A Comparative Analysis Of Destiny In Both Yoruba Cultural Group And The Western Thought
2.0 THE CONCEPT OF DESTINY AMONG THE YORUBAS
2.1 THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF ORI
2.2 THE PARADOXICAL AND THE UNALTERABLE NATURE OF ORI
3.0 DESTINY IN WESTERN THOUGHT
3.1 FATE AND FATALISM (WESTERNER’S DESTINY IN DISGUISE)
3.1.1 FATALISM (CATHOLIC INFORMATION)
3.1.2 ANCIENT (CLASSICAL FATALISM)
3.1.3 FATALISM AND CHRISTIANITY
3.1.4 MOSLEM FATALISM
3.1.5 MODERN FATALISM
3.1.6 MODERN PANTHEISTIC FATALISM
3.1.7 MODERN MATERIALISTIC FATALISM
3.2 THE REFUTATIONS OF WESTERN FATALISM
4.0 A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF DESTINY IN BOTH YORUBA CULTURAL GROUP AND THE WESTERN THOUGHT
The concept of destiny is popularly discussed, not only in African societies, but also in the Western and Eastern societies as well. This concept is both a philosophical and religious belief with no monopoly in any of the societies. Among the Yoruba the belief in destiny revolves around the concept of ori which is believed to be the spiritual component of the human personality and the human physical head is its symbol. The concept of ori is an important part of the original thought system of the Yoruba people; which is as a result of the relationship between man and the higher powers that brought him into existence and also responsible for everything that happens to him. Man’s existence is therefore seen as something an individual has no control over but rather a fulfillment of what has been ordained for him by powers greater than his. A logical corollary of the fore going is that man cannot change or alter that which he has to fulfill. The Yoruba concept of ori is of great interest because it raises some crucial philosophical problems that require examination.
The focus of this paper is to see how coherent is the belief in ori with other beliefs and practices of Yoruba people, and be able to compare same with the western understanding of it. The paper shall also make a comparative analysis between Yoruba notion of destiny with that of the westerners. Having said this, we shall move forward to see what destiny is all about in Yoruba cultural group, knowing fully well that Yoruba is one of the three major ethnic groups found in Nigeria, a country in West Africa.
2.0 THE CONCEPT OF DESTINY AMONG THE YORUBA
Destiny among the Yoruba is known to be always associated with Ori. It is the belief of the Yoruba that, before coming down to earth (Aye) from heaven (Orun), everyone must go and choose an Ori from a well-stocked store in Ajala’s house. Ajala is the one appointed by Olodumare (the Supreme being) to build or mould Ori. The quality of Ori cannot be determined by its physical appearance (whether size, shape, colour, etc.) alone. Ajala alone knows the good and the bad ones. Of those who go to select Ori in Ajala’s place some are kind to him, and they receive assistancefrom him in the selection of a well moulded Ori, but since it is not obligatory to be kind to Ajala,nothing is demanded from others who do not show any positive gesture or who are indifferent.They are left to make their choice on their own, at times they are lucky, they pick a good one and attimes they are not so lucky, they pick a bad one. The choice of ori made by an individualdetermines what sort of life he/she would lead and it is believed that the ultimate meaning ofimportant events in the individual’s life are to be understood in terms of ori’s choice.The following poem tells the story of how Ori is chosen in Orun- heaven and theconsequences of this irrevocable choice on every individual.
The story concerns three individualswho are friends- Oriseeku– the son of Ogun, Orileemere – the son of Ija and Afuwape – the son ofOrunmila; who were going to make a choice of their Ori in Ajala’s house. These three were warnednot to stop over at their fathers’ house but it was only Afuwape that did not take to this warninggetting to his father’s house, he made a stopover while the other two continued on their journey toAjala’s house.Oriseeku and Orileemere finally got to Ajala’s house after many problems on the way.However, they found that Ajala was not home, so they decided to go and make the choicethemselves but unfortunately, for them they picked bad “heads”.Afuwape on getting to the house of his father told the latter that he was going to choose a“head” in Ajala’s house to take to earth. His father consulted the oracle on his behalf and he wasasked to perform sacrifice with three small bags of salt and twenty-seven thousand cowries.
WhenAfuwape got to the house of the gatekeeper and he asked for the way to Ajala’s house, theGatekeeper insisted that he had to finish cooking his soup before he could show him the way.Afuwape noticed that the gatekeeper was using ashes instead of salt to sweeten his soup. Hetherefore gave him part of the salt he was carrying and he liked it so much and this prompted him toshow him the way to Ajala’s house. On getting to Ajala’s house, he found some people waiting forhim, who claimed that Ajala owed them some money, Afuwape with the money he was carrying,paid off these people and they left. Ajala emerged from his hiding place because he was hidingfrom his creditors and he was so happy and grateful to Afuwape, for paying his debt and he helpedhim in choosing a good head and on getting to the earth, Afuwape became very prosperous, whilehis other two friends were not and they asked him where he chose his own Ori but he made themunderstand that the choice was made at the same place but their destinies are different. On hearingthis, they started crying, and they said-
“N omobiolorigbe yan Ori o,
Mba re yan temi,
N omobi Afuwape yan Ori o
Mba re yan temi, b’ olorunfe.
