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Friday, August 05, 2005
An Analysis of the Survival And Resurgence Of The Yoruba In The Americas:

A perspective of an African American on re-connecting to our cultural traditions

by: Iya Oyatolu Olajejoye



The focus of this paper is on descendants of Africa’s cultural/spiritual systems. The paper offers a perspective on the effects that the slave trade and colonization has had on descendants from Africa. The Yoruba are one of the surviving indigenous traditions of Africa. The Yoruba ethnic group is examined and how the culture/religion persevered a traumatic history. Yoruba tradition and others are unique cultural/religious systems that maintained remnants and propagated rich and complex systems in the Americas. This paper discusses the effects of Christian influence on Africa and its descendants. Finally, I examine how the Yoruba are in the midst of a dramatic global resurgence.


Nearly five thousand years ago civilization was inventing itself from the Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. Later, in what became the foundation of western civilization, Israel birthed Judaism. As a “result of the invasion of Egypt by the Persians and Alexander the Great, the Greeks began development of western philosophy and science, a millennium thereafter.”[i] As western culture expanded the “big three” religious traditions systems of the western world became Christianity, Islam and Judaism. East Africa is the commonly accepted source of humanity although; European thought distorted the perspective through which the West viewed the world, “having relegated Africa, Asia, and South America to secondary position.”[ii]

For centuries, missionaries were inextricably bound to the economic agenda’s of their respective European nations. Africa, Asia, and South America were each invaded by foreign governments. Dominance of world markets was the first of primary motivations of missionaries to preach and teach that the spiritual salvation of African people (and other conquered people) could only occur when natives relinquished their native belief systems. “Europeans expanded the slave trade and turned the kingdoms’ leaders into collaborators in that dreadful business…which… led to the destruction of their empires.”[iii] The historic trend to encourage abandonment of indigenous beliefs has lasted for centuries and is still a tremendous influence in third world countries. European and American thinkers such as Charles Carroll, The Negro a Beast and R. W. Shufeldt, MD, America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro did not care to understand the complex and varied spirituality of indigenous people. Dominant cultures disregarded the validity of indigenous cultures. The European based “Enlightenment” period defined “truth for ethnic group(s) of people, which denied their traditions, then set out to destroy the authority of those traditions.”[iv] As an example, one commonly known negative trend in thinking resulted in classifying African and African descendants as three-fifths human. Although, the three-fifths human theory is a somewhat distant part of American history and was dispelled, this paper discusses how elements of similar thought still have affect on the consciousness of African descendant’s. European based cultures did not care to understand the value indigenous people placed in natural systems and their worship of nature. Polytheism practiced by indigenous people was deemed as anti God and the worst of spiritual practices. Early missionaries, anthropologists and scholars viewed worship of nature as demonized beliefs that were evil, crazed, sex-frenzied, idolatrous, primitive, fetish worshipping and superstitious. Indigenous spirituality and culture were judged as being without meaningful moral foundation, content or having any valuable philosophy. Conquering nations categorized traditional beliefs as void of any characteristics of meaningful social structure. For Christian theologians blackness of skin color was an indication of damnation. As God’s “emissaries” Christians began to teach natives religion in allegedly “the only way” that God could hear them, and that was in the Christian way. European missionaries claimed they could intercede and communicate with God on behalf of those that their nations oppressed. Christian theologians generally turned a blind eye to the hypocrisies of the mistreatment, subjugation and exploitation of Africa. The only hope for African’s was to submit to the will of the teachings of European nations.

Conquered people that became converts were more readily absorbed into the social benefits that western countries dominated. That trend is a lasting trend that still influences African immigrants today. In colonized Africa, employment, education and status became linked to natives professing denial of traditional ways and abandonment of native belief systems. Economic opportunity, status and western education were tied to Christian and Islamic religion.

Euro centric perspective became the accepted thought from the frontier situation. It generated a psychological orientation in the conquered people of those countries. With a common global agenda, European nations set on a course to profit from market of slaves, to replace indigenous beliefs with Christianity and, simultaneously take the wealth of the nations they conquered. Enslaved deportees were dispersed throughout the Diaspora to various Christian dominated countries. Estimates vary that between thirty million and 100 million slaves left Africa in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. During the last century of the transatlantic trade, most of the slaves that arrived in the America’s were taken from West African areas colonialists began to call Yoruba land. “The very nature of enslavement linked to intra-African warfare facilitated the deportation of political and religious leaders. “[v] A large segment of the targeted victims of the slave markets groups were religious, political, and social opponents to slave markets. Slavery had existed in Africa for centuries. The system of slavery that existed in the America’s became an entirely different form than in Africa. As an example of a story that describes slavery from one oral tradition: A rich man was a Chief, who owned many slaves, as was the custom in those days. Among his slaves there was a particular slave, whose name was Ida. Ida was the head of all the Chief’s slaves. Ida was more than a slave to the Chief; he had become a son and equally a trusted friend to the Chief.

Over the course of centuries, throughout the dividing of Africa between the English, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish the cultural and religious beliefs of Africa were ignored as “world religions.” The overall success of missionaries converting the colonized can be measured in examination of two of the following 20th century charts on religion. Note in the following chart “Tribal” religions are grouped in one non-differentiating general category. This is noteworthy because the huge continent of Africa has numerous diverse ethnic and spiritual belief systems. This paper focuses on primarily one ethnic group and cultural/spiritual system, the Yoruba. The third chart lists 2002 estimates of Santeria and Lucumi religious practitioners, which evolved in Caribbean countries from the ethnic groups of the Yoruba spiritual systems. The statistics that are cited illustrate huge differences in the numbers of practitioners and therefore raises the questions of accuracy. As discussed indigenous religions have been historically maintained as secret societies. In the interviews that are included in this paper one interviewee states that the Yoruba are the largest unrecognized spiritual systems worldwide. During the 20th-Century the systems of Santeria, Lucumi and Candomble were the most notable surviving spiritual systems of the Yoruba of Africa:

As an example of disclosure of native beliefs and religion the following results were documented. Participants of the survey arguably and silently questioned the motivation of the surveyors. Place of residence and attitude toward retention of traditional Religion of 219 Yoruba, Ibadan 1964:



Should Be Kept

Should Not be kept





Western Christian

Orthodox Christian


Non- religious



Chinese Folk




In 2002, the number of Santeria in North America was estimated as:

According to Adherents.com, various sources predicted:

Florida: 60,000
U.S.: 800,000
North America: 500,000

J.E. Holloway, the author of “Africanisms in America” estimates:

New York City: 300,000

Egbe Lukumi estimates:

U.S.: over 5 million.

