The Year’s Odú or Letra del Año is a Cuban tradition that started in the latter part of the 19th Century. Its purpose is to establish a spiritual compass or direction for a country's inhabitants for the year. This ceremony is done on the first day of the year. It is accompanied by ebbós (offerings) done as part of the divination ceremony where all present Babalawos are welcome to contribute their knowledge. In the Americas, the most established and oldest group is Consejo Cubano de Sacerdotes Mayores de Ifá or the Comisión de la Letra del Año (Commission of the Oddú of the Year).
The Commission was established by the famous Babalawo Remigio Herrera, Obara Meji, Adesina, who was of African origin. Five of his godsons supported this effort and helped to carry on this tradition; they were:
Bernardo Rojas (Ireteuntendí)
Eulogio Rodríguez, Tata Gaitán (Ogundafún)
José Carmen Batista (Ogbeweñe)
Marcos García (Ifalola Babá Ejiogbe)
Salvador Montalvo (Okanran Meji)
Some of these godchildren of Adesina were also linked to Olugueré Kó Kó, Oyekún Meji who was their oyugbonakán and also participated in the process of selection of the Oddú of the Year. By 1902, Adesina’s health was suffering (he died in 1906), and Tata Gaitán took over the tradition. Perhaps one of the reasons this fell under Tata Gaitán’s responsibility was because he was extremely well connected in the Havana circles and had the resources to buy a mansion with a great deal of land near Guanabacoa’s town square.* He was a powerful godfather and, as such, had the support of many followers to continue on this yearly process and further unified oluwos (priest with kariosha and Ifá) and Babalawos (priest solely initiated to Ifá).
Some of his supporters at the time he took over the Letra del Año are part of the moyugba of my own Ifá godfather Jorge Puig Kaiser (Iwori Chigdí), their names are: Secundino Crucet (Osaloforbeyó), Bernabé Menocal (Babá Ejiogbe), José Asunción Villalonga (Ogundamasá), Miguel Febles (Odiká), Cornelio Vidal (Ogbeché), José Antonio Ariosa (Ogbetuá), Aurelio Estrada-AKA as Babel (Babá Eyiogbe) and Quintín Lecón García (Oturaniko).
Upon the death of Adeshina, Bernardo Rojas inherits his position. Under the guidance of Tata Gaitán takes over the Commission until 1959 when Dr. José Herrera succeeds him from the Adeshina line and Joaquí Salazar, the eldest of that line.
As you can see, the structure and responsibility of determining the Oddú that will help a country and a religious body face a new year, its challenges, and good fortunes are of great importance.
Nowadays, groups in various countries determine an Odú of the Year for their respective countries, such as Puerto Rico, Spain, the United States, Brazil, France, Panamá, Venezuela, and Mexico.
If you have never heard about the Oddú of the Year, it is quite easy to find various them documented online for the last 8 to 10 years. It is actually fascinating to see the Orishas' patterns that come out as Rulers; for each year, the main orisha is the protector, and there is also an accompanying orisha.
Ebós are determined for orisha and Ifá followers, a flag is designed, and the faithful will usually make one by hand and hang it near the entry of their homes. Advice is dispensed and distributed far and wide to assist those who share our religion in their quest for a better life.
The ceremonies of selecting the Odú of the Year are complex and attendees are welcomed usually during the public announcement. You can find out more information about the countries listed on the comparative illustrations by researching Consejo Cubano De Sacerdotes Mayores De Ifá (Cuba), Comisión Organizadora de la Letra del Año Tata Gaitán (United States), Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha (Puerto Rico), Asociación Civil Cultura Seguidores de IFA, ASOIFA (Venezuela), Ilé Ifá Ifá Lola Alfonso Díaz (Panamá), and the Sociedad Yoruba de México (Mexico)**.
The Odú of the Year, although designed to support the olosha and Ifá community in their quest for a better life, has wise advice that can be applied to anyone in the particular country where the reading has been performed. Thus it receives attention even from mass media. I hope this article has awakened your curiosity if you had not heard about this subject before. If you are a member of the Lukumí community, I hope it enriches your appreciation of our religious and cultural history.
Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achabá
Note: This article was originally posted on Jan. 3, 2012, on the Mystic Cup blog.
* Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion by David H. Brown. Chapter Two, page 82.
** Visit www.Proyecto-orunmila.org