Black Spirituality Religion : Orilonise: The Hermeneutics of the head and hairstyles


Well-Known Member
Jul 9, 2003
new jersey
By Babatunde Lawal.

The emphasis on the head (Ori) in Yoruba sculpture goes beyond its biological importance as the seat of the brain that controls the body. It reveals the anthropocentric nature of Yoruba cosmology, which identifies the Supreme being, Olodumare, as the head of a pantheon of deities who ace as agents of its enabling power (Ase). This supreme being is sometimes called Oba, Orun, the King of Heaven, and Olu Iwa, Lord/Head of existence.

The head should be accorded his/her due this is the oracle's charge to the divinities who must render annual tributes to Olodumare.

The primacy of Oludumare is reflected in the common sayings Ori Lo da ni, eninkan o' d'Ori (it is the head that created us; nobody created the head) and Ori eni, L'Eleda eni (One's head is one's creator). As the sayings indicate, the apical position of the physical head resonates in the traditional Yoruba system of government. For example, all members of an extended family living together are under the authority of the head of a compound (Baale Ile) in which they live, and all compound heads are responsible to a district head (Olori Adugbo). Any matter that the latter could not resolve would be referred to a higher authority such as the village head (Baale Or Olu) At the top of this hiearchy is the Oba, a divine king, high priest, and the ruler of a given town, who is assisted by a council of elders or chiefs. Thus the head is to an individual what Olodumare is to the cosmos and a king to the body a political source of power.

In order to fully understand the significanc of this metaphor, it must be noted that the Yoruba creation myth traces the origin of the human body to an archetypal sculpture (ere) modeled by the artist-divinity Obatala and then activated by the divine breath (emi) of Olodumare, located in the sculpture's head. This creative process occurs inside the pregnant woman's body and takes about nine months to mature. Accordingly, every individual, before being born into the physical world, must proceed to the workshop of Ajalamopin, the heavenly potter, to choose one of several undifferentiated, ready-made Ori Inu, or "inner heads" on display in Ajalamopin's workshop. Each inner head contains Olodumare's ase, and the one chosen by an individual predetermines his/her destiny (ipin) in the physical world. Hence the popular Yoruba slogan, Orilonise, "One's success or failure in life depends on the head."


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