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Yoruba prayers for peace

Published:Sunday | June 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Caribbean nationals in New York mark day of healing with traditional African service

Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

With Caribbean-friendly weather conditions at Brower Park in Brooklyn, New York, West Indians from several islands gathered for a day dubbed 'Prayer for Peace'.

Organised by Ifa Mahaba Olufemi and Iya Tifase, directors of The Committee for Commemoration of Emancipation Day, in collaboration with the Global Interfaith Council, the event addressed Caribbean community problems such as black-on-black violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and "the misdirection of our children".

The day featured a number of speakers and poets, along with a medley of African drumming.

Donning traditional African attire, members of the Orisa tradition showcased the extent to which the culture is rooted in the diaspora.

The organisers argued that in addition to practical social programmes, prayer "is a viable and time-tested option" for social healing.

Olufemi explained that supplication is an essential part of Ifa worship, although he cautioned against unrealistic prayers. "It must be understood that prayers to the divinities are for the elevation and purification of human qualities."

He argued that the highest form of prayer "is asking for nothing except for transcendence and protection from negative forces".


Olufemi added that prayers for something specific such as healing the sick must be accompanied by incantations, commonly called 'oriki,' along with offerings to the divinities and "whatever may be prescribed after consultation with the Sacred Oracle".

The keynote address by Olufemi, who, days earlier, had fasted and performed a divination ritual by accessing verses in the Odu Ifa (the Yoruba sacred texts), emphasised the power of prayer and reconciliation.

He asked the faithful to be mindful that those who control the levers of power are determined to control the disenfranchised and natural resources at any cost. "The message of Ifa is crystal clear: We must re-establish harmony among ourselves and the universe."

Olufemi called for veneration of the ancestors, making particular mention of the countless victims who perished during the Middle Passage. Literary icon Maya Angelou was also honoured with a moment of silence.

Anecdotal and replete with admonitions and injunctions, Olufemi recoiled at being called "a prophet of doom" but cautioned that "the stakes are high and stacked against us".

Olufemi derided as "fallacy" any cultural divide among Africans and Caribbean people, stressing that "we are all one", although he stated that blacks are sometimes their own worst enemy because of "ignorance and Europeanisation".

He defined Ifa as one of the most powerful and oldest traditions. "Ifa is the spirit of wisdom, divination, and medicine. It is a voluminous body of knowledge that takes years and years to absorb."

Olufemi, who travelled to Nigeria to initiate into the tradition, expressed dismay that "in this era, many of our people believe that our traditions are instruments of Satan to derail us from Christianity". He called it "miseducation taken to the extreme," adding that "if you need Jesus, that is fine. I don't have a problem with that, but at least you should respect the culture and religious systems of others".

Inveighing against insularity and prejudice, Olufemi advocated tolerance and a society characterised by diversity and peaceful coexistence.

"Peace, lasting peace, is contingent on two distinct factors: reverence for the environment and spiritual ethics. They are essential for stability and human development."

He blasted political and economic leaders who, he said, reap profits "by pillaging the environment".

Olufemi also targeted politicians who approve the creation and proliferation of lethal weapons to kill, questioning their mental health. "There is no better or more humane weapon. It's laughable."

He criticised so-called "modernisation" and its disastrous impact on nature, warning that "it (nature) will retaliate in a way we have never experienced".

Olufemi later invited attendees to a makeshift Ifa shrine nestled at the base of a tree partially adorned with white cloth. It is there that they prayed for the ancestors, for personal growth, and community development.

Prayer for Peace proved to be an afternoon of education in African lore and the advancement of Ifa tradition through Yoruba prayers and rituals. Moreover, it was a day of fervent orison for togetherness and healing.

Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of the Global Interfaith Council, NYC.