This is a curious article that appeared in a Nigerian Newspaper:
Have you taken a long, hard look at the typical masquerade? And an equally long hard look at the typical American astronaut or Russian cosmonaut?
Have you noticed the curious semblance between the two? The face piece, especially?
Can there possibly be a connection between, say, Yuri Gagarin, the 'first man in space' and a common Yoruba Tombolo (type of masque) cartwheeling to the cheers of a market crowd?
Curiously, the Yoruba call the masquerade ara orun (visitor from heaven. But, is the astronaut not an ara orun too? After all, he travels in deep space (the heavens ñ even farther than conventional planes).
Could it be that the cult of Egungun (masquerade) really is in remembrance of beings who in the ancient past travelled form the 'heavens' to the earth? Yoruba tradition interprets ara orun (masquerades) as spirits of long-dead fathers returned to visit their offsprings on earth.
But why call such spirits ara orun rather than oku orun (spirit of the dead). Oku orun is more descriptive of someone who is in heaven in consequence of having died here on earth.
Ara orun suspiciously sounds like a "living being" naturally resident in 'heaven' but who elects to visit the earth.
The 'Ara' part of the name, in Yoruba means a 'resident of' or a 'visitor from'.
Interestingly, from Yoruba folklore comes a song that sounds very relevant to this discourse. It evidently recounts an encounter between an earthman and an Ara Orun. The song goes:
Lead: Ara Orun, Ara Orun Chorus:Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Kilo wa se ni nile yi oo? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Emu ni mo wa da Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Elelo lemuu re o Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Okokan Egbewa Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Gbemu sile ki o maa loo Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba.
Lead: Visitor from (the) heaven(s), visitor from (the) heaven(s) Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: What do you seek in this land? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: I've come to tap palmwine. Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: How much do you sell your palmwine? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: Ten thousand cowries per keg. Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: Put the palmwine down and go.
It is clear from the mood of this encounter that the ara orun or visitor from (the) heaven(s) being addressed is not a ghost. The Yoruba have a more appropriate name for ghost.
It is Oku.
Again, the average Yoruba man does not care to hold dialogue with an oku. He (or she) is more likely to flee in terror. However, our earthman here is clearly under the influence of plain curiosity ñ as opposed to dark terror: "What was the mission of the ara orun? He wanted to know.
Again, why did the earthman call the entity Ara Orun? Did he see the entity descend from the skies (Heaven)?
In fact, the use of ile yi (this land) while asking the being his mission shows that the Ara Orun was a total alien. That's how the Yoruba use the word.
Fortunately again, the Ara Orun discloses his mission: To tap palmwine. Hardly anything one will call spiritual. That dispels any notion that the alien was probably a spirit being or an 'angel'.
So, our alien was flesh enough to be capable of relishing the taste of palm wine or was from a land (or world) where palmwine is so appreciated.
Back to the question, how did the earthman recognise the alien as being from 'Heaven'. Did he see him float down from the 'skies'? It should be noted that the Yoruba have the same word ñ Orun ñ for both sky and heaven (supposed abode of good people and Olodumare). Some times though, they take extra pains to use oju orun to distinguish the skies; so did the Earthman see this being descend?
Again, a portion of his song suggests just "descent." We must, however, admit that at this stage, we are at the level of conjectureñ but reasoned conjecture.
This portion of the song is the part of the chorus: Ntere tere nte. What does tere nte connote in the Yoruba language.
For answer, we refer to yet another folklore. this one comes from the Ifa literary corpus.
According to the story, reports reached Orunmila, the Yoruba divinity of wisdom that one of his wives was having an affair with a male mammy water (Pappy Water?)
A naturally enraged Orunmila then trailed the unfaithful woman to the couple's rendezvous at a sea shore or river bank. He caught them in the act ñ and opened fire on (or macheted) the half-fish-half-man.
Wounded the casanova fell back into the deeps and moments later, the water surface hen blood went blood-red.
Now in great sorrow, the apparently unrepentant woman burst into a dirge for for her lover.
Lead: Oko omi, oko omi o. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Oko mi Oko mi o. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Ogbe mi lo terere. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Ogbemi lo tarara. Chorus: Tere na. lead: O tarara Oju omi Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Oju omi a feroro. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Eja nla hurungbon. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Oju eye perere. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: My love, my dear love. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: He bore me far, far away (into the sea) Chorus: Tere na. Lead: He bore me far, far (back from the sea). Chorus: tere na Lead: Along the highways of the waters. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: The expansive, limitless waters. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: The mighty bearded fishman Chorus: Tere na.
Tere re in this song clearly indicates "great distance", the great distance the lovers covered as they traversed the waters during their illicit affair.
The other part of our original words: is easily clearer. In Yoruba, Nte connotes "floatation", "high" or "air-borne".Thus we have Lori Oke tente (on the very top of the hill), Ate (a hat worn on the very top of the head. And ole tente (it floats pretty).
Thus, a combination of tere and nte suggests something "floating down, air-borne form great distance, from far away."
Thus what the Tere nte chorus is probably telling us is that this visitors from the heavens, this aliens, floated down from a great distance.
We can now wonder. Did the Yoruba, indeed , Africans, make contact with space being or extra-terrestrials in the ancient past? And did they preserve these encounters in their folklore and folksongs?
I was still "brain-storming" over all these, digging into litreatures on Egungun and allied matters when a most fortunate clue literally fell on my laps.
There is this weekly Ifa programme on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). Anchored by Wale Rufai, it features stories from the Ifa corpus by an Ifa priest, Gbolagade Ogunleke Ifatokun.
