Yoruba Cultural Heritage Knowledge and Development Initiative




Ẹ̀nìyàn àti kádàrà - Man and Destiny


Ẹ̀nìyàn àti kádàrà – Man and Destiny

In this article we shall examine the yorùbá conception of the human body and the notion of individual destiny. It must be noted that the article is merely introductory to key concepts of the yorùbá indigenous epistemological, ontological and metaphysical system.

It is important to point out that the human being (ẹ̀nìyàn) is considered – within the indigenous system of knowledge – as a work of engineering that is the product of a joint effort of different spiritual forces. The term that is often used to designate the body as a whole, a unit made out of matter and spirit is tìkara ẹni.

The tìkara ẹni is composed of different parts or elements:

– Àrá 
– Ẹ̀mí 
– Ègbè
– Òjìjì
– Orí

(I): Àrá
It literally refers to the physical body (made out of flesh, blood, muscle, bones, tissues & organs) which is also the result of the participation of certain divinities, which intervene in its 
creation at different stages of the creative process as indicated below:

Ògún: The Spirit of survival primary instinct, hunting, transformation, technology, iron, war, and blood sacrifices is he who creates the metal skeleton with humanoid silhouette or shape. He directly participates in gender distinction creating two molds with their respective attributes: the male mold has ako-irin or 9 metal rods that are the 9 ribs of males and the female mold that is designed with abo-irin, 7 metal rods, the 7 female ribs. The terms ako-irin and abo-irin are the etymological origin of the nouns which designate both genders and species: okùnrin and obìnrin (man and woman respectively).

Ọbàtálá: “The King of the white cloth” [divinely chosen representative of Ọlọ́dùmarè among the Irúnmolẹ̀] shapes the human figure on the humanly metallic molds with a clay extracted from a sacred river at the border between the dimension inhabited by the in-dwelling forces in Nature and the physical realm. Clay that is extracted by Ikú, the Spirit of Death, who therefore participates in the process. Ọbàtálá is the divinity that gives us unique & singular physical features; he is literaly he who makes us as we are when coming into existence by moulding the clay (raw material). The criteria upon which Ọbàtálá relies in order to confer specific physical traits are beyond the scope of this introductory article, however deformities [congenital and/or degenerative malformations (both physical and psychological)] are the work of an assistant divinity of Ọbàtálá known as Edun Béléjé tíí se omoyè oluigbó. They can be either caused by: 1.- mischief from the later (or a mistake) in which case it could be reversed and repaired through Ancestral technbology (mastered by Ancestors); 2.- a genertional curse (or punishment): reflected in the offspring as a consequence of a serious offense committed by the mother [or father or even forefathers] (violation of a taboo of òrìṣà, depraved behavior,….). It is for this reason that all those born with physical malformations and/or mental disorders are entrusted to Ọbàtálá. It is worth mentioning that there is [sometimes] great confusion with respect to the attributes of Ọbàtálá, who is the divinity [among many other attributes & functions] that promotes health and physical well-being (and not Ṣànpọ̀nná, divinity of the smallpox and infectious diseases – who can inflict illness & death or cure them).

Ajàlá Mòpín: “The power of light to create” – Ajàlá is considered among the divinities as the celestial potter. Its function is that of molding the physical heads, acclimatizing them to host individual expressions of the Primordial Consciousness [or divine essence] prior to undergoing humanly experience according to prenatal choice (Orí). He is the one who facilitates the preparation & adaptation of the spiritual essence to temporarily inhabit a physical envelope.

