ÌBÚRA OJÚÌB?: A CONTEXTUAL PHENOMENON
Introduction to Ìbúra-ojú Ìb?
It is an over-flogged fact to say that the African is highly, comprehensively, if not totally religious. Bolaji Idowu and many others have proved this religiosity as the only overriding principle of the African life.1 The African lives within the African religious culture and limits – whether consciously acknowledged or not. The African works within the religious limits and exercises a reasonable amount of conscious or subconscious fear or response to the Africaness of culture and African religion.
The impact of foreign religions on Africa, (especially Christianity and Islam) and on African traditional religion has led to many ignorant Africans being shy or even confused at who they really are and what is life to them. Of recent, within the Nigerian context, the issue of shrine, specifically, Okija, has generated a large outcry from very many Africans.2 The large but mostly diversed reactions has prompted a critical look into Ìbúra-ojú Ìb?, a Yorùbá phenomenon involving oath taking at the worship spot.
There are three key concepts in the compound formation of the word Ìbúra Ojú Ìb?. They are, Ìbúra, Ojú and Ìb?.
The etymology of Ìbúra implies to curse the body from I-bu-ara where i means Ibu means curse, (bu) or break (bù) and
ara means body or ara, people
Whichever words are chosen, Ìbúra connotes a voluntary, conscious choice of putting a curse on self (mostly on one’s self or on other’s body) for a known or desired purpose. It is a pledge, a mandate of commitment and strict compliance with a position at which a deviation from the agreed initial position will trigger the attached curse (evil repercussion) without any other negotiation.
Ìbúra is an act of self-bounding to guarantee total compliance and fulfilment of agreement. The agreement may be as simple as just verbal talks in ordinary “gentle man’s agreement”, as symbolic as breaking of kola or just a drink of a common fluid – be it water or wine – or as complex as some complicated covenantal rituals. Ìbúra can carry an accompanying sanction such as payment of fine, deprivation of whatever is promised to maximum sanction of loss of life through whatever means – mostly of some unusual or spectacular nature.
Ìbúra is always undertaken in order to affirm a position – be it an already claimed, assented or enjoyed one, or an aspired position in the future. Ìbúra can be one’s self or among parties – at least more than one person.. It could be among two persons or two groups of peoples or persons.
Generally, ordinary talking ought not to need Ìbúra in order to evoke trust, sincerity or speaking the truth. It is when these are doubted or to be consciously reaffirmed that Ìbúra is called into play. Ìbúra could be in public or in private with utter secrecy.
Mbiti captured this concept of Ìbúra in his discussion on oath when he wrote:There are oaths taking when people join the so-called “secret-societies”, when they are initiated in the rites of passage in professions like divination. Other oaths are taken when secret information is divulged, to guard some knowledge … by children … to obscure certain instructions.. Oaths range in seriousness: some are meant to bring about death if they are broken. Others cause temporary pain or misfortunes of one type or another. The belief behind oath is that God, or some power higher than the individual man will punish the person who breaks the requirements of the oath or covenant. Like curses, oaths are feared and many are administered ritually and a great expense.3
This goes fully for Ìbúra.
Modupe Oduyoye4 agreed with the definition of bura as “ swear (an oath)” and agrees that it shows a connection between cursing and swearing. “One pronounces a curse on oneself in swearing; an oath (Ìbúra) is a conditional curse.”5
Ojú is the second major concept for definition in Irubo Ojú Ìb?. Ojú literally means eye – that part of the body that is used for seeing. In one of Yorùbá Ifa verses Ojú the eye is the daughter of Obatala.6 Ojú could also be used for a spot or a sense of description of a thing –Ojú ona - The “eye” of the road – doorway
Ojú inu - The “eye” of the inside
Ojú aye - The “eye” of the world –the exposed situation in an event as in “Ojú aye ni yi” – This is the eye of the world; E o ri ojú aye l’ode – or yo now see the eye (crux) of the world (matter) outside (clearly).
