Rejection to the “Accord” of Florida Oba Oriates
To whom it may concern:
Many of us are not surprised by the recent publication of the“Accord” from the Oba Oriates of South Florida . The underlying controversy began late last year (i.e., 2009) when Willie Ramos wrote an editorial on his website at eleda.org entitled, “The Four Legged Dog Can Only Take One Path at a Time” denouncing the ordinations of two Lucumi Olorisas into the Yoruba tradition (which took place in Miami, Florida). Mr. Ramos called for their expulsion from future Lukumi ceremonies because they “disrespected” the Lukumi tradition by their actions. In addition, Mr. Ramos called for a conference where members of the YTR and Lukumi community in Miami can discuss their differences; and perhaps, find common ground so that we can co-exist peacefully.
A conference was organized in response to Mr. Ramos’ suggestion; and when it took place a month ago, neither Mr. Ramos nor Ernesto Pichardo were in attendance. Not only was their absence irresponsible and an act of cowardice, this accord solidifies that Mr. Ramos’ call for mutual understanding and respect is disingenuous.
Willie Ramos proclaims on his website that this “[Accord] is a response to the actions of a specific group of followers of Yoruba Traditional Religion and is in no way directed at any particular group on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or gender. This is a religious issue–no more, no less … .” I now make the case that his claim is false–contrary to what he says, this is not just a religious issue. It is also an issue motivated by discrimination and the self economic interest of a certain faction within the Lucumi community.
Article VI of the Accord bars any Lukumi ordained Olorisa, under penalty of expulsion, from receiving rituals or initiation rites from the Yoruba tradition; but on the other hand, it does not prohibit receiving rituals or initiation rites from other African based traditions. Why is this the case? If this Accord is not an instrument of discrimination, then why does it not impose a blanket prohibition against receiving rituals from all non Lukumi traditions? Why, instead, is it exclusive to the Yoruba tradition? Well, here is some food for thought: Years ago, Willie Ramos went to Brazil to receive rituals & religious icons from the Candomble tradition–specifically Ori and Osumare; and since then, he has profited by giving these non Lucumi Orisa icons in the U.S. Thus, this begs the question, “how is this any different from crossing traditional lines to receive Yoruba rituals and icons?” Of course, there is no difference! But in his defense, he will insist that receiving an Orisa from another tradition is not the same as being initiated; but that excuse is a distinction without a difference with the same result. By crossing the line in his case, isn’t he guilty of questioning whether the Lucumi tradition is missing something? Aren’t his actions disrespectful of the Lucumi legacy? The answer is “yes,” if you apply the logic from his editorial. More importantly, what this shows, more than anything, is how this Accord is influenced by the self interest of those who authored it.
Article VIII bars members of the Yoruba tradition from participating in Lucumi ordination ceremonies–but does not exclude members of other African based traditions. It should not surprise anyone why the Accord is drafted in this fashion; it is no secret that years ago, Willie Ramos presented Maria Oxala, a Candomble priestess, to the Lukumi Ocha room (“el cuarto Santo”) to bridge the gap between Candomble and Lukumi. Although that is not a violation of Art., VIII–since it only excludes Olorisas of the YTR–it does, on the other hand, violate the spirit and purpose of the Accord; which is intended to bar non ordained Lucumi Olorisas from the “Cuarto Santo” to protect the “integrity” of the Lucumi ordination ceremony. Besides, shouldn’t Lucumi Olorisas ask Willie Ramos the following question: “How can a Candomble priestess give what she doesn’t have?” I mean, that is the same question they pose to justify the rejection of Yoruba Olorisas from the Lucumi room. But I guess it’s okay, as a gesture of good will & respect, to allow a Candomble Olorisa into the Lucumi room, but a YTR Olorisa is not accorded the same courtesy and respect? If the purpose of Art., VIII is to preserve the integrity of the Lucumi ordination ceremony, then why does it not bar members of all non Lucumi traditions? Needless to say, not only is this Accord discriminatory, but also hypocritical. Perhaps the Oriates who drafted this Accord didn’t give this much thought–or did they?
Now, to clarify for the record, I am not bringing this up to demand that YTR Olorisas must have access to the Lukumi room–frankly, most of us, including myself, don’t care to go there–instead, I bring this up to show that there is a bias against the YTR; and as much as I hate to pull out the “race” card, the bias is racially motivated to a certain extent; which for the life of me, I cannot understand because we all worship African divinities–and they are neither white nor Hispanic. Go figure.
Given the threat of ex-communication as a consequence for violating this Accord, it begs the question who gave Ernesto Pichardo, Willie Ramos & Co., the authority to impose and enforce this as a sanction? This is not the Catholic Church! God bless them if this is the course of action they wish to take; it will hurt their cause in the long run.
I submit that the Yoruba tradition is singled out in this Accord because of fear and the insecurities of a handful of Oriates. These self proclaimed leaders of the Lucumi tradition seek to maintain the status quo for their own self interest. If you doubt such is the case, ask yourself “why is it that no Babalawos within the Lucumi tradition were invited to the meeting to establish this Accord?” “Why was this meeting inclusive of Oriates only, and no one else; and closed to the public?”
