Editorial: The Yoruba Religious System
This issue of Africa Update focuses on
Yoruba religion. Professor Ade Dopamu, Professor of Religion at Moi
University, Kenya, elaborates on various theological issues associated
with one of the world's most influential religions, for Yoruba religion
claims no less than one hundred million believers worldwide. In Nigeria,
the Republic of Benin, and Togo in West Africa as well as Brazil,
Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Guyanas, Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad
and Tobago, St.Kitts, and St.Vincent, in the New World, are millions
Dr. Dopamu discusses Santeria and Candomblé,
the Cuban and Brazilian manifestations of Yoruba religion. He points
out that here the beliefs and organizational structure of the Yoruba
religious system remain generally intact, even though they may incorporate
other African roots and a veneer of Catholicism.
In Yoruba cosmology, Olodumare or Olorun
is the Supreme Being whose supremacy is absolute. Olodumare is acknowledged
by all divinities as unique and pre-eminent.
The divinities called orisha (orisa)
are offspring of Olodumare and are believed to be ministers and functionaries
in the universe.
Dopamu points out that among the orisas
are Orisanla or Obatala, viewed by Brazilian followers as the son
of Olodumare. Obatala is identified by Cuban followers as Our Lady
of Mercy. The patron divinity of blacksmiths and metallurgists, soldiers,
hunters and all those who work in iron and steel is Ogun . Sango or
Shango represents the divinity of vengeance against theft, and other
crimes and according to Dopamu, is more dreaded than other divinities.
Shango is of special significance in several Caribbean countries.
Diedre Badejo's fascinating work, Osun
Seegesi, The Elegant Deity of Wealth, Power and Femininty (Africa
World Press, 1997) elaborates on one of the most important orisas
in Yoruba cosmology, Osun. Oya, Yemoja and Osun are all female divinities
associated with rivers and waterways.
Uninformed observers fail to understand
that natural phenomena are perceived as the abode of various apparitions
and spirits and not themselves the objects of worship. Adherents try
to appease the spirits and energy forces that reside in them. To consider
the religion as a whole as "'animist" is incorrect.
Yoruba cosmology consists not only of
a Supreme Being and numerous divinities called orisa, but also a conglomeration
of spirits, ancestral forces and psychic agencies. As with Japanese
Shintoism, the ancestors or dead relatives are believed to continue
existence after death. Dopamu points out that the ancestors and orisa
are seen as important sources of inspiration and continue to bear
their titles of relationship after death. They act as "intermediaries
between their living descendants and the orisa." Psychic agents
and agencies are seen as real. Forces of evil have to be confronted
and counteracted by specialists such as a babalawo or onisegun.
We thank Dr. Dopamu for providing us
with an illuminating analysis of important aspects of Yoruba theology
by Dr. Ade Dopamu, Professor
Moi University, Kenya
It is reported from Havana that the Roman
Catholic Church claims that seventy per cent of Cuba's eleven-million
people are Catholics.1 This claim could easily be disputed
in view of the pervasive influence of Afro-Caribbean religions in
Just as in Brazil, many people in Cuba
practise both Catholicism and Santería. Ms. Padron, 74-year-old
retired seamstress is described as both a regular church goer and
a Santería devotee. Like millions of Cubans, "she believes
Santería does not prevent her form being a good Catholic"2
It appears that the Catholic Church has admitted the admixture of
Catholicism and Santería in Cuba when Cardinal Jaime Ortega
affirmed that "Catholicism and Santería are not mutually
exclusive" because the great majority of Santería believers
baptize their children and feel Catholic, and they are never considered
as though they belong to a separate religion.3
Thus, the Pope's visit to Cuba has highlighted
the strong impact of Afro-Caribbean Religions in Cuba, if the visit
did not belie the claim that Cuba was a Catholic country. At least,
Natalia Bolivar, an expert on Afro-Cuban religions, states that eighty
percent of Cubans are believers, even if only sporadically, in Afro-Cuban
religions.4 However, the intermingling of Catholicism and
Afro-Caribbean religions has a long history.
The millions of enslaved Africans that
were carried across the Atlantic did not leave their culture behind
and they were able to preserve this even under the dehumanising conditions
in which they found themselves. The most important aspect of their
culture that has left an indelible mark on the New World, and that
which continues to be predominant today, is African Religion (Afrel).5
Barrett is right when he says:
It was African traditional religion (sic),
the motivating force of all African peoples, that was first to find
expression in their land of bondage. The slave master was able to
claim the body of the slave, but the world view of the African was
nurtured in his soul and this soul was impregnable.6
Different aspects of Afrel survive today
under different names and categories. Again, the different aspects
may be traced to the conglomeration of culture forms that were brought
by the different African peoples to the New World. For example, Pukkumina,
the present form of Afrel in Jamaica, can be traced to the Akan of
Ghana; Vodun (Vodoo) in Haiti has its roots among the Ewe-Fon of the
Republic of Benin; Candomblé in Brazil and Santería
in Cuba have their origins in Yoruba religion.7
Santeríoman">ía is the
religion that emerged in Cuban slave society of Yoruba origin.8
The Yoruba divinities were Candomblétransported to Cuba in
their original form and many of them were seen with a veneer of Catholicism.
