Search the Dark Waters of Nun

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Theatric Rise of the Orisha: A Q&A With Nosa Igbinedion

Once she brings the lightning and thunder, Mother Nature is expected to bring the rain. But what is expected of a young man who uses technology to do the same? After Nosa Igbinedion, 29, released the trailer for his new film Oya: Rise of the Orisha, a virtual tsunami of excitement and anticipation flooded the digital shores of social media. Thousands of faces lit up. Hearts rumbled with intrigue. A super heroine of the African continent was spinning her way to the big screen.

Although Oya may not be as recognized as the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses who have told their stories in movie theaters across the planet for several decades, the level of curiosity and interest that she has garnered is very well deserved. The original Buffalo Soldier (the buffalo is one of Oya’s animal totems), who is usually armed with two machetes, is a tireless West African warrior goddess who is invoked and externally revered throughout Nigeria, the Caribbean, and Brazil. She has also been embraced by diasporic communities throughout the United States and Europe that practice the sacred psychology that underlies the African life sciences.

Like her polygamous husband Shango, Oya has the power to generate lightning and thunder. Royally adorned with a rainbow crown of nine colors, Oya embodies the cycles of change and transformations that occur within nature, as well as within our very own personal lives. Her wrath and anger brings violent storms, raging hurricanes, terrifying floods, and sudden calamity.  She’s kind of like the god Saturn with feminine sex appeal and a severe case of PMS. You don’t want to fuck with Oya. As I’m writing this article I can hear her say “I wish a bitch would.”

The name “Oya” literally means “Destroyer” or “Tearer” because she humbles those who suffer from delusions of grandeur, much like the Tantric goddess Kali of India. Whenever we breathe OxY-GEN, we are inhaling the GENerative essence of OYa who presides over the winds in Earth’s atmosphere. The use of windmill technology to generate electricity is evidence of the psychic imprint that this powerful incorporeal intelligence has left on humanity.

The entire story about Oya breaking Ogun’s heart by leaving him for his younger brother Shango is an alchemical explanation of how Oxygen and rain (Oya) corrodes iron (Ogun) through the process of oxidation. The oxygen molecule robs iron of its electrons, only to increase its own electric charge (Shango) in the process. Within the Ifa tradition we can also observe the Ogun man or woman breaking themselves down like acid through self-analysis and introspection to foster a higher level of self-realization.

All ancient mythologies, are in truth, mathematical equations and chemical formulas imaginatively explained through the use of allegory. This is why these stories are timeless, and cherished by people across the globe. They are cultural, mirror reflections of both numerical and chemical truths. Before you can create your own mythology you must first decide what chemical formula or mathematical equation you would like to share with the world. Oya is the wrath of the math. You’re in MGM class.

Marvel Comic aficionados may equate Oya with the character, Storm, of the X-Men. Although it is a fitting comparison, it should be understood that most comic book super heroes and heroines are grafted from the most popular archetypes of world religion and mythology.  The Orisha pantheon of deities that Oya is part of is no different. It is as ancient and as colorful as any other on the planet, with rites that go as far back as the early Neolithic period.

The men and women of West Africa tended to Oya’s sacred shrines, thousands of years before Jesus Christ was a thought in a colonizer’s mind.  The book Oya: Santeria and the Orisha of the Winds authored by Baba Raul Canizares identifies the goddess as one of the Seven African Powers of Yoruba spirituality, which also includes Obatala, Shango, Ogun, Yemaya, Oshun and Elegba. The initiates of Ifa are those whose heads literally serve as thrones for these divine emanations of the universal Godhead, which is the Grand Monad. 

This particular aspect of Yoruba tradition predates the Throne Mysticism of classical Jewish literature by at least 9,000 years. Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla was a Castilian Jewish mystic who lived in 13th Century Moorish Spain. In his Kabbalistic book Gates of Light Gikatilla teaches us that “If a person succeeds in purifying one of his limbs or organs, that same limb or organ will become a throne for that celestial entity…”  

In Yoruba tradition a person finds their head which houses the very organ (the human brain) that serves as a vessel, or a throne, for a specific celestial intelligence known to the Yoruba as the Ori. The Orisha serves the Ori so that the initiate fulfills their destiny in everyday life. It seems plausible that Ifa forms part of the conceptual basis for what is widely considered the exclusive domain of the Jewish Mystical tradition.

