In this interview with Yinka Rotilefon, Araba Famoroti Bamisaye spoke about his journey from Christianity to traditional religion and why he is optimistic about the future of the religion
Question 1: Our readers would like to meet you here, sir.
Answer: My name is Araba (Dr.) Famoroti ‘Kunle Bamisaye. I was installed as Araba Ifa in Iyeni, Ire-Ekiti on 29th July, 2012. I am the Otun Baba Ijo of Ijo Orunmila Adulawo, Eji Elemere Temple, Itire Road, Musin, Lagos. I am currently the General Secretary of Ajo Araba/Oluawo L’Agbaye (International Forum of Araba/Oluawo).
I am a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (FCIS). I hold a Practicing License of the Institute. I also hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Public Administration from Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State. I have worked in the public and private sectors of Nigeria for over three decades until I retired in 2017 as a Group Company Secretary/Compliance Director. I am currently in private practice. My telephone and whatsapp line is 0802 224 2610, and my e-mail is email@example.com.
Question: How did you find yourself in traditional practice?
Answer: I was born into a family of traditional religion adherents though my parents were also Catholics. I am from Ebi Ijiare in Iyeni Quarters, Ire-Ekiti and this family are the custodians of ‘Epa Ogun” (the Ogun Mask) that is venerated annually during Ogun festival in Ire-Ekiti. In addition, my family is a very popular family of Ifa practitioners. In fact, one of our praise names (oriki) is “omo agb’eja lila bo’Fa, omo a m’opele t’ori onisuan se” (the offspring of he who offers big fish to venerate Ifa and who uses Ifa divination to positively restructure people’s lives). So traditional practice comes to me naturally. It flows in my blood.
Question: What influences your interest in traditional practice?
Answer: It will interest you to know that I was training to become a Catholic priest. I had my secondary education at a Minor Seminary and I proceeded to the Major Seminary in Ibadan before I quit.
I studied Modern Languages and I had my first degree in French. It was during this time that I came across African incantatory poetry as a course of study. During our long vacation my lecturer gave me an assignment to carry out a research in “Ijinle Ohun Ife” which is purely Ifa and other incantatory poetry. On getting home my father attached me to an uncle who was versed in Ifa to help me with the work. When I returned to Ife at the end of the holiday and I wrote my paper, I scored a B+ in the assignment. That was when I picked up interest in Ifa. I followed this up and by 2005, I became fully initiated as an Ifa priest.
Question: What is the difference between your experience as an astute administrator and a traditionalist?
Answer: I have both theoretical and practical knowledge in administration. I do exactly the same in my study of Ifa. What I have found out is that both professions have stringent ethical standards that practitioners need to abide with to be successful. But I found out that the “dos and don’ts” of the Ifa practitioner are much more stringent and with dire consequences for violators.
Question: Can you share with us some of your funny moments as a traditionalist?
Answer: I am very happy to be an Ifa priest. There is an Ifa verse that says “taa ba ri kere ka je kere, taa ba ri womu ka je womu…”, that is you take life as it comes your way. No hassle. One funny moment I always look forward to is when the initiation ceremony of an Ifa initiate is about to be completed at Igbodu sacred grove. The initiate is then painted in red and white chalk from head to toe and he/she is bedecked in white cloth with beads round his neck and horse tail in hand. He then looks more like a masquerade in appearance.
Question: What are your memorable days as an administrator?
Answer: They are quite many and diverse. But some of the most memorable are when I have to be at negotiation table with labour unions during which my negotiation skills, my patience and my administrative dexterity are taxed to a breaking point by the union leaders who are Oliver Twist by nature.
Question: Many believe that traditionalists are herbalists and ritualists. What is your view?
Answer: It is just the negative connotations ascribed to these two words by die-hard foreign religion adherents that make them sound repulsive. Herbs (i.e. the leaves, bark and roots of plants) are used for both preventive and curative medicine. When the person that puts these herbs together is a foreigner (Oyinbo), you call him a druggist or pharmacist. But when they are put together for medicinal purpose by my old man in the village you denigrate him as a herbalist.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word “ritual” as “a series of actions that are always performed in the same way, especially as part of a religious ceremony”. Anyone who carries out these actions is a ritualist. If you go to the Catholic church to attend their mass you will discover that the officiating priest, called the Reverend Father, recites various prayer verses from both the Bible and the Psalms during the veneration of the holy Eucharist. He will break the bread, bless it by putting incense in a burning charcoal crucible. In other words, there is a ritual he must carry out dutifully before administering the holy Eucharist to his communicants. An Ifa priest carries out a similar ritual prayer when making “ebo” for his client. The use of the blood of animals as sacrifice is not limited to the traditionalists. Examples of such practice abound in the Bible. In the same vein, the Muslim cleric will scribble Qur’anic verses on his tablet, wash the inscription in water and give the concoction to his client to drink or bathe with for preventive or curative purposes. The ink he uses for writing on the tablet is made from a particular plant. In a nutshell, all these three religious practioners are herbalists and ritualists.
Question: Aside traditional practice, what else are you doing ?
Answer: As I said earlier, I am now retired and I am in private practice. I engage in company formation and registration of Business Names for religious and social organizations at the Corporate Affairs Commission. I have a palm plantation with over a thousand palm trees. In addition, I engage in writing, particularly books in Yoruba language on issues in Ifa. At present I am writing a book of sermons using lessons from Ifa corpus for the use of Ifa officiating priests during our Sunday services. The title of the book is “Oro Isiti lati inu Odu Mimo” I have written a small book titled “Arufin, Aruda”. This is a practical guide for upcoming Awo students on the steps to follow when making “ebo” for a client. I have also completed a book titled “Owe l’Esin Oro”. It is a compilation of over seven hundred and fifty Yoruba proverbs for the use of secondary school students. I am in search of publishers for these books in view of the financial investment involved.
Question: What are the areas you want improvements in traditional practice?
Answer: There is a Yoruba proverb that says “bi a ba se rin la nko ni”. The way you present yourself is the way you will be treated. A verse in Odu Ose-Orogbe even puts it more succinctly thus:
“Ise kii s’oun amusere, Iya kii s’oun amuyangan
B’eni ba rin irin iya,
To ba b’oju ise wo’lu,
Igbakigba ni won fi nfun won l’omi mu”.
Poverty is not something to be taken lightly,
Just as suffering cannot be accepted with pride.
If you dress shabbily and look down on yourself
You will be treated like a no-body.
Traditionalists should stop looking down on themselves. Especially before the government of the day. Nigeria is a secular country and as such, traditionalists should make their presence to be positively felt by the public. Nothing stops us from establishing higher institutions for the study of traditional religion and practices.
Question: What is your advice to the traditionalists?
Answer: Simple. Traditionalists should wake up to their responsibilities to the society they live in.
Question: How would you react to the herbalist that died of “magun” in Ekiti state?
Answer: A verse from the Odu Ogbeyonu says thus:
“Kukunduku b’ewe gerugeru
Opo oogun ru’mo galegale
Boo l’opo oogun, boo l’eke
Eke o ni je o je
Inuu’re je o j’ewe lo…”
The sweet potato with its bountiful foliage
The powerful medicine-man with his boastful posture
If you possess various charms
But you are dishonest in your ways
Your dishonesty will render the charms ineffective
Righteousness is much more rewarding.”
The man has violated one of the ethical tenets of his calling and he has thus reaped the just reward of being a charlatan.