Ipadeola Moses’ Ifa therapy gives quite a lot to theatrics. He wants you to find the answers in the philological symbols and the metaphoric images he presents.
“After the departure of Orunmila (500B.C), Ile Ife was in tumult. The people appealed to him to return, he refused but gave them an oracle to be consulted whenever they needed his assistance. That consulting oracle is Ifa System…” – Sophie Bosede Oluwole
“The Ifa system is still in use till today and has spread across the world. The Ifa literary corpus contains about 400,000 verses, which solves numerous life problems like health problems, witchcraft, and psychological problems.”
We fade in to see Owu, 1920, in ruins. We slide through the broken potsherd and the wrinkled mud houses cut at lintel. With eagle eyes we capture three tiny human figures make their way through a snaking path guarded by bushes – the Ifa scholars (as credited). There’s an emergency. A young man, Akanni (TemiFosudo), has a Dane gun to his jaw, in view of taking his life. He’s plagued with making the choice between life and death. Like the opening images of the film, this man is broken. He’s neither dead nor alive; the Yoruba call this walaye bi eniti o si, often caused by a health challenge, or poverty. In this case it is the former. Akanni, we soon hear has just returned from war, and maybe has developed in the English verbiage – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is agonizing to deal with on an individual and societal level.
Akanni’s attempt to take his life would stem from the fact that this mental illness taints his family’s public image, as this has never been the case in his lineage. Hence, he is compelled take his own life. For it is especially within the construct of the Yoruba traditional belief system that Ikuyajuesin: “death is better than shame”. So he’s caught in that struggle between life and death. The struggle is visualized with voices and images offering him three suggestive tools for his suicide (a noose, machete, poison). The director attempts to make the journey quick but Akanni doesn’t look ready. A woman; his wife (Bisi Ariyo) who could be mistaken for his mother, intervenes and here the dialectics begin.
In a recent interview with filmratsclub.com, the director notes “…I realized Orunmila had cured not just health problems, or financial problems but also psychological problems as well. In a period that came way before the advent of the Europeans “Therapy Sessions”. So the story of suicide and hereditary came to mind and I just wanted to show the world that before the advent of the popular therapy sessions, there was one that belonged to us here in Africa, in the Yoruba world.”
The Cure is The Ifa Therapy
The Three Ifa scholars arrive and begin their work, reciting some incantations, some Ifa verses and a eulogy. They call Akanni “IyeruOkin(can be translated as “one related to the peacock), descendant of Olofa Mojo, who Shares names with yam”; they discourage his suicidal motive and remind him that his lineage, the Ikoyi warriors, “don’t take arrows on the back. Whoever does so acts cowardly. Your forbears are known for taking arrows by the chest”. The three wise men emphasize ‘Patience’ through proverbs and story, they say Orunmila was the patient man who Olodumare (Supreme Being) bestowed with other gifts because he chose patience over all other things. “Patience is father to character” they said, he who has patience has it all. He enjoys long life, honour and every good thing life offers like honey. They tell him that the issue is not worth the mental stress, because Ori (the Yoruba concept of destiny) is the maker of one’s fortune. It is a therapy session with only the therapist speaking. They continue by saying “Patience will resolve the issue on ground” and constant prayer would help. They count seven cowries and hand them ceremoniously to Akanni. They exit chanting “Iwori Ibere, hang not, there’s plenty of goodness waiting ahead…There’s plenty of goodness coming behind” as husband and wife embrace in hope. They must be patient. The session comes an end.
But how well does this session help the patient? How sufficient is the counseling in Ipadeola’sIfa Therapy?
Therapy is the attempted remediation of a health problem, typically following a diagnosis. Treatment is determined by the agreed cause of mental illness by therapists. According to Orisa Lifestyle Online, mental health is determined in three ways: ‘Amutorunwa’, that which accompanies you from “heaven”, ‘Iran’ that which you inherit and ‘Afise’ that which is caused by affliction’. In Akanni’s case it is Afise, an affliction. The Ifa scholars don’t provide a diagnosis of which we were aware. They didn’t conclude that the effect of the war caused the mental illness or neither was it an ancestral ailment. The authority of the therapy on screen with Akanni seemed to climax quickly, we are left to assume that this therapy would continue in another time, possibly a gradual process that called for patience. But did it work?
Fast forward to future 2018, Lagos. We see polished buildings and skyscrapers – unlike the debris of our opening scene, in long forgotten Owu. This is metropolitan Lagos. The framed picture of a Man and a Woman lean side by side on the wall in a two-bit one room apartment. On the bed is a military uniform and two books. We can pick out the word “Psychology” from the one with a blue cover, the other is a book by Stephen R. Covey titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The man whose picture hangs on the wall sits at the reading table, getting drunk and toying with a gun. This scene is reminiscent of the previous scene with Akanni holding a gun to his jaw, immediately we sort the connection between these two characters. This man’s name is Akin, he’s in fact Akanni’s grandson. And like his grandfather, is besieged with making a choice between life and death. Only this time, there’s no wife or Ifa priests to the rescue; this man is on his own.
