Oyotunji


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Oyotunji (South Carolina)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Oyotunji Village, a traditional West African Yoruba village, was founded in Beaufort County, South Carolina, in 1970 by Adefunmi I, who leads it as both king and priest. Since its existence became public knowledge in the early 1970s, it has become one of the major pilgrimage sites for African Americans seeking to learn about their heritage.

The man now known as Oba Ofuntola Oseije-man Adelabu Adefunmi was born in 1928 as Walter Eugene King. Raised a Baptist, he abandoned the faith of his childhood in 1950 and went on a quest for his African roots. An early step in his spiritual quest was a trip to Haiti, where he discovered voudou first hand. In 1955, in Brooklyn, New York, he founded the Order of Damballah Hwedo Ancestor Priests. Damballah is one of the primary deities acknowledged in voudou, and veneration of one’s ancestors is a major practice. In 1959 the world of Santeria, a version of the magical religion brought from West Africa by slaves in previous centuries, was opened to him in Cuba, and the Order of Damballah subsequently evolved into the Shango Temple. The members aspired to a recovery of what they saw as their Nigerian ancestral ways. As the temple continued to evolve, including the founding of an educational arm and the African Theological Archministry, the group aspired to a new lineage of Orisa (deity) worship that placed Nigeria at its core, but was still relevant to modern African Americans. In the mid-1960s, word reach Nigeria of what Adefunmi was attempting, and Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, a Yoruban priest, traveled from Africa to see what was occurring. This eventually led, in 1972, to Adefunmi’s ordination into the Yoruban priesthood by the Oluwa (King) of Ijeun at Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Meanwhile, back in South Carolina, the members of the African Theological Archministry built a replica of a Nigerian village. It included a central house for King Adefunmi and his wives. It also housed a staging area for the rites appropriate to the various African deities. Before noon each day, only Yoruban is spoken, so most tourists arrive in the afternoon for their visit. They are welcomed as if they were entering another country and introduced to the behavior proper to the foreign environment.

The number of full-time residents at Oyotunji remains small at about 50 people (one must learn Yoruban to function), but it has become the center of a revival of African religion within the African American community. There are some 10,000 affiliated members across the United States.

Sources:

Brown, David H. Santeria Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Eason, Djisovi Ikukomi. “A Time of Destiny”: Ifa Culture and Festivals in Ile-Ife, Nigeria and Oyotunji African Village in Sheldon, South Carolina. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University, Ph.D. dissertation, 1997.
Hunt, Carl M. Oyotunji Village. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979.