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The One and Only Baba

Thu, Jun 5, 2008

Culture, Elders, Traditional Afrikan

Trinidad Guardian | By Zen Dionne Jarrette
Saturday 23rd April, 2005

Baba Forde sits in his sanctum. He is dressed in a sky-blue dashiki, his white hair making a stark contrast. To enter where he is, one must pass several shrines and offerings all about the yard of his home.

Burnt bull horns, feathers and flowers are everywhere.

“I am the only Baba in T&T. I am the head of the Orisa faith!” Forde proclaims.

To become a follower of the Orisa, an African faith, one must undergo a “manifestation.” Forde had his at age 17. He is now in his 80s.

“When I get it I didn’t know what happened to me,” he recalled. “The Orisa took me over.”

The Orisa he refers to are all the spirits of his religion, Opa Orisa, which hails from the Yoruba people in Nigeria. The spirits that manifest in him frequently are Oya, God of lightning, Shango, God of thunder, and St Francis of Assisi.

As a child, Forde’s mother was Anglican, his father, Catholic. His mother cooked for a local Orisa spiritual father in the Dinsley Village area where they lived. In those days, the Orisa were seen as something to be feared. His mother, despite misgivings, did the job to support the family.

He remembered his early visits to the house where his mother worked. He would sometimes see services or meetings taking place.

“When I heard the drums beating and saw the elders walking with the ancestors I would get frightened and run away,” he reflected.

He also remarked that in those days, both Baptists and Orisa alike would have to practise their religion with a lookout by the road in case the police raided their congregation and broke it up. Practising the African faiths was strictly frowned upon.

“Back then Orisa was seen as the devil,” he said. “They misunderstood us. People would say that we used to drink blood!”

This did not dissuade Forde, however, when his calling came. When the spirits took him, there was nothing he could do.

He attended a children’s feast at the house where his mother worked when he was 17. The moment he entered the yard that day, his life was changed.

“I never knew what happened. When the Orisa ready for you, they ready. You have control over nothing.”

Other people in the yard told him what they witnessed as he went into a trance that day. He knew nothing of what happened, but awoke and instantly felt a change. He knew without being told that the spirits had manifested in him.

After that, things were radically different for him. Whenever he blasphemed or committed other sins, the Orisa would dole out swift punishment.

“I would wake up and find myself in a picker patch just so,” Forde cried. “Or down in a big canal and I don’t know how I get there!”

The worst came when Forde was struck down with “cocobey.” This is similar to the afflictions suffered by Job in the Bible. The body becomes covered completely in sores until even the hair falls out. During this time it is impossible to wear clothing.

“The spirit told me to go to the mountains and make an offering in the wilderness by myself and I refused. Suddenly, I get cocobey!”

During the weeks of Forde’s sickness he begged the spirits to take the curse from him. After a while a dream came to him.

“I dreamt I saw an Orisa holding a calabash with red and white liquid in it,” he said.

He sent word of the dream to a sister in his faith, and she told him the white was milk and the red was lavender water. He bathed in the mixture and let it dry on his skin.

“Within a few days all the sores fell off my skin and I was normal again.”

He immediately went and made the offering after that.

All his trials brought him to the day in the late 90s when he became the ordained Baba of the Orisa faith in T&T. This was during a visit by the Ooni of Ife, a spiritual leader from Nigeria.

“I don’t know how come so many people running around calling themselves ‘Baba.’ I am the only one! The rest are pretenders! Just as there can only be one Pope, there can only be one Baba.”

After Baba Forde’s visit to Nigeria in 2001, he came up with the idea of celebrating Mother Earth Day. He first celebrated it last year.

This is a very important feast day for the Orisa when they praise the font of life, Lateh, the Earth.

“Mother Earth is where we are all from, she must have her day. The Earth is our creator!”

As he exclaimed this, the rain, without preamble, began to fall. A smile stretched across his face.

“Mama Lateh is with us right now!” he cried. “Awo!”

As he continued to speak, an all-white pigeon came walking into the sanctum. It walked up to Baba Forde as though it were a pet dog. It stood at his side for a while then walked back the way it came.

“Those birds are messengers,” he professed. Then he tilted his head to one side as though it just told him something. He didn’t say if or what.

For Mother Earth Day, which will be celebrated this Sunday, his message to the people of this country was clear.

“We must unite!” he said. “The country is falling apart. Only if we come together can we move forward!”

Mother Earth Day will be celebrated at the Ancestral Grounds in Lopinot, Arouca.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Babalorisa Obaluwaye Atayese Otitoloju Says:

    I dont understand how Baba Clerrance Forde could say that he is the only Baba of Trinidad and Tobago. Firstly one must understand the word Baba and how it is being used in the Orisa Tradition. Baba is the Yoruba word (a western Nigerian language) which means father. It is used in respect to a describe one as being an Elder or one that has been initiated as a priest of the Yoruba religion or the head of a yoruba religious organisation. Baba Forde must understand that he cant make referrence to the Catholic religion to Ifa/Orisa cause if he is speaking about Pope as the only head in the Catholic faith then he can refer that concept then to the Araba of Ile Ife. The Araba is the head of all Babalorisas (father of Orisas/priest of Orisa), Iyalorisas(mother of Orisas/priestess of Orisa)Babalawo(Male Ifa priest) Iyanifa (Female Ifa Priestess). The Araba is the Universal head of the Yoruba religion, Just as the Pope is the Universal head of the Christian religion (catholism). But there are other heads appointed by the Araba or by other Elders from Africa, as designated priest or priestess (Baba/Iya) of the Orisa/Ifa religion. Baba forde is not the only Baba of Trinidad and Tobago, yes he is a Baba I am sure that that title was given to him as a form of respect for his amount of years within the Religion and at that time when the Ooni of Ife came here saw that and then appointed him with that status so that respect will begin from there, cause everyone was fighting to be head over the religion…… His knowledge partially i must say is not vast about this Ifa/Orisa religion. Its based more on Catholism. Ifa/Orisa Religion is not a Christian religion so therefore St francis is not a deity of the Ifa/Orisa Religion. Before one should profess to be the only Baba of the Orisa Religion of Trinidad and Tobago then he should understand first that Saints are a belief of the Christians, whereby Orisas are the Dieties of the Orisa/Ifa Religion. SO WHO IS REALLY THE TRUE BABA OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO?????????

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