The Ilé Àrìrà temple is offering a cultural and historical tour to Yorùbáland from August 13 to 28, 2017. The program includes visits to the towns Badagry, Ilé Ifẹ̀, Òṣogbo, Ọ̀yọ́, Èkìtì and Irà and four major festivals, two of them World Òrìṣà Festivals, Ọ̀ṣun in Òṣogbo and Ṣàngó in Ọ̀yọ́. The organizers and hosts are members of the Àjàlá family, who are well-known for preserving and living the Yorùbá traditions. We spoke with Ìyálórìṣà Ọyawùnmí Ifáwẹ̀mídá Àdùkẹ́ Àjàlá about travelling to Nigeria.
Thousands of people in the diaspora look with abounding curiosity upon Nigeria, the origin of their ancestors, faith, and Orisha. Modern communication and affordable flights have brought the separate branches closer together. If you visit a Yorùbá town today, chances are good you will meet freshly initiated ìyàwó or pilgrims from Caracas, Sao Paulo or New York.
Travelling to Yorùbáland is mostly left to individuals, who are willing to organize the journey by themselves or have reliable contacts, as the infrastructure for tourism is not developed. In Nigeria, simple daily tasks - like getting a ride around town with public transport on a minibus - can be challenging. It takes some time to find out the inner order of what first seems to be just chaotic. Once you get inside, tension releases into lots of laughter - when you decide to practice your Yorùbá skills a little bit. I recommend having someone on your side who can explain you the basics on your first trip and gives you a hand - what is the same expression in Yorùbá language: “ràn yin l’ọ́wọ́”. The Ilé Àrìrà is offering exactly this since a few years, organizing unique guided cultural tours.
In terms of traditional religion you will rely on your hosts. As respected members of the Olórìṣà community of the town they will explain you what’s going on in the rituals. In a few weeks you then will learn more about the culture and Orisha than you could have read in books over years. You are there, with all your senses present, surrounded by Yorùbá culture and the Nigerian atmosphere. The heat, the voices, the melody of Ifá, the drum beats, the sacred river, the artworks, the goats and chickens everywhere. The taste of obì (kolanuts) in your mouth, Èṣù is greeting you on every corner, ìyẹ̀rosùn powder sticking to your skin, from the previous talk with Ọrúnmìlà. Get into ankara clothes, walk through the sacred groves, have a spicy meal with the family (you don't know yet what 'spicy' means), get arts and crafts on the market or grab a beer at night with the locals and enjoy the sweet àkàrà, street food. And be overwhelmed by the living wisdom on Òrìṣà and the West African history that surrounds you: in poems, stories, divination, artworks, rituals, medicine, dance, music, and their daily expressions in Yorùbáland! There’s a lot to study. Àṣẹ! Let's talk to someone who is experienced in bringing culturally interested travelers there!
On the occasion of an organized tour to Nigeria I had the honor to speak with Ìyálórìṣà Ọyawùnmí Ifáwẹ̀mídá Àdùkẹ́ Àjàlá, who co-founded the Ilé Àrìrà Iṣẹ̀ṣe Temple in Maryland together with her husband Ṣàngówálé Àjàlá from Òṣogbo. She is an initiated Ọya priestess since ten years and made Ifá and Egúngún initiation five years ago, after studying Ifá traditions for more than twenty years. She also works, lives, studies and focuses on the preservation of traditional Ifá in the diaspora and dedicates her life to spiritual medicine, divination, initiation, and holistic wellness. She teaches the community about the ancestral rites of Ẹ̀sìn Òrìṣà Ìbílẹ̀, the West African Orisha traditions, through classes, seminars, and retreats.
Moussa: Ọyawùnmí, you grew up in the United States. Why and when did you first travel to the African continent?
Ọyawùnmí: I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I first traveled to Yorùbáland in Nigeria in 2012 when I was going to initiate to Ifá in Ọ̀yọ́ state. This ceremony is called ìtẹfá. I was already initiated to Òrìṣà Ọya by this time. I have been a devotee of Òrìṣà for twenty plus years now. I met my husband, who is Olórìṣà and Babaláwo, before traveling to Nigeria. I came from a very Christian family, but Christianity never settled with me. Yorùbá found me. And not by accident. I was the only one in my family practicing Ifá up until recently. A few family members have sought out traditional Yorùbá worship as well.
You are initiated to Òrìṣà Ọya, Ifá and Egúngún. Initiation rituals have a very strong impact on your life, it is a very intimate ceremony, before you are re-born into a new life. How did you experience those days?
Actually, I was initiated into Òrìṣà Ọya in the States, following the Lukumí traditions from Cuba. This included ìṣẹ́fá, known in the diaspora as “mano de Orula” or “ikofa”, and the receiving of several other Òrìṣà. Lukumí tradition is most of the people’s entry way in the U.S. The ceremony was very emotional for me. I had to change a lot of things in my life. And during my initiation it was advised that I worship the traditional 5-day ọ̀sẹ̀, the Yorùbá 5-day Òrìsà week. I later came to know what that was and I sought out Nigerian Ifá worship.
You did the Ifá and Egúngún initiation in Yorùbáland in Nigeria. How was this experience for you, in a completely different environment?
It was a culture shock, but I did enjoy myself. So many things I saw differently. I vowed to bridge the gap of Lukumí and Ifá. Though Lukumí preserved the Yorùbá religion, the root must never be forgotten. Much information did not cross the waters.