Afuwape naaasi da won lohun wipe.
‘O omobiolorigbe yan Ori o
O ba re yan tie
O omobi Afuwape yan Ori o
O ba re yan tie, b’ olorunfe
Ibikannaalatiigbe yan Ori o,
Kadara o paponi”
I do not know where the lucky ones chose their Ori,
I would have gone there to choose mine.
I do not know where Afuwape chose his Ori,
I would have gone there to choose mine.
Afuwape replied them saying,
You don’t know where the lucky ones chose Ori,
You would have gone there to choose your own.
You do not know where Afuwape chose his Ori,
You would have gone there to choose your own.
We chose our Ori from the same place,
But our destinies are not identical.
From this narrative, it can be seen that there are three types of Ori that comes into this world.They are, Orileemere- the Ori of a born-to-die- child, Oriseeku – the Ori that dies at ayoung age, and Afuwape- someone who will enjoy for a long time and live to a ripe old age. It issaid that, evil forces at times prevent those in the first two groups from choosing good destiny. TheAfuwape types are believed to be the most desirous. In this story, shows the importance of sacrificeas a means of leading one aright. It was the sacrifice, Afuwape made in his father’s house that ledhim to get assistance from Ajala who helped him to make the right choice of Ori. The importanceof salt as a ritual and civilizing commodity,as seen in the narrative above cannot be overlooked.Afuwape’s introduction of salt to the gatekeeper can be regarded as a powerful civilizing influencefor which the gatekeeper was so grateful. In this story, salt can be seen as the commodity which onemust have in order to have the secret and important knowledge which can affect the choice of one’sdestiny in life.Salt is synonymous with good, orderly and civilized life while lack of it representstastelessness. This probably is why salt is used during the christening ceremony of Yoruba children.
This narrative shows that, once the choice is made, it becomes final and irrevocable. When thechoice of Ori has been made in Ajala’s storehouse, the person then starts on his journey down toearth.The narrative above indicates the type of life that will be lived here on earth. It is believedthat one who makes good choice will live a good life and one who makes a bad choice will live abad life.
2.1 THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF ORI
Ori is a spiritual entity which is believed to have been in existence prior to the creation ofthe body and at creation of the body, it is implanted in the body to animate it and enable it fulfill itslot in life. The Yoruba see ori as a guardian angel/spirit which guides and protects an individualthrough life. Ori is also seen as a physical entity which is moulded and chosen by the individualbefore coming to the world. It is probably from this conception that the physical head is seen to bethe symbolization of ori-the spiritual head.Ori is seen both as an entity that inhabits the body and also acts as a guardian angel (whichmeans ori might not necessarily inhabits the body). To buttress this point, when a newly weddedbride is going to her husband’s house, she is told: ki ori sine lo-may ori go with you. Here ori isseen as the guardian spirit, which is entreated to accompany her and make her matrimonial home ahappy one.Ori is strongly believed to influence the outcome of one’s life. It is believed that, that whichis chosen is unalterable. The content of ori is not known to man on getting here on earth. Butwhoever desires to know the content goes to find out from Orunmila known as eleri-ipin-thewitness of man’s destiny.
He is able to tell each individual what choice he/she has made, eithergood or bad. This knowledge about the choice of an individual has made, helps him/her in his/herjourney here on earth.The Yoruba believe that, Ori have the wholistic knowledge of the person before birth untilafter death. For the human destiny to come to fruition, that is the choice that has been made-good orbad; the person needs the assistance of his Ori, for success in life and to contribute his quota to thedevelopment of the society as a responsible person does.
2.2 THE PARADOXICAL AND UNALTERABILITY NATURE OF ORÍ
It is believed that, the Yoruba belief in Orí is paradoxical, contradictory and inconsistent.It is believed that whatever happens to a person is destined to have happened and could not havebeen otherwise. On the other hand, the Yoruba also believe that, not only is Orí alterable, butalso that, the individual is in fact responsible for his acts. This assertion is quite clear from thefact that people are blamed and punished for misdeeds, and praised and rewarded for goodconduct.
The Yoruba conception of human destiny portrays a fatalistic feature that can easily makea man become resigned to fate, particularly in the face of the odds of life. It makes it impossiblefor him to be free in actions and therefore might not be morally responsible for them. TheYoruba however agree to the fact that in certain situations, a man’s destiny can be changed as aresult; an unalterable human destiny is not entirely supported in the practical experience of thepeople. There are various beliefs and practices, which indicate that a man’sOri can be altered.Idowu listed five ways by which a man’s destiny can be altered or modified.
