Initiating paleface… or not?

October 14, 2012 by
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


With depressing regularity, both in real life and digitally, the question is asked whether it is alright or not to initiate people who are not from “African background” into Orisha. It’s an issue that keeps cropping up every now and then – and I wouldn’t be Jaap Verduijn if I hadn’t had some idea on how to answer it (wide and wicked grin)! Here comes.

San tribesmanALL people are from African background – there’s no human being on this earth whose ancestors didn’t live in Africa. It’s where mankind was born. Some early humans emigrated out of Africa, others stayed at home, yet the African DNA sloshes through the veins of all of us. Bit of a wonky metaphor, but I guess you get the gist.

However, when people pose this question, it’s very clear that they don’t refer to the above – because if they did, they wouldn’t ask the question.

What then, is the question about? It’s never about African background, because we all have that – it’s about how recent is that African background. You can’t judge that by skin color: it’s not possible to truthfully say “If he’s Black, his African background must be recent”, because for example the Australian Aborigines are very Black, yet they are further away in time from their African ancestors than any other people on this earth: the ancestors of the Aboriginals separated from the ancestors of other human populations (“left Africa”) some 64,000 to 75,000 years ago… much earlier than the ancestors of, for example, the Europeans. Skin color is no indicator of recent or not-so-recent “Africanness”, because when it comes to closeness in time to Africa, White Europeans are much more “recent African” than Black Australian Aboriginals.

But that was a bit of a detour, the real question being: if recent African background would be required for initation into Orisha, how recent must that be? How many (or rather: how few) generations ago must your last African-born ancestor be born in order for you to qualify for initiation into Orisha? Must one of your parents be born in Africa? One of you grandparents? One of your great-grandparents? Your great-great-grandparents? Or can it be longer ago? I dunno… Before the question can be answered, it is necessary to define the maximum number of generations that may be passed before a person ceases to be “from African background”.

That is… unless you go for the one fell swoop by accepting that all of us are from African background. Or, even better, go for the position that Ifa-Orisha indeed is a universal religion where ancestry plays no role period. I clearly prefer the last option, my personal opinion being that the Orishas call whom they want to call. Creating a “generation limit” or “time limit” on African background would be a human construct… not a spiritual one.


2 Comments on Initiating paleface… or not?

  1. Beth Peart Weekes on Fri, 10th Jan 2014 17:38
  2. Ultimately, I believe inititation is entirely up to Ifa. Ask Ifa. Ifa will say whether a person is to be initated or not. No further hand-wringing required.

  3. Jaap Verduijn on Fri, 10th Jan 2014 22:28
  4. Exackerly! We simply ask Ifa, and the proper answer will come – regardless of the person’s color or ethnicity.