The Year’s Oddú or Letra del Año is a Cuban tradition started on the later part of the 19th Century and its purpose is to establish a spiritual compass or direction for the inhabitants of a country for the year. This ceremony is done on the first day of the year and it is accompanied of ebbós (offerings) done as part of the ceremony of divination where all present babalawos are welcome to contribute their knowledge. In the Americas the most established and oldest group is Consejo Cubano de Sacerdotes Mayores de Ifá or the Comisión de la Letra del Año (Commission of the Oddú of the Year).
The Commission was established by the famous babalawo Remigio Herrera, Obara Meji, Adesina who was of African origin. Five of his godsons supported this effort and helped to carry on this tradition, they were:
Bernardo Rojas (Ireteuntendí)
Eulogio Rodríguez, Tata Gaitán (Ogundafún)
José Carmen Batista (Ogbeweñe)
Marcos García (Ifalola Babá Ejiogbe)
Salvador Montalvo (Okanran Meji)
Some of these godchildren of Adesina were also linked to Olugueré Kó Kó, Oyekún Meji who was their oyugbonakán and also participated in the process of selection of the Oddú of the Year. By 1902, Adesina’s health was suffering (he died in 1906) and Tata Gaitán took over the tradition. Perhaps one of the reasons this fell under Tata Gaitán’s responsibility was because he was extremely well connected in the Havana circles and had the resources to buy a mansion with a great deal of land near Guanabacoa’s town square.* He was a powerful godfather and as such had the support of many followers to continue on this yearly process and further unify oluwos (priest with kariosha and Ifá) and babalawos (priest solely initiated to Ifá).
Some of his supporters at the time he took over the Letra del Año are part of the moyugba of my own Ifá godfather Jorge Puig Kaiser (Iwori Chigdí), their names are: Secundino Crucet (Osaloforbeyó), Bernabé Menocal (Babá Ejiogbe), José Asunción Villalonga (Ogundamasá), Miguel Febles (Odiká), Cornelio Vidal (Ogbeché), José Antonio Ariosa (Ogbetuá), Aurelio Estrada-AKA as Babel (Babá Eyiogbe) and Quintín Lecón García (Oturaniko).
Upon the death of Adeshina, Bernardo Rojas inherits his position and under the guidance of Tata Gaitán takes over the Commission until 1959 when he is succeed by Dr. José Herrera from the Adeshina line and Joaquí Salazar who was the eldest then of that line.
As you can see, the structure and responsibility of determining the Oddú that will help a country and a religious body to face a new year, its challenges and good fortunes is of great importance.
Nowadays, there are groups in various countries that determine a Oddú of the Year for their respective countries such as Puerto Rico, Spain, the United States, Brazil, France, Panamá, Venezuela and Mexico.
If you have never heard about the Oddú of the Year, it is quite easy to find a variety of them documented on line for the last 8 to 10 years. It is actually really interesting to see the patterns of the Orishas that come out as Rulers, for each year a main orisha is the protector and there is also an accompanying orisha.
Ebbós are determined for orisha and Ifá followers, a flag is designed and the faithful will usually make one by hand and hang it near the entry of their homes and advice is dispensed and distributed far and wide to assist those who share our religion in their quest for a better life.
The following is a comparison amongst several countries. The ceremonies of selecting the Oddú of the Year are usually open to initiates, you can find out more information about the countries listed on the comparative illustrations by researching Consejo Cubano De Sacerdotes Mayores De Ifá (Cuba), Comisión Organizadora de la Letra del Año Tata Gaitán (United States), Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha (Puerto Rico), Asociación Civil Cultura Seguidores de IFA, ASOIFA (Venezuela), Ilé Ifá Ifá Lola Alfonso Díaz (Panamá), and the Sociedad Yoruba de México (Mexico)**.
The Oddú of the Year although designed to support the olosha and Ifá community in their quest for a better life, has wise advice that can be applied to anyone in the particular country where the reading has been performed and thus it receives attention even from mass media. I hope this article has awaken your curiosity if you had not heard about this subject before, and if you are member of the Lukumí community I hope it enriches your appreciation of our religious and cultural history.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
* Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion by David H. Brown. Chapter Two, page 82.
** Visit www.Proyecto-orunmila.org