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Orunmila (known as Orumilá, Orúnla, or Orúla in Latin America) is an Orisha. He is the Orisha of wisdom, knowledge, and divination. This source of knowledge is believed to have a keen understanding of the human form and of purity, praised as being often more effective than other remedies. Orunmila is recognized as a primordial Irunmole that was present both at the beginning of Creation and then again amongst them as a priest that taught an advanced form of spiritual knowledge and ethics, during visits to earth in physical form or through his disciples. Orunmila is the spirit of wisdom among the Irunmole and the divinity of destiny and prophecy. He is "Ibikeji Olodumare" (second in command to Olodumare) and "eleri ipin" (witness of fate). It was also Orunmila who carried Ifá (the wisdom of Olodumare) to Earth. Priests of Ifá are called babalawo (masculine) or Iyanifa (feminine).

Orunmila is considered a sage, recognizing that Olodumare placed Ori (intuitive knowledge) as prime Orisha. It is Ori who can intercede and affect the reality of a person much closer than any Orisha.

Priesthood and initiation[edit]

Awo in every tradition study the 256 Odu; each Odu is an extraordinarily vast collection of knowledge, including stories and prayers that have been passed down from the time that Orunmila walked the Earth as a prophet.

Some initiatory lineages have only male priests of Orunmila, while others include females. The term "Awo" is a gender-neutral title for an initiated priest of Orunmila. The debate surrounding gender is a result of diversity in the many layers of history in various locations. In some areas of Yorubaland and in Latin America, only men become full priests of Orunmila, other places in West Africa the priesthood has always been open to women (although female awo Ifa are relatively uncommon). In many non-Latin lineages female Awo Ifa are becoming common. On the other hand, in Latin America and parts of Nigeria such as Ode Remo, Ijebuland, and Ibadan, the position of the Iyanifa as a divining priestess of Ifa is hotly contested on the grounds that in the Ifa Odus Ogunda Ka and Oshe Yekun, no one can become a full Awo Ifa without the presence of Odun, and in the Odu Ifa Irete Ntelu (Irete Ogbe), Odun herself says that she would only marry Orunmila if he promised not to permit women to be in the same room as her. These views appear to be confirmed by books published in Nigeria as far back as the 19th century. For instance, the eminent Yoruba author James Johnson wrote in one of the most detailed early descriptions of Ifa that "Whenever this should be the case, a woman would receive from a Babalawo only one Ikin or Consecrated Palm nut called Eko, which she would carry about her body for her protection, and whenever divination should recommend and prescribe to her sacrifice to Ifa, she would, for the time being, hand over her Eko either to her husband or to her brother, or any other male relative according to prescription, who would include it in his own Ikins for the purpose of the worship and sacrifice in which she would participate." [1] William Bascom, the foremost academic authority on Ifá among the Yoruba up until the time of his death, conducted extensive field work Yorubaland in 1937-38, 1950–51, and as late as 1960 and 1965. This field work was conducted in a large number of areas of Yorubaland including the cities of Ife, Igana, Meko, Oyo, Ilesa, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Sagamu, Ilara, Ondo, Ijebu Ode, or Ekiti in Yorubaland. At no time during this prolonged series of studies did Dr. Bascom encounter a female Ifá priest or an informant who had heard of such a thing leading him to state unequivocally that “only men can babalawos."[2] Sources from Yorubaland going back to the mid-19th century clearly state that only men can become Ifá diviners.[3] It has been argued that women do not need to receive Odu because all women already have Odu which is represented by the womb of women, but this is the theological equivalent to saying men already have Ifá because they have male parts. Several Odu Ifá mandate that women do not see nor receive Odu (Calabash of Existence), and any claims that it can be given are easily dispelled; Ifá stanzas cite several reasons and occasions why. Odu is associated mainly with the force of creation as a gateway between the physical world and metaphysical world for the transfer of divine knowledge and messages. Throughout Latin America, Orunmila can be received by individuals regardless of gender. For men, the procedure is known as receiving "Mano de Orula" and for women, it is "Cofa." The same procedure exists in Yorubaland, with "ese n'taye" (birthing rites), "Ise'fa" (adolescent initiation rites), and "Ite'fa" (consecration of the paraphernalia of Ifá practice). Worshipers of the traditional religious philosophy all receive one hand of Ifá (called Isefa) regardless of which Orisha they may worship or be an Orisha priest. It is that same Isefa that will direct all followers to the right path and their individual destinies in life.

Iwa (Character) is one of the most important human endeavor taught within Ifá literary corpus and every Ifá stanza has one portion dedicated to the issue of teaching the Iwa that Ifá supports. This Iwa, which Ifa teaches transcend religious doctrine is central to every human being, and imparts communal, social & civic responsibility that the Creator (Olodumare) supports. Central to this is the theme of righteousness[4] and practicing good moral behaviour, not seeking for it in the community but becoming the Ambassador of Iwa.

Ifá practitioners believe in the duality in life: males exist because of the female essence and females exist because of the male essence, so every major rite or ceremony includes both genders. The traditional religious point of view includes similar privileges accorded to women as priestesses of Ifá and women's societies.

Female titles[edit]

  • Iyanifa - A woman Awo Ifá; also a titled woman within an Ifá community. She can also be the Iyanifa present at the Itefa ceremony of any person, as the inclusion of women is mandatory at every male's Itefa rites.
  • Ayafa - a woman who is married to a Babalawo and functions within rites & ritual of Ifa within family.
  • Apetebi - a woman who is married to a Babalawo and functions within rites & ritual of Ifa within a community and also her family.
  • Iyalaja - A spiritual mother working with Iya Nla.
  • Iyanla - the Great Mother, also called Awon Iya mi (Our Mothers) and sometimes referred to as Gelede, the female masquerade commonly found in the Egba areas of Yorubaland and somewhat well preserved in Bahia, Brazil.
  • Iya Agba - An old and wise woman.
  • Iyalase - High Priestess and head of female society.
  • Iyale - Depending on inflection or spelling, the term could either refer to the senior wife in a polygamous household (Iyá Ilé, or iyálé, when contracted) meaning "mother of the household"; or to a communal female personage who is a custodian of secrets and is therefore wise (Iyá Ilè, iyálè when contracted), meaning "Earth Mother".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson, James. Yoruba Heathenism. Exeter: J. Townsend Press, 1899
  2. ^ Bascom, Dr. William. 'Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa. Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press
  3. ^ Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba, by John Peel. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000
  4. ^ Ifaloju , Iwòrì Méjì: Ifá speaks on Righteousness, (an extract from S.S. Popoola, Ifa Dida, Library, INC) 2011