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City of 201 Gods

City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination

Jacob K. Olúpò̩nà
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    City of 201 Gods
    Book Description:

    In a study that challenges familiar Western modes of thought, Jacob K. Olupona focuses on one of the most important religious centers in Africa and in the world: the Yorùbá city of Ilé-Ifè in southwest Nigeria. The spread of Yorùbá traditions in the African diaspora has come to define the cultural identity of millions of black and white people in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the United States. Seen through the eyes of a native, this first comprehensive study of the spiritual and cultural center of the Yorùbá religion tells how the city went from great prominence to near obliteration and then rose again as a contemporary city of gods. Throughout, Olupona corroborates the indispensable linkages between religion, cosmology, migration, and kinship as espoused in the power of royal lineages, hegemonic state structure, gender, and the Yorùbá sense of place, offering the fullest portrait to date of this sacred African city.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94854-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)
    (pp. 1-18)

    Many African and religious studies scholars who, like myself, have grown up in indigenous traditions and have been educated in the West are undertaking a journey to define the realities of African culture.¹ This is in reaction to a number of works that do not take seriously or interpret adequately the depth of the african experience. In our reading of these works, we have encountered serious problems, including mistranslation and distortions of meaning. To avoid such problems, scholars must agree to go beyond phenomenology by privileging what I refer to as “indigenous hermeneutics”: that is, exploring paradigms and modes of...

  6. PART I

    • 1 Ilé-Ifè̩ in Time and Space
      (pp. 21-50)

      For a variety of reasons, some traceable to colonialism and Western missionary campaigns, the study of religion that developed in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America and Europe had no significant impact on the study of religion in Africa. As a result, Africa lacks a comparative history of its religions such as those pioneered by Mircea Eliade, Charles Long, and other scholars of the Chicago School.

      Heavily influenced by Christian theological perspectives, many Africanist scholars, including Geoffrey Parrinder, Bó̩lájí Ìdòwú, John Mbiti, and Placid Temple, sidestepped the comparative history of religions and adopted a spurious approach to African indigenous religions, refracting them...

    • 2 The Imagined Sacred City: Ilé-Ifè̩ in the History of Exploration and Discovery
      (pp. 51-85)

      This chapterwill describe Ilé-Ifè̩ as imagined and portrayed by both Europeans and Africans in travelers’ reports, legends, and myth. It will examine the archaeological and iconographic evidence for Ilé-Ifè̩’s preeminent status among Yorùbá and African states and will analyze the symbolic significance of the city as a ceremonial center in cosmological, mythical, and ritual contexts.

      The Europeans saw Ilé-Ifè̩ as the preeminent city-state and as an important ceremonial center in what was then often referred to as “the Negro world.” The seafaring Portuguese, the first Europeans to explore the coast of West Africa, arrived in the fifteenth century. Although they...

    • 3 The Sacred Cosmos and Ilé-Ifè̩ Religion: Divination, Kingship, and Social Identity
      (pp. 86-108)

      This chapter provides an overview of the ideology and belief system of Ilé-Ifè̩ in order to lay a foundation for comprehending the city’s sacred identity. According to a common popular saying in Yorùbáland: “Out of the 365 days that make a year, there is only one day in which one form of sacrifice or another is not offered to the gods.” In fact, in Ilé-Ifè̩ the entire year is taken up with ceremonies, festivals, and rituals, as became clear in the several interviews I conducted with Ilé-Ifè̩ priests, diviners, chiefs, men, women, and youth directly involved in Ilé-Ifè̩ religious life....

  7. PART II

    • 4 Myth and Ritual of Sacred Kingship: The O̩ló̩jó̩ Festival of Ògún
      (pp. 111-143)

      The O̩ló̩jó̩ Festival, a complex spectacle and ritual, provides a significant point of entry for understanding ancient Yorùbá myth, history, beliefs, and ceremonial symbols of Ilé-Ifè̩. The spectacle captures vividly the religious, social, and cultural core values of this most sacred city of the Yorùbá. It renews the people’s belief in the concept of sacred kingship and their understanding of the Ilé-Ifè̩ cosmos, where kingship is paramount in the form of the O̩ò̩ni, the god-king who rules Ilé-Ifè̩ much as Ajé rules, to a lesser extent, as the goddess of wealth and market economy. It also celebrates wealth and fecundity,...

