Isokan Yoruba Magazine
Summer 1997
Volume III No. III: Article

Beier: I wanted to talk to you about Yoruba religion, because you seem to be the only writer who has seriously tried to come to terms with it. Even many of the Yoruba scholars, who do research into language, literature, history of the Yoruba shy away from the subject – as if they were embarrassed about it …

Now in your own case, given the type of upbringing you had, I have asked myself how you became interested in Yoruba religion. There is an image “Ake”, that has made a very strong impression on me. You were living in the Christian school compound, that was surrounded by a high wall and when the Egungun masqueraders were passing by outside, you had to ask somebody to lift you onto the ladder, so that you could watch the procession going on outside. Your upbringing was designed to shield you from the realities of Yoruba life … and later on your education in the Grammar school, the University in England – they all were designed to take you further away from the core of your culture.

How then did you find your way back into it? How did you manage to break the wall that had been built up around you?

Soyinka: Curiosity mostly, and the annual visits to Isara – which was a very different situation from Abeokuta! There is no question at all, that there was something, an immediacy that was more attractive, more intriguing about something from which you were obviously being shielded. If you hear all the time “Oh, you mustn’t play with those kids because their father is an Egungun man …” you become curious: and then you discover that there is nothing really “evil” about it … that it is not the way they preach about it. Even my great great uncle, the Reverend J.J. Ransome Kuti, whom I never met, composed a song whose refrain was: “Dead men can’t talk … ” One was surrounded by such refutations of that other world, of that other part of one’s heritage, so of course you asked questions about it. Yes, and even if I realized quite early on, that there was a man in the Egungun mask, that did not mean that a great act of evil was being committed – any more than saying that Father Christmas was evil.

I had this rather comparative sense and I wrote in “Ake” that I used to look at the images on the stained glass windows of the church: Henry Townsend, the Rev. Hinderer and then the image that was supposed to be St. Peter. In my very imaginative mind, it didn’t seem to me that they were very different from the Egungun.

So one was surrounded by all these different images which easily flowed into one another. I was never frightened of the Egungun. I was fascinated by them. Of course, I talked to some of my colleagues, like Osiki, who donned the masquerade himself, from time to time.

The Igbale1 was nothing sinister to me: it signified to me a mystery, a place of transformation. You went into Igbale to put on your masquerade. Then when the Egungun came out, it seemed that all they did was blessing the community and beg a little bit for alms here and there. Occasionally there were disciplinary outings: they terrorized everybody and we ran away from them but then, some distance away you stopped and regathered … maybe my dramatic bent saw this right from the beginning as part of the drama of life.

I never went through a phase, when I believed that traditional religion or ceremonies were evil. I believed that there were witches – I was convinced of that – but at the same time there were good apparitions. And of course I found the songs and the drumming very exciting.

Beier: You never really took to Christianity at any stage …

Soyinka: Never really – not even as a child. I remember distinctly my first essay prize at secondary school – that was in my first year. My essay was entitled: “Ideals of an Atheist.” Yes, I went through all these phases. I just felt I couldn’t believe in the Christian god and for me that meant I was an atheist.

Beier: How old were you then?

Soyinka: I was eleven! But I also enjoyed being in the choir – I was a chorister. I went regularly to rehearsals. I enjoyed the festive occasion, the harvest festival, etc. Then we processed through the congregation, rather than sneaking in through the side entrances. At Christmas and New Year I enjoyed putting on the robes of a chorister. On the way to church I went to see my friend Edun, who lived in Ibarapa. And my Sunday was made even more interesting, when we met the Egungun masquerades on the way – which was quite often.

Beier: Do you remember we went to a conference in Venice, it must have been in 1960 or 1961 …?

Soyinka: Oooooh yes …

Beier: There was a writer from Northern Nigeria … I think it was Ibrahim Tahir. And he made a statement, the gist of which was that Nigeria was, or was about to become, an Islamic country …

Soyinka: I have actually forgotten that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Beier: I am not quite certain what his real argument was or how it was phrased. But I do remember your rather fierce reply! The gist of which was that both Christianity and Islam were conservative forces that actually retarded Nigeria’s ability to copy with the modern world, whereas traditional religions – Yoruba religion at least – was something much more open, and much capable of adaptation …

