Yorùbá Deities and the Bible

Èshù: a name generally rebuked by all of Christian faith. Rightfully so, I must add. Why is that? Because Èshù is the Devil or Satan according to the Yorùbá translation of the Bible. S. A. Crowther, who was responsible for the translation around the mid nineteenth century, chose Èshù to be the Yorùbá equivalent of the Devil. His precise reason for the choice is unclear. Perhaps, because the deity is associated with trickery and is believed to preside over malevolence according to Yorùbá mythology. Crowther’s decision has led to Èshù being vilified and held responsible by Yorùbá Christians for every unfortunate and unfavourable happening on the face of the earth. Tough luck for Èshù, as there are other deities (some believed to be even more menacing). In today’s Nigerian Christiandom, there’s an elephant in the proverbial room. The Ifá system of divination has its origins rooted in Nigeria. Until this very day, it is also practised in other parts of West Africa, South America, and even Asia. Amongst us in Nigeria are Yorùbá Christians who go about their daily lives answering to names that give reverence to Ifá. Even more bemusing is the reality that most of these people waltz into churches on Sundays completely ignoring the fact that their names are incompatible with the Christian faith. An example is Fáyémi (the I is silent), which means ‘Ífá suits me.’ It’s almost impossible to find any Christian called Èshuyémí (which means Èshù fits me). Even a devout Èshù worshipper will have a hard time carrying that name around. So, if so many Christians are comfortable with names that advocate Ífá (which happens to be an entire traditional religion on its own), why aren’t most churches doing anything about it? Why isn’t anyone spreading awareness about how outrageous this is? And most surprisingly, why do some clerics still bear these names? Currently, there are pastors in Nigeria who stand and preach in front of hundreds of people with names that revere or propagate deities (Ífá being the most common). Ògún, the deity of metal, is another example of orishàs whose legacies are reflected in the ancestral names of Yorùbás.

When Samuel Àjàyí Crowther was 12, he was sold to Portuguese slave traders. As fate would have it, he found himself in Sierra Leone. His passion for languages led him to translating the Bible into Yorùbá. Perhaps, all the time he spent away from Nigeria contributed to his decision to pick Èshù out to be the devil amongst options. There is a suggestion that he had limited cognisance of the religious history of Nigeria at the time, but this is unlikely because he must have done thorough research before the decision was made. In the Bible, the devil is associated with confusion and destruction; while Èshù the deity is associated trickery, mayhem, and mischief. Perhaps, Crowther felt this correlation was satisfactory enough to make the decision, thereby interweaving two distant narratives tethered to malevolence. With the popularity of Christianity in weatern Nigeria today, it is highly recommended to not say anything about Èshù apart from anything that will demonize. Amazingly, metaphysical concepts like Órí (which is associated with Orúnmila), are widely embraced by Christians and non-Christians alike. Órí, which means ‘destiny’ figuratively and ‘head’ literally (the figurative sense applies here) is believed to be a deity as well. As good-intentioned as Órí is believed to be, it is a just another deity/belief that is associated with Ifa. It shouldn’t be encouraged, should it? As things unravel, it is becoming apparent that separating the Yorùbá language from its past of deities and divination is a futile task. Looking at the landscape of modern day Christianity in Yorùbá, it appears to be a cluster of Biblical principles and age-old traditions. Everyday, people compromise on tenets in order to fit in ways of the past into their lives around these parts; most not being aware of it. It’s considered normal by many, but should it be so?