Odyssey Of An American Female Babalawo
By Austin Edemodu
IF it were just the affairs of mere mortals, this 59 year old American-Jew would be the most unlikely candidate to be entrusted with the onerous duty of spearheading the evolution of the Orisa tradition of the Yorubas. But then who can fathom the ways of the gods? They pull the strings, mortals fall in line, and today, Dr. D’Haifa Odufora Ifatogun, has behind her a 20-year history of developing Orisa.
Born on November 3, 1943, this Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy (DCH), who currently travels around the world teaching Hypnotherapy and Energy medicine , is a registered and certified member of the American Board of Clinical Hypnotherapy as well as the International Association of Counsellors and Therapists. D’Haifa, who has recorded many firsts in the evolution of the Orisa tradition, was initiated into the highest Orisa,(Obatala) on May 12, 1979, slightly over 20 years ago. The initiation was performed by two Cuban Babalorisas, Carlos Gonzalez (Ade Oshun) and Ojubona Benigno Dominiquez (Ifafunmike), and she came out of it with the name “Odufora”.
The New Yorker, on January 22, 1985 after a ceremony conducted by the Chief Priest of Oshogbo, Ifayemi Elebuibon, became the first woman to be initiated into IFA(the Orisa of Divination) in America or the Western Hemisphere. Seven years later, precisely on January 22, 1992 at Ile-Ife, she received the Orisa-Odofin the highest Orisa reserved for Babalawos, becoming the only woman to be so investitured. The initiation was conducted by the Aseda of Ife, Chief Adeyefa Olatunji.
And in January 22, 1995, the prestigious title of Iya Araba-Agbaye was bestowed upon Dr. D’Haifa at Ile-Ife, representing also the first time in history the Orisa devotees have conferred that title on a woman.
The Iya Araba-Agbaye, obviously overwhelmed by her new status ,says she sought answers from the Universe, more particularly Orisa, that same day on the mystery and impact of her historic new title. As always with the gods, the response was to come through the most unexpected source, Orisa -Oya, which D’Haifa defines as the grand female warrior who represents the element of wind, and is the renown guardian spirit of the cemetery.
According to her, Orisa-Oya communicated her answers through an American trance-medium, “who knows nothing about the Orisa tradition and even less of my perplexing questions.”
Through the Trance-medium, Orisa-Oya tells her among other things : “D’Haifa ,Iya Araba, Orisa is merely an African word for the primordial energy, but the energy itself is not African. For that reason Orisa can resonate or manifest through any type of individual in any location throughout (the world).
“We remind you that the Earth is anticipating and preparing for an extraordinary shift in frequency (change of consciousness) in the very near future, and Orisa wants to participate in this evolutionary phenomenon. Thus the Orisas are designating particular individuals across the planet who are situated and capable of preserving the Orisa frequency in this explosive experience.
“When its aspects are dispersed, its chances of survival and expansion are greatly enhanced. In few words, if Orisa were contained amongst its indigenous proponents or immediate relatives (wherever they find themselves in the world today), it would remain the same frequency, perhaps even become extinct in application.
“Inasmuch as the significance or meaning of Iya Araba-Agbaye: it is in essence a vibrational level that has always existed, waiting to avail itself to the woman who could penetrate its frequency. The details of its application will be revealed more and more as you, D’Haifa, realise your purpose without ego or attachments.
“You (D’Haifa Iya Araba -Agbaje) and the Araba Agbaye-Aworeni, as exemplaries, in collaboration with diverse, selective initiates are being charged with transporting the treasured ASE to a higher vibratory level of consciousness, whereby you will leave a new legacy in this era of evolution of Orisa.”
According to D’Haifa, Orisa- Oya further claimed responsibility for instigating her (Iya Araba Agbaye’s) controversial initiations in order to dissolve many untruths or myths that have been impeding the evolution of the Orisa tradition.
Sometime in early 2001, D’Haifa who claims to have Orisas frequently alternate waking her up between 3.30 to 4.00 in the morning hours to give revelations, directions or answers to her personal enquiries, says she received a clear indication to embark on another mission to shatter a myth. This time, to initiate another person into Ifa, a process known as Itefa, to prove that a woman can initiate people into the tradition.
