By: Bola Olalekan
Who Actually Is Orunmila??
Ask me this question some few years ago, I mean before the advent of Proudly Yorùbá I would probably say a filthy, ugly, cannibalistic old man who dined with Esu (Esu here would have meant Satan).
Seriously, who is Orunmila?? I did my findings and this is what I found… Orunmila bara Agboniregun is the God of wisdom in the Yoruba Ifa religion. God of divination, he is perhaps the most revered as far as Ifa is concerned. Orunmila is called upon more often than any other Orisa in the Ifa Yoruba religion. Olodumare bestows Orunmila with infinite wisdom to foretell, predict and read human minds and thoughts. A sound Babalawo would call on Orunmila during divination to reveal a mystery or to uncover some hidden predicaments. According to the Odu Ifa, Orunmila was said to have lived in the spiritual realm for more than 400years without food and water before descending to earth to help mankind. He set foot first on Oke-Igbeti where he lived for the betterment of mankind. Orunmila’s perfect foretelling and prediction together with his ability to read human thoughts made people call him “Ari inu ri ode olu moran okan” meaning; he capable of reading human minds and thoughts.
When Orunmila was at Oke Igbeti, he would call on strangers walking passed him, he would endeavour to tell them about what danger lies ahead and how to avert it. A woman once walked passed Orunmila where he pulled her back, saying woman! Go back home to your husband, your adultery is ruining him! The woman panicked and ran home. Orunmila knocked on a door one day, he told the father of the house to move his livestock into his house and that they should live together in there for seven days, the man hissed and quickly dismissed Orunmila’s advice sooner than later after the third day, a pack of hyenas ate each and every one of them overnight.
After much more, Orunmila left Oke-Igbeti for Ejio upon his arrival, Orunmila stormed a joint where young men were drinking palmwine, Orunmila told each of them to change their jobs, he asked them to exchange jobs among themselves. I.e. the one who was a hunter to change job with the one who was a farmer. Only four men agreed and heeded Orunmila’s advice. Orunmila blessed them and left, those who swapped jobs among themselves prospered within weeks like they won jackpot. Those who refused, remained impoverished, now too late to act as Orunmila had left Ejio for Oke-Ileri.
When he arrived, he asked them to cut and keep the tree of Baliba especially its bark but no one listened to him. Orunmila alone cut as much bark and leaves of tree Baliba as possible, it was not so long that an epidemic befell Oke-Ileri with which the bark and leaves of Baliba tree were the sole cure. It was in the raining season therefore the Baliba tree was not potent enough unlike when Orunmila asked them to get some for future care. Orunmila gave the ones he had but was not enough, this made him sad coupled with how many had treated him with disdain, he therefore resorted to returning to heaven where he belonged. After he left, the sufferings of mankind persisted, Orunmila was even more displeased with this, knowing if he was around, he would always try to help so the kind-hearted Orunmila returned to earth to continue his good deeds.
Orunmila was the youngest of the Orisa sent by Olodumare to discharge various acts to support the universe and mankind. According to Odu Ifa where life of Orunmila is enshrined, he was the wisest human to have lived on earth. He came to earth with Ifa and its embodiment. During a divination, Babalawos would often begin with “Orunmila mo pe o” they would remind him how he listened to Alara and Ajero when they called on him for divination. He often does not let them down. Some have referred to him as ‘Orun ni o mo eniti o la’ others call him Okunrin kukuru Oke Igbeti.
So, next time you hear Orunmila, he was not cruel or nasty. He was a kind prophet of Olodumare sent to help mankind.
Orisa rituals are rich in color, taste and sound. Once you have experienced a properly performed divination, sacrifice or festival, you are very likely to emerge with the overwhelming sense that you have taken a fantastic journey into another space and time. Beyond aesthetics, however, orisa rituals reveal a timeless relationship with divine principles that govern the universe.
The reason orisa ritual is so compelling is very aptly expressed in a Yoruba adage that says, Let us do things the way we used to do them so that things might turn out the way they used to turn out. An elder will typically recite this saying when he or she wants to remind you to retain the integrity of tradition. It is based upon our understanding that perfection is found in the past.
This concept is difficult for the Westerner to accept. We scoff at our elders. Because they are not "hip" we believe they are obsolete. Such is not the case in Yoruba land. There, the elders are held in high esteem. They possess an almost mythic presence that evokes a sense of awe in the youth and children alike. Oftentimes, when explaining the source of his success a man will allude to the powers he received from his father, his uncle or his grandfather.
Of course, this respect is rooted in direct experience. Ifa teaches us about the dire consequences of mistreating elders. Consider, for example, the wisdom of the Holy Odu IkaMeji:
Ifa says a child is practicing the art of disrespect
If he meets a veteran Babalawo
Let him slap the Babalawo's Face
If he meets an elderly Herbalist
Let him beat the herbalist mercilessly
If he meets an Abore (Chief executioner)
Where he bows his head in supplication to Olodumare
Let him push the Abore down
These were the declaration of Ifa to the obstinate children
When they declared that nobody can contain them
They were advised to offer sacrifice
They called the Awo a group of cheats
They labeled Esu Odara a thief
They simply ignored the advice to offer sacrifice
Don't you know that
Long life does not exist for a child
Who slap a veteran Babalawo
Longevity does not exist for a child
Who beats an elderly Herbalist
A child who beats an elderly Abore
Where he was supplicating to Olodumare
Such a child is courting his own perdition
How does a maggot die?
Quickly and in droves
Do maggots meet their death
Quickly and in droves
- Holy Odu IkaMeji
Common thinkers of contemporary society have not yet made the connection between devastation and disrespect. But, as the Yoruba say, every day is for the thief; only one day is for the owner. When it comes to tradition, the immature, ungoverned and unrestrained are the thieves. Meanwhile, the elders are the true owners. For this reason, the Yoruba will say, Agba kosi, ilu baje. It means, Without elders, the kingdom is doomed.
It is precisely this reverence for eldership that enables one to fully appreciate what it means to be a true ritual specialist. In fact, it is safe to say that if you lack the ability to recognize the elders as gatekeepers of all spiritual empowerment, you will never become a true ritual leader.
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NOTES: RITUALS, SYMBOLISM AND SYMBOLS IN YORUBA TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS THOUGHT