Prominent ifa priest, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon in this interview with FEMI MAKINDE shares his experiences as a traditional priest
Which schools did you attend?
I did not attend any formal school. I had all my education at home. Many people erroneously believe that you can’t be educated until you go to school. I did not step into any classroom to be taught anything. I learnt Ifa at home and I learnt reading and writing also at home
How long did you spend to learn Ifa?
I started learning from my father at the age of four. My father later gave me out to another priest who taught me. I stayed there for 10 years and six months. After that, I started learning from my father’s colleagues at different locations. I moved from Ilobu to Ede, Ibadan and Oyo to add to my knowledge of Ifa. Ifa knowledge is extended, so you continue to learn until you are dead.
Why have you not renounced Ifa worship in this age when many are being converted to Christianity and Islam?
Despite that many are being converted to these foreign religions, we still have some people who are embracing Ifa here in Nigeria and even abroad. This is because the knowledge of Ifa is spreading wide. Before, very many people didn’t know what Ifa was all about. Those who brought these foreign religions tried hard to rubbish Ifa and they painted it black to make our people accept their religions. Many people are afraid of traditional religion and they were not proud to associate with African Traditional Religion.
But now some of those who attend churches and mosques are now embracing African Traditional Religion. More people are now being initiated in this religion. Lots of Europeans and Americans are coming to be initiated into Ifa worship. Some people came from United Kingdom recently to be initiated into it. This is what early missionaries rubbished to have their religions spread to us but I am happy that their offsprings are now coming to embrace it.
How do you feel when people equate Ifa with evil?
The early missionaries started this. They brought civilisation and started calling Babalawo witchdoctor and painted them black to scare away people from them. But now, nobody calls Babalawo a witch doctor anymore. Babalawo is an Ifa priest, just like you have priests in churches and Muslim clerics in mosques.
People still link occurrence of bad things to Babalawo, maybe due to what is shown in home vidoes. How do you feel when this happens?
This is an erroneous belief of Babalawo and Ifa. Babalawos are not responsible for evil happenings. They are the ones who shed light on things which are not right. It is wrong to say that Babalawos are the ones responsible for bad things. We will continue to enlighten people about it. They are the ones putting right what the evil ones have made crooked. For example, when there is no rain or there is famine, people consult Ifa through Babalawo and these problems are always solved. So, Ifa is not wicked like they want many to believe. All those involved in acts of wickedness are not Babalawos because no Babalawo will engage in any evil act.
Apart from Nigerians, do you have foreigners consulting Ifa through you?
As I said earlier, some of those who consult me are based abroad. They make telephone calls almost everyday. They send e-mails to me asking me to consult for them and to prepare sacrifices and to do other things for them. I have a lot of clients abroad.
How do you react to negative things associated with traditional religion, especially in Nollywoood videos?
When you are talking about Nollywoood, you will realise that a good number of those who write their scripts don’t have a good knowledge of Yoruba culture. A lot of them disappoint us because they are misleading many who watch the films. But take a look at the works of Prof. Akinwumi Ishola, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Adebayo Faleti and others, you will discover that their works are different from all these because they know what Yoruba culture is about and they promote this in their works. But some of the Nollywood script writers and producers don’t know much about Yoruba culture.
Christianity and Islam do have converts; do you have those you have converted from other religions to traditional religion?
Yes, we do have people who were Muslims and Christians and were converted to traditional religion. They are now coming back to the religion of their forefathers. You remember that the early missionaries converted our fathers from traditional religion to Christianity and Islam but some are now retracing their steps. They are coming back to the religion of their forebears. All families in Yoruba land have one orisa they worship or another. Anyone who says anything contrary is either telling lies or doesn’t know.
What do you use to convert them?
Some who had one problem or another which could not be solved in the church or in the mosque get automatically converted when they find cure in the traditional way. They do refer some to us from churches and mosques. Some of them whose cases have no solution even with orthodox medicine or through prayers in church or mosque are advised to come back to their roots. When those come and find solutions, it is not difficult to convert them. There are prophets who tell their members to go back to their families and appease the gods their ancestors worshipped. They come back, a lot of aladura (white garment church ) have been doing that. A lot of Muslim clerics have been doing that also. Some of those Muslim clerics use Koran to deceive their followers while they practise traditional religion in secret. They know a lot of herbs and other things we do. That is the way it is.
