But in Candomblé They Only do Head & Foot…
by Iya Melissa
When I first learned about Lukumi there was a term that I struggled with understanding. People often referred to Nigerian initiates (in those days – the 90s – Candomblé initiates were unicorns of Orisa worship in the United States) as being “head and foot.” Not understanding the terminology, I thought people were suggesting that those who went to Nigeria for initiation had their feet initiated!
Later, I came to understand that people meant that those who went to Nigeria only received their tutelary Orisa (the head) and Esu (the foot). I also began realizing that the term was often used as a pejorative implying that a “head and foot” initiation is somehow incomplete. There’s no hard and fast rule in Nigeria about how many and which Orisa one receives during initiation, which is different – neither better nor worse than its Lukumi cousin. While there are some people who do receive their tutelary Orisa and an Esu, there are many others who receive more than that.
I read someone mention the other day that Candomblé is simpler because we only do “head and foot” initiations. Like Yoruba religion as is practiced in Nigeria today, there is no hard and fast rule about which Orisa are consecrated for a Iyawo in Candomblé.
Candomblé is a term that is used to refer to quite diverse practices of Afro-Brazilian religion. Candomblé influences come from Bantu, Fon and Yoruba people who have very unique cultures in Africa. Even within the nations of Candomblé that developed from these 3 foundational cultures and their religious systems, there’s variation. No two Iyawos are initiated in the same exact way, because each has an individual Ori and a unique destiny.
I’m not sure where the myth began that Candomblé initiations are done “head and foot,” but it’s a grave misconception. And, as any Candomblé practitioner will tell you, our religion is everything but simple.