I’m not an Orisha Expert

Yoruba spiritual/religious systems are probably the most well known and practiced indigenous African faith systems in the west. This comes with a dilemma. Many people don’t see it as a Yoruba faith system in the west, but instead as an all encompassing Nigerian (or just plain African) faith system. I’m a Nigerian, but I’m not Yoruba.

The amount of people that come up to me to talk about Orishas or to learn more about it has increased over the years. When I tell them that I don’t know much about it, and that this is foreign to me, I usually get two reactions. The most common reaction is confusion. They can’t understand why a Nigerian doesn’t know these things. I explain to them that this is a very specific faith system, and that other ethnic groups have (or had) their own indigenous beliefs. I might as well piss in the wind, because I have a feeling that it doesn’t register. Westerners are used to homogeneous societies that speak one language and have one major religion. It’s very hard for them to fathom diversity on this level. How do you even explain that Nigeria has 250+ languages? With that came different cultures and different indigenous faith systems.

The other reaction is lecturing. It doesn’t happen as much, but it has happened a few times. They start their unsolicited teaching, like they’re doing me a favor. Westerners with a cursory knowledge of Orishas like to talk about it endlessly. This is solely a western thing. Adherents in Nigeria and Benin do not go around telling people about Orishas. It’s sort of like how some vegetarians in the west behave. A Hindu vegetarian isn’t going to make a big deal about their vegetarianism the way many westerners will, especially westerners who made the lifestyle change from being a meat eater. To a Hindu person who perhaps has been a vegetarian all their life, it’s just another day. It’s part of who they are, but that aspect of their life doesn’t define them. They won’t be wearing “pro-vegeterian” t-shirts and stickers like some of their western vegetarian counterparts. How does one know that a westerner is a vegetarian? You won’t have to ask, they will tell you. They will tell you everything. They’ll tell you about their gluten free diet that you never inquired about as well. If there is one thing westerners on specialized diets love to do, it’s telling you about their specialized diet.

Likewise, many western Orisha adherents (usually new converts in the US) are vocal about their Orisha beliefs almost to the point of being obnoxious braggarts. They go around chatting up Nigerians, typically to dazzle them with the knowledge of their ‘culture’, and Nigerians eat this stuff up. Nothing pleases some Nigerians more than when a non-Nigerian tells them something about or from Nigeria. Since there are a lot of Yoruba people in the west, these chats are entertained.

The most humorous exchange I’ve received thus far was from this “conscious” woman who took it upon herself to feel sorry for me when I told her that Orishas for the most part were foreign to me. She told me that I need to know my history, my culture and my people, and that I should ‘decolonize’ my mind. I didn’t take it personally. I know she meant well. I explained to her that these beliefs are specific to Yoruba people. In all honesty, I was just happy to see a “conscious” person not talking about Kemet. They all seem to be professional Egyptologists, and they are stuck there. Meeting one who ventured to another part of Africa was like seeing a unicorn.

I have a feeling that Yoruba faith systems are about to be the new Egyptology. Move over Imhotep, Sekhmet, Osiris and Ptah. Shango, Ogun, Obatala and Oshun are coming.

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