Èṣù in Yoruba Metaphysics: A Brief Note
Traditionally, Yoruba conceives of the world as an interconnected three-tiered cosmos: Ọ̀run (meaning, heaven), Aiyé (meaning, the earth) Ilẹ̀ (meaning, underground; netherworld). Ọlọ́run (literally, “heaven’s owner”) inhabits Orun with the over four hundred gods in the Yoruba pantheon, many of whom walked the earth as humans with supernatural abilities. Ọlọ́run, also known as Ẹlẹ́dàá (literally, “the creator”), is the supreme being. Aiyé is the world of humans, and Ilẹ̀ is the world of departed souls, especially of ancestors. The dividing wall between Ọ̀run and Ilẹ̀, especially regarding deified souls, is quite ethereal.
Third Scholarly Approach: Soft-Determinism
Another approach that scholars have taken to make sense of the Yoruba worldview through a metaphysical lens is soft-determinism. Hard determinism (or determinism) is the view that all events are completely determined by antecedent causes. This view holds that all things are in causal relations so that if we know sufficiently about a cause, we can know the future effect. It is commonly held that this view excludes freedom and that we cannot do other than we do. We are compelled to do what we do by factors beyond our control. Soft-determinism argues to the contrary. It maintains that determinism allows for freedom. Also known as compatibilism, soft determinism argues that determinism is compatible with freedom. The “freedom” in compatibilism is crucially different from what we normally mean by freedom. It is akin to the freedom of the example of armed robbers on Lagos streets discussed earlier.
First Scholastic Approach: Weakening the Reach of Ori
One attempt at making sense of the Yoruba worldview is to vitiate what the creation account appears to say Orí is, often by redefining it. In fairness to the scholars who take this approach, Yoruba literary corpus has instances that appear to weaken Ori as an unalterable, all-pervading force that governs humans’ lives. For instance, consider the following Yoruba saying:
A Pause for Philosophy
At face value, the Yoruba creation narrative seems to embrace pre-determinism, the view that all events that occur in an individual’s life have already been pre-ordained. Determinism is another view that will come up often in the following discussion. Determinism is the view that all events are inevitable consequences of antecedent sufficient causes. Rephrased, this view asserts that every event results from some prior causes, and if we were to know these causes, we can know the future with certainty. Determinism is best championed in the physical sciences, especially physics where everything is explained by causal relations. A philosophical problem resulting from these doctrines, pre-determinism and determinism, is the denial of free-will. If all events are rigidly pre-ordained, this implies that there is nothing individuals can do to change any detail of an event. If people cannot do something about life pre-ordained events, it would seem like they cannot be justly praised or blamed for anything. But the Yoruba worldview affirms, on the one hand, that people can be praised or blamed for what they do; it also seems to teach predestination. These two views are quite contradictory.
Àyànmọ́ mi láti ọwọ́ Olúwa ni
Ẹ̀dá ayé kan kò lè ṣí mi nípò padà
Ẹ̀lẹ̀dá mi yé mo bẹ̀bẹ̀ yé
Ẹ̀lẹ̀dá mi gbé mi lékè ayé.
This piece is from a famous track of the legendary Juju maestro,
Ebenezer Obey. Roughly translated, the stanza says:
My destiny is from God
No human can change my destiny
Oh, my Head (Creator) I plead
My Creator, help me to be victorious over evil people.