The divinities were identified with Roman Catholic saints. The name
Santería came from Spanish and it means "the way of the
The believer is a santero (man) or a santera (woman)
and has to go through costly initiation before becoming a full member.
The beliefs and practices are similar to those of Yoruba religion.
Divination, sacrifice, spirit possession, initiation, belief in psychic
phenomena, priesthood and other Yoruba systems of worship are prevalent
in Santería.10 The spelling of Yoruba words are
close to their original spelling and the foods offered to the divinities
are of Yoruba derivation. The divinities are called orishas in their
Yoruba generic name. It will be clear below how enduring the religion
of the Yoruba has been and how the fundamental perspectives of this
religion, as well as the Yoruba world view, has been retained in Santería.
Candomblé is the religion that originated
among the enslaved Yoruba of Brazil. It is now practised mainly in
northern Brazil.11 As in Santería, there is a predominance
of an original Yoruba model for this religion.12 Most of
the practices are identical with the practices in Yoruba religion.
Beliefs and organizational structures are patterned after those of
the Yoruba, and the divinities speak through mediums.13
However, the Yoruba words are spelt differently form
their original spellings probably as a result of Portuguese influence.
In the same vein, the saints identified with the divinities are different
from those of Santería. Again, Candomblé identifies with
other African roots. In the words of Eliade:
Candomblé presents internal differences
because of its various "nations:" Keto, Angola. . .and so
forth - which are names given in Brazil to the African tribes in which
specific beliefs and practices are thought to have originated.14
Even with these internal differences, the preponderance
of Yoruba elements in Candomblé identifies it with Yoruba
religion. Candomblé, like Santería, attests to the continuity
of Yoruba Religion in the midst of change.
The monumental work of Idowa on Yoruba religion has
continued to be a major reference work.15 Again, satisfactory
groundwork has been done by many other scholars of anthropology, sociology,
theology, philosophy, history, comparative religion and others. In
this circumstance, it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.
We shall, therefore, draw liberally but critically from these scholars,
including our own works. Although many will find some aspects of this
paper to be familiar, we should re-iterate that we are not wheeling
out the familiar arguments of previous scholars unguardedly. The discussion
in this paper is intended primarily to state some of the aspects of
Yoruba religion that have survived in Santería and Candomblé.
We should also point out that it is almost impossible to summarise
Yoruba religion in a short paper such as this. Consequently, we intend
simply to examine the fundamental elements of the religion, especially
those that have survived in the diaspora.
The situation in Yoruba religion is a near representative
of the situation in the whole of Africa when the elements of Afrel
come into sharp focus. In many parts of Africa, there is a belief
in a Supreme Being with varying degrees and emphasis. Again, in some
parts of Africa, as in Sierra Leone and Central Africa, the divinities
are almost absent, and ancestors are predominantly pre-eminent, whereas
in some other parts, such most of West Africa, the situation changes
and the divinities are more pronounced.16 Also, the incidence
of psychic phenomena is more noticeable in some areas than others,
and the same goes for the practice of magic and medicine, including
divination. However, all these phenomena are found among the Yoruba
as we shall develop below.
In view of the above, we should state immediately that
some of the central issues in Yoruba religion can be understood in
terms of five fundamental beliefs or basic themes which Idowu has
described as the structure of Afrel.17 These include belief
in God; belief in divinities; belief in spirits; belief in ancestors;
belief in mysterious powers.18 The scholars who have continued
to be concerned with this position are many, and they are not nervous,
but confident in putting forward their views. It is in this broad
objective approach that we turn to the fundamental beliefs in Yoruba
(i) The Supreme Being
The Yoruba name for the Supreme Being is Olorun or Olodumare.
The first name, Olorun, translates easily to mean "the Owner
of heaven" or the "Lord of heaven."19 This
depicts God as the Author of all things, visible and invisible, the
Head or Overlord of all in heaven and on earth."20
Because the name is associated with orun (heaven, sky) some scholars
have erroneously concluded that God is distant and remote. Indeed,
the name Olorun is constantly found on the lips of the Yoruba and
it is used in greetings: "Have you risen well?" "I
thank God." It is found in ejaculatory prayers: "May God
take care of us throughout the night;" "Deliver me, O Olorun!"21
The name is also commonly used in sayings and proverbs: "It is
Olorun, the King, who pours down the rain in regular flow;" "Olorun's
works are mighty;" "Only Olorun is wise;" "Whatever
do you do in concealment that Olorun's eyes do not reach?;" "He
is under the judgment of Olorun."22
The popular use of Olorun for the Supreme Being made
it attractive and acceptable to Islam and Christianity, and the name
has been used successfully in evangelism. It is wrong to suggest that
"this idea of God was borrowed from Muslims or Christians. .
