Father Moïse Adekambi/ Credit Charles Ayetan
Friday, January 10, Beninese celebrate the Vodun festival. A law dating from August 20, 1997 confers a legal and permanent framework to the celebration of this festival whose day of incidence is public holiday and paid on all the extent of the national territory.
On this occasion, La Croix Africa offers three articles of discovery of this African cult. The third is an interview with Father Moïse Adeniran Adékambi, a Beninese biblical scholar who has devoted part of his research to sacred Ifà literature, which is inseparable from Vodun.
La Croix Africa: What is the cult of Ifá and what are its characteristics?
Father Adékambi : Ifá is a complex reality with two main dimensions: an exoteric dimension (profane) and another esoteric (sacred, religious). In its exoteric dimension, Ifá is, in turn, a divinatory system, a sacred literature, a literature of sacred wisdom. But existentially and practically, Ifá is a divinatory system using classical geomantic signs and writing, but based on an infinite set of sacred micro-narratives. In its particularity of divination from stories, Ifá is practiced in the cultures of the Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana) and in the transatlantic African diaspora, particularly in Brazil and Cuba.
According to Yoruba (and Fon) “cultural thought”, Ifá is “the mouth of the Orishas/Voduns”. It is so in two senses: it is so because it is their spokesperson, their “voice”; and it is so because, without it, there would be no sacrifices to the Vodun, not even to the ancestors. Indeed, apart from the sacrifices of the followers, the sacrifices offered to the deities by non-followers are on the “prescription” of Ifá. Offering sacrifices to a deity is said to be “giving the deity food” or “giving it what it asks for”.
Who are the followers of Ifà and who can be a priest?
Father Adékambi: In terms of its religious dimension, Ifá or the Fa as a deity, Vodun in Fon and Orisha in Yoruba, has two main categories of followers. First there are those called Babalawo in Yoruba – Bokonon, Fon and other languages of the same linguistic family. These are the ones commonly called the priests of Ifá, certainly under Nigerian influence (Fa Priests). They are initiated into the Fa as a divinity and as a divinatory practice. Women “receive Ifá” in the form of a clay figurine, Alamu in Yoruba. If you like, it is, for women, a purely religious initiation, without initiation to the practice of divination reserved for men.
To read :[Vodun 1/3]: The Vodun Xébioso, the police god in the Aja-Tado cultural area
But it should be noted that any man who becomes a priest of Ifá necessarily passes through the stage of the religious reception of Ifá women. The religious and worship dimension is therefore common to women and men, while the divinatory dimension is reserved for men. The religious dimension among the priests of Ifá takes more complex forms than among women.
Can we practice this worship and Christianity at the same time?
Father Adékambi:What if we widen the frame? We are currently experiencing, in Africa in general and in Benin in particular, a cohabitation of religions which leads to more or less conscious reciprocal borrowings. Do not be surprised, for example, that a Babalawo, traditional or academic, has a Christian first name. In this context of natural borrowings, which is at the same time a context of return to our African cultural and religious values, what can the Christian take from Ifá and its system? Personally, as a Christian from this culture of Ifá and as a Catholic priest, here is what I think. What makes Christians return to the Fa is its divinatory dimension and truth that are presented as scientific. And because it is scientific, Christians can resort to the Fa, since it would not be a question of faith, but of the scientific method to know the present, past or future unknown. I answer that it is not as simple as that. One cannot so easily separate the divinatory and the religious, whatever the divinatory system. And even if the divinatory truth is true, because it corresponds to lived experience or because it is realized, the question of belonging and religious identity arises.
This is not the way of Christians (cf. Dt 18,14 and Heb 1,1-2)*.
This seems important to me to situate my brothers and sisters in the faith.
To read :[Vodun 2/3]: “Vodun has nothing to do with witchcraft”
Intellectuals, Christians or non-Christians in faith and life, are increasingly returning to the Fa, but for other reasons. They go there above all considering Ifá as a literary heritage, officially recognized by Unesco. Literary heritage for the literary, but also intellectual and ethical heritage for the humanists; and of course, religious heritage for others.
Collected by Lucie Sarr
We would like to give thanks to the author of this write-up for this outstanding material
[Vodun3/3]: Father Adékambi: “What makes Christians return to the Fa is its dimension and its divinatory truth”
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