Although the Oriates will not admit this, they perceive the spread of the Yoruba tradition as a threat because of it’s potential impact on the role of the Oriate–which truth be told, is a Cuban innovation. For instance, we now know, as a result of studying the roots of Orisa tradition in West Africa , no bar exists against Babalawos from participating or officiating Orisa ordinations. It is a common practice in Yorubaland for Ifa priests to participate and in some cases, officiate such ordinations–but the caveat is that the Awo must have the proper training and knowledge. This of course, begs the question why Awos in the Lucumi tradition no longer officiate such ceremonies? The Yoruba tradition, moreover, teaches that there is no separation between Ifa and Orisa; and that a Babalawo/Iyanifa is an Olorisa just like a priest of Obatala and etc. Hence, it begs the question why a rift exists within the Lukumi tradition between Awos and Olorisas? Since the Yoruba philosophy is remarkably different on this issue than that of the Lucumi, the perception is that it poses a threat to ending the isolation that exists between Babalawos and Olorisas within the Lukumi tradition; which for many years has assured the economic security and position of the Oriate–this is so because the Yoruba philosophy brings into question in the minds of many whether this separation should continue. Hence, if a shift within the Lukumi tradition takes place where Babalawos begin to officiate or take a bigger role in Orisa ordinations, who do you think will object to this? The answer is obvious. To put the final nail in the coffin on this point, after the Oriates met, Willie Ramos advised Ifatokun Awolola (Charles Stewart) that “they have no issue with us–i.e., the traditionalists–except for Radames.” For those of you who do not know, Radames Villega is a Babalawo who did his Ifa in Cuba and is a former Lukumi Oriate. What is their problem with Radames? Well, the problem is twofold. First, there is a photograph on Ifatokun’s webpage on Myspace where Radames esta “raspando cabeza” (shaving a head) in the ordination ceremony of an Iyawo–and mind you, it was a Yoruba ceremony, not Lucumi. But despite that distinction, that picture, from from their point of view, is a sign of what may come in the future–hence, why the Oriates met in secret to manufacture this Accord in order to stop the “cancer” from spreading before its too late. The second problem is that Radames participated, without objecting, in the ordination of two Lucumi Olorisas into the Yoruba tradition–but Radames is a believer in the Yoruba tradition, and in his and our view, the ordination does not invalidate the prior initiation because the traditions are different–and how the idosu is prepared and Osun is painted are different. The orikis and incantations for the ceremony are different. Simply put, the “ashe” is different. Of course, how can those who feel otherwise understand our point of view when they lack the necessary education and understanding of the Yoruba tradition? Further, the Oriates, and those who agree with them, appear like hypocrites by complaining about the re-ordinations in this case when historically, re-ordinations occurred in Cuba . See e.g., Obadimeji; and Oshabi. Too add more salt to their wounds, we are aware of that one of the Iyawos initiated in Ifatokun’s Ile intends to ordain herself in the Lukumi tradition; and frankly, that is a non issue for us because we are secure with the validity and legitimacy of our rituals and tradition. One Iyawo’s decision to flip sides does not bring into the question the validity of a tradition that is the parent of all Orisa traditions in the diaspora.
Perhaps a solution to the perceived threat is that some Oriates should initiate to Ifa in the West African tradition; but this suggestion, in many cases opens another can of worms. Because of the resentment associated with exclusion of homosexuals from the Lucumi Ifa cult, many Oriates who are gay will not consider this to avoid the appearance of being a hypocrite due to years of expressing anti-Ifa rhetoric. There are other Oriates who believe they cannot initiate to Ifa because they have been indoctrinated with the belief that they cannot mount Orisa or spirits if they pass to Ifa. This too is a myth (i.e., a subject for another occasion). Hence, some feel they are in a “Catch 22” with no alternative but to go along with program.
More importantly, this Accord must be rejected because it is a catalyst for discord and resentment; which is what the Oriates want because by creating discord, it will ensure a state of isolation between the traditions which only benefits them–it ensures their survival. But their selfishness, on the other hand, will fracture the Lukumi community because many Lukumi ordained priests have embraced the indigenous Yoruba tradition and more will continue to do so in the future–which begs the question why have they embraced the Yoruba tradition? If you haven’t figured out why, then ask Willie Ramos what motivated him to travel to Brazil to receive Ori & Osumare and you’ll have your answer–assuming he is honest.
