The Genesis of Ẹṣegan (GAN) Philosophy
Over the years, Ṣàngódaré’s findings on religions and cultural beliefs began to accumulate and galvanize into a common narrative that sets the foundation of his theology. This theological narrative is the basis of his genesis of GAN Philosophy. GAN (pronounced Găhn) Philosophy pertains to the philosophical perspective of the Ṣàngódaré (pronounced Shăngo dă ray) Institute, which provides the medium for bridging the gaps between science, religion, and spirituality. GAN has seven levels of interpretation, but here only two will be mentioned. GAN is an acronym for Geometry, Astrology, and Numerology, but GAN in GAN philosophy also has an esoteric component. GAN is a Yorùbá word that signifies “undeniably” or “very much”, which is part of an elision that forms the Yorùbá word ẹṣegan (pronounced ěshāygahn). Ẹṣegan denotes extreme thankfulness. It consists of the words ẹ ṣe gan,which can be interpreted as: you exceedingly performed beyond expectations. Therefore GAN philosophy quintessentially expresses boundless gratitude to ancestors who provide an undeniable scientific corpus — complete — with absolute certainty.
The GAN approach is the study of the arts and sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics, music, comparative religions, mythology, language and etc., along with meditation and Yoga. The GAN education encourages the study of the MANY in order to understand the ONE. Analyzing nature, signs and symbols, the student removes the veil of ambiguity and embraces the philosophical thought of the interconnectedness of all things. The investigation of linguistics and etymology develops in individuals the skills necessary to penetrate millennia of codified wisdom, traditionally misinterpreted and misrepresented as literal history.
GAN is a philosophical perspective that was developed in America by Ṣàngódaré Fágbèmí Epega (Christopher W. Brown) an African-American. Its purpose is to provide a vehicle continuing the Yorùbá tradition of orìṣà and Bantu Congo influences in the United States amongst African-Americans specifically and Africans in the diaspora in general. The last statement is meant for cultural purposes and not for the exclusion of any race, nationality or ethnic group. Ṣàngódaré encourages people from all walks of life, race, nationality, ethnic group or gender to embrace Ẹṣegan (GAN). Ẹṣegan was developed to assist practitioners in discovering their life purpose and connecting with their ancestors and higher self.
Several ritual initiations, wise and profound mentors, and journeys to distant lands have enhanced the life journey of the young boy born as Christopher Willis Brown on the Navajo Indian reservation. Having resurrected the memories of his ancestral past and embraced the African Gods of his destiny, His life experiences continue to move forward, transform him into and allowed him the opportunity to accept a teaching position in Cairo, Egypt in 2009. Now living and teaching in the land of the ancient Pharaohs, a new chapter in the life journey of Ṣàngódaré Ifágbèmí, Oloye Alatunse began.
The journey continues …
It is the 28th of September; the year is 2009, and it’s my 54th day in the great land of Kemet (Egypt). The words of my Oluwo are ringing loudly and clearly in my ears, “I make African American priests; you are not Yorùbá.” What does that mean? Yorùbá is a large ethnic group from southwest Nigeria. Many of the slaves taken from the shores of Africa during the Atlantic coast slave trade were from the Oyo Kingdom. Later the people of Oyo would be called Yorùbá. As an African American, I’m a descendant of African slaves. African Americans are admixture of numerous African and European ethnic groups (on average 80% African 20% European).
1 It is the interacting and mixing of these African groups, along with having a new landscape and environment, which gave birth to African American culture.
2 It would be the African American culture that would give birth to the musical genres of Gospel, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm & Blues (R & B), Rock & Roll, and Hip Hop.
3 4 5 67 Recent studies indicate on average, the largest African ethnic group represented in the African American genome is Yorùbá, followed by Mandinka (Mandingo), and Bantu (Angola & Congo) respectively. Not only do I hear the words of my Oluwo (teacher) ringing in my ears, I contemplate my mission and purpose of bridging the gap between science and religion. That sounds good, but what does that really mean? Am I saying I am bridging the gap between a particular religion,or all religions? Knowing most religions of the world are the same in their essence, I am bridging the gap with all religions, but highlighting one in particular. If I highlight one particular religion, with whom is it going to be associated? We know when it comes to religion; it‘s usually associated with a group of people or a culture, based upon the so-called founder.
Islam is associated with the Arabs and Arab culture. Judaism is associated with the people of Judea and Israel. Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism and other people of the world were added via the Roman Empire or like the Akan spiritual system, which is associated with Akan culture, and Akan sub ethnic groups such as the Ashanti, Afutu, and others. Then you have Ifá and the Orìṣà system. It’s associated with the Yorùbá Culture because the system in its present state is based upon the perception of how the people understood the universe and the environment that surrounded them. This is of importance to me because I’m an Ifá priest from America and as I stated earlier, recent studies indicate that on average, the largest African ethnic group in the African American is Yorùbá, followed by Mandinka (Mandingo), and Bantu (Angola & Congo) respectively.
The Yorùbá, Bini, Akan, Igbo and etc., claim in their oral history they migrated from the Nile Valley. There is evidence of this, based upon the similarity of culture, religion, and numerous words in their language having the same meanings as those from the Nile Valley. You see some traces of similarity, but you most definitely see the differences based upon migration, language, and slightly different environment, which brings me to the matter at hand. Ifá is associated with the people of Southwest Nigeria. The system is based on how the people understood/understand their environment, the universe and their philosophical perspective of the world. Does a Ifá-Orìṣà practitioner in America embrace wholeheartedly all of Ifá and Orìṣà and how it’s practiced in Nigeria?
Has anybody in history taken a concept that was already in existence and applied it to their own culture? Of course they have. All the cultures I mentioned above did that very same thing. They took a concept already in place and adapted it for their culture and environment. This can be illustrated within the Yorùbá paradigm. The Africans living in Brazil came from Angola, the Congo, Benin, and part of what became known as Nigeria. The people that came from what was to become Nigeria were originally a part of the Oyo Kingdom. The people known as the Yorùbá haven’t always been classified as Yorùbá. To my knowledge there is not one Odu that mentions the name Yorùbá. They were classified by their city state names.
Now back to my point. The spiritual system the African’s in Brazil use is drawn from a variety of African slaves, but its foundation is from the Oyo Kingdom. They use this system for their new culture and environment. They don’t call it Ifá; they call it Candomble, which means ‘dancing in honor of the gods’. 8 Before the 19th century they also called it Batuque. It has been suggested the name comes from the Bantu word Batuke, and means ‘those who become excited’, and is associated with African dance, rhythm and beats.9 Both of these words are believed to be of Bantu origin. The Africans in Brazil still use the Orìṣà system, but have synchronized it with their own practices.Then you have the people of Cuba. The Africans that were brought there were mainly from the Kingdom of Oyo and the Congo. The people called themselves Lukumi. The term means my friend, in the Yorùbá language. When they were brought to Cuba, the slave masters made their spiritual practice illegal. This called for adaptation on 3 fronts:
1. Their spiritual system was made illegal, therefore adaptation was needed to hide or veil their practices and
2. They were in a totally new environment, and
3. Multiple African groups intermingled together, in which adaptation would be essential.
The Africans in Cuba made adjustments by hiding under the umbrella of Catholicism. Instead of using the kola nut, they adjusted and created patakies (stories) with the coconut. The coconut was more accessible.
They also implemented astrology into their system. Instead of having a 4-day orìṣà week, they applied the orìṣà days to the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar days are based upon our inner planets, the moon and the sun. Each one of these celestial bodies was associated with gods of the Greeks, the