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Eleda is a part of the Yoruba concept of the human being. Indeed, the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria contend that all humans who die live again after death. Of course, each human being has three aspects to existence: emi, the spirit; ojiji, the shadow; and eleda, the guardian soul.
The emi inhabits a person's lungs and heart and lives by the wind and air that come through the nostrils. One cannot live at all without emi; it is essential to everything. If one cannot breathe, then one cannot exist. So the Yoruba say that emi is important for working, walking, running, dancing, celebrating, hearing, making love, caring for children, and seeing.
Ojiji, the shadow, is always with the person. One does not escape the shadow, it goes everywhere the person goes, and it remains with the person throughout life on the Earth, as evidence that one is alive and not a ghost. So the ojiji is attached to an individual from the first time he or she appears in the world.
The last spirit of the person is the eleda, the guardian soul that protects and provides assistance to the person. When one thinks of the Yoruba conception of the human with the three aspects, one must see the eleda as that component that never dies.
According to the Yoruba, before a person dies, his emi appears to his or her relatives to announce that the person will die. It is believed that the person who senses the emi can tell when it comes because it feels cool, although the person dying may be in a distant place.
One of the more fascinating aspects of death and the three aspects of the person is the fact that people who die in middle age may have ghosts who live in distant places. Thus, a wife may not know that her husband is a mere ghost because he may have died in some other place and the person she actually sees is a ghost. However, when the time comes for the person to die again, he dies a second time and the eleda goes to heaven to the Supreme God, Olorun.
At this time, the person tells the Supreme Being what he did on the Earth. When the person's soul is judged and he is found good, then his soul is sent to Orun Rere, the Good Heaven. If a soul is guilty of theft, witchcraft, murder, or cruelty, then the person will be sent to Orun Buburu, the Bad Heaven. This Bad Heaven is somewhere in the forest, where there are all sorts of magical and mystical beings as well as evil spirits.
Therefore, the aim of the person is to prevent the eleda from going into the Bad Heaven, which may be in the damp, deep caves in the forested mountains of the region. However, the eleda, that is, the good soul of the person who is respected, admired, and generous, will live for many generations.
Because it is believed that the spirits of the ancestors can survive as long as they are remembered by the living, the eleda of the parents, grandparents, and great grandparents must always be protected by rituals. The only way that the living can receive the invisible power of the ancestors is to continue to perform special memorial ceremonies.
The eleda of the Yoruba is similar to the idlozi, spirit, of the Zulu philosophy that must be brought back, ukubuisa, to live among the people to help with daily problems and decisions. In this way, the Yoruba, as the Zulu, see the strength of community as ongoing so long as the rituals occur.



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Further Reading

  • Bascom, W. (1991). Ifa Divination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Curry, C. (1997). Making the Gods in New York: The Yoruba Religion in the African American Community. New York: Routledge.