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The Year in White: Iyawó Basic Rules

White hat
Iyawós should try to look neat and elegant.

When a Lukumí believer takes the step to become an olosha, the transformation is a delicate one. It literally involves being born again, and not in the Christian sense of the word. Our re-birth is one that carries a transformation of spiritual symbiotic nature. In other words, a spiritual force other than ours is aligned to our force during the kariosha or crowning ceremony and from that moment on, initiate and orisha coexist in a mutual codependent relationship. However, this is my very own point of view and I have yet to hear it being articulated in these particular terms by any other oloshas. Frankly, I am not sure that the scientific/spiritual approach would be one readily accepted by many who have no inclination to study or observation of natural sciences as they apply to religion.

Iyawós enter a period of learning and repose for 12 months, this is known as “The Year in White” and most commonly as “Iyaworaje.” This period is marked by a set of rules and restrictions that are imposed to protect the iyawó. Rules are not arbitrary they are established because they are meant to protect the iyawó from any harm, after all, they are the future of our religious community and must be cherished and revered. When an iyawó follows the rules it shows commitment, maturity, responsibility, and respect for their new rank, to their godparents, and most importantly, the head orisha. The way in which an iyawó chooses to carry on during this year can and will determine the nature of the relationship with the tutelary orisha for life. Take it from someone who has been there and done that.

Basic Rules

1. Caring for the Head: The head must be protected and covered at all times during the first three months of kariosha. Only elders (godmother/godfather or oyugbonakán) are allowed to touch it with no cover. The Iyawo must put some cocoa butter, and cascarilla (efún) on his/her head every day covered by cotton and then use a handkerchief or cap to protect the head.

  • In case of accident medical staff is exempt from this rule and they can touch the head, they are blessed by Oragún, orisha that protects internal organs.

2. Dress Code, Hygiene, and Sex:

  • White is the emblem of the iyawó and it must be worn for one year and 7 days after initiation; this is both in public and at home.

  • Female iyawós wear for the first 3 months a shawl, skirt, bloomers, panties, stockings, brassiere, undershirt, slip, long or calf-length skirt, shirt with sleeves and no cleavage showing, white closed shoes, handkerchief, and hat. She must also wear all her elekes, bracelets, and iddé.

  • Male iyawós wear pants, socks, white closed shoes, a shirt with sleeves, an undershirt, a cap, and a hat. He must also wear his iddé and at the very least the bracelet of Obatalá.

  • Shoes or house shoes with socks or stocking must be worn at all times.

  • Iyawós do not sleep naked (they use pajamas, underwear, and socks to bed) or parade themselves naked in front of their orisha.

  • Iyawós do not expose themselves to the elements, they use a white umbrella.

  • Clothes must be clean, pressed, and not have holes.

  • Iyawós should take care to have a spare set of clothes at hand in case of accidents.

  • Jewelry not represented the orishas is not allowed.

  • The only exception when an iyawó does not wear religious attributes such as iddé and elekes (necklaces) is to go to bed.

  • Some iyawós have work restrictions with regards to attire; those must be consulted during the process of itá to seek leniency or modifications.

  • The iyawó does not wear makeup, cuts his or her hair during the first three months, and absolutely does not die his or her hair during the first year.

  • The iyawó sleeps on clean white sheets and uses white towels, white toothbrush, comb, and iyawó other utensils must be white.

  • The iyawó bathes twice a day, morning, and evenings.

  • A female iyawó does not touch her orisha during her menstrual cycle or partakes in any ritual while on her period.

  • Iyawós should not engage in sexual relations for the first 16 days after kariosha, some houses have different rules, follow your house rules as they may vary depending on marital status.

  • An iyawó should not be promiscuous and engage in sex with various partners at the same time or concurrently.

3. Meals

  • The iyawó eats on the mat for the first 3 months using a spoon, the dish, and mug received during kariosha.

  • If the iyawó is to eat out, the utensils must be carried as well as the matt.

  • The iyawó does not use fork and knife and will not lift the plate from the mat as he/she eats.

  • The iyawó does not interrupt meals to take calls, text on mobile devices, or engage in any activity that could cause stress during the meal.

  • Leftover food is to be offered to Eshú.

  • Exceptions to rules due to work restrictions must be consulted during itá.

4. Day-to-day

  • The iyawó will not touch the uninitiated, this includes taking things from other people’s hands, handshaking, kissing on the cheeks or lips (other than a spouse or their own children)

  • The iyawó must be accompanied by the oyugbona when visiting an olosha’s house for the first time after kariosha.

  • The Iyawo must avoid going out before 6 am and should be back indoors before nightfall. He/she should also avoid direct sun and being exposed to the sun at noon or to the night sky at midnight.

  • The Iyawo will avoid sitting in public parks, standing on street corners, going to bar, nightclubs, cabarets, marketplaces, ruined constructions, jails, cemeteries, funeral parlors, hospitals, burials.

  • The iyawó should never walk over holes in the ground and should be careful when entering a cave, tunnel, or a forest.

  • The iyawó does not smoke or drink alcohol of any kind.

  • The iyawó avoids crowded places such as movies, theaters, parties, raves, masquerades and does not attend parties that are not related to orisha activities.

  • The iyawó should be escorted by an elder at all possible times.

  • The iyawó will not use drugs and will refrain from being involved in illicit activities, killing, or doing anything that is outside of the parameters of the law.

  • The iyawó must have a head feeding done every month by either the main godparent of the oyugbonakán.

  • The iyawó will not curse and will not lie.

  • The iyawó will not carry weapons.

  • The Iyawo must avoid at all costs arguing, being involved in gossips, using profane language, and being offensive to others; especially if the other persons are relatives, spouses, or religious relatives.

There may be variations to these rules and they will be imposed from house to house, however, if a person is considering dedicating his or her life to the orishas they should be fully aware of the commitment and requirements expected and be able to follow them.

In today’s society, where the common mindset pushes people to rush and to impose their will over that of elders, just because they can or because it is in their nature to be contrary and push the envelope, rules are seen as something to bent and broken. Rules for an iyawó are a safe haven; because an iyawó should be in a state of grace leaving the igbodu (ceremonial room) after kariosha, it is imperative to conform to new habits and continue to purification process started during the initiation.

Only when an iyawó understands and accepts this process and is ready to release bad habits from before, will the iyawó truly profit from the initiation by evolving, growing, and intensifying the changes that each tutelary orisha has in store for their new initiate. Following rules and the itá will bring the road of blessings to unfold at your feet, iyawó. Do not ever forget, others may and will judge you during your first year and your behavior will reflect on your elders, but ultimately, your elders already have their path established, yours is just starting.

Be kind to yourself and remember no one forced you to do kariosha, or so I hope. Honor your orisha by following these rules and other rules set by your elders and avoid a possible public or private embarrassment by either oloshas or even worse, the orisha themselves.


Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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