In December 1973 a group of blacks from Harlem received national news coverage for their establishment of a "voodoo kingdom" in Beaufort County, South Carolina. The sacred village of Oyotunji is headed by King Oba Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, born Walter Eugene King in 1928. King abandoned the Baptist Church of his family during his teens and began a search for the ancient gods of Africa. He traveled to Haiti in 1954 and discovered voodoo. Early in 1955, he travelled to Europe and North Africa and upon his return to the United States, he founded the Order of Damballah Hwedo Ancestor Priests. Then in 1959, he traveled to Cuba and was initiated in the Orisha-Vodu African priesthood by Afro-Cubans at Matanzas, Cuba. The Order of Damballah was superceded by the Shango Temple and in 1960 he incorporated the African Theological Archministry. The Shango Temple was renamed the Yoruba Temple.
In 1970 King Efuntola, as King became known, moved with most of the temple members to rural South Carolina where the Yoruba Village of Oyotunji was established. He began a complete reform of the Orisha-Vodu priesthood along Nigerian lines. In 1972 he traveled to Nigeria and was initiated into the Ifa priesthood. Upon his return he was proclaimed oba-king (Alashe) of Oyotunji. He opened the first Parliament of Oyotunji chiefs and landowners and founded the priests' council (Igbimolosha) in 1973. These two groups make the rules for the community. They attempt to adhere closely to African patterns.
Oyotunji has been modeled on a Nigerian village. A palace for the King and his wives (four in 1995) and children has been constructed. There are also several temples dedicated to the various deities. Only Yoruban is spoken before noon each day. He was invited to a convention of Orisha-Vodum priests at Ile-Ife, Nigeria, in 1981, and on June 5 was coronated by the King of Ife.
Yoruba Religion is considered to be the "rain forest version of the Ancient Egyptian Mystery System." It is the source for Afro-Cuban Santeria, but makes no attempt to equate its gods with Christian saints. The system is headed by Olorun, a universal energy without anthropomorphic characteristics. Olodumare, equated with Ifa, the god of destiny and divination, sets a destiny for everything in nature. It is Orishanla (Obatala)—the creator god who created the solid land mass and also the first earthlings. The pantheon also includes Eshu-Elegba, God of Luck, and the personification of the unpredictable element in life; Ogun, God of Iron—the violent element in life; Oshoun/osun/, Goddess of Sex and Beauty—the sensuous element in life; Shango, God of Lightening and Thunder—the political element in life. Practices of the Yoruba system include animal sacrifice, polygamy, ecstatic dancing, and the appeasement of the gods by various offerings. Worship centers upon the veneration of the deities. Worship is also directed toward ancestors, the closest level of spiritual forces to indviduals.
Membership: In 2002 there were 51 residents of Oyotunji, 55 affiliated centers in the United States, and it reported more than 10,000 members. Educational Facilities: African Theological Archministry, Sheldon, South Carolina. Yoruba Theological Archministry, Brooklyn, New York. Remarks: King Efuntola had become a leader in the African Nationalist movement in the 1960s. Since moving to South Carolina, his village has become a pilgrimage site for many blacks, irrespective of their acceptance of his religious stance. Sources:
Adefunmi, Baba Oseijeman. Ancestors of the Afro-Americans . Long Island City, NY: Aims of Modzawe, 1973. Adefunmi I, Oba Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu. Olorisha, A Guidebook into Yoruba Religion. Sheldon, SC: The Author, 1982 Canet, Carlos. Oyotunji. Miami, FL: Editorial AIP, n.d. Hunt, Carl M. Oyotunji Village. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979. Mason, John. Ebo Eje (Blood Sacrifice). New York: Yoruba Theological Archministry, 1981. ——. Sin Egun (Ancestor Worship). New York: Yoruba Theological Arch-ministry, 1981. ——. Usanyin. New York: Yoruba Theological Archministry, 1983. ——. Unje Fun Orisa (Food for the Gods). New York: Yoruba Theological Archministry, 1981. Odunfonda I Adaramila. Obatala, The Yoruba God of Creation. Sheldon, SC: Great Benin Books, n.d.