Soyinka: Yes, and for the very reason liberating! I am glad you brought up the issue of Islam, because that was also contributory to my entire attitude to imposed foreign religions. You know all this nonsense of religious intolerance which is eating into the country now – it didn’t exist in my youth! During the Ileya we celebrated with our Muslim friends, because they would send us meat from their ram; the Oba would go to the mosque, even if he was a Christian, and vice versa: during Christmas and Easter, our Muslim friends would come to the house. There was always equality between the religions – acceptance. And that in turn made it impossible for me to see one as superior to the other. And of course, the more I learned about Yoruba religion the more I realized that that was just another interpretation of the world, another encapsulation of man’s conceiving of himself and his position in the universe; and that all these religions are just metaphors for the strategy of man coping with the vast unknown.

I became more and more intrigued and it is not surprising that, when I went to study in England. I nearly took “Comparative Religion” as one of my subjects; but then I decided that I would enjoy it more, if I just read into it and visited all sorts of places … I remember going to this small Buddhist meeting; I visited the so-called fundamentalist religions, the spiritualist churches … I went to one or two seances. I have always been interested in the spirituality of the human individual. So when people like Tahir – and there have been many of them – have made that kind of statement, I have always risen to counter it very fiercely. Traditional religion is not only accommodating, it is liberating, and this seems logical, because whenever a new phenomenon impinged on the consciousness of the Yoruba – whether a historical event, a technological or scientific encounter – they do not bring down the barriers – close the doors. They say: Let us look at this phenomenon and see what we have that corresponds to it in our own tradition, that is a kind of analogue to this experience. And sure enough, they go to Ifa and they examine the corpus of proverbs and sayings; and they look even into their, let’s say, agricultural practices or the observation of their calendar. Somewhere within that religion they will find some kind of approximate interpretation of that event. They do not consider it a hostile experience. That’s why the corpus of Ifa is constantly reinforced and augmented, even from the history of other religions with which Ifa comes into contact. You have Ifa verses which deal with Islam, you have Ifa verses which deal with Christianity. Yoruba religion attunes itself and accommodates the unknown very readily; unlike Islam, because they did not see this in the Koran – therefore it does not exist. The last prophet was Mohammed, anybody who comes after this is a fake. And Christianity! The Roman Catholics: until today they do not cope with the experience and the reality of abortion! They just shut the wall firmly against it. They fail to address the real problems of it; they refuse to adjust any of their tenets.

Beier: The Yoruba people have always been willing to look at another mythology and find equivalents in their own tradition. For example: when I first met Aderemi, the late Oba of Ife – that was at Easter 1951 – he told me about the different shrines in his town and he said: “You know, in Yoruba religion we know the story of Mary and Jesus” and he told me the myth of Moremi (Mary) who sacrificed her only son in order to save her town. And he said: “Really, Moremi is Mary.” I was impressed, because he could see that there was some basic metaphor that remained valid across a variety of cultures: He knew that the basic truth is the same – only the trappings are different …

Soyinka: The Yoruba had no hostility to the piety of other people.

Beier: Yoruba religion, within itself, is based on this very tolerance. Because in each town you have a variety of cults, all coexisting peacefully: there may be Shango, Ogun, Obatala, Oshun and many more …

Soyinka: Even in the same compound!

Beier: Even within the same small family – because you are not supposed to marry into the same Orisha!

But there is never any rivalry between different cult groups; they all know they are interdependent. Because they are like specialists: everybody understands specific aspects of the supernatural world. Nobody can know everything. The Egunguns know how to deal with the dead; the Ogun worshippers know how to handle the forces that are symbolized by iron. But for the Ogun worshippers to function, it is also necessary that Shango worshippers and Obatala worshippers and all the other Olorisha perform their part. Only the concentrated effort of all of them will bring peace and harmony to the town.

So naturally: when the Christians first appeared, the Olorishas could hardly suspect …

Soyinka: … how hostile the new religion would be …

Beier: I think that tolerance is one of the big qualities of Yoruba culture. Even the treatment of handicapped or mentally disturbed people – it all shows how much more tolerant Yoruba culture was than Western cultures.

Soyinka: Yes. Europeans tend to hide such people, whereas Yoruba religion actually accounts for them.2

Beier: You said before that Yoruba religion “liberates.” Can you expand on that?

Soyinka: I believe that the truly liberated mind is never aggressive about his or her system of beliefs. Because it is founded on such total self confidence, such acceptance of others, that there is no need to march out and propagate one’s cause. That is why Yoruba religion has never waged a religious war, like the Jihad or the Crusades.

