•Ifa Priest, YEMI ELEBUIBON Tells City People
One of Nigeria’s most celebrated poets, cultural practitioner and custodian of Yoruba cultural heritage, is the renowned Ifa Priest, the Araba-Awo of Osogboland, Baba Ifayemi Elebuibon.
This ageless traditionalist and proud Yoruba cultural Ambassador, enjoys celebrity status wherever he goes. Even outside the country, he enjoys same recognition. This is why his arrival at the burial ceremony of the Matriarch of the Kehinde family, late Madam Joanna Ebun Kehinde, the mother of City People Publisher, Dr. Seye Kehinde, in Isara-Remo, Ogun State, excited many guests at the event. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the hugely respected Ifa Priest who, at 75 years of age, is still held in high esteem anywhere he goes around the world. The Araba-Awo of Osogbo still looks nothing like his age. Dressed in a full yellow nicely embroidered agbada made of top quality Aso-Oke fabric, Baba looked much younger and healthier for a man his age.
Baba Elebuibon was born in Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. His family is one of foremost authorities on traditional Yoruba culture and spirituality. He is a direct descendant of Olutimehin, one of the co-founders of the ancient city of Osogbo. He began training as an Ifa priest at the age of four; his parent’s desire was for him to achieve a thorough grounding in Yoruba tradition and culture through an apprenticeship with renowned priest. Araba Ifayemi is a poet, a performing artist, a playwright, and a herbalist-diviner (Babalawo). He has published numerous books and papers on various aspects of Yoruba tradition. religion and culture. He is an associate staff member of the Department of Africa Language and Literature, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He was an international scholar-in-residence at San Francisco State University and the Wajumbe Cultural Institution California.
Shortly after his arrival, the duo of City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) and ISAAC ABIMBADE requested for a brief interview with the respected Ifa Priest and he obliged us. He talked about how foreigners got to learn about the Yoruba language and Ifa and why he is not happy with many of the new generation of Yoruba Obas. Here are excerpts.
What do you say, sir, about the conduct of some of our young Yoruba Obas who have pushed away our tradition and culture to embrace western culture even when they are supposed to be custodians of our culture and tradition themselves?
You see, what is going right now amongst Yoruba Obas is something that breaks one’s heart so badly. And it also makes one begin to fear and wonder what the future will bring for the Yoruba land. Right now, we have two sets of kings. There are some kings who are nothing but ceremonial kings, they lack knowledge and they do not respect culture and tradition of Yoruba land, but there are also others who are true and genuine kings, who know the culture and tradition of their people inside out. You see those ones who have been taken over by western civilization, what they have done is to constrict themselves to slavery. And for anyone to jettison their own tradition for foreign tradition, then you will certainly begin to display foreign behaviours different from your own, and that is exactly what is happening to our young Obas now. Many of them behave as though they just dropped from the sky without a single knowledge of our tradition and values. You see them do things unbecoming of a king in public. Things that before now you couldn’t associate with a Yoruba king have now been taken for granted. They speak carelessly without restraint in public, they eat in public, they openly show disregard for our culture and tradition, I can go on and on. I am deeply pained by some of the things I see. How can you be a Yoruba king and you now say its western language you will be speaking to your people, its western clothes you will be wearing all the time and its western culture you wish to adopt, how can that possibly work when you as a king are supposed to be a custodian of the Yoruba culture and tradition in the first place?
Take for instance the way the world travels to Israel either on pilgrimage or tourism because the government spends good money to sustain what they have, now a king here now decides that rather than do what foreign governments do, he too wants to abandon his own culture and tradition and go embrace their culture over there is something that is so heartbreaking. It is sad to see that civilization has made our traditional rulers to be behaving the way they are doing? My advice to them is that they should go back to their roots. For instance, many Obas do not even know their own oriki. They do not know anything about the kings that occupied the throne they occupy before them, they do not know the ‘Odu Ifa’ that enthroned their land, the things that the ancestors of the land did that made the land to prosper and enjoy peace, these are all the things every true Yoruba king should know. Those who do not know these things should be taught so they can understand the origin of the throne they occupy.
Lately, and this has been happening for some years now, we have started seeing some white people speaking Yoruba fluently and some are even learning to engage and consult ‘Ifa’, sir, is this something that should bring joy to our hearts or something that be a source of worry for us?
It’s actually in two folds. This didn’t just start today. The white people started a long time ago, even me personally, I am one of those working with them on this, doing everything we can to put them on the right track. The results are just coming out now when people started seeing white people speak Yoruba language fluently and praise ‘Ifa’ and do Oriki so effortlessly, that was when everyone started to marvel. To be fair to them, they are learning these things for their own benefit and it is something we the owners of the heritage should see as a challenge and strive not to let it be taken completely away from us. But if we continue to have a situation where our kings and traditional rulers and the people in general no longer pay attention to our traditional values, then tomorrow we may end up losing everything we have to foreigners and we will have to go back to this same white people to learn our own culture from them. So, we must call ourselves to order, speak truth to ourselves and do the needful to preserve and protect our own.
Sir, we also heard some time ago that you were given huge sums of money from abroad and was also given a house just for you to come overseas to teach them about Ifa and impart into them everything about our cultural heritage that they wish to know, is that true, sir, or was it just a mere rumour? Yes, that is true, it was not a rumour. It was San Francisco State University. They gave me a whole house and also gave me artiste in residence and I was contracted to teach them African Philosophy and African religion.
And is the programmes still on, sir?
Yes, it is still running. I get yearly invitations. Once the organizers get endowment from people to support the programme, they call me to come over. I didn’t go there last year, though I was in America last year, but I will be there next year once they see that they have the resources needed to undertake the project.
Finally, sir, before we leave you, what is the secret of your fresh and ageless look? You have been looking this fresh and young for years now, is it that you eat something different from what we eat, sir?
Thank you for the compliments. There is no secret to it, it is what you people eat that I also eat. But sometimes, looking young can be hereditary. From my mother’s lineage, they grow old and still manage to look young (goes into the oriki of his mother’s lineage). So, I think it’s the blood I took from my mother’s lineage that has enabled me grow old and stay this young, and of course the grace of God as well.