What Happens When Religion and Culture Clash?

Èshù: a name generally rebuked by all of Christian faith. Rightfully so, I must add. Why is that? Because Èshù is the Devil or Satan according to the Yorùbá translation of the Bible. S. A. Crowther, who was responsible for the translation around the mid nineteenth century, chose Èshù to be the Yorùbá equivalent of…


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Èshù: a name generally rebuked by all of Christian faith. Rightfully so, I must add. Why is that? Because Èshù is the Devil or Satan according to the Yorùbá translation of the Bible.

S. A. Crowther, who was responsible for the translation around the mid nineteenth century, chose Èshù to be the Yorùbá equivalent of the Devil. His precise reason for the choice is unclear. Perhaps, because the deity is associated with trickery and is believed to preside over malevolence according to Yorùbá mythology. Crowther’s decision has led to Èshù being vilified and held responsible by Yorùbá Christians for every unfortunate and unfavourable happening on the face of the earth. Tough luck for Èshù, as there are other deities (some believed to be even more menacing).

In today’s Nigerian Christiandom, there’s an elephant in the proverbial room. The Ifá system of divination has its origins rooted in Nigeria. Until this very day, it is also practised in other parts of West Africa, South America, and even Asia. Amongst us in Nigeria are Yorùbá Christians who go about their daily lives answering to names that give reverence to Ifá. Even more bemusing is the reality that most of these people waltz into churches on Sundays completely ignoring the fact that their names are incompatible with the Christian faith. An example is Fáyémi (the I is silent), which means ‘Ífá suits me.’ It’s almost impossible to find any Christian called Èshuyémí (which means Èshù fits me). Even a devout Èshù worshipper will have a hard time carrying that name around.

So, if so many Christians are comfortable with names that advocate Ífá (which happens to be an entire traditional religion on its own), why aren’t most churches doing anything about it? Why isn’t anyone spreading awareness about how outrageous this is? And most surprisingly, why do some clerics still bear these names? Currently, there are pastors in Nigeria who stand and preach in front of hundreds of people with names that revere or propagate deities (Ífá being the most common). Ògún, the deity of metal, is another example of orishàs whose legacies are reflected in the ancestral names of Yorùbás.

When Samuel Àjàyí Crowther was 12, he was sold to Portuguese slave traders. As fate would have it, he found himself in Sierra Leone. His passion for languages led him to translating the Bible into Yorùbá. Perhaps, all the time he spent away from Nigeria contributed to his decision to pick Èshù out to be the devil amongst options. There is a suggestion that he had limited cognisance of the religious history of Nigeria at the time, but this is unlikely because he must have done thorough research before the decision was made.

In the Bible, the devil is associated with confusion and destruction; while Èshù the deity is associated trickery, mayhem, and mischief. Perhaps, Crowther felt this correlation was satisfactory enough to make the decision, thereby interweaving two distant narratives tethered to malevolence. With the popularity of Christianity in weatern Nigeria today, it is highly recommended to not say anything about Èshù apart from anything that will demonize.

Amazingly, metaphysical concepts like Órí (which is associated with Orúnmila), are widely embraced by Christians and non-Christians alike. Órí, which means ‘destiny’ figuratively and ‘head’ literally (the figurative sense applies here) is believed to be a deity as well. As good-intentioned as Órí is believed to be, it is a just another deity/belief that is associated with Ifa. It shouldn’t be encouraged, should it?

As things unravel, it is becoming apparent that separating the Yorùbá language from its past of deities and divination is a futile task. Looking at the landscape of modern day Christianity in Yorùbá, it appears to be a cluster of Biblical principles and age-old traditions. Everyday, people compromise on tenets in order to fit in ways of the past into their lives around these parts; most not being aware of it. It’s considered normal by many, but should it be so?

How do you go about reconciling your faith with your culture or heritage? This post looks specifically at Yoruba language and Christianity but I would love to hear from you regardless or religion or ethnicity. Do you ever find that your faith contradicts your tradition? If so, how do you cope with this conflict? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section.



  1. Toby
    I literally just started an argument in my office with your post, fingers crossed i dont get queried for disrupting the workplace.
    Anyhoo’s fun piece, how do we know when to stop especially with coinciding two vastly different religions or forgoing our actual religion for another or……..I feel at this point that i am rambling so, i would come back when my people stop yelling about Eshu Elegbara and whotnot’s.

    Still thanks for the workplace disruption, it was well timed.

  2. Shay
    I think that the fact that I bear a certain name shouldn’t define me, especially surnames because they are inherited. It’s not like I’m worshipping ifa, it’s just a name.
    1. Jay-Jay Raymond Post author
      I respect your opinion, but do you think the name is compatible with your religion (assuming you’re a Christian)? One thing is not knowing the meaning of the name. Another thing entirely is knowing the meaning, and still carrying it around.
  3. Hephie Brown
    How do you go about reconciling your faith with your culture or heritage?
    Jabez. You know the origin of the name and the story behind it. (Google it if you don’t have a Bible.) Jabez’s name was not changed despite the fact that his destiny was as awesome as it could get. Name has no significance to faith, blessings, worship, etc. I think that says it all. i could look for further examples but well..not in a bible mood today.

