Orí Buruku

In Personal History, Season 2 by Omobolanle Olarewaju

Wáwòyí had been defeated. They say that Life is mysterious and that she chooses to bless and curse on a whim. For the entirety of Wáwòyí’s life, he had only experienced curses.

From birth he had been unfortunate; to bring him into this world, his mother had sacrificed her life. If Life was kind, she would have made him a loveable child, so that those who loved his mother would forgive him for her death. As we have established, however, Life seemed to have a personal vendetta against Wáwòyí, and so he came out ugly, and with a difficult personality. 

He cried into all hours of the morning and kept his poor father and aunties awake. As a toddler he scratched and bit and kicked those that would care for him. He became so unlikeable, that as soon as he reached his teen years, his father gave him a calabash, a meal and 4 cowries, and chased him out of his house. 

For many years Wáwòyí suffered, destroying apprenticeship after apprenticeship. Failing business after business, until he ended up here, under a bridge, defeated.

“It is good to give up.” He told himself. “I no longer have the energy to fight. I will beg for my food, and come back here to sleep. Let poverty be my peace.”

But there is no peace in poverty, and when Life has found someone she enjoys bullying, she does not let them accept their situation in peace. Who did Wáwòyí think he was dealing with?

Life went to speak to her friend Sky, and told him to open his floor for Wáwòyí. 

“This man is my toy,” She said to Sky. “I will not see him content under this bridge. Open your floor, release your wind, beat your thunderous drums and let your rain pour.”

Sky, always ready for Life’s games, did as he was told. One night, after a relatively successful day of begging, Wáwòyí had returned to his bridge to eat the fruits of his labour and sleep.

As soon as he closed his eyes, lightning cracked the sky open. Thunder boomed and the heaviest of rains poured down on Wáwòyí’s bridge. The rains poured and poured, causing the river, on whose banks Wáwòyí slept, to overflow. 

Wáwòyí swam desperately against the current as it carried him away, and as his head went under, he truly believed that this was where he would die. In some way he was relieved, at least his suffering would come to a close.

As we have established, Life is not in the business of giving you what you want. Especially not Wáwòyí whom she had taken a liking to. As Wáwòyí embraced the concept of death, allowing the water to take him under, he was pulled from the river and dragged to land. 

He sat up, coughing and vomiting the water he had swallowed, as someone hit his back to help him get it out. He looked back at his saviour, finding a man with eyes nearly as dead as his own. 

He looked about Wáwòyí’s age, but he could have been older, since the lines on both of their faces spoke more to suffering than age. His clothes were not as bad as the rags that Wáwòyí wore, but they were old and torn. It seemed Life had not been kinder to him than she had been to Wáwòyí.

“My friend, you have saved me but I have nothing to give to you. I am a poor man, a beggar who has just lost his home. All I have is my gratitude.” Wáwòyí said, worried that the man would demand payment for saving his life.

“The payment I desire is not from you.” The man replied. “I believe I have done something evil in my life, and maybe by doing good, the gods will have mercy on me.”

“An evil man could never risk his life to save a wretched man from drowning. Why do you believe you need mercy from the gods?” Wáwòyí asked.

“Because my life has been unfortunate for many years now. As it is, I am on my way to see a powerful Iyalowo, to divine the cause of my misfortune.” The man replied.

This was music to Wáwòyí’s ears. He could not help thinking that this could be the solution to all his problems. Wáwòyí prostrated in front of the man.

“My friend, please let me accompany you to see this Iyalowo.” Wáwòyí pleaded, face to the ground. “My life has been just as unfortunate as yours, perhaps more. Maybe this seer can identify where I have offended the gods in my own life.”

“Get up my friend. I have no issue with that.” The man said, pulling Wáwòyí to his feet. “But we must not travel as strangers. My name is Mamòrá.”

“They call me Wáwòyí.” He replied.

And so Wáwòyí and Mamòrá began their journey together, to find the Iyalowo that would help them solve their problems. 

