Objects and Immortals: The Life of Obi in Ifa-Oriṣa Religion
Wood, Funlayo Easter
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CitationWood, Funlayo Easter. 2017. Objects and Immortals: The Life of Obi in Ifa-Oriṣa Religion. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe kola nut is a ubiquitous presence in Yoruba culture. Whether being presented by the basketful to a potential bride's family, shared as a snack amongst friends, or offered to the spirits, obi—as it is called in Yoruba language—serves at once as food, medicine, and currency. As an object, obi bridges relational chasms, helping to forge and strengthen bonds amongst human beings; at the same time, obi is regarded as one of the original immaterial and immortal divinities in the universe, known in Yoruba as irunmole. It is this bipartite nature that renders obi a centrifugal force around which much Ifa-Oriṣa practice revolves; so important are its duties that no ritual can proceed without obi's presence or the presence of a suitable substitute to stand in its stead.
This dissertation will interrogate the uses and meanings—the “life”—of obi in Ifa-Oriṣa religion. It will examine obi’s physical and spiritual origins, the duties it fulfills while on earth— including its role as the most frequently used divination medium in Ifa-Oriṣa practice—and the ways in which it dies or sheds its material body and returns to its immaterial, immortal form as an irunmole. Through excavation of ritual, material culture items, sacred narratives, proverbs, divination orature, and personal narratives, the dissertation will describe and analyze the ways in which characterizations of and interactions with obi reflect important religio-philosophical perspectives, particularly those of an ontological, epistemological, ethical, and existential nature. Using obi as a conduit, and employing theories and methods from within religious studies, comparative religion, Africana philosophy, philosophy of religion, theology, anthropology of religion, semiotics, and philosophy of science, the dissertation will argue for the importance of kinesthetic and aural ways of knowing in the formation of the Ifa-Oriṣa world-sense. While these ways of knowing are often subordinated to the visual and oral, I will argue that adequate engagement with movement and audition are of paramount importance to the understanding of Ifa-Oriṣa and, by extension, other cosmologically similar African and Diasporic religions.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140237
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