Negotiating Evil and Wickedness in Yoruba Religion: Character, Ritual, and Personal Responsibility
Evil and in African (Yoruba) traditional religion differs greatly from the manner in which it is conceptualized and presented by Western Christian theology. It is not a problem to be solved. Rather it is considered as an inseparable part of good. There is enough evidence of this in the myriad of proverbs and other modes of conveying meaning in several African languages. This paper proposes to discuss evil and human wickedness (resulting from character flaws, choices, and action) within the context of Yoruba world view and spirituality as expressed through the Ifa corpus. The major focus of the discussion will be anchored in the prefatory epic of the mythic journey of the soul into the world. Fundamental to this journey is the concept of Ori (destiny) whereby the soul makes the primordial choice of its destiny; a choice that sets it on the path to individuation on earth. Adjunct to this individuation are the twin concepts of iwalewa (beauty/character/proportionality/moderation) and omoluwabi (virtue) which are the ethical barometers governing the totality of the Yoruba person's life experiences. Responses to evil, whether collective or individual, in Yoruba traditional religion, and indeed in the culture, are subsumed and circumscribed by predestination (ori), character (iwa), ritual, and personal responsibility. In Yoruba world view man is both an active (and willing) participant in evil as well as a "victim" of a certain ontological determinism. Where possible parallels and comparisons will be made with aspects of the Jewish Kabala, Christian, and Islamic mysticism as all these have influenced (directly or otherwise) Yoruba religion. Hence for the Yoruba evil and human wickedness are part of a larger metaphysical reality involving both human agency and the ineffable.
Keywords: African Spirituality & Religion, Yoruba Ethics, Ritual, Personal Responsibility, Ifa
Dr. BioDun J. Ogundayo
Associate Professor of French & Comparative Literature, Communication and the Arts Division, University of Pittsburgh, Bradford Campus