Beier: In fact they never make converts! It is the orisha himself who chooses his devotees …

Soyinka: The person who needs to convert others is a creature of total insecurity.

Beier: There is this beautiful Yoruba proverb: “The effort one makes of forcing another to be like oneself, makes one an unpleasant person!”

Soyinka: And even in practical terms, in day to day terms, take Shango for instance. Shango becomes the demiurge of electricity, so that this new phenomenon does not become an object of terror, it does not alienate you, because Yoruba religion enables you to assimilate it. The ease with which the Yoruba moves into that world and adapts to phenomena that had not come into the purview of his religion until recently – it means that he does not see the need to protect his family or his town from the benefits of this new technological experience. This is another evidence of this liberating attitude, which becomes ingrained in one. It is not just a bag of tricks that helps you to cope with the world: the mind is already prepared.

The same thing applies to human relationships. Social relationships. The whole experimental nature of what the modern world should be. The way other religions absolutely block your entry into new progressive fronts – Yoruba religion just doesn’t do that!

Beier: It is significant that when a Yoruba says “Igbagbo” (a believer) it means “Christian”, because it is nonsensical to say “I believe in Shango” or “I believe in “Ogun”. One is too secure in one’s world view. I think I have mentioned to you once that remarkable reply of an old olorisha, to whom is grandchild said: “The teacher said, your Obatala doesn’t exist!” He simply answered. “Only that for which we have no name does not exist.” He could not be shaken.

Soyinka: That is a brilliant way of putting it. And you have been to Brazil and Cuba. In that part of the world you find Europeans – not just Mulattoes – but people of ‘pure’ European descent, who accept the humanism of this religion and who recognize it as their own way of truth. And they cannot conceive of any other way of looking at the world. This proven ability of this religion is well documented.

Beier: A few days before I came to Nigeria, I received a letter from a Portuguese student at the University of Munich. She came across a small community of Olorishas in Lisbon and again she found this a more realistic and intense way of looking at the world.

Soyinka: I know a number of people like that. On the other hand, what you said earlier on about Yoruba scholars and their reluctance to come terms with Yoruba religion … it is a very curious phenomenon …

Beier: So you agree with my estimation?

Soyinka: Oh yes, I agree with it absolutely. And the worst part of it is that those fellows who speak about “false consciousness” – and I don’t just mean the dying breed of Marxists – they are all totally preconditioned. Even when they are trying to be objective about African religion in general – or about their own traditional belief system – they are totally incapable of relating to it. They say: “This is a contemporary world. What use is our traditional religion today …”, and I feel tempted to say to them: What use is a system of beliefs like Islam and Christianity in the contemporary world? And they cannot see that they have totally failed to make the leap: to take Yoruba religion on the same level as any system of belief in the world, that they are committing a serious scholarship lapse. In other words they are totally brainwashed by what I call these “elaborate structures superstition” – Islam and Christianity particularly. They have accepted these as absolute facts of life which cannot be questioned.

They lack the comparative sense of being able to see Yoruba religion as just another system – whether you wan to call it superstition, belief, world view, cosmogony or whatever – you have to do it on the same level with any other system. Once you do that, many questions which have been asked become totally redundant, because they have not been asked about other religions. But when our scholars come up against their own religion, their faculty of comparison completely disappears.

Beier: There is a whole body of prejudices – which have their roots in the ignorant or malicious misinterpretations of missionaries – and which still persist in the minds of many Nigerians.

A typical one is the accusation that the Egungun try to “deceive” women and children, by pretending that they are spirits. Whereas of course every child knows that there is a man in the mask …

Soyinka: Absolutely! I did.

Beier: Everybody knows that the mask is carried by a dancer who is specially trained for that task – but at the height of the dance he becomes the ancestor. That is a totally different matter. These “wicked” man who allegedly try to intimidate women – can’t people see that during the Egungun festival they are in fact blessing women and that those who pray for children dance behind them?

Soyinka: And again, if you take the communion: here is a thing that happens every Sunday, sometimes twice a week. In which the officiating priest actually gives you a wafer and says “This is the flesh of Christ” and he gives you a drop of wine and says “This is the blood of Christ” …

Beier: Another defamation of Yoruba religion is the notion that is a form of exploitation of the people. But surely it is much less so than Christianity! Take a babalawo, for instance: When you consult a babalawo, you put down threepence. A token fee! There is no money involved in divination. Have you ever seen a rich babalawo?

