Mwanza Aku is not the kind of personality you would encounter everyday.
He is the Aworo-Oba of the Ifa Aiyetoro in Guyana. He is also an Olorisa. He said his name Mwanza means "wise protector" in English, while Aku is associated with the Yoruba bloodline. Aworo-Oba, is a title, chief priest. Mwanza is the chief priest of the Ifa Aiyetoro temple in Guyana, located at 134 Noble's Lane, North Melanie Damishana, East Coast Demerara.
The Awo, a priest's council in Nigeria, which oversees the Ifa Aiyetoro, appointed him he said.
Ifa Aiyetoro is the name of the religion practiced by Mwanza. Ifa when translated would mean knowledge and Aiyetoro peace on earth: the knowledge that brings peace on earth.
Mwanza was quick to point out though when he spoke with The Scene on Wednesday, that the knowledge implied here was not the usual secular knowledge taught in school; it is the ultimate knowledge, the source of all other acquired knowledge. It is all pervading, permeating everything.
As an Olorisa he could be likened to a vessel used by spirit, a medium.
One of ten siblings, Mwanza was born in Albouystown. He is one of seven still alive today.
Mwanza attended the West Ruimveldt Primary School and Dolphin Secondary School. "Any money I got it was to buy books. Cricket is one of my favorite sports. I continue to like it even today."
Water was irresistible for him. "I almost drown three times before I learned to swim. But yet I was always in water - the Demerara River."
His mother is from Suriname, a descendant of the Bush People commonly known as "Bush Negroes", who make up about 10% of Suriname's population. She is still alive. His father, now deceased, was of the Yoruba ethnic nation from the Oshogbo region in Nigeria, Mwanza says.
While he had his own dance school and also at one time his own workshop working as an electrical technician and "doing pretty well", none of it brought satisfaction. "I always knew this was my calling."
Mwanza is now 42 years old is married and has seven children, aged 16 years to two months old. Four of them are in Guyana and three in Canada. He has been the chief priest of the Ifa Aiyetoro in Guyana for 12 years now.
Mwanza said that come April 16 at 11 am the harvest festival celebration to welcome the Yoruba New Year takes place on the temple's grounds. "This is not a manmade holy day," he pointed out.
This is the fifth year that the celebration will be held and entry is free for children while adults will pay $500. "But you could eat as long and as much as you want," he said, adding that there will be traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, mutton, venison, fruits, cornbread, ginger beer, mauby, non-alcoholic wines and champagnes. There will be drumming and singing. Charitable donations will be accepted.
Among the guests expected are Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Leader of the PNCR, Robert Corbin, Mayor of Georgetown Hamilton Green and various religious and community leaders.
The socio-charitable arm of the Ifa Aiyetoro, the African Heritage Foundation, will invite children, some 100 so far, from orphanages and other foundations it deals with throughout the year.
The celebration, preceded by ten days of fasting, is celebrated on the first new moon around the vernal equinox. "It is a time of renewal. "If you notice, Mwanaza says, it is a time when birds put on new feathers, bears come out of their hibernation. The animals obey nature but man is now badly out of sync with it."
He noted too the similarity of the Chinese and Arab celebrations around this time.
Mwanza said the pure focus of his religion was to fulfil that innate urge in man to express God or the creator bringing about reconciliation. He said there are two manifestations of Ifa: The physical manifestation involves rituals and traditions. It sets the parameters to operate. If one errs it is there to bring you back into equilibrium.
The other manifestation of Ifa could be described "as other worldly", the Aworo-Oba said. "For example I was walking to get some cow's milk and suddenly an oriki, a sacred song, a prayerful song occurred to me. Something said sing! When I came back like I
couldn't get it well until after some time."
Another example would be, he said, "if you walk into a bar and the guitarist is playing out of tune you could immediately tell even though you may not be able to write even one note of music."
The religion basically teaches that the mission of man is not "party all the time and to eat KFC chicken" but the perfection of character. "You must remember that this life is a school. Until you learn the lessons you keep coming back." If you go away the problem goes with you.
People do go to the temple seeking assistance, but Mwanza said that as far as healing or helping persons goes, he really does not do that. "It's like if I am the gatekeeper: you have lost your keys you come to me. I say ok let me see if I have a key, here you could try this one. So I don't really heal people at all."
Asked about scepticism expressed by people about non-contemporary religion, he said: "All you have to do is bring the doubters. Sit down all the religious leaders on one side and let them ask [questions]." He admitted though that Ifa was given a bad name by things like obeah."
Since Africans were the first of modern man, they would have been the first to have to practiced and become acquainted with Ifa, this "Divine knowledge", Mwanza said.
He dates this modern beginning or repository of Ifa back to about 8000 BC, from the Yoruba nation on the Wok Plateau in the Ghana Nigeria region. "There were no geographical demarcations back then."
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, the Yoruba is the largest single ethno-linguistic group or ethnic nation in Nigeria making up 30% (over 38 million) of the country's total population of some 128,771,988. It is also the largest single ethnic nation in Africa, upwards of 40 million individuals throughout West Africa.
In Brazil there are over four million Yorubas, Mwanza said. He said there are several varieties of Ifa around.
In Cuba it is associated with the Roman Catholic Church and is known as Santaria. In Trinidad it is called Shango Baptist.
He said he was responsible for the re-establishment of Ifa in Guyana for this period. "This is a resurgence. Though you could see remnants of it in places like West Berbice gleaned as the Faithist movement and such like."
But could people, especially Africans, reconcile with God apart from pursuing pure Ifa Aiyetoro? "Probably," Mwanza said, " I sitting here am not the creator. But some men were born to eat chowmein, some men were born to eat steak."