. The new religions adopt and enrich the name of God, but do not introduce
it as something new."23 The name even appears in many
Yoruba incantations (ofo), a fact that attests to its being indigenous
to the Yoruba. The following excerpt will suffice:
Odun sare, odun ko bodun;
Osu po sese, osu ko bosu;
Omode pantete ori;
Ko bOlorun oba.
Year runs after year,
but one does not overtake the other;
Month trots along,
but it cannot overtake another month;
A child balances his head,
But he cannot reach Olorun the King.
The second name, Olodumare, is an ancient one, and perhaps
a more mysterious name for God. The name Olodumare is not as fully
self-explanatory as the name Olorun. Idowu admits that the etymology
of the second part of the name (MARE) "has been a subject of
much guess-work and debate."24 That
may be responsible for the distorted story quoted by Magesa in trying
to find the "origin of Olodumare."25 Idowu himself
categorically states, "It appears to be the Yoruba way of explaining
the rainbow rather than explaining Olodumare."26
In Yoruba theology, it is clearly stated that no one knows the antecedent
or beginning of Olodumare. His immortality and enternity have never
been doubted.27 Whatever etymological connotation has come
out of scholars' analysis, the full meaning of Olodumare appears to
be "The King unique who holds the sceptre, wields authority and
has the quality which is superlative in worth, and He is at the same
time permanent, unchanging and reliable."28
We want to quote with approval Idowu's summary on Yoruba belief:
Yoruba theology emphasises the unique
status of Olodumare. He is supreme over all on earth and in heaven,
acknowledged by all the divinities as the Head to whom all authority
belongs and all allegiance is due. . . His status of supremacy is
absolute. Things happen when He approves, things do not come to
pass if He disapproves. In worship, the Yoruba holds Him ultimately
First and Last; in man's daily life, He has the ultimate pre-eminence.29
Idowu's last observation deserves some
comment. It is generally believed that there are no priests of Olorun,
no temples, no shrines and no communal prayers. This attitude to the
Supreme Being in matters of worship has survived in Santería and Candomblé
where "Olorun, the creator of all being, is not revered directly
but relations with him are mediated by the ORISHAS, who speak through
mediums in the context of ecstatic religious practices."30
As Sturm knew, the Yoruba designation Olorun
is seldom encountered in Afro-Brazilian religion.31 When it does, it is easily identified
with the idea of the Christian Creator who works primarily through
his son, Jesus Christ. In Afro-Brazilian religion, therefore, Olorun
"does not interfere directly in natural events and history but
works through a host of intermediaries, the orixas."32
Space will not allow us to write
at length on the Yoruba theology that gives expression to this attitude
to the Supreme Being. We have seen, however, that there are personal
and private ejaculatory prayers to Olorun. Let it suffice to mention
here that there is a sense in which there is, at least potentially,
the worship of Olorun in the worship of the Orisha (divinities). Most
African scholars of Afrel have maintained this view, and E. B. Idowu
has persuasively argued that the divinities are the ministers of Olodumare.33 "People, therefore, regard them
as the convenient and appropriate channels through which they can
reverence the exaltedness of the Almighty."34
We shall return to this later.
We need to add that there are other names
and attributes of Olorun which our limited space will not allow us
to examine in detail. Such are Oluwa (Lord), Eleda (Creator), Olofin-Orun
(King of heaven), Orise (the source of all things) and Oba-Orun (The
king who dwells in the heavens). There is no evidence yet that these
other names and attributes survive in Santería and Candomblé
(ii) The Divinities
In Yoruba religion, the divinities are
called Orisa (Orisha- Santería; orixa- Candomblé). It is generally
believed that the divinities have the attributes or qualities or characteristics
of the Supreme Being, and they are in consequence, offsprings of God.
According to Yoruba theology, they were brought forth by Olodumare
to serve as ministers and functionaries in the theocratic government
of the universe.36 The
divinities are many, and their number varies between 201, 401, 600,
and 1,700. They have their shrines, temples, devotees, priests and
priestesses, and they are offered worship and receive day-to-day sacrifices.37
Technically they are, according to Yoruba theology, intermediaries
between God and man.
Two Yoruba words need explanation here.