Unfortunately, the Oriates are far too near sighted to realize that they are fighting and hurting themselves. The branch of the tree is smacking the trunk from which it came–where is the wisdom in this? Although they insist that they are doing this to maintain the legacy of their ancestors, the assertion is absurd because the ancestors they speak of are African or direct descendants of West Africans. Latuan, Oba Tero. Efunshe, Adeshina, the pioneers who cemented the Lucumi tradition in Cuba , were Yoruba–they were born and ordained in Yorubaland; and they are rolling in their graves as we speak because of what is going on. They also insist that the purpose of this Accord is to maintain the integrity of the Lucumi tradition and that changes will not be accepted (even though no one from the Yoruba tradition is insisting on changes). But in doing so, they overlook that the Lucumi tradition is a product of change and adaptations that took place in Cuba . The Kari Ocha Ceremony is a prime example of that; but yet, Oriates who have never been to West Africa , insist the ceremony came from Oyo royalty; which we now know is a myth because this has been thoroughly investigated by those of us who have been to Yorubaland. What is most absurd is that they point to Oyo to validate the legitimacy of their ordination ceremony, but yet they reject and insult their West African roots. How is this logical?
Now the real question is why is there such hostility? Willie Ramos, and others who side with him, submit that the ordination of the Lucumi Olorisas into the Yoruba tradition cast doubt on validity and legitimacy of their prior initiation in Lucumi–and therefore, it is disrespectful. Although we disagree, the ordinations in my opinion are not the source of the hostility. The problem, as I see it, is that there is a rift within the Lucumi community. Many within the Lucumi tradition accept the obvious fact that the Yoruba language has been lost in Cuba–no one understands what they are saying when praying creolized Yoruba; and because of this and many other examples, they are open to learning from the Yoruba to retrieve what was lost, dispel myths or “undue” the manipulations that have occurred in Cuba over the past two centuries. If this is not the truth, then again–why did Willie Ramos go to Brazil in the first place? Now, in contrast, there are those who refuse to accept this reality, and insist on maintaining their tradition as they were taught. But in doing so, these individuals throughout the years have maintained a vicious campaign filled with untruths and hate against the Yoruba tradition to maintain the status quo. Some examples of the untruth(s) and insults I speak of are as follows:
(1) The Yoruba don’t know what they are doing;
(2) The Yoruba are practicing “modern” Yoruba religion;
(3) The Yoruba no longer have real bata;
(4) The Lucumi language is an ancient Yoruba dialect that no longer exists in West Africa – this statement comes from Ernesto Pichardo who does not speak Yoruba, and has never been to Yorubaland.
(5) The Orisa community in Nigeria no longer has “Ase” because it was lost in colonialism – i.e., another statement from Ernesto Pichardo.
(6) Osoosi was lost and brought back to Nigeria from the diaspora;
(7) Erinle worship and priests are extinct in West Africa ;
(8) Women initiating to Ifa in West Africa is a recent invention;
(9) The elders in Oyo do not initiate women to Ifa;
(10) Now, I save the best for last–i.e., the recent comments of Hendry Caveda, a Lucumi Olorisa, which can be found on the facebook page of Oloye Ifatokun Awolola, where Mr. Caveda states the following:
“SI ALLA EN NIGERIA ES DONDE DE VERDAD ESTA EL FUNDAMENTO DONDE DE VERDAD ESTA TODO DONDE DE VERDAD SABEN HACER LOS … See MoreREZO BIEN DONDE ESTAN TODO LOS SABIO DE ESTA RELIGION PORQUE SE ESTAN MURIENDO DE HAMBRE Y LLEVAN AÑOS DE AÑOS Y LOS QUE LE FALTAN VIVIENDO EN CHOSAS EN CASA DE GUANO VIVIENDO COMO QUIERA, SI HAY TANTA GUERRA PORQUE ESOS SABIOS NO HACEN UN EBBO PA VER SI SE ARREGLA ESO ALLA NO JODA ESA TIERRA ESTA OFO, LOS MUSULMANES SON LOS QUE MANDA ALLA“
Y es la realidad.
“If Nigeria is the place where the true foundation lies; where they know how to pray/chant well; and is the place where the wise and knowledgeable of this religion lies, then why is it that in Nigeria, they are dying of hunger, living in houses made of bird shit; why is there so much war there–why don’t they (i.e., the Yoruba) make sacrifice to see if it will fix the state of their country! Quit messing around! That land (i.e., Nigeria ) is a total “loss”; the Muslims are the ones who rule over there (i.e., Nigeria ). That is the reality.”’
Mind you, these are the words of a Lucumi Olorisa (i.e. Hendry Cavada) who has never been to Nigeria .
So in conclusion, the core of the problem lies within Lucumi community; there are those who accept the reality of the situation and are open to learning from the Yoruba; but on the other hand, there are those who are not, and insist on keeping their tradition as they were taught—but are doing so by waging a campaign of falsehoods, insults and isolationism. This Accord is an instrument of that on-going campaign; and it does not fix the problem; but instead, it exacerbates it.
For all the reasons set forth herein, I encourage all Orisa worshippers, regardless of whether you are traditional Yoruba, Lucumi, Candomble, Vodoun, to deliberate upon this matter; and join together to reject this Accord as an instrument of discrimination and hate. Most of all, I sincerely hope that for the next up coming conference in Miami(and there will be one soon) that Ernesto Pichardo, Willie Ramos, and especially all who agree with them, have the courage to attend so we can sit down as adults and discuss our differences so that we can find a way to peacefully co-exist with one another.