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The Importance of the Orishas in the African Diaspora

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Orishas are spirits that play an important part in the Yoruba religion of West Africa and numerous African diaspora faiths that stem from it, including Cuban and Puerto Rican Santera and Brazilian Candomblé. The preferred spelling changes depending on the language; rà is the Yoruba language's original spelling; orishá or orichá in Spanish-speaking nations; and orixá in Portuguese. They are often associated with various aspects of life, such as fertility, the harvest, and war.


A Brief and Brutal Origin

The Middle Passage was a period of the Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were carried to the Americas as part of trade routes that created the form of a triangle. Ships sailed from Europe to African marketplaces carrying manufactured goods in exchange for slaves, since African rulers were incentivized to kidnap and sell individuals of other regimes or tribes. Slave ships ferried the human cargo across the Atlantic in deplorable circumstances, men and females separated. The mortality rate was substantial; only those with robust bodies survived and young females were often raped by the ship crew. The revenues from the sale of enslaved Africans were used to purchase hides, tobacco, sugar, rum, and raw materials, which were subsequently shipped back to Northern Europe to complete the triangle.

Trade routes of the Middle Passage

Despite these terrible and dreadful circumstances, the stories of the orishas made their way to the majority of the New World via oral traditions that these slaves maintained to their spiritual beliefs. As a result, the orishas and their stories are today expressed in a variety of practices, rites, and traditions, including Santera, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Umbanda, and Oyotunji. Additionally, orishas are deities in the traditional religions of the Bini people of Edo State in southern Nigeria, the Ewe people of Benin, Ghana, and Togo, and the Fon people of Benin.

Who Were the Orishas?

Some followers and practitioners of the Ifá religion, which gave rise to the pantheon system of orishas, believe that orishas are a distinct class of celestial beings who got deified, divinized, or altered after leaving their human form on Earth. These practitioners believe the orishas were regular persons who were deified upon death as a result of their life, remarkable spiritual progress, and extraordinary exploits done while on Earth. The orisha, according to the teachings of these faiths, are spirits sent by the supreme creator, Olodumare, to aid humanity and teach them how to succeed on Ayé (Earth).

Based on the Yoruba people's original religion, most orishas are claimed to have previously resided in Orun - the spirit realm - before becoming Irunmole - spirits or heavenly beings incarnated as humans on Earth. Irunmole assumed a human identity and lived as regular people in the physical world, but since they were created by the divine, they possessed enormous intelligence and power at the time of their creation.

Orishas are a distinct class of celestial beings who got deified, divinized, or altered after leaving their human form on Earth.

Belief System

In the Yoruba religion, ashe is the life force that flows through all things, both living and inanimate, and is characterized as the ability of manifestation. It is an affirmation used in greetings and prayers, as well as a spiritual growth notion. Orisha worshippers attempt to attain Ase through iwa-pele, gentle and excellent character, and as a result, they feel alignment with the ori, also known as inner serenity and pleasure with life.

Ashe is the divine force that emanates from Olodumare, the creator deity, and is expressed via Olorun, the ruler of the skies and the sun. There would be no life without the sun, just as there would be no life without some degree of ashe. Ase is frequently related to Eshu, the orisha of messengers. Ashe offers a link to the everlasting presence of the supreme god, the orishas, and the ancestors for practitioners.

Traditional practitioners believe that appropriate alignment and awareness of one's Ori are essential for daily existence. Ori literally means "head," but in spiritual contexts, it refers to a part of the soul that decides human destiny. Some orishas are founded in ancestor worship; warriors, monarchs, and city founders were honored after death and included in the Yoruba pantheon of deities. The ancestors were seen to have "disappeared" and become orisha, rather than dying. Some orishas based on historical persons are worshiped only in their families or places of origin, while others are revered throughout larger geographical regions.

Notable Orishas

In Yoruba culture, there are hundreds of orishas that represent and embody many spiritual energies and concepts. Here are a couple:

Shango, a royal ancestor of the Yoruba, was the third Alaafin of the Oyo Kingdom prior to his posthumous deification and is regarded as one of the most powerful kings Yorubaland has ever produced. Shango takes several forms, including Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. He is well-known for his lethal axe. He is regarded as the most powerful and dreaded orisha in the pantheon. To anybody who offends him, he throws a "thunderstone" to the ground, causing thunder and lightning.

Oshun is one of the most well-known and beloved Orishas. She is revered as a river deity by the Yorùbá people. She is the divinity, femininity, fertility, beauty, and love goddess. She is associated with fate and divination.

Follow Your Orí

Follow Your Orí is a blog space dedicated to providing knowledge about natural hair growth, holistic health, mental and physical wellbeing, and other things that can help you live a better life. Orí, which translates to "head" in Yoruba, alludes to one's spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflected spark of human awareness buried inside our human essence, and as such, it is frequently personified as an Orisha, or deity in its own right. The Yoruba religion believes that through working with the Orishas to establish a balanced character or iwa-pele, one may cure themselves both spiritually and physically. When one's character is balanced, one achieves alignment with one's Orí or divine self.

Follow your Orí now and purchase Orisha Drip, our all-natural hair oil formulated to awaken your ashé. Learn more by clicking here.

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