Traditional African Culture Meets South Florida
A couple of weeks ago, South Florida hosted a Nigerian ceremony to honor ‘Orisas’. It was a “Odun Ifa” festival, or annual “Ifa” ceremony, during which traditional rites and ceremonies are performed in celebration of the Yoruba priestess Iyanifa Fajemirola Ifetayo Fakayode, hosted by The Ifa Temple of Divinity- located in Plantation, FL. head quarters of Ifawuyi Esuloju Eyioriwaase.
The ceremony opened with prayers to Ifa and Osun, as each Yoruba [ethnic Nigerian] priest and priestess, dressed in traditional garments, walked in and greeted each other. As traditional African drums carried over the chatter, laughter abounded and kids were running and playing with each other, some kneeling and some laying their bellies to the floor to greet Ifa and Osun, the orishas who were being honored on that day. Many rang bells and chanted songs; and as each prayer was said, the other guests proclaimed Ase- which in Yoruba means-’and so it shall be.
It was a lovely gift to the South Florida community. I was able to capture this African traditional culture and was honored to sit down with one of the Iyanifas (Yoruba Priestess) named Ifawuyi Esuloju Eyioriwaase, to speak about this past weekend and what’s coming as African communities continue to evolve and grow in South Florida.
Ruth: Where are you from? How did you get into African Spirituality?
Ifawuyi: Well, I am from Jamaica, and I live in South Florida. As a young person, I was stubborn. I would see spirits, but they guided me in my life. I was initiated into Orisa and Esu in my mid 20’s. When I discovered Ifa- which is the deity of one’s destiny, it made me more profound in the knowledge and culture in our traditional practice. Through that experience, I’ve grown and know that my destiny is to be a teacher.
I know that my head has a great destiny to fulfill, which is to bring and bond different people and cultures together, as a whole.
Ruth: What is a Odun Ifa Festival? Why was it brought down here to South Florida?
Ifawuyi: Odun Ifa-simply means that it is the birthday of a priest that has full initiation to Ifa. For example, when your birthday comes up, you celebrate. You bring your friends, family and community together. It’s the same thing. We brought it down here because the priestess that we were celebrating lives in South Florida and the temple is here. I also believe that South Florida has spiritual beliefs of all forms. It was important for me to meet my own mission to support this priestess and bring different people together.
Ruth: Can you let us know, what is Ifa?
Ifawuyi: Well, before I answer that, I would like to answer: what is spirituality?
Spirituality is the basis of one’s living. Many people would say I am godly or I believe in God, but in Yoruba-Ifa is the destiny-what you are brought here to do. What is your purpose for being here on this earth.
Ruth: What are some of the intricate aspects of the ceremony that you would like the greater public to know?
Ifawuyi: We made an offering to Osun at the river. We believe that every aspect of nature has a purpose. We believe if we love God, or Olodumare as I know him, then we should give/pay reverence to the wind, the mountains, and all bodies of water. On that day, we gave offering to the sweet water our great Mother-Osun.
I personally would like to bring Yoruba African tradition to everybody; not just to a certain group of people. I would like to have a relationship with anyone who wishes to understand spirituality; you don’t have to be of African descent to be interested in African Traditional culture.
Ruth: How often does this festival happen? Has there ever been one in South Florida?
Ifawuyi: It can happen at any time of the year. An Odun festival is giving reverence to that deity as a way to show gratitude. A year after your initiation has taken place, you sequently have Odun every year after that.
South Florida is the Mecca of spirituality.
There have been many festivals for traditional culture, but a lot of people have come to me and said they have not seen anything like this before.
Ruth: When and why did you start The Ifa Temple of Divinity?
Ifawuyi: This is the question that I love. We started the idea around the ending of 2016. I wanted to bringing people together as a whole. I want to start to show people that just because you are from one belief does not mean that we can’t create love, harmony, peace and togetherness. The Temple of Divinity is to bring all different kinds people no matter what their religion together to simply pay homage and gratitude to Mother-Earth.
Ruth: What are you and Ifa Temple of Divinity currently doing or hope to do to accomplish your purpose?
Ifawuyi: Right now, The temple is building. We are speaking and educating people around spirituality. We hope to do rites of passages for young children. Spread education of love through cultural tradition. Through the media, word of mouth and amplified publicity-we can spread what we are trying to convey in order to accomplish it.
Ruth: In your opinion, what steps can people who are looking for a Yoruba/Ifa spiritual home or guidance take?
Ifawuyi: Well, people who are looking for traditional culture can dial our number 754–300–8432 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be teaching about herbal plants and their benefits, yoruba culture and language and traditional rites of passage. We will be starting a class in a couple of weeks on teaching yoruba culture, tradition and understanding the foundation of earth and our mother. We have lost touch with our mother and when we lose touch with our mother than we have lost everything. The goal of the temple is to bring us back to our Mother-the Earth.
Ruth: Aside from the Odun Ifa Festival what other activities and events do you engage your community in?
Ifawuyi: I lead rites of passage for young adults and children. I want to start classes where children learn art, culture, education of self and to recognize and respect the fundamentals of our Mother.
Ruth: When you say to our mother, what you do you mean?
Our mother is the earth; every part of nature is our mother.
Every part of nature is what we revere. We must go back to that. We must honor that.
Ruth: In your opinion, how can we support the work that you are doing in South Florida?
Ifawuyi: You can support through donations, word of mouth and sharing the message on social media. You can also contact the Ifa Temple of Divinity through email and send donations by logging in as guest and using this email email@example.com.
Ruth: Do you have funding to run the programs?
Ifawuyi: We’re building these programs utilizing our own personal funds, but it is our goal to raise the funding necessary to reach more people and grow on a larger scale. Any donations would be greatly appreciated.
Ruth: What do you see next for The Ifa Temple of Divinity in South Florida?
Ifawuyi: I cannot see the future, but I can say that I would like to engage more members of the community to join us and enjoy the festivities and cultural diversity our tradition has to offer. I would like to see a future of African culture World Wide.
Ruth: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the larger community?
The principle of the Temple is to unite all cultures. I want anyone, no matter what religion to come and participate in our culture and traditional events. And in closing, I want to quote the famous song that brought diverse nations of people together, “We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones that make a brighter day”.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ruth Jeannoel is a first generation Black Haitian Immigrant, mother, wife, community organizer and birth worker living in Miami, FL.