The “American Religious Identification Survey, (ARIS)” by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York computes:

U.S.: 22,000

Santeria is currently concentrated in:

Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

The Hispanic population in Florida, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, New York City and Los Angeles.

Argentina, Brasil, Colombia, México, and Venezuela.

France and the Netherlands.

The objectivity involved in the compilation of data on practitioners of Yoruba culture/religion past and present eludes accuracy based on dominant views and perceived non-acceptance of the native traditions. Informant’s lack of truthfulness was and still is motivated by two primary reasons. 1) Fear of denial of access to privileges controlled by the Christian or Muslim majority (namely employment and education). 2) Maintenance of the secrecy of secret societies and oral tradition. “The attack on African Institutions is accompanied by a superimposition upon African communities of alien organizations. In fact, most of the so-called “accepted” and responsible organizations in modern African communities have a European format.”[viii]

All traditions of the world usually have priests, griots, sages and wise men as guardians of tradition. African guardians of spirituality survived and passed on their traditions depending upon where they landed in the slave markets. Guardians of indigenous traditions also remained in colonialized countries avoiding capture into the slave trade. Indigenous spirituality has always been maintained by secret societies. Consequently, the erasure of indigenous beliefs became a prevalent misconception in tracing slave religion in the “New World.” An indiscernible number of indigenous people that remained in Africa maintained traditional religion. One method of retaining tradition resulted in certain select members of families being designated to maintain the religion while allowing others to convert in order to become assimilated. From an African traditionalist’s view the problem of losing “their own” traditions has historically impacted indigenous societies and cultures and is credited with steadily undermining culture in Third World countries.

People aware of their status would, have surrounded African born slaves that had been religious leaders, as they arrived in Caribbean countries. Caribbean countries were predominantly Catholic countries. In Caribbean countries African deities were syncretized and worshipped as Catholic saints. Newly arrived slaves along with freed slaves that arrived in the Caribbean countries began syncretism of their beliefs with Catholic saints while still worshipping in the old way. Africans were therefore, able to hide and pass on their native beliefs “under Mary’s skirts” by way of the Catholic Church. Those were the guardians that survived to pass on the traditions. Syncretization was the key to the preservation and survival of Yoruba deities. Covert syncretization allowed slaves to maintain their ethnic culture. As slavery began to cease, the Trans-Atlantic trade operated by Africans and Afro-Brazilians was, truly motivated by religious values and retention of ethnic culture.

“It is reported that a number of repatriates and their children that returned to Brazil became both prominent figures in Candomble and successful importers of African religious goods. An African born freedman, Adechina is said to have traveled from Cuba back to Africa for initiation to IFA. Later he returned to Cuba. Another free African, Efunche traveled during slavery where he was documented as having a major impact on the religion (reportedly in Cuba and Nigeria).”[ix] According to evidence that exists there were “religious specialist expelled from Brazil for such practices as healing and divination. Between 1848 and 1869 Yoruba speaking people settled by the hundreds.”[x] Yoruba spiritual beliefs were able to survive the transatlantic slave trade in various vestiges in the Caribbean. As an example, 1,000 Yoruba recaptures and descendants settled into “Grenada into a closed community in 1849.”[xi] Aspects of the Yoruba language mixed into Caribbean culture, the languages and were preserved along with religious practices. Yoruba spiritual beliefs were retained in several systems including Batuque, Candomble, Tambor De Mina and Umbanda in Brazil, Lucumi and Santeria in Cuba, Shango in Trinidad and Jamaica, Venezuela, Palo, Vodou or Voodoo in Haiti. Consequently, slaves did not completely disconnect with their culture, nor blindly convert as the Christian Churches describe as “good sheep.” “Autonomous organizational structures, the framework of forced and eventual free migration, mutual contact and exchange stimulated the development of Orisha religions in the New World.”[xii]

The Protestant dominated slavery system differed in the United States. Slave owners intentionally separated slaves that spoke the same language and dialects from one another. As such, the American slavery system did not allow for the maintenance of traditional belief systems in the same way, as in Caribbean countries. For the first two centuries of the U.S.’s beginning it is documented that most slaves in the U.S. were not allowed to attend churches or to learn to read. Slave masters feared slaves would interpret the Bible in ways that would challenge the continuation of slavery. Yoruba practitioners were absorbed into their environments becoming known as conjurors, root doctors and hoodoo men or women in the U.S.
Contact between the African homeland and slaves were almost entirely severed in the U.S. over the next two hundred years after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period, through the 1960-70’s. The image of Africans as ungodly pagans destined through a biblical curse to remain in a position of perpetual servitude was widely circulated. Racially biased beliefs were embedded in the ethno-centrist outlook of white America and in the Caribbean. Christian theology was interpreted using the Bible to support that blackness of skin color was an indication of damnation. Freed slaves and their descendants were led and left to view the indigenous homeland through a “prism of extrinsic, distorted images that were about them, but not innately from them.”[xiii] Books such as Charles Carroll, The Negro a Beast (1900) and R. W. Shufeldt, MD, America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro (1915) eroded the progress that had been hoped for in the minds and spirits of freed slaves. Racially destructive and divisive propaganda, perpetuated by the formation and growth of organizations such as, the Klu Klux Klan fueled a racist backlash in America.