It could bemodified through the assistance of Òrúnmìlà – the oracle divinity who is also referred to as eleriipin.The supplicant takes steps through the agency of Òrúnmìlà to influence his destiny, so thata good portion may be ensured. Secondly, an individual’s Enikeji – the heavenly counterpart,could modify it. The Enikeji must be kept in a state of peaceful contentment through regularofferings. Thirdly, a man’s destiny can negatively be affected by wicked people generally knownas Omo-ra’aire – literally, children of the world, but also known by the following names – Elesu– devilish, Eni-ibi – evil person, Ika-enia – wicked person, Onikupani – traitor, betrayer. Thesepeople are believed to be responsible for the ills in the society today; they have permeated almostevery aspect of the society. Fourthly, a person’s destiny can be affected by his character. The Yoruba believe that a good destiny unsupported by good character is worthless. It is for thisreason that they say:enil’orírere ti koniiwa,iwal’o ma b’oríreje (the person with good destiny but without a good character,it is bad character that will ruin his good destiny).To be able to enjoy his good fortune, the person must also be patient, kind, and generous;must respect elders and tradition, etc. Fifthly, a man’s destiny can be altered through appropriatesacrifices to one’s Orí and his tutelary divinity in order to maintain a good destiny or change abad one.According to Omolafe, these five ways could be viewed from two broad levels –conceptual and practical levels. The first three ways of altering one’s destiny as listed above,belongs to the conceptual level. It is believed that certain spiritual forces are in operation in theindividual’s life; while the last two belong to the practical level. In this case, man’s efforts atcoping with the various changes in life are brought to the fore. When the Yoruba concept of Oríis viewed from a purely conceptual level, it is inescapable and irrevocable once chosen, but froma practical level, there are customary practices which assist the individual in coping with thedifficulties of earthly life.
In an attempt to clarify this issue of paradox in the Yoruba concept of Orí we would wantto examine the trimorphous conception of destiny. A-kunle-yan – that which is chosen kneeling,A-kunle-gba – that which is received kneeling and Ayanmo – that which is affixed to one. Despitethe fact that these three ways conflict in some ways, the Yoruba seems to take the three as if theywere completely compatible and they are also used interchangeably as if they meant the samething. A-kunle-yan – that which is chosen kneeling would mean self-choice, that is, self-predestination,while A-kunle-gba and Ayanmo signifies divine predestination. The personkneeling to receive is definitely receiving from Olódùmarè and the one that has his affixed tohim, is done by Olódùmarè. The trimorphous account of destiny is a problem, in that, which ofthese conceptions is to be accepted? It should however be pointed out here that the Yoruba donot see it as a problem, but since this is an attempt to clarify the issue of paradox; this criticalanalysis has to be carried out so that scholars and researchers might understand the position ofthe Yoruba.
From the previously mentioned, could it be said that destiny is freely chosen or imposedon the individual? That is, is the Yoruba concept of Orí self-predestination or divinepredestination or both? The attempt to see the Yoruba concept of Orí in terms of choice raises aproblem. To make a responsible choice, the person making the choice must be able to distinguishbetween right and wrong, good and bad and must have a level of maturity and intelligence, sothat he will be able to reason about the effect of his choice. The person making the choice isbelieved to be a mature person, an adult who can comprehend and knows the consequence of hischoice. However, it is a baby that is born into the world, who is incapable of speech, differentfrom the matured person who is believed to have made the choice, but if we want to assert that itis the baby that made the choice, we cannot say that a responsible choice was made. It is for thisreason that we have to drop the idea that Orí is chosen.
Another form of choice, which we do not agree with, is that, the individual makes thechoice and actually narrates what he wants in life in the presence of Olódùmarèand Onibode(gatekeeper),who puts his seal on it, that it is irrevocable. Though this might indicate anelement of choice, this type of individualistic choice would however breed many inconsistencies,because some people’s destinies would be imposed on others. It is for this reason that we wouldaccept divine predestination whereby the individuals are given their destiny by Olódùmarè, inwhich case, they have no choice than to accept it and bring it to fruition. If the choice of divine predestinationis accepted, inconsistencies, as we have seen above will not arise, because eachindividual will be assigned specific roles, duties, and ways of life which will not contradict thoseof others, but rather., complement them.
The question we would now ask is, if the notion of divine predestination is accepted,which means it is unalterable, what implications would this have on the people’s way of life? Anappraisal of the people’s way of life, indicate that, they agree that the concept of Orí is divinepredestination, but they believe that it can be altered. According to Olowu, he claims that, Orí can be altered; if it is unalterable, then therewill be no need for Ajo – solicitude and Awure – charm for good luck. He then went further tonarrate his own story, how he was told that he was destined to build only one house and must nothave more than three wives, and that if he tries to do otherwise, misfortune will befall him.However, through offering the necessary sacrifices he has been able to alter his destiny. He hasmore than three houses in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. He also has more than three wives, andnothing bad has happened to him. He said he changed his destiny himself to what he wants it tobe. He believes that it is when we get here on earth that we chose what we want throughsolicitude, good luck, hard work, struggle, good character, being responsible, etc.
From the experience of the man mentioned above, it can be said that most Yoruba do notreadily accept an unalterable destiny, because if they do, offering of sacrifice to rectify bad ori orto maintain a good one, praising or blaming, having a good character etc., would not be doneand even doing it would be worthless, and it would be inconsistent with the belief in an imposedand unalterable destiny.The Yoruba people do have some sayings that imply that they do believe in thealterability of orí. For instance, they say:Ise 1’oogun ise (Hard work is the medicine for poverty). What this statement means is that, even if one has chosen a good orí but refuses to work; such aperson would be poor. So, we can say that hard work is one of the criteria needed for a good oríto come to fruition. It also means that laziness can change a good orí to a bad one.Another one says:Iwarerelesoenia(Good character is the good ornament of a person).
