THE YORUBA CONCEPT OF ORI IN RELATION TO HUMAN DESTINY
By RAYMOND OLUTOYIN OGUNADE, 2010
What is Ori-Inu?
Ori-inu (literally, “inner-head”) is “the individuality element or that which is claimed to be responsible for one’s personality”;10 “it is the real essence of being, the personality-soul, which guides and helps a person before he is born, … through the passages of life, at death, and finally goes back to Supreme Deity, its Creator, to give an account of man’s conduct on earth”11; it “rules, controls, and guides the life and activities of the person”12; “it also serves as a man’s double or guardian angel or counterpart”13. From these interpretations and meanings of Ori or Ori-inu, it is categorically clear that Ori-inu is a person’s spiritual element or being which is invisible but actively present when one is being created, throughout life, at death and when one appears before the Creator in judgement.
The spiritual essence of Ori-inu is evident in the fact that it “is closely related to God and it is given to man by God Himself”14. In this regard, Ori-inu can also be considered as a divine assistant delegated by its Creator to assist a person right from creation, throughout life and until the person comes back to God. Since it is spiritual in nature it possesses the ability to know with deeper insight, circumstances, situations and events surrounding the life of its client. This is the reason why Ori-inu is expected to help one navigate the storms of life. Hence the Yoruba will say: ki Ori ki o sin e lo o (may Ori go with you or may Ori prosper you). Ori-inu is also expected to assist an individual fulfill his/her destiny only if the person’s iwa (character); evil forces, vicissitude of life; other factors; and earth’s perversed/polluted nature allows it.
The State of the World at the Entry of Human Beings
After the creation and the equipping of the earth15 according to Yoruba creation story, “a man called Oreluere headed a party of beings, created for the purpose of inhabiting the earth, and came down to the newly created solid earth”16. This was the first time human beings will inhabit the earth. They “began to increase and multiply.”17 At this point of human’s occupation of the earth, it would appear as if there were two categories of human beings who were the first set of people to occupy it. Because after, Oreluere and his team, Olodumare (God) further commissioned Orisa-nla “to mould man’s physical parts from the dust of the earth. … But it was Olodumare’s prerogative, absolute concern, to make the physical form a living being by putting in it the essence of being or life.”18
This account has it that at the beginning there was so much peace and joy. The creation enjoyed harmony, and good relationship with the Creator19. At this stage of human existence on earth, it might not be wrong to say that there was no pollution; there was no evil; the destinies of those present at that time had not been altered. There was beautiful communion and fellowship between human beings and the spiritual world,20 to the extent of people going to heaven to request for whatever they needed.21 This fellowship soon ended.
We were informed that, “something happened, and a barrier was immediately raised between heaven and earth.”22 The relationship between God and human beings became sour. Human character, behaviours and attitude must have angered God so much that He “moved far away.”23 There are different sides to what must have happened. Some traditions have it that a woman with a dirty hand touched the face of heaven. Others say that a man misbehaved in heaven by being gluttonous. Whatever may have caused the separation, one thing is clear about the motif of all the accounts, and that is human beings sinned. The bliss of heaven and the one-time “Garden of Eden” that the people enjoyed disappeared. The well-being of human beings became disrupted from this moment on.
It may also be correct to say that this discord marked the beginning of bad destinies for human beings. Hitherto people’s destinies had been unpolluted. Since we have two categories of people (one set directly from heaven and the other set from Orisa-nla), we were not told which of them misbehaved or sinned. We can only assumed that the people made by Orisa-nla must have been the cause;24 or that the other set of people were influenced to sin and thereby connived to offend the Creator.
However, it is crucial to note at this point that both Oreluere, his team and human beings moulded by Orisa-nla came to earth with good Ori; unpolluted Ori; unaltered destinies. This is because, contrary to the views that Ori-buruku (bad inner-head; ill-luck personality soul; or tragedy-laddened inner person) is also as a result of one’s lot from heaven, the Yoruba believe, as enumerated by Awolalu and Dopamu that:
It is believed that basically, all Ori is good as derived from the Supreme Being. But the condition of man in the world, how he spends his life in relation to his environment, and his general conduct, can always make a change in the state of his Ori. In the light of this, man can have good Ori or bad Ori depending on various factors. A person’s character may spoil his good Ori and even make it bad to the effect that his whole course of life is adversely affected. Sorcerers, witches and evil men can make a man’s good Ori to deteriorate.25
From the above, it is clear that God did not make any Ori to be bad. There is no appearance of evil in the abode of God. Ori originated from God to human beings. Ori was very good as at the time it was leaving heaven for earth. This is further strengthened by the Yoruba Odu corpus according to Ogbe Egunda, which says:
Iwa nikan lo soro o,
Iwa nikan lo soro;
Ori kan kii buru lotu Ife,
Iwa nikan lo soro
Character is all that is requisite,
Character is all that is requisite;
There is no destiny (Ori) to be called unhappy in Ife city.
