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To Turn a Battle into Dance


Provocations is something we all experiences, it be by accident or it being deliberate. A thoughtless word spoken in the wrong moment or the rash action we give to the world on a bad day can invite conflict. Sometimes people provoke some sort of reaction because they feel bad about themselves or they suffer from envy. At other times it is to measure strength or they seek to win an argument so they can feel better about themselves or the philosophy they took as a compass in their life. There is no limit to what can provoke us and therefore, instead of entering the negative energy of a provocation it is better to take a step back and see what we can do with the provocation. For Oscar Wilde the answer to a provocation was to repay it with kindness, because nothing would provoke more than this.

Ifá places at the center of fortune iwa rere – a joyous, calm and happy character. If this is what we seek to maintain any provocation will be solely a dance and not a battle. In the odu Ogùndábàrà we find a story about Obara, a youthful fiery power often associated with a young and immature Sango (the spirit of thunder and fire) that challenged Ogun. Ogun is the patriarch of the hunters, a primordial power that gave birth to roads, blacksmiths and was instrumental in the creation of mankind. We might say that Ogun is the forge itself, whilst Obara represents fire alone – a younger product of the forge. In this story Obara apparently provokes Ogun to such extent that he is determined to kill Obara, but instead he makes ebo/sacrifice. In this case, his sacrifice was a change of attitude where he realized that he could entertain Obara’s challenge, but as a dance and not a battle. The verse says the following:   

Rìtìrìtì ni ojú ijó
Rìtìrìtì ni ojú ìja
A dífá fún Ògún
Nlo ba Òbàrà já ìjà kan
Wòn nì Ògún á dáa
Sùgbón ki Ògún wá sebo
Kí Òbàrà má baà kú síi lórùn
Ó gbó ó Ru
Wón ní adie kìí ba adìe já ki ó kú
Agbòn ìràwé kìí wúwo
Kí ó d’éru pa’ni

In Karengas translation:

Tumultuous is the place of dancing
Tumultuous is the place of battle
This was the teaching of Ifa for Ogun
When he was going to engage Obara in battle
They said that Ogun would do well
But that Ogun should practice sacrifice
So that Obara might not be killed in
The struggle
He heard and sacrificed
They said that a bird should not fight
Another bird to the death
And a basket of dry leaves is not heavy enough,
That its contents should kill someone

This is a good attitude to hold when confronted with provocations in general, because if we see the battle as a dance where we ‘hit’ our provocateur with ‘dry leaves’ we might teach a lesson – and gain a lesson, but we should also keep in mind that dance amongst the Yoruba people are seen as cosmic movements. Dance can enact the movements of stars, it can bring disorganized life back into harmony and it can be used as divination or as a vehicle for diagnosis of illness. Ultimately, dance holds the power of healing and a healing dance is performed by people who possess iwa rere – a joyous and calm character. It was with this attitude Ogun entertained Obara’s challenge, knowing that he was older, wiser and stronger – still, we are all together in the dance of life, in this market that is our journey. Ogun understood this and embraced the challenge with interest and joy and not as a battle. This is certainly an attitude more worthy when confronted with provocation – in fact this attitude have a Socratic spin to it and in this aims towards widening of horizons of understanding more that proving a point or defining who is right and who is wrong. The battle turns into a dance of word and opinions mutually stimulating and rewarding – and in this the cosmic dance of joy and harmony is replicated.  Ase O!

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