Sermon for the Ceremonial Opening of the Law Courts of Trinidad and Tobago
Delivered by Iya Amoye (Valerie Stephenson Lee Chee)
Spiritual head of Eniyan Wa & Vice- Chairman of The Council of Orisa Elders of Trinidad and Tobago
September 16th 2004
Alafia (Peace and Good Health) to all my elders here present.
“Aiye l’oja Orun ile; nigba ti awon nti Orun bo w’aiye”
“The Earth is a marketplace - Heaven is our home; we are travelling from Heaven to Earth”
Yoruba tradition teaches that we exist in the realm of the spirit before coming to earth to have a human existence. Since we on this plane exist in the realm of the physical, we are therefore concerned with material issues. Nothing is wrong with this - we need food, air, clothing and shelter to survive. We need money. The difficulty arises when we become so attached to our possessions and pleasures that we forget that we are ‘spirit’ first and must one day return to our prior existence. Death therefore is not to be feared, but rather to be looked forward to as the Rite of Passage that will one day return us to our primal state of being.
As original citizens of Heaven therefore, we are required to live our lives in such a manner that when we make that transition, we leave a legacy of which our children can be proud. The fundamental requirement of the human being according to Ifa is the development of “Iwa pele” or “Good and Noble character”
One of the aspirations of an Orisa devotee is to live to a ripe old age and to die peacefully in one’s bed surrounded by loving and devoted family members.
Obatala, the Divinity of Justice in the Yoruba Pantheon, rules the Head or the ‘Ori’. We depend on the ori to help us to make wise decisions.
The symbol of Obatala is the Scale or the Instrument of Balance, which we notice is also the symbol of the Judiciary.
Obatala’s number is 8 – the symbol of infinity and perfect balance, and Obatala is also described as ‘the Chief of the White Cloth’, a colour that symbolizes purity of thought and action.
All matters relating to Law and the Courts come under his purview.
Obatala’s positive attributes are equality, fairness, wisdom, patience, serenity, tranquility, calmness, gentleness, temperance, and sobriety, indeed all the qualities that are supposed to come with old age.
In all indigenous traditions, white hair is respected and revered.
The Judges’ wig is symbolic of white hair - the wisdom of the aged – the ase of Obatala.
One Pataki of Obatala goes as follows: - Obatala decided to go o a journey to visit his son Sango in the city of Oyo. His diviners told him that he should not go until he had learned the lesson of humility. Ignoring the pleas of his wife, he decided that he would make the journey anyway, after all, wasn’t he the great Obatala?
On his way to Oyo, he met Esu, the Trickster, who asked him to help place a calabash of palm oil on his head. Obatala obliged, and Esu pretended to trip, thus spilling the palm oil on Obatala whose white clothes were soiled.
He went to the river to try to wash his clothes. Realizing that his vision was stained, he also took his eyes out and placed them on a rock while he washed himself.
Esu, who is here, there and everywhere, took his eyes and gave them to Osun in exchange for some of her honey.
As Obatala was searching for his vision, Osun came to him and was able to gain the secret of divination from him in exchange for his eyes.
Obatala encountered many more difficulties on his way to Oyo, including being accused of horse stealing and being thrown into prison.
When he finally realized his mistake, he returned to his home, much humbler and wiser than when he had left.
Part of the mystery of living in the world involves ethical choices, and another part involves doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.
While deliberating on what message to impart today, the following acrostic came to mind:
Everyone expects a judge to be a paragon of virtue, a super human being who can make no mistakes. Is this actually possible? If Obatala, the Chief of the White Cloth, made mistakes, who are we?
Let us as individuals, ask Obatala to bless us with the gifts of humility and obedience to the Divine will. Let us ask Obatala to help us to avoid staining our vision so that we will see clearly to make ethical decisions.
Another Orisa that deals with justice is Ogun, the Owner of iron and all metals, and the Spirit of Technology who clears obstacles in our path.
Ogun, being our Covenant Keeper, ensures that we respect even the simplest of promises that we make, in order to maintain harmony and balance within the Universe.
When we fail to keep our promises, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions or inactions.
One of the implements of Ogun is the Hammer or Mallet; another is the Cutlass.
This is the reason why Orisa devotees swear on a knife or a piece of iron – to remind us of the seriousness of keeping our promises.
