Differences Between West African
& Cuban Based Ifa

Throughout my journey in the  West African based spiritual system of Ifa I have encountered much resistance, criticism and attack because my presentation of the system; as learned, did not match the conventional practices of the system.  My attempts to explain the differences were met with scorn and ostracization.The antagonism was such that; at various times, I backed away from the various communities in which I was involved and quietly continued my studies with my teachers.

Over the past five years, more of the West African trained priests and their elders have been speaking to the similarities and differences between the Traditional West African approach and the Lukumi/Santeria approach to the system.

Someone in one of my Facebook groups posted a link to an article posted by Chief Nathan Lugo Aikulola Iwindara Fawehinmi, the Gbawoniyi Awo of Osogbo (Oshun State, Nigeria) presenting some of the differences between the two systems.  I found the post informative, refreshing and validating of the path I had been walking.  I thought it would be nice to present some of the points one-by-one for self investigation and  discussion.

Ileke Ceremony
Ilekes are beaded necklaces which represent an emotional/spiritual connection to Orisha. I, like many in the United States, received  five ilekes in an Ileke Ceremony: Eshu, Obatala, Yemoya, Oshun and Sango. Receiving ilekes is not the same as being initiated to Orisha.  I was told, however, that receiving ilekes was the first step towards initiation.  There was, an unspoken expectation that I was part of a particular Orisha community.  This was an expectation that created difficulties for me because; at the time, I was not interested in committing to anything other than to explore and to learn more about the spiritual tradition.

My first teacher in West African Traditional Ifa; with whom I studied for seven years,  told me there was no ileke ceremony in Nigeria .  This was the trigger which set me on learning the differences between the traditions and when and how to incorporate the differences.

Here is what was posted regarding the ileke ceremony:

1.     There is no ceremony of “collares” in Yorubaland like the one that has developed in the Cuban tradition.  It is true that one consecrates ileke for each Orisa and one can receive ileke consecrated in varied ritualistic forms. But we do not receive five at one time after a head rogation and stripping ceremony as is accustomed in the United States…this is from Cuba.  Neither does one take the receipt of these necklaces as one of the first rites of passage for a new apprentice.  Furthermore, there are deities in Yorubaland that either have no ileke whatsoever or no specific ileke, while still others have various ileke depending upon region.

Is there value in the ileke ceremony and if so what is it? Why would such a difference develop? Please leave comments for discussion.
Fa Sade Oshun Banke

3 Responses to Differences Between West African
& Cuban Based Ifa

  • greetings falola osunbanke. i believe there is value in any ritual that helps reinforce a person’s connection to the spiritual work that is being done, especially if it is from a long tradition within a culture. having said that, i don’t want people to get the impression that there is no ritual whatsoever done with presenting ileke / ide. there is. its just that it is not as the lucumi community presents ileke. we have our own rituals for receiving various icons. the reason i say this is because nowadays there are options for people in terms of their path in this / these traditions based on orisa and yoruba culture. and i feel it is better to have people aware so that they can make a decision that will be most fulfilling for the individual as well as the community they will be a part of. there is nothing worse than a frustrated devotee that is frustrated not because of the spirituality itself but because of the particular path they have taken that does not meet their needs. if i and those of my west african orisa community throughout the world can provide that then we have done some good, i feel. thanks for the opportunity to share.

    • Aboru Abuye,
      I agree with you that rituals that reinforce one’s connection to the spiritual work that is being done and the path of their destiny has value. I also agree that in this era of choice, indiviudlas have the self- responsibility to be infomed about what they are getting into to determine if this is in the best interest of one fulfilling one’s destiny. I personally have opted for the simplicity and clarity of the traditional path. Lukumi just got way too complicated. Thanks for sharing and hope to her more from you.

  • The Yoruba who were brought here during the Maafa had to make certain decisions in order to continure their traditional beliefs. On this side of the Atlantic at least in the Caribbean it could not be continued as it was in the Motherland because of the enslavement status. I do believe these Africans made concious choices as to what to keep that could be reworked into the then enviornment. I feel those Yoruba did a tremendous job of keeping the traditions. I look at the continent and see the people who look down on Orisha practitioners and are at times very punitivie. The beauty of Orisha worship wether it be on the or off the Continent is ebo is done and Orisha work. I am initiaited to Obatala for 38 years Lukumi (friend) style. I love Obatala as much as anyone else here or there.

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