The Yoruba use the words sin (to serve), isin or esin (service) to
refer to religious worship where God is meant. A person can say: Mo
sin Olorun ( I serve God); Mo fi sin Olorun (I do it in the service
of God). They also use the word bo, (to sacrifice, offering, adultation)
for divinities, spirits, ancestors or man's double in the following
ways: O bo orisa (He worshipped the divinity); O fi agutan sebo (He
offered a sheep as sacrifice).
Similarly, the following words are used
in relation to divinities only: aborisa (worshipper of divinity),
abogun (worshipper or priest of Ogun, the divinity of iron), iborisa
(the act of worshipping a divinity), aboke (the worshipper or priest
of the hill spirit), abore (the priest of a divinity) orisa akunlebo
(the divinity worshipped by kneeling).
In all these examples, you do not bo
(offer sacrifice to) God, rather, you sin (serve) God. But you bo
(offer sacrifices to) the divinities who in turn are responsible to
God. In Yoruba religion, therefore, bo (to offer sacrifice) and ebo
(sacrifice) are not used in relation to Olorun, rather, they are used
in relation to orisa. It is not correct to say: Mo bo Olorun (I offer
sacrifice to Olorun) but it is correct to say: Mo bo orisa (I offered
sacrifice to orisa).
Additionally, the priest is dedicated
to orisa and not to Olorun. The following words are used of the priest:
aworo, olorisa, aborisa, babalorisa (male) iyalorisa (female), aboke,
abore, abogun, babalawo (male), onifa. We do not say: abOlorun or
abOlodumare (the priest of God). It does not sound as a correct or
proper usage. But since the priest is the official servant of orisa,
he both sin (serve) and bo (offer sacrifice to) him. In Yoruba theology,
whatever he does to orisa is by extension done to Olorun to whom the
orisa are responsible.
The truth is that the Yoruba have brought
sociological interpretation to theological thinking. Within the traditional
Yoruba society, fathers are expected to take care of their children
without expecting any gifts or maintenance from the children. Olorun
is to the Yoruba as fathers are to their children. A note by Modupe
Oduyoye is a useful way of demonstrating the Yoruba attitude to the
Supreme Being in matters of worship. He states:
Olorun is so all-sufficient psychologically
and materially that he does not need man either to bo (adulate) him
or to bo (feed) him. . . Fathers demand service, shrug off adulation
as too sentimental and pray never to have to be fed by their children.
It is not because Olorun is too remote that no sacrifice is offered
Like fathers, Olorun takes care of man,
gives him gifts and maintains him. He, therefore, demands service
from man. In this regard, thanks are profusely given to Olorun in
personal and private ejaculations, in theophoric personal names -
Olorunfemi (God loves me), Iseoluwa (the works of God), Oluseun (God
has done great things), Opeolu (Gratitude to God), Tolutope (God's
ways demand thankfulness), Tolulope (to God be thanks), Olorunyomi
(God has saved me) and in spontaneous prayers and expression of joy.
It appears, however, that when Islam
and Christianity adopted the Yoruba names of God, they also adopted
for God the actions of people to their orisa. These actions are also
used in the translation of the Bible to Yoruba. For example, O ru
ebo si Olorun Isaac baba re (He offered sacrifices to the God of his
father Isaac); ebo sisun (burnt offering); Iwo yoo sin Olorun lori
oke yi (You shall serve God upon this mountain). There is a Yoruba
Christian song thus:
Tewo gbore wa,
Baba wa tewo gbore wa;
Iwo la wa rubo si o;
Tewo gbore wa,
Baba wa tewo.
Accept our offering,
O Father, accept our offering;
Our Father, Olodumare,
To you we offer our sacrifice;
Accept our offering,
O Father, accept it.
We have elaborated this point because
it is a fundamental issue in Yoruba Religion and one over which there
has been a considerable amount of argument and misunderstanding and
confusion. It should not surprise any investigators, therefore, that
the orisa have a place of prominence in Santería and Candomblé.
Space constraints will not allow us to indulge in details, but we
shall now proceed to briefly look at representative divinities and
the saints with which they are identified.39
Orisa-nla or Obatala
He is the Yoruba arch-divinity who was
commissioned by God to create the solid earth, equip it, and mould
the physical form of man. Orisa-nla is often described as the deputy
or the vice-gerent or son of Olodumare. He represents creative and
procreative forces and is therefore very popular. Barren women usually
take their petition to him so that they may be blessed with children.
In Santería, he is Obatala and identified with Our Lady of Mercy,
but in Candomblé (Oxalá), he is identified with Jesus
Christ. Just as in Yoruba Religion, white is the colour of Orisa-nla.
Orunmila or Ifa
Orunmila is the oracle divinity of Yorubaland.
