Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, a renowned traditionalist, is the Araba Awo of Osogbo, Osun State. In this interview, Elebuibon speaks on money ritual against the backdrop of the recent killing of a student of Lagos State University (LASU), Favour Daley-Oladele, allegedly by her lover, Adeeko Owolabi, on the pretext that the ritual there-from will get demons to bring him wealth. The suspect and his alleged collaborators: his mother, Ruth, and prophet, Segun Philip, are in police custody, talking to detectives on what they know about the cold-blooded murder.
Christian leaders have been regaling us with messages purportedly from God for the New Year. What is Ifa message for 2020?
Not all the messages people give out are sent by God. Meanwhile, traditionally, Ifa priests don’t usually come out to give prophecies unless they are consulted by the community or individuals. A Yoruba adage says ‘wiwa ni won wa ba babalawo ko to di wipe o nda ‘fa fun won, meaning, you will have to seek Ifa priest to consult the oracle. An Ifa priest won’t just come out to say, “This is what Ifa said”. Ifa prophecies for Osun State for this year, after divination, include that the people should stop seeking materialism; parents should take care of their children; and civil servants should be more interested in the development of the state and not just the money they would make. The divination also emphasised the need for the state government to entrust assignments to only those it trusts to avert calamity. These are the messages that came out for this year.
Ifa among other traditional African religious would appear to have been relegated to the background. What is our society missing by this development?
First, African traditional religion suffered relegation due to the propaganda against it over a very long time. It endured a lot of abuse. However, in recent past, people are beginning to be aware of its relevance and advantages. The beauty of our cultural heritage is imbued in the religion. Many elites today understand the importance of not just our culture but also our religion, but we’re always scared to come out publicly to give credit to it.
However, it is time we stopped being over religious in Nigeria to the detriment of hard work. In Nigeria, we need to stop discrimination based on religion. In places like the UK and the USA, people work hard than spending every minute of the day praying. Even some people, when they go to office, instead of using office time for official work, they would rather engage in crusade, some run to religious camps when they ought to be at work. It is only in this country that you have more churches and mosques than schools and I wonder what would be our gain because God will not come from heaven to help us do what we are supposed to achieve through hard work.
Our society is enmeshed in crisis. You have upsurge in crime; kidnapping, banditry and insurgency are common place. Even the economy gets progressively worse. And we have leadership problem at the various levels. In what ways can a traditional religion like Ifa help to resolve the challenges?
Occasionally in every town, country, state, there is the tendency to always experience natural disaster or calamity and propitiation, prayer can be used to mitigate that, but when calamity becomes so frequent as in the case of Boko Haram and banditry, you know it is no longer natural but self inflicted. Many of the problems of Nigeria were self-inflicted. Boko Haram and banditry are as a result of proliferation of arms by politicians in their quest to gain power at all costs, so some of our problems are not an act of God. You can use prayer to solve problems or calamities that are natural, but the ones created by humans such as banditry, insurgency persist because it is our doing. Problems that are natural can be controlled through propitiation, but if they are created by people, they require human efforts to resolve.
With the rejection of the African traditional religion by most of our people in favour of Islam and Christianity, there is the fear that African traditional religion may die. As an Ifa worshipper, are you worried?
Traditional religion is not going to die. If traditional religion dies, that means Yoruba race has died. It cannot die because it has a deep root and it was sanctioned by God himself. If it is man-made, it would have been eradicated long time ago because there is too much propaganda against it. For example, people have been saying it would go into extinction for the past 20 years. A university student wrote a thesis about this topic and told me traditional religion, within 10 years, would go into extinction in Nigeria. One of my arguments then was that as long as African traditional religion is solving human problems, it would never go into extinction. People go to church and mosque, they fast and pray, yet, they come here seeking solution to their problems. We have a lot of pastors and imams who still consult Ifa and making Ebo (sacrifice). They may not tell their congregation but some pastors are bold enough to tell their members that there is always a way out. But a lot of them are hypocrites, and as long as they continue to consult Ifa to solve their problems, traditional religion is not going to die. If you are worshiping Ifa and Ifa is not helping you, what is the essence of doing it? But when you worship Ifa and it blesses you and answers your prayer, it would be continue to thrive.
Reports say Americans and Europeans are embracing African traditional religion. Can you share your experience if there is any?
That is even a challenge to us in Africa because we see a lot Americans now admiring and embracing our culture and want to speak our language fluently. They now study Yoruba and Ifa while a Yoruba man cannot even recite oriki. One of our students, Aikulola, is an African-American; if you see him on video, he speaks Yoruba fluently. That is a shame on us that we neglected our culture. One day, if we didn’t change our attitude, may be they are going to overtake us and will be teaching us Yoruba language and culture.
So we should use Yoruba as a language to teach our students in schools
It is very important; we have always implored government and individuals to speak our language. Every parent at home needs to speak Yoruba language to his children. Language is like a road, if you abandon a road it would grow weed. If we don’t speak our language, it may be killed, but if we speak it regularly, it would grow. At home, we should allow our children to prostrate in the morning and greet and we should call their oriki, Aduke, Ajoke Amoo, and pray for them in Yoruba. All of this is important, if you send your children to nursery school, they don’t allow them to speak Yoruba language, but make sure that when they get home, speak Yoruba to them. That is what Indians, Chinese do. There is no place where you find Indians and Chinese, they may be born in the UK or America but they speak their language. It is only in Africa that we are ashamed of our culture.
