- Have you taken a long, hard look at the typical masquerade?
And an equally long hard look at the typical American astronaut or Russian
- Have you noticed the curious semblance between the two?
The face piece, especially?
- Can there possibly be a connection between, say, Yuri
Gagarin, the 'first man in space' and a common Yoruba Tombolo (type of
masque) cartwheeling to the cheers of a market crowd?
- Curiously, the Yoruba call the masquerade ara orun (visitor
from heaven. But, is the astronaut not an ara orun too? After all, he travels
in deep space (the heavens ñ even farther than conventional planes).
- Could it be that the cult of Egungun (masquerade) really
is in remembrance of beings who in the ancient past travelled form the
'heavens' to the earth? Yoruba tradition interprets ara orun (masquerades)
as spirits of long-dead fathers returned to visit their offsprings on earth.
- But why call such spirits ara orun rather than oku orun
(spirit of the dead). Oku orun is more descriptive of someone who is in
heaven in consequence of having died here on earth.
- Ara orun suspiciously sounds like a "living being"
naturally resident in 'heaven' but who elects to visit the earth.
- The 'Ara' part of the name, in Yoruba means a 'resident
of' or a 'visitor from'.
- Interestingly, from Yoruba folklore comes a song that
sounds very relevant to this discourse. It evidently recounts an encounter
between an earthman and an Ara Orun. The song goes:
- Lead: Ara Orun, Ara Orun Chorus:Inomba ntere tere nte
inomba Lead: Kilo wa se ni nile yi oo? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba
Lead: Emu ni mo wa da Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Elelo
lemuu re o Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Okokan Egbewa Chorus:
Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: Gbemu sile ki o maa loo Chorus: Inomba
ntere tere nte inomba.
- Translated as:
- Lead: Visitor from (the) heaven(s), visitor from (the)
heaven(s) Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba Lead: What do you seek in
this land? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: I've come to tap
palmwine. Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: How much do you sell
your palmwine? Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: Ten thousand
cowries per keg. Chorus: Inomba ntere tere nte inomba. Lead: Put the palmwine
down and go.
- It is clear from the mood of this encounter that the
ara orun or visitor from (the) heaven(s) being addressed is not a ghost.
The Yoruba have a more appropriate name for ghost.
- It is Oku.
- Again, the average Yoruba man does not care to hold dialogue
with an oku. He (or she) is more likely to flee in terror. However, our
earthman here is clearly under the influence of plain curiosity ñ
as opposed to dark terror: "What was the mission of the ara orun?
He wanted to know.
- Again, why did the earthman call the entity Ara Orun?
Did he see the entity descend from the skies (Heaven)?
- In fact, the use of ile yi (this land) while asking the
being his mission shows that the Ara Orun was a total alien. That's how
the Yoruba use the word.
- Fortunately again, the Ara Orun discloses his mission:
To tap palmwine. Hardly anything one will call spiritual. That dispels
any notion that the alien was probably a spirit being or an 'angel'.
- So, our alien was flesh enough to be capable of relishing
the taste of palm wine or was from a land (or world) where palmwine is
- Back to the question, how did the earthman recognise
the alien as being from 'Heaven'. Did he see him float down from the 'skies'?
It should be noted that the Yoruba have the same word ñ Orun ñ
for both sky and heaven (supposed abode of good people and Olodumare).
Some times though, they take extra pains to use oju orun to distinguish
the skies; so did the Earthman see this being descend?
- Again, a portion of his song suggests just "descent."
We must, however, admit that at this stage, we are at the level of conjectureñ
but reasoned conjecture.
- This portion of the song is the part of the chorus: Ntere
tere nte. What does tere nte connote in the Yoruba language.
- For answer, we refer to yet another folklore. this one
comes from the Ifa literary corpus.
- According to the story, reports reached Orunmila, the
Yoruba divinity of wisdom that one of his wives was having an affair with
a male mammy water (Pappy Water?)
- A naturally enraged Orunmila then trailed the unfaithful
woman to the couple's rendezvous at a sea shore or river bank. He caught
them in the act ñ and opened fire on (or macheted) the half-fish-half-man.
