Much has been written about the sacred status of Ile -ife; “the cradle” of the Yoruba race.There are myths and legends, there is history and folklore, there is a cultural earnestness which permeates every day living in this ancient city.
I was drawn to Akire Temple at Ilare compound. In the summer of 2017, the University of African Art brought its GownTown initiative to Ile-Ife. Led by Prof Moyo Okediji and Dr Oluseyi Ogunjobi, Akire Temple became a location for a workshop on art.
Images of men, women and children engaging with traditional skills; preparing indigo dye for adire textiles, using natural pigments to paint and collaborate on artwork was inspiring to see.
And so it was. I spent an afternoon at Akire Temple with Oba Akire and Olori Aderonke.
The conversations were lively. We spoke about the history of Orisha Akire and it’s relevance for the people of Ile-Ife and the descendants of Akire all over the world.
I was fascinated by the visual artistic display all around me. Beautifully bright traditional textiles: Adire Eleko, Adire Kiko, Adire Alabere, painting on fabrics and the cosmic wall murals and sand paintings.
A temple dedicated to the practice of Yoruba traditional religion used as an artistic, social and cultural space was a dynamic idea. It reinforced for me the view that Yoruba traditional religion and the expression of Yoruba culture are often inseparable. I scrutinized the murals on the shrine walls.
These are sacred paintings. They reflect the deep observational nature of the Yoruba people and the importance of symbolic motifs. Traditionally done by a guild of women shrine painters of Akire shrine, these small and large symbols, shapes, and geometric designs filled the outer walls of Akire shrine.
Ile Ife is a spiritual place. Everywhere you look, from the palace to the ancient groves, Yoruba culture is profuse. You see it in the festivals, the monuments dotted around the town and the symbolic objects which resonate with meaning and reverence.
However, through reclaiming sacred spaces like Akire temple for artistic and cultural activities, we create opportunities for even more awareness of the richness of Yoruba heritage and indigenous knowledge.
It is important to value what we have.
Opportunities which knit together indigenous artistic knowledge and traditional religion acts like culture conduits. They connect women, men and entire families to their Yoruba lineage, ancestry, heritage and identity.