The concept of man’s destiny and existential determinism in the Yoruba tradition is complex. It varies through several concepts alluding that every man struggles to be good and not bad. Man has the freewill to save himself under the all seeing eye of Olodumare (Supreme Being) or succumb under the precedence of predestination. The Yorubas also allude that the concept of character, ‘iwarere’ (good character) can alter ones destiny for good. Ipadeola uses the internet as a source book for Akin’s search for answers. At the time when we see the books on his bed, Ipadeola hints us about this character. We see him in front of that laptop and figure there are questions begging to be answered. On the computer screen we capture the headlines “31 soldiers killed, 19 wounded as Boko Haram raids another Nigerian Army Base”, “Suicide hereditary tendency” “Suicide behavior may run in families by Elizabeth Landau (CNN)”. He’s been studying, attempting to understand his sickness and what the seven cowries he had found in his father’s luggage means.
Akin like his grandfather is a warrior. Akin’s choice to be a soldier was his choosing or was it? Ipadeola presents Akin (Sinmi Hassan)as a tad more troubled fellow. Hassan plays this with an edgy gusto as opposed to Temi Fosudo’s (Akanni) choice to be a quieter monster. Akin snaps. He’s up now with the gun pointing to the mirror before him. An image appears in the mirror, its Akanni. We want to see a verbal conversation between these two men but no, images are stronger than words, for the Yoruba people it is. The Yorubas would say “Oju lo rowa” (The words are in the eyes). The mirror is symbolic, as it translates to the concept of reincarnation. But I’ll rather not delve into that, I’ll rather point to the use of the mirror as an ancient apparatus used in this film to oppose the internet search for answers. It simply says ‘the answer you seek is within you.’ The mirror is the self. So, when Akanni appears to his grandson, Akin is triggered to cook himself in the past.
Lights flicker, and Akanni vanishes.
We dissolve into the room, later that night. Akin is not here. Akin’s wife enters; he had left her a note. This note explains her years of infidelity, his travails in the war-rotten North, his numerous fruitless ‘modern’ therapy sessions and why he must go to the “other side”. The director plays quite the trick on us and soon brings us to reality, a reality of hope for Akin as he goes in search of traditional help to his sickness. For in traditional medicine – the Ifa therapy, he would find his cure.
Ipadeola Moses’ Ifa therapy gives quite a lot to theatrics. He wants you to find the answers in the linguistic and metaphoric images he presents; 3 and 7 are recurring numbers in the film and as the film has done, I’ll let you find them within this article. When you realize that Akin had left his cheating wife with an unborn child, a child that might not be his, this doesn’t strike an implication as you’re lost in the façade of other plot points that run to a dramatic end. Another child would be born to find answers his mother might never provide. Has this been the case with Akanni too? Did his wife commit adultery while he was away at war? This could be the narrative as he’s presenting hereditary as a case for such misfortunes that affect the now.
Ipadeola Moses joins the pack of young Nigerian pseudo-ambassadors on cultural relations; filmmakers cooking new waves and finding fresh voices to gain auteurship while asserting their cultural authenticity against the seeming formidable obstacles of foreign narrative and techniques. The director anoints his film with a concept he calls Trado-fiction. In an interview with filmratsclub.com, he says “…it is an anti-pop movement I hope we push into a theory. Is it a directorial style? No, it’s more appreciated from the writing process. Nonetheless, Ipadeola would have to convince us of the edifying motif of this concept with more projects. For by Ipadeola’s construct of the concept, what he intends perhaps as Enekwe (1978) puts it is
“An intensification of the critical spirit, an urge to overhaul the foundations on which the old social outlook was erected, and consequently an energy directed at creating a new mythology that would offer the projected or emergent society as a firmer road to self-realization than can be found in the older generations”
So Ipadeola intends a fusion, a crossover of cultures, of intercultural dimensions – “A hybrid of popular literature characters with myths, folklores, and histories without the boundaries of total accuracy in terms of the history and so on. It’s Traditional Fiction” he says. Thus, Trado-fiction in itself is not new to the art form.
In literature, one theatrical example would be Bode Sowande’s Ajantala Pinocchio. The play resurrects and fuses our local traditional character with a foreign character. A drama that marries Yoruba culture with the Italian experience of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. Ajantala Pinocchio revolves around two badly behaved children from the folklore of two different cultures. It is a unity of cultures. While Ajantala is central to Yoruba ethos, Pinocchio is an Italian construct cast off wood. In crossing two or more traditional concepts;a cross-traditional-fiction/realism, this I’ll posit as the “Tradox System”, cultures are appreciated and criticized. In Sowande’s play, the cultures are binary or not –having two equally important parts–without placing one culture over the other. In Ifa Therapy, it is the intention of the filmmaker to place one traditional function over the other in a bid to promote his cultural leaning.
Thematically, what Ipadeola describes is a paradox, of stories having contradictory propositions or premises (local and foreign symbols pooled into one story, with focus on the traditional reasoning of both cultures) which I call the Traditional paradox (The “Tradox” system). In literature, the paradox is defined as an abnormal juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary composition and analysis that involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence. This is the scheme of the The Tradox system, like Ajantala-Pinnochio and many more in its tent.
In all, the 21 minutes film Ifa therapy (2019), invites you to seek answers from your past, from within, to see beyond the white man’s inventions and accept your heritage; for you are only a reproduction of your ancestors.
Watch film here https://youtu.be/rk8EfcYhGag
A Reading of Moses Ipadeola’s Ifa Therapy by ‘Chukwu Martin