- Wounded the casanova fell back into the deeps and moments
later, the water surface hen blood went blood-red.
- Now in great sorrow, the apparently unrepentant woman
burst into a dirge for for her lover.
- Lead: Oko omi, oko omi o. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Oko
mi Oko mi o. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Ogbe mi lo terere. Chorus: Tere na.
Lead: Ogbemi lo tarara. Chorus: Tere na. lead: O tarara Oju omi Chorus:
Tere na. Lead: Oju omi a feroro. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Eja nla hurungbon.
Chorus: Tere na. Lead: Oju eye perere. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: My love,
my dear love. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: He bore me far, far away (into the
sea) Chorus: Tere na. Lead: He bore me far, far (back from the sea). Chorus:
tere na Lead: Along the highways of the waters. Chorus: Tere na. Lead:
The expansive, limitless waters. Chorus: Tere na. Lead: The mighty bearded
fishman Chorus: Tere na.
- Tere re in this song clearly indicates "great distance",
the great distance the lovers covered as they traversed the waters during
their illicit affair.
- The other part of our original words: is easily clearer.
In Yoruba, Nte connotes "floatation", "high" or "air-borne".Thus
we have Lori Oke tente (on the very top of the hill), Ate (a hat worn on
the very top of the head. And ole tente (it floats pretty).
- Thus, a combination of tere and nte suggests something
"floating down, air-borne form great distance, from far away."
- Thus what the Tere nte chorus is probably telling us
is that this visitors from the heavens, this aliens, floated down from
a great distance.
- We can now wonder. Did the Yoruba, indeed , Africans,
make contact with space being or extra-terrestrials in the ancient past?
And did they preserve these encounters in their folklore and folksongs?
- I was still "brain-storming" over all these,
digging into litreatures on Egungun and allied matters when a most fortunate
clue literally fell on my laps.
- There is this weekly Ifa programme on the Broadcasting
Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). Anchored by Wale Rufai, it features stories
from the Ifa corpus by an Ifa priest, Gbolagade Ogunleke Ifatokun.
- Being one of my favourite programmes, I was listening
on Wednesday November 20, last year when a brief digression in the discussion
brought up the issue of the mutual respect between the Ifa priesthood and
the Egungun cult. Ifatokun, declared flatly that an Egungun must never
whip an Ifa priest. (Egungun o gbodo na Babalawo), especially by reason
of an ancient alliance between Orunmila (founder of the Babalawo school)
and the Egungun at a time in the ancient past when the Earth was threatened
by a deluge of Ifatokun's story held me spellbound.
- According to him, the real meaning of egungun is Mayegun
that is, "keep the world in order" or "those who keep the
world running smoothly."
- In the distant past, Ifatokun related, there occurred
a deluge, which threatened all life on earth.
- Seeing the earth so imperilled, Orunmila, and other (Irunmales
the divinities) who were resident on Earth then, sent an S.O.S. to Orun,
- In response, the Ara orun, came to the Earth in special
- These costumes, said Ifatokun, had the unique property
of drying up any portion of the inundated earth over which they were swung.
- The "Egungun" cult sprang from this incident
of the invitation of these heavenly beings.
- The special and elderly egungun who wear imitations of
these today are called Babalago, Ifatokun said.
- So, the Egungun (Mayegun) cam from orun (heaven, Space)
to rescue aye (Earth) form the deluge.
- The modern interpretation of the Ifatokun story is glaring:
- When the deluge hit the Earth, extraterrestrial beings
resident on Earth, among whom was Orunmila, himself, sent an S.O.S to their
home planet. And in response, extraterrestial hydrologists landed on Earth
in spacesuits (and, by inference, space craft) to rid the Earth of the
- Of course, the matter does not end here. Some sailent
questions have been raised, especially by this last account.
- For instance, Was Orunmila truly an extraterrestial?
were the Irunmales or orisas (divinities) extra terrestrials?
- For instance, was Orunmila truly an extraterrestial?
Were the Irunmales or Orisas, extraterrestials? The answer is Yes.
- However, that is another story...
- Story originally published by The Guardian - Nigeria
By Yemi Ogunsola
Site Served by TheHostPros