The period after slavery saw intensified converting of ex-slaves and their descendants to Christianity. The teachings of Christianity encourage belief in reward in an afterlife, in which, after death African American’s could reap the benefits of suffering on Earth. Followers learned to unquestioningly follow Christian teachings. The learned behavior was to accept their minister’s teachings, in the same manner as Shepard’s lead sheep in a mindless manner. This belief system was seen as encouraging a “layaway consciousness.” Internalization of Christian doctrines therefore resulted in a submissive and/or angry psyche. The combination of internalizing Christian doctrine and lack of information about Africa helps in “understanding why self-hatred engulfed the African American mind from slavery, Reconstruction”[xiv] through today.

Robert Michael refers to “the iron law of oligarchy which suggests that without planning for the contrary authority, power…inevitably gravitates toward a central elite, leaving others on the outside.”[xv] Examination of social, religious and economic systems in the Americas is the key to understanding the effect oligarchy had on racial psyches.
The following chart describes the development the transnational movement among African descendants. The significance of this genealogy is that it supports a better understanding that indigenous beliefs went “underground” rather than actually disappeared in the Americas. It also reveals that the disconnection from Africa has always been a part of the minds of African scattered throughout Diaspora. The resurgence of the movement in the 20th Century to re-claim African spirituality is documented as:

Geographical Scale Of Orisa Voodoo Geneology

Development Of Modern Capitalist Nation-State (1870-1930)
Post-Civil War-Postslavery-Reconstruction
Early Black Nationalist Formations
Racial Segregation-Jim Crow
World War Ii
Racial Segregation-Jim Crow
Development Of Horizontal Institutions/International Community (1950-70)
African And Third World Independence Struggles
Postcolonial State Formation
1959- Oba Of Oyotunji Is Initiated To Ancient African Culture As A Priest Of Obatala In Cuba
1960-70: Spread Of Sanateria Throughout U.S. Urban Centers
Civil Rights Movement
Height Of Black Power
Racial Divisions Insanertia Communities
Vertical Reconfiguration Of Racial Rights/Civil Liberties (1970-80)
Oyotunji’s Formation-Segregation Politics
Beginning Of Early Oyotunji Travels To Nigeria/Benin
Black Cultural Politics-Self Determination
Airing Of Roots Movie
Racial Integration In U.S. Urban Centers
Outward Migration Of Oyotunji Residents To Urban Centers
Development Of Oyotunji Roots Readings
Instutionalization Of Deterritorial Yoruba Practices
New Wave Of Electronic Technologies
Accessibility Of Air Travel
Development Of Linkages Between African And Oyotunji Initiates
Global Market Expansionism Of The Rights Movement (1990-2000)
Popularization Of Kwanzaa Movement
Commodification Of African-Centrism
Black Cultural Nationalism And New Market Heritage Alliances [xvi]

Intellectuals and researchers such as, Martin Delaney, the Father of Black Nationalism opened the doors to African Americans studying ancient cultures and African heritage. In 1859, Delaney formed the Niger Valley Exploring Committee seeking immigration of Africans in America to Africa. Subsequently, in 1916 Marcus Garvey led the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), another back to Africa movement. Movements seen as radical and potentially disruptive to the social order by African-Americans, have until recently remained almost invisible to scholars and non-scholars alike. Movements such as those two were movements had a contained influence in the Black community.

For the most part, until the rise of the civil rights and Yoruba movements in the 1950s, African Americans in the U. S. were left to view their African homeland as was described in history books. Movies such as ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Birth of a Nation’ portrayed Africans and their descendants as barbaric savages and contributed to the shame Black people felt about their ancestral homeland and themselves.

It should be noted though that, there have always been historians and anthropologists that described African American history, culture and spiritual systems in a more honest, accurate and objective view. Those writers include: Martin Delaney, Charles Chesnutt, John Hope Franklin, Chiek Diop, and Zora Neal Hurston… The significance of such writers was not appreciated nor marketed to large audiences. Consequently, they were not widely accepted during their time. Beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s renewed interests in these authors further validated appreciation for their works. The work of Charles Chestnutt (1858- 1932) “The Conjure Woman” and Zora Neal Hurston’s (1900-1964), “Tell My Horse,” described African American’s maintenance of voudou culture. Conjurors, hoodoo and root people always maintained a minority presence within the minority community. Other than conjurors, hoodoo, root men and women’s ever presence, over centuries the disconnection and fragmentation from Africa, Cuba, and Brazil…persisted. In contrast, Caribbean countries that had been major slave distribution countries; namely, Cuba, Brazil, Surinam, Haiti, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico maintained a richer cultural exchange with West Africa during the era of slavery, and after it ended. “The greater the contact those in the Diaspora had with the homeland the more intact their ethnic and cultural identities were likely to be.”[xvii] Conversely, the more the disassociation with the home country experienced by the African descended population, the greater the erosion of customs, ethnicity, and culture. Assimilation into the host country and acceptance of the oligarchy structures of countries throughout the Diaspora was the desired norm.

An African presence was either ignored, reported in a distorted or incorrect manner by the majority of early anthropologists, historians, and missionaries. In general, the African presence was not written about or described “by respected authors” in a positive light. A new wave of anthropologists in the U.S. began with Franz Boas (1932), Robert Redfield (1953) and Melville Herskovits. “In the Myth of the Negro Past” (1941) Herskovits demonstrated that African practices were evidenced in aspects of African American behavior. He also contended that the assumption that culture could be totally lost was historically incorrect. It is unarguable though, that the separation from Africa and the negative mindsets that were perpetuated and generated caused the dissipation of the most distinguishable cultural remnants of the indigenous culture of the African ancestral homeland.

Sociologist W.E. B. DuBois became the first Black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. DuBois described the African American’s racial psyche as suffering from both racial and cultural identity maladies. In the book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” DuBois called the effects a “double consciousness.” DuBois defined “double consciousness as a residual bifurcation process of Americanization,” [xviii]which damaged the minds and affected the DNA of African descendants.

