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