Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Baba Araba Ifayemi Elébúibon, Araba of Osogbo US Tour

Royalty is in town and while trumpets did not wake up a slumbering West Oakland, drums certainly did as praise singers honored the holy man from Osogbo, Nigeria, West Africa. The honored "Araba," a title given to the spiritual leader of the region, is a position, Baba Ifayemi Elébúibon, also a chief, scholar and author, has held for five years now (2010). He says he likes the position, but it is a lot of work. He comes from a line of Araba, a title and position he says, which used to rotate between families. Now, leaders are nominated. As Araba he is consulted on Ifa or Yoruba spirituality. He is the preeminent authority.
It's exciting to have the Araba here with us. It has been ten years since his last visit to the United States and his tour, which started in New York continues in California with stops in Oakland (May 15-21) and Los Angeles (May 21-24). He is lecturing and doing spiritual work with the people. It is a rare and wonderful opportunity to consult with a spiritual emissary. 

The audience was mixed Monday evening, May 16, children and their parents mingled – there was a lot of laughter as children played in the West Oakland Youth Center—the auditorium large enough for them to find a space to frolic while the adults listened and then asked questions. 
Dr. Nonsisi Cayou and the Araba, Baba Ifayemi Elébúibon

It was somewhat a reunion as the Araba hugged friends whom he hadn’t seen in years, like Dr. Nonsisi Cayou, who brought him to San Francisco State in the early ‘70s during the Black Studies golden years where he taught alongside scholars: Dr. Nathan Hare, Dr. Wade Nobles, Dr. Oba T’Shaka and Dr. Theophile Obenga, Dr. Albirda Rose. I don’t know if Dr. Angela Y. Davis was still there or Dr. Sonia Sanchez. These appointments were just after the dust was settling from a prolonged student strike for such a department at a public institution. Black Studies came to San Francisco State with a bloody price tag—broken bones, prison sentences, extradition and probation.  Baba spoke about how important it is to know oneself.  Obviously, black self-knowledge is something to fear, squash, subdue. 
The Araba surrounded by Khalilah and Adimu and their children

Dr. Cayou has the distinction of creating an institution to hold African consciousness which lives in black bodies. Her Wajumbe Cultural Center at 762 Fulton Street housed a Pan African expressive arts practice which was reflected later in Everybody’s Creative Dance Center in Oakland, founded by Dr. Halifu Osumare (one of her students). Everybody’s is now The Malonga Casquelorde Center for the Arts and Wajumbe is The African American Art and Cultural Complex. Great things are still happening under its roof, the Dewey Crumpler mural still gracing its outer wall—yet, the revolution has quieted. 

What was neat about the first evening of what the Ifa Festival, which continues through Saturday with nominal fees. Opening night was free and if you missed it— that’s it. The art exhibit, lectures, film screenings, dinner and block party have price tags on them. Visit https://www.facebook.com/ifafestival
The Araba, Baba Ifafemi and Dr. Wade Nobles

Obafemi Origunwa is host of the week long Ifa Festival which corresponds to the Araba's visit; however, is separate. The week long series of events hosted by Obafemi correspond to the 12th Anniversary of his initiation by the Araba in Osogbo.  Could we call this a happy coincidence?

After thank-yous, Baba Origunwa introduced Dr. Nobles whose scholarship looks at what it means to be human—African. Just back from a trip to Kwait and then Cuba, prior to the reception and conversation with Araba, he shared a bit about his trip to Cuba. 

The AfroCubans are looking at racism and white supremacy and how to heal from mental slavery. It’s a conversation Dr. Nobles has been facilitating for his entire career— He shared with us his friendship with the Araba and his initiation into Ifa. From Baba Araba Ifayemi he learned how all African spirituality differed yet was the same, whether this is Vodun, Santeria, Lukumi or Candomblé. 

Dr. Nobles used the analogy of the flashlight—Ifa the light which helps clarify objects felt, yet remain unseen, in the darkness. Initiated by Baba Araba Ifayemi, Dr. Nobles while respectful, offered a different perspective on African Diaspora spirituality. In response to the Araba’s answer to one of many excellent questions, Dr. Nobles disagreed with the Araba, who stated that no priests traveled to the New World as a slave. How then do we explain the spiritual practices here in the West? No matter then name, enslaved Africans knew their gods. Perhaps these priests voluntarily allowed themselves to be captured. Certainly, it is our indigenous spirituality—black gods that continues to save us from psychic disaster. 

Dr. Nobles stated that the dominant narrative is just a perspective. We have a right to our own perspective, and to the freedom to be African, even if this makes others uncomfortable. The Araba encouraged us to wear our African clothes if we desire, and challenge those people who suggest that clothing keeps one from performing her duties. 

The Araba spoke of special days to honor the Egun or ancestors—Thursday. He also told us that the New Year in Nigeria starts in June. . Both Dr. Nobles and I have birthdays in June. The Araba’s birthday is in July. He’s a Leo (smile). He spent a long time talking about the spirit twin or Egbe. Each complex concept was couched in a story. 

This noble man is such a treasure to spend time with. It would be a shame if he came and went and you missed him.  Baba Araba Ifayemi Elébúibon, Araba of Osogbo, is also doing readings while he is in town. For information email: ifadunke@aol.com

Kolamanjaro and his Yoruba Heritage Ensemble performed wonderful selections from a new project Kola Asokan is working on to translate and bridge the cultural African Diaspora with sacred music utilizing rhythms developed outside of continental Africa by Disposal citizens. The work is a rhythmic conversation centered on what is the soul of blackness: Ancestors and the belief in the Creator -- Mother, Father, God Spirit.

Kola says of his ensemble that it "is where the classic Yoruba song-meter meets the modern. It is indeed, the crossroad at which yesterday's rhythms intersect with today's sounds to propel the future of cultural arts entertainment forward. It is a bridge that seeks to link Yoruba from the source with others far and widely dispersed around the globe and across the Diaspora." The ensemble is performing Sat., May 21 at the Omni in Oakland as a fundraiser for Youth Empowerment Services (YES). 


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