Perhaps, the preeminent thinker of the 20th century on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization was Frantz Fanon. Fanon was a native of Martinique and product of a colonial education. He was a noted psychiatrist, intellectual, and scholar. He is most recognized as the author of “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952) and the infamous manifesto, “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961). His research of colonized subjects revealed that a person that “speaks a language not his own creates certain complexes or pathologies.”[xix] Frantz Fanon was able to penetrate beyond the level of anger and outrage to probe deeply into the causes and, more particularly, the effects on the people who are its victims. Fanon recognized that losing language (and culture) castrates the mental and social well being of a people. Fanon began to uncover recurrent pathologies of the condition of African descendants worldwide. The pathologies that derived from the experiences of slave descendants not knowing their ancestral language, heritage, culture and tradition transcended Martinique, France and Algiers where Fanon concentrated his studies. The Statue of Liberty stands at Ellis Island welcoming willing immigrants to become a part of the melting pot of America. As immigrants meld into America they remember the old countries of their parents and grandparents. They generally decide to maintain a sense of racial, ethnic and cultural identity. The melting pot of America allows for the validation of ties of a multiplicity of ancestries, ethnic groups and native languages.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s spawned an awakening of African Americans from the effects of “cultural amnesia.” America as a world leader had a profound affect on the world. The civil rights movement played out in the streets of the U.S. The international headlines the civil rights movement generated in newspapers of the world placed America under expose’. The civil rights movement then naturally forced nations of the world to look inside their own borders for examination. It should have become obvious to every country that was a part of the slave trade, colonization and its problems that the civil rights movement reflected upon every country in which African descendants lived throughout the Diaspora.

African descendants as conquered and displaced people suffer from a 600-year history of causal deprivation of links to their ancestry, spiritual values, customs, and defining social culture. The African American community and African descendents throughout the Diaspora suffer from social maladies caused by an unnatural and traumatic separation from their ancestry and customs. Scholars, spiritualists…. debate about the extent to which the reclamation of one’s own culture, and the validation of that culture will cure the maladies of oppression and learned self-oppression of colonized people. Negative imagery of Africa and those of African descent were internalized for generations affecting the DNA, psychology, and sociology of African Americans and colonized persons of African descent. The era of slavery resulted in a global plight: disenfranchised African slave descendants. African descendents continue to suffer from the pathologies that Fanon researched and documented. These symptoms are residue of the systems of oligarchy of America and Europe. Slavery, colonialism, and the after effects of racism transcend today to globalize the plight of disenfranchised African descendants in the Diaspora.

Doug McAdam aptly described…”the timing and fate of the civil rights movement as largely dependent upon the political opportunities afforded by insurgents by the shifting of power by the ideological disposition”[xx] of the time. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s spawned an awakening of African Americans and African descendants throughout the Diaspora. Many of the African descendants that awakened in the 1960’s, 1970’s were hungry for ancestral traditions, values and culture. To that group of African descendants, the value of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement did not fully address the cultural gap that was felt by African Americans. Dubois saw a double consciousness. The civil rights agenda based on Martin L. “King’s vision of an inalienable right to pursue educational, employment, housing opportunities, and other civil liberties on an equal basis with white Americans”[xxi] satisfied a segment of the slave descended populace.

Black Nationalists believed that since African descendants were kidnapped and unwilling immigrants to America, the answer to their plight was the second part of Dubois’ double consciousness theory, “namely the re-creation of cultural habits based on a traditional African perspective and approach.” In 1916 when Marcus Garvey left for the U.S. he prophesied to his followers to “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black king, he will be the Redeemer.”

Gamson and Meyer emphasize the critical importance of the framing of political opportunity in the development of social movements. The 1960’s became a time in American history for “radical thinkers” to seize the political opportunity of the time. A number of Black Nationalists moved towards collective action in beginning several counter-movements. Beginning in 1957 a rarely publicized yet, powerful social movement in the “political process ” model began. One Black Nationalist spearheaded a movement for the reconnection of African descendants with African spirituality and culture in a manner that had never been tried before.

At age 30, a Black Nationalist who came to be known as, Oba Oseijeman Adefunmi, traveled to Haiti to become an initiated practitioner of Voudou. The spiritual culture of the people of the Republic of Benin is called “Berceau de Vodoun” which translates to mean, “the cradle of vodoun.” The spiritual system and culture of Vodoun survived in Haiti. Upon returning to America, he opened a temple in New York, the Order of Damballah Ancestor priests. On May 6, 1957, Adefunmi planned and carried out an African Freedom Day. He marketed the first dashiki and other “African garments designed by Adefunmi himself. The parade launched him as a cultural leader, and from that point on, he was a recognized leader and was called upon to speak and plan various activities.”[xxii] Adefunmi was an avid reader and scholar. He researched the ancient Yoruba in writings such as, “ Religion of the Yoruba” by Lucas. Adefunmi learned that the Yoruba people are descendants of Egypt that migrated from the African continent. He collected research from the author of “Stolen Legacy,” George James. James’ research disclosed theories to support that the ancient Egyptian mystery system was the first system of salvation. The foundation of the Yoruba priesthood was developed from Egyptian teachings. Priests have historically functioned as counselors in connection with religious institutions. Counseling through Yoruba oral divination traditions address all manner of human conditions and pre-date the invention of writing. Diviners are trained to address human problems for solution based upon memorization of a binary system, that is interpreted to identify the presenting problem or situation, using divinely inspired counseling. Priests are also trained in herb logy and other prescriptions for healing called ebo. The Yoruba were nature worshippers and pagan. Adefunmi accepted Lucas’ research that documented how Plato copied four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, temperance, and courage) from a list of 10 of the Egyptian system.

In 1959, Adefunmi traveled to Matanzas, Cuba and became the first African of North America to be fully initiated into the Orisha (African divinities) priesthood. Cuba had been one of the strong holds in the maintenance of Yoruba culture and religion. Noted anthropologist and scholar Melville Herskovits agreed that although, traditional African culture had been eroded, he documented evidence that nevertheless supported that there was evidence that traditional African culture had survived, as it did in Cuba and Haiti. When European missionaries, frontiersman, and anthropologists invaded the continent of Africa, they did not understand the value African oral traditions placed in maintaining ethnic history and culture.

