Majority of Africans used to be traditional worshipers until Christianity and Islam was introduced to the continent. And after many turned to the new religion, they ditched the traditional one.
In a new report, BBC Nigeria looks at the mysteries and misconceptions surrounding the traditional Yoruba religion – and what it takes to be a modern devotee of this ancient faith.
The spotlight is on Omitonade Ifawemimo, one of youngest women to become a traditional Yoruba priestess. A devoted worshipper of the Yemoja goddess, Omitonade comes from a long line of Ifa worshippers.
At the age of 5, Omitonade started dreaming and seeing herself inside the water. The dream kept recurring and she told her father who was a high priest at the time but he didn’t take it seriously. However, when she clocked 15, her father performed her initiation.
The initiation rite is a crucial step with a series of secret spiritual activity that can’t be revealed but it involves divination to help one understand their destiny, know their taboos and mark their bond with their deity called an orisha.
In Omitonade’s case, her Orisha was revealed to be Yemoja.
After being initiated at 15, she started memorising the Ifa words and when she clocked 20, she became a priestess. Since she became a priestess, all kinds of people have come to her for divination.
“Divination talks about everything. It’s what we do to know what Orisha that can solve that person’s problem”, Omitonade says.
As a traditional worshipper, Omitonade faced some challenges while studying Economics at the University of Ile-Ife from her friends on campus.
“My roommates will invite their pastors to come and preach to me,” she said, noting that her friends told her about hell fire if she doesn’t repent. However, when she did an interview about her work as an Ifa priestess, it went viral and she became popular, thereby, leading people to her for divination, including friends who preached to her.
Talking about the representation of Yemoja, Omitonade said that the depiction is a wrong one. According to her, the depiction was as a result of the fact that Yemoja lives in water.
If she were alive at the time she was represented, Omitonade said, she would have asked that Yemoja be drawn as a beautiful old woman.
She also mentioned that the Nollywood industry has contributed more harm than good in the way they represent the traditional Yoruba religion.
“The way they portray us as evil; that we lead people astray and this is their problem, they lack knowledge, they don’t know about Yoruba culture and spirituality”, she said, noting that social media is a great tool to correcting misconceptions of traditional Yoruba religion.
Omitonade does consultation for her clients who cannot make it to her shrine over the phone.
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