Yeye Ekundayo Adele Ifamuregun practices the Ifa religion in the United States of America, and as a priestess of the African Traditional Religion (ATR), she has used her calling to assist people with spiritual problems. However, in this interview with ADEWALE OSHODI, the priestess laments the large number of fakes currently parading themselves as priests in the US, while also highlighting how she has found her way towards practicing her faith in a country that is not known for understanding African culture and traditions. EXCERPTS:
FOR how long have you been practising professionally as a priestess in America, and how does the average American see you as having solution to their problems?
I’ve been working as a priestess in the United States since relocating there in 2001, and before that, I was working in Brazil. When you speak of an “average” American, one must understand that the portion of the population who follow Diasporic African Traditional Religions (ATRs) is very small, percentage-wise, and true Ifa is even less.
The “average” American as a whole is simply unaware of Ifa and how it works. But people are very willing and open to anything that will pull them out of their issues and I have clients from all over the world. When people are suffering, they are open to seeking answers and solutions outside of the norm, when all else has failed. Ifa can bring the solution for them.
The Ifa practice comes with placing sacrifices, which I understand, may not be permitted in the American society; so how do you go about offering your sacrifices?
Actually, people in the United States have already gone to the Supreme Court to fight for their right to conduct ritual blood sacrifices within their own shrines and temples, and won in every case. So while this is something that one must be sensitive to in terms of community and one’s neighbours, there is already a precedent set within the court system protecting the rights of orisa worshipers to practice their rituals in certain localities under certain constraints.
Discretion is needed, along with creativity and sensitivity. I happen to live in the countryside, with many streams, rivers, isolated roads and forests, the ocean is also nearby, so this is not really a problem. I can rest items on my own property and in my own shrine, so there is no issue. In Brazil, however, there are now environmental laws put into place by Evangelical politicians, and also laws which control where you buy the animals needed and where you can then keep them until the time of sacrifice; their own bid to stamp out freedom of religion and the African tradition of Ifa and orisa that took root there with the slave trade.
One big problem that we have in Nigeria is the issue of fake priests, and with the growing popularity of Ifa in America, do you also have this problem?
Absolutely! Of the people who come to me, a large majority have made contact with unscrupulous or simply ignorant Ifa practitioners here inside of the US, while some have also been bamboozled in Nigeria. Many clients come to me spiritually, emotionally, mentally and financially bankrupt, after passing through the hands of Ifa organisations in the US, as well as passing though the hands of various independent priests.
This is a huge problem which I cannot stress enough, and it has been giving me concern for many years, as I feel I am rowing against a tide of outright charlatanism, well-meaning or willful ignorance, or, in some cases, very dangerous injustices.
Just recently, I divined for an American initiated into Ifa in Nigeria, a so-called Ifa priest with his own “shrine” having issues. He didn’t even know that one must throw cowries or kolanuts after making an offering to check if the offerings have been accepted! He was having trouble with the gods because he had been offering something ridiculous to them (besides having no authority to do so). There is also a well-known Ifa priest on the East Coast who has been giving out a hand of Ifa with three-eyed ikin for years, obviously unaware that a proper hand has at least 16 four-eyed ikin, and unaware that by giving out a three-eyed hand, he will only bring misery to his initiate’s life.
It is insane what is going on out here in terms of Ifa, and it needs to stop. I work closely with my family in Nigeria and most of our work consists of sweeping up the pieces of peoples’ lives who have gotten involved with these fake “priests” and “priestesses” who simply have no authority or knowledge to be working in that capacity, or, they might have some working knowledge but are morally and ethically not capable of turning the practice into something other than a money-making tradition, or, they simply do not have the deeper understanding of Ifa and neglect to set their clients/initiates up with the fundamentals they need to know.
Although you don’t have the power to tackle the rise in the number of these fake priests, is there a way you are sensitising the public so that they won’t fall victims?
I discussed this with a very prominent person involved in Ifa in Nigeria a few years back, particularly how Ifa is being taken over, modified, diluted, exploited and appropriated by ‘cut and paste’ priests and those who make quick trips to Nigeria for an initiation (or have one within the US), then think that gives them the right to practice as priests, start divining and open up ‘shop.’ The best I can do is write extensive blog posts and articles on my website, farinadeolokun.com, talking about what Ifa is and isn’t, what to look for, what to watch out for, give people some basic solid knowledge and pray that Orunmila guides them, or brings me those who have been broken in trust and faith so we can set things straight and get them up and walking forward in life.
My prayers are always with the good Babas and Iyas of Nigeria, and my family, who hold the true and correct lineage upright and are examples of the faith. They have so far managed to preserve and sustain the true tenets of the faith.
Can you share an instance when you’ve had to rescue a victim who had had his ‘hands burnt’ by a fake priest?
There are simply too many instances to narrate. And I am speaking of both fake priests within Diaspora ATRs and also within Ifa, both in the US and in Nigeria. I’ve had everything from someone getting actual serious burns on their body from gunpowder during a “ritual” to “banish negative spirits”, women being sexually molested, clients being told to sell-off millions of dollars worth of their properties and “give the money to Ifa,” thereby leaving them destitute, among many other instances.
So what advice do you have for people so that they won’t fall victims to fake priests?
My simplest advice in a nutshell is for a person to always trust their ori (their head), the small voice inside of them, and that feeling in the pit of the stomach. Also, how do they feel in the presence of that person? Does the person offer guidance and explanation of how the Ifa system works? Does it make sense? Are they asking for big money for immediate initiations when you have only just met them? Are they making financial demands that are far beyond what one can afford? Do they offer to do works that harm others instead of simply defending via “return to sender”? If you are feeling uncomfortable, there is usually a good reason for that.
However, those who willingly harm and cheat others will end up paying, sooner or later, and those who have suffered at their hands, their own victory will come.
The travesty is that the good name of Ifa is being soiled by charlatans, and by people in the Diaspora who are only after their own financial ambitions, as well as them Westernising the principles of the Ifa system.