Soyinka: (laughs)

Beier: A traditional babalawo was a poor man. He was not even interested in being rich. In fact the whole society did not even know wealth in our modern sense. What kind of possessions could you own, that others didn’t have? Another Agbada? Everybody had enough yams to eat. Everybody lived in a spacious compound that would accommodate him, his wives and his children. Everybody had enough clothes to wear … everybody had access to land. What else could you want? There was nothing to buy.

The grand old Olorisha priests I knew in the fifties: the Ajagemo of Ede, the Akodu of Ilobu … they were poor people, in spite of their influence. There was no such thing as a fat priest. Whereas now some of these new Churches really do exploit their congregation. Only a week ago one of these self styled “prophets” went to see a friend of mine and told her: “I had a vision. The child you are going to give birth to will be born dead, and you too will die in childbirth. The only way you can survive is to fast for three days without water and to give money to the Church!” Now here is not only exploitation but also blackmail!

Soyinka: It is happening all the time. All the time. This whole spate of prophesying, this competitive mortification of people is nothing but an attempt to bring powerful and wealthy people under the control of the priest. Even ordinary individuals are not exempted. They have succeeded in some cases. Oh yes. They rush to them and say: You must do this and that. And sometimes when people take no notice of them, their relatives will! There was a relation of mine, he got so frightened when one of these prophets predicted a likely death for me, that he ran to him and asked him what to do. And I said to him: I will curse you, if you go again to that church. I will follow you there and break up that ceremony. So they do succeed on so many levels and it has become competitive …

Beier: Now let us talk about the way in which some of these traditional Yoruba concepts have been used in your plays. If I am not mistaken, it was in “A Dance of the Forest” that you have first used some kind of Yoruba symbolism in a play.

Soyinka: Yes, of course by that time I had written the draft for The Lion and the Jewel, but that was a very different thing. It was on a different level …

Beier: The striking thing about “A Dance of the Forest” is the character of Ogun. This image of Ogun of your play is a rather personal, “unorthodox” orisha – that you have, in fact, created a new kind of Ogun.

Soyinka: Hmmm … that is true.

Beier: But of course, even in purely traditional Yoruba terms, that is quite a legitimate thing to do. Ogun has never been a rigid defined being; the orisha can only live through people – by “mounting somebody’s head” – you could go so far to say that when the Orisha fails to manifest himself in this way through his priests and worshippers, he ceases to exist. If the priest who personifies Ogun is an unusually powerful Olorisha he can modify the image of Ogun. So that even in Yoruba tradition Ogun consists of a variety of interrelated personalities.

Any traditional priest would accord you the right to live Ogun your own way, in fact they would think it the normal thing to do. You recreate Ogun – or perhaps one could say you are sensitive to other aspects of his being. Because Ogun is a very complex being …

Soyinka: Yes, indeed.

Beier: It is again the typical Yoruba openness and tolerance that we are talking about. It applies not only to the relationship between the different orisha cults, it also applies to the variants of interpretations within one and the same cult group.

Soyinka: And in the Diaspora of course – the same thing. the concept of Orishala or Oshun are very different in Brazil or Cuba; and in turn the manifestations of the orisha over there have affected the interpretations of some of the scholars and they in turn have transmitted some of these ideas to our most traditional priests. So that when you speak to a Babalawo you may notice a new perception, a slightly altered perception.

Beier: Actually Pierre Verger was instrumental in establishing contacts between Brazilian olorisha and their families in Dahomey and Nigeria. Messages were sent back and forth, which were ultimately followed by exchange visits. Today there is quite a bit of movement between the two countries. Look at Sangodare, for example: the young Shango priest who grew up in Susanne Wenger’s house. He was invited to Brazil four times by groups of olorisha.

Soyinka: Take Eshu for instance. The stature of Eshu has grown considerably, so that the original myths of Eshu that I knew as a child have grown even more colourful.

Beier: … the “devil”,

Soyinka: That’s right, and again Wande Abimbola admitted once that these new aspects of Eshu are now found here in Nigeria as well. It is this movement …

Beier: And of course it shows that the whole thing is alive. But you know what Melville Herskovitz thought about Verger’s travels between Brazil and Nigeria? “Terrible man”, he said to me “he is destroying laboratory conditions.”

