I don’t know. And that bothers me. Like how did I make it all these years thinking I knew my history? Thinking that I understood. I am incredibly determined to learn and share it with you here on my blog. These facts may be overwhelming and produce some feelings like shame and guilt. But this is important to know and understand. Who were they? Before we were brought to the Americas to be slaves?
According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson, there were approximately 12.5 million African people were transported by boat to the Americas between 1525 and 1866. Only 10.7 million survived the passage. Over the course of 341 years, 1.8 million people perished during the transportation to the New World. Of those that survived, 388,000 were transported to North America. The overwhelming majority of Africans, who were subjugated into slavery, were transported to the Caribbean and South American countries. You can pause…breathe in and breathe out. That is a painful and powerful fact.
How can you encompass that many lives, cultures languages, perspectives, beliefs…people? How do we piece together who they were? What was their life perspective? How did they see the world? Understanding who my ancestors were means understanding their heart. How did they love one another? What did they value? How did they co-exist?
One thing that connects humans is our belief system. Our religion dictates our value for ourselves and others. While many of us were converted to Christianity in the United States, in the Caribbean and South America many of us kept the beliefs we were taught by our families and elders. We believed in a system called Ifa. The proof of that exists In places like Brazil, Haiti, and Louisianna, where variants of Ifa exists today. Ifa is a belief system where there is one God. Orisha are intermediaries between God and humans, and ancestors are worshiped. It is in the context of this belief system which exists in both the New World and in what is now called Nigeria that we can find the heart of our ancestors.
Ifa is a belief system that was started in Yorubaland in Nigeria. It is many thousands of years old and has one God, Olodumare, the creator of everything. His name, Olodumare comes from the words OLODU OMO ARE. This translates to the entity that is so big and enormous yet we cannot fathom or ascertain where it is. Olodumare is neither male nor female, rather he is gender-neutral. She created the earth and all things on it and is considered to be absolutely supreme over all on earth. He created the Orisha, to be more directly involved with humans. The Orisha serves as intercessors to Olodumare. The Orisha are seen as male and female each has a personality and commands a segment of human life.
There are 400 + 1 Orisha who serve as intercedents between humans and Oludumare. I am will be discussing the more popular Orisha and using them as inspiration for hand-painted yarn. I am not a practitioner of Ifa and no expert. I want to understand this belief system which has endured in the New World since Africans were transported unwillingly. I want to understand the soul of the people who came here and faced brutality, loss of freedom, and survived. I am inspired by their strength, beauty, and intelligence. Mostly, I am inspired by their ability to BE so that I have the privilege to take up space and become their wildest dreams.
Important to know: I am not an expert. Variants of Ifa exist. They are based on the practices which originated in Yorubaland. I describe Ifa as it is practiced in Yorubaland. I acknowledge differences in name spelling and defer to the interpreted spellings from the originators. Much of my knowledge comes from The Way of the Orisa, by Philip John Neimark who happens to be white and Jewish. Go figure. I will say reading this book was valuable, in that Neimark presents his understanding of Ifa through a Western perspective and makes comparisons so it is easier for a Westerner to understand.