He is the deputy of Olodumare in matters of wisdom, prognostication
and foreknowledge. People consult Orunmila on all occasions for guidance
and solutions to problems, and he is worshipped everywhere in Yorubaland.
He is Ifa or Orunmila in Santería and is linked with Saint Francis
Ogun is the god of iron, of war and of
the chase. He is pre-eminently the patron divinity of blacksmiths,
hunters, warriors, drivers and all who deal in iron and steel. His
devotees worship him for his benevolence. He is equated with Saint
John the Baptist in Santería, but with Saint George in Candomblé
(Ogum). Ogun is also associated with justice and God's wrath.
Sango is the Yoruba god of thunder and
lightning. He represents the divine wrath upon the children of disobedience.
There are various legends about Sango being an ancient king of Oyo.
He was deified after his death. He is more dreaded than any other
divinity for his malevolence. He forbids and punishes lying, stealing,
poisoning and other crimes. Punishments by Sango are royal punishments,
the victim must not be mourned. The victims can only be buried by
priests of Sango. In Santería (Shango) he is identified with Saint
Barbara, while in Candomblé (Xango) he is identified
with Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist.
Sopona or Obaluwaye
Sopona is the divinity of the disease
of smallpox. He is dreaded in that he manifests the wrath of God,
and he punishes offenders with smallpox. His punishment must be accepted
with cheerfulness, joy, gratitude and without complaint or mourning.
The property of a victim is confiscated by the priests who only have
the right to bury him/her. In Santería, he is called Shakpana or Babaluaiye
and is identified with Saint Lazarus. He is called Omolu or Obalua
in Candomblé and is also identified with Saint Lazarus.
We should note that there is an important divinity among the Egba
in Abeokuta called Buruku. This divinity is also know as Omolu. It
is believed that he is responsible for many of the human miseries
and adversities such as death, illness, destruction and other misfortunes.
It is not clear whether it is this Omolu that has been given expression
in Obalua, possibly by enslaved Africans of Egba origin.
Osun is the goddess of river Osun which
flows through the town of Osogbo in Yorubaland where she is actively
worshipped. Osun is noted for her benevolence. She is called the mother
of children and barren women usually approach her through her priests
and priestesses. Such women are given water from Osun shrine or river
to drink. Besides the gifts of children, Osun also confers on people
material blessing as well as total well-being. In Santería, Osun is
identified with the Virgin of Cobre while in Candomblé
(Oxum), she is associated with Saint Catherine or Our Lady of Glory
or Lady of Candlemas.
Oya is the goddess of the River Niger.
It is believed that she was the first and the beloved wife of Sango.
Oya is worshipped in many parts of Yorubaland, mostly for children
by women. Tornadoes are attributed to Oya when she is angry. In Santería,
Oya is equated with Saint Teresita, and in Candomblé, she is
Yemoja is the goddess of rivers and streams
in consequence of which she is called the "mother of all rivers."
She is thus the personification of "waters of life" or "living
waters" by which flowing streams become sources of life. Yemoja,
therefore, is propitiated for children and for wealth. She is identified
with the Virgin of Regla (Santería-Yemaja) and with Our Lady of the
Esu or Elegbara
Esu is the trickster deity of the Yoruba.
He is regarded as a divinity of mischief who can make things difficult
for mankind and divinities.
He is malicious and a mischief maker,
quite capable of causing confusion, bringing about complicated situations
or promoting malice among people . . . There is an unmistakable element
of evil in Esu and for that reason he has been predominantly associated
with things evil. . . It is quite clear still that Yoruba put almost
every evil tendency and practice in man down to his agency. . . From
all accounts he is not only a bewilderingly versatile character but
also extremely capricious. . . he is an elusive, slippery character
whom it is not easy to fix.40
Although Esu is worshipped also because
the Yoruba have faith in his protective and benevolent capabilities,
it is the preponderance of evil associated with him that has led some
scholars to equate him with either the Devil or Satan. Those who have
objections give no proof other than the fact that he is worshipped.
But the fact is that the Yoruba themselves do not pray to have dealings
with Esu. What they do in terms of sacrifice is to avoid or elude
his wickedness, callousness and devilish atrocious plans. The Yoruba
say: Bi a ba rubo, ki a mu tEsu kuro (When sacrifices are offered,
the portion which belongs to Esu should be set aside for him). He
is generally described as buruku (bad, malevolent).