Physical eye enables a person to see, clarify and know. It leads to appreciation and contributes to making many value judgements. When Ojú is used to qualify another word, it puts a succinct value, description, property and limit on such a qualified word.
The third concept is a major one. Ìb? means “worshipping”, in some undefined senses. It carries the configuration of worship in a unique sense. Ìb? is from the word “bo” that means worship. It carries with it all the full compliments found in worship from awe, respect, decorum, order to fear, sanction, deprivation, punishment, revered and such like. It is a very comprehensive and rather very inclusive concept.
The combination of the two words, Ojú and Ìb? makes Ojú-Ìb?. The two in oral speaking are often put as Ojúbo with the vowel “i” assimilated by the long vowel “u”. Ojú Ìb? literally will therefore mean “the eye of worship”. More precisely, it is the eye – spot for worship. It is a sacred, hallowed spot set apart (holy) unto worship. The English word “shrine” does not capture the concept fully but is contained in the concept of Ojúbo. Ìbúra Ojúbo is therefore the special vow, oath, pledge, commitment, declaration or agreement made at the special worship place. The importance attached to the Ìbúra is the importance, value, worth, awe, respect and power attached to the worship centre where such declaration is made.7 Hitherto, preliminary definitions have been given; more specifics can now be attempted. The next area of consideration is the properties or characteristics of Ìbúra ojúbo.
Properties of Ìbúra Ojúbo
1. The Ìbúra is usually done at the spot – confines – of the particular worship.
2. The power of the deity worshipped in the site is the seal and enforcing authority of claims and commitments made at such spot.
3. The spot is always a major frame of reference in all about the Ìbúra. Partcipants usually go to the spot for the invocation or revoking of spells of the Ìbúra.
4. The people involved believe in the potency of the Ìbúra and of the spot of worship where it is done.
5. The commitment, pledge or power that is activated at a spot of worship is believed to have a universal potency that it can inflict on renegade or defaulters once the deed is sealed.
Parts of the properties and characteristics of Ìbúra ojúbo include the objects used and what they stand for, songs used, time, types and pattern of irubo.
It must be noted that the people believed in the efficacy and instant judgement of that which the spot represents. The spot could be very simple, just adorned with palm fronds –mariwa, or could be an expanse of land and properties dedicated to a particular object that is worshipped. Examples of such will call to mind Igbo Oro or Igbo’ro (forest of Oro), Igbo Agemo (forest for Agemo) and Igbo Eluku (forest of Eluku).8 These places are usually swept on special days called Ako ojo, meaning hard, extraordinary or intercalatory days.9 Other such sacred spots would include Ile –Orisa (house of Orisa), Ile odi (house of Odi), Ile Osugbo (house of Osugbo), Ile Ogboni (house of Ogboni) or Ogboni lodge10 and such like.
It must be said that Ìbúra ojúbo takes for granted all the social values and functions of religion11, both the weaknesses and strength. It is within this range that making oaths, pledges and vows, breaking pledges and accompany sanctions are wrapped up. There is never an Ojúbo of importance or power if it does not fulfil, not only all the social functions and needs of the particular community it is located but also enforces adequate sanctions for the maintenance of order, justice and adequate preservation of life. Thus, Ìbúra ojúbo must always be seen within the total framework of all the properties, how the properties arose, how they have been retained, their values in the past and in the present. An example will be used to bring to focus some of these issues.
Examples: Ile and Ìbúra
A common object involved in almost all Ìbúra is ile. Ile is ground or soil or earth. Ile is a concept rather than just a word. Ile is a god within the Yorùbá pantheon. It is like “Mother Earth” in many foreign religious concepts. Ile is the main fertility cult and it preserves all of life. When it is therefore used, evoked or referred to, it implies that wherever the person may be, Ile can take her toll to support, punish, protect justify or kill the involved person.