(II): Ẹ̀mí
Literally translated as “vital breath” or “vital force” – Ẹ̀mí is infused in the physical body by Ọlọ́dùmarè himself once it is ready to operate. The physical death [or dislocation of the spirit from its physical envelope] occurs when Ọlọ́dùmarè decides to withdraw Ẹ̀mí from the body. Ẹ̀mí is depicted in the Ifá divine matrix as follows:

Àfin lófi kékeré hewú
Abuké lófèyín peru òrìsà woja
Lààlàgbàjà ló se gbéregbère wòlú
Àwon ló dífá fún Ẹ̀mí 
Tíí se Àkódá Ọlọ́dùmarè 

An albino is he who grows grey hair from childhood
A hunckback is he who carries òrìsà’s load to the market
Laalagbaja enters the city aimlessly
These were the declarations of Ifá for Ẹ̀mí 
Who was the first creation of Ọlọ́dùmarè 

[Idin adejoke – chap. 75/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production ]

(Translation proposed by Àràbà Awodiran Agboola)

(III): Ègbè
The ègbè expresses the concept of duplicity of being in the Yorùbá worldview. The term refers to the heart, but not in its tangible and organic expression (ọkàn) but in its spiritual counterpart. Within the heart (muscle) is found a center of power that regulates the flow of emotion and produces an invisible field that interacts with the external environment by decoding & sending information. Ifa teaches that emotion, if properly channeled is transformed into productive energy (ire) and when out of control [due to different situations] generates chaos & destruction (ibi). Ègbè translates as the spiritual organ that converts emotions [raw material] into kinetic energy and distributes it among the centers of power within the body known as awùjè, which feed on Àṣẹ (lifeforce that sustains the Cosmos). We can thus consider the ègbè as an internal thermometer that measures the level of harmony with the factors that balance life in the Universe.

(IV): Òjìjì
Literally translated as the shadow. It is [in different african indigenous systems of knowledge] considered as a physical projection of the higher consciousness/self (ìpònrí). It abandons the physical body during night time to delve into the mysteries of the future (subtle dimension) which are sometimes communicated/unveiled prior to awakening in the onirical realm (prophetic dreams – which can be stimulated/induced through medicinal preparations). It must be noted that it is given great attention and importance in certain traditions as it is commonly believed that sorcerers can capture it and cause serious damage to the human being (in its unity or tìkara ẹni).

(V): Orí
Orí is – upon common consensus – roughly translated as “head” however, the connotation associated to it varies depending on the context in which the word is used: for instance a distinction can be made between orí òde (external head – physical vessel/support to which a certain symbolic value is associated as it is the point of connection between the outer and inner worlds through the sensory experience) and orí inú (inner head – which relates to the non physical aspect of it: the divine essence, golden embryo, higher Consciousness or Soul according to individual (or culturally induced) preference to tackle the subject) for which sources suggest as translation: “the source of perception”. Orí therefore relates to both components [inner & external worlds] which converge in the physical envelope [temporary material expression of the Spirit]: àrá – both the physical & spiritual dimensions (or layers) encapsulated within a temporary biological envelope can be associated with male & female principles of action/reaction within the binary frame of operation within the physical realm that organizes and modulates the experience of life on Earth (as a preset configuration to be transcended in the chosen path for enlightment/self-realization)-. Orí can be grasped as the Primordial Consciousness matrix experiencing itself under uniquely designed individual parameters corresponding to a given configuration in a vast cloud of inifinite possibilities.
Within the yorùbá indigenous system of knowledge, Orí represents the most sacred altar of communication & interaction with the Self, the Primordial Source and in-dwelling forces in Nature.

The connection with Spirit (in all its expressions – from the Primordial & purest form: Ọlọ́dùmarè to divine archetypes (Irúnmolẹ̀, Òrìṣà & Ancestors) occurs through centers of energy/power (known as awùjè) which are respectively: iwájù orí, àtàri, ipákò.

* iwájù orí 
(lit. translated as forehead) relates to the idea of divine character as it is considered the source of the mystical vision which is no other than allowing a direct & clear contact between the inner self (higher Consciousness) as the [temporary] driving force of the individual experience as a source of infinite knowledge rather than the conventional sensory engine. Through this awùjè [commonly referred to as the third eye] the individual can awaken & develop the innate potential of clairvoyance which is the power to perceive extrasensory events in the continuum of life. The connection with the Primordial Source (or divine light or matrix of Consciousness in the Cosmos) – through an inner cultivation of divine character, discipline and ascetic & ritual practices [even magico-medicinal preparation] – can be understood as a source of divine inspiration that can manifest in a myriad of more or less subtle mechanisms (among which prophetic dreams, visions, astral projections [from which certain individuals with the ability to tap into the dimension of the divine archetypes/Forces of Nature (themselves sources of inspiration) and receive precise instructions as for example learning Ifá verses or medicines – ability that is praised as àyórunbò] or sharp/acute intuition).

