CHIEF Yemi Elebuibon’s house in Osogbo is like a Mecca of sorts as he hosts different people from all over the world including Whites. Some of them even bear core Yoruba traditional names and wear our local attires proudly.
Elebuibon is a traditional icon in Nigeria, who is known far and wide. The Araba of Osogbo has taken native culture and traditions beyond the shores of Nigeria. In a few days, he will be 70 years old and in this interview, the well respected Ifa priest, actor, playwright and lecturer shares with us what it feels like to be 70, his childhood and more.
By Bolatito Adebayo
What does it feel like to be 70 years old?
It feels good and I am really excited. I’m very grateful to God because I am in good health and there is no problem. I am really delighted that it has been good all through these years.
What was your childhood like?
That question reminds me of the song titled I am an old man now but I wish to be youthful again. Sometimes, I wish I can be younger but I am thankful to God for what he has done for me.
I pray that I will be older than this and age gracefully. I will be launching my book too on my birthday which is on July 26. It’s my autobiography and entitled, Osun da gbo nu. It captures my childhood. The programme starts from July 20 and ends on July 30 in Osogbo town. Interestingly, I remember one of the games we played as children called Oruboka. We played that game in an open space. When I was a child, I remember that during Osun festivals we used to have masquerades that came around to perform magic and all other stuffs then. They include Eti yeri and Aladokun from Ikirun.
But do they still have all these during Osun festivals?
Oh! They are all dead now but I remember as a child they all came around and made Osun festival very interesting. My father back then hosted a lot of visitors during Osun festivals and it used to be an exciting time for us then as children.
You are one of the very few people that have taken our culture outside the shores of this country. How has the acceptance been like?
Well, as you must have noticed, there are lots of foreigners here today in my house and it’s because these people have warmly embraced our culture. They believe in what we do. That is why they have all traveled down here too. We are still expecting many more of them and they are all here to celebrate with me. Some of them are coming from Germany and America and they are even more passionate about our culture than we are. In fact, I can say that these westerners have assimilated our cultures better than us. For instance, Black Americans strongly believe that they originate from Africa and so they have decided to embrace our cultures.
When you first traveled to the western world and you told them about the African heritage what was their reaction?
They were the ones who invited me over back then through the National Black Theatre in Ireland. They call me every year to deliver lectures there. I also had the grace of knowing Wajumbe Cultural Institution in California and they normally send me books. They were even the ones that sent me to San Francisco State University where I lecture too. They accepted our culture well and encouraged us more and because of this we have been able to do more.
Years back, our traditions and cultures were well rooted but ever since Christianity and Islam came, our cultures seem to be diluted. Don’t you think our cultures might soon be extinct?
It’s true what you have said. You see the influx of the two religions disrupted a whole lot of things and it caused a lot of confusion too. If not that God has a hand in our cultures and traditions by now everything would have been extinct. You see the war they waged against our culture is still ongoing and it’s done every day. You see it everywhere. One of the things holding our traditions and cultures firmly is the power behind them. When a person is ill and such person has been taken to hospitals, churches or mosques and they couldn’t get a solution they have no other choice than to take such person to a traditionalist. Sometimes, the doctor might even be the one to suggest that the patient be taken “home” for treatment. When they come to us and they see the difference, at this point they normally see reasons why our cultures shouldn’t be relegated to the background. If people didn’t get healings through our traditions or there were no powers behind our cultures, everything would have long been gone.
One of the reasons many people embraced Christianity and Islam is the fear and myths surrounding our traditions and cultures. Many people run away from their villages because they are afraid. What’s your take on that?
There is no place where there is no wickedness; everywhere you go, you will always meet wicked people. Evil people have been here for a long time but our duty is to combat them and make sure that they don’t overpower us. There have been witches ever since the world was created and they are in the mosques and churches too but we all have to look for means of protecting ourselves. You see, people should seek solutions and not run away from these evil people.
Moreover, these religions from abroad got many of our people misinformed and instead of providing solutions to these problems they compounded them. That’s why there is a lot of confusion today. If you go to some villages around, you will find out houses are empty as everyone has run away. There are some basic traditions and rituals that should be observed that will proffer solutions to some of these problems but because of these new religions many families have stopped performing these rituals.
