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Doctrine of Immortality of The Soul In Yoruba Cosmogony

By Babalawo Obanifa

In this current work Babalawo Obanifa shall elucidate and expatiate on the doctrine of
immortality of the soul in Yoruba cosmology. The doctrine of immortality of the soul is an
abstract object; hence the people in academics arena prefer to refer to it as a theory. But as
a practicing Babalawo I will choose to use the words believes or doctrine in this work. Before
we delve into this discussion, what is it, do we mean by immortality in this current work? By
immortality in this work we are referring to a condition of unending life, state of been
immortal, having unending existence, having ability to live forever. But definition of
immortality from spiritual perspective will simply mean an unending existence. Having known
what immortality is, we can proceed to the major focus of the work.

The doctrine of immortality been attributed to most of modern religion such as Christianity,
Islam etc. is a stolen concept from Africa spirituality, philosophy and ideology, Yoruba Ifa
cosmogony to be precise. I will authoritatively say this, though it is subjected to rebuttal by
anybody who have contrary evidence , until such evidence is produce, this position remain
valid either now or in the future. From all evident proof starting from academic research,
philosophical teaching and spirituality ,make it known that It is set of Greek philosophers
that first bring the idea of immortality of soul to limelight in their teachings, Christianity
borrow this doctrine to their teaching from Greek philosophers, in fact the Christian did not
add this to their teaching until after 200 years after the death of Christ. This doctrine is not
that of Greek philosophers where the Christian borrow it, The Greek philosophers their self-
borrow the idea from Ancient Egypt. The doctrine of immortality itself does not originate from
Egypt.This doctrine originates from Africa, Egyptian their selves might have come in contact
with this doctrine from Africa, although there is yet to be archeological evidence to that effect.
But one thing is certain Ifa spirituality predates the period of Egyptian or ancient Greek or
any of the modern religions like Christianity or Islam etc. The spiritual doctrine of immortality
of the soul first have its existence in Yoruba theology ,The only problems is that people before
us lack the ability of putting this thought into writing form or documentation. The earliest first
set of Greek philosopher like Plato, Cicero, who are first set of writers to write on the principle
of immortality of the soul are greatly influence by previous work of a Greek philosopher
before them known by the name Pythagoras. Pythagoras is one of pioneer world
mathematician and philosopher, from all academic research evidence available in any public
library for who can take their time to research, there is evidence that Pythagoras have
traveled widely in Africa , especially North Africa, Egypt to be precise. His writing is greatly
influence by this. Plato writing on distinction between body and soul is built from his
predecessor Pythagoras. The people in the academics have substantiated it that Plato was the
first to bring philosophical distinction of body and soul to the western world. It was also prove
further that Plato theory of transmigration of the soul was borrow from the Pythagoras,
academic historical account have it that Pythagoras himself get wind of this theory or idea
from North Africa, Egypt to be precise. A renowned philosopher and theologian Saint
Augustine also follow the same trend.