This statement means that, without good character, a good orí cannot come to fruition.Therefore, if one has a good orí but does not have good character, his bad character will alter thegood orí. Without good character, destiny cannot be actualized, it is for this reason, and the followingstatements are made:Ki orí inuma ba to de je (May the inner headnot spoil the outer one).A very common statement among the Yoruba to show that Orí can be altered is:Ifa a sorodayoa tun orí omo ti o sunwon se (Ifa that turns word into joy,one that changes the orí of a bad child).The statement above shows that through Ifa divination, a bad head could be changed to agood one. For instance, a woman called lyan’diagba13 strongly believes that orí, once chosencannot be altered. Even those that are believed to have been altered at certain times are destinedto be like that. She made the following statements to buttress her point:Ayanmo o la bu ye (Destiny cannot be changed after it is chosen).This statement means that once orí has been chosen, it cannot be changed. She also made thefollowing statements:Abiku so ologun deke (The born-to-die child turns the Ifa priest into a liar)What this statement literally means is that, one who is an Abiku – a child born-to-die,taken to the Ifa priest for divination so that such a person would not die again, eventually dies.This would portray the Ifa priest as a liar, who does not know about Ifa. Whatlyan’diagba istrying to say here is that once ori is chosen, it cannot be changed.
However, she mentioned that, if one has chosen a good orí and on getting here on earth, itwas changed by the evil ones popularly known as Aye, in such a case, there are sacrifices thatcould be done for such a person and the orí chosen would be restored back to him. She also saidthat if a person made a bad choice but has a good character, such a person should not say he hasnothing, because as a result of his good character, all the good things he desires would be his.Iwa 1’oba awure (Character is the king of solicitude).
3.0DESTINY IN WESTERN THOUGHT
Destiny in western thought is sometimes confused with predestination and fatalism, but as such it asserts neither that human affairs have been prearranged by a being outside the causal order nor that a person has an unavoidable fate. But to avoid this confusion, we are going to give a brief definition of these concepts that characterizes the notion of destiny in western thoughts.
- i) Determinism
The view that every event has a cause and that everything in the universe is absolutely dependent on and governed by causal laws. Since determinists believe that all events, including human actions, are predetermined, determinism is typically thought to be incompatible with free will.
- ii) Fatalism
The belief that “what will be will be,” since all past, present, and future events have already been predetermined by God or another all-powerful force. In religion, this view may be called predestination; it holds that whether our souls go to Heaven or Hell is determined before we are born and is independent of our good deeds.
iii) Free will
The theory that human beings have freedom of choice or self-determination; that is, that given a situation, a person could have done other than what he did. Philosophers have argued that free will is incompatible with determinism. See also indeterminism.
The view that there are events that do not have any cause; many proponents of free will believe that acts of choice are capable of not being determined by any physiological or psychological cause.
3.1 FATE AND FATALISM (WESTERNER’S DESTINY IN DISGUISE)
Fate, personified by the Greeks under the name of Moira, signified in the ancient world the unseen power that rules over human destiny. In classical thought fate was believed to be superior to the gods, since even they were unable to defy it’s all – encompassing power. Fate is not chance, which may be defined as the absence of laws, but instead a cosmic determinism that has no ultimate meaning or purpose. In classical thought as well as in Oriental religion fate is a dark, sinister power related to the tragic vision of life. It connotes not the absence of freedom but the subjection of freedom. It is the transcendent necessity in which freedom is entangled (Tillich). Fate is blind, inscrutable, and inescapable.
Christianity substituted for the Hellenistic concept of fate the doctrine of divine providence. Whereas fate is the portentous, impersonal power that thwarts and overrules human freedom, providence liberates man to fulfill the destiny for which he was created. Fate means the abrogation of freedom; providence means the realization of authentic freedom through submission to divine guidance. Providence is the direction and support of a loving God, which makes life ultimately bearable; fate is the rule of contingency that casts a pall over all human striving. Whereas fate makes the future precarious and uncertain, providence fills the future with hope. Fate is impersonal and irrational; providence is supremely personal and supra-rational.
Fatalism was present among the ancient Stoics, and it pervades much of the thought of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Modern philosophers who have entertained ideas akin to fate are Oswald Spengler, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Arthur Schopenhauer.
3.1.1 FATALISM (CATHOLIC INFORMATION)
Fatalism is in general the view which holds that all events in the history of the world, and, in particular, the actions and incidents which make up the story of each individual life are determined by fate.
The theory takes many forms, or, rather, its essential feature of an antecedent force rigidly predetermining all occurrences enters in one shape or another into many theories of the universe. Sometimes in the ancient world, fate was conceived as an iron necessity in the nature of things, overruling and controlling the will and power of the gods themselves. Sometimes it was explained as the inexorable decree of the gods directing the course of the universe; sometimes it was personified as a particular divinity, the goddess or goddesses of destiny. Their function was to secure that each man’s lot, “share”, or part should infallibly come to him.