Is there any rite to be performed on anyone who wants to be converted to traditional religion?
There are rites to be performed on such persons. Such person will be initiated. We will find out the Odu that gave birth to him. We will find out this through divination.
Have you killed anybody with your charms before?
Why will I kill anybody? I don’t do that, I have never killed anybody and I will never kill. You see, Babalawo don’t kill. Although Babalawo have an immense power, they are capable of doing so many things but killing is against the rules in this religion. There are things that are forbidden here. It is wrong to blame killings on the doorstep of Babalawo. Those involved in killing may be oloogun-ika (wicked people) Babalawo are priests, just like you have Catholic priests, Imams. We don’t use Ifa divination and sacrifice to kill. Sacrifices are offered for atonement, for healing of diverse diseases and ailments. But all the religions have some parts they can use to do evil things. There are portions like that used by some wicked Muslims and also the Seven Books of Moses are used by some Christians to do evil. All the religions have positive and their negatives uses.
But will you kill if Ifa asks you to kill anybody?
I have never killed and I am not going to kill. Ifa will never ask you to kill anybody. Some people want to kill when they believe somebody is blocking their progress. But there are many ways to make yourself unstoppable rather than seeking to kill those blocking you. I have had a lot of obstacles in life but what I do is to consult Ifa and ask it to help me to overcome such hindrances.
Have you ever snatched anybody’s wife using your Ifa knowledge or mysteries?
No. I have never done that. I married all my wives the right way. I know what you mean; it is called ‘ape’ or ‘ohunfa’. For example, if you like a lady and want to marry her but the lady does not want to marry you, you use ‘ape’ to bring such lady to your side but I have never done that or snatched anybody’s wife.
Have you ever been attacked by spirits or invincible forces?
I have enemies and there is no doubt about that. There is nobody who does not have enemies, especially when one is successful. There will be envy or jealousy and other things but what you need to do is to offer prayers and you will be untouchable and unstoppable. That is what I do. Back to your question, demons or spirits have never attacked me.
Traditional religion believers are not always given recognition in public functions, don’t you get annoyed with this?
This happens from time to time but I don’t like to argue in the public. There are many functions I attend and while they ask Christians and Muslims to pray according to their religions, traditional religion believers are not recognised. I don’t get annoyed. I just ignore it and keep quiet. I know that raising such issues could lead to crisis and I don’t want that. I know that those who do not recognise traditional religion have limited knowledge. Some people don’t want to hear anything about traditional religion and this shows how limited their knowledge is. African traditional religion believers are the most peaceful people. We don’t fight the Christians and Muslims who preach against our religion. We know that they are all descendants of the gods and how do you expect a father to be fighting against his children. That is why we don’t fight them. They come even to our houses and preach against our religion and abuse us but we don’t fight them. They can’t take that because they are not tolerant. But if anyone criticises their religions, they cause a lot of trouble. Have you ever seen any traditional believer go to any church and fight them there?
Do you think Ifa can assist in curbing corruption that has become endemic in Nigeria?
Corruption thrives in this country because our people are afraid of the truth. They are afraid of African Traditional Religion. Let political office holders and others in public offices swear in the name of Ile (earth). Some of them would say they are Christians and Muslims and would not swear in the name of Ogun ( god of iron) or Sango ( gods of thunder). I agree with them but let everybody swear in the name of Ile. We are all made from the soil and we would return there. Let them swear in this name and you would see that corruption would stop. It should be used in the private sector as well. We will continue to live with corruption unless we start doing this. Corruption can’t stop with the way we are fighting it. It will never stop except somebody would just descend from heaven and kill everybody. We can’t see any change going this way.
Can you recollect any occasion when you were saved by Ifa?
There was a year I was invited to the University of Ibadan for a programme. On the day of the programme, I was set to go and I consulted Ifa to know how the outing would turn out but it was negative. I asked Ifa, “should I not go for the programme? And it said, no don’t go.” So, I cancelled the outing and stayed back indoors. The following day, somebody came and brought a newspaper and I read how those who attended the programme were beaten and molested. I couldn’t believe it; I had to fetch the invitation card to ascertain that the programme I was invited to attend was the one disrupted. I thanked Ifa because it saved my life that day.
Do you have the power to disappear?
I don’t have that power called ‘egbe.’ Anybody who has it can disappear. But this is not to say that I am not protected. I have maximum protection, so I cannot be harmed.
