Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings, Maulana Karenga
If you are looking for a beautifully poetic, highly sophisticated interpretation of selected Odus, this is the book you need. For those of us who are longterm and serious students of classical African philosophy, the great Dr. Maulana Karenga is a well-known and respected name. His research and writings on the continuity of African culture and the singularity of our traditions from ancient Kush and Khemit to (western Sudan) the West African nations is unsurpassed by any other scholar. His work laid the foundation for the establishment of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, as well as the recognition of the connection between African-American dialectic colloquialisms and the languages of the Congo and Bantu. This text is actually more than just a book of poetic interpretations of the Odu, it is a continuation and exploration of his earlier work, “The Husia”, in which Dr. Karenga clearly illuminated the common origins of the Christian Bible, namely the Book of Psalms; the Koran; and the religious texts and oral tradition of Ancient Khemit and the Yoruba religion of Ifa, respectively. That is why this work has such great value. It is not a quick reference book for fledgling diviners, it’ a treatise on African culture.
To compare “Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings” with “The Sacred Oracle of Ifa” is appropriate, but only with a proper understanding of the connection between the two. As most who read this review will know, the co-author of the latter text is Philip John Neimark, a White Jewish-American businessman and publisher who studied in Nigeria and received the initiation of Babalawo. The other co-author and true creator of the book is the late great master Babalawo of Ifa, Dr. Afolabi A. Epega of Nigeria. When Dr. Epega was seeking to compile his vast learning into a text that would make the teachings of Ifa accessible to the Western audience, particularly converted followers of Ifa and American- and Caribbean-born African priests, he approached countless members of the African-American and Caribbean religious community for assistance, and no one was interested in participating. Finally, he gained the patronage of Mr. Neimark, who, in exchange for a co-authorship credit, agreed to help compile the text and assist with getting the work published. Once the work had been published, Mr. Neimark, ever the businessman, actually attempted to trademark the ancient Odus of Ifa, which would have given him legal and financial rights to a spiritual and religious corpus far more ancient than his own and certainly by no means his property! It was an outrage and a perceived affront to African people everywhere and the African-American spiritual community in particular, who were the primary audience of such a book which translated Yoruba divinatory and moral teachings into English. It was in response to this treachery that Dr. Karenga penned “Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings.” This work was a direct challenge to the attempted European-ization and commercialization of African spiritual heritage. It helped to subvert and defeat Mr. Neimark’s goals of gaining ownership of ancient African religious teachings, and also paved the way for other authors to continue the very important work of compiling, translating, and interpreting the sacred Odu. They are no one’s property- but definitely an African legacy!
Inside the text of “Odu Ifa” you will find many eloquent passages which illuminate the moral teachings of the Yoruba people. Dr. Karenga has selected several odu for in-depth interpretation and commentary. His insight as a pre-eminent scholar and expert on African traditions is remarkable. It is, again, not a guidebook for divination- but the Yoruba way of life and worldview is not just about divination and magico-religious practices. That is the entire point of Dr. Karenga’s life work. He wanted to introduce to the rest of the world the beauty, validity, complexity, and eloquence of African philosophy- as opposed to the stereotypical and outdated modes of thinking which relegate African spirituality to mere superstition and witchcraft. He wanted to demonstrate through his research and texts that African religions are and always have been just as advanced as any developed in Asia or Europe, and that in fact, the African way is the genesis of all others by virtue of Africa being the birthplace of human civilization. This book will help you to understand the cultural context of the teachings of Ifa as well as other African-derived systems. It will help you to see the human story behind the divine teachings. It is also a beautiful piece of literature, an introduction to Ifa for those who are just beginning to learn about their African culture. I highly recommend this book as an introduction or adjunct to the library of those who seek to understand classical African thought and philosophy.
Every Yoruba person & Diaspora should own this book.