Pensacola hosted a colorful Nigerian Yoruba heritage celebration this past weekend featuring music, dance, food, and praise at the Fricker Recreation Center on the city’s Westside. The very lively and rhythmic music was provides by drummers from Oyotunji, a village in South Carolina that has preserved West African ways of life. The faith is called Yoruba, Ifa or Orisha and refers to the 200 year old history of African religious experiences that mixed with Christian elements when the Yoruba people, a large ethnic group in Nigeria, were brought to the Americas during slavery.
Chief Iyanifa Oshun Monife is a local resident with Pensacola roots. Her grandfather, James Goldstucker, was a prominent Pensacola businessman, funeral director and manager of the Pensacola Baseball Club. A High Priestess in the Ifa – Orisha tradition, Iya Monife is one of the oldest African American initiates of the religion which remains very popular in Latin American countries and in the United States amongst Latino communities.
Once she gave the welcome address to those in attendance the drummers began playing hypnotic beats that had the entire room up on their feet as the celebrants danced and shouted out resposes to each other. The event culminated a weekend of observing an initiation into the priesthood of Yemaya, the orisha (deity) of motherhood who is compared to The Virgin Mary. In fact, participants attending the local festivities traveled from Atlanta, New Orleans, The Carolinas, Houston, Tennessee, New Jersey and other larger cities.
Festivals commemorating the Yoruba religion are held in Seattle, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York. The ancient West-African tradition has been gaining followers throughout the United States spreading across the nation for the last 50 years. The religion is particularly popular with African-Americans who find it offers a spiritual path and a deep sense of cultural belonging. In an interview with an African-American military veteran who joined the Yoruba tradition stated, “What brought me to Ifa is that how close this tradition is linked to us as African-Americans in this country.”
This feeling is familiar to many black Americans who practice Ifa today as the ceremonial patterns of song and dance in the modern Black church has origins in African religions. In New York City in the 1950s, African-American Yoruba communities began to grow alongside the growing and surging black-nationalist movement. For years the Yoruba tradition stretched down the Atlantic Coast and toward the midwest to Chicago, and onto Oakland and Los Angeles. Although the tradition is comprised of practitioners of all backgrounds, many African Americans in Yoruba tradition are artists and college trained professionals since HBCUs have incorporated African Studies as an academic discipline. Some travel throughout the African Diaspora to be initiated and to study language, culture and religious concepts.
The Yoruba traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s Ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters it is taken to mean a portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success. Ashe is (pronounced Ah-shay, used as Amen) and is the life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate. Ashe is the power to make things happen. It is an affirmation which is used in greetings and prayers, as well as a concept about spiritual growth. While addressing the crowd, Iya Monife highlighted how African Americans don’t always abandon Christianity for Ifa, “With the orisha, you can choose to keep Jesus too. There are many paths to one God.”
To learn more about African traditional faiths in America, contact Iyanifa Oshun Monife at (850)554-0348.