Even though Esu is undoubtedly one of
the principal Yoruba divinities, he is technically not an orixa in
Afro-Brazilian Cults. It is interesting to note that unlike other
Yoruba divinities, he has no priests and priestesses dedicated to
him. When we say Eleegun, Onisango, Olosanyin, Elerinle, Ologun, Onifa,
Olosun, Oloya, Olobatala, we understand these to mean either the priests
or priestesses or devotes of the various orisa. But when we say eleesu
we mean something negative, and definitely a devilish person. Again,
there are no known universal festivals in honour of Esu as we have
for other divinities. People will be taken aback if it is announced
in any Yoruba town or village that they are going to celebrate odun
Esu (the festival of Esu). We should note here that we do not also
hear of odun Olorum (the festival of Olorun) since all that we do
for the orisa are indirectly done for Olorun. The isolated festival
of Esu in Ile-Oluji mentioned by Idowu is clearly a strange and an
improbable one because it is to mark the beginning of annual cultivation
of the land. The portfolio of agriculture and farming belongs to a
different divinity, except that in the process of celebrating the
festival of agriculture the people may propitiate Esu "that all
may be well with the farmer's work throughout the year."41
Furthermore, there are no distinct devotees of Esu since everybody
propitiates him to remove or avoid his malevolence. His shrine can
be anywhere, his emblems are various, and he has over two hundred
names, all suggesting implausibility of real goodness. This belief
has survived in Candomblé where the tendency "has
been to think of him as a predominantly evil force rather than amoral,
and he is identified in the popular mind with the devil. Satanic horns
and tail are sometimes used in representations of Exu."42
In Santería, he (Elegba) is identified with Saint Peter.
Osanyin is the Yoruba divinity of magic
and medicine. He is regarded as a great physician as well as a great
magician.43 He knows what can be done to heal, or to procure
what cannot be done through ordinary means. At the same time, he is
an object of worship since magicians and medicine-men usually have
his shrine in their homes. He is still a prominent orisa in the diaspora
where "he has become interpreted as the force of medicinal plants
and is known for his skill in healing and magical practices."44
In Santería, he is identified with Saint Raphael, but in Candomblé
(Oxossi) he is identified with Saint Sabastian.
Erinle is a riverine divinity. Even though
he is worshipped in most of Yorubaland, his worship is predominant
in Ilobu in Osun State where there is an annual festival in his honor.
Traditions say he was a poor hunter who drowned in the river that
was named after him. Names for his devotees include: Omiyale (water
has turned aside into the house), Omitoogun (water is as powerful
as medicine), Omisina (water has opened the way) and Omideyi (water
has become this). Because of the tradition that Erinle was a hunter
he has been associated with medicine in Santería and identified
with Saint Michael.
Ibeji is the deity of twins. Among the
Yoruba, twins are regarded as special creations or "spirits"
and they are reverenced. Periodical sacrifices are made on their behalf
to make the spirits happy. These consist of beans, red palm-oil and
vegetables. In Santería, it is thought that the Ibeji behave
like young children and they are therefore the counterparts of the
twin Saints Cosmas and Damian. The same identification has taken place
It has become necessary to examine the
above orisa because they appear to "enjoy universal popularity
and are conceded to be the most powerful."45 No scholar
of Santería or Candomblé would fail to recognise these
orisa which are a reflection of the Yoruba Religion past, present
and future. All other beliefs and practices that are not directly
associated with Olorun hinge upon the orisa. "The basis of Santería
is the development of a deep personal relationship with the orishas,
a relationship that will bring the santero worldly success and heavenly
(iii) The Spirits
Spirits are believed to be apparitional
entities which form a separate category of beings from divinities
and ancestors. The Yoruba regard them as powers which are almost abstract
entities that take on human shape. They are usually associated with
natural phenomena like trees, rocks, rivers, lagoons, forests, bushes,
hills, earth, mountains, winds, dark groves and unusual places, and
these become their abode. These spirits may even inhabit animals or
birds or snakes. Such objects as they inhabit are regarded as having
certain mysterious powers and they may become the emblems of the spirits.
The objects may be used in the preparation of magic and medicine in
the belief that they possess magical significance because of the spirits
residing in them.47
The spirits come under various names
such as Ajija or Aja (spirit of whilrlwind with knowledge of the use
of herbs), Aroni (a spirit with one leg that teaches the use of herbs),
Egbere (a smallish elf that carries a small mat and weeps all the
time), oro (spirits of trees), ebora, iwin (a fairy believed to live
in the ground, rock, forest or hill). The actual position of these
spirits in Santería and Candomblé requires further
investigation. But among the Yoruba, they have real existence and
they can be good or bad, beneficent or malevolent. Consequently, they
are propitiated out of fear. They neither have priests nor festivals
like the divinities and they assume no universal worship. That may
explain why they do not command much attention in the diaspora.
(iv) The Ancestors
The ancestors are the dead parents of
the family. It is believed that they continue existence in the world
beyond as spirits. It is also believed that these ancestors still
have a keen interest in the welfare of their families, and they are
therefore spiritual superintendents of family affairs. Consequently,
they continue to bear their titles of relationship like baba (father)
or iya (mother) or baba-nla (grandfather). Communion and communication
can still be made between them and those who are alive here on earth.
