There are many people who start researching Ifa and discover rampant homophobia. This month I thought it would be useful to clarify what’s going on. At its root bigotry of any kind runs directly against Ifa’s primary tenet of Good Character.
I’d first like to clarify a few things. Ifa has never had a holy book. The pataki, or teaching stories, that we see today were transcribed from the oral tradition. Much like the bible these stories have been interpreted outside of their original cultural context and with the world view of other religions.
To be frank, the slavers did not bring the wise old men and women of Yorubaland to the new world. The people who were taken were lay people with a working knowledge of their religion not the training, or insights, of priests. They were then influenced by forced conversion to Christianity. So, the traditions that grew out of Ifa must be treated as separate from it.
Sadly the story in Africa isn’t much better. Slavers and missionaries brought Christianity to the continent. It was followed by Islam. The impact of these religions on Ifa, and Africa in general, cannot be underestimated. The rampant homophobia and misogyny we see in Africa today is not due to “traditional African values”. It is a result of the dismantling of those values through other religions sweeping the continent.
So we’re left with an outdated, fundamentalist, value system that has little to do with Ifa or the people who originally practiced it. In fact, many ancient shrines in Nigeria have been destroyed by Christian and Muslim zealots. The African head of our lineage, the late Afolabi Epega, did not subscribe to these values. He believed that inborn traits, including sexuality, are important parts of the individual’s destiny path and so ought not be questioned,
In Ifa the sole criterion upon which we can judge a person is their character. Iwa Pele (kind and gentle character) is about doing the right things for the right reasons, always considering the broader impacts and long term effects of our actions, and treating others well. It has nothing to do with sexuality, or sexual behavior, unless a person’s actions are harming another, or themselves.
The joy of an oral tradition is that it can adapt. It can embrace the new while maintaining its own integrity. So, the Ifa I practice couldn’t possibly look like that of the ancient Yoruba. Our practice of Ifa is informed by advances in science, and by millennia of cultural, and spiritual, evolution. It will vary from person to person and from region to region just as it always has. Like life, Ifa does not stand still.
One thing is clear, there is no room in Ifa for oppression of any person. Those within the tradition who claim that true ifa treats queer people, or anyone else, as less than equal are simply missing the point. If Ifa is to thrive is must grow, adapt and evolve. In any shamanic system we respect the individual as sacred because of the unique role they play in the evolution and survival of the whole. We, as queer men, are part of that evolution.