Involving Ile can be as simple as just standing with the bare foot on the soil, just anywhere in the globe, and it may be as complex as going to a particular spot on the earth crust so recognised for its super-potency. This then becomes a recognised Ojúbo.
A vow, an Irubo can then be as simple as “Ile, o ri mi o”, that is, Ile you see or you are seeing us. It could also be as complex as expressed in songs such as:O d’owo Ile a jo je
O d’owo Ile a jo mu
Se olofo oro ni nperu
Epe jija a si pa ole
Ile dida ni npa ore
Alajobi to sebi ni n pa Yekan
A jo gbori Ile a je ku
A jo gbori Ile a je ja o
A jo gbori Ile a je koko igbin
O d’owo Ile ti a o sun yi
O d’owo Ile iya aye gbogbo
O d’owo Ile ta jo je
O d’owo Ile ta jo mu
Over to the earth we have eaten together
Over to the earth we have drunk together
It is gossip that kills the slave
It is the evoking of curse that kills the thief
It is back stabbing that kills the friend
Family tie kills a bad relative
We lived on earth eating rodents together
We live on earth eating fishes together
We live on earth eating whole snails together
Over to the earth we shall enter to sleep
Over to the earth the mother of all in the world
Over to the earth we have eaten together
Over to the earth we have drunk together.
Good exposition of this song will take much beyond the limit of this article. It will suffice to say here that the song is very comprehensive, giving the full nature, context, limits, hopes, powers and results of Ìbúra ojúbo.
On a second verse or version of the song there is the saying:O d’owo ile a jo je
Emi ko d’ale emi ko ku mo
Emi ko d’ale mo bo lo mo pe
Emi ko d’ale mo lowo laye
O d’owo ile a jo mu
Over to the earth we ate together
I have not broken a vow (I am not treacherous) I will not die
I have kept a vow I am amidst those with children (amidst the living)
I have not broken a vow I have money
Over to the earth we drank together
Another song says:Eni d’ale o bale lo
Hen e hen
Emi o d’ale mi o ni b’ale lo
Hen e hen
A di’a fun ore odale …
The person that breaks a vow goes (dies) with the ground
Yes o yes
I have not broken a vow I will not go (die) with the ground
Yes o yes
That divined for friends in betrayal12
All these songs show the theology, performative, commitment and realistic functionality of Ìbúra ojúbo among the Yorùbá.
It is noted that in every Yorùbá (and generally in African) community there are many Ojúbo that have Ìbúra of prominent dimensions. Sango, Ogun, Aiyelala and Esu are noted for their stronghold on the lives of people in communities where they hold strong sway. It must be emphasised that, these gods take total possession of their devotees including those that come to them for Ìbúra ojúbo. It is known that when a death is attributed to a god (and any God or god for that matter) the adherents of that god (worshippers and devotees) are responsible for the funeral rites of such a death.Onosango ni yoo sin oku ani ti Sango pa
Awon Aworo Aiyelala eni ku iku Aiyelala
Awon eni ile ijosin kokan ni yoo sin eni iku ile ijosin ba pa pelu.
The priests of Sango will carry out the funeral rites for a person that dies a death attributed to Sango
The priests of Aiyelala will carry out the funeral rites of a person that dies a death attributed to Aiyelala
It is the people of any particular worship that will carry out the funeral rites of a person that dies a death attributed to their religion as well.
This brings in the issue of recognition and punishment, especially in reference to Ìbúra ojúbo. A devotee that dies a good death in relation to Ìbúra ojúbo will be honoured and any that dies a bad death is equally given the full sanctions of the affirming order of the particular ojúbo. This makes Ìbúra ojúbo a purely contextual phenomenon. Taking an Ìbúra ojúbo out of context – be it in time, setting, principle, function, community and judicial premise – only makes an unreal, lopsided presentation that is unfair, untrue and biased.