The iwájù orí is ultimately the source of all prophetic guidance. For the initiate in Ifá, the iwájù orí is the source of connection with Ẹ̀là (the primordial manifestation of knowledge, understanding and wisdom – divine conduct between the individual Consciousness and the Primordial matrix), first incarnation of Ọ̀rúnmìlà, who as “witness of Destiny” provides access to the infinite realm of infinite possibilities while consulting the divine oracle of Ifá.

* Àtàrí
The àtàrí is the crown of the head. It is the point that connects the inner spirit with the transcendental dimension known in Ifá as làí-làí (or láé láé): that which is eternal, infinite, above all that perishes or decays. Throughout the àtàrí, individual consciousness nourrishes itself from the spiritual dimension which infuses in it Àṣẹ. Initiation rites – for a large number of – focus on it as a central point of acquisition & nourrishment of vital force/cosmic energy.

* Ipákò 
It is located at the junction between the neck and the skull. It is the point of connection between the individual consciousness and the energy of a spiritual force: where possession occurs as a result of internal resonance between Orí and a particular Spiritual force.

Concerning Orí, additional aspects must be considered for a better understanding of the symbol that encapsulates and synthesizes the entirety of the yorùbá indigenous system of knowledge [as defining the epistemological, ontological and metaphysical boundaries of the indigenous philosophy]:

(a): Àpárí inú
It can literally be considered as the individual natural predisposition to ìwà (character). It is every individual’s natural inclination [toward the preservation of balance & harmony in Nature or its disruption]. The àpárí inù is what gives to each individual a unique identity in the Cosmos [in terms of essence and moral prenatal configuration, not culture nor building the self through experience]. It is the core of inner consciousness, in other words, our individual essence. Ifá teaches that some orí come to the world [physical realm] with a natural predisposition to ìwà rere or good character, and through their internal resources develop what is known in Ifá as ẹ̀rí ọkàn (witnessing the heart), that is to say good conscience. In other cases, this provision must be acquired through purification and rebirth rituals [i.e. initiations]. The àpárí inù is an internal resource meter essential to the development of good/divine character, crucial for the spiritual elevation of Consciousness. Moral tenets such as: Patience, Honesty, good character, perseverance, humility, resistance and hope are taught, promoted and highlighted within the dynamics of oral tradition.

(b): Orí àpéré
It represents the state of perfection which is no other than complete fulfilment of the prenatal choice after having explored, identified and exploited inner potentialities and resources in the direction of self-realization. It is the pinnacle of the humanly experience as defined by prenatal choice. Ifá defines it as follows:

Díá fún Òkànlénìrìnó Irúnmolè
Wón nlo sóde Àpéré
Àtèfún-tèfún èyìn ònì
Awo Orí ló díá fún Orí
Orí nlo sóde Àpèrè
Wón ní kí wón sákáalè, ebo ní síse
Orí nikan-nìkan ní nbe léyìn ti nsebo
Ebo Orí wáá dà ládàjù
Njé Orí gbónà j’Òrìsà
Orí mà gbónà j’Òrìsà
Orí nikan-nìkan ló kó won l’Ápèéré
Kó sí Òrìsà tó tó níí gbè
Léyìn Orí eni
Orí gbónà j’Òrìsà

