My most memorable spiritual and cultural awakening in Bahia occurred when I visited one of the Candomble’ temples (terreiros) where I had scheduled an interview with a member of a carnivalesque group. After six months in Brazil, my Portuguese was at a level where I needed to show off how “Brazilianized” I was and I proceeded to greet my host in Portuguese, state my name, where I came from (Nigeria), and my purpose in interviewing. To my surprise, this initiated worshipper of the Gods, spoke in Yoruba and not in Portuguese, although he understood me in Portuguese. First, he said: “Omo-Osun, se wa mu omi dudu?” This question literally translates as “Son of Osun, would you like a cup of black water?” Now, while I understood that he was offering me something to drink, I could not understand “Omi dudu” because it simply translates as “black water.” For me, as a Yoruba, “black water” may simply mean muddy water or stagnant water that has tuned into mud after rainfall, but this still did not make sense because such water is not drinkable.
I started to perspire and for a moment, I was faced with a dilemma: here is a Brazilian trying to speak my language, and I, the native Yoruba speaker, trying to understand him without speaking Portuguese. When my host realized that he was not communicating, he went into his house and brought what he was offering me in a flask. Then, he poured it into a cup, and behold, it was coffee! I could not help but stare in amazement at the ability of this Yoruba-Afro-Brazilian to negotiate the meaning of coffee in my own language, an effort I would rather not make, but to use the “corrupted” English loan-word that I will then render as “Kofi” [kawfee]. This anglo influence is very common in Modern Yoruba, especially in Nigeria. Yet, the first part of my interviewer’s statement is even more interesting. Instead of calling me “son of Nigeria,” he chose to locate where I came from with the name of a God, Osun. By calling me “Omo-Osun” or “OMO-Oxun” in Brazil, he was simply calling me a Yoruba or Nigerian by associating me with one of the Gods from that region. I must confess my experience with this worshipper left a lasting impression on me, but he did not stop at that. He went on to give me permission to see the African Gods that are kept in their chambers. As he was about to open the first door, I quickly asked him to stop, for this is not a venture for the uninitiated. He looked at me curiously and obviously surprised that a Yoruba would not like to pay homage to his Gods. What he did not understand was the fact that colonialism had stripped us of those traditions and beliefs.
While I believe in my Yoruba Gods and their role as intermediaries of the Supreme Being, my upbringing would not allow me to enter sacred places without the necessary initiation rites. Such a defiance of tradition has its repercussions, at least the way we have been raised and socialized, and I was not going to break that tradition. Of course, my host did not understand my hesitation as an authentic Yoruba. I was revering his Gods by not wanting to defy or disrespect them. I did not want to show an ignorance of the necessary greetings required of me when I entered such a sacred territories.
Tried to convince someone from Salvador last weekend that I grew up eating Acarajé, but we just called it Akara… He wasn’t having it.