by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Fasting and prayer to honour ancestral spirits preceded second Ifa festival
- Time is right for Grenadians to reconnect following 400-year holocaust
After several months of preparations, 3 days of fasting and prayer to honour the ancestral spirits and to call for their divine blessing over the rites and ceremonies, preceded the second Ifa festival which concluded on 6 July 2019.
Steeped in ancient West African spiritual tradition of the Yoruba people, Ifa honours a pantheon of deities called Orishas which are representations of the elements of nature. These Orishas are led by the supreme creator Olodumare.
It was a daunting task as Ifa initiates of the Shrine of the Seven Wonders of Africa located in Corinth, St David ensured all was in place to welcome the divine spirits to watch over the festival.
- Day 1: A traditional Grenadian Praise for the preservation of all families was conducted.
- Day 2: A traditional Grenadian Praise was conducted for peace and unity throughout the various communities.
- Day 3: A traditional Grenadian Praise and all-night vigil were staged for the protection, sanctification, and prosperity of our nation, Grenada.
Immediately following the 3-day fast, Ifa initiates went straight into preparing for the Ancestral Honouring Ceremony and Banquet on 30 June. The banquet required participants to wear white in honour of the ancestral spirits and required that initiates give wholeheartedly to the ancestor table offering of food, fruits, vegetables and fine wine as a sign of respect.
For those of us who find these rituals unnecessary or ungodly, Priestess Iya Ifatooki (Yvonne Drake) believes the time is right for Grenadians to reconnect to what they have lost following their 400-year holocaust. She is fully aware that people without an understanding of what is Ifa, would consider it to be Obeah which is shunned by Grenadian society.
“The word Obeah means blessing, so when people say you are an obeah woman I say to them thank you,” said Drakes.
After receiving the blessing from the divine Orishas, Ifa practitioners rushed to prepare for the Ancestral Banquet adorned in all white African wear in honour of the ancestors. During the ceremony participants first paid homage to their religious Christian past before welcoming the Orishas to precede over the ceremony.
This part of the ritual was filled with singing and chanting while more and more offering consisting of various kinds of meats accompanied by an assortment of other cooked foods were brought to the ancestral table. Initiates poured the rum and other essential oils and perfumes onto the ground — libations customary to honour the spirits. While these activities were taking place, Priestess Iya Ifatooki was seen in a trance-like state circling the ancestral table as she invoked the spirit of all 7 wonders of Africa which includes the 7 orishas namely Shango, Yemaya, Ogun, Oshun, Obatala, Orunmila and Ori which represents the highest level of consciousness.
In Ifa tradition, the possession of one’s body is considered an honour and only those who have attained a certain rank within the faith can invoke these spirits. Thereafter, participants were allowed to eat and share some of the food laid on the ancestral table with the remainder being deposited into the ocean as a symbolic gift to the Orishas.
Now that the Ancestral Banquet was complete, the Ifa festival can officially begin on 1 July and the days that followed saw even more rituals being conducted and included the delivery of food and drinks to various impoverished communities through Grenada and on the sister isle of Carriacou.
Various discussions took place in the evenings on each day on topics pertaining to African centred themes including African History and heritage, traditional African culture, customs and practices and the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles through the use of herbs from the earth. Accommodations were also made for African cultural presentations from various cultural groups.
Araba of Odi Olowo Kingdom Mushin Lagos State Lagos Nigeria, Araba Ifakolade Atinumo (Yeye Araba) was tasked with the responsibility of preceding over various spiritual rites and ceremonies over the next few days. On 3 July he performed a spiritual cleansing ritual for Ifa initiates in an enclosed area on the property of Iya Ifatooki (Yvonne Drake) where the shrine dedicated to the Orishas (Deities) is currently situated.
The title Araba/Oluawo is the highest honour to be received in the Ifa spiritual system and is only conferred on a high priest, Babalawo (bah-bahLAH-woe).
This ceremony saw the use of various herbs and leaves to cleanse and consecrate the green and brown beads worn by initiates who have taken either the hands of Ifa or the Ifa initiation (Itefa) after which the Babalawo proceeded to call upon the ancestors and divine spirits to pour out their blessing and approval for days ahead. Used within this particular ritual was a mixture of between 7 and 16 sacred leaves, dependent on availability, and these may include Shining Bush, Bhaji, and Wonder of the World among others.
This was then followed by several other rituals which are considered sacred to initiates including the preparation for the sacrificial slaughtering of the cow. Within the Yoruba tradition, animal sacrifice to the Orishas is seen as the solutions to solve problems and is also an effective way to communicate with the divine.
Participants there seeking to connect with the divine were asked to kneel before the cow constrained to the base of a tree, covers its eyes and prays to their Ori for prosperity to be bestowed upon their lives. Although NOW Grenada was allowed to witness these rituals, filming of some of the rituals was not allowed within the shrine.
