What do you mean, there’s no Oriate?!?!
Whenever I meet American Olorisas who are familiar with Brazil (and aware of Candomblé) they almost always ask, “So, who’s your godmother?”
I think this is an interesting question for several reasons. I imagine that people assume I’ve gone to one of the famous matrix houses in Bahia to be initiated, and expect me to cite Mãe Stella of Oshoosi, the Iyalorisha of the Ile Ase Opo Afonja – or some other extremely famous Iyalorisha – as my godmother.
But then they look disappointed when I tell them that I was actually initiated in Rio, and not Bahia. Pure confusion ensues when I say I have a godfather and not a godmother; in my experience, lots of Americans mistakenly tend to imagine that men don’t run their own iles.
So once we get beyond that awkward dance and I’m actually able to reveal my Babalorisha’s name, the response is always, “Oh, I don’t know him.” Of course you don’t! Candomblé in Brazilian suburbs is like Christianity in the hood – there’s usually more than one terreiro in every neighborhood.
But then comes, “Maybe I know the Oriate. Who was your Oba?”
“We don’t have Oriates.”
“You don’t have Oriates?”
“The Babalorisha is responsible for knowing everything – songs, herbs, ebo, prayers, Odu; in Candomblé it’s the godparent that does everything. We don’t have Oriates, and that’s why we wait at least 7 years before being able to have godchildren of our own.”
With that, people walk away and go about their business. The priesthood structure is one of the differences that exist between Candomblé and other Orisha religions, and the Baba/Iyalorisha within Candomblé is synonymous with the Lukumi Oba-Oriate; the major difference there is that the Baba/Iyalorisha has their own ile and initiates their own godchildren as opposed to working with several iles and initiating other people’s godchildren.
So, try not to be too surprised when you come into contact with Candomblé and notice that there is no Oriate. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t get done, but simply rather that it’s the godparent’s responsibility to do it.