Atefun tefun (he who prints efun)
Casted Ifa for the 401 Irunmole
When they were going to Apere, the state of perfection
He who prints efun (native chalk) on the back of the crocodile
The awo of Ori casted Ifa for Ori
When Ori was going to Apere
They were all advised to offer ebo (sacrifice)
Only Ori complied and offered the prescribed sacrifice 
The sacrifice of Ori has been abundantly rewarded
Ori is above all Orisa
It is only Ori that reaches Apere, the state of perfection
No other Orisa can give support
Beyond one’s Ori
Ori is greater than all Orisa

[Àtèfín – chap. 226/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

Ifá distinguishes different categories of Destiny as stated below:

A jí túú gb’ayé
A rìn gìnnìginnì gba’yì
Ò jí ní kùtùkùtù r’óhun ọrò ş’àrí gbọ̀n lọ ọ̀run
Díá fún Ọ̀rúnmìlà
Baba nt’ọ̀run bọ̀ w’áyé
Díá fún ọmọ ènìyàn
Wọ́n máa pín sí èrò mẹ́ta l’áyé
Àwọn tí wọ́n wá ş’ayé
Àwọn tí wọ́n sìn wọ́n wá s’áyé
Àwọn tí wọ́n yà wá wò’ran l’áyé
Gbogbo wọn ńbọ wá ṣe ohun mẹ́ta l’ayé
Wọ́n ńbọ wá hù’wà ire
Wọ́n ńbọ wá hù’wà ibi
Wọ́n ńbọ wá şe kòşe’bi-kòşe’re
Ààsẹ̀ẹ́ mọ̀gà-mọ̀gà kìí rí ohun ọrọ şe àrígbọ̀n lọ o
Awo Àgbọnnìrègún
Díá fún Àgbọnnìrègún
Ó ńti Ìkọ̀lé Ayé lọ sí Ìkọ̀lé ọ̀run
Ó nlọ s’ọ́dọ̀ Olódùmarè lọ bèèrè ọ̀rọ̀
Èétirí tí Olódùmarè fi dá èrò mẹta
Àti ohun mẹ́ta sílé ayé l’ẹ́ẹ̀kan şoşo
Ó ní a kìí dá Akọni mẹ́ta sílé-ayé
Kí wọ́n mọ́ fi apá gún ara wọn
Nítorí bí aga bá fi’ga gbá’ga, ọ̀kan á tẹ̀
Olódùmarè ní: Òun fẹ́ fi mọ bí’nú ọmọ ará’yé ti rí ni

He who calmly awakes to occupy the world
He who walks gently to obtain prestige
He who awakes early in the morning seeking for the elements of prosperity toward the heavenly realm
These were the awo who casted Ifá for Òrúnmìlà
When he was coming from the primordial realm to Earth
Also casted Ifá for the human race [human beings]
Which would be divided in three groups:
The motivators [those who accomplish]
Those who follow and assist achievers/motivators
And observers/spectators
All of them were coming to do three things on Earth:
They came to do good
They came to do evil
They came to neither do good nor evil
Ààsẹ̀ẹ́ mọ̀gà-mọ̀gà kìí rí ohun ọrọ şe àrígbọ̀n lọ o (name of awo)
Casted Ifá for Àgbonnìrègún
When he was going to Olódùmarè to ask some questions
About why Olódùmarè created three groups with three distinct characters at the same time
Three groups that would show different features/traits that could not get along without friction
Having friction, one tends to be subject to being harmed
Olódùmarè answered: it is a way to know human [clever] attitudes

[Ogbè fohunfolohun – chap. 31/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

(c): Ìpọ̀nrí
The Ìpọ̀nrí also known as ẹnikéjì represents the higher consciousness [or self] of the individual. Ifá teaches that all life forms evolve from a pure original source [the primordial source of Consciousness in the Cosmos]. The Ìpọ̀nrí is the double of every element that possesses an orí (and therefore a particular form of consciousness), it is the part of every lifeform that remains in the primordial dimension. As the highest form of individual consciousness [which remains intact, unspoiled or tarnished from the numerous challenges of the humanly experience that, to a certain extent and under particular conditions, blurs or blocks the connection to the higher self] with which to connect through Ifá, it guides and stimulates the spiritual elevation and provides access to transcendental experiences.