But it was the final day of the Ifa festival that everyone had been anticipating, the day saw PrietessIya Ifatooki being further elevated in ranks of Ifa. She was given an additional title of YeYe to her name following a ceremony at the river banks where the Orisha Osun was called upon to bring prosperity in her life and the life of those who participated.
This sacred ceremony took place on the evening of Saturday, 7 July thereafter initiates again went to prepare for the dancing of the Egungun which according to Yoruba spiritual practice, the spirit of the Egungun is summoned to deter negative energy and protect those being attacked by evil witches and wizards.
Attendance for the dancing of the Egungun came from various parts of the world to witness the Ifa festival held in Grenada for the second time. A strong delegation came from neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago in a show of support. Among them was Oloye Ogunriola of Ife in San Juan Trinidad and Tobago where he is Chief Priest of Ifa Orisha shrine called the Ole Isokan (House of Unity). Oloye Ogunriola whose birth name is Lester Osouna, an Instructor Teaching and Coaching of Track and Field at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, “UTT”. He stems from a long of Orisha practitioners and over the last 20 years have reconnected with this African tradition.
“I subsequently went to Nigeria for different elevations as the Oloye which is chief Ogunriola of Ife. The thing is, there is a resurgence of conscious African people in the diaspora who have gone through the changes of coming from Africa by force, having learned other people’s culture, having accepted other people’s way of worship and religions, but those of us who have held on to the little bit that was passed down to us from our ancestors with the African traditional ways of worship have decided to share it in a more authentic way.”
Later that evening of 6 July the Egungun accompanied by the Araba made a grand entrance to the sound of drums as he announced his presence boldly to capture the attention of his audience. The Egungun then proceeded towards the shrine of Ogun situation at the entrance gate to the Clarenceville Villas grounds in St David before he begins to bless those in attendance. His elaborate dance movements and theatrics throughout the streets of Corinth attracted much attention as he was followed by Ifa initiates in a procession pouring libations and scattering of a mixture of corn and rice to the ground to signify wealth and contentment.
Another prominent member of the Ifa faith from Trinidad and Tobago was Oluwo Ifakorede of both the Epega and Agbede linage from Yorubaland. Having both Grenadian and Trinidadian roots, Ifakorede, first considered himself Catholic before being baptized as a Spiritual Baptist which specialises in Shango worship in the year 1988, but it was in 1998 where he met with a Yoruba priest from America who led him to receive traditional initiated into Ifa. After 4 years of studying, he graduated as a Babalawo Orisha. Thereafter he received three more initiations before establishing a temple in Trinidad and Tobago.
After witnessing the week-long festival, Ifakorede was indeed satisfied that it was performed at a very high standard. He went on to further explain the significance of this festival for people wishing to return to traditional African Culture.
“Ifa is simply a tradition that is practiced basically by people of Nigeria called Yorubaland. It is based on a doctrine that teaches that the earth first began in a place within Yorubaland and it has scripture and the scripture is called the sacred Ifa Oracle or the Odu Ifa corpus, which contains 256 chapters or Odus and it tells about man’s purpose of being on this earth. So basically the 256 chapters consist of 1,680 verses and it is an oral tradition.”
He continued, “There is a scripture that is called Ogbe Ate and that scripture speaks about, it is important that every human being should find out his or her purpose on this earth so that he or she can fulfill it and by taking Ifa initiation, it gives that person a blueprint so he or she can find out why they are here.”
Iyanifa Ifasola Atinumo (Yeye Araba), the wife of Araba Ifakolade Atinumo explains how practitioners can connect and receive divinations or communications with the divine creator Olodumare using Ikin nut or palm nuts.
“[Orunmila] his words are the truth of Olodumare through the sacred Ikin or palm nut and it is what we would use as a tool of divination that will give us messages from Olodumare through Orunmila to assist us in and guide us to fulfilling our destiny as we go on in life”.
“We have our guidance which our ancestors have used for many, many years since the beginning of time, so it is for the benefit of the future generation,” she said.
Following the conclusion of the festival, Priestess Iya Ifatooki was quite pleased with the outcome and plans on dedicating next year’s festival to the younger generation. “Now Ifa is in Grenada, where do I go and what has to happen and I understand that Ifa has told me to look back in history to claim what was lost and another question was asked and why because we need to claim what was lost so we can educate the future generation.”
For thousands of years, the spiritual system of Ifa was practiced as a medium to create balance with the divine creator, nature, our ancestors and communities. Yoruba mythology states that Ifa was founded by Orunmila in Ile-Ife, a city believed to be the source of its orgins. And today the spiritual system is being practiced by thousands of practitioners from around the world and has influenced other Afro-American spiritual systems including the Santería, Vodou and Candomblé just to name a few.