“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” John 8:32
When I read the article by my Egbon, Remi Oyeyemi titled, Esu: The Revenge of Bishop Ajayi Crowther, my first instinct was to pick up the phone to call him and simply express my disagreement with him, but I thought of the larger issues of faith and religion involved in the topic so I decided to write a full rejoinder with the hope that we all may benefit from the wealth of knowledge shared.
First of all, I vehemently disagree that the revered Bishop Ajayi Crowther deliberately tagged Esu as the Biblical Satan as "act of vengeance against his own Yoruba people whom he felt had sold him into slavery" haba, that argument is as far-fetched as it is unfounded. My position in this regard has nothing to do with my faith or religious orientation, but any Yoruba language enthusiast will agree that the amount of sophistication, preciseness of language and ingenuity on display in the Yoruba Bible is amazing and must have been spiritually inspired with no room for petty vengeance mission. The danger of Mr. Oyeyemi's position is that it ridiculed, rubbished and belittled the greatest Yoruba work ever recorded in history. I think the article is counter-productive, he cut his nose to spite his face.
Secondly, for the most part of the Bible, Bishop Crowther called Esu by his Biblical name translated to Yoruba as Satani. The part that I really do not understand about Mr. Oyeyemi’s article is why he should disagree that Esu is Devil. The word Devil is more English than a religious appellation taken direct from the word “evil” A devil therefore is s doer of evil, how could he deny that Esu is a devil when he agreed himself in the same piece that Esu is a “…trickster, a disguise artist, a mischief-maker, a rebel…a shape shifter…” Grammatically speaking, Esu is no doubt the Devil, we should now go on to examine the truth of Esu as the Biblical Satan or otherwise, religiously speaking.
My challenge to Mr. Oyeyemi is whether it is enough to just tell us the importance of Esu without tracing his origin in Yoruba cosmology, how he came to be so important, powerful and his relationship with other deities not just in Yoruba traditional religions but other similar worships across the world. Now let me help out.
Every race on earth believes or has the concept of a Supreme Being that oversees the affairs of the universe, whether you call Him, God, Chineke, Eledumare, Ubangiji, Allah, Jehovah or Yahweh, where we differ is our understanding and supposed relationship with him. Those differences in our concept and understanding of Him are reflected in how we worship him.
Permit me to deviate a little bit so I can put my argument in a proper perspective. For the two most popular and populous religions in the world, Christianity and Islam, they shared a similar historical background as recorded in the two holy books the Bible and the Quran. Since the Bible is the book in issue here, I will restrict my references to the Bible. In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 12: 1-3, God gave Abraham three (3) promises, a promise of a new land, a great nation, a spiritual promise that "all families of the earth shall be blessed" through him. In Genesis 16, when Sarah failed to bear Abraham a child, he advised him to take their Egyptian maidservant Hagar who bore him a child named Ishmael.
The Quran record is similar, but has no record of Sarah, Abraham's original wife that later bore Isaac. Whereas the Christians belief that they derived their association with God as children of covenant through Isaac the lineage of whom Jesus came from, the Muslim belief that their association is derived through Ishmael, the lineage of whom Mohammed (pbuh) came from, guess what, they are both right. This is why Christians would say they are children of God and Muslims would say we are servants of God. The unceasing violence has been violence in Islamic world is also consistent with the Bible historical fact and prediction as recorded in Genesis 16: 11-12
Now let us examine the Biblical record of who Satan was, his departure from heaven vis a vis the nature and the belief of the Yoruba regarding Esu Laalu. Christians believe that there are other heavenly bodies that existed with God before creation, when God was about to create human beings on the sixth day of creation the Bible wrote in Genesis 1: 26 that God said "Let us create man in OUR image" the plural form signifies that there are other heavenly bodies at work with God and this included Satan who was actually reputed to be the second in command to God.
In the Book of Ezekiel 28: 12 beginning from verse 14-16 the Bible has this to say about Satan:
"Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou was upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
Thou was perfect in thy ways from the day that thou was created, till iniquity was found in thee.
By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou has sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire"
The word "covering" in Hebrew is "cakak" and means to entwine, to fence in, cover over, hedge in etc. The word "cherub" means angel. If the Yoruba people believes that God had a purpose for Esu alias Satan as "the divine ase which Olodumare created the universe; a neutral force who controls both the benevolent and the malevolent supernatural powers..." yes they may be right, it is consistent with the Bible but there was no contemporaneity between his benevolent and malevolent duties, he became a malevolent controller when he turned against God and the same world he was supposed to protect.
Esu just like the Biblical Satan is still an enforcer of the will of God even after he was cast out from heaven. He was the one that approach God to seek permission to torment Job to test his faith, (see Job 1 1:12) Esu the Satan was the one that wanted to claim the body Moses by telling God that Moses rightly belonged to him because he disobeyed God until Archangel Michael rebuked him, (see Jude 1:9) One the reasons Elijah has to be the one to come back and prepare the way for Christ as John the Baptist is because Esu the Satan was the one that challenged God he already said that all human beings will die and wanted to know why Elijah should ride the chariot of fire to heaven (See Luke 1:17, Malachi 4:5, Matthew 11:14) It was these two people Moses and Elijah that joined with Jesus, in transfiguration, whose missions are the most essential prelude to Christ that he challenged God on, it was not coincidental. Mr.Oyeyemi is partially right in his description of Esu, only that he and many other traditional worshippers have a very limited knowledge of him, his orientation and his shenanigans.