3.1.2 ANCIENT (CLASSICAL FATALISM)
The Greek tragedians frequently depict man as a helpless creature borne along by destiny. At times this destiny is a Nemesis which pursues him on account of some crime committed by his ancestors or himself; at other times it is to compensate for his excessive good fortune in order to educate and humble him. With Æschylus, it is of the nature of an unpitying destiny; with Sophocles, that of an overruling personal will. Still, the most important feature is that the future life of each individual is so rigorously predetermined in all its details by an antecedent external agency that his own volitions or desires have no power to alter the course of events. The action of fate is blind, arbitrary and relentless. It moves inexorably onwards, effecting the most terrible catastrophes, impressing us with a feeling of helpless consternation, and harrowing our moral sense, if we venture upon a moral judgment at all. Fatalism in general has been inclined to overlook immediate antecedents and to dwell rather upon remote and external causes as the agency which somehow moulds the course of events.
Socrates and Plato held that the human will was necessarily determined by the intellect. Though this view seems incompatible with the doctrine of free will, it is not necessarily fatalism. The mechanical theory of Democritus, which explains the universe as the outcome of the collision of material atoms, logically imposes fatalism upon human volition. The clinamen or aptitude for fortuitous deviation which Epicurus introduced into the atomic theory, though essentially a chance factor, seems to have been conceived by some as acting not unlike a form of fate. The Stoics, who were both pantheists and materialists, present us with a very thorough-going form of fatalism. For them the course of the universe is an iron-bound necessity. There is no room anywhere for chance or contingency. All changes are but the expression of unchanging law. There is an eternally established providence overruling the world, but it is in every respect immutable. Nature is an unbreakable chain of cause and effect.
Providence is the hidden reason contained in the chain. Destiny or fate is the external expression of this providence, or the instrumentality by which it is carried out. It is owing to this that the prevision of the future is possible to the gods. Cicero, who had written at length on the art of divining the future, insists that if there are gods there must be beings who can foresee the future. Therefore the future must be certain, and, if certain, necessary. But the difficulty then presents itself: what is the use of divination if expiatory sacrifices and prayers cannot prevent the predestined evils? The full force of the logical difficulty was felt by Cicero, and although he observes that the prayers and sacrifices might also have been foreseen by the gods and included as essential conditions of their decrees, he is not quite decided as to the true solution. The importance ascribed to this problem of fatalism in the ancient world is evinced by the large number of authors who wrote treatises “De Fato”, e.g. Chrysippus, Cicero, Plutarch, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and sundry Christian writers down to the middle Ages.
3.1.3 FATALISM AND CHRISTIANITY
With the rise of Christianity the question of fatalism necessarily adopted a new form. The pagan view of an external, inevitable force coercing and controlling all action, whether human or divine, found itself in conflict with the conception of a free, personal, infinite God. Consequently several of the early Christian writers were concerned to oppose and refute the theory of fate. But, on the other hand, the doctrine of a personal God possessing an infallible foreknowledge of the future and an omnipotence regulating all events of the universe intensified some phases of the difficulty. A main feature, moreover, of the new religion was the importance of the principle of man’s moral freedom and responsibility. Morality is no longer presented to us merely as a desirable good to be sought. It comes to us in an imperative form as a code of laws proceeding from the Sovereign of the universe and exacting obedience under the most serious sanctions. Sin is the gravest of all evils. Man is bound to obey the moral law; and he will receive merited punishment or reward according as he violates or observes that law. But if so, man must have it in his power to break or keep the law. Moreover, sin cannot be ascribed to an all-holy God. Consequently, free will is a central fact in the Christian conception of human life; and whatever seems to conflict with this must be somehow reconciled to it. The pagan problem of fatalism thus becomes in Christian theology the problem of Divine predestination and the harmonizing of Divine prescience and providence with human liberty.
3.1.4 MOSLEM FATALISM
The Moslem conception of God and His government of the world, the insistence on His unity and the absoluteness of the method of this rule as well as the Oriental tendency to belittle the individuality of man, were all favorable to the development of a theory of predestination approximating towards fatalism. Consequently, though there have been defenders of free will among Moslem teachers, yet the orthodox view which has prevailed most widely among the followers of the Prophet has been that all good and evil actions and events take place by the eternal decrees of God, which have been written from all eternity on the prescribed table. The faith of the believer and all his good actions have all been decreed and approved, whilst the bad actions of the wicked though similarly decreed have not been approved. Some of the Moslem doctors sought to harmonize this fatalistic theory with man’s responsibility, but the Oriental temper generally accepted with facility the fatalistic presentation of the creed; and some of their writers have appealed to this long past predestination and privation of free choice as a justification for the denial of personal responsibility. Whilst the belief in predestined lot has tended to make the Moslem nations lethargic and indolent in respect to the ordinary industries of life, it has developed a reckless danger which has proved a valuable element in the military character of the people.