Some of the priests that initiated him in Cuba warned him not to give this ancient tradition to black people in America. After his initiation into the ancient art of Orisha practice, Adefunmi decided however, that the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses (Orisha) of Africa had to be reclaimed by and for the Africans in America. As an occultist, Adefunmi developed a strategy in creating an African Village to coincide with the astrological configurations that were present and affecting African descendants in the 1970’s. Under his direction, he and his followers re-analyzed the term ‘pagan’ and incorporated appreciation for nature worship into the philosophy surrounding returning African culture to Black Americans. Adefunmi theorized the acceptance of the term pagan “is not at all inconsistent with the ‘Pagan Intellect’. We have no compunction about referring to ourselves as ‘pagan’ since the word does mean ‘the worship of nature or of nature powers’. It comes from the Latin word ‘pagani’ which meant ‘country people.’ So country people, being closer to nature, were bound to have a stronger sense of the relationship and the influence of nature on their lives.”[xxiii]

According to Douglas McAdam the great driving force of…religious belief is to galvanize humans to decisive action and to change them. Reconnection with Africa movements gained momentum from the 1960’s through this present time in the 21st- century. Since the 1960’s, racism has both diminished and persisted over time. Oligarchy discontinued slavery and most systems of colonialization without addressing the mental and social condition of those scattered throughout the Diaspora. Oligarchy left massive injustice and remnants of injustices without adequate plans to correct the plight of those affected by its long-standing institutions. The distribution of wealth in today’s society helps us to understand that the underpinnings of oligarchy have remained in place. African descendants began increasingly to research, discover, and embrace knowledge of their own history.

In the book, “Intellectual Warfare,” the late Jacob H. Carruthers said, ” Let us build institutions that are not only designed to meet the immediate problems caused by the vicissitudes of white supremacy, but let us establish institutions for eternity. Let us recover and restore our classical civilizations so that it serves us like the classical civilizations of other people serve them.Our classical Nile Valley civilization is…appropriate for us…it is more ancient and achieved more accomplishments than any others…it was an inspiration and model for other cultures.”[xxiv]

Adefunmi founded the Oyotunji African Village in 1970, and coined the phrase “cultural amnesia” to describe the mental condition affecting African Americans. He believed as the Yoruba’s taught, that his ancestors were motivating his focused social movement. The ancestral traditions of the past were leading the Oyotunji movement towards fully embracing an ethnic/cultural consciousness. The ancient Yoruba “were an advanced society with multi-layer and complex roles and divisions of labor, sophisticated political and social institutions buttressed by religious tenets of justice. The Yoruba society engendered supreme confidence, security, and self worth in their inhabitants.”[xxv] Adefunmi’s movement gave the drive for reconnection “to home,” a place in America, the Oyotunji African Village in Beaufort, County South Carolina. The development of Oyotunji Village gave African /American’s a substantive opportunity to reject the law of oligarchy by not seeking inclusion, to validate their own history and to re-embrace their own culture as well as, to choose to establish an African American institution. The Village was designed as a reflection of ancient traditions and societies using ancient Yoruba culture as a model. Worship of Orisha became the Village’s pillar of belief and support. The secret systems of Yoruba priesthoods of the Orisha continued to be taught and preserved in oral tradition. Adefunmi began training priests in the ancient divination systems to address and offer treatments affecting the human condition.

As the Village grew Oseijimann recognized, it was of crucial importance to spiritually address the ancestral effects of cultural amnesia. He found a very dynamic center for the preservation of Fa (the Yoruba deity of wisdom), in the former kingdom of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin).“Ancestral society mysteries had historically been maintained to a very intricate degree. Dahomey has a reputation for maintaining the cultural traditions of Africa. Among them there is no embarrassment, nor shame, nor attempt to conceal their devotion to the cultural traditions of their ancestors.”[xxvi]

Chief Adenibi Ajamu, Foreign Minister for the Oyotunji Village, one of the original founders of the stated that, “The integration of the Egungun (ancestral) society was spiritually identified as the method critically important to strengthen the progress that needed to be made to uplift the African American’s psyche. We therefore began to implement the veneration of our ancestors that lived through unresolved life experiences of our history through the Diaspora. This element was essential to uplift our people.” Our ancestor’s in the America’s had not been spiritually venerated from the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, through slavery, through reconstruction and life in America, as a whole. “The psychology of a people is culturally defined. The ancestors that become the venerated dead maintain wisdom. The Yoruba of America had to learn the lost traditions of veneration of the ancestors in order to uplift their descendants on Earth.” African American ancestors had been neglected for four to five centuries. Egungun societies (ancestor societies) and ceremonies were necessary in order to more completely address and “clean up” the social maladies that plagued the African Diaspora experience. Ancestral societies were implemented to begin to heal social and emotional familial maladies caused by the unnatural and traumatic experience and racism that African Americans lived throughout hundreds of years in America.

In 1972, Adefunmi traveled to become initiated into the ancient mystery system of Ifa (the Yoruba deity of wisdom). Subsequently, Adefunmi’s work and reputation won him acclaim and he became a candidate for Baale (ruler of a town). “On June 5, 1981, he became the first non-Nigerian to be pronounced a Baale by Ooni Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, at Ife palace, Ile Ife, Abeokuto, Nigeria.”[xxvii] He returned to America, continued to travel, practice and train other priests in his acquired knowledge of Ancestral, Orisha and Ifa priesthoods among African Americans. Returning from the coronation in Nigeria, his followers made him Oba (King) of the Village of Oyotunji. The continued development of the African Village served as a training ground for African American priests and the teaching of the political structure of Yoruba kingdoms. Over four hundred priests were initiated at Oyotuniji African Village in South Carolina.

Oyotunji Village became an institutionalized springboard that catapulted into a domino effect in the U.S. and throughout the Diaspora. During the late 1980’s, many residents of the Village began an outward migration throughout the country to urban centers to form temples in urban centers and migrate to other areas of the country and the world. After that migratory movement began, increasing travel began to occur between the U.S., Africa, Brazil, and Cuba Trinidad… Many African Americans began to choose to go directly to Africa, Brazil, Cuba, and Trinidad… for initiations to Orisha and Ifa.