The Book of Isaiah, 14: 12-13 says:
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which dist weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of congregation, in the sides of the north"
Satan fell and was cast out of heaven because he was going to set his seat above God to become the Most High, is that mischievous enough for Mr. Oyeyemi to be Esu? A leading angel in heaven is not unlike leading political figures in today's world, whether they decamp or sent out of a political party they leave with their loyalists. When Esu was sent out of heaven, he left with his loyalists and immediate lieutenants. According to the Book of Revelation 12: 4
"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth..." This is a revelation that a third of the angels in heaven were cast out with Satan. This is why we have egberun gbeje irunmoles out there today.
We will now examine Yoruba religious encountering of the Devil/Esu. Whereas the Yoruba people belief in Olodumare as the creator of heaven and earth but they have no single religion like many other traditional religions across the world. There is almost a religion peculiar to every family in Yorubaland depending on the kind of deity that was the ancestral benefactor of the family and has been passed down from generation to generation. To some it is egungun, to some it is Ogun, to some it is Sango, to some it is the goddess of the seas Osun and so on. All represented by certain objects in which they believe the spirit of the god dwells. In most cases what people worship is sometimes dictated by the profession common to the family. But what is central to all these different deities worship by different families is the belief in Esu, I will now relate this to the Devil/Satan that was cast out of heaven and his angels.
The Devil and all the angels were not creations, they existed with God as immortal beings with God before creation. They cannot be killed, but can only be cast out by greater spiritual power and they would move right on looking for the next available abode. This is why Jesus himself could not kill the demons in the man that was afflicted with them but cast them into the sea and some into the herd of swine. Therefore when the Devil and his fellow decampees were cast out of heaven, they were floating between the heaven and the earth. So the Yoruba people were right about the Devil when they say: "Esu laalu, onile kagunkagun ONA ORUN" meaning a being with an ugly house between heaven and earth.
Some of these beings who left with Satan now float and roam about between heaven and heart, some in the water, some in the forest, some in deserts some live in trees looking for a creation of God to accommodate them. The early encounters with deities that we worship in traditional religions are with these beings. We need to be conscious of the fact that these beings were once powerful angels but lost legitimacy when they left heaven and become counterfeiters. Yes these deities are powerful, but they only have the power to produce in exchange for some original with a creation of God.
Our fore-fathers who were hunters and farmers encounter these beings at different times in different difficult situations. Some would appear to the hunters among them after they have labored all day long and could not get a game, in exchange for a promise to always come and offer them blood sacrifices or whatever, it would make them kill the best of games, some encounter them during wars, in exchange for victory he would demand a kind of regular sacrifice of whatever it loves to have or demand that his "beneficiary" take him home and make a shrine for him next to his abode. The hard ones among them regularly demand human sacrifice.
They could not offer what they cannot give so they make counterfeit by taking original from God's creation. They are like those roadside mechanics that roam Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, they lack legitimacy because they did not finish training to get "freedom" from their masters, so they are not allowed to set up a shop or business in the city, they are perpetual roamers until they can get a legitimate shop owner to take them in as “journeyman” they buy legitimacy by offering they are crooked training for some chicken change, this is the nature of the heavenly decampees with Satan as their captain. They will sometimes help you to move from one spot to another, get you a few miles but they would end up messing up your car than repairing it.
While the Yoruba traditional religion practitioners may truly believe that Esu is the one who "supports only those who perform prescribed sacrifices and act in conformity with the moral laws of the universe as laid down by Eledumare...without his intervention...no sacrifice, no matter how sumptuous, will be efficacious" as written by Mr. Remi Oyeyemi they are very correct about that importance of the Devil to every sacrifices because he is the leader of every deity found in traditional religion with whom they decamped from heaven not unlike the Nigerian political scene, a leader has to approve, without his blessing, no sacrifice, no matter sumptuous will work. Therefore the Babalawo will tell them "ki t'esu kuro..." meaning, baring Satan's intervention to the contrary. What Christianity did was to supply the missing link between traditional religions and who Esu is.
Senator Rowland Owie in a recent powerful interview published in the Vanguard of April 8, 2012 said inter alia "that time (talking about when he was still a traditional worshipper with many shrines, gods and goddesses) I could set a house on fire only with some incantations, but I tell you the truth, when you do that, certain negative things will happen to you and you will be battling with it for the next weeks" He now went on to say later in the interview "I realized that when the devil gives you power from the right, he takes from the left" This is a powerful revelation about a character of the Esu from a man who was a traditional worshipper of Esu from birth, belonged to almost every powerful secret society there is and could set a house on fire with mere spoken words. Even Obasanjo, the man in whose house a whole live cow was killed with incantations (see the book by his first wife, Oluremi Obasanjo) later went to theology school to preach Christ. A number of his worshippers and believers in him have come to a realization of who he actually his. Do not forget that our traditional religions hardly confront evil, they pacify it. People worship Esu to stay away from them, his devotees help those afflicted by him and his agents to pacify him. Yoruba do not really think highly of him.
Because our fore-fathers were able to approach these deities who solve their problems in exchange for some promises, dos and don'ts before encountering any other form of spiritual knowledge, of course their universe revolve around that worship. What we do with the knowledge of God in the 21st Century is now what matters most. We neither have the history nor the knowledge of Esu beyond his powers as gotten through his agents in our traditional worship but we now know better. To claim that Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther deliberately made Esu the Devil/Satan just to spite the Yoruba people is kind of disturbing. The argument failed ab inito because other tribes other than the Yoruba also have their traditional equivalent of Esu that has been equated with the Satan. Ask an Igbo man about Ekwensu or Alusi. Some of their traditional worshippers coincidentally have made the same argument you are making, but because they did not have a Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther to blame, they simply blame the missionary because they simply hate to agree that their most revered Esu, Ekwensu, Satan is some outcast, outlawed and mischievous spirit from heaven.
Ayo Turton is a USA based Lawyer.