The tool or the seal of the Judiciary, we notice, is the Gavel – Ogun’s hammer.
Another popular saying that comes to mind is that Justice is blind. Indeed, in some traditions, Justice is depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a pair of scales.
We need to be cognizant of the fact that in order to be impartial, one does not assess the object that is on the scale merely by looking at it; one ought to respond instead to the change in weight in order to determine if there is true balance.
We cannot speak about Justice without also referring to Osoosi – the Spirit of the Tracker – or the Patron of Blind Justice. Osoosi relates to the concept of paying for one’s deeds regardless of the cause or the reason. I am reminded of a popular saying: “ An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”
The Patakin goes as follows: Osoosi, a skilled hunter, one day caught two quail, which he took home and left outside his door in order to return to the forest to hunt more game. His mother came by to clean his house as she usually did. Seeing the two birds outside the door, she concluded that her son had left them there for her to cook. After cleaning the house, she took the birds home to cook a delicious meal for her son. Osoosi returned and missed the two birds. If he had gone inside the house he would have noticed that it was clean and would have realized that it was his mother who had taken the birds. Concluding that the birds had been stolen, he took an arrow out of his pouch and shot it into the air saying: “ May this arrow strike straight at the heart of whoever took my birds”. It was only when he heard a loud scream that he realized that he had in fact, killed his own mother and was very sorry afterwards.
“How many of us have at times found ourselves in a similar position?”
“How many of us have been honest enough to admit that we made a mistake or that we have judged someone wrongfully?”
Osoosi reminds us that we ought not to jump to conclusions, but that we should investigate every situation thoroughly before taking actions that we could afterwards regret.
One other tool of the judiciary is the ‘Power of the Word’. Once spoken, The Word becomes manifest and cannot be changed.
In the Orisa faith, the Power of the Word belongs to Esu, the Orisa of Choice ad Opportunity, and Obatala, the Spirit of Inner Consciousness.
According to Esu, each moment of existence includes a wide range of possible actions, reactions and interpretations.
It is Our Word that makes us or Breaks us.
It is Esu Oro who guides us to think carefully before we speak or act, because there are rewards and sanctions for every action that we take, every word that we utter.
“How many of us would refuse the opportunity to acquire immense or even a little wealth, if it meant that we would hurt others or deprive others of a daily bread?”
One of the Odus of Ifa states: “The same way it moves you it paralyzes you”
The same axe that brings us to power (Ose Sango, a double-bladed axe) is the same axe that will take us out.
We must therefore examine our laws, regulations and business practices to ensure that we are not discriminating against various ethnic or religious sectors and institutionalizing crime in our society.
Our Ministers of Religion must desist from slandering and maligning other religions thereby instilling religious prejudice and intolerance among the population.
As patrons, arbiters of justice, it is important that we seek to maintain the highest level of ethical behaviour – that which according to Ifa/Orisa is called Iwa Pele.
The task therefore begins with me.
As parent, husband, wife, judge, politician, juror or teacher, …
“Am I qualified to pass judgment on my children, husband, wife, peers, the community?” (the pointed hand)
“How do I rate my relationships with others, with myself?”
“Am I prejudiced by appearance, educational background, race, money, power?”
“How do I compare my actions with my intentions?”
“ Can I sleep well at night?”
Peace, Love and Blessings to Your Excellency President George Maxwell Richards and Dr. Jean Ramjohn Richards; Honourable Chief Justice Mr. Satnarine Sharma and Mrs. Sharma; Babalorisha Ijoye Clarence Forde, Official Head of the Orisa Faith in Trinidad and Tobago; Members of the Judiciary; Members of Parliament; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; The Very Reverend Dean-Designate Colin Sampson; Ministers of Religion; Elders; Distinguished Guests…
On behalf of the entire Orisa community of Trinidad and Tobago, my elders and my ancestors, I express sincere thanks to Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma and the Judiciary for this honour and privilege bestowed on the Orisa Community.
I leave with you an Orisa blessing.
Ire, Ire, ire!
Ire aiku, ire aya, ire omo, ire owo, ire isegun l’ori ota, ire alafia.
Blessings of long life, good health, obedient children, prosperity, victory over your enemies and peace of mind.
“I Am because We Are; and because We Are, therefore I Am!”
I thank you
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