There are communal ceremonies in honor of the ancestors. Certain cults
like Oro, Egungun, Agemo, Gelede and Adamu-Orisa are dedicated to
the worship of ancestral spirits. As in orisa, people heavily depend
on the ancestors in all aspects of life and they serve as a source
and guarantee of the life of the family. They are believed to be able
to influence living members of the family for good or evil, but their
influence does not extend beyond their specific families!
In short, they act as intermediaries
between their living descendants and the orisa or Olorun.
The ancestors, together with the orisa,
played important roles in the emancipation of enslaved Africans in
the New World. Today, "in addition to orixas . . .Afro-Brazilian
cults work actively with ancestral spirits. . . The terms of address
are familiar: Pai (Father) and Mae (Mother), and less frequently Tio
(Uncle) and Tia (Aunt)."48
(v) Mysterious Powers
The Yoruba have strong belief in mysterious
powers which are oogun, egbogi or isegun (magic, medicine), oso, oogun
ika or oogun buburu (sorcery, bad magic) and aje, eye, osonga (witchcraft).
Magic and medicine have the same name
because in practice, they are very close. They are based on the belief
that natural objects have occult, mysterious, supernatural qualities
that can be tapped for the benefit of man. When these qualities are
used in the area of therapy, for curing diseases or for treating the
sick or for the prevention of diseases, they are called medicine.49
Medicine, therefore, is both prophylactic and therapeutic (preventive
and curative). But when these qualities are used for non-therapeutic
needs of man such as passing an examination, aiding memory (isoye),
attracting customers (afero), protecting one from bad magic (madarikan),
bringing good luck (awure) and influencing litigation (aforan), they
are magic. The Yoruba do not have any confusion in using the words
for their practice. For example, they know what it is when they say
either madarikan (magic that protects one form sorcery) or jedijedi
(medicine for curing dysentry). It is only when we use!
the terms magic or medicine to express
Yoruba concepts that we introduce confusion. We should, however, note
that the goals, purpose, result, or intention of the practice normally
shows whether a particular procedure is magic or medicine.
Sorcery is the use of bad or evil magic
to kill or harm people, or to cause misfortune to people or the society.
This use can be out of spite or to avenge a wrong done. Some types
of sorcery include abilu (evil magic that brings a drastic change
in the fortune of a person), apeta (invocation shooting), efun (evil
magic that makes a person behave abnormally), isasi (evil magic that
makes a person act as one who is insane).
Witchcraft is the utilization of certain
inherent psychic power in people to cause harm or havoc to people
or property. It is a will-power, emanating from within people, for
the purpose of achieving evil ends without the use of any tangible
apparatus. In Yorubaland, witches (aje) are usually believed to be
Both sorcery and witchcraft are regarded
as a reality among the Yoruba. They are usually regarded as forces
of evil and used as explanations of social tensions and misfortunes
in the society. People usually consult a babalawo (diviner) or onisegun,
oloogun, elegbogi (magician, medicine-man,) for assistance and protection.
It is significant to note that these
mysterious powers played a prominent role in fighting the slave masters.
According to Barrett:
The flora of the Carribbean provided
the Africans with an abundance of herbs which were well known to them
from Africa. They knew the properties of each herb first hand, and
with their knowledge the unsuspecting master was easy prey.50
Barrett goes on to quote Sir Spencer
St. John, the British Ambassador to Haiti in the nineteenth century,
who stated that he knew of many victims who retired to their beds
in sound mind to awaken as idiots and remain in that state despite
the aid of science.51 Santería
Today, belief in and the utilization
of mysterious powers feature prominently in Santería and Candomblé.
"Santería serves as a means for resolving the problems of everyday
life, including problems of health, money and love. Divination can
reveal the sources of these problems, and it points the way to their
So far, we have seen that most of the
practices in Santería and Candomblé have their roots
in Yoruba Religion. We have also seen that these practices are waxing
stronger in the diaspora and the people's belief in and dependence
on the orisa are sustaining these religions. The world-view of the
Yoruba has given expression to Santería and Candomblé, and
the need to solve human problems and cater for human needs, gives
the religions a wide appeal.
1 Frances Kerry, "Papal
tour eagerly awaited," in Daily Nation, Friday, January 16, 1998,
5 "African religion"
is now gaining currency as the name for indigenous religion of Africa,
and scholars like J. S. Mbiti and Laurenti Megasa have used it as
the title of their recent works. The present writer in most of his
writings since 1980 has consistently used the term " African
religion" from which he has coined "Afrel" as its acronym
and "Afrelists" as the adherents. See John S. Mbiti, Indroduction
to African Religion, 2nd Edition ( Nairobi, East African Educational
Publishers Ltd., 1992 ), and Laurenti Magesa, African Religion:
The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life (New York, Orbit Books ,
6 Leonard Barrett,
"African Religion in the Americas: The Islands in Between,"
in Newell S. Booth, Jr. (ed.) , African Religions: A Symposium,
(New York, NOK Publishers, 1977), p. 184.
