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A white man visits Ífè, the sacred city of the Yórubas, and asks to hear the history of the place. The Órní, the religious head of Yórubaland, begins, and directs the Babaláwo Arába, the chief-priest of Ífa to continue.
|The Órní of Ífè speaks:
Oíbo, you have asked to hear our lore,
The legends of the World's young hours—and where
Could truth in greater surety have its home
Than in the precincts of the shrines of Those
Who made the World, and in the mouths of priests
To whom their doings have been handed down
From sire to son?
| Before this World was made
There reigned Arámfè in the realm of Heaven
Amidst his sons. Old were the hills around him;
The Sun had shone upon his vines and cornfields
Since time past reckoning. Old was Arámfè,
The father of the Gods: his youth had been
The youth of Heaven. . . Once when the King reclined
Upon the dais, and his sons lay prostrate
In veneration at his feet, he spoke
sons of the
|Of the great things he purposed:
"My sons, you know
But fair things which I made for you, before
I called your spirits from the Dusk: for always
p. 14 Your eyes have watched the shadows and the wind
On waving corn, and I have given you
The dances and the chorus of the night—
An age of mirth and sunrise (the wine of Heaven)
Is your existence. You have not even heard
Of the grey hour when my young eyes first opened
To gaze upon a herbless Mass, unshaped
And unadorned. But I knew well the heart
Of Him-Who-Speaks-Not, the far-felt Purpose that gave
Me birth; I laboured and the grim years passed:
Streams flowed along their sunny beds; I set
The stars above me, and the hills about;
I fostered budding trees, and taught the birds
Their song—the unshapely I had formed to beauty,
And as the ages came I loved to make
The beautiful more fair. . . All went not well:
A noble animal my mind conceived
Emerged in loathsome form to prey upon
My gentle creatures; a river, born to bask
In sunlit channels and mirror the steep hills,
Tore down its banks and ravaged field and plain;
While cataract and jagged precipice,
Now grand with years, remind me of dread days
p. 15 When Heaven tottered, and wide rifts sundered my young
Fair hills, and all seemed lost. Yet—I prevailed.
Think, now, if the accomplished whole be Heaven,
How wonderful the anxious years of slow
And hazardous achievement—a destiny
For Gods. But yours it has not been to lead
Creation by the cliff's-edge way from Mass
To Paradise." He paused on the remembrance,
And Great Orísha cried: "Can we do naught?
What use in godhead without deeds to do?
Where yearns a helpless region for a hand
To guide it?" And Old Arámfè answered him:
to make the
|"My son, your day approaches. Far-off, the haze
Rests always on the outer waste which skirts
Our realm; beyond, a nerveless Mass lies cold
'Neath floods which some malign unreason heaves.
Odúwa, first-born of my sons, to you I give
The five-clawed Bird, the sand of power.1 Go now,
Call a despairing land to smiling life
Above the jealous sea, and found sure homesteads
For a new race whose destiny is not
The eternal life of Gods. You are their judge;
p. 16 Yours is the kingship, and to you all Gods
And men are subject. Wisest of my sons,
Orísha, yours is the grateful task to loose
Vague spirits1 waiting for the Dawn—to make
The race that shall be; and to you I give
This bag of Wisdom's guarded lore and arts
For Man's well-being and advancement. And you,
My younger sons, the chorus and the dance,
The voice of worship and the crafts are yours
To teach—that the new thankful race may know
The mirth of Heaven and the joys of labour."
Then Odúwa said: "Happy our life has been,
And I would gladly roam these hills for ever,
Your son and servant. But to your command
I yield; and in my kingship pride o'ersteps
Sorrow and heaviness. Yet, Lord Arámfè,
I am your first-born: wherefore do you give
The arts and wisdom to Orísha? I,
The King, will be obeyed; the hearts of men
Will turn in wonder to the God who spells
Strange benefits." But Arámfè said "Enough;
To each is fitting task is given. Farewell."
Here the Beginning was: from Arámfè's vales
Through the desert regions the exiled Gods approached
The edge of Heaven, and into blackness plunged—
A sunless void o'er godless water lying—1
To seize an empire from the Dark, and win
Amidst ungoverned waves a sovereignty.
|But by the roadside while Orísha slept
Odúwa came by stealth and bore away
The bag Arámfè gave. Thus was the will
Of God undone: for thus with the charmed sand
Cast wide on the unmastered sea, his sons
Called forth a World of envy and of war.
Of Man's Creation, and of the restraint
Olókun2 placed upon the chafing sea,
Of the unconscious years which passed in darkness
Till dazzling sunshine touched the unused eyes
Of men, of War and magic—my priest shall tell you,
And all the Great Ones did before the day
They vanished to return to the calm hills
|Life in Ífè
is as it was
in the time
of the Gods
Of Old Arámfè's realm . . . They went away;
But still with us their altars and their priests
Remain, and from their shrines the hidden Gods
Peer forth with joy to watch the dance they taught,
And hear each night their chorus with the drum:
For changeless here the early World endures
In this first stronghold of humanity,
And, constant as the buffets of the waves
Of Queen Olókun on the shore, the song,
The dance of those old Gods abide, the mirth,
The life . . . I, too, am born of the Beginning:
|For, when from the sight of men the Great Gods passed,
They left on Earth Órní Odúm’la1 charged
To be a father to a mourning people,
To tend the shrines and utter solemn words
Inspired by Those invisible. And when
Odúm’la's time had come to yield the crown,
To wait upon the River's brink,2 and cross
To Old Arámfè—Ífa,3 in his wisdom,
for ever in
Proclaimed that son with whom Odúm’la's soul
Abode. Thus has it ever been; and now
With me that Being is—about, within—
And on our sacred days these lips pronounce
The words of Odudúwa and Orísha.
1 See Note I on the Creation of the Earth.
1 See Note IV on the Creation of Man.
1 See Note I on the Creation.
2 The Goddess of the Sea.
1 See Note II on Odúm’la, the first Órní of Ílè.
2 The River which separates this World from the next.
3 The Messenger of the Gods. See Note XII on his divination.