Navigating Odu Ifa as an African Atlantic /Diaspora Woman

I only had a moment to glance at the reading of the year from Ile Ife as I was preparing for other ceremonies. But after it’s release, I got a barrage of calls from African Atlantic women asking…” What the hell is this?” Some of the advice this year included suggestions for polygamy and that wives submit to their husbands and not bother them  too much. I chuckled at that point because I knew that was a recipe for destroyed homes, not unified ones. Every African Diaspora woman I know that read it fell off when they read it. 

To begin understanding Odu Ifa and it’s verses, we must I clarify the difference between translation, interpretation, and application. Translation is taking words from one language and culture and restating it in another language or culture. Interpretation is the person who is reading or reciting a story or verse’s explaining what it means from their perspective. Application is about how the insight is applied to one in a practical manner to ones life. When translating, interpreting and applying Odu Ifa, these things have to be taken into consideration. 

We also have to take into consideration culture.. Odu Ifa written in 10th century Yoruba land is going to be different from 16th century Yoruba after Abrahamic influences. And those will apply differently to 21st century African Diaspora. So while Odu ifa is ancient, it’s interpretations, translations, and applications may change or evolve over time. 

As such, If a Babalawo has never spent any extended time in the Diaspora, he will be very limited in his ability to fully interpret all of what Ifa is saying to an African Diaspora woman and man. Even a well meaning one. His life experiences doesn’t give him to tools to understand culture outside of Yorubaland .  While we, in the Diaspora  practice Ifa, we live in a very different culture and our life experiences are vastly different. Knowing greetings and some basic words aside… Culture and spirit are not always synonymous. But we know Ifa transcends culture…and can speak any language. Unfortunately the people interpreting may not be able to transcend culture and may force an interpretation that leaves whole groups in the rest of the world lacking. As a result, there is a real need for those who wish to offer guidance and want us to seek them out for readings, initiations, and advice, to learn about us because they are losing us with the attitude they take toward women, our needs, and perspective.  We are simply not going back.. Only forward like it or not. 

If a Babalawo has never spent any extended time in the African Diaspora, he will be very limited in his ability to fully interpret all of what Ifa may be saying to an African Diaspora woman. Even a well meaning one.

African Atlantic women, for instance , are not nearly as dependent on our husbands as some on the continent might be. We are educated…often college educated. We have our own careers such as being doctors, lawyers, educators, engineers, Business owners, Mayors, Vice presidents. Those that go to Nigeria often do so with their own money. We own our own homes, cars, property. So while we may not speak Yoruba, we are not at all stupid and we do have power economically and socially. So when the odu speaks of respecting one’s spouse, it is not a one way street for just the woman to respect her man. It absolutely goes both ways. Disrespecting your woman , abuse (emotional or physical) etc, will get you divorced or even put in jail in this part of the world. So when it’s interpreted as the problem may be primarily the woman, it’s bias against women. The reading refers to the person getting the reading… male or female…so it applies to them , their situation and their partner or spouse whether male or female.

Polygamy is a whole other can of worms in the African Diaspora. One interpretation was for a man who is experiencing lack of fortune to get more wives. SMH… Where to start? For one, polygamy is illegal in our countries. It will get that man put in jail. Two, while there are a small group of people who may be ok with it, as a whole… It’s not going to be a thing to hold your marriage together. Instead, it may draw hot grits and frying pan on his head on top of divorce where she takes half his money! I’m just saying….the average African diaspora woman will not stand for it. So that advice will break up more families and relationships than keep them together in the diaspora.

So we have to relook at that verse and determine what it might mean for those of us who are not polygamous or in polygamous cultures or countries. Well it speaks a man having limited success in his life and advises that multiple wives are the key to success. You have several ways that can show up for people regardless of gender. . One… more helpers and collaborations to accomplish a goal especially one outside of your normal circle 2. Multiple streams of income or avenues that should be perused to attain success. 3. Female or creative energy being a key for success. Essentially whatever you are trying to do on your own or with what you have is not enough. You need help and to be able to work with people diplomatically. A fourth option can also be that it speaks of the person you are with when you are endeavoring to do something , may not be the one for you. It may be someone else better suited for you.

There is a need for a more broad interpretation of some of these verses in order to truly grasp the meaning of the odu

The point is there is a need for a more broad interpretation of some of these verses in order to truly grasp the meaning of the odu. Sometimes culture prevents true understanding, clear balanced interpretation and therefore application goes wrong. As it relates to people in the diaspora, we must discern what that odu ifa may mean for us in our lives here beyond the cultural approaches.

Ose Okanran speaks of fidelity faithfulness, learning how to love and care for your spouse. Being honest and sincere. Supporting one another…not just a women supporting a man. Women are not tools to be used for a man’s success. We have feelings, our own destiny, our own needs just like men. In a relationship.. it bodes well for both parties to honor each other. To love each other, be sweet to one another, respect each other, and be faithful to one another. Don’t provoke conflict or do things that are bound to create problems like cheating. In that light, being unfaithful and not being loyal to your spouse will create long term problems.

It is no wonder then that another verse suggests he find another wife then speaks of the very wives he sought after are now conspiring to punish or kill him for some offense he committed! But rather than it explaining that you should try to work out issues with your spouse instead of taking things into your own hand, they decide to warn the woman in the interpretation to not get mad. You cant just spring another woman on a woman in the diaspora and expect her to be ok with it. So in that case maybe a better solution would be to say when you are having trouble, seek to work it out if possible..including counseling if necessary. Put your cards on the table and take time to listen to find our each other’s needs and issues. Humble yourself with your mate…each to the other. Take the ego out of the relationship and seek truth and peace. Don’t ask of the other what you would not do yourself.

Issues such as child bearing and marriage is another, Ire traditionally is interpreted as having a long life, money, health, spouse, children In the case of spouse and children, it’s not always the case. Some don’t want children. As mentioned, many women have full joyful lives without children or a spouse. Some prefer same sex life partners. Some do seek relationships  but not at the sacrifice of their peace of mind or self esteem. All relationships aren’t good for you.   So ire is whatever brings fulfillment in that persons life. Not a preset based on 10th century Africa. So children can represent creative projects, people who you take under your wing, spiritual children, or something you are trying to manifest. 

So these are just some thoughts on how relationships and family need to be reassessed to understand how it applies to us in the diaspora. There are quite a few other things that could be said but this article is long enough. Lol. Maybe next time. 

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