Very often when the name priest or a priestess is mentioned, one immediately thinks of a man or woman in his late fifties and sixties but not with this priestess.
In Ibadan the land of the Yorubas located in South-West Nigeria is the millennial priestess breaking stereotypes, Omitonade Ifawemimo,who is looking to change the face of deity worship in Nigeria and among Yorubas,
Omitonade is a thirty-year-old priestess who became a priestess at the tender age of 20 and says she has always known it was her calling. She is the official mouth piece of the Yemoja deity, who is popularly called the ‘mother of fishes.’
Yemoja goes by this title because it is known to be the protector of women and children and is known to offer the motherly protection everyone needs.
According to Omitonade, being a priestess allows her to fortify herself. ‘When you fortify yourself, you are prepared for anything. You can withstand anything that comes your way and you are always prepared.’
Narrating events that led to her initiation as a priestess, the beautiful priestess said,
‘I started dreaming around the age of 5. I was always in the water. Playing in the water or coming out of the water. I told my father about my dreams, but at the time, I thought he did not take me seriously, he just introduced me to the Orisa traditions. However, when I turned 15, my dad performed the initiation rites and it was during these rites that the Onorisha revealed Yemoja as my deity.’
I stayed in my initiation and when I was 20 years, I was officially ordained as a priestess of the shrine and I have been doing this ever since.’
Omitonade is currently mother to two young children and she says her work as a priestess does not interfere with her life as a mother to her children.
Omitonade’s father is also a priest at the shrine and he has been at it for the last thirty years. His father (Omitonade’s grandfather) was also a priest and handed it down on his death.
Speaking about his experience as a priest, he says, ‘When my father handed it over to me, I was very young. Look at how big Ibadan is, and I was the youngest priest at the time. My friends always laughed at me and told me I was wasting my life by following these deities and expected me to practice Christianity or the Islam religion.’
Omitonade’s father is also very passionate about the government’s exclusion of the traditional religion from nearly all of its affairs. ‘They exclude us from everything. Do you know how many holidays the Christians and Muslims are given each year? But what happens to us, nothing. They keep thinking we are not important. When the Queen of England is coming to Nigeria however, they come looking for us and our drummers.’
He has gone on to set up a foundation for his community, in order to support the people and give them a better life.
As a millennial and graduate of Economics Education from Obafemi Awolowo University, Omitonade is versed with the many technologies of today.
She narrates her experiences with colleagues of other faiths who kept bothering her with the possibility of going to hell, because of her faith.
‘I always asked them just one question when they come to with their pastors and preaching to me about hell. I ask them if they have been to hell or know anyone who has been to hell and confirmed all the things about burning and suffering they keep talking about. In my opinion, these are just things the white man told them to whitewash them.’
An incident happened when Omitonade was in her third year at the University that immediately saw her rise to fame on campus. She granted an interview to a newspaper where she carefully explained her faith and practice. ‘This article immediately went viral. So many could not believe a priestess was in the university and was well versed in the Ifa faith. A lot of the people who kept judging my faith started coming to me for divinations.’
On her accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, she is very vocal about preserving the Òrìsà and Ifa spiritual practices and teaches her audience with Ifa verses.
Even in her shrine, Omitonade uses her phone to reach her clients. ‘When anyone cannot come to me over here at the shrine, I simply ask him or her to call me and then the divination goes on whilst they are on the phone. I am obligated to help them any way possible, so if technology helps me do that, why not.’
The job of a priestess does not pay anything, as she is only there to serve as the mouthpiece of the deities. Omitonade on the side, sells books, artefacts and has gone ahead to write a few of her own, drawing more attention on the Ifa religion.