Since the 1960s African Americans, Latinos, and Caucasian Americans have been traveling abroad to Africa, South America, Haiti, and the Caribbean Islands, in search of connections to African roots. Along the way many have turned to and accepted alternative forms of religious practice. Some of these practices combine religion, politics, and nationalism. The groups and individuals that I examined in Florida, South Carolina, and in Òs&dotbelow;ogbo, represent a small sampling of such practitioners. In their search for religious, cultural, and spiritual development, the practitioners that I examined have turned to the òrìsà and Ifá worshipping traditions of Yorubaland.
This study is largely ethnographic and I situate myself as integral to the ethnography. I have been a practitioner of Yoruba Religion for nearly thirty years in the United States and have witnessed many changes in the religious and cultural practices as well as changes in the leadership. Many things have changed and information is more readily available due to internet access and a blitz of published materials produced by academics and practitioners. Some of the alterations have been the result of itinerant priests and priestesses visiting or taking up residency in the United States and African Americans traveling to Yorubaland, Caribbean Islands, and South America, to be initiated into òrìsà societies.
My research is a study of former O&dotbelow;yo&dotbelow;´túnjí residents, now residing in Alachua County, Florida, who are also practitioners that traveled to Òs&dotbelow;ogbo, O&dotbelow;`s&dotbelow;un State, in Yorubaland to be initiated into òrìsà societies and trained to work as priests and babaláwos. It is also an examination of individuals that were instrumental in the development of O&dotbelow;yo&dotbelow;´túnjí Village, the Alachua County community, and what I call “The Òs&dotbelow;ogbo Connection.” As a part of the Yoruba revitalization movement, that began in the 1960s, to reconnect African Americans to Yoruba religious and cultural practices in Yorubaland, these practitioners have rejected many of the Cuban originated Santeria/Lucumi practices and have turned to Òs&dotbelow;ogbo for spiritual guidance and leadership. I examine the ways that these practitioners engage in Yoruba initiation rites in O&dotbelow;yó&dotbelow;túnjí Village, Alachua County, and in Òs&dotbelow;ogbo.
My research was privileged by my thirty year membership in the Yoruba American community and my relationship with Ifáyemi Elebuibon in Òs&dotbelow;ogbo. With my insider credentials I was able to videotape and photograph rarely documented rituals, ceremonies, sacred sites, objects, and discussions. I also uncovered several photographs during archival research and from informant's personal collections. I have included many of the photographs within this dissertation and a video documenting my research will be available at a future date. The photographs and video are intended to provide visual content that will demonstrate what has gone on in the past 30 years as well as what is happening at present in the researched communities.
In several instances throughout my research I relinquished my role as investigator and participated in rituals and ceremonies as a practitioner. During other times the roles became so blurred until the distinctions became unclear. So while this research is a quest into the religious practices of my community, it is at the same time a self portrait of a practitioner and proponent of Yoruba religious practices in the diaspora.
In my interest in demonstrating Yoruba initiation rites I have chosen to discuss an initiation in Alachua County of three women and my own initiation is Òs&dotbelow;ogbo. The initiation of the three women was performed by Ifáyemi Elebuibon and his cadre of student babaláwos in Florida and my Òs&dotbelow;ogbo initiation was conducted by members of his extended family. These initiations are not intended to be representative of all the ways that initiations are done throughout Yorubaland or the Yoruba diaspora.
The three women's initiations marked their entry into the orisa priesthood and connected each of them to Ifayemi Elebuibon's Òs&dotbelow;ogbo community. The initiation and training that they must pursue also entitle each of them to access to priestly knowledge and insights and the authority to participate in select priestly activities. After training each of them should be able to conduct divination sessions and serve others who may be interested in orisa practices. However, many people who are initiated are not trained and do not serve or function in the priesthood.
While it is my hope that my research topic adds to the current academic discourse about Ifá/òrìsà practices in the diaspora, it is also my hope that those outside of the academy will find direction and light as they embark on their own journeys towards understanding the ways of the òrìsà.”
My goal in conducting and discussing my research was to add to the tremendous body of work, concerning òrìsà that is currently underway. Finally, it is my hope that my observations as practitioner and scholar will provide an additional vantage point for viewing and understanding some of the developments and connections that has taken root in orisa communities throughout the òrìsà diaspora.