    • 5 Ìtàpá: Identity, Ritual, and Power in the Festival of O̩bàtálá and Yemòó
      (pp. 144-173)

      Kneeling reverently before stone statues of the divine couple—the deity O̩bàtálá and his spouse, Yemòó—priests and devotees alike recite the Morning Prayer as an invocation in Ìdìta Ilé, the home and temple of O̩bàtálá and Yemòó. Once the prayers are recited, the priests solemnly break open a kola nut to perform a simple divination that will determine the mood of O̩bàtálá and Yemòó and consequently the good or bad that may be in store for their devotees. After this simple invocation, participants may sit and attend to the business of the day, which may include performing various forms...

    • 6 Ifá: Divination Rituals and the New Yam Festival
      (pp. 174-202)

      In the first three chapters of this book, I alluded to the role of Ifá divination and Ifá priests in various rituals in the sacred city, especially those relating to the resolution of the conflicts between Odùduwà and O̩bàtálá. I will devote this chapter to the place of Ifá divination and the Ifá deity in regulating and managing the spiritual and social affairs of the city and will introduce the myths and rituals of Ò̩rúnmìlà, also known as Ifá, the Yorùbá god of divination; Ifá divinatory practices; and the religious, ethical, and thought systems espoused in the rich Ifá divination...

    • 7 The Goddess Mo̩rèmi in the Festival of Edì: Gender, Sacrifice, and the Expulsion of Evil
      (pp. 203-223)

      Whether we are speaking of humans, goddesses, or gods, gender and the role and status of women are central to this work. The study of Ilé-Ifè̩ society poses intriguing questions concerning patriarchy, equal opportunity, and gender relations that the prevailing male-centered scholarly discourse surrounding Yorùbá religion has not adequately addressed.

      This chapter focuses on the Ifè̩ deity Mo̩rèmi, who has played a major role in the city’s history and who continues to do so today, as a recent event illustrates. Ten years ago, the O̩ò̩ni of Ifè̩, O̩ba S̩íjúadé Olúbùs̩e II, like the O̩ò̩ni before him, began an ambitious project...

    • 8 Odùduwà, the God-King
      (pp. 224-248)

      Ilé-Ifè̩’s numerous religious rituals and festivals have established the city’s primacy as a ceremonial center and as the “epicenter” of Yorùbá religion, culture, and civilization. The founder of the city was Odùduwà (Oòduà), who is also called O̩ló̩fin. The Ifá divination texts, the most in-depth source for Yorùbá epistemology, refer to him as O̩ló̩fin, the honorific title for a god-king. Each year, the people of Ilé-Ifè̩ memorialize their founder, Odùduwà, in the great festival of O̩dún Idió. I will argue that O̩dún Odùduwà, or O̩dún Idió, the Odùduwà Festival, and indeed the entire ritual process, is a ritual drama enacted...


    • 9 The Changing Face of the City: Royal Narratives and Contested Space in the Palace
      (pp. 251-281)

      This chapter and the next are based on my research in Ilé-Ifè̩ in December 2004, a year after I had completed the fieldwork for the book manuscript. The new field research was necessary to inquire into rumors that the O̩ò̩ni, Okùnadé S̩íjúadé Olúbùs̩e II, had renounced his sacred status and that evangelical Christian agents were increasingly displacingòrìs̩àdevotees. I sensed that if the O̩ò̩ni had, in fact, abandoned theòrìs̩àtradition, this would constitute a radical religious change in the heartland of Yorùbá city-states. It would also require me to reassess the status of the ideology and rituals of...

  9. 10 Conclusion: Ancient Òrìs̩à and New Evangelicals Vie for the City of 201 Gods
    (pp. 282-298)

    When I first began investigating the religious culture of Ilé-Ifè̩ over twenty years ago, I viewed the city as a ceremonial center similar to the sacred city-states of other ancient civilizations. This view is consistent with that of Paul Wheatley, whose classic workThe Pivot of the Four Quartersserves as a template for charting an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Ilé-Ifè̩. Phenomenological hermeneutics in religious studies, as in anthropological and cultural studies, provides useful theoretical paradigms for interpreting the ethnographic data I collected in Ilé-Ifè̩. Having examined various forms of orature, including oralòrìs̩àtraditions, Ifá divination poetry,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 299-314)
    (pp. 315-324)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-335)