So from all academics research evidences. It is proven that the western world
borrow the doctrine of immortality from Africa.
Even the Jewish tradition from which Christian build their teaching and doctrine have no wind
of what immortality is in their teaching from the beginning it was added to it on the way. Even
the law of Moses clearly omitted the doctrine of immortality in their teachings, it is not until
200 AD that doctrine of immortality was introduce in Christianity. Islam itself borrows the
principle from Christendom, because Islam itself comes to fruition or existence just after 622
Even though there is no any writing evidence or document to prove it that apart from Egypt,
other Africans have the doctrine of Immortality of the soul. But to be sincere it will not be
wrong to say that Egyptian their self-got wind of this idea from other part of Africa that have
per-historic culture and Philosophy. Because Egyptian culture and history are historic even
though it come to limelight of civilization faster than other part of Africans. So I humbly opine
that the Egyptian their selves may have got the wind of this doctrine of Immortality of the
soul from some of those prehistoric culture and philosophy. But don’t let us contest this
unnecessarily, it may also be their own idea. But the issue now is this; there are other part
of African who have the per-historic philosophy and doctrine of immortality of the soul before
the Egyptian. The clear example of this that will be bring forth in this work is the doctrine of
immortality In Yoruba culture and spirituality. Yoruba people have the doctrine of immortality
of soul in their cultural and religion life before the Egyptian. And there is no any historical,
archaeological or academic record that The Yoruba people at this period of Pythogoras and
Plato have visible means of crossing or traveling around the Africa. It cannot be say that
Yoruba borrow their principle of Immortality from Egypt to their Ifa spirituality and Culture
because Ifa mythology and spirituality itself predate Egyptian existence. The point raise
here, is that is either the Egyptian borrow the doctrine of Immortality from Yoruba Ifa
spirituality and culture, Who can say whether other part of African have this doctrine of
immortality in prehistoric forms too, the way we do in Yoruba culture.. So Egyptian would
have borrow it from Ifa spirituality or other Indigenous African prehistoric culture who have
this doctrine. Since this work have been able to show to a reasonable degree that Egypt
might have borrow the doctrine of immortality of the soul from Yoruba ifa spirituality or other
indigenous African culture who might share those view. And that Greek philosophers starting
from Pythagoras borrow it to modern philosophy from ancient Egypt. It can authoritatively
be asserted that this doctrine is indigenous to Africa, the western world borrow the
doctrine and popularize it and fine tune it to their taste or needs. Hence many
scholar believe that Africa itself is even the foundation of Greek philosophy. The
controversy is that there is no writing evidence of our forefather on this, This is a
believe that is pass down in form of oral tradition from one generation to the others. Even
many modern scholar of African descent are trying to gather all these thought And have it in
form of documentation. This brief work is one of authoritative discus on it writing by an author
of African descent. The writer of this work Babalawo Obanifa is writing from perspective of a
practicing Babalawo (Ifa priest) Of Yoruba descent. Hence the work will address extensively
the concept of immortality of soul in Yoruba spirituality.

In Yoruba spirituality as well as some other African spirituality and culture we believe the soul
is different from the physical body, and that the two are separable. We believe it is death
that can cause separation between the soul and the body. It is because of our believe about
the separation of the body from the soul that make us believe in in the doctrine of afterlife
and reincarnation. Yoruba believe that human soul is external, everlasting, immortal and
indestructible. From academic research point of view we find out that the earliest western
philosopher like Plato share this same believe in their work about the soul. The Christianity
and Islamic view about the soul is not the same with Yoruba doctrine on subject of the soul.
The Yoruba doctrine of immortality of the soul is deal with re-incarnation and punishment of
sin, it is instructive to note that Plato also share this view. The coloration of resurrection add
to this doctrine by Christianity is carry out by theologian of those e period by to satisfying
their political agenda on human race. No the truth, the truth shall set you free. And is evident
from all antecedents that it is the Plato teaching on Immortality of soul that influence the
writing of Christian of those period.

In Yoruba spirituality, It is believe that human been is made of Ara(physical body) and Emi (
the soul). We believe that Ara (physical body) is mortal and destructible while the Emi (soul)
is ever existing and indestructible. It is when the two are still working together that we have
a functional human being. The separation between Ara (physical body) and Emi (soul) can
only be occasioned by death. Death wish may occur naturally for example if the deceased
have reach matured age, death can also be unnatural such as murder, accident, fire
outbreak, natural disaster, war ,sickness and disease of various sorts, spiritual attack is not
even left out. On death what will happen is that the soul will be separated from the body. The
question now is that since we are of the view in this spirituality that soul is indestructible.
Where then does the soul of human being goes after death.? Did soul travel to other places
or distant land etc? where are the soul of people who have die before us|?where will the soul
of people who will die in future will be|? It is all these questions that is devoid of any
satisfactory answer that make early Yoruba theologian to provide answer to them in form of
re-incarnation, and principle of punishments for sin. Hence in this work, I will extensively
address Yoruba believe on principle of re-incarnations and punishment of sin. In Yoruba
cosmology it is believe that at death when the soul get separated from the body ,the body
will die and destroyed. The Emi ( soul) wish is indestructible is ever living. The two option for
it is that it either exist as Egungun ( spirit of the ancestors) or re-incarnate.