The ìpọ̀nrí is part of the complex structure of the self that fulfills its destiny in the primordial dimension free of bonds and impediments that the earthly counterpart endures and experiences. This part of the self does not cease to rise from an incarnation to another accumulating a degree of transcendence along the eternal journey. Seeking to connect with it energizes the process of alignment during a particular humanly [i.e. temporary] experience.

A particular configuration of what is commonly understood [or passively assimilited with] as Destiny relies upon three determinant components: àkúnlèyàn,àkúnlegbà and àyànmọ́.

(I): àkúnlèyàn
The àkúnlèyàn represents the most central aspect of individual destiny: the prenatal choice that occurs by kneeling down in front of Olódùmarè, in the presence of Ọ̀rúnmìlà Elérì Ìpín ibikéjì Olódùmarè [Ọ̀rúnmìlà the witness of fate, second to Olódùmarè] and Elenini [the Spirit of misfortune]. Each and every individual is therefore entirely responsible for the choice made [an ethics of responsability that is explicitely integrated in the yorùbá traditional worldview] as often stated in the following adage:

ọwọ́ àrá ẹni l’a fi ntún t’àrá ẹni ṣe – within one’s hands lies the potential of directing one’s destiny.
Or in many verses such as the following ones:

Ohun ẹ rí ẹ b’Orí sọ
Orí ni ẹ bá sọ
Ẹ̀dá ẹni lọ̀rọ̀ kàn

Direct any blame you have to Orí
It is Orí you should blame
The fault is not that of Ifá
One’s Ẹ̀dá is to be held responsible

[Ògúndá soríire – chap. 137/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

A kúnlè, a yan Ẹ̀dá
A dáyé tán, ojú n yánni
Ẹ̀dá ò ṣe tún yàn
Àfi báa táyé wá

We knelt down and chose our destinies
We arrived on Earth, we became impatient
The destiny can’t be rechosen
Until we come back to Earth

[Ìròsùn ọ̀sọ́ – chap. 90/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

The prenatal choice implies a deterministic approach to the humanly experience insofar as it defines the boundaries of destiny by establishing the settings & parameters [presets] to create optimal conditions for self-realization. It must be noted that Olódùmarè determines – in accordance with such choice – the in-dwelling Forces operating in Nature [Irúnmolẹ̀] that shall bring most efficient & effective support and assistance along our earhtly journey to fulfil such prenatal choice [later revealed during birth rites: ẹsẹ̀ntáyé, ìkosèjayé/ìkosèdáyé, ìsọmọlórúkọ or Ifá initiatiory rites and with which communication channels should be ritually established]. It is therefore an individual responsibility for the practitioner/devotee to focus his/her lifetime energy & resources (intellectual, emotional, physical & spiritual) on the quest for self-discovery & understanding as the ultimate goal of humanly experience. Orí àpéré corresponds to the fulfilment of such prenatal choice. However some individuals [of particular characteristics] are directly sent by Olódùmarè to participate in the collective humanly experience with specific missions (beyond individual choice).

(II): àkúnlegbà
Commonly referred to as free will – concept that reminds us that we are all confronted to choice at every moment along our earthly journey: each and every decision has the power to either expand or limit our field of action [or possibilities] at any given situation. Major decisions [in the sense of transformative power: in the direction of alignment with Destiny or deviation from it] generally translates in a confrontation between desire/aspiration and what needs to be done generating chaos & confusion (usually considered as an intervention of Èṣù who tests individual ability to plan decision making through Ifá [for the initiates]) as brilliantly explained by awo Falokun Fatumbi. To a true devotee, decision making goes through a process of deliberation and further confirmation through Ifá – as Ifá often teaches about the adverse consequences of impulse based decision making [absence of planning] as opposed to wisdom – as stated below:

Osa woo
Iwori woo
Oun a ba jo wo gege nii gun
Dia fun Imoran
Tii s’egbon Edu
Ebo ni won ni ko waa se
O gb’ebo, o ru’bo
Imoran mo da o tele
Ki n too da’kin o

Osa take a look
And Iwori take a look
Whatever we consider together
It is bound to come up well
Ifa’s message for Imoran, Deliberation
The elder sibling of Edu, Ifa consultation
He was advised to offer ebo
He complied
Imoran I consulted you first before consulting my Ikin

[Ọ̀sá adijo – chap. 154/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

Ifá operates in that sense as a compass of Destiny by providing guidance when faced to decision making [planning] not only providing the optimal course of action to be followed but also by warning against the potential consequences of inadequate choices.
Ifá offers and provides to whom willingly turns to Ancestral technology the means & tools to plan decision making and also supports those who courageously follow the prescribed course of action by creating the necessary conditions for alignment [or simply improving individual or collective condition(s)]. Ifá says to that respect:
Ni kékéré ni jàbàjábá ti níyi ni gàá
Ni kékeré lọmọ ọba ti ni ọlá lórí ẹṣin
A dífá fún Àatò
Èyí tíí ṣe bàbá Eríwò
Èmi ò m’ààtò, Ifá
Èyí tí o bá tò ló jé rere

It is from youth that a cow has has honor in the manger
It is from youth that a prince has honor atop a horse
Were the declarations of Ifá for Ààtò (methodical planning)
The father of all organizations
Ifá, i know not how to plan
It is that which you plan for me that i consider good and proper

[Èjì ogbè – chap. 1/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

(III): Àyànmọ̀
The àyànmọ̀ represents a quite significant aspect of Destiny: the set of unalterable preconfigured elements, events & situations each individual will experience & endure during a particular humanly journey. It is directly connected to the central belief in Àtúnwà which is the reincarnation of the Spirit/Consciousness until required elevation is attained to return to the primordial source in the purest manifestation. It responds to the causality principle by teaching that every decision has the power to generate [once transformed into concrete action] chains of reaction in the short, mid & long terms – in some occasions by impacting future generations as Ifá states in the following verses:

Agbọ́n’mi kótó orí ara a rè ni yóó gbọn lé
Àgbà tó wù kó gb’èbu ìkà
Bó pẹ́ títí, orí ọmọ ọ rẹ̀ ni yóó hù

He who draws water from a well
Will wet his head in the process
If an elder wishes so, let him display wickedness
After some time, his children shall reap the fruits of such wickedness

[Ìròsùn atẹ́ẹ́rẹ́ – chap. 88/Ifá matrix of west african system of knowledge production]

Nítorí òwò tí a bá ṣe lówurọ̀ 
Timọ́-timọ́ níí mọ́ ni lọ́wọ́ dọjọ́ alẹ́

It is because whatever thing that we initiate/start during our youth 
shall last until our elderness

[Èjì ogbè – chap. 1/Ifá matrix of west african indigenous system of knowledge production]

Ifá teaches that when we kneel and make our prenatal choice, we are taken to the celestial archive of Ọ̀rúnmìlà known as àládúndún ọ̀run where the files of our previous earthly journeys are kept and upon which the àyànmọ̀ is designed – facilitating or rendering the fulfilment of prenatal choice more challenging -. From a journey to another the àpárí inù experiences changes which directly affect the burden created by àyànmọ̀ [either by alleviating or weighing down the load].
Prior to the departure into the physical realm, additional steps & considerations must be taken into account to ensure a favorable journey such as consulting Ifá through Àjàgùnmàlè [the celestial babaláwo onifá], offering the prescribed sacrifices and appeasing Elénìní in order to create optimal conditions for arrival to the physical realm – otherwise possibly facing great adversity & a miserly humanly experience.
Focusing on the understanding of individual Destiny should therefore be an absolute priority to not only those interested in yorùbá system of knowledge [spiritual by essence] but also to initiates in order to better knowing & understanding the nature of the self which is what allows to produce a more meaningful & fulfilling impact in the world.

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