Did you have any troubles combining your Lukumí initiation to Ọya with the traditional West African ceremonies of Ifá and Egúngún later?
No, because I transitioned well before then to practicing traditional West African Yorùbá religion.
From August 13th to 28th this year the Ilé Àrìrà offers a cultural tour to Yorùbáland and some of the major Òrìṣà festivals, the Ọ̀ṣun festival in Ọ̀ṣogbo and the Ṣàngó festival in Ọ̀yọ́. A perfect combination, as your father-in-law and son of Àdùnní Olórìṣà Susanne Wenger, Ṣàngódáre Gbádégeṣin Àjàlá, is one of the most famous Ṣàngó devotees, herbalist, and known as an artist worldwide. What happens during the festival days?
Well, I am so excited about this particular trip, this is already our third year of organizing this tour. We will start in Badagry, Lagos State, at the slave ports. That would be an obvious reason as to why we will go there. It was one of the major ports of transatlantic slave trade and we start our tour into the history of Yorùbáland right there, coming back, from the other direction. We will stay there for about two days. Next is Ilé-Ifẹ̀, Ọ̀ṣun State. There we will see the place the Holy Odù speaks about, where all life came from. While we are there we will visit the famous historical sites, the Ọ̀pá Ọ̀rànmíyàn staff and the first places where Ògún, Ọbàtálá, and Odùduwà have been staying when they descended from heaven, and the sacred place of worship of Òrìṣà Olókun in Ilé-Ifẹ̀. We will spend one day there. Then, off to Òṣogbo for the Ọ̀ṣun festival, which is intense. With the arugbá, the carrier of Ọ̀ṣun’s sacred calabash, we will follow the crowd and walk the procession from the palace down into the Sacred Grove, today considered UNESCO world heritage for its religious importance. Once a year Ọ̀ṣun is carried from the palace down to the river to renew the pact between the town and the Òrìṣà, that was made when Òṣogbo was founded. Thousands of people are participating to receive her blessings.
The next day my father-in-law, who is the Baálẹ̀ Ṣàngó of Òṣogbo, will have his yearly festival where people come from all over for that. My favorite part are the performances from the Ẹlẹ́gùn Ṣàngó, the priests who get “gùn”, Yorùbá for “mounted or climbed”, by the deity Ṣàngó! And hearing the sounds of the bàtá drums, followed up with an all nite party featuring a local Fuji dub band. Then there is the Iṣẹ̀ṣe festival. Then off to Ekiti state to relax and visit the Ikogosi springs and waterfalls. We will spend one day there. Next to the town of Irà to visit the sacred Ọya grove. Then lastly we visit the world Ṣàngó festival at the palace of the Aláàfin, the king of Ọ̀yọ́ town, which is also a huge and very unique celebration of Yorùbá culture.
Wow, this is a dense program, an incredible chance to experience Òrìṣà culture! What are the Òṣogbo Baálẹ̀ Ṣàngó festival and the Iṣẹ̀ṣe festival about?
Well, firstly it is the festival of my father in law, who is the eldest chief Ṣàngó priest in Òṣogbo, called in Yorùbá language by the title Baálẹ̀. He will be celebrating - I believe - his 60 years of Ṣàngó initiation this year! A very important Òrìṣà for the whole Àjàlá family and the town of Òṣogbo. There will be food, entertainment, performances of Ṣàngó’s magic, dancing and so much more. The Iṣẹ̀ṣe festival on the other hand includes all sections of African traditional religion, such as families of Òrìṣà Ọbàtálá, Ṣàngó, Ọ̀ṣun, Ẹgbẹ́ etc. I have even met Òrìṣà traditionalists from the neighboring country Benin there. It is officially declared a public holiday in Ọ̀ṣun state for the traditional religion, the day when we are recognized by the government and allowed to come together to celebrate.
One year ago the Ọọ̀ni declared Ilé-Ifẹ̀ officially a tourism zone and promised to develop this industry. You are organizing a unique tour right into the heart of Yorùbáland. What does it mean to organize a tour for clients in this area? Is there a touristic infrastructure?
Fortunately, my husband Ṣàngówálé and our family crew takes care of the full accommodations, transportation, security and lodging. We either cook or go out to eat. We pretty much do all the work ourselves. Our mission is to expose the people to the motherland and making sure they have a comfortable stay. But it may be a culture shock a bit, which is a good thing!
You said it is the third time you are offering this tour. Are your guests usually already into Yorùbá culture or completely new to the world of Òrìṣà?
Not everyone that comes is into the religion, but they want to experience the African culture. A few went further and started to practice Yorùbá traditions.
Do you have any special story in mind when you think of your last tours you would like to share with us?
I have so many stories, I do not know which one to pick! I remember my first trip to Irà. It is about 90 minutes from Òṣogbo town. It was exciting to meet the king of Irà. I never met one in my entire life, the fact that monarchy still exists in Yorùbáland astonishes me. The whole royal court was very welcoming and forthcoming on information about Ọya. I found out that Ọya came from the Tapa or Nupe people. And another thing that was surprising is that the whole town was full of Muslims, even the king was Muslim. Ọya shrine caretakers came from another town to care for it. The thing that they were Muslim but still upkept the cultural aspect really surprised me. Also visiting the Ọya grove was amazing, it is much different than the Ọ̀ṣun grove. I was overwhelmed emotionally!