Soyinka: Oh perfect! That’s perfect. That’s beautiful: it really sums up the whole lame battle – scholarship faced with a living phenomenon.

Beier: Now the Ogun you created in “A Dance of the Forest” stresses particularly the creative aspect. He is not merely the warrior, he is also the creator!

Soyinka: This was for me very obvious, because the instrument of sculpture belongs to Ogun; many sculptors are his followers and so is the blacksmith, again a very creative person, not just an artisan. And then of course there is the Ijala3 – he is therefore by implication the father of poetry. All this made me delve more into the complexity of Ogun and given my own creative bent, I explored that a lot more. And also given my own acknowledged combative strain, I found a fine partner in Ogun. It was a kind of liberation for me, having grown up in a narrow form of Christianity.

Beier: Which is very simplistic.

Soyinka: Very simplistic, everything has to be black or white: you are either a good child or a bad child. When I grew up and was given a little bit to self-analysis and introspection, I wondered why I should be inclined towards the creative – I really feel alive when I am creating – while at the same time I would readily drop my pen or typewriter without hesitation and pick up whatever combative instrument necessary …

Yoruba religion made me see that there was no contradiction – it was the most normal thing in the world to have within the same person these two or more aspects.

Beier: Each orisha contains and bridges contradictions, and human beings are the same. To pretend otherwise is hypocrisy. People don’t realize how unrealistic Christianity is. Yoruba religion portrays the world as it is and makes you live with it, the way it is. It teaches you how to turn a dangerous situation, how to diffuse tension, how to turn a negative situation into something positive even.

But in “A Dance of the Forest” you created another character called Esuoro. I find it hard to relate this figure to any Yoruba tradition – I am tempted to say you simply invented him.

Soyinka: Oh, that was purely dramatic. That is something I have not taken beyond the pages of the book. It’s purely dramatic. I created him in the same way – I suppose – in which Puck was created by Shakespeare, taking parts from various mythological beings. As you know: Oro is one of the most intangible beings … so I fleshed him out, somehow.

Beier: By far the most important statement you have made about Yoruba culture is your play “Death and the King’s Horsemen”. I don’t know whether you remember this, but it was Pierre Verger who found out about this famous incident in Oyo. He was even able to verify it, by writing to the District Officer, who was then living in Canada.

Soyinka: I do remember that you gave me a kind of summary of the story …

Beier: I thought that the material was crying out for a play. But for several years, you didn’t do anything with it.

Soyinka: Well, I wasn’t ready for it.

Beier: I then gave the material to Duro Lapido who produced “Oba Waja” in 1964. Then, maybe a decade later you wrote the “Horseman.” What was it then that prompted you to go back to this material finally? What new insight had occurred? What new preoccupation with Yoruba religion, maybe?

Soyinka: That’s a question that’s always very difficult to answer. Because it has to do with the entire active creative process: gestation, something that takes place on different levels of consciousness or subconsciousness. But don’t forget, I wrote this play in Cambridge, when I was there for a year as a fellow in Churchill College.

And it could have been the resentment of the presumption! Because you know in a Cambridge College named after a personality like Churchill, you have encapsulated the entire history of the arrogance of your colonizers; the supercilious attitude towards other cultures, the narrowness, the mind closure – it could be all of that. It was not a year which I enjoyed particularly. There were a few stimulating intellectual contacts, which made it worth while; but I think there was the basic underlying question “What the hell am I doing here? What the hell are we doing here?”

I felt like a representative; a captured, creative individual having to deal with another culture on its own terms, in its own locale. And passing the bust of Churchill on the top of the stairs almost every day – with all that Churchill meant. The big colonial man himself! It could have been all of this that brought back the memory of this tragic representation of the way their culture would always impinge on ours. I suspect that is the way it must have been. I must have been tempted to challenge this: How dare this smugness be! How dare it be exported …!

Beier: They came without the least attempt to come to terms with the culture they ruled.

Soyinka: Hardly ever!

Beier: This was particularly so in Southern Nigeria. They referred to Yorubas and Igbos as riff-raff, whereas Northerners, of course, were gentlemen.

Soyinka: Of course, the North appealed to their sense of feudalism.

