Awo

Awo is often used as a gender-neutral reference to individual Iyanifa or Babalawo, as well as to the group as a whole. An Awo is a spiritual counsellor to clients and those whom he or she may have assisted in receiving tutelary Orisa shrines and/or initiation into the spiritual tradition of the Orisa. There have been Iyanifa, women Ifa priests, since time immemorial in some areas of the world 

Babaaláwo literally meaning 'father or master of mysteries' in the Yoruba language. It is a Yorùbá chieftaincy title that denotes a Priest of Ifá while Ifa priestesses are called Iyanifa.  Ifa is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Orisha Orunmila, the Spirit of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of God. The Babalawo claim to ascertain the future through communication with Orunmila. This is done through the interpretation of either the patterns of the divining chain known as Opele, or the palm nuts called Ikin, on the traditionally wooden divination tray. 

Awo in every tradition study the 256 Odù; each Odù is an extraordinarily vast collection of knowledge, including stories and prayers that have been passed down from the time that Orunmila walked the Earth as a prophet, usually said to be about 5,000 years ago. Babalawo 


Initiation into Ifa requires rigorous study. A Babalawo must learn and understand each of the 256 chapters (Odu) of Ifa. The minimum of four verses will of necessity include ebos and ooguns (medicine) that are embedded and relevant to each of the verses, plus other issues that complement divination. An accomplished Babalawo must know about ten verses of each of the 256 chapters of Ifa (256 Odu Ifa). Regardless of gender, whoever aspires to practice Ifa must have this qualification. In essence, Ifa practice does not preclude a woman provided such woman acquires the required qualification. 


Odu—a special Orisa—can only be received by a Babalawo who decides to perform the special initiation that will allow him access to Odu. In essence, initiation into Ifa is the first step towards initiation into Odu. A woman cannot be initiated into Odu. This is because since she already has a womb, she has no need to receive Odu. It can be said to be redundant. Character Traits of a Awo: Orunmila demands humility from his priests and priestesses, therefore, a Babalawo should be an embodiment of patience, good character, honesty, and humility.

Some initiatory lineages have only male priests of Orunmila, while others include both genders. The term "Awo" is a gender-neutral title for an initiated priest of Orunmila. The debate surrounding gender is a result of diversity in the many layers of history in various locations. In some areas of Yorubaland and in Cuba, only men become full priests of Orunmila (sometimes nicknamed "Orula" in Cuban lineages), other places in Africa the priesthood has always been open to women (although female awo Ifa are relatively uncommon). In many non-Cuban lineages female Awo Ifa are becoming common. Women do not need to receive Odù because all women already have Odù which is represented by the womb of women and the female child-bearing ability; the womb is seen as both a physical and spiritual gateway between the heavens and the material world. 

Several Odù Ifá mandate that women do not see nor receive Odù (Calabash of Existence), and any claims that it can be given are easily dispelled; Ifá stanzas cite several reasons and occasions why. Odù is associated mainly with the force of creation as a gateway between the physical world and metaphysical world for the transfer of divine knowledge and messages. Throughout Cuba and some of the broader Santeria diaspora, Orula can be received by individuals regardless of gender. For men, the procedure is known as receiving "Mano de Orula" and for women, it is "Kofa de Orula." 

The same procedure exists in Yoruba land, with "ese n'taye" (birthing rites), "Ise'fa" (adolescent initiation rites) and "Ite'fa" (consecration of the paraphernalia of Ifá practice). Worshippers of the traditional religious philosophy of the Yoruba people all receive one hand of Ifá (called Isefa) regardless of which Orisa they may worship or be an Orisa priest. It is that same Isefa that will direct all followers to the right path and their individual destinies in life.  

Comments