The Doctrine Of Re-incarnation In Yoruba culture and Spirituality,

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul, upon death of the body, come back to earth in
another body or form. It simply referring to philosophical or religious concept that an aspect
of living being start a new life in different physical body or form after each biological death.
Evidence abound in Yoruba spirituality to buttress the believe about immortality of the soul
as well as re-incarnation. These evidence range from ABIKU,AKUDAYA AS WEL AS Egungun
eni, each will be discuss in seriatim.
In Yoruba culture and spirituality when a mother is giving birth to a child who died in
repetitive circle, such child is known as Abiku. It is normally believe that it is the soul of such
child that is re-incarnating in another form. When this children dies and their soul come
back in new body ,when they are identify, They are given names such as Aja(dog), Igbekoyi(
bush has reject this) Kasimawo ( I still put you on probation) Ikumapayi(Death should not kill
this)Malomo (don’t die again). This believe about Abiku is a living proof by the Yoruba that
the soul exist apart from the body. At least I myself personally have witness a cases of Abiku
whose name is Aja(Dog). In my home town in Ijero Ekiti, there is a street known as Odo –
Afa . There live a food vendor known as Iya Aja,.Actually the name of this woman is Dupe.
Her daughter known as Aja, she is an Abiku child. When this child continue to die prematurely
on each birth , coming back with the same genders as a female. They decided to cut the legs
of this dead child into pieces when she died again before burying her. Behold when the woman
give birth again she give birth to another female girl with same striking resemblance, and to
the utter surprise of every one, the spot where the previous corpse was cut before burying
it was all present on the new baby. This child was name Aja(dog).The girl did not die again,
the Aja been disused is now a grown up woman. Though this is not a work on Abiku. I just
cite this to buttress the reality of Yoruba believe on reality of immortality of soul.
When a person dies in Yoruba land such person is bury inside the mother earth. It is believe
that the soul of this dead person will proceed to Orun (heaven). In Yoruba cosmology we
believe that way to heaven is through Ofurufu(sky) or Ile ( mother earth) hence we don’t
cremate the dead as they do in some culture, we prefer to bury the dead, It is the mother
earth that now serve as entry into Orun (heaven). after burying the dead , we believe that
the soul will departed to Orun (heaven). If the soul is one that have do good things in this
world and died at the right time appointed for him/her by God. Such soul will be accepted and
become Egungun(ancestors). It is not the masquerade costume that is Egungun,it is the soul
of the departed ancestor that is known as Egungun. There are certain criteria that a human
soul must meet before the soul can be accepted into the realm of the ancestors. Because of
space and time I will not be discussing the criteria in this work . So in short ,if a person soul
fail to meet the criteria that qualify it , to be admitted into the realm of the ancestors. Such
soul become a wanderer. It is this kinder of wander soul that do come back to this world and
become an AKUDAYA or AKUDA. Who is an Akuda? In Yoruba spirituality Akuda is the one
who after is physical dealt ,relocate to another place to continue another span of life. It is not
a strange thing here in Yoruba lands to hear story about Akudaya /Akuda. Stories abound
where people who have physically died in one town is seen in another town or cities after
their dead. But the issue is that they are never seen by those who know them. They are
usually seen by people who know them before but have no knowledge about their death
It is usually be a thing of surprise when a person that people known to have died and
buried is supposedly alive somewhere else.
One true life story that give credence to this assertion at least to the knowledge of any modern
average Yoruba person of our time is a true life story Of Akuda told by late Kolawole
Olawuyi in his popular TV show known as Nnkanbe. He present the true life story of one
Aramomootu who have died and buried, but still continue to sell Akara (beans cake) after
the night market have closed. It was narrated that Araamootu would sell the akara in the
market till mid night. It was said by Olawuyi that she did not even hide her identity, it was
said that people who know her before she died will recognize her and took to their heel. This
bring public attention to the market. The markets almost get desolated. Because no one want
to patronize same market with the dead. This attract public attention and they went to dig
the grave to rebury her with certain ritual rite to prevent her from coming out again at night.