Beier: You have given a very plausible explanation for the immediate stimulus that prompted you to write this play. But of course the far more difficult question is: what actually happens in the poet’s mind? What are the secrets and maybe subconscious processes that produce the particular images and the particular kind of magic of a play like “Death and the King’s Horseman”?

This is almost unanswerable, and many writers would simply refuse to be drawn into any discussion about it. But you have in fact attempted to find a metaphor for the creative process which you described at length in “The Fourth Stage”. I am fascinated by that essay because it seems to me that you are giving a very Yoruba explanation and one that seems to have some parallels in Yoruba religious thought. You speak about the artist going on a kind of journey; a trip into another dimension from where he returns with a kind of boon … and inspiration … but maybe you better summarize it yourself.

Soyinka: I think what I was referring to was the mystery of creativity itself. Which is almost like a dare, a challenge of nature secrecies. One goes out almost in the same way in which Ogun cleared the jungle – because he had forged the metallic instrument. He is very much the explorer.

The artist is in many ways similar; each time, he discovers a proto world in gestation; it’s almost like discovering another world in the galaxy. The artist’s view of reality creates an entirely new world. Into that world he leads a raid; he rifles its resources and returns to normal existence. The tragic dimension of that is one of disintegration of the self in a world which is being reborn always, and from which the artists can only recover his being by an exercise of sheer will power. He disintegrates in the passage into that world. He loses himself and only the power of the will can bring him back. And when he returns from the experience, he is imbued with new wisdoms, new perspectives, a new way of looking at phenomena.

I was using Ogun very much as an analogue: what happens when one steps out into the unknown? There is a myth about all the gods setting out, wanting to explore and rediscover the world of mortals. But then the primordial forest had grown so thick, no one could penetrate it. Then Ogun forged the metallic tool and cut a way through the jungle. But the material for the implement was extracted from the primordial barrier.

This I took as a kind of model of the artist’s role, the artist as a visionary explorer, a creature dissatisfied with the immediate reality – so he has to cut through the obscuring growth, to enter a totally new terrain of being; a new terrain of sensing, a new terrain of relationships. And Ogun represented that kind of artist to me.

Beier: I can find parallels to Yoruba concepts here on several levels. The artist as the “creature of dissatisfaction with the immediate reality” is really very reminiscent of the orisha, who starts life as a human being – a king or a warrior – but because of his dissatisfaction with the immediate reality “leads a raid into that other world”, losing himself on the way: Shango hanging himself at Koso, Ogun descending into the ground at Ire, Oshun turning into a river at Otan Aiyegbaju – all these are examples of the creative human being breaking through the limitations of ordinary human existence.

Of course, the orisha does not return – he undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a divine being. But he is there to remind us of the existence of that other world, to remind us that we can dare to penetrate, however briefly, that other sphere of existence.

Similarly the olorisha going into trance crosses the border, “rifles the resources” of the divine world and returns with a new understanding. His personality undergoes significant changes through such repeated experiences. The maturity of the old orisha priests, their wisdom and tolerance, their insight into the human mind are the result of these raids into the divine sphere. Am I right in thinking, that this is something very similar – almost identical to the experience you are describing in the “Fourth Stage”?

Soyinka: Yes, definitely!

Beier: I think you can describe the act of the priest who goes into trance also as creative act; because he has to personify the orisha, recreate him through his performance, through song and dance. So in that sense there may be some real hope left: for a while we must helplessly watch the culture crumble in front of our eyes, there are still some individuals, like yourself, left who can capture something of the spirit of this culture through the very individual process you have described and who can keep the orisha alive in some new form of existence.

Soyinka: There is a lot of hope left. I’ll give you an example: when I gave a lecture in Ibadan recently titled “The Credo of Being and Nothingness”, when I explained certain aspects of Yoruba beliefs, the role of the orisha, the reaction, the forcefulness of response which I could see on the faces of the young people was really very encouraging. It was more than just an expression of their misgivings towards the way in which they were brought up, more than just a feeling of deprivation. These young people are really looking for new directions in their lives. I believe there is real hope.

1 Igbale: The secret grove of transformation, where the mask is donned.

2 The Yoruba creation story relates that Obatala created human beings out of clay and that one day he was drunk on palm wine and made cripples, albinos and blind people. Since then, all handicapped people are sacred to him.

3 Ijala: The poems of Yoruba hunters. The hunters are worshippers of Ogun, because they use iron.

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