    And the “Ori” part is somehow. Ori is not a god. Ori is more like a prayer. Ori a ba e se, Ori a ko e yo, Ori a gbe e, ori a yo e, Ori e o ni baje. Heck no, it is soo not a God. Ori is the same as “Chi” in Igbo. The same connotation i think.Going by your write up, all igbo names should be eradicated because they are majorly christians afterall.. They all have CHI- in them! (Not being tribalistic, just making an unrealistic generalization of course not all igbo names have Chi)

    Most myths in different cultures have some similarities to Bible stories. Hades- Devil. God – Zeus. Angel Micheal and Gabriel – I can’t remember. But you get my point. Yoruba does not have that. Why did he decide to pick Esu of all gods to be Satan? :
    It is believed by the Yoruba that Esu has two hundred names. Some of them are:
    Lagemo Orun (the sacred child of heaven)
    Alaakalu (one whose greatness is manifested all over the place)
    Esu Odara (one who can do and undo)
    Ogiri oko (he who is as hard as a rock)

    All these are names drawn from Esu praise songs i.e. the way and manner with which he does things positively and negatively. Others are:
    Elegbara (the mighty and powerful one)
    Papawara (the quickest and fastest one)
    Akeregbaye (small but in control of the whole world)
    Onibode (the gate man)

    Esu is primarily a special relations officer between Orun (heaven) and Aye (Earth). He is the “inspector – general” or the confidential secretary of Olodumare, which makes the final recommendation to Olodumare for the latter approval. He also reports on regular basis to Olodumare on the deeds of men and divinities, incorrectness of worship in general and sacrifices in particular.

    Well Satan and Esu would have been pallies if they ever met cos they sure as hell have the same attributes compared to all other yoruba gods.

    But yeah, maybe Esu is not Satan, but I would not blame S.A Crowther for that.

    Sorry I wrote a post on your post.

    1. Jay-Jay Raymond Post author
      First off, Jabez means “he brings sorrow.” Does that name directly praise or revere any deity, god, or religion? Emphatic no. I believe you’re guilty of false equivalence; some things aren’t meant to be compared.

      Secondly, I believe what you meant by “similarities” of different cultures is syncretism. Religious syncretism is, I believe, not to be taken seriously, as similarities are drawn between distant beliefs for the sake of finding some underlying unity of sorts.

      Third, Ori is not a prayer. It’s not. I also mentioned that Ori wasn’t just believed to be a deity, it’s a metaphysical concept as well, which is believed to influence the fortunes of humans.

      Any question/refutation?

    2. Jemjem
      I loved your post of a comment. Except I was initially startled by your idea that names are unrelated to destiny, sighting Jabez as an example. isnt this why “The prayer of Jabez” is a thing?
      1. Hephie Brown
        (reminds me of my friend, Jennifer who i call JenJen). some have come to understand the Jabez’s story as “oh someone has a bad name and he needs to reverse it by praying the prayer”. I am no “Bible Divider” or pastor but the power of the prayer Jabez praed can be likened to the one by Solomon when he asked for wisdom. they both had great faith in prayer, in God. That’s the lesson I see in that story. That’s just me. But when Jabez was introduced in the Bible, he was declared to be more Honorable than his brethren. I’m sorry I had to quote wiki here
        “In 1 Chronicles, Jabez is a well-respected man (ancestor in the lineage of the kings’ tribe of Judah) whose prayer to God for blessing was answered (see 1 Chronicles 4:9-4:11). Moreover, the author paused in this long list to give Jabez a place of honour in the long list of Kings and lineage.
        The name Jabez is Hebrew (yabetz = יַעְבֵּץ) for “distress or pain” his mother stated “I gave birth to him in pain”.[3] Jabez was labelled with “sorrow” at birth, but his prayer against contracting sorrow nullified the label. His life contradicted his name” Another christian site says “Jabez was honored because of his relationship with God. In fact, 1 Chronicles 4:9 says, Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…” The record of the genealogy of Judah was interrupted to bring us these details about Jabez. His relationship with God must have been exceptionally noteworthy to cause the author of Chronicles to stop and elaborate on this one man’s life.

        I’m just saying and supporting @shay ‘s claim that your name does not determine who you get to be. Jabez, sorrow, Ogun, god of iron. I know. and as a person with strong faith such things should not bother you. Especially if it is your father’s name. It’s not even your own name.

        About the Ori/Chi part, my point is because I have Ori in my name does not mean it is in reference to the god you speak of. Yes Ori is a god, but not my context or the way i see it. e.g Oriyomi. It’s a prayer to God, that’s how I (Me, Hephie) that’s how I see it. This may be totally unrelated, but “oriki” means eulogy. means, ki-ori, “Swell my head”. Unless you now tell me, oriki is an eulogy to that person’s destiny. People who appease Ori/Chi as a god believe whatever one becomes or whatever happens in one’s life is as destined by Ori/Chi. Because back then people worshiped their destiny. But not anymore. Not when your destiny is in your hands.

        Wait, Im not contending your post, refuting it, you said “Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section. these are my thoughts. I’m not arguing. I love Yoruba as a language and as a culture. Usually I don’t dabble into religious posts, but you had yoruba all up inside, i just had to stop by.

        If my name was “Ogunsola” if i feel like, I would change it. But if it had to do with the negative connotation(of me glorifying another god) then nah, God is not man, he doesnt see your name. Fortunately. Just because my name is “Hephzibah” does not mean if I sin God won’t gimme backhand.
        Yikes, another post -_-

  4. Hephie Brown
    Oh and I just saw this on a site. “According to one story, Eshu became the messenger after playing a trick on the High God. He stole yams from the god’s garden, used the god’s slippers to make footprints there, and then suggested that the god had stolen the yams himself. Annoyed, the High God ordered Eshu to visit the sky every night and tell him what happened on earth during the day”. Esu statues also usually have two horns on the head.
  5. Jemjem
    I was very enlightened by this post, cos in recent times, I have noticed some Yoruba friends change their names from Ogun- to Olu- and often wondered if it was that serious *rme.
    then I contradict myself because I am a strong believer in the power in a name…
    Once again I find that I prefer first names to surnames…so if you have a weird surname I hardly flinch, but if your first name raises brows, Imma be stuck looking like something out of an episode of botched :’)

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