3.1.5 MODERN FATALISM
The reformers of the sixteenth century taught a doctrine of predestination little, if at all, less rigid than the Moslem fatalism. With the new departure in philosophy and its separation from theology since the time of Descartes, the ancient pagan notion of an external fate, which had grown obsolete, was succeeded by or transformed into the theory of Necessarianism. The study of physics, the increasing knowledge of the reign of uniform law in the world, as well as the reversion to naturalism initiated by the extreme representatives of the Renaissance, stimulated the growth of rationalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and resulted in the popularization of the old objections to free will. Certain elements in the mechanical philosophy of Descartes and in the occasionalism of his system, which his followers Malebranche and Geulinex developed, confining all real action to God obviously tend towards a fatalistic view of the universe.
3.1.6MODERN PANTHEISTIC FATALISM
Spinoza’s pantheistic necessarianism is, perhaps, the frankest and most rigid form of fatalism advocated by any leading modern philosopher. Starting from the idea of substance, which he so defines that there can be but one, he deduces in geometrical fashion all forms of being in the universe from this notion. This substance must be infinite. It evolves necessarily through an infinite number of attributes into an infinite of modes. The seemingly individual and independent beings of the world, minds and bodies, are merely these modes of the infinite substance. The whole world-process of actions and events is rigidly necessary in every detail; the notions of contingence, of possible beings other than those which exist, are purely illusory. Nothing is possible except what actually is. There is free will in neither God nor man. Human volitions and decisions flow with the same inexorable necessity from man’s nature as geometrical properties from the concept of a triangle. Spinoza’s critics were quick to point out that in this view man is no longer responsible if he does not commit a crime nor deserving of praise in recompense for his good deeds, and that God is the author of sin. Spinoza’s only answer was that rewards and punishments still have their use as motives, that evil is merely limitation and therefore not real, and that whatever is real is good. Vice, however, he holds, is as objectionable as pain or physical corruption. The same fatalistic consequences to morality are logically involved in the various forms of recent pantheistic monism.
3.1.7MODERN MATERIALISTIC FATALISM
Modern materialism, starting from the notion of matter as the sole original cause of all things, endeavors to elaborate a purely mechanical theory of the universe, in which its contents and the course of its evolution are all the necessary outcome of the original collocation of the material particles together with their chemical and physical properties and the laws of their action. The more thoroughgoing advocates of the mechanical theory, such as Clifford and Huxley, frankly accept the logical consequences of this doctrine that mind cannot act upon matter, and teach that man is “a conscious automaton”, and that thoughts and volitions exercise no real influence on the movements of material objects in the present world. Mental states are merely by-products of material changes, but in no way modify the latter. They are also described as subjective aspects of nervous processes, and as epiphenomena, but however conceived they are necessarily held by the disciples of the materialistic school to be incapable of interfering with the movements of matter or of entering in any way as efficient causes into the chain of events which constitute the physical history of the world.
However, the position is in some ways more extreme than the ancient pagan fatalism. For, while the earlier writers taught that the incidents of man’s life and fortune were inexorably regulated by an overwhelming power against which it was useless as well as impossible to strive, they generally held the common-sense view that our volitions do direct our immediate actions, though our destiny would in any case be realized. But the materialistic scientist is logically committed to the conclusion that while the whole series of our mental states are rigidly bound up with the nervous changes of the organism, which were all inexorably predetermined in the original collocation of the material particles of the universe, these mental states themselves can in no way alter the course of events or affect the movements of a single molecule of matter.
3.2 THE REFUTATIONS OF WESTERN FATALISM
The Refutations of Western Fatalism of all types lies in the absurd and incredible consequences which they all entail.
(1) Ancient fatalism implied that events were determined independently of their immediate causes. It denied free will, or that free will could affect the course of our lives. Logically it destroyed the basis of morality.
(2) The fatalism resting on the Divine decrees (a) made man irresponsible for his acts, and (b) made God the author of sin.
(3) The fatalism of materialistic science not only annihilates morality but, logically reasoned out, it demands belief in the incredible proposition that the thoughts and feelings of mankind have had no real influence on human history Mill distinguished: (a) Pure or Oriental fatalism which, he says, holds that our actions are not dependent on our desires, but are overruled by a superior power; (b) modified fatalism, which teaches that our actions are determined by our will, and our will by our character and the motives acting on us–our character, however, having been given to us, (c) finally determinism, which, according to him, maintains that not only our conduct, but our character, is amenable to our will: and that we can improve our character. In both forms of fatalism, he concludes, man is not responsible for his actions. But logically, in the determinist theory, if we reason the matter out, we are driven to precisely the same conclusion. For the volition to improve, our character cannot arise unless as the necessary outcome of previous character and present motives. Practically there may be a difference between the conduct of the professed fatalist who will be inclined to say that as his future is always inflexibly predetermined there is no use in trying to alter it, and the determinist, who may advocate the strengthening of good motives. In strict consistency, however, since determinism denies real initiative causality to the individual human mind, the consistent view of life and morality should be precisely the same for the determinist and the most extreme fatalist.
