Oba Ernesto Pichardo & Willie Ramos attack IFA Tradition

Miguel “Willie” Ramos,

Recently, I had a oppportunity to read your editorial entitled

“The Four Legged Dog Can Only Take One Path at a Time”

That was posted by you at the following link:

After reading your editorial and the comments in support of your opinion, I feel, as do others, that much of what has been said is based on fear and misunderstanding.

To the extent that you believe that the initiations that took place Ifatokun’s Ile in Miami will ‘destabilize’ the Lukumi tradition, is a conclusion without any support in fact. If you equate ‘change’ synonymously with the term ‘destabilize,’ in this context, then let’s not overlook that the Lukumi tradition went through ‘radical’ changes during the 20th century in Cuba–hence, the idea of ‘change’ is not a foreign concept to the Lukumi.

Your second assertion — i.e., that the initiations in question will also bring ‘instability’ to the West African practice of Orisa worship — is a fallacy.  practitioners of the Yoruba Ifa/Orisa tradition in Miami, West Africa and throughout the diaspora are not denouncing the initiations; instead,  only  certain members of the Lukumi community are objecting to what transpired—and are doing so, in my opinion, because of fear and insecurity. But if what you assert is in fact the case, then it begs the question ‘Why practitioners of YTR are not denouncing the initiations, but a few Lukumi priests are?’
Although you assert that the individuals’ actions “constitutes a deplorable transgression against [the Lukumi] legacy because they question and cast doubt on [the] validity and orthodoxy [of Lukumi] as a growing world religion,” there is a contrary point of view.  From my standpoint, and others agree, the individual who re-initiated to Sango did not eradicate, invalidate or cast doubt on the validity of his prior Lukumi initiation to Sango; instead, the individual received more “ase” of Sango that compliments what he received from his prior initiation. His original orisa was never thrown away just reinforced .I say this because the adosu of Sango prepared by the Yoruba is unlike the one prepared in Lukumi; and how the osun is prepared and painted is also different. As for the second individual, she was initiated to Yemoja.  This initiation, however, did not eradicate, invalidate or cast doubt on the validity of her prior initiation to Obatala in Lukumi; instead, this person now has both Obatala and Yemoja on her head. From a Yoruba standpoint, this is acceptable. In YTR, it is common practice for an individual to have more than one Orisa on one’s head. Speaking for myself, I have more than one Orisa on my head as do others that I personally know who practice the West African Tradition of Ifa/Orisa.  I understand, however, that the idea of having more than one Orisa on one’s head is a foreign concept in the Lukumi tradition.

Ernesto Pichardo

What is most unfortunate regarding the rhetoric in your editorial and comments in support thereof is that the Yoruba priestess, Oloye Ifafunke Olagbaju, who officiated the ceremony in Ifatokun’s Ile, allowed a number of Lukumi priests to participate and observe in order to ‘bridge the gap’ between Lukumi and West Africa.  It was a sign of respect and a gesture of good will on her part to put aside our differences because regardless of system, we all worship the same deities. The motive behind her gesture, moreover, is for the greater good and education of Orisa practitioners in the Diaspora; and now in return for this gesture, the validity of these initiations are now unjustifiably attacked by a few individuals within the Lukumi community such as Oba Ernesto Pichardo, who were neither present for the initiation nor qualified to opine whether the initiation is valid from Yoruba standpoint. Mr. Pichardo’s comments in response to your editorial speaks for itself.  I and many others find it absurd and comical that Pichardo has the audacity to question the validity of the initiations when he himself is not even initiated in the West African tradition of Ifa/Orisa; and has never set foot on Nigerian soil. Who is Ernesto Pichardo to make such a claim? His expertise starts and ends within the boundaries of the lucumi tradition; and does not extend beyond that.

Though I understand that you, Ernesto Pichardo and a few others wish to preserve the Lukumi tradition as ‘is,’ there is, however, a growing perception that this controversy is rooted in economics, not theology or form of ritual practice.  However, if this is really about theology and practice, not economics, then I submit that we all must be honest with ourselves regarding what is happening in the diaspora today as a result of the growing influence of YTR.  The majority of us in the diaspora came to the Orisa tradition because of the Lukumi religion.  But what cannot be ignored is the undeniable fact that this religion, whether you wish to call it Lucumi, Candomblé, etc, is rooted from West Africa, not Cuba or any where else in the diaspora.  There is no disputing the fact that over the past few centuries, much has been lost in the diaspora for a number of reasons (and we all know what those reasons are). Today, however, we are fortunate to live in a different and better world where we no longer live in the oppressive conditions of yesterday; and because of technology, we are fortunate to have access to the source where Ifa/Orisa tradition comes from– i.e., Yorubaland.  It is not surprising that many Lukumi practioners are curious; and are openly embracing the opportunity to further their knowledge about Ifa/Orisa through West Africa. This has been the growing trend over the past decade; and it will continue.   As one Lukumi priestess said to me recently, “People want the truth; they want to separate ‘fact’ from ‘fiction.'” I agree; and  the changes we are beginning to see in Cuba and in South America are a testament to this. Although no one is asking the Lukumi system to change, it is happening nonetheless from within for reasons that are obvious. It is no secret why this happening.  We all realize that the growth and education of Yoruba theological concepts in the diaspora is causing many to question certain theological beliefs that developed in the diaspora where in years past, few people had the courage to openly question in the first place.             

Though we do not agree on everything, I do, however, respect your desire to preserve the Lukumi legacy.  There is nothing wrong with that. As a Cuban American, I believe it is a necessary and just cause because most of us in the diaspora, myself included, came to this tradition by way of the Afro-Cuban Lukumi tradition; and needless to say, the Lukumi tradition is what ultimately led some of us to West Africa.  Where we disagree, however, is the manner in which you seek to reach that ‘end’ in this particular instance by calling for the banishment of these individuals from Lukumi rituals.  Frankly, the “ends” don’t always justify the “means.”  The approach that you are advocating, in my opinion, will only add more ‘fuel’ to the fire so to speak; and will spurn more division and separation between practitioners on both sides of the fence; and ironically, it will exacerbate the current rift within the Lukumi tradition between those who are open to YTR theological concepts and practices, and those who are not.  The conservative wing of the Lukumi tradition should not be criticized for seeking to maintain the Lukumi tradition as “is”; but on the other hand, nor should more liberal  Lukumi adherents be subject to criticism and being ostracized for expanding their horizons beyond the Lukumi system such as the individuals in the present case.  In Yorubaland, there is diversity in Ifa/Orisa practice; but the Yoruba people co-exist with one another and work in harmony despite their regional differences.  Why can’t we do the same here?  If this is truly about theological differences, not economics, then I don’t see why we cannot follow the example of the Yoruba people.  But on the other hand, if this really about economics, then I’m pessimistic about our chances in finding common ground. Money is the root of all evil so to speak.

Perhaps a meeting of both Lukumi and YTR practitioners is necessary so we can discuss our differences and find common ground.  But unlike the type of meeting you are calling for in your editorial, a meeting of practitioners of both traditions in the local Miami area is a more practical approach because the problem is a local one; which does not affect the religious practices taking place in West Africa or abroad. If you are sincere about such a meeting, it can be arranged.

Please contact Ifatokun via email or  telephone to arrange a meeting; or you can knock on his door like the last time when you went to his Ile to inquire about the Yoruba concept of Egbe in which you knew nothing about.

Aboru Aboye ….  written by Ifakolade

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April 8, 2010 Posted by | babalawo, lukumi, Oloye, RELIGION, santeria | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments