Open letter to Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II By Tunde Fagbenle (PUNCH)

In my many years of writing, I cannot remember once employing this 
recourse to open letter — for interpersonal communication. But the subject matter can hardly be considered personal, yet I want to give it that touch of immediacy, of your personal concern. For, regardless of your present travails for dabbling in politics and holding exigent
political views contrary to the sentiments of majority of your (Yoruba)
peoples, you (your offices) are indisputably regarded as the spiritual leader of the Yoruba, the caretaker of our ancestral heritage.

I do understand that you are also a Christian. I have no problem with that. Christianity is a great religion, that is obvious enough, if from lowly and confined beginnings somewhere thereabout Israel, it has no less than hundreds of millions of followers, that is proof absolute.

Indeed, the crux of my letter is paradoxically to rescue Christianity from looming relegation and disenchantment. As the 21st century approaches, not many are happy with the concept of Christianity that is defined within the very limited prism of the then Mediterranean/Jewish world. Even where the teachings and precepts of the Bible are of universal relevance, the very idea of reading passages that 
pray for, or invoke, lands and peoples to which others cannot, by any stretch of the imagination have affinity is alienating. Hence you have a number of rising rebellious sects seeking ways to modernise or acculturate Christianity to give it greater personal meaning.

I am re-awakened to this thought during this Christmas. The acclaimed Atlanta Symphony orchestra, a Christian gospel group of overpowering symphony, treated all America (broadcast on TV and Cable) to an hour and half of their performance. Midway, and out of nowhere, came this explosion into authentic heavy African rhythm of the Ifa/Sango mode. I strained my ears to catch the lyrics and lo and behold, they were singing in Yoruba, some original hymn about “bethlehemu,” thanks to the 
assistance of the ubiquitous Baba Olatunji. Needless to say, that piece became the liveliest, most inspiring, most infectious, of all their performances.

The Yoruba are religiously and culturally a blessed people. If I am not mistaken, of all religions and cultures of black peoples of the world that of the Yoruba, through Ifa, is of the most international acclaim and definition. And if despite over a hundred years of Western 
colonisation and suppression of that which is ours, Ifa and Yoruba culture still refuse to go under and are still widely upheld amongst millions of black peoples in Diaspora, then there must be something to it which needs treasuring and preserving.

It is so disheartening to see millions of black (and some white) peoples out here (California, Los Angeles, New York, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti etc.) who are holding onto Ifa (with their faltering Yoruba) fervently as their only link to sanity, if not eternity; holding on tenaciously to their view of the distant land, Ife, of their fathers as 
the beginning of mankind; and yet we, who they so desperately cling onto and need, have only disdain for these things ourselves.

Kabiyesi, let us embark today on the gargantuan but ennobling mission of first modernising Ifa; thoroughly sanitising it, removing all that which may tend to give it obnoxious, secret or dark coloration. Let us pool 
resources together for posterity. Let us have a foundation for the development and propagation of Ifa. Let us have an Institute of ‘Ifaology’ that would bring together great minds, the Prof. Wande Abimbolas, the Prof. Jacob Oluponas, the great living Ifa elders in the 
shrines, revolutionary Christian intellectuals, great minds from the Diaspora, and let us begin to write the Ifa “Bible.” Let us open the doors of Ifa to the world. Let us build a great Ifa temple, rather than what they call shrine? Let Ifa be recreated. Let its study get unto schools’ curricula.

Let us create our own story of the beginning of the earth. Let Ifa be the “Garden of Eden.” And why not? Isn’t Ife the beginning of mankind? How do we know? 
Because we say so, that’s all. Religion, culture are matters of faith. 
They need no scientific proof. It is simply so, because we say so. Let us start today, and in 50 years hence, we would have gained respectability, acceptability and “truth.”

Black youths all over the world are getting more and more confused. Christians amongst them are recreating paintings of Jesus as a black man in their urge for personal identification. Others are hollering in half-baked notions of blackism. It is a black problem. Asiatic peoples 
don’t have it. They have kept their religions intact: Hinduism, Budhism, Krishnaism and many others. They have myth and pictures of beings and ancestors they can relate to and draw inspiration from. White folks don’t have the problem, Jesus, to them was a white man.

You remember, Kabiyesi, that story you once told me in your London residence a few years ago? Well, I remember it all like yesterday. That story of when you were visiting Argentina and Brazil. Of how the millions of blacks there still cling on to Yoruba Ifa religion, culture and language (or what they’ve made of it); of how they revere you as the Arole Oduduwa; of how news reached Cuba of your presence in that corridor and the black people there begged for you to visit them also; of how on getting to Cuba you kissed the ground and asked the God of your fathers to abide with you and not shame you in your intermediation in the lives of those who 
sought you; of how the peoples cried unto you for rain because they were near famine; of how you looked up into the heavens and told them if it was the wish of God, rain would come; how before they left your presence, the clouds had gathered and heaven was heavy; how the rains 
poured and poured and poured and everywhere was flooded; how news got to Fidel Castro; how Castro showed up in your hotel and paid “homage” to you, saying: “The Ooni is not to come to Fidel, Fidel comes to the Ooni.”

Well, I remember all. But this is not about you, Kabiyesi, more importantly, Kabiyesi, we would have given life and hope to millions of black people who look upon us for mooring. We would, thereby, also be helping ourselves. We would 
have created our own Mecca in Ile-lfe, with Oyo, Osogbo etc as the Medinas, Jeddahs, and what have you. Millions would be coming on holy 
pilgrimage to Yorubaland. There would be more to make from it than oil provides. It may not be today, but it will be tomorrow, for generation yet unborn.

 

PUNCH