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In the Yoruba religion, Orunmila is the Yoruba Grand Priest and custodian of the Ifá Oracle. This source of knowledge is believed to have a good understanding of the human form and of purity, and to cure illness and deformities. His followers and priests are known as the Babalawo.


Mythical Orunmila

In Yoruba mythology, Orunmila is the spirit of wisdom among the Irunmole and the divinity of destiny and prophecy. He is "Igbakeji Olodumare" (second in command to Olodumare; often also playfully translated as "second calabash to God", since "igba" means "calabash") and "eleri ipin" (witness of fate). Orunmila is also referred to as Agbonniregun, the embodiment of knowledge and wisdom of Ifá, the highest form of divination practice among the Yoruba people. In the Santeria/Lukumi diaspora in present-day Cuba, Orunmila is known as Orula & Orunla. Orunmila is not Ifá, but he is the one who leads the priesthood of Ifá and it was Orunmila who carried Ifá (the wisdom of Olodumare) to Earth. Priests of Ifá are called babalawo (elder of the confraternity) or Iyanifa (female Ifá priest).

Orunmila is considered a sage. The name Orunmila derives from "Orun-ni-o mo eni-ma-la" (meaning "only heaven knows the secret to salvation and survival"). His proper name is Ela, also called Elasoode (Ela ties Ide on). Orunmila was in heaven assisting Olodumare with the organization and creation of the universe. because of his great assistance and vast wisdom and knowledge, Olodumare sent Orunmila to Earth with Oduduwa to complete the creation and organization of the world, to make it habitable for humans.

Only Orunmila recognizes that Olodumare placed Ori (intuitive knowledge) as the supreme deity above the Orisha (divinities), including Orunmila himself. It is Ori who can intercede and affect the reality of a person much closer than any Orisa. For this reason it is important to consult with the Babalawo to know one's direction and the wish of one's Ori. The primacy of individual identity in Yoruba thought has been captured in a Yoruba proverb: "Ori la ba bo, a ba f'orisa sile" (It is the inner soul or head we ought to worship, and cast divinity aside).

Among West Africans, Orunmila is recognized as a primordial Irunmole that was present both at the beginning of Creation and then again amongst them as a prophet that taught an advanced form of spiritual knowledge and ethics, during visits to earth in physical form or through his disciples.


Some Yoruba traditionalists regard Orunmila and Obatala as the same spirit, a point of contention for some of the tribe's muslim members. For example, in support of Olumide J. Lucas' assertion[1] that the Yoruba lived in Egypt before migrating to the Atlantic coast of West Africa, the London-based Muslim scholar Sheikh Abu-Abdullah Adelabu, a Ph.D. holder from Damascus, claimed in his Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Quran and Sunnah that Obatala is an attributive adjunct of two words Oba and Tala[2]. According to the Nigerian-born academic and founder of Awqaf Africa, Obatala is an Arabicized Yoruba term derived from ربّ تعالى = Robb Ta'ala having ربّ robb (rOBba) for Oba meaning King, Lord Or God and تعالى ta'ala (TA'aLA) for Tala meaning Almighty, The One That Raised Far Above, The Exalted. Sheikh Adelabu argued further that it is incorrect to refer to Orumila as Obatala or to use the word Obatala to refer to the Undergod of that name as the Yoruba traditionalists do, believing as he does that this title aught to belong to Olorun alone.[3].

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