By Iyanifa Ileana S. Alcamo
Translated by Oluwo Cris Alcamo
New York, Athelia Henrietta Press, 2002

When I first received the email recommending this book, I was drawn to buy it on account of primarily one thing: the word “Iyanifa.” The title implied, at least to me, a serious study on the trials that a woman ordained to Ifá may encounter in the Lukumí world, something that is truly needed in this day and age. It is a well-known fact that the Lukumí tradition has always maintained that women should not be ordained to Ifá. In all fairness, we must emphasize that this belief was not a conspiracy by Cuban Babalawós motivated by sheer selfishness to purposely disenfranchise women. This proscription was handed down by the Lukumí progenitors of this religion. I believed Alcamo’s book would explore these issues and attempt to defend the ordination and argue her point convincingly by presenting the reader with solid facts, profound analyses based on odú, or interviews with Yoruba Babalawós and other Iyanifás, something that in many respects has already been done quite graciously by Chief FAMA Àìná Adéwálé-Somadhi.

Instead, Alcamo’s book turned out to be a true disappointment. Alcamo bit off more than she could chew and went to battle without offering ebó. While raising some valid points about the arrogant and self-centered nature of some members of the Lukumí priesthood, Alcamo’s book reads more like one of those new-age guides for Ifá and Orisha groupies. I believe that too many issues that Alcamo raises are allowed to lie fallow because so much of the book is dedicated to her complaints about her negative encounters with what sounds like a very limited sector of the Lukumí community. Alcamo loses out on wonderful opportunities to explore and analyze the state of the religion in terms of its representatives, some of which are often clearly known to be highly unscrupulous opportunists that, though ordained by Lukumí standards, are far from being true and sincere devotees. I must emphasize that this group does not represent the majority of the Lukumí community, something Alcamo does say at various points throughout her book. This group of iniquitous heretics is in fact a slim minority of the Lukumí population that because of their lack of religious scruples and basic human values, become the better known; the infamous representatives that detract from our religion.

Unfortunately, Alcamo’s book does not rate very high as a valuable contribution to the growing body of serious literature on Lukumí, Diasporan and Yoruba religion. Unfortunately, “The Challenge. . .” loses out on its opportunity to confront the serious issues by delving solely on complaints and “mystic” advice. These flaws place Alcamo’s book alongside the many “supermarket tabloid” publications that are filling the shelves of American mystic and occult bookstores spreading more misinformation on an already sufficiently misrepresented religion.

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