Bori Bonanza: The New Kid on the Block

When I first began learning about Orisa religion the most important lesson I learned was the concept of iwa pele: gentle character.  It’s a concept not unlike the golden rule;golden rule behave in a way that brings honor to your name and treat others in the same regard.  Have integrity.  Be kind.  Show respect.  Speak the truth.  Do good things.  You get the picture.

In the late 90s there were a handful of Orisa-themed Internet forums where iwa pele was often the topic of discussion.  Folks who had access to Odu verses and itans (religious mythology) often shared their knowledge of how the religious corpus supports iwa pele or admonishes iwa buruku (poor character, lack of integrity) to help others understand one of the fundamental facets of Yoruba traditional religion in any of its manifestations.

Intricately connected to an understanding of iwa pele is an understanding of Ori; the subconscious divinity that resides in everyone.  Ori was also heavily discussed, and those with knowledge and experience impressed upon others the importance of taking care of one’s Ori.  Folks with connections to Nigeria shared prayers and oriki they learned for Ori.  Folks with connections to Cuba would share the importance of a rogacion (Bori, feeding the physical and spiritual head).  Most of the discussions of Ori I remember all had to do with being in alignment with one’s destiny and being on the quest to achieve and maintain iwa pele.

Then it happened.  A few people began posting about receiving Ori.  Some Americans had gone to Nigeria for Ifa initiation, and began sharing what they learned about consecrating Ori. Outcry.

“How can you receive something you’re already born with?Igba_Ori_Ioruba_Tradicional_(1)!”

“Invento!,” others responded, “there’s no such thing as receiving Ori.”

Pictures began to surface.

Conversation began to slowly shift from the importance of iwa pele and praising Ori to the validity of receiving an Igba Ori, until not before long we find ourselves in the marketplace where maintaining iwa pele in the capitalist system of supply and demand is a difficult feat.

Then the narrative shifted.  <sarcasm>Interestingly, receiving Ori simply became a ceremony that many people didn’t know about.  In fact, people began pointing to their great-grandparents in Orisa who long ago had consecrated an Igba Ori but failed to pass down the ceremony.  Luckily, people were able to travel to Nigeria and Brazil to reclaim the ritual for consecrating Ori before it completely vanished elsewhere in the diaspora. </sarcasm>

oriThe new narrative brought with it a new reality.  Brazilian priests began selling Igba Ori to Americans and Europeans both in the United States and in Brazil.  Some of those Americans, in turn, began selling the pot to others.  Needing to receive Igba Ori began popping up in Lukumi readings for people. Folks paid anywhere between $100-$3,000 to consecrate a set of objects without being taught the fundamentals of iwa pele. People, initiated and uninitiated alike, became consumers of a product without understanding its basic function within Candomblé.  In the United States, the Bori ceremony had become, in many ways, the new kid on the Orisa block.

Some observations:

  1. “Bori” is not synonymous with consecrating an Igba Ori.  There are many variations of this ceremony, many of which are very similar to a Lukumi rogation.  Not every Bori culminates in consecrating a pot, nor should it.
  2. No two heads are alike.  Each human being is unique with their own mission on earth and destiny to fulfill.  Thus, no two Bori ceremonies are alike.
  3. It is extremely rare that a person who is not initiated would have an Igba Ori consecrated.  Equally rare is the consecration of an Igba Ori outside of the ritual of initiation.
  4. Igba Ori is not even consecrated in all nations/lineages of Candomblé, so it’s interesting that it’s becoming a blanket ceremony in the U.S after direct contact with a specific nation of Candomblé.

The marketplace is busy.  New books about Ori are in stores, lectures about Ori and Bori are selling out from sea to shining sea, and somewhere someone is being convinced that they need to undergo a transplanted ceremony.  Where has the emphasis on iwa pele gone?