According to Kolawole Olawuyi narration account on the TV show, her grave wish ordinarily
should have been four feet deep was dug up to twenty something feet, still they did not
find the corpse of Arammotu.hence they stop. This is what makes the elders of the city bring
out Oro cult to perform certain rite during the digging. To the utter amazement of everyone
,they did not even reach up to four feet before they see the corpse and it was buried with
proper ritual that prevent her spirit from coming out again. This work is not about Akuda.
The narration of this story is to give credence to the doctrine of immortality of soul as believe
in Yoruba cosmology.

There is popular story in Yoruba land of a man who died and wandered to another place, he
got married do business become rich and even get children. But he did not allow his wife and
children to know it home town. It was said that his wife and children had to put pressure on
him to shown them his home town and introduce them to the family. With this unbearable
pressure he agree to do so. When he take them to his hometown, where he had died
previously. When he get to road that lead to his parent house, he describe the house to them
and tell them he will get to them soon ,that he want to just greet a friend. When the wife and
children get to place he describe, they introduce their selves to the family as wife and children
of lagbaja.they told them that he will soon be here ,that he branched on the way to see a
friend. To the utter amazement of every the told the wife that yes he is their son, but he had
died many years back. They even show his grave to them . The wife refuses to believe. she
said her husband is alive that he will soon be here, but she and her children never set their
eyes on this man again. Because they will not be able to, they have known about his death,,
it is only people who have no knowledge of his death that will be able to see him again. All
these true life story in Yoruba land are buttressing the reality of soul existences as different
from the mortal body as well as immortality of the soul.

Since we have historical example wish prove the existence of the soul apart from the body,
We believe soul is immortal, and the abode of soul is Orun (heaven). We believe that
Orun(heaven) have seven segments or layers. This is call Orun meje (seven Heaven). This
work will examine the concept of Orun(heaven) and it set up in Yoruba culture and
spirituality. It is believe in Yoruba spirituality that most of the way we behave in this world is
copy from heaven. So it can be said heaven have is own administrative structure as it is
obtainable in government and politic on earth. Ifa make it clear that Orun heaven is abode
of Oba aiku (deathless and immortal king) who is known as Olorun( owner of heaven)
Olodumare ( God). God in Yoruba cosmology have names such as; Olodumare, Olofin,
Ajalorun,Adeda ,Aseda,, Oba akokoko, oba igbehin,. Ifa spirituality make us known that
heaven is like a city, The king of the city is Olodumare. Ifa say there is a big gate at the
entrance of the city. The name of the gate man that man the main entrance of heaven is Emu,
Emu is the leading gateman at entrance of heaven. He is help by other subordinates gateman
whose name were make available by our forefathers as Olomiriyihun, Arogidigba and Adi the
child of Elebu. Though in my interaction with some Babalawo before me, they make me known
that is even the Adi the child of Elebu that perform most function at the gate of Orun(heaven)
not Emu. But Emu is the chief Gateman. Whether this is true or not, I don’t, obanifa has never
been to heaven and I am not ready in years to come to visit. Ifa make us known that there
is Akuko Olodumare ( a mysterious cock) at the top of wall of Orun(heaven), whose function
is to sends back an um- invited souls from. It is believe in Yoruba cosmology as make known
by Ifa that there are two main gate to Orun(heaven) The first gate is for the departure from
heaven while the other is for the arrival of those people coming to heaven, Ifa make it clear
that each gate is effectively sealed against each other’s so that those are travelling
outside heaven cannot even see the returnee. Each gate have a record paper known as Ojiji
(shadow) who keep record of the function gave to each soul to perform as well as how they
have performed them.

As I said earlier orun(heaven) is domicile of Olodumare (God). Ifa make it clear that no one
can describe how Olodumare look like. Hence it is Olodumare( an entity that is vast and
enormous, yet no one can ascertain his identity or it physical location) this what we call
Olodumare. Yoruba Christian and even muslim use the world Olodumare daily in their
churches and mosque without knowing the real meaning of this words. In Yoruba cosmology
Orun is divided into seven segments which are; Orun kere, Orun Keeree, Orun
Oluwonranwonjiwon,Orun sedo,Orun Akaso,Orun Ilaja and Orun Iseda. I listed this
arrangement of Orun meje (seven heaven) in ascending order. It is believe that Orun Iseda (
heaven of the creator ) that is where Olodumare (God) lives. Orun Iseda is the highest rank
of the heaven. Each of the segment of this heaven is manage and manned by Iko olodumare
/Iranse Olodumare ( olodumare messenger). It believe that the distance between One orun
to the other is 1400 miles, so the total distance between orun kerere and Orun Iseda is 8,400
miles. The messenger in each segments Of the Orun are all reporting to Olodumare on
activities of each soul. I will explain in detail the function of each Iko(messengers) in each
segement of Orun meje (seven heaven ) in Yoruba cosmology. Each will be examine in