Do we have fake Ifa priests? If yes, how do we know them?
There is no place you do not find good and bad characters. There are fake doctors, fake pastors, so it is everywhere. It is not all those people who claim to be priest that are genuine Ifa priests and knowledgeable but once you see them you will know them.
How do we know them?
By their performance and appearance.
There is of late an upsurge in ritual killings and people involved tell us there are demons that bring money after doing ritual. As a traditionalist, what is your perspective? Some people say there are no such demons.
There is one of my white friends who asked me to go in-depth into what is called money ritual, to know if it is Yoruba concept of belief. People used to believe that we have supernatural power to produce money, that African science can do that. But what African science told us is that if you are a businessman, you can use awure. Awure is lucky charm that helps you to have good sales in your business. We also have oshole, which has its dos and don’ts but has nothing to do with blood. Oshole is a kind of ritual that can help people that use it to have money; it must be done at age 40 and above 70 before you use another one. Nowadays, haaa!! Ritual killing is too much, they cut the victim’s head, private part and everything. I read one paper where one man said “I regret killing my girlfriend”. Some ritualists even eat human heart. I want to ask people that use human parts to make money whether they actually get rich. The use of human and body parts purportedly to make money is not Yoruba culture, it is a culture that was imported from Nupe, Ghana and other parts of Africa. It has been incorporated to our own culture but it is alien to us.
So why do people get involved in ritual killing?
I may not know why people get involved in ritual killing because it is not in our culture. Ritual, if you did not use pig, goat, I don’t know anything about it.
How do we stop ritual killing over the belief that there are demons that bring money?
Won ni e ma da won lekun (You don’t have to caution them). Anyone that is caught should be arrested and put in jail or even killed, that should serve as a lesson to others. We may preach or appeal but if they are made to face the wrath of the law, it would deter others.
Sometimes albinos, hunchback, bald headed people are targeted for ritual killings. Why?
We discussed that long time ago. It is true that albinos, hunchbacks, dwarfs are usually targeted is because people think hunchbacks can produce money. One of my books, the Adventures of Obatalas discusses it. Hunchbacks, dwarfs and albinos are servants of Obatala. Obatala is a god-king and he had power that Eledumare (God) gave him which he used to sanction anything that he wanted. There was one hunchback that Obatala used to send on errand from Ironje Ile to Ironje Oko, and there was also one man named Ojugbe. Ojugbe was a kind and generous man. They did divination for him that one particular year he was going to be successful but that he needed to be more generous. So, each time the hunchback passed through his area, he will give him food and other things. The hunchback told his master, Obatala, that there was this particular man that whenever he (hunchback) passed his area, he was always generous to him. Hence Obatala decided to bless Ojugbe. Obatala used his power to command the hunchback to open, so he poured different kinds of beads, cowries and many other precious things into his back and closed it. He then instructed the hunchback to tell Ojugbe to rub his back, it will open and all the goodies would be his.
When he got to Ojugbe and informed him about what Obatala said, he kept rubbing the back and everything therein came out, the back then closed up. Afterwards, Ojugbe became rich and prosperous with all the good things of life. People began to wonder how it happened. A friend inquired about his sudden riches and he told him how he rubbed the hunchback and became rich.
Ojugbe’s friend called the hunchback and asked how he made his friend rich, but the hunchback didn’t tell him anything. So he forced him down and started rubbing his back till the hunchback died. He then threw his body into one of Ojugbe’s farm. The news of his death spread and Ojugbe was arrested since the body was found in his farm, but his younger brother went to another priest who consulted Ifa and told him to use a costly bead and go about singing that “mo pa abuke oshin, mo ri re o, mo pa abuke oshin, mo ri re o, mo pa abuke oshin obajinmi, mo pa abuke oshin, mo ri re o”, meaning, “I killed hunchback man and got rewarded, I killed him and got rewarded by the king”, and was dancing round the village. So the real culprit felt the wrong man was rewarded for his act, he came out and confessed his act and that was how Ojugbe was freed. However, since that time, people have erroneously believed that hunchback has the capacity to produce money and began to target them for rituals.
It’s been argued that movies people watch, especially as in Nollywood, reinforce the belief that there are demons that bring money and this tends to motivate potential money ritualists. What do think?
That is another problem. Those in Nollywood, most of them do not usually do research before they produce movies. It is a shame that most of Yoruba movies were not even produced with proper Yoruba language. They can’t even project real culture, and most of it lack proper content. A lot of the producers do not have time to research before going into production.
Do you think censors’ board can help?
There has always been a censors’ board but things remain the same. Those manning it also lack the wherewithal to ensure quality movie production.
What advice will you give to youths of today on African culture?
The youth need to respect and embrace their culture, though everything rests with their parents. A Yoruba adage says “ile lati nko eso ro de”, that is, charity begins at home. The way children behave depends on the parent; parents should teach their children the language, teach them the culture; not all of us can be Africa religion practitioners, but we must respect it. You may be a Christian or Muslim but there is no compound in Yoruba land that does not have its root in African religion. Also, culture is like orisha (god), it is in our blood, we can’t do without it; that is, we must respect it.