With Jimoh Olorunjueda (Olori Ijo Ijo Orunmila Odo Ajogun branch Epe) (3)

In the Beginning, God created Orunmila

We asked acclaimed travel writer Pelu Awofeso to document a trip down the Lagos and Lekki Lagoon. In his last story he introduces us to the Ijo Orunmila Adulawo, a traditional religion founded in 1934 and based on Ifa divination

Pelu Awofeso is a travel writer, journalist and publishing entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. For over fifteen years Pelu has been travelling across Nigeria and publishing travel writing in newspapers in Nigeria and beyond, and in his own travel books. His most recent book is Route 234 (2016). When he’s not on the road, one of Pelu’s many other projects is publishing his print and online travel magazine Waka-About. In 2010 he won the tourism category of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Award for his travel writing. He has also worked as a tourism development officer and a journalist. In 2013 Rebecca Jones interviewed him for Africa in Words

Pictures and text remain copyright of Pelu Awofeso and the Knowing Each Other Project.

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Jimoh Olorunjuede was born into a Muslim family; but growing up, he noticed that his parents and paternal grandfather, who raised him, leaned towards traditional religion. Then his grandfather died. “At the burial, the Alufa labeled him a pagan because, according to him, Baba wasn’t a Muslim in the real sense of it,” he says at his home in Epe, Lagos State (SW Nigeria). “It didn’t matter that while alive, he was like a savior to the people who came to him with their problems, which he helped to solve using herbs and stuff.”

Finding a new faith

From then on, Olorunjeda stopped praying altogether and started to ask questions: Did his forebears not have their own way of praying and seeking God before foreigners came with Christianity and Islam in Nigeria? If there was, is there no way to modernise it and make it appeal to today’s generation? His quest led him to Ijebu Ode (a town in the neighbouring Ogun State), where he crossed paths with the Ijo Orunmila Adulawo, a traditional religion founded in 1934 and based on Ifa divination.

He joined the fold and spent the next couple of months learning the doctrines of his newfound religion. In 2016, he established a parish in Epe. Like most churches, members worship on Sundays (10am-noon); and like Christianity and Islam, Ijo Orunmila has its own Holy Book (Iwe Odu Mimo) and a hymnal (Iwe Orin Mimo).IMG_20170319_131149 (3)

The opening pages of Iwe Odu Mimo (Oyeku Meji, Chapter 2 Verse 1) details the story of creation. After Ajalorun (God) formed the world, He sent Orunmila, the first living being, to go appraise His handiwork. Iwe Odu also comes complete with its own testaments, named after each of the 16 Odu Ifa, who centuries ago were disciples of Orunmila, in much the same as the disciples of Christ: Eji Ogbe, Oyeku Meji, Iwori Meji, Obara Meji, Okanran Meji, Owonrin Meji, Oguda Meji, Itura Meji, Ika Meji, to mention just some.

I sit in on one of the worship sessions recently. The preacher, a schoolteacher on weekdays, gives a short homily on the importance of water and land to humanity’s existence. “We were created from sand, which itself came out of water, God’s first creation,” he says, citing texts from Ologbon Meji (Chapter 2, Verse 2). “Indeed, everything God created came out of water, and He admonishes us to work the soil and eat from it, because we will end up in it anyways.”

The service and the singing that enlivens it (accompanied with piano and drums) are similar to what one would experience seated in the auditorium of an Orthodox Church.

“We are not a secret society or a cult,” Olorunjueda, who doubles as an Ifa priest, says later that Sunday afternoon in his consulting room. “We are a religion, only that we worship the Almighty in our local tongue and guided by Yoruba traditional norms.”

Churches and mosques, he says, are actually worship places and not the House of God* as they are commonly represented. And for the records: “we also conduct child naming, wedding, burial and housewarming ceremonies”.

Are these similarities not then imitative of the foreign religions? Choirmaster Adeniyi Ajayi, a qualified Engineer, disagrees. “Actually, it is the other way round,” he says at his home across the road from the worship centre. “As a matter of fact, they borrowed from the practices of our ancestors, added it to theirs and sold it to us as the more authentic religion.”

Adeniyi was himself a Christian until an incident at his former church made him question everything he had been taught all along. He decided it was time he found another faith. “I heard what was being preached but I stopped believing it. I am happy and fulfilled where I am now with my wife and children. I have volunteered myself to God and to Orunmila and I will praise him with the gift of voice that He has blessed me with.”

Both Olorunjueda and Adeniyi say there isn’t superiority contests here but encourage individuals to go with their gut feelings. At the end of the day, they argue, what counts with God is good character, not how many times one worships in a building. Says Olorunjueda: “There is good (God) in humanity and there is evil (Satan), regardless of what religion we profess.

Giving unto Caesar

In Okitipupa, 140km north of Epe, the annual traditional festival and thanksgiving takes place in March. For three to five days deities from the town’s districts will march through the streets—singing, dancing and drumming—surrounded by custodians and followers.

It is a period of prayers, pomp and ceremony. They pray for long life, the community’s wellbeing and against untimely death, among other things. They pour libations at street junctions and intersections while residents watch in wonder and admiration.

A good number of the followers are youths. “As young adults, this is one of our happiest moments in the year,” says Dele, whom I’d seen singing and beating a gong moments earlier. “It happens but once in a year, so we try to give it our all.”

Youths play their part in sustaining local traditions here and in Nigeria generally but they are not in the majority. “Doing this and going to church are two different things,” Dele says at the palace of the Jegun of Idepe-Okitipupa, where all the masquerade deities must come to pay homage to the king. “Even the Bible says give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. I go to church four or five Sundays in a month and all year round. That is a lot compared with identifying once in a year with Isembaye [Esin Abalaye], the original religion our race was born into.”

At about 6pm at the Kalejaiye compound, High Chief Omokeji, the Akogun of Idepe-Okitipupa, oversees the final rituals–libations with gin, breaking and praying with kolanuts—in front of the family house and in the full glare of onlookers before the masquerades would retire indoors.

Family elders, teenagers and titled chiefs, wearing beaded necklaces, sit and watch the processes, which last a half-hour.

“Do you see us spill any blood, either of an animal or otherwise?” Omokeji, a retired civil servant, asks when I make the point about people fleeing from traditional religion. “Our people are getting these things mixed up. I am a Christian and that is my church right there (He points to the building). There is an Imam seated over there and next to you is the Oluwo (Ifa priest). None of the religions hinders the others.”

*The point being made/ emphasised here is that churches and mosques are man-made structures for the purpose of practicing the respective religions, and not spaces created/ designed/ appointed by God for the faithfuls.

The choir Ijo Orunmila

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