A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is Omitonade Ifawemimo, an orisa priestess. Orisa priests/priestesses serve the function of spiritually guiding and counselling people so they can fulfil their destiny. She tells us about ways people stray from their destiny, how it can be modified, and what Yoruba indigenous religion means to her.
I’m up before my alarm clock this morning. The light in my room is blinding and it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. I stagger, carefully, to the toilet. After I’m done, I begin my morning routine.
I start each day by praying to my ori [spiritual head], to olodumare, to my egun [ancestors], to my orisa and to my egbe [astral mates]. I lie on my bed as I supplicate to them and it takes about 30 minutes to complete.
After I’m done with my prayers, I prepare my kids for school. I bathe, dress and cook for them. By 7 a.m. or a few minutes past 7, we’re out of the house to meet up with 8 a.m. resumption time. On the drive to school, I engage them in conversation and try to make them laugh. One minute we’re laughing, the next, we’re in front of their school gate.
I hand the kids over to their school teacher and my day starts.
As a full-time orisa priestess, I have an office I resume to by 10 a.m. every day. My role involves saving and guiding people. Orisa priests/priestesses are not seers — that is, we don’t see the future for people. Instead, through ifa/orisa divinations, we reveal a person’s past, present and future.
Practitioners of orisa spirituality believe that on our journey to earth, we made use of our ori to choose our blessings [wealth, long life, accomplishment, prosperity, etc]. However, on getting to earth, we forget all we’ve chosen and do things that are taboo to our ori, which hinders our progress. The job of a priest or priestess is to use divination to guide people on the right path of their destiny. Divination reveals strengths and weaknesses and allows for a smooth journey on earth.
Every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., people come to my office to see what their ori is saying about their day, week or month. Today is no exception. There are people in the lounge waiting to see me when I get to the office. After exchanging brief greetings with a couple of them, I enter my office to settle down — then my workday truly begins.
In Yoruba spirituality, there are three ways we can modify human destiny. The first is through ifa/orisa divination[16 cowries]: people come to us, we divine for them and ifa/orisa reveals the problem along with a solution to us.
The second method is through sacrifice, appeasement and propitiation. After the problem has been revealed, we do certain sacrifices to solve it. The sacrifices are everyday items like fruits, food, domestic animals, etc. Anything that can be seen with the eye can be used in making this propitiation. This sacrifice is used in order to solve the person’s problem.
Lastly, we have ifa/orisa initiation. We, orisa worshippers, have a saying: there’s nobody with a bad destiny or head, but the only hindrance is that people aren’t aware of their taboos. They are not aware of the behaviours their ori doesn’t want, and these become stumbling blocks in the pursuit of their goals.
To be initiated means to get to know a person’s destiny. To know their strengths, weakness and align with their ori. This is important because we believe that everyone is born with an orisa. You can also use this knowledge in spiritual fortification because you know everything about them. All of this is used to help people become accomplished and fulfilled on earth.
Today, I spend a few hours at work explaining some of the functions of a priestess to curious people.
I also explain that in the olden days, when children were born, their parents would invite a priest/priestess to divine the child’s destiny. This would help in knowing the child’s taboo’s, strengths, weaknesses. However, a lot of people no longer have this privilege. For people who didn’t have this luxury, they can do initiation to know their destiny.
I also say that while priests/priestesses can divine and modify spiritual problems, we can’t interfere with physical problems. So, if someone has character problems like anger or laziness, we advise them to work on themselves and not look for spiritual solutions.
After dropping the kids in school today, I decide to visit my friends. On the car ride, I think about how most people believe that people who practice traditional religion are uneducated or wretched, which is false. I try to change people’s perception of this and my behaviour speaks for me. Like a good traditional practitioner, I don’t preach our religion or spirituality. There’s no point telling people, especially Nigerians, Yorubas, to come back to Yoruba indigenous religion. Everyone will return to it at the end of the day because it is their roots.
My job is to educate people who are curious and guide those who are interested. Any original practitioner [there are imposters in the religion] is tolerant of other people’s beliefs and opinions.
In fact, we don’t say because people practice other religions we won’t help them. And even after helping them, we don’t force anyone to convert to our belief. Our own is for you to see the solution to what’s bothering you.
No work for me today. Why? Because body no be firewood. I’m going to spend my day resting and enjoying some peace and quiet. I’ve dropped the kids at school. I’ve cooked rice, fried plantain and boiled stew. I also have a cold Pepsi in the fridge to step it down with. The best part? I have the house all to myself, at least, until 4 p.m. when I go to pick the kids from school. Until then, I’m going to enjoy my alone time to the fullest.
Today, someone asked me about the hardest part of my job. I told him two things: firstly, it’s not a job, it’s a calling — it’s passion. Secondly, there’s no hard part. Some aspects are just easier than the others.
My role involves finding lost souls and guiding them back to their roots to learn about themselves. I’m happy social media is helping with more awareness. People are reading stuff that’s making them curious and ask questions. I’ve also been using my platform to enlighten pẹople about traditional religion.
I’ve also used my platform to correct misconceptions that we worship idols. We don’t. Olodumare proves its existence through nature by giving us water, plant, wind, thunder and lighting, sunlight. And orisas are in charge of these things. Sango is in charge of thunder and lighting. Osun, Yemoja, Olokun, Olosa are in charge of water. Ogun is in charge of iron and technology. In respect of these orisas and the work they do, we have icons and not idols.
These things people call idols are used to beautify the shrine and not what is being called upon. Think about it as art to beautify your home. Can we call artwork idol worshipping? This is what I try to educate and enlighten people about on social media. I’m thankful to Olodumare because it’s not by my power. It’s just what works for me.
It is passion and bose ma je niyen [that’s how it will be].
[Editor’s note: some part of this post has been updated. We initially wrote that destiny couldn’t be stolen via sexual intercourse but the subject says it’s rare, but not impossible.]
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