In Yoruba cosmology Orun kere is the lowest of the Orun meje ( seven heaven ) in Yoruba
Cosmology. Orun kere is the closet of the heaven to human being. The Iko Olodumare(
messenger of God) that is in this segment of Orun(heaven) is known as Oluorogbo.
Oluorogbo is known as Ela. Oluorogbo is the nearest to human being. In Yoruba cosmology
Oluorogbo is believe to saddle with the responsibility to everything about Ile aye(world) and
each soul that live there. Oluorogbo ought to know about the past lives of every soul. He is
the one who re[port and give account of the lives to other messenger known as Olusorosoro
in the second heaven , third, fourth, fifth, sixth up to the seventh heaven
where reincarnation of soul take place.

This is the second heaven. The messenger that occupied this segment of heaven is known as
Olusosoro, He is the one who receive message about human souls and activities and transmit
it to other Iko and Olodumare.

This is the third heaven, Oluwonjiwon is the messenger that manned this segment of heaven,
This segment of heaven that the most powerful soul and soul of the elders stop and reside
the soul of Good medicine man, healers of pregnant woman and infant also stop there. This
is the realm of the ancestors of great soul who have live a worthy live.

This is the fourth segment of heaven, This segement is occupied by the servants of
Oludumare. These is where all the Irunmole (celestial beings) who run errand for
Olodume leave. It is instructive to note that beeings at this sphere of heaven are fre to be
in any segement of the heaven.

This is fifth heaven that is where the ladder of descending from heaven is located. This is
the link where all the Irunmole use to descend to the world to carry the mission given to them
by Olodumare.

The fifth heaven is occupied by Olalore who shut or open door for water (rain). This is the
segment where the spirits that are in charge of rain, all water body, climate and weather are
located. It the beings at the segments that determine season. The leader of spiritual being
at this segments is closer to Olodumare.He also have power to reside in fourth heaven. He
is the closet to Olodumare.

Orun Iseda is seventh heaven , this is the abode of Olodumare. This is where Olodumare live,
all other messengers will bring report to him about the activities of each soul on heart. In
doing this, they never see Olodumare face to face. But they can hear his voice. Ifa make it
known that Oludumare have listening ear. It is Orun Iseda that creation of human being take
place. In Yoruba cosmology we don’t believe in theory of Hell fire, and paradise teach by
Christianity as well as Islam. It is believe in Yoruba spirituality that soul of human is
indestructible, soul can never die. But every soul must face judgment. Each soul will face his
judgment through re-incarnation. Every human will be rewarded through incarnation for his
good or bad deeds. Oluorogbo who is saddle with responsibility of reporting the activities of
every soul to Olodumare who reside at Orun Iseda. Orun Iseda is where the re-birth of each
soul normally take place after death. Since Oluorogbo through the messengers in each
segments of heaven will report the activities of each soul to Olodumare in Orun Iseda.
Olodumare will in turn give judgments to each soul base on his or her activities in previous
life. Olodumare may make the soul of wicked people like murderer, armed robbers, crooked
fraudster, those who practice evil, to enter the body of animal like goat, ship, pig,snakes,tree
, imbecile, naturally mentally or physically disable person. The soul of people who have
behave good in the previous life will be make to re incarnated in form of human body such as
king, queen, title holder ,, business mogul , a person who will Less problem free life. Etc... So
those who behave well in their previous life will be rewards with possibility of good life after
death. While the evil people is punished in form of reincarnation in form animal or other
despicable creatures to face their suffering. This work is just a brief work about immortality
of soul. It will not elaborate more on punishments of sin. Other work on punishments of sin
will elaborate on it.