Home > Dimas Castellanos > Babalawos Women’s Meeting in Holguin

Babalawos Women’s Meeting in Holguin

One of the sessions of the event

Between March 8th and 9th in the eastern city of Holguín, the First Meeting of Women Iyaonifá in Cuba was held. During the event the association the “Universal Sisterhood” was established, the first organization of its kind in our country. During the meeting, of a universal character, 31 delegates from La Habana, Matanzas, Morón, Holguín and Santiago de Cubawere  directly involved, and attending virtually were delegates from Venezuela, Mexico, Panama and Spain.

The opening, coinciding with International Women’s Day, began with a drum ceremony to honor ancestors and prominent figures. In particular, Àgbàyé Arábìnrin Oluwa — the first Iyaonifá known in history, who lived about 200 AD in Nigeria — Fermina Gomez, Latuán and Maria Moserarrate, among other priestesses of the cult of Ifá and women important in the history of Cuba like Mariana Grajales and Celia Sanchez Manduley. On the second day the session founded the international Universal Sisters  association and priestesses were chosen to develop legislative and executive policies for the fledgling institution.

As announced, the two key objectives of Universal Sisters are: (1) Regain the position that corresponds to the female gender in the African religious context, and (2) To contribute, by their example, to the reduction of distance between different families and institutions of babalawos that exist in Cuba.

The Constitution of the Universal Sisters is the result of an effort directed as repositioning women in the religious Afro-Cuban and Afro-American context in Cuba which started nine years ago, when the Ìranlówo Ifa Temple House (Salvation is Ifá) led by Víctor Omolófaoró, consecrated with the rank of Iyaonifá, equivalent to Babalawo for men, the Cuban women Maria Cuesta Ifachina and Nidia Aguila Ifabiola in March 2002, and the Venezuelan Alba Marina Portals Ifayeni in June 2004, who became part of list of women on the continent led by Patri D ‘Haifa, the first American woman consecrated in New York City in 1985.

For Victor Omolófaoró the consecration of women is justified: because essential knowledge in Yoruba traditions is received at a great age and male slaves who arrived in Cuba, because of their youth, did not have it; because African women arrived on the island with the knowledge required for performing initiations; because until the third decade of the twentieth century women existed in Cuba with these characteristics; for the religious activities of the House that she directs are copies of the ceremonies performed between 1860 and 1930 in Cuba and those undertaken by the Yoruba peoples of old; because the initiation performed corresponds to the international movement of the signification of women; because they have received visits from several Nigerian Iyanifa; because Professor Wande Abimbola Awise Agbaye, Ifa Inspector in the World, makes no distinction between men and women, as both can study and receive a hand of Ifa through knowledge, study and practice; and because the spiritual leader of the Yoruba religion in the world, Chief Awoyemi Aworeni Adisa Mokoranwale, said that women “can undertake Itefa to be converted into Ìyáonífá or Iyá-awo, a priestess of Ifa …. ”

The solo work initiated by the Ifa Ìranlówo Temple House is followed today by several babalawos of the country and the number consecrated has risen within Cuba to 58, demonstrating that gender equality within the Yoruba religion is on the road to consolidation. A fact that recalls what happened in 1857 with the first abakuá oath of whites in Cuba, for which Petit (Andrés Quimbisa) was accused as a traitor and of having  sold the secret to whites. Likewise, the consecration of women priests and the birth of Universal Sisters is an important moment in the history of African religions in Cuba and of gender equality.

April 11 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos
  1. November 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Very interesting. I was in Santiago de Cuba the same year the international Ifa conference was held in La Habana and the several Babalawos there in SDC, from SDC and La Habana whom I encountered, did not know of any Iyanifas on the island at that time. They were aware that a Cuban reportedly had initiated an Iyanifa in Venezuela, and there was quite a negatively charged discussion about this occurring within the Lukumi community. Due to the controversy, this same baba later said he did NOT give this lady an equivalent initiation to a Babalawo and had made her as Iya Onifa instead which is a high-rank apetebi. This exact thing happened to Patrice D’Haifa of New York City, and she was roundly chastised and sanctioned for presenting herself as an an Awo Ifa.
    This being said, I was present for the ceremony in SDC of the cleaning of the Letra del Ano, and an American lady was there who had the rank of Iyanifa which she attained in Nigeria which is by no means uncommon. She advised the Babalawos present of the Odu Ifa in which was initiated, and they asked a few questions regarding her initiation. After a brief discussion, she was permitted to take her place as an Awo Ifa and participated in the ceremony. To my knowledge this may be the first time this occurred in Santiago de Cuba, and maybe on the island, that an Iyanifa was accepted as an Awo Ifa.

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