Being one of my favourite programmes, I was listening on Wednesday November 20, last year when a brief digression in the discussion brought up the issue of the mutual respect between the Ifa priesthood and the Egungun cult. Ifatokun, declared flatly that an Egungun must never whip an Ifa priest. (Egungun o gbodo na Babalawo), especially by reason of an ancient alliance between Orunmila (founder of the Babalawo school) and the Egungun at a time in the ancient past when the Earth was threatened by a deluge of Ifatokun's story held me spellbound.
According to him, the real meaning of egungun is Mayegun that is, "keep the world in order" or "those who keep the world running smoothly."
In the distant past, Ifatokun related, there occurred a deluge, which threatened all life on earth.
Seeing the earth so imperilled, Orunmila, and other (Irunmales the divinities) who were resident on Earth then, sent an S.O.S. to Orun, (Heaven).
In response, the Ara orun, came to the Earth in special costumes.
These costumes, said Ifatokun, had the unique property of drying up any portion of the inundated earth over which they were swung.
The "Egungun" cult sprang from this incident of the invitation of these heavenly beings.
The special and elderly egungun who wear imitations of these today are called Babalago, Ifatokun said.
So, the Egungun (Mayegun) cam from orun (heaven, Space) to rescue aye (Earth) form the deluge.
The modern interpretation of the Ifatokun story is glaring:
When the deluge hit the Earth, extraterrestrial beings resident on Earth, among whom was Orunmila, himself, sent an S.O.S to their home planet. And in response, extraterrestial hydrologists landed on Earth in spacesuits (and, by inference, space craft) to rid the Earth of the excess water!.
Of course, the matter does not end here. Some sailent questions have been raised, especially by this last account.
For instance, was Orunmila truly an extraterrestial? Were the Irunmales or Orisas, extraterrestials? The answer is Yes.
However, that is another story...
Story originally published by The Guardian - Nigeria By Yemi Ogunsola
Five ancient concepts are essential to an understanding of Yoruba aesthetics.
(1) Ase means “power” or “authority”. However, the meaning of Ase is extraordinarily complex. Ase is used in a variety of contexts. One of the most important meanings is the “vital power, the energy, the great strength of all things.”11 Ase also refers to a divine energy manifest in the process of creation and procreation. Ase invests all things, exists everywhere, and is a source for all creative activity. Again, Ase often refers to the inner power or “life force.” Ase also refers to the “authority” by which one speaks or acts.
(2) Ori is the “inner spiritual head” in humans or “personal destiny,” not mind or soul as these terms are used in the West. But Ori can mean the enabling power that represents the potential that life contains.
(3) Iwa can mean “character” or “essential nature.” Two classifications of usage of Iwa are generally recognized: the ontological-descriptive and the ethical evaluative. The ontological-descriptive meaning enables one to identify the quantitative existence of a person as revealed by their behaviour, the “lifestyle” or manner in which they exist in the world. The ethical-evaluative meaning represents a qualitative judgment of how good or bad is their iwa.
(4) Ewa is an aesthetic term as well as an expression of iwa, a person’s essential nature. Ewa means “beauty”, referring in some contexts to physical beauty of a person or object, but mostly to the qualities of beauty of a person or object. The term can be used to describe how a work of art captures the essential quality of the subject.
(5) Ona means “art” or it can refer to an artist’s ability to create or design. In Yoruba “art” cannot be defined outside of the context of the processes of creation, the purpose of creation, and the skill of the artist in capturing the first two contextualities in order to produce a physical object that embodies meaning.
CERTAIN Yoruba King, Ajaka, had a favourite wife of whom he was very fond; but, alas for his hopes! she gave birth to twins.
At that time it was the universal custom to destroy twins immediately at birth, and the mother with them. But the King had not the heart to put this cruel law into execution, and he secretly charged one of his nobles to conduct the royal mother and her babes to a remote place where they might live in safety.
Here the twin brothers grew to manhood, and loved one another greatly. They were inseparable, and neither of them had any pleasure except in the company of the other. When one brother began to speak, the other completed his phrase, so harmonious were their thoughts and inclinations.
Their mother, before she died, informed them of their royal birth, and from this moment they spent the time vainly regretting their exile, and wishing that the law of the country had made it possible for them to reign.
At last they received the news that the King their father was dead, leaving no heir, and it seemed to the brothers that one of them ought to go to the capital and claim the throne. But which?
To settle this point they decided to cast stones, and the one who made the longer throw should claim the throne, and afterwards send for his brother to share in his splendour.
The lot fell on the younger of the twins, and he set off to the capital, announced himself as the Olofins son, and soon became King with the consent of all the people. As soon as possible he sent for his brother, who henceforth lived with him in the palace and was treated with honour and distinction.
But alas! jealousy began to overcome his brotherly affection, and one day as he walked with the King by the side of the river, he pushed his brother suddenly into the water, where he was drowned.
He then gave out in the palace that his brother was weary of kingship, and had left the country, desiring him to reign in his stead.
The King had certainly disappeared, and as no suspicion fell on the twin brother, he was made King and so realized his secret ambition.
Some time later, happening to pass by the very spot where his brother had been drowned, he saw a fish rise to the surface of the water and begin to sing:
Your brother lies here,
Your brother lies here.
The King was very much afraid. He took up a sharp stone and killed the fish.
But another day when he passed the spot, attended by his nobles and shielded by the royal umbrella made of the skins of rare animals, the river itself rose into waves and sang:
Your brother lies here,
Your brother lies here.
In astonishment the courtiers stopped to listen. Their suspicions were aroused, and when they looked into the water they found the body of the King.
Thus the secret of his disappearance was disclosed, and the wicked brother was rejected in horror by his people. At this disgrace he took poison and so died.