4.0 A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF DESTINY IN BOTH YORUBA CULTURAL GROUP AND WESTERN THOUGHT
Since the aim of this work is not to find out which one of the two cultures is preferable, but simply to set them into dialogue. And when we talk about comparism between two thoughts, is all about knowing what both thoughts have in common and the mere differences they may have based on their ideologies. That notwithstanding, in a simple or formal statement, it is good to know that the fundamental similarity between their various conception of destiny is that it has to do with ones fate in life. The future one is to encounter, whether he/she would be successful or not. Whereas, the westerners believe that what one is destined to be in life, he/she must surely be that and nothing could be done to change that. Even though the Yoruba(s) believes that one’s destiny in life must be attended, they also created room for changes, which would be possible through offering of sacrifice to the author of destiny (That is, their God). With this, they created room for a change in destiny for those whose destiny is bad or people destined to doom in life. So that such persons can change their fate in life. This forms their major difference.
The westerners believe that before one is born, he had already been destined in life to be either successful or to be a failure. This position can be seen in the bible, which belongs to Christians, a religion born out of western culture. But the Yoruba(s) have a separate view. However, we are going to express the separate views upheld by the Yoruba(s) as against, and also in support of western views. Taking a critical look at Yoruba, from all the afore said, it could be said that, at one time or the other, a kind of change oralteration does occur. Is there then confusion in the belief system? If we accept the fact thatdestiny is unalterable, it would be logical for us to conclude that people should not be heldresponsible for most of their actions, since it is believed that he is destined to behave the way hedid. The Yoruba believe that man should be held responsible for his actions, good or bad, hence,their acceptance of the institutions of punishment, reward, praise and blame. The seemingparadox sets in when it is believed that orí is changeable, either for better or for worse throughsacrifice or through the powers of the evil ones or through the possession of a bad character, andit is further compounded by the acceptance of the notion of freewill and responsibility.
The Yoruba belief in orí is not inconsistent or contradictory as it appears to be, because itis not an encompassing kind of belief. This means that, it is not every detail of a man’s life thathis destiny features. If every detail of a person’s life were to be preordained, there would be noroom for human freedom, choice and responsibility as it is seen among the Yoruba. However, ifit is just certain aspect that is mapped out, we might attempt to accommodate the freedom of thewill and human responsibility.In the people’s way of life, inalterability of orí is not depicted in their way of life. Theyalways attempt to alter a bad one and maintain a good one through their practical activities andsome of their other beliefs. Despite having an almost unshakable belief in the rigidity of destiny,they also accept that under certain conditions, a man’s destiny can be changed either for good orfor bad, but that it is within his power to influence his own choice of Orí.
As we have already mentioned above, Oríis not an encompassing concept, the Yorubapeople only resort to it while explaining certain occurrences in their life. For instance, KwasiWiredu gives an apt illustration of this with the story of an imaginary traveler who dies in a buscrash.When he (the traveler) originally tried to get on the bus, it was already filled tocapacity with passengers, but just as he decides to postpone his journey and as heis turning to go, a seat is vacated, one passenger, for one reason or the other, hasto get off in a hurry. So he gets on. His destination is the very first stop on the bus,and he is, in fact, the passenger traveling the shortest distance. But just one milefrom his destination the calamity occurs; a puncture and the bus crashes.Unbelievably, everyone on board escapes with minor bruises except one. Alone,of fifty passengers our traveler dies.
In the case stated above, orí is resorted to as a metaphysical construct for explainingstrange occurrences, which otherwise defy explanation. Co-passengers would say things like,”and to imagine he was going to postpone the trip”, some other would say, “bo se yan ti e ni yen– that is how he has chosen his own”. A situation like this might imply that, the Yoruba conceptof orí is fatalistic. From the explanations given above, we would rather suggest, that the Yorubaposition is deterministic, at least going by their various practical activities and some of theirother beliefs. In which case, they only accept the fact that every human act has some antecedentcause or causes. The fatalistic assertion is that, “what will be, will be, regardless of any otherfactor”. In other words, once an event has been fated to happen, nothing can stop it –fromhappening. Judging from what we have seen of the Yoruba belief in orí and their practicalactivities, we cannot accept the fact that they are fatalists. However, we can readily accept thatmost of them are determinists, in which case, they do have a choice to do something about theirsituation; they just do not resign to fate. Makinde seems to sum up the situation when he saysthat “there seems to be an implied belief that it is within one’s power to make a good orísuccessful as it was not destined to be.”
We are able to come to the conclusion that most Yoruba people are not fatalist by takinga number of things into consideration, some of which we have examined above:Orunmila the oracle divinity is referred to as:Ifa a s’oro da yoa tun On omoti o sun won se.Ifa, that turns words into joy, one that changes the ori of a bad child.Orunmila is able to intervene in an event where individual has been affixed with a bad orunhappy orí; it is for this reason that he is also known as Eleri-Ipin – the witness. He is also ableto help preserve a good orí forestall any evil that might want to prevent its coming to fruition.This can be successfully done provided adequate appeal and sacrifice are made to him.Theefficacy of sacrifice is also believed to be necessary from time to time to keep one in harmonywith the power that be. Orí is also regularly appeased and sacrifice offered to it in order tocontinue guiding its owner.
