The Oshun Diaries
High priestesses are few and far between, white ones in Africa even more so. When Diane Esguerra hears of a mysterious Austrian woman worshipping the Ifa river goddess Oshun in Nigeria, her curiosity is aroused.
It is the start of an extraordinary friendship that sustains Diane through the death of her son and leads to a quest to take part in Oshun rituals. Prevented by Boko Haram from returning to Nigeria, she finds herself at Ifa shrines in Florida amid vultures, snakes, goats’ heads, machetes, a hurricane and a cigar-smoking god. Her quest steps up a gear when Beyoncé channels Oshun at the Grammys and the goddess goes global.
Mystifying, harrowing and funny, The Oshun Diaries explores the lure of Africa, the life of a remarkable woman and the appeal of the goddess as a symbol of female empowerment.
Trailer – https://vimeo.com/340907769
Readers can order the book from the Lightning Books website at 30% off (with free UK p&p) if you enter this code at checkout – BLOGTOUROSHUN
Thanks to Rachel for arranging the blog tour.
I read this book in a few hours on a summer Sunday. It was fascinating to learn about Yoruba religion and Nigeria. I got distracted about halfway looking up more information online. I found the first part, about Diane’s time in Nigeria, and her visits to Oshogbo to meet Adunni Olorisha (Suzannah Wenger, born 1915, Austria), the high priestess of the Sacred Groves and an artist, which took place sporadically between 1986 and the mid-2000s, fascinating for several reasons:
- Beliefs and history of the Yoruba people
- Changing conditions in Nigeria
- Life in Nigeria for ordinary Nigerians
- The contrast between the lives of Nigerians and the almost still colonial lives of European and US immigrants
- The life and work of Suzannah Wenger
- The author’s interesting neuroses
- Unusual religious experiences
That’s a lot to pack into 92 pages. You can see why I found it so fascinating. I had read part one before I knew it. The writing is confident and descriptive, as befits a career writer and Diane touches on important ideas, like why are Ifa beliefs considered primitive when they are so similar to those of a world religion like Buddhism? Can only Yoruba and people of Yoruba descent practice Ifa and worship the orishas? How far are people prepared to go to protect what they love and believe in?
The second part, about her trip to Florida in 2015(?) to meet two ‘diaspora’ Ifa practitioners, Vassa and Phil. Both wealthy, white U.S. citizens, they’d never been to Nigeria but knew of and respected Adunni, and had been Santerians until the patriarchal nature of Santeria and other diaspora descendants of Ifa started to grate. Compared to the equality found in African Ifa, diaspora Ifa has absorbed much of the patriarchal prejudices of European cultures and religions. Vassa and Phil wanted to get back to the roots of Ifa. I found their references to ‘higher vibrations’ etc. a little jarring though as that language and concepts come directly from modern ‘New Age’-spirituality. It was very different from the way Adunni talked about Ifa and the orishas.
I think the transcript between Esguerra and African-American iyanifa, Ayele Kumari was particularly insightful and educational, adding a depth to the text that it needed, to go beyond a straight memoir.
The author is very descriptive and I found myself immersed in her experiences as she travels around Florida, takes part in rituals and survives a hurricane.
I found this book interesting and disquieting (I’m not comfortable with it being so focused on European people in Africa/America practicing an African religion that has already had to survive hundreds of years of colonialism and erasure, for example), descriptively written and honest.
Author Bio –
Diane Esguerra is an English writer and psychotherapist. For a number of years she worked as a performance artist in Britain, Europe and the United States, and she has written for theatre and television. She is the recipient of a Geneva-Europe Television Award and a Time Out Theatre Award. She is previously the author of Junkie Buddha, the uplifting story of her journey to Peru to scatter her late son’s ashes.
She lives in Surrey with her partner David.
Social Media Links –
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