integrity and adjust.
2. The implied blind loyalty, faith, and life long devotion to a person, Ile, or lineage. Often from the moment a person adorns a set of elekes or receives anything from a Oluwo, they are assumed to be an omo for life. If a person leaves they are considered Ile hopping or being disloyal. They are ostracized, looked down on , and alienated if they dare leave. So if a person is experiencing abuse by an elder, they don’t have anywhere to go. Even the accusation that one of the elders may have abused them can turn the whole Ile on them in defense of the god parent or Oluwo. We may not realize it but this is cult like behavior and fraud and abuse can thrive in those environments. It’s one thing to create a mutually family. It’s another when it’s a virtual prison.
3. Baba is damn near god syndrome. Women historically have played very strong roles in maintaining balance and justice in the tradition. Slowly however, that is not always the case anymore. Often the “elders” that are looked to take action are men that may be abusers or have a history of abuse themselves. We often have blind loyalty to celebrity babas even when their behaviors are dishonorable. Sure they may make a declaration denouncing abuse for public show. But when actions are necessary, many turn their heads in denial which through non action still supports the abuser and reinforces the system. At worst, they continue to secretly support them.
To be sure, it’s not just Babas because some Iya’s are abusive too…There are some Iyas who have been reported to procure sexual favors from male Omo’s in exchange for some advantage. But the overwhelming culture systemically supports the predominance of male elders at the top with little to no female counterparts. Too often, women are theoretically spoken about in terms of respect but there is also an intangible aire in many circles where there is a condescending attitude towards respecting women but not demonstrable actions of respect. This allows for an environment for abuse especially when spiritual work is supposed to be done for a woman and no woman is present particularly in some rituals.
What we have seen is that when that is the case, the woman often does not get real justice and more often is silenced. Women have reported to their Babas and accusations are often blown off or the offender is gently chided but not taken to task for behaviors. Or, they are advised to endure or be patient.. not considering a life may be at risk. Some Nigerian babas don’t want to address it because they don’t want to shake up their Diaspora money tree a particularly Baba may have provided them in exchange for their outward support. Some abusers like to surround themselves with these popular Babas to gain more credibility and deceive the public.
4. We assume lineage or eldership equals character. These are not the same. People’s individual behaviors and attitudes determines character regardless of what lineage they are from, how old they are, or how long they have been in the tradition. To that end, I’ve heard people not wanting to make a big deal of foul behaviors for fear damaging the reputation of the lineage or the elder. Again, this sets up situations for those kind of behaviors to continue.
5. Lack of transparency or full disclosure. Often people don’t know they have been had until after they have paid significant money. Most contracts are based on trust only and while there are mysteries that may not be revealed, there are some things that are not mysteries at all. In this case, good open communication can often curtail situations where people are taken advantage of. In addition, the obsessive silencing of anything that happens in an Ile or with a godparent often leaves a trail of people who have been taken advantages of. Paying 20x more than the average. Not getting what they paid for. One woman paid for an Obatala pot and was told never to open it. For years she did not. Finally she peeped… Inside was just cotton balls and nothing else. Now we can’t share what goes into sacred vessels with everyone. And every lineages has different approaches and ingredients. But the person receiving it has a right to know what is inside. And it’s this kind of thing that promotes fraudulent behavior.
6. Lack of viable judicial process that allows for objective due process and the ability to execute repercussions for “decided” offenders of the community. In ancient times, Ogboni was the council of elders that one would go to for justice. This was one of the strongest roles Iyami played in maintaining justice in society. If someone was accused of an offense, a judicial process would ensue allowing for both sides to speak. If found guilty, repercussions ensued. If found not guilty, the matter would be put to rest. In the Diaspora no such group exist outside of our own legal system to address such matters. The challenge is when there are ethical lapses but not necessarily legal offenses that happened. That often leaves a conundrum of not know what to do. Essentially mob rule and public humiliation is the only recourse.
These are but a few things that contribute to an environment where abuse can thrive. It is certainly not an exhaustive list. It’s not a list of full solutions. My hope is that while we are having these conversations about addressing abuses, let’s consider how we all can contribute to the change that needs to happen in ourselves, our iles, and for our overall growth.