The itá is like a skeleton key to the proverbial Pandora’s Box and a treasure chest all rolled into one. It is up to the iyawó to uncover how to judiciously utilize this resource. Let it be no doubt that the words spoken at the itá will happen one way or another and that the ebbós, blessings and warnings will indeed manifest, but the level of their manifestation lays upon the choices of the new initiate who should cultivate the guidance of his elders to succeed.
On the fourth day of the Kariosha ceremonies the iyawó is awoken early, bathed, fed and made ready for the reading of a lifetime, the itá.
The itá is series of readings done by the master of ceremonies or oriaté, which literally means the head of the mat. The Oriaté sits at one end of the mat on the floor, and the iyawó at the opposite end, on a low stool. The readings are done using Merindilogún, the recently consecrated cowry shells sets of each of the orishas born. These readings will set the tone of the life of the iyawó by determining what challenges and obstacles lay ahead during his lifetime, defining the avatars of the orishas received, and, outlining what dangers to avoid and what blessings will unfold.
The first group ceremony of the day is the Ñangareo or Ñangalé which is an act of salutation to Olorun the owner of heavens represented by the Sun. This ceremony where only initiates participate, is meant to honor the supreme triumvirate of celestial inhabitants: Olodumare, the Supreme Being and Creator, Olofi, the Owner of the Palace (heavenly palace); and Olorun, the owner of heavens, all of them associated with the Sun. Thus, the ceremony is as a way to give accounts to this triumvirate when momentous milestones are reached, and such is the case of Kariosha.
After the Ñangalé is done, the group assembles indoors where the Oyugbonakán has organized a series of plates with the shells placed inside as well as the fees for each of the readings. A series of materials from the Kariosha have been laid out and stand by ready for the ebbó that closes this process.
There is one key person in the ceremonies who has to be well versed in Merindilogún because the role demands it. The afeicitá is the scribe who will follow carefully the hands of the Oriaté and record the patterns to unfold on the mat. The afeicitá, who cannot be the Oyugbona or the main godparent, will also have to take careful, copious and legible notes of everything the Oriaté is describing and prescribing for the next hours.
In the meantime the Oyugbonakán is assisting the Oriaté through the various steps of this lengthy ceremony. It can take easily between 5 to 7 hours for the readings to conclude.
The importance of the itá is paramount; therefore those attending the ceremonies should be people who have earned the trust of both godparents as well as the iyawó. What will be addressed on the itá is intimate and contains details that in the hands of people, who have not earned this trust, could simply be put to use in detriment of the iyawó. No one should be taking any sort of notes but the Afeicitá and what is discussed in the readings should stay in the room and not be shared with others.
I have seen a large number of itá days and I am always amazed by the beauty of the process, as well as by the way in which the orishas create a landscape of the iyawó as the person is at the moment of the reading, as he or she was before, and, as the iyawó will evolve in the upcoming months, weeks and years.
The itá is a grueling process in length and bluntness describing a life that now lays naked in front of everyone present. This is a moment of utter vulnerability for a new initiate. Therefore, the words of the Oriaté must be deliberate and carefully selected, and in the same fashion the advice of the abures, or brothers and sisters present, should be kept to the point and expressed with kindness and gentility.
Whereas difficult messages can be conveyed in a matter of fact way, to a person who just has come out of Kariosha, tough realities can feel magnified and out of proportion because they are at a very sensitive and higher state of awareness. I have seen iyawós egos crushed by harsh tongues while some others have been uplifted with unrealistic expectations. Some iyawós have even come out of this process with a distorted perspective of what life will be, believing that it will be a continuous rolling of a red carpet and that power and fame awaits as hundreds will follow them as oloshas with blind fascination.
I have seen iyawós warned of impending rifts with their godparents but instead of taking he advice to heart they go about foolishly doing things to precipitate the rift. Some other cases have been more drastic speaking of problems with the law if the iyawó does not correct perilous behavior patterns and foreboding tragedies but at the same time giving advice to avoid those.
But not always itás are gloom and doom. Most times they are filled with sensible and intelligent advice destined to help the iyawó navigate through life with the fewest possible issues, and even better, with the warnings and tools prescribed to sort out issues as soon as they appear or before.
My Oriaté, Jorge Iturralde (Salakó) was direct and at the same time very tactful when dealing with the few challenging issues in my itá. He was careful enough to describe good fortune lying on my path, while highlighting that both good and bad where part of a malleable future still to take shape depending on my own choices.
Likewise, I have seen iyawós in awe once their itá starts to unfold right before their eyes. What is so surprising? The orishas do not play. It is as thought the validation of the realities exposed on the itá are in a way a validation that indeed permits the olosha to corroborate the righteous choice of their religious path.
A word of advice to iyawós, learns the itá by heart, keep your numbers to yourself and respect what is written there. The bad stuff does not need to come to fruition; there are ebós to help you ameliorate difficulties during your life as an olosha. Likewise, those who ignore the advice of the itá will never see the full manifestation of the blessings foretold in it.
As usual, there is much more to be said about itás, but in the spirit of the process of itá, I leave the floor to the abures who want to add their two cents.
Oní Yemayá Achabá