This is not a far-fetched suggestion when one considers the fact that the Igbos—who occupy Nigeria alongside the Yoruba—have many elements in their own spiritual traditions assumed to be exclusive to the Judaic tradition, yet predate all elements of Judaism by thousands of years. Remy Ilona’s book The Igbos and Israel: An Inter-Cultural Study of the Largest Jewish Diaspora highlights less esoteric cultural parallels between the Hebrews of Canaan and the Igbos of Nigeria, and it is written by a Jewish scholar who is also a native of Igboland.

Many of the classic Kabbalistic texts now available did not exist prior to the advent of Moorish Spain, but the Moors of Medieval Europe, were in large part, the descendants of West Africans, not unlike today’s Senegalese, Nigerians, Malians, and Ghanaians. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but there are also 22 letters utilized in the Ghanaian Twi language.

Although Solomonic Magic is a divergence away from traditional Jewish mysticism it is worth noting that many of the seals of the Goetia resemble those used to identify the Orisha. In Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies, the perceptive student acquires profound insight concerning the role that Moors played in writing the earliest grimoires. These rhyming books of sorcery made their earliest appearance in Southern Europe on the cusp of the renaissance period.

According to The Encyclopedia of African Religion edited by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama, offerings to Oya may include eggplants, rum, beer, wine, plums, red or purple grapes, a hen or a female goat.  In his book Powers of the Orishas: Santeria & The worship of Saints, Migene Gonzalez Wippler relates that as fearsome as Oya is to even the bravest of men, she is terribly afraid of a severed ram’s head. Interestingly enough, the ram is one of the animal totems of her ex-husband, the god Ogun. The film synopsis for Oya: Rise of the Orisha states:

 For centuries the doorway between the world of the Orishas and our world has remained closed, until now. Our hero, Ade, is one of the few people with a connection to one of the gods, Oya. She has been tasked with the job of protecting the innocent and that means keeping the door to the gods shut.

If the doorway to the gods is opened, they will wreak havoc and chaos upon us as retribution for our abandonment of them. To keep the door shut, Oya must find ‘the key’ and keep the young girl who has the potential to open the doorway safe.

The adventure unfolds with a host of memorable characters and a string of unexpected twists as Ade goes in search of the key. She battles against those who wish to open a portal and unleash a horde of forgotten gods and goddesses into the world, with powers and skills beyond our human comprehension. These supernatural gifts have the potential to change the course of human history for mankind, forever.”

Many professional critics bitch and complain about the redundant roles that Black actors and actresses play as slaves, criminals, and clowns. Instead of joining the chorus of whiners, Igbinedion decided to roll up his sleeves and do some work. He picked up a camera and used the technology available to him, and made a short film that reflects the kind of story that he would like to share with the world.

Mind Glow Media recently spoke with the UK-based prodigy over Skype on a stormy Saturday afternoon. Among other things, we discussed the film, the media’s power of depiction, and the growing sense of cultural awareness and pride among young Africans.

After you released the trailer for your film there was a lot of excitement across social media. What made you want to do an action movie on the Orisha, and why did you center it around Oya in particular?

That’s an interesting question. To be honest, I guess it goes back into my history, and my past as a film maker. I’ve been making films for about seven or eight years now. My initial introduction to film was The Hydra. It was a short film that went on to win quite a lot of awards and was kind of like my introduction to the film industry, especially over here in the UK. It was for an audience at the British Film Institute, and it really was successful.

From there, I started to make a lot more films. But I started to realize that the films that I was making was more targeted towards the tastemakers in the film industry, as opposed to what I like, and what I’m interested in. I sat back and thought to myself, “What is it that I really like? What do I want to talk to people about with my films?”

Growing up, I’ve heard loads of stories about various parts of my culture. I’m from Nigeria, so I decided that I would make a film about Nigerian deities, specifically the Orisha, just because I felt that they are beings that connect with humanity on a deep level. They are all about connecting humans to a higher level of consciousness. I thought it would be a really apt subject for this film.

The reason why I chose Oya is because I was looking at the different Orisha, and there was something about her that just stood out to me personally.  I didn’t want to just make a film to please and placate the tastemakers and the institutions—especially those here in the UK. I just wanted to make a film that I liked. Oya’s energy is very much about coming to a place, destroying everything and then rebuilding it again. I think that’s why I chose her, and the Orisha as a whole, to work with.

What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced in putting this film together?

When you’re making films that are aimed at the tastemakers—and by tastemakers I’m talking about people and institutions who say “If you’re gonna make a film I want the film to be about what I say, and I will pay you if you make it about what I say it should be about.” I did a couple of films like that, and I realized that there weren’t many institutions from the get go who were ready to make a film about African gods.

