24 06 2010

I was a third year at The University [of Virginia], or who most colleges would deem, a junior.  Super-excited about this class that would unlock a door to my ancestors’ religious landscape; I soaked in every word my professor spoke.

He knew so much.

And I marveled.

Because he was a white man.

His white skinned had graced my continent and my country more times than my dark skin had. 

His Western-white accent had had many more conversations with my people than I had.  Even though I knew more of them than he did, he had spoken and lived amongst many more.

“Yoruba Religion” the course was boldly named.  This course would teach me everything about me, everything about my ancestor’s religion before Christianity, everything. I was excited, but mostly about learning when my ancestors finally “got it right” and became Christians.

We learned about many orisha, or gods in Yoruba tradition. We learned about “Esu”, the mediating god. We learned about “Shango”, the god of war who could possess someone with extreme strength. We learned about “Osun”, the goddess of water. It all fascinated me. My parents never taught me this and it was refreshing to learn a little bit about the history of religion for my people.

We learned about the minor deities. We learned about the diviners, the priests. We even learned some detail about what we being posessed, claimed, changed, affected. We learned about everything and everyone except for the One I was waiting for.

So I waited and waited for Him, for Jesus. We learned that “Oludumare” or “Olorun” was God. I kind of knew that from home. My professor spoke of “Oduduwa” who helped established the first Yoruba kingdom and from whom Yoruba people descended. So I assumed, that he was the One I was waiting for.

I assumed he was the Jesus figure. I wanted him to be the Jesus figure. Because Africa needs Jesus. Their gods need to be erased so that Jesus can be.

“So if Olorun is like God, who is Oduduwa like?” I asked my professor.

“Well, he’s Oduduwa. He’s not really equated to anyone.”


“Yes. He is his own legend.”


And then it hit me. The colonizing affects of Christianity had taken hold of me and I hadn’t even realized it. I was so focused on converting these orisha into the right Christian parallel, that I minimized their significance on their own.

Why couldn’t I let Oduduwa be his own legend?

Do I follow him, no. But why must I colonize him?

Jesus is Jesus and “Oduduwa” is “Oduduwa”. Maybe I should leave “Oduduwa” to be part of the religious history of Yoruba people and leave it at that. Maybe a Christian urge to eliminate Yoruba religion is that colonizing Christianity I hate so much. Unfortunately, to many Jesus is a murderous force who came with guns, and weaponry, and  language of mastery and intent to colonize.

So maybe some Yoruba feel better believing in “Oduduwa” or other orisha. I can’t blame them. And I hope that one day they will see that Jesus isn’t clothed in the colonization that He was presented in. Maybe I will shed my ignorance and stop trying to equate Jesus to a Yoruba legend and this notion that He can forever replace history, culture and legend.

I don’t think Jesus came to erase history, but to correct it by shining a light of gentle love on those who are like and unlike Europe or the West.

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