Character is all that is requisite.26
In addition, the Yoruba also have a saying: eni lori rere ti ko niwa, iwa lo ma a bori re je (However happy a person’s destiny may be, if he has no character, it is (lack of) character that will ruin his destiny (Ori).27
The Yoruba Concept of Ori
E. B. Idowu, the doyen of Yoruba Religion, has shown convincingly that Yoruba believe in Ori.28 He examines the different elements that make human beings and argues that the most important element is Ori. He contends that in the act of taking destiny, “it is the Ori that comes into the world to fulfill a destiny.”29 Idowu believes that because of its pure origin,30 no Ori is essentially bad. By this view, Idowu is also in agreement with the fact that no Ori leaves heaven in a bad state. The Yoruba, therefore, believe in Ori leaving heaven in a pure state.
J. O. Awolalu and P. A. Dopamu corroborates31 Idowu’s position. To them, the Yoruba believe that, “Ori is closely related to God and it is given to man by God Himself … “the Source Being” or “the Source from which being originated.” This shows that it is only the Supreme Being that can put Ori, the essence of being or the personality-soul into man.”32 Their views x-ray the Yoruba position that Ori’s origin is godly and thereby unpolluted from heaven.
Wande Abimbola devotes a whole chapter to “Ori and Man’s Choice of Destiny” in his book.33 He affirms that “the Yoruba have a strong belief in Ori.”34 However, in his discussion of the theme of the Ori in Ese Ifa, Abimbola does not mention the place or role of the Supreme Deity in the choice of destiny. He narrates a myth which states that “each man chooses his Ori in heaven from Ajala”35 a notorious, incorrigible debtor and an irresponsible man who makes heads (Ori) with clay in heaven. Abimbola also, regard Ori as one of the gods in the Yoruba pantheon, and possibly the greatest god of all.36
Removing Deity from the choice of destiny may contradict Yoruba belief. Again, Ori is not a divinity in the sense of Orisa. It has no priests, no priestesses, no temples, no shrines and no festivals unlike Yoruba divinities. But its role in the owner’s life (Olori) makes it an object of reverence, and sacrifice, especially when something is wrong with the owner of Ori and he/she is asked to worship his/her Ori so that all may be well.
From the foregoing, the majority opinion is that the Yoruba belief that Ori originated from the Supreme Deity to choose and receive human destiny, and assist the individual person to fulfil it when he or she gets to the world/planet earth.
Ori in Relation to Human Destiny
The Yoruba have what can be regarded as a two-sided conception of destiny.37 To them, destiny is a package of a life-course which should be un-alterable, but which in certain life’s circumstances, and because of some factors in life can be altered. At first glance, this Yoruba conception seems problematic and contradictory. This is not so at all, as we will soon discover.
Ori is the compass of an individual’s destiny. This is why Dopamu says, “destiny is the function of Ori.”38 This is the reason why the Yoruba also describe destiny as ipin-Ori (the Ori’s portion or lot). The popular belief is that ipin-Ori means that the Yoruba belief in predestination. And some people have interpreted this to mean that anything that happens to a person on earth, or a person’s doing on earth, has been predestined ever before he/she appears in the world. We disagree with this view. This interpretation is capable of making absurdity of Yoruba’s concept of predestination/destiny.
In the first instance, if the lot of one’s Ori is predestined why akunleyan (that which one (Ori) kneels down and chooses)? God did not choose for Ori. Individual Ori made a choice of destiny. And since God is not a Jester; not playing pranks; not intentionally or deliberately putting individual Ori into serious trouble, all the destinies in heaven must have been good. It is only reasonable to conclude that their contents will be different from each other. However, it is also possible that there will be nuggets of trials in each package of destiny. But definitely, not trials that will lead to a tragic end in life.