We had to raise funds for this film ourselves, and the way that we did it was through crowd funding from various people who would like to see this type of film. I heard a lot of people talk about films that they don’t want to see. My mentality was that I was going to take it upon myself to put something different out there, and if you want to see it and you have 5 pounds [Editor’s Note: “pounds” is a reference to the UK currency] 10 pounds, 1 pound, whatever—put it together to show me that you really want to see this film.

So micro funding, or crowd funding, was the way that we raised funds, but it was quite difficult. That was the main challenge. Also, I have a great team working with me, but as far as production, making a super hero movie, at this level, with this amount of money, you’re always going to have to do more than one job. You have to put in extra hours. In addition to being the director, I also wrote the script and I handled the effects. But for me, if there is something I want to see, something I want to do, I have to go one hundred percent into it to make sure it happens.  

You said earlier you were Nigerian. What is your ethnic background? Are you Yoruba, Hausa? Where did you grow up?

I’m from Edo State, specifically Benin City. It’s a city in the South of Nigeria with a very rich history. Anyone reading this can Google “The Benin Empire.” It’s quite well known. As far as the relationship that we have to the Yoruba culture and the Orisha, it’s quite close. We’re cousins. We have the same origin, we both agree on that, but often disagree about who came from who. Still we share the same customs and the same deities.

I actually grew up in the UK. I’ve spent most of my life over here. I’ve always been influenced by African culture. My parents gave me my name so that I would never forget where I came from. I don’t have an English name as many Nigerians tend to.

What does your name mean?

Nosa means “What God knows will come to pass.” Igbinedion means “I’m protected by the elders,” and that’s my surname. My great, great, great grandfather was the last born to a lady who had eight stillborn children. He was born at a shrine which referred to the ancestors. They chose the same name for him to show that the ancestors were protecting him. That name traveled through many generations, through his lineage, as my surname.

Was Ifa, or any other traditional African religion, an integral part of your personal upbringing?

Yeah, I would say so, but not in an obvious way. It was sort of like I picked up stuff by osmosis. My cousin and my aunt may have left food in particular places without eating it. I saw that growing up, but never really questioned it. It was just a part of what we would do. As I started to learn more and research more, I realized that there was a reason for all of that.
It was a part of our tradition, our culture, which they genuinely followed. My parents never told me “You have to be this way,” or “you have to be that way.” They very much advocated free thinking and choosing your own path. I’ve seen loads of things as it relates to African tradition and religion. I know that a lot of people are afraid of African religion and tradition because they have been indoctrinated to think a certain way.

A friend of mine told me about how she went to a restaurant with a church group and the restaurant had masks of Nigerian deities. The church people said prayers referencing evil spirits and so forth because of the masks on the walls. I think that kind of thing is what makes me want to make movies like this. I want to tell a story that isn’t being told.

Oya is generally acknowledged to be the wife of Shango in Ifa tradition, but before that, she was Ogun’s wife. I’m aware that Ogun is very much associated with calculation in warfare, but also technology in many respects. Now you have a young man such as yourself who is very much immersed in the use of various technological applications. Were you aware, going into this, of how connected you and Oya are on a mythological level?

Yeah, I was kind of aware—perhaps not as much going into this as I was when I was already in it. From researching, I was quite aware of the relationship dynamic between Ogun and Shango and the different confrontations between them.

I know a couple of people who have Ogun shrines as well. I think Ogun is a character who is very interesting, especially in these days and times. I think the fact that you and I are literally talking with each other over the internet favors Ogun. I think that these types of things are really important as far as the types of stories we tell about African stories in general.

A lot of stories that have been told, and are being told, tend to link Africa with living in the past and being anti-technology, but one of Africa’s most recognized deities is Ogun, who is technology itself in many ways. Relating these stories to technological advancements—even if they are in social media—make these stories far more relevant to a modern audience. It’s something that I’m definitely thinking about.

In many African films—particularly those coming out of Nigeria—traditional African religions are often characterized in a very negative light. What do you think about this as a Nigerian film maker?

Before I say anything, I just want to say that Nollywood and the Nigerian film industry has amazing potential to shape the mentality of the world—just in the sense of giving a voice to people who haven’t been heard before. I would like to preface by saying that, but on the other side of things, it’s kind of crazy how we sometimes see what we actually originated as a people in a negative light.

There is an element in the Oya storyline that sort of talks about the shrines being destroyed. This came from me actually reading about sacred shrines in Nigeria actually being destroyed. The Nollywood demonization of traditional African religions is an extension of that self-destructive mentality.

We have such a rich culture that the world doesn’t really know about. It’s kind of like we’ve taken the images that Hollywood has presented to the world about us, and we reenact these destructive stories which only work against us. We live in the 21st century where just about everyone has a social media platform, but many of us are still reenacting the propaganda that others have spread, yet we have the platforms to say something different.

