Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief

By E. Bolaji Idowu | Go to book overview

13
Olódùmarè and Man's Destiny

Every religion has to face the question of man's relationship to the Power that rules the Universe. "What is man?" and "To what end was man made?" are questions which demand doctrinal answers. And such answers depend upon man's conception of the Ruler of the Universe, while upon the answers themselves depends man's attitude to life.

To the question "What is man?" the Yoruba will answer off-handedly that man is body plus è + ̩mĭ, the English approximation to which is "spirit". The body is the concrete, tangible thing of flesh and bones which we know through the senses, which can be described in a general way, or analytically by anatomy. È + ̩mǐ is invisible and intangible;1 it is that which gives life to the whole body, and thus can be described through its causal functions. Its presence in, or absence from, the body is known only by the fact that a person is alive or dead. While the body can be created, and is created, by a divinity, it is Olódùmarè alone who puts the è + ̩mĭ into man, thus giving him life and being.2

È + ̩mĭ is closely associated with the breath and the whole mechanism of breathing which are its most expressive manifestation. But although the fact that a man breathes shows that è + ̩mĭ is in him, the breath is not è + ̩mĭ. È + ̩mĭ is causative of breath and so it is the "breather", that which breathes in man. The breath is ẽmí--"that which is breathed". Thus we say of a person who is just dead, È + ̩mĭ + ̩ ti + ̩--"His è + ̩mD has slipped off", or "È + ̩mĭ + ̩ ti lo + ̩--"His ẽmí is gone"; that is, the spirit has left the body; we say also under the same circumstances Ẽmí ti tán ninu + ̩--"There is no more breath in him". È + ̩mĭ is also used for "life" as the bare fact of animate existence.

What we have said so far is not the end of the matter. Anyone who

____________________
1
It is believed that è + Βmĭ can assume a visible, tangible form as when it comes out of the witch, takes wings and flies like a bird! It is said that if the "bird" could be caught and killed, that is the end simultaneously of the witch also. È + ̩mĭ can also become visible as an apparition.
2
See Chapter 3, p. 21; Psalm 104; 29, 30.

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