“An individual had repeatedly requested me to be his Oluwo, but until now women had historically been initiated into Ifa, but none had ever made Itefa onto another. It would be another revolutionary, controversial event in the evolution of Orixa, were it to be achieved,” she recalls. “I proceeded to confirm my intentions through divination with the Ifa Oracle by Oluwo Dr. Jose Amaro (Ifanilaye) in Miami, Florida, and the response was positive by Odu-Ifa.”
With this divine confirmation of her intentions by Orisa-Oya, D’Haifa writes an open letter to the Araba Agbaye, Chief Aworeni and the 16 Olodus of the Ifa Temple, Oke-Tase, Ile-Ife. In the letter, dated June 03, 2001, she explains her intentions soliciting their participation. Part of the letter reads: “Oya also alluded to many untruths (not in principle, but in practice), which due to the evolution of Orisa, are now obsolete within the prevailing truth, and that we are heretofor charged to dispel: for example, traditionally, women have been excluded or ignored in their guest to initiate others into the Ifa frequency.
“If I were to relate the most significant benefit that I have received as the result of my many controversial, powerful and historical initiations into Ifa, it would definitely be the fact that it has afforded me the luxury of being humble. Having said that, it is from the Profound recesses of my own ORI that I am impressed to Transcend any and all impediments endured by Iyanifas until now.
“I am requesting you, Honourable Araba (in the very immediate future) to make the following evolutionary concession to this effect: assist me to be the principal Oluwo in the initiation of a gentleman who has requested me to initiate him into Ifa…
“Orisa energy continuously evolves and uniquely re-creates itself through each one of us, and it would be naive and disloyal for anyone to suggest that our tradition is so fragile that achieving my destiny could slatter its foundation!”
Her logic accepted, D’Haifa and Hermes Torres II are summoned to Ile-Ife for the epochal ceremony, and are celebrated on July 20, by Chief Obadio of the Oduduwa Grove. The next day, they are blessed by the Chief Obalesun and Chief Obalale of the Obatala Shrine, and then on Sunday, July 22, the epochal initiation of Torres II as “Ifaraba”, by the first Female Oluwo, Iyanifa Dr D’Haifa, Chief Yeye Araba Agbaye assisted by chief Aworeni Aroyemi Adisa (The Araba Agbaye).
The event is rounded up on Sunday, July 29, with a feast at the Ifa Temple to celebrate, according to D’Haifa “our milestone accomplishments, particularly that of Chief Maiyegun-Awo, Ifaraba and Yeye Araba-Agbaye (Iyadu) D’Haifa Odufora Ifatogun having received Orisa-Odu.”
Last September 22, D’Haifa formally completed the requirement of sacrifice and one year of silence, to put a final seal on her reception of Orisa-Odu.
An Ifa faithful and lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, enthusiastically breaks this news, same day, in an e-mail to Ifaraba and other adherents in the U.S:
“Today, 29 September, 2002 is to be one of the most remarkable days in the Evolution of Orisa Tradition. Chief Yeye Araba-Agbaye Dr. D’Haifa Odufora Ifatogun has officially and historically completed the ceremony as the first female Oluwo to receive Orisa-Odu, by the hands and Ase of the Araba-Agbaye Aworeni at Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. Witnessed: Chief Maiyegun -Awo Agbaye, Adebayo Ogundijo…”
On October 6 in the town of Ilobu, Osun State, the Orisa-Odu is carried out by Chief Babalola Ifatogun. After the necessary divination, according to D’Haifa, Chief Ifatogun pronounces categorically that there is no Odu-Ifa that ever prohibited women from receiving Orisa-Odu, nor to initiate another person into Ifa.
“This was done to relieve the Araba of Ife of any unjustified criticism or censorship for having the courage to allow Orisa to evolve in our time,” the Yeye Araba-Agbaye declares.
But who is actually Dr. D’Haifa? Any attempt to talk about her person, outside the Ifa tradition, is politely discourage. “I don’t really like to talk about myself,” she is quick to explain. “It’s not me. It is about the evolution of Orisa.”
Is she aware, though, that being a Babalawo has some uncomplimentary commutations? Definitely, she says. It is something she has happily lived with. But it also helps that she does not belong to any society or group that can ostracize her for pursuing her destiny, she observes.