Do you think that you could one day be converted to Islam or Christianity?
That one cannot happen. I have a deep understanding of the Bible and Quran and I also have a good understanding of Ifa but I cannot renounce Ifa. Christians and Muslims scare people with hell fire but I want you to listen to my CD on who will go to hell fire. They say that you will go to hell fire if you are not a Christian or a Muslim, but I am not afraid of hell fire because I am not a wicked person. I know what you can do that will take you to hell fire and I don’t do such things. What will now pursue me to be converted to Christianity or Islam? There is no problem that Ifa cannot solve. A lot of Christians, even pastors and Imams come to consult Ifa and use Ifa to solve their problems. But because we believe in fidelity, it is forbidden for me to start mentioning their names. It is confidential just like medical doctors don’t disclose the ailments of their patients to just anybody. Pastors and imams come to me and I prepare a lot of things for them. I use my Ifa knowledge to solve their problems. So, how am I supposed to go to them? Just this afternoon, a leader of a church came here wearing a native dress, you can’t know that he is a pastor but I know.
Do you take orthodox drugs ?
You don’t know me. I take hot pap with ‘agunmu’ (powdery dry herbs). I spent the last three weeks in Europe and I missed my agunmu so much. I use ‘agbo’ (concoction of herbs). I am almost 67 years old now and I have never slept in any hospital. I only undergo medical checks and take vaccines whenever I want to travel out of the country because it is mandatory.
You travel abroad with your totems; have you ever been embarrassed by security agents at the point of entry into any country?
I travel often to the United States with my ‘opele’ and I have never been troubled by anybody. They respect your religious beliefs in America. They would ask you if any strange object is found on you and it is your duty to explain to them. A lot of white people come here and I prepare ‘elegbara’ for them. They declare it to security officials at airports and they allow them to pass with the objects. One of my clients, a white man called Obakunle Akinlana, came and I made elegbara for him but they seized it from him at JFK Airport and destroyed it. He sued them and he claimed damages and he was paid. I have never been molested because of my religious items but the only people who give us serious headache are the animal rights people. They don’t want you to kill animals even for sacrifice. Anytime we want to kill animals for sacrifice abroad, we would go to the basement and hide the animals from people. There was an occasion in New York about 12 years ago when we wanted to prepare a sacrifice for a lady and she came with the animal we wanted to use. I was staying on the third floor and we went to the basement but the people on the street saw her bring the animal into the house: they called the police and informed the animal rights advocates. They came and asked us about the animal but we denied having any animal in our possession. They searched everywhere and found the animal at the basement and took it away. While they were searching, people started gathering in front of our house. There was a huge crowd and journalists from various media organisations were also there. I don’t know what they would have done to me if we had slaughtered that animal before they arrived. Despite the enforcement of animal rights, a lot of African Traditional Religion believers go to court to take permission to kill animals based on their religious beliefs. Even Muslims in the United States go to a certain place before they slaughter rams for Eid-el-Kabir festivals. You can’t just slaughter animals in the public.
But how would you feel if a law is made stopping killing of animals?
That cannot happen here in Nigeria because it is wrong. Killing animals for sacrifice, for entertainment and others is part of our culture. Killing of animals cannot be stopped here; such law would not work. Killing of animals is not a sin.
How many of your children share the same religious beliefs with you?
Maybe some of my daughters who are married to Christians or Muslims may be following their husbands in whatever they believe. But they all respect traditional religion and we live harmoniously. But this happens because wives must obey their husbands. But there is nothing you can get from the church or mosque that you can’t get from Ifa. Talk about healing or anything, you get it.
Many believe that Ifa divination is an art of deceit. Do you agree with this?
That is what the missionary made our people to believe. They use everything to scare our people away from the religion of their ancestors. They say that traditional religion believers use human beings for sacrifice but they have forgotten that there is no religion without sacrifice. Jesus Christ used his blood as sacrifice for Christians. Just last week, Muslims slaughtered millions of animals to replace Ismail that Ibrahim was supposed to kill. These foreigners use blackmail and fear to lure away our people from their religion to spread their own religions.
How do you react to the Isese Day declaration as a public holiday in Osun State?
It is a very good decision. It is first of its kind. I give kudos to the governor for doing that despite that he is a staunch Muslim. I implore other governors in Kwara, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Lagos, Ogun to also emulate Aregbesola and declare Isese Day in their states.
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