As the Oyotunji movement grew, between 1960’s and 1980’s white Santeros from Cuba and Puerto Rico increasingly migrated into the U.S. Most of the Cubans that came to America were political exiles that brought the Orisha practices with them. Responding to the civil rights movement and their own mixed lineage’s, Santeros and Lucumi acknowledged that African slaves had given Santeria to them. Santeria and Lucumi practitioners increasingly began to accept African Americans into their temples in America.

African descendants embracing African spirituality and culture began to become firmly rooted in major urban centers in America. As a cultural strategy with a specific aim at addressing African descendants, the Village chose neither to initiate Caucasian converts nor, to include white practitioners. As Adefunmi’s vision of reclaiming African Gods for African American’s practice grew in the U.S., many venues for non-blacks began to spring up around the country as well. White practitioners were referred to Santeros, Lucumi’s and began to develop their own communities and temples using the African spiritual systems of Orisha and Ifa.

“ The greatest accomplishment of the Oyotunji movement was to progress to a new frontier by removing the last chain of bondage from the psyche of African Americans” explained Chief Adenibi Ajamu. Christianity created a lingering spiritual bondage with its beginnings in coercing slaves into practicing Christianity with the threats of fire, brimstone and damnation for those that failed to convert.

The Oyotunji movement freed the African Americans mind to understand the importance of restoration of culture that had been missing for hundreds of years. Ajamu stated, …”A spiritual system is a cultural/ethnic starting point. We see our mission in a similar manner as orthodox Jews see their culture and restrict access to their worship. Less orthodox, Jews embrace non-orthodox application of their spirituality and are more open to membership. We of Oyotunji began our movement with a specific and directed agenda to help African descendants in America. As a cultural group of pagans we were comfortable with and understood we must include astrological data to understand where black people were, where we needed to be and how we must plan to accomplish this divine mission for our future.”[1]

In that way Oyotunji has functioned with a “ conscious strategic efforts (as a) group to fashion shared understandings of the world. This radical framework legitimated and motivated the collective action of building a village, social, hierarchical institutions.”[xxviii] The reconnection movement with African spirituality is “need based” to correct the residual social, psychological, and mental effects and experiences of Africans throughout the Diaspora. Black Nationalist’s in America have continued to maintain a conservative view of their mission to work for the needs of their people. Other activists have a moderate worldview and still others maintain a universal worldview. It is easy to speculate that Martin Luther King would have continued to develop a universal worldview with his background as a Christian minister. African American nationalists do not apologize for trying to specifically address and help their own people heal first. Christianity is basically a Jewish history. The founders of Oyotunji Village defined religion as a composition of the ethnic heritage of a particular people who were African and of the Yoruba ethnic group. In religion important events in an ethnic groups cultural and political history are remembered. Religion is essentially an ethnic celebration, composed of the events and philosophies, which evolved, based upon the environment in which they lived.

Baba Sondodina Ifatunji is an African American Assistant Professor at Chicago State University. He said since 1990 he has traveled to Trinidad, Nigeria, and Cuba dealing with Yoruba culture as a playwright, director and Babalawo. He has traveled to Ghana and South Africa involved with other projects in African culture. When he first traveled to Nigeria to become initiated, as a Babalowo “there was a struggle for the indigenous culture to survive. Today partially because native Africans have recognized that an economic market is open for African culture, it is less of a struggle than in the ‘90’s. In the 1990’s, indigenous practitioners were struggling however now; today there is more strength among the culture bearers. Whether the indigenous people were practitioners of Orishas or Ifa they all had some familiarity with culture.” Some of the indigenous people were surprised that he as an American would return to African traditional culture. His students at Chicago State University petitioned him to add a Yoruba Culture class to the University curriculum. He said it is exciting to see the enthusiasm of the students each time he teaches the class. As a playwright and director he stages plays at least once annually that tell Yoruba folk and Orishas tales mainly to the public school system. “The Yoruba stories are told with subliminal content. The stories have a healing affect” on the lives he touches. Class sizes range from 10 students up to 300. He finds a great joy in giving young people something he didn’t have as a child, stories of Africa and African gods. The stories have “morals and lessons to relate to and there is magic in the healing effect of telling Ifa stories.”[2]

Clients come to Ifatunji for divination in waves, sometimes many and then sometimes only a few. He estimates that he currently has a list serve of approximately 100-150 people. Some of those people he may have seen only once then others he has ongoing spiritual developmental relationships with.

Chief Adelekan, Babalowo was born in Ile Ife, Nigeria (1936) into one of the three royal households of the Yoruba. He is a current resident of London, England and has a degree in Engineering. His father, Chief Laadin, was fifth in rank to the Ooni (King). Chief Adelekan began his religious training as a child, and in 1975 was ordained. He took rigorous advanced training in Ifa, earning titles Oloye Amulewaiye Iledi-Ooni Ile Ife (He who seizes earth upon entering the world), Olumesin Oduduwa Ile Ife (Promoter of the religion), and Orisa Tunwase Obatala Ile Ife (Emissary of Obatala) among many. He said, “Decades ago, no self- respecting doctor or hospital would be caught in association with such things as tai chi chuan, meditation, qigong, acupuncture, etc. A large enough segment of the public has chosen to penetrate the veil that clouded their vision of (the world), and now begun to look past Greece, Rome, and Europe to …for solutions to our most pressing problems.” He said of Africans that disavow their traditional culture in public, to “follow them home (to Nigeria) and you will see that they are hypocrites, they disavow their culture because they are told avenues of opportunity will be closed to them if they acknowledge they believe in the traditional way.” [3]

