As humans we have difficulty with concepts of supreme beings and spiritual entities. Our spirituality depends on our ability to take the supernatural and define it in parameters that are much closer to our own level of existence. A long time ago I learned as a Christian that god created man in his own image. But what is probably more accurate is to say that Christians defined god in man’s image. To think that god walks around in a human form is evidence of humanity’s god sized ego. We are very full of ourselves and our arrogance knows no bounds.
In the African spiritual tradition known as Ifa, we are constantly putting human weaknesses and failings on the Orisas and the Supreme Being we call Olodumare. I was taught to think of the Orisa community in rather simplistic terms based on Odu verses and patakis, African fables that have been passed verbally from one generation to another. There is the pataki of Ogun, the Orisa of technology, assaulting Yemonja, the Orisa of the ocean and mother of all Orisas and life of the planet itself. There is the story of how Osun, the Orisa of the river, seducing Ogun to return to the Orisa community after he exiled himself after his assault on Yemonja. There is the story of how Esu, the Orisa hell bent on teaching humanity lessons by trickery, tricked Obatala and wound up in Orisa jail. There is a story for almost everything.
But Orisas are not humans. They don’t lose their temper because somebody walked into a room without bowing to their Orisa pot. The worth of the Orisas isn’t dependant on the subjugation of people. That would be akin to people getting angry because ants refuse to bow when they come into our presence. The traditional way of thinking about Orisas has a way of making us appear more equal than we are. But in all honesty an Orisa wouldn’t care if we bowed, danced a jig, or did somersaults when we walked into their presence. Their presence is all around us and not in any ceramic pot, terra cotta pot, or any other pot you want to apply. We have trouble understanding people who exists outside our culture. How in the world are we going to understand Orisa? It is beyond our comprehension.
Even if we could understand the nature of Orisa, understanding the spiritual entity known in Ifa circles as Nana Buruku would still escape us. We associate Iya Nana Buruku with the Orisa community, but she is unlike any other Orisa. Orisas are infinitely old, but Nana Buruku is older still. Not a very easy concept for a human to wrap his or her conscious around. We have the misfortune of comprehending time literally as linearly. That’s okay because at this level of existence that is the only way we can interpret or experience time. But Orisas have a relationship with time that is beyond a start and finish. It has depths and dimensions and directions that we cannot fathom. Don’t try to understand it. It’s like trying to imagine a new color in the spectrum of visible light. It can’t be done.
To hear Iya Nana Buruku tell the story she is the beginning and the end of time at the Orisa level. She was there to watch the creation of Olodumare, the Supreme Being. She was actually in a state of waiting when Olodumare started the universe. She was waiting again when Olodumare sent Obatala to create order and humans on Earth. She is connected to the Earth itself. Ask her what does that mean and the Iya frowns from the effort of trying to put such a concept into words. It cannot be put into words the things that she represents. Nana Buruku has the ability to see deep within people to discern who they are, what they want, and what ails them. She was, is, and will be a consort of Babalu Aye, the Orisa of health. Iya is able to overlook Baba’s various wounds, bandages, and crutches and focus on the inner being. Her ability to see what ails people also makes her an asset in Baba’s work to help heal people and to keep disease from becoming rampant and getting out of hand.
Iya Nana Buruku is represented by the colors black and a pinkish purple or a mauve color. She has made the choice to be a part of the Orisa community and to exist at their level. But she is truly something else to behold. As humans with severely limited understanding of all things that exist on the Orisa level we cannot truly look at her and comprehend her truth and continue to exist as humans. To interact with Iya Nana Buruku is almost like interacting with a distant memory. There is something familiar and yet, at the same time it is far way and unusual. To experience her is not something to be taken lightly. This may sound a little vague and unclear. But despite what we have learned we are not supposed to understand things beyond our comprehension.