As they travelled, Mamòrá told Wáwòyí about his life, and how he had faced misfortune after misfortune for the last 15 years. Wáwòyí also shared his story and the two bonded over the hand that Life had dealt them. 

Upon arriving at the Iyalowo’s village, they were directed to a forest and told that her hut was at its heart. A woman warned them that if Iyalowo did not want them to find her, they would wander in the bush forever. Undeterred, the two friends entered the dark forest.

This forest had taken many lives in the past, and on a normal day, it would have sent spirits, and witches to claim the lives of Mamòrá and Wáwòyí. But Iyalowo was expecting them. She had known they would come for many years now. As soon as they stepped foot in the forest, a path cleared directly to her hut. This was the first piece of luck either of them had experienced in a very long time.

Encouraged by this, they entered her hut. Inside, an old, grey Iyalowo sat on the ground. Various animal bones were scattered about, herbs and chickens hung from the walls, and calabashes, both empty and full of a suspicious red liquid surrounded her. 

She laughed as they entered. “Wáwòyí, Mamòrá you are welcome. You must be weary from your journey through life. Sit down. Tell me what you want.”

“Iya, we have come to beg you.” Mamòrá said. “We do not know what is causing our lives to be unfortunate. You are powerful, and you have the ear of the gods. Please, help us.”

“You want my help, yet you have come empty handed. When you go to visit a newborn’s mother, don’t you know that you will bring clothes and money?” She said, mixing her words with idioms as all diviners often did.

Mamòrá quickly removed a charm he was wearing from around his neck. “My mother said that this is a powerful protection charm. I am sure it is the only reason I am still alive. Please accept this as a sacrifice.”

“You are correct that this is your sole source of protection. You are fortunate to have received this from your mother.” Iyalowo said, taking the charm that was offered.

Wáwòyí knew that he had nothing to offer, and so he did the only thing he knew how to do. He prostrated on the ground and begged.

“Iyalowo, the powerful one! The greatest among seers, the wisest among the wise. She who has dined in the congregation of the great gods Orunmilla and Eshu. She who makes the spirits and witches of this world tremble. She who…”

“My friend, keep quiet!” She said, and immediately, Wáwòyí’s tongue was seized by an invisible force. “I already know you have nothing to offer me except empty, heaped up praises. Your friend’s charm will do as payment for the both of you.”

Wáwòyí’s tongue was released and he uttered a quick thank you, before scrambling back into a seated position. 

“A history of misfortune in a person’s life can be traced to one thing: the choices he makes. Mamòrá and Wáwòyí, what choices have you made that have twisted your destiny so much?”

Iyalowo began to make incantations. She spoke in riddles and twisted her Yoruba to the point where it was unrecognizable to Mamòrá and Wáwòyí. The air in the hut got colder, and as the cowries she threw landed on the floor in front of her, an image took hold of their minds.

It was Mamòrá as a young man, holding the hand of a beautiful young woman. He was professing his love over and over to her, using words of the highest praise on her.

Iyalowo’s voice accompanied the images that flashed through their heads. “Mamòrá speak. Who is this woman?”

“Iya, she is my wife.” Mamòrá replied.

“This was before you married. Who was this woman at this time?” Iyalowo questioned.

“She was… another man’s wife.” Mamòrá confessed.

“So you took the hard won treasure of another man.” Iyalowo stated, matter-of-factly.

“Yes, Iyalowo.” Mamòrá said with shame.

“Then you have added complication to your own misfortune. If you had not done this, your mother’s charm would have continued to protect you from your own fate.” Iyalowo said.

“But this is not the cause?” Mamòrá asked.

“No. It is not.” She confirmed.

The images changed and this time it was a younger Wáwòyí. Here he was an apprentice, whose boss had left him in charge of his bag of money. When his boss had gone, Wáwòyí took the bag and ran.

“Wáwòyí, what were you doing here?” Iyalowo questioned.