Fayomi Fasade was initiated to Ifa in California and to an Egungun society in Chicago. She believes that “Ifa and Orisha practitioners represent the largest unrecognized cultural/spiritual group worldwide. Historically the western influence has come after African traditions to tear down the religion and the culture in order to take the vast wealth, natural resources, knowledge, and herb logy of the country. She lived in Ghana for a year in 2000, and learned, that when British colonizers left Ghana giving Ghana independence from British rule, they dismantled the sewer system. As the colonizers had been the controllers of the major infra-systems, Ghanaian people are led to believe that the colonizers running aspects of their lives could result in a better life.” In South Africa, people are led to believe that racism “has been obliterated however, it has not been. Many prominent entertainers in America…are re-connecting to African culture however; they are not practicing outwardly. Our people use duplicity of survival in playing the game in order to survive. “[4]

Baba Songodina Ifatunji, administers the Ile Ifa Jalumi website and on that forum explained his journey into African culture this way:” It was no accident that a Black Nationalist was responsible for turning the tide and making Yoruba culture accessible to Africans of North America. It is because a Black Nationalist would know the next most logical step to take to help with the advancement of our cultural group. Black Nationalists prepared themselves by studying our racial, ethnic and historical soul. We were trying to restore things to something closer to their original, pre-Colonial form and purpose.” Ifatunji relates an odu (ancient story used to apply divination counsel) published from the ESE Ifa (oral archives) of the odu Oturupon Meji as told to him by noted scholar and Babalowo, Dr. Wande Abimbola. In this story, the figure Oyepolu was identified as being one who was separated at an early age from his mother and father and, as a result, knew very little about the rites and rituals of his family’s culture. Oyepolu’s life was not going well. This story has, for me, long epitomized the condition of the African of America. The advice to Oyepolu was that he should return to the graves of his ancestors. He did so and his life became sweet.”[xxix]

In Nigeria World Feb., 1999 an article on ‘Globalization, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa,’ by S.T. Akindele, Ph.D. wrote, “Indigenous peoples will become the chief protagonists of change in the coming millennium. Indigenous people present their challenges to the course of globalization…The convergence of indigenous rights with international human rights advocates throughout the Americas is gaining momentum.”

McAdam recognized the importance of the Internet and transnational travel in the development of social movements. Today the worldwide growth of this social movement is especially propelled forward with communication technologies such as the Internet and decreased costs for travel abroad. The 21st century is opening a way for many people to break from unfulfilling conventional religious practices. A universalistic perspective is another by product of this time in history and result of various social movements. According to Elazar, “ The dynamics and confusions of history must neither obscure the truth…(for)…it must change the course of history through its institutions… “today we have reached a point where a unified world history can be seen by all. What remains is to reorganize our teaching of world history to incorporate the worldwide perspective…and not fall in the trap of making all historical events equal.” [xxx]

George James connected social reformation through a new philosophy on Africa’s redemption in value placed on it in that “the knowledge that the African Continent gave civilization Arts, Sciences, Religion and Philosophy is destined to produce a change in the mentality both of the White and Black people.”[xxxi]

Establishing data on the Yoruba resurgence is difficult because: the movement is resistant to tracking data, data collection, documenting movement mobilization, and fully disclosing increasing transnational links. The Yoruba movement of today though changing, maintains secrecy as a part of its culture. Whether choosing a conservative or universal approach to understanding the global expansion of African Indigenous culture the growth is evident. Examples from the Internet include:

The OrisaWorld Congresses that have attracted hundreds of participants from around the world no matter where the congress was held. To date it has been held in the following countries: – “Cuba: 2003 – Nigeria: 2001 – Trinidad and Tobago: 1999 – USA: 1997 – Brazil: 1990 – Nigeria: 1986 – Brazil: 1983 – Nigeria: 1981. The theme of the Rio, Brazil 2005 OrisaWorld Congress is “Orisa Religion and Culture in the 21st Century.”
The consistent goal among practitioners is worshipping the ancestors, the pantheon of Orisha and increasingly, Ifa. As an example of the growth of the African spiritual systems the Internet google search engine produced the following information: Results 4,320 for Ifa African divination system, Results of about 72,900 for orisha and 1,310,000 for African spiritual systems. The following information from websites was also excerpted:
From the website: /www.rootsandrooted.org. .” We are especially proud of the lasting bonds that have been forged between African and Latinos, through the existence of this site. All of us seek our roots. Western society leaves all disconnected as it encourages us to place our trust in material goods and ways of living that were engineered by marketing firms. More and more people of all ethnicities are turning to Africa to find the solace, focus, and regeneration that they need in life. Temples listed with our service:
VODUN Georgia: West African Dahomean
Vodoun VOODOO Louisiana: Ava Kay Jones
New York: Temple of Yehwe YORUBA/ORISA’IFA
California: Ijo Orunmila, Ile Orunmila, and Awo Study Center
Florida: Ile Orunmila Temple, Ife Ile, Church of Lukumi Illinois: Ile Ifa Jalumi, Ile Osikan, Egbe Imole Agbon Iwosan
New York: Ile Ase, Lukumi Church
South Carolina: Oyotunji Village
Tennessee Mimo Anago Ile Oshun
Texas: Ile Olokun
Virginia Ile Oyigigi Ojuba Orisa AKAN
Georgia: Akan Spiritual United Order
Maryland: Nyame Dua: Shrine House for Spiritual Healing
New York: Obaatanpa N’Abosum Fie
Pennsylvania: Adade Kofi Bosomfie Sankofa, Asona Aberade Shrine, Inc. Washington D.C. Onipa Abusia, Asomdwee Fie,
Shrine of the Abosom and Nsamanfo KEMETIC
Washington DC Region,
Florida: Ausar Auset Society Orlando Study Group
Maryland: Baltimore Branch of the
Ausar Auset Society International Pennsylvania: Ausar Auset Society in Philadelphia
Washington D.C. Ausar Auset Society
Washington, DC “
http://www.mamiwata.com/Hoodoo.html#hoodoonot”Mamaissii Vivian Dansi Hounon is (the first resurrected lineage) priestess of the Yeveh Vodoun and Mami Wata tradition in the United States of Congo ancestral spiritual lineage’s. She was initiated in1988 and in 1996 and trained in Togo, West Africa, and in the United States. Mamaisssii is founder and president of OATH (Organization of African Traditional Healers). She is a graduate of Chaminade University, and Augusta State University M.Ed. She has been traveling to West Africa (and other countries) since 1988. Her spiritual lineage descends directly from both sides of her own family who were Mami Wata & Vodoun priests, captured & enslaved as hired-out masons and carvers in America. She believes that she must resurrect her culture from centuries of fear, ignorance, shame, and forced amnesia of who we really are. Her website contains recordings from 1930s compiled” An Episcopal Priest, Henry Hyatt, who was commissioned to collect and preserve these first hand accounts of priceless knowledge on hoodoo culture…
“ODUNDE is a Yoruba word that means “Happy New Year” in the Yoruba language of Nigeria. Lois Fernandez, a devotee of the Yoruba cultural tradition, spearheaded the first festival held in the United States in 1975. This year’s festival marks the 30th year of the festival. Ms. Fernandez visited Africa and witnessed the festivals celebrating the various Orishas in several towns of Oshun’s and being a devotee of Ifa she decided to replicate the celebration in her home town of Philadelphia. Today, the ODUNDE festival is one the oldest most successful African American Street Festivals in the country.”