The Yoruba do accept the fact that they have to make certainefforts to maintain or change that which has already been fated.Other practices and beliefs which show that they are more determinist than fatalistinclude hardwork, struggle and good character. They believe that without good character, a goodOrí cannot come to fruition. One must also cultivate the practice of good behavior and must be morally responsible. Certain traits such as disrespect to elders, envy, jealousy, greed, dishonesty,etc., could ruin a good orí. An initial good lot in life is not a sufficient condition for humansuccess, which ought not to be the case if indeed the Yoruba believe that, “what will be, will be,and regardless of what happens”.The people also have various taboos and systems of law according to which offenders arepunished. They also give praises and blame, and advice as well as strict moral upbringing ofchildren. All these various activities do not conform to the fatalist position.
Having seen the various views of these cultural groups or thoughts, one could only but say that they complement each other. This is possible in the sense that one cannot say that either this culture or the other should be preferable, once the notion of destiny is mentioned. The gains of such comparism is all about reaching out to other culture from where we are situated, in order to gain more knowledge about others. Since it is said that knowledge is power, and it is with this form of knowledge that one can be able to function effectively where ever he/she finds himself.
Finally, as a group, we really appreciate Yoruba culture which we used as a scope for our writing. We came to understand that they are wonderful and rich in their culture, and also cultural heritage. From our encounter with most of them, we observedthat most of the Yoruba(s) are determinist; in the sense that they recognize that their acts, or whatever happens tothem have antecedent causes, and they still attempt to influence future events. However, we can thenconclude that the Yoruba philosophy does not allow for extreme position, their views are mostlycomplimentary and it is also for this reason the Yoruba say – “Owoomode o topepe, ti agbalagbakowo ‘kengbe” – “The hand of the child cannot reach the shelf, neither can that of the adult enterthe calabash”.
- Publication information Written by Michael Maher. Transcribed by Rick McCarty. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
- Fatalism – – is at http://mb soft.com/believe/txn/fatalism.htm
- The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source – By Alphabet http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html
- W C Greene, Moira: Fate, Good and Evil in Greek Thought; R Guardini, Freedom, Grace, and Destiny; P Tillich, “Philosophy and Fate,” in The Protestant Era, and The Courage to Be; H Ringgren, ed., Fatalistic Beliefs in Religion, Folklore, and Literature; J Den Boeft, Calcidius on Fate.
- Abogunrin, S.O. 1972. “Man in Yoruba Thought” B.A. Dissertation, Department of ReligiousStudies, University of Ibadan. Unpublished Work.
- Abimbola, W. 1978. Sixteen Great Poems of Ifa. UNESCO.
- Adedeji, J.A, 1989. A Philosophical Analysis of the Yoruba Belief in Destiny. B.A. dissertation,Department of Philosophy. Unpublished work.
- Ali, S.A. 1995. “The Yoruba Conception of destiny: A Critical Analysis” in Journal of Philosophyand Development. Ogun State University. Ago-Iwoye. No. 1, Vols. 1&2.
- Idowu, E.B. 1996. Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief. London: Longman.
10)Makinde, M.A. 1985. “A Philosophical Analysis of the Yoruba Concepts of ORI and HumanDestiny”, International Studies in Philosophy, No. 1, Vol. XVII.
11) Omolafe, J.A.1997. Yoruba Conception of a Person: Functional Implications, Ph.D. Thesis, TheInstitute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
12) Wiredu Kwasi, Philosophy and an African Culture, Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Idowu, E.B. 1996. Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief. London: Longman. p.170
Abimbola, W. 1978. Sixteen Great Poems of Ifa. UNESCO, p. 205.
Abogunrin, S.O. 1972. “Man in Yoruba Thought” B.A. Dissertation, Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan. Unpublished work. p.39.
Idowu, E.B. Op. Cit., 179
Opefeyitimi, Personal discussion, 1st January, 2013
Adedeji, J.A, 1989. “A Philosophical Analysis of the Yoruba Belief in Destiny”. B.A. dissertation, Department of Philosophy. Unpublished work. p.22.
Idowu, E.B, op.cit.p.171
Ali, S.A. 1995. “The Yoruba Conception of destiny: A Critical Analysis” in Journal of Philosophy and Development. Ogun State University. Ago-Iwoye. No. 1 Vols. 1&2. p. 102.
Idowu, E.B. op.cit.p.171
Omolafe, J.A. 1997. Yoruba Conception of a Person: Functional Implications, Ph.D. Thesis, The Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, p.185.
Idowu, E.B. op.cit. p.174.
Personal Interview with Pa Olowu 18 December, 2012.
Personal interview with Iya n’diagba, 23 December, 2012
Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy and an African Culture, Cambridge University Press 1980. p.19.
Makinde, M.A. 1985. “A Philosophical Analysis of the Yoruba Concepts of ORI and Human Destiny”, International Studies in Philosophy, No. 1, Vol. XVII, p.62.
Idowu, E.B. op.cit. p. 176