7 Ibid. , pp. 191-207.
8 Michael Pye , Macmillan
Dictionary of Religion, (London, Macmillan Press Ltd., 1994),
9 Mircea Eliade, The
Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol.13, ( New York, Macmillan Publishing
Company , 1987), p. 66.
11 Michael Pye, op.cit.,
12 Mircea Eliade,
op.cit., Vol. 1, p. 103.
13 Michael Pye, op.
cit., p. 41.
14 Mircea Eliade,
op.cit., Vol. 1, p. 104.
15 E. Bolaji Idowu,
Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief (London, Longman, 1962).
16 E. G. Parrinder,
African Traditional Religion (London, S.P.C.K, 1968) , p. 43.
17 E. B. Idowu, African
Traditional Religion: A Definition (London, SCM Press Ltd, 1973),
18 J. O. Awolalu and
P.A. Dopamu, West African Traditional Religion (Ibadan, Onibonoje
Press and Book Industries [NIG] Ltd, 1979), pp. 34, 240.
19 Ibid., p.
20 Ibid., p.
21 Ibid., p.
22 E. B. Idowu, Olodumare,
op.cit., pp. 39ff.
23 E. G. Parrinder
, op.cit. , p. 34.
24 E. B. Idowu, Olodumare
, op. cit., p. 33.
25 Laurenti Magesa,
op.cit., p. 41.
26 E. B. Idowu, Olodumare,
op.cit. , p. 35.
27 Ibid., p.
28 J. O. Awolalu and
P. A. Dopamu, op. cit., p. 38ff.
29 E. B. Idowu,
Olodumare, op.cit., p. 56.
30 Michael Pye , op.
cit., p. 41.
31 Fred Gillette Sturm,
"Afro - Brazilian Cults," in Newell S. Booth, Jr. (ed.)
op. cit., p. 223.
32 Ibid., p.
33 E. B. Idowu, Olodumare,
op. cit., pp. 62ff.
34 P. A. Dopamu, "Towards
Understanding African Traditional Religion," in I. A. B. Balogun
(ed.), Religious Understanding and Cooperation in Nigeria (Ilorin,
Government Press, 1978), pp. 115ff.
36 E. B. Idowu, Olodumare,
op. cit., pp. 62ff.
37 P. A. Dopamu, "African
Concept of God," in S. U. Erivwo et.al. (eds.), God, Man and
Judgement (Ilorin, Matanmi and Sons Printing and Publishing Company,
Ltd., 1981), p. 38.
38 Modupe Oduyoye ,
"NOTES on 'Olorun and Orisa,'" in E. A. Ade Adegbola (ed.),
Traditional Religion in West Africa ( Ibadan, Daystar Press,
1983), p. 363.
39 For details, see
J. O. Awolalu and P. A. Dopamu, op. cit., pp. 78-91; Fred Gillette
Sturm, op.cit., pp. 222ff; Mircea Eliade, op. cit.,
Vols 1, 3, 13.
40 E. B. Idowu Olodumare,
op. cit., pp. 80-85. See also P. A. Dopamu, Esu: The Invisible
Foe of Man (Ijebu - Ode , Shebiotimo Publications, 1986), pp.
8-25; and P. A Dopamu , Exu: Invisivel Do Homen (Sao Paulo,
Brazil, Editora Oduduwa, Ltd. ,1990).
41 E. B. Idowu, ibid.,
42 Fred Gillette Sturm
, op. cit., p. 224.
43 P. A. Dopamu, The
Practice of Magic and Medicine in Yoruba Traditional Religion
(University of Ibadan, Ph.D Thesis , 1977) , p. 87, pp 124-129.
44 Fred Gillette Sturm,
op. cit., p. 223.
46 Mircea Eliade, op.
cit., Vol. 13, p. 66.
47 P. A. Dopamu, The
Practice of Magic and Medicine, op. cit., pp. 103ff.
48 Fred Gillette Sturm,
op. cit., p. 225.
49 P. A. Dopamu, "Traditional
Medicine with Particular Reference to Yoruba of Western Nigeria,"
in Gloria Thomas-Emeagwali (ed.), African Systems of Science, Technology
and Art: The Nigerian Experience, (London, Karnak House, 1993),
50 Leonard Barrett,
op. cit., p. 188.
52 Mircea Eliade, Vol.
13, p. 66.