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ARA, EMI, ORI 

The 3 Aspects of Human Personality 
Yoruba, Nigeria 

Acrylic on wood, 2021 

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The Yoruba are a West African people whose philosophy on personality is rooted in the idea of a tripartite system of being. Most western philosophy describes a person as consisting of the body and soul. The Yoruba describe a third aspect, the inner head.

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Orisanla, the God of Creation was charged by Olodumare (God of the Heavens) to mould people out of clay and this physical form is called ara (the body). The body is intially moulded as a simple trunk and it is Ogun's purpose (the God of Iron) to carve out the arms and legs and digits.

Subsequently, Olodumare breathes a divine breath, emi (soul), into the unliving physical form and this is the kickstart to life. A physical counterpart to emi in this divine breath, is eje (blood), both which are critical for life to persist.

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Ajala, the God who forges physical heads is also responsible for imbuing the body with ori (the inner head), a metaphysical aspect of the personality that drives our destiny.

 

We have a choice in which ori we end up with in the heavens and it's important to note that destiny isn't absolute and is influenced by our physical head, owo (hands) and ere (the legs). An implication of agency within destiny.

I enjoyed working on the piece because it is a great reminder of philosophy on the continent. Concepts and musings that we don't ever hear about in our pursuits of Lao Tzu and Aristotle and Kant.

I also enjoyed this story because much like so many African wisdoms, it's a communal narration and philosophy, not ascribed to one specific individual.