“Borrowing money.” Wáwòyí replied. He received a hot slap from an invisible force. “Ye!

“Wáwòyí, what were you doing here?” Iyalowo questioned again. 

“Stealing money.” “Wáwòyí replied, honestly this time.

“Ehen.” Iyalowo said, satisfied. “Do you know what happened after you committed this shameful act? Your boss was taken by his debtors and killed. His blood is on your head.”

“Ah! Iyalowo I did not know he would die.” Wáwòyí said, truly remorseful. “But this cannot be the source of my misfortune, I was unfortunate long before then. In fact, it was the terrible state of my life that pushed me to steal.”

“You are right when you say this is not the cause of your misfortune. But it was not your condition in life that made you steal.” Iyalowo said and laughed. “Two thieves met each other and came together to seek deliverance. Aha! I know the source. Orí Buruku (Defective heads).”

Iyalowo began her incantations again and the images that entered their minds this time were unearthly. Their bodies could not comprehend what their minds were seeing, and so they could not interpret it in human words except to say that they were on a journey.

The images stilled and they saw what seemed to be a very large house. Inside, were rows and rows of nearly identical objects that they could not place any human description to.

“Iya, please where are we? I have never seen this kind of place in my life.” Mamòrá asked, now afraid.

“It is because you were not yet living when you came here.” Iyalowo replied. “This is the home of Àjàlá, molder of Orí [Spiritual heads]. It was here that you chose your Orí before coming to Earth. It was this choice that determined your fate.”

They watched as a spirit entered, transparent and quite formless. Iyalowo identified it as Mamòrá. The spirit picked up one of the strange objects and floated out.

“Hmm. Mamòrá I see your problem.” Iyalowo said. “You have chosen an Orí that is deformed. Àjàlá did not mold it properly and so whatever decisions it makes for your life will not be fully thought through. It found you a wife, but she already belonged to someone else, therefore you invited even more curses into your life. Do you see how that works?”

They watched again as a spirit Iyalowo identified as Wáwòyí hurried in. With haste, it picked up a very large strange object and hurried out.

“Ah! Wáwòyí you did not do well!” Iyalowo cried out. “Why were you in a hurry? Not only were you impatient, but you were also very greedy. All you considered was how big the Orí was. Did you know that Àjàlá had not yet baked it in his oven? You have picked an unbaked, clay Orí. On your way to the living world, the waters of forgetfulness that we must all pass through to be born must have damaged your Orí, and scattered it into pieces. All your efforts in life will be in vain, and all that you gain will be to restore your broken head. Ah! Oloriburuku [owner of a bad head]!

The images stopped and they opened their eyes to the inside of Iyalowo’s hut. Now that they knew the source of their problems, both men were eager to know what they could do to solve it. Iyalowo faced Mamòrá first.

“Mamòrá your problem is solvable.” Iyalowo said. “You must make a sacrifice of 5 white goats, 8 black hens, and 100 snails to your Orí . You must also return the wife you stole 15 years ago. Do that, and your misfortunes will go away.”

“It is a hefty price, but I will pay it. Thank you Iyalowo!” Mamòrá said prostrating.

Seeing his friend find a solution gave him hope. Wáwòyí did not know where he would get the money to solve his own problem, but he would find a way. 

“Iya, please, what must I do to chase away my misfortunes?” Wáwòyí asked, hopefully.

“You?” Iyalowo laughed. “In your next life, choose your Orí with more patience and care. As for what you can do in this life, there is nothing. Your destiny is to be the play thing of Life. Hope that she grows bored with you and releases you soon. But your misfortune will continue, until death can wrestle you from Life’s grasp.”

Upon hearing this, Wáwòyí fainted and had to be revived by Mamòrá. While his friend went to gather the things required for his sacrifice, Wáwòyí found a new bridge to live out the rest of his days under. 

Wáwòyí had been defeated. His life had been a history of misfortune, and he would die an unfortunate man. Whenever Life saw it fit to release him.