The author of Ifa in Trinidad and Tobago challenges colonial injustice: walking through the fire
Yoruba culture, though recognizable to most people in Trinidad and Tobago, is still mystifying as it is practiced only by a select few who work hard to maintain its traditions.
Ifa is the spiritual belief system of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in West Africa. At TT, this spirituality has been passed down for generations and new recruits, seeking to find a deeper connection to their ancestral past, are initiated and taught by practicing members.
“I grew up in a very Christian household,” said Ifarounke author Deidre Prescod, who was introduced to the Ifa tradition in 2009.
“As a single mom, I was apart of what my sisters were doing, who were both married. I was about to discover things on my own. I had this energy, going through everything that women go through.
“I guess I was always meant to be a loner. The things I did, I couldn’t have done if I had been hitched to another.”
Prescod was born in Trinidad but has lived in Tobago for 30 years. She says she started writing in 2013, leaving behind her children and her life in TT, much to the astonishment of her family, to travel to Nigeria in West Africa.
Her first book, Letters from Nigeria – Reflections of an Ifa Initiate (2017) reflects on her journey after joining the spiritual path of Ifa.
“I had a shop that did my job and a guy came one day and told me about getting started with Ifa. I was going through a lot and I talked to him about it and he asked me if I had heard of it before.
Prescod said, being curious how it might help ease the burdens in his life at the time, met a Babalawo (spiritual leader or high priest) and decided to do his first reading.
A divinatory reading in the Yoruba tradition is done by visiting a Babalawo who connects the client to their ancestral and spiritual guides.
“Because Ifa is such a practical tradition, you don’t practice Ifa if you don’t practice divination. I decided that I wanted to be responsible for my own spirituality. If I am to follow this tradition, I must know more about it. And so, I went to Nigeria.
In 2020, Deidre launched her podcast titled Embracing Wisdom and in 2021 she released her second book, Coming Through with a Ball Of Fire, a collection of essays which she says encourages people to reflect on their current situation at the result of years of erroneous indoctrination and injustice.
Boule de Feu, a French term for ball of fire or ball of fire – also known in TT as a flambeau, or a flame torch usually made with glass bottles – was used before the advent of torches. Prescod uses the term to represent highlighting deliberate manipulations of past colonial influences.
Prescod said, “Knowingly or not, we have been seduced into beliefs that are not only wrong, but also do not serve us.”
She identifies some of the ghosts lurking in the shadows that haunt our reality and does so with the intention of encouraging others to examine the things they believe in.
Ball of Fire was born during the pandemic because, she said, she had time in government-mandated quarantine to reflect on her experiences.
“I was visiting (someone) in Alaska. When I got back, I stayed in Trinidad before returning to Tobago, visiting a grandson, and the lockdown caught up with me in Trinidad.
“I started doodling meditation (a meditative and therapeutic form of drawing that allows a person to express their feelings) using my grandson’s colored pencils. I started writing different things. I had something to do. The spirit moved me. I see things from another angle and I started to write. When I write (messages) pass through me.
Prescod said she wants her readers to be able to see and accept themselves for who they are. “If I get to a point in my life where I realize I’ve made questionable judgments in the past, I don’t fight because you have to crawl before you walk.
“When we realize that we are fallible, we realize that other people have flaws too and we have to give them some slack because we have flaws too.”
She said her podcast is meant to be a non-judgmental space, but also aims to inspire others to examine their beliefs, inclinations, and instinctual choices.
“We always talk about being enslaved, but that was so long ago. I ask myself, do I want to continue carrying the energetic weight of my ancestors? Is this what they want us to go through?
“Ifa is less judgmental and accepts what is. The way some people use the tradition can be problematic, but there is nothing wrong with the tradition itself.
She said that in Christianity people are taught that divination is wrong, “but there are many examples in (the Bible) where people communicate directly with the spirit.”
She said that people who are able to do this have no space in society to practice freely due to societal perceptions of the practice of divination.
“There are people who have insight (but) there is nowhere in society where these people are allowed to flourish. They always operate under a cloud.
Prescod describes himself as someone in search of spiritual answers. “I believe that I am both physical and spiritual.” She said that by following the path of Ifa, she chooses not to label herself with just one religion. “I don’t mark myself because these things divide.
“I keep using different (spiritual) channels because it’s self-development that’s important and not the continuous search for what’s inside.”
In his book, Prescod says, “I continue to be grateful for all the fireballs that help me see beyond my limits as I assess my personal style without judgment, blame or shame, ready to be flexible in my approach when creating the best version of me.
“Where there is a will, there must be a ball of fire to light the way.”
Both Prescod books are available on Amazon. Those interested in purchasing the books can also contact Prescod at 276-8533.