Ifa is the Indigenous Spiritual Practice of the Yoruba People of Nigeria. The practice has three major components: Orisha Veneration, Ancestor Veneration and Divination. Orisha are Spirits are spirits of nature and are responsible for the rules which govern nature. Orisha are anthropomorphized with human characteristics for the purpose of understanding their essence and being able to extrapolate psychological constructs.
Orisha Worship came to the Americas with the African slave trade over a period of 400 years. The practice thrived in Cuba and the Islands as the slaves were not prohibited from practicing their native religions. In addition the slaves blended their African practice with the Catholic religion to hide their overt practices from Europeans. In this manner, the traditions of Lukumi and Santeria were born.
Ifa did not survive intact in the United States. Africans were prohibited from practicing their native traditions. However, core elements of the tradition such as “possession” and ancestor veneration survived in the Black churches. The phenomena of receiving The Holy Ghost and spirit possession are still seen and experienced in the Black Church.
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Ifa is the fastest growing spiritual practice in the world. Many point to the holistic approach of Ifa; it’s focus on natural living and medicines, as well the incorporation of music and dance as a reason for its growth. Many cite the individualistic aspects, such as determining of one’s personal destiny; determination of one’s ruling Orisha and individual relationship to God as reasons for this tradition’s phenomenal growth.
Many first experience Ifa or Lukumi though Orisha music and dance. One does not have to be an initiated priest to sing and dance to Orisha, (however, in ceremony the non-initiated dance separately from the initiated.) The dance proceeds as the musicians play and chant a litany of songs for the Orisha. Each Orisha has specific songs which are sung in a very specific order. The songs are called out by the Akpon; the lead singer; and the chorus comprised of both initiated and non-initiated sing the response. In this manner the audience can become as much a part of the ceremony as the musicians. In fact, it is the communal response which makes Orisha song and dance so powerful.
We are posting a video of a public performance of dance to Orisha Yemaya performed by a group in Japan. Yemaya is the Orisha who governs the seas. She is called the Mother of Fish and is often represented as a mermaid; half human and half fish. The allusion to being the Mother of Fish alludes to the abundance of life forms in the ocean. Modern science has yet to document all the life forms in the sea and the oceans remain the true last frontier of the planet. It also alludes to the creation of life which science has proven, comes from the sea. Yemaya represents the manifestation of life, children, compassion and maternal direction. One should not be deceived by the metaphor of being maternal as the sailors say; the sea never gives up its dead. Yemaya can be ruthless and unyielding when angry. We are then forced to endure emotional upheaval until we find solid ground.
We are posting a video of a performance of songs and dance to Yemaya. This video demonstrates the global spread of the Ifa and Lukumi tradition and the diversity of the people embracing this culture. We love this particular performance. The dancers are very fluid and precise in their movements (this may be the Japanese influence on the dance) and the Akpon is impeccable. We love the images of the sea and moving water symbolized by their flowing dresses. This performance could not have been better. Enjoy!