Well, the average Nigerian now believes every traditionalist is evil; everything culture is seen as evil and we sometimes see these in our movies too. Why?
It’s the way we have been portrayed over the years. It’s that way because many people don’t do their research. If you look at some well researched movies you will find out that they don’t do that but the shoddily produced movies are the ones sending wrong messages to the outside world.
Before I started hosting Ifa Olokun on television, a traditional priest only wore rags or he was usually clad in juju and chanting incantations on televison. But when I started Ifa Olokun, I corrected a lot of things and people saw that it wasn’t done that way. Also, it’s only the people who have money who churn out movies; people who really know about these things don’t have the money to make these movies. When I was still with Oga Duro Ladipo, we would go and find out about these things before we acted them. We did a lot of research work before we wrote plays and when Oga Duro produced Olukoso, we went to Oyo; when he produced Moremi, we went to Ife. He sang the same song they normally sing at the shrine of Moremi in the play. But now, our actors are lazy and they do shoddy jobs.
Don’t you think some of our cultural practices are evil too? For instance the Badoo rituals in Ikorudu do not make our culture enviable, do they?
Those incidents I think are in the hands of people who come from that town. For instance, every town has a traditional ruler and they have chiefs.
When an incident such as this happens, they should go seek solutions from ifa. They will be told what sacrifices they should perform, so that a solution can come forth. In fact, if the town is blessed with core traditionalists, Ifa would have informed them before the incidents happened and they would have been told what to do to prevent them.
Our traditions have powers to expose evil doers around us. If some people are killing and hiding, when authorities do the right things, in the traditional way, they would be exposed. Every town should have Oluawo or Araba (chief priests); intermediaries that will be consulting the ifa and performing rituals every week so that peace prevails in the land.
Why is it that many parents who are core traditionalists don’t pass on their knowledge to their children?
All this is still due to the fact that the new religions came and everything changed. Many of these children embraced the new religions and so when their fathers called them they refused to listen. Every father would love to pass on his knowledge to his children and some that even listened didn’t listen with their whole heart. That is why we have many fakes around. Some of them just picked up their fathers’ records of these things and decided to start working on them. For instance, when I was born, my father consulted Ifa on what I was destined to be and ifa said I would be a priest. Consequently, my father didn’t let me go to school while my mates were at school. He felt they would convert me to Christianity or Islam and he didn’t want me to leave the path God had destined for me.
You will find out that there are so many traditionalist children that have become Christians or Muslims and they no longer practice their beliefs. They forget that some of these things are useful for healing and that’s why we have very few genuine ones and we have a lot of fakes around. My father said you must know the core of what you are doing. Even the incantation has to be known properly, if you mix them up it won’t work for you.
Don’t you regret that your father didn’t allow you go to school?
When I didn’t understand then, I used to feel bad but as I grew older, I understand him better now. As a child, you will feel bad but when I grew older I am thankful, because all I wanted to be I became. All the things you can achieve through schooling, I have achieved it. I have written eight books, I wrote plays and I even went to university. I did all my studying at home through correspondence. So, I am thankful that despite my lack of formal education, I was able to achieve all these and that God blessed me.
It has been a while we saw you on the screen, why?
I still act but since I need sponsors for my plays now, I really don’t do much again. I produced Ifa Olokun for NTA back then but I still do one programme here in Osun State Television Service titled Adaiyeba which is sponsored by the state. I try once in a while to produce movies but you know it’s a little expensive.
Do you have kids doing ifa with you?
Yes, my children do it with me.
You don’t have any Christian or Muslim amongst them?
Well, I do, especially the women; you know they say that a woman doesn’t have a religion. When my clients invite me to mosque or church I attend their programmes but when we invite them they don’t honor our invitation. I don’t think religion should cause problems for us.
Even Jesus ate with the Jews and some people asked him why he was eating with the unclean. Jesus answered and said to them that it’s not what you eat that makes you unclean but what comes out from your heart. But many of these people don’t understand. So, when we are hosting ifa festival now and we invite them they won’t come.
But is it compulsory for your sons to be ifa priests?
All my sons are because we have asked ifa about their future and they are all doing fine with it . Some of them are widely traveled too taking ifa to White people.
Can anyone decide to become an ifa priest?
No, ifa will be the one to choose you; you can’t just make that decision on your own.