Vibrant transnational communities have developed around the world from an accelerated reconnection of embracing Yoruba and other forms of ancient African spirituality. Marcus Garvey prophesied to his followers, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black king, he will be the Redeemer.” A redeemer is someone that returns something of value to those who lost it. I see Garvey’s prophesy to mean that in time, a redeemer would open “flood gates” of awareness that would facilitate mental and spiritual freedom from the consequences of sins, inflicted upon a race of people scattered throughout the Diaspora. Oligarchy and its aftereffects have plagued civilization for 600 years. Reclamation of African culture is vital in healing lives troubled by double consciousnesses and the pathologies caused by oligarchy. Finally, Oseijeman Adefunmi seized the political opportunity of the time, to begin a unique social movement. The movement encouraged practitioners to have an appreciation and value of their own ethnic identities, their history as a people, and an appreciation for themselves. It further validated the cosmogony of life from an [xxxii] African centered perspective.


[1] Interviews with Chief Adenibi Ajamu April 14, 16 and 20, 2005

[2] Interviews with Baba/Professor Songodina Ifatunji April 21, May 9, 2005

[3] Interviews with Chief Adelekan April 16, 2005

[4] Interview with Iya Fayomi Falade April 18, 2005


[i] Stolen Legacy, George James, Introduction {1}

[ii]World History Curriculum, Daniel Elazar, page 7

[iii] World History Curriculum, Daniel Elazar, page 90

iv Runaway World, Giddens, Anthony New York: Routledge, 2003). page 57

[v] Orisha Journeys : The Role of Travel in the Birth of Yoruba-Atlantic Religions, Cohen pages 17-36

[vi] Yoruba Religion and Medicine in Ibadan, Falipe 1970, page 289

[vii] The Clash of Civilizations

[viii] Intellectual Warfare, Jacob Carruthers, page 271

[ix] Orisha Journeys: The Role of Travel in the Birth of Yoruba-Atlantic Religions, Cohen

[x] ibid

[xi] Orisha Journeys: The Role of Travel in the Birth of Yoruba-Atlantic Religions, Cohen

[xii] Orisha Journeys: The Role of Travel in the Birth of Yoruba-Atlantic Religions, Cohen

[xiii] (In) visibility and Duality of the Civil Rights and Yoruba Movements: 1950-1990s, Faola Ifagboyede, California State University, Northridge

[xiv] ibid

[xv] Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy, Michels, Robert, 1876-1936

[xvi] Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities, Kamari Maxine Clarke, Duke University Press, 2004 page, 136

[xvii] Orisha Journeys : The Role of Travel in the Birth of Yoruba-Atlantic Religions, Cohen pages 17-36

[xviii] The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. Dubois

[xix] Black Skin,, White Masks, Frantz Fanon, 1967 page 135

[xx] Doug McAdam, John D. McCarthy, Mayer N. Zald, Eds. Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966. Introduction and ch. 1, pp. 1-40

[xxi] (In)visibility and Duality of the Civil Rights and Yoruba Movements: 1950-1990s, Faola Ifagboyede, California State University, Northridge

[xxii] ibid

[xxiii]Keynote Address by H./R.H. Oseijeman Adefunmi I, Columbia University 1-16-93 jalumi.com/articles/adefunmi_newyork_address.htm

[xxiv] Intellectual Warfare, Jacob B. Carruthers, page 273

[xxv] Nigeria World February, 1999

[xxvi] jalumi.com/articles/adefunmi_newyork_address.htm

[xxvii] Funeral Program for Oba Oseijeman Adefunmi I, February 20, 2005

[xxviii] World History Curriculum, Daniel Elazar, page 16

[xxix] /jalumi.com/articles/adefunmi_newyork_address.htm

[xxx]World History Curriculum, Daniel Elazar, page

[xxxi] Stolen Legacies, George James, page 153

Other Works Cited

DuBois,W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folks

Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks

Washington, Joseph, Anti-Blackness in English Religion: 1500-1800

Lovejoy, Paul, “The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion Under Slavery” Studies in the World History of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation, II, 1 (1997), 3

Herkovits, Melville, The Myth of the Negro Past




  2. sulaiman Says:

    please i want a comment of how the religion of the people has affected the political system both in the past and present. please readers i need a quick answer. frm sulaiman. tel- 07035091151 or 08020955245 thanks

  3. Cheryl Johnson Says:

    I just moved to Dallas , Tx area and I’m looking for like minded study groups to connect with. As a member and associate of Ausar Auset Society for over 20 years now it would sure be refreshing to network with groups here in
    Dallas -Ft Worth Texas who are serious about using the tools that our
    African Ancestors left for our spiritual growth, development and practice in order to have a successful, peaceful and joyful life. Where are the people who continue to carry on the work of our respected African ancestor in the Dallas- Ft Worth, Texas area?

    Hrah Sh Ama Am Sa

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