In a lecture on Creole Culture, in Yale, in 1989, Robert Farris Thompson argues that African or Afro-descendant cultures should be looked as this and that cultures. This was a very important advice, which Salamone (2001) took seriously while analysing the case of a Nigerian healer, babalawo (Ifa priest) and Anthropologist that declares himself as monotheist and polytheist. Salamone deals with several coincidentia oppositorum facts. This remind us that our occidental framework of A or B is not operative in all kinds of contexts.
This is very clear when it came to study Yorùbá religion(s). Long-term discussions on ‘monotheist versus polytheist’ in this context, can still be found in some literature, despite the win of monotheist ideology, due to some scholar’s work as Idowu (Olodumare: God in Yoruba belief) and Ifá theology, deeply embodied in monotheist perspective. In a previous paper, published in 2013, following the path of Hallgren’s The Good Things in Life, I argued that Yorùbá religious context shall be understood as an open fluid system. We must remember Peel’s words (1968) … “…the whole system looks different from different social standpoint” (p.29). In fact, the whole system looks different because, in fact, it is.
Stating: religion in Yorùbá context is a this and that case. It is monotheist and polytheist. A good example of this and that pattern of thought can be found on the Orisha. When asked about Oshun, if She is the river, the deity of the river or the woman that died on river, a Yoruba will answer: all. She is the woman that died on the river, the deity of the river and the river itself.
Cite this article as: João Ferreira Dias, "“This and that” in Yorùbá (religious) patterns of thought," in Adarrum
, Abril 30, 2017, https://jfdias.hypotheses.org/341
Everyone who is familiarized with Yorùbá religious culture, and its Brazilian counterpart Candomblé, knows well the concept of “White Deities”, the Òrìsà Funfun. Many authors mention them in different aspects. While Verger (2002*) devoted his attention to historical-oral aspects of the cult, ritual and visual-aesthetical elements, Hallgren (1988) places those deities in terms of what is calls “white circle”, which pretends to be an arrange of deities, originated from Ilé-Ifè, based on whiteness element. Suzanne Blier, in many of her work, postulated the importance of this white element in Fon-Dahomey culture in European-African Atlantic encounters. Not only Blier but also many other authors, refers that this white element was vital in primordial Afro-European contact in this area, since many deities where associated with whiteness and because of that, the natives interpreted the arrival of those white, long-bearded men as the come of gods.
Nevertheless, despite the fact of Yorùbá Òrìsà Funfun are deeply associated with whiteness, they are generally translated as “Gods/deities who dresses in white”. However, they are named Òrìsà Funfun, which literally means “White Gods”. We have a serious problem in our hands, because they are never mentioned as “Òrìsà Àso Funfun”, “Gods in white cloths”. They are White Gods. Obviously, this presented a serious dilemma for natives during the colonization and slave trade, a fact that remains in present day-by-day religious life of African and its descendants. A people that was enslaved, that was forced to work in New World, that was and stills is largely oppressed, would easily made a slightly change of theology, presenting those White Gods as Black Gods that Dresses in White.
* Brazilian commemorative edition