Secondly, before an individual Ori can make a choice, something must have informed the choice; some form of attraction to a particular package of destiny must have been on each one. Therefore, no Ori would have chosen a bad destiny. In addition, even at the point of akunlegba (that which one (Ori) kneels down and receives) one discovers that the choice is not satisfying, one still has the opportunity to make another choice, since it has not been conferred; it has not become ayanmo (that which is affixed to one) yet. The only dark area in the stages of taking a destiny is that we were not told what informs preferential choice, and whether each Ori was conscious when the destiny was being chosen.
It is our belief that all destinies left heaven in very good conditions, and they have been predestined to be good. They are also expected not to be alterable. But the sinful nature of the world becomes serious obstacle, as we shall soon find out. This is the major reason Orunmila becomes eleri ipin (the eyewitness of destiny). This is so for him to be able to render assistance when consulted, if a destiny is altered by many negative factors of the world. Since he was present at the point of choosing a destiny, he knows the initial state and can prescribe what is required in rituals to revert the situation back to its normal state.
As we have noted earlier, several factors are responsible for the alterability of destiny. God did not impose His will on human beings. If He wanted to, nothing would have been able to alter destinies. That human beings are not robots was evident in the freewill of choice making. This singular reason gives birth to variety of human acts, manifesting in diverse forms of destinies’ alterability.
Firstly, an individual negative or inordinate appetite or ambition can alter his/her destiny from good to bad. This is what the Yoruba call afowofa (that which one brings upon oneself) as enumerated by Idowu39, Awolalu and Dopamu40. The individual iwa (character) becomes an important channel through which one can alter his/her destiny for bad or leave it in the good condition as it came from heaven.
Secondly, destiny can also be altered adversely by omo araye (evil forces in the world) or by elenini (“the relentless, bitter, sadistic, implacable enemy of people” including “witches, sorcerers, poisoners and all who are given to evil practices in the hope of spoiling every opportunity of human success”).41
Again, family curses, economic policies, political structures, terrible leadership, bad governance and the likes can change people’s destinies from good to bad.
Another factor is a violation of spiritual or divine laws. Disobedience to divine injunctions will be punished by the divinities that assist Olodumare in the theocratic governance of the universe. In the process of correcting this misbehaviour (to prevent a multiple damage to the entire community), “a person’s happy destiny can become an unhappy one. The actual fulfilment of destiny by Ori or personality-soul therefore, depends largely on how a man acts in the business of daily living.”42
In concluding this segment, destiny has no relevance in heaven. It is meant to manifest or play-out on earth. In the process of its manifestation, Ori is required to guide and assist the carrier/owner of destiny through life so that the earthly factors that alter destiny will not prevail. Ori’s role therefore is to essentially try to make sure that one’s destiny is fulfilled as it was designed by God. But this is not automatic. Ori is also to be present at judgment as a witness to how an individual’s life played – out or was spent on earth. This is why it will not be wrong to say that eri okan (human conscience) is inseparable from Ori. Eri okan is Ori’s police to nudge people from time to time when they are derailing, and also to give adequate attention to their Ori. This is why the propitiation of Ori by the Yoruba makes a lot of sense.
We have seen from the preceding sections that the Yoruba believe in Ori as the receiver of destiny from God. We have also seen that all Ori are good, since they originated from Olodumare (God). We have also shown that God is not a Jester; that He is not irresponsible and wicked to have arrayed a mixture of good and bad destinies and allowed Ori to choose. If this is the case it is unjust to punish people for whatever offenses committed, since such acts would have been predestined.
In addition, we have also shown that all destinies left heaven in very good condition. Although, that there might be nuggets of trials in each package of destiny but these will only work out for the good of such destiny. Destinies can only be altered by the sinful nature of the world which includes adverse human acts.
In conclusion, we can say that although the Yoruba believe that human destinies are desired, predestined by God before coming to the world, and that this destiny is sealed and should be unalterable, people’s actions and life’s circumstances can alter or modify it. It then behoves human beings to live their lives in such a way that their destinies are preserved unspoilt. And if for any reason anyone is tampered with, such should be rectified so that people’s world becomes the way God intended it.