It’s sad, but I’m working with a group of young Nigerians in the film industry and our aim is to bring change and do away with some of these old stereotypes that are still prevalent in the Nigerian film industry.   

It may not be pervasive, but there is a perception among many culturally oriented Blacks in America that Blacks on the continent of Africa do not value the rich history and culture of the ancient Nile Valley, and other ancient African civilizations as much as they do. What are your thoughts?

There are two sides to every story. I definitely think that there are Africans who are more lost than anybody. There are deep internalized feelings of self-hate, but then again, there are so many Africans that I know personally who represent the exact opposite. They are proud of who they are and they are proud of their culture.  I can credit people like my cousins, my uncles, my father, as people who are rooted in tradition and are very proud of it.

As a youngster growing up in the UK, I had a friend who was American that told me a similar thing.  He told me that he thought that being African, being from the continent of Africa, wasn’t cool. I’ve known Africans who have told me that they try to disassociate from being African.

I know a young boy named Ade, but when people asked him what his name is he would say that his name was Nathan. He switched it up. One day I sat down with him and showed him and his friends, who were from different parts of the world, the trailer for this film.  He’s Yoruba, and once he heard the Yoruba being spoken in my film he sat up with excitement like “This is my language!”

He saw a woman walking with electricity around her. He was excited because he saw his culture being packaged to him in a different type of way than he was used to. A lot of people, including Africans, see Africa presented to the rest of the world as poverty stricken, war-ridden, and corrupt. Those are all things that people, regardless of where they are from, don’t want to be associated with. I think we are moving to a point where we can change those perceptions. 

I don’t know how familiar you are with Nigerian music, but a lot of the artists are using Nigerian terminologies and phrases, but they’re repackaging the culture to make it more stylish, give it more swag, so that it is appealing to the youth who are contemporized. Now a lot of young Nigerians are speaking with their accents proudly. So there is some validity to American perceptions, but a lot of that is changing.

 Oya is an Orisha of storms, with powers over the forces of nature. However she also represents change. What changes would you like for this film to inspire in film making overall?

Reality is very malleable, but perception creates reality. When people are exposed to different possibilities it opens their minds up to different potential realities. When I talk to different film makers I want them to see different ways of telling Black stories.

Why aren’t there sci-fi stories set in Lagos, Nigeria with hovercrafts and other visions of a technological Africa? I teach a class every Tuesday for young people who want to learn about film. The student’s ages are 15 to 25. Once I sat with this young guy to help him develop a script that he was working on. It was about a guy who wanted to save the world from a disease that was breaking out.

I asked the boy a couple of questions about his character:  where’s he from? Is he Black, white, what is he? The guy looks at me like I’m crazy and says that the hero can’t be Black. I asked him why not, and he told me that no one is going to believe that a Black man wants to save the world. No one is going to take that seriously. I was like, really?
After one of my films came out a year and a half ago I said to a film festival audience that I wanted to make a Nigerian super hero movie. For like 30 seconds there was complete laughter throughout the audience.

They had no idea.

Right. I was very clear on what I wanted to do, but they didn’t take me seriously at all. Now that I have something to show a lot of those same people are like “Okay, I get it. I can see how this can be an amazing movie.” There’s no reasons why we can’t see movies about the Dogon tribe, or a movie about Hannibal [Barca]. 

There’s so much about us as a people that hasn’t been told through film. I’m going to do my best to tell stories from my perspective, but I can’t tell everything. We have lower cost technology that allows us to produce higher production films. Now, we can all create crazy movies that depict the African experience in a way that it hasn’t been seen before. That is what I hope will come out of this.

How will the world be able to see your film?

We did a crowd funding campaign for the shoot that you saw the trailer for. The idea was to provide a visual for larger financiers. The script for the feature is already on its fifth draft. It’s quite near its completion. We’re going to have a few screenings for the short film in the UK, the United States, and hopefully Brazil and Cuba. There are already a couple of festivals that have requested screenings for people to see wherever they are.

The next step for us would be going into production for the feature film. We’re quite close to where we want to be on that. It’s a long process with obstacles, that I’ve had to navigate my way through, but we’re getting into a good place.  If it is picked up by a major distributor great, but not before the majority of the production is done.

How can we help you with your efforts?

We’re just working on getting the trailer and short film out as much as possible. What people can do now to help me and my team is go to our Facebook page Oya: Rise of the Orisha, and like us there. Look for the trailer on YouTube, like it, share it within your networks. They can also visit our website which is