Ifa Festival and Yoruba National Convention

Ifa Festival and Yoruba National Convention

Date Observed: First weekend in July
Location: Oyotunji African Village, South Carolina

The Ifa Festival and Yoruba National Convention is held each year in July, in the Oyotunji African Village in Beaufort County, outside Sheldon, South Carolina. Yoruba religious devotees from across the United States and other countries gather to honor Ifa (ee-FAH), considered the wisest of all orishas (or deities) and the chief counselor of the supreme being Olodumare (oh-low-DOO-may-ray).

Historical Background

Oyotunji means "rises again" in the Yoruba language, and Oyotunji Village is a kingdom patterned after kingdoms in west Africa's Yorubaland. At one time, there were about 20 such kingdoms, and each one was ruled by its own king.

The founder of Oyotunji was Walter King, who was initiated into the Yoruban religious society of Ifa. He changed his name and became Oba (King) Oseijeman Adefunmi I, who has been called the father of the African cultural restoration movement. His Royal Highness Oba Oseijeman was crowned in 1981 in Ife, Nigeria. He reigned until his death in February 2005. A new king, Oseijeman Adefunmi II, was crowned in July 2005.

During the 1960s, when African Americans were seeking to assert their own cultural and spiritual identities, Oseijeman Adefunmi I established several Yoruba temples in Harlem. In the mid-1960s he sought a rural area to continue to develop the religious movement. In 1970 he bought land where the village exists today. It is the only traditional African village in the United States, and a sign greets visitors: "Welcome to Oyotunji. You are now leaving the United States of America and about to enter the Yoruba kingdom of Oyotunji African Village." The number of Oyotunji villagers fluctuates, but since the 1990s, eight or nine families have been residents under the rule of the king and a council of chiefs. Village children attend a private school called the Royal Academy. Students learn not only subjects required by the state of South Carolina, but also Yoruba language, culture, and history.

Residents in this small village hold festivals for specific orishas each month except November (see also Olokun Festival). The festivals are part of a Yoruba way of life dating back centuries.

Creation of the Festival

The Ifa Festival in Oyotunji began with the founding of the village, which is similar to a small village in what is now Nigeria. Following the Yoruba tradition, the festival focuses on Ifa, who knows the destiny of each person, including which orisha she or he is destined to worship (see also Honoring Santería Orishas).

Observance

The July festival in the Oyotunji Village brings together those who follow traditional Yoruba religious practices. There are dances, drum performances, and recitations to Ifa, the deity of destiny. Participants may also seek guidance from psychic readers and listen to lectures by the king and chiefs.

Because Ifa is also a form of divination, a high priest referred to as babalawo (bah-bahLAH-woe), meaning "father of secrets," calls upon Ifa, the oracle of divination, to mediate between the orishas, ancestors, and participants. The priest scatters cowry shells or palm nuts and then reads the patterns into which they fall to determine how supernatural forces may affect a particular person. As a result, the babalawo can suggest actions a person can take to better her or his life.

Contacts and Web Sites

Kingdom of Oyotunji African Village Highway 17, P.O. Box 51 Sheldon, SC 29941 843-846-8900

Ile Orunmila Temple I.F.A., Inc. 166 N.W. 48th St. Miami, FL 33127-2418

Further Reading

"An Interview with Oba Osijeman Adefunmi I of Oyotunji, South Carolina." Isokan Yoruba Magazine , Fall 1996-Winter 1997. Tyehimba, Cheo. "African Gods in South Carolina." Essence, December 1995.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007