It must be noted that modernisation has never destroyed history, background and fundamental principles of the human society. It is therefore apt that the Africans, in the wake of Westernisation, modernity and globalisation must put all consideration in the full context of then now and the fundamental real living principle of the African. Public outcries, as presented in recent media, raise issues that were neither understood nor clear. An attempt has brought the issue to the principle of continuity or discontinuity of the real African Ìbúra ojúbo.
The study carry out by this writer shows that 95% of Yorùbá have a subtle awe, recognition or fear of /for Ìbúra ojúbo, regardless of the foreign religious affiliation they flag as their social mask. When asked, “Do you believe that a fast judgement (by death) for an offender by the native Ìbúra ojúbo is possible?” most answered in the affirmative. When asked, “Will you want such Ìbúra ojúbo applied to you?” most did not respond. There were excuses, escape rhetoric and complaints! It was very glaring that the African still have a deep reserved sentiment for the native African Ìbúra ojúbo that sends down his spine a gripping sense of justice and immediate sanction if he should fail to carry out the terms of his Ìbúra.
In the Okija issue, emphases have shifted from the principles of Ìbúra ojúbo to number of deaths found and to modern health consideration. The shift, while justified as issue of opinion, has left off many vital questions of principles, cause, effect and where the African mind really stands! It is demonstrations that for a worthwhile Ìbúra, the courts, bonds and agreement of the Western worlds are simply arena of mere rhetoric, that delay justice by endless debates! If justice delayed is justice denied, then the people’s resorts to Ìbúra ojúbo, even now and by those the society should call enlightened, sophisticated or well read, becomes a matter of grave concern.
Conclusion Ìbúra-ojú Ìb?
This writing is not justifying any unlawful killing. Rather it is raising issues that there was a contextual phenomenon called Ìbúra ojúbo; that this Ìbúra ojúbo has its rules, devotees and mode of operations. Ìbúra ojúbo, like any sacred place of worship stands for what the community around it wants it to stand for! When a phenomenon outlives its usefulness it is bound to be replaced by the community that finds it willy-nilly. Ìbúra ojúbo is only a contextual phenomenon that needs more clarification especially in the present – relatively new setting.
Endnotes and References to Ìbúra-ojú Ìb?1. Bolaji Idowu, Olódùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief, London, Longmans, 1962, pp. 5ff . This idea is supported by many other African scholars like John Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, Suffolk, Richard Clay Ltd., 1982; and J.O. Awolalu, Yorùbá Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites, London, Longman, 1978.
2. Virtually all major Newspaper and mass media have carried one item, programme or the other on the Okija shrine within the months of June, July and August 2004.
3. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, Heinemann, London, Ibadan, 1982, p. 212 (and generally pp. 171, 212 and 214). It is noted that oath and secrecy are often closely related.
4. Modupe Oduyoye, “Potent Speech,” in E.A. Ade Adegbola (ed.) Traditional Religion in West Africa, Daystar Press, Ibadan, 1983, p. 218.
6. Ifayemi Eleburuibon, The Adventures of Obatala, API Production, Oshogbo, 1989, pp. 49-50 and 89. This is from Owonrin Baturupon of Ifa verses. This is of no specific etymological relation to ojú as in ojúbo.
7. It may be a mild generalisation to note that this consciousness of attaching importance to particular places is found in almost all the religions of the world. The names, often pet names attached to such places are usually of no universal importance beyond the shores of the particular religion canonising such a place.
8. J. Olumide Lucas, The Religion of the Yorùbás, CMS Bookshop, Lagos, 1948, p. 191.
9. Ibid. pp. 191-192.
10. Ibid. p. 192.
11. S.A. Adewale, “Social Function of Religion,” in The Interactions of Religions in Nigeria, Copyright, Ibadan, 1988. pp. 7-8.
12. This is a common folk song present in all of Yorùbá land in one form or the other. It occurs in many versions, some short, others very long and in dialectal variations. It is usually sung in sealing any main Ibura in where ever.
For a list of other Dr. Jemiriye's Publication resources,click on this link:Publications