I received a lot of feedback from those who read this column and would like to reassure non-traditionalists that no proselytizing was intended. The Yoruba tradition does not approve of proselytizing. When I started the series on the Yoruba traditions, I clearly stated that “faith or spirituality is a personal journey.” The Yoruba proverbs, “esin Baba ko gba omo la” (father’s belief may not save the child) and or “konko jabele kaluku loun se tie” (inalienable power of choice), speak to these issues.
The start of the Egungun festival is preceded by a reading from the Babalawo (priest of Ifa) and usually involves propitiating( offering) to Esu, the deity of immortality or indeterminacy, divine trickster, the short man of Oke Igeti, disguise artist challenger of authority or orthodoxy which probably informed Edward and Mason, 1985 to sum up the Yoruba Religion as “the art of allowing God to flow through you.” Esu is regarded as the gatekeeper and neutral force who controls benevolent and malevolent Irunmoles (spirits which dwell under the earth) and the sole authority who shares the offering between the Irunmole on the right and the left (a total of 401 irunmole).
Esu keeps the divine ase (decree or power) and observes every reading of Babalawo on the divination tray keeping Orunmila(Grand Priest) in check. It is common practice to give Esu food or drink first before serving to any Orisa or devotee.
After the reading, youth would get whips for flogging contest/exercises, proving their powers with their peers.
The Egungun abode (shrine) symbol of egungun (Atori) whips carved in spiral design called Isan would be placed at a corner of the wall and referred to as Opaiku (Opa ti a fi le iku lo ni oje) the whip used to drive death away.
An offering consisting of 6 wraps of Eko, (corn porridge) 6 wraps of moinmoin (bean porridge) and 6 Akara (fried bean cake), is presented at the foot of the Opaiku. Devotees pray and sing to banish death from Oje. The ceremony includes the sacrifice of a male goat and/or rooster to signify the release of the vital force that is transferred to the ancestor spirit in the sky home and dwellers of the underground for their rejuvenation. The power of blood is the reality of the menstrual cycle in women. It serves a dual role and is indicative of life giving and also spiritual endowment of women.
According the historian Richards, Afro Bachians have uniquely combined modern styles and traditional beliefs. The mother who takes her new born to the nurse at the hospital clinic for a regular check up, finds no contradiction in using her charms to guard against the evil eye by calling on her diviner to ascertain the “guardian spirit” of the infant to watch over that child throughout its life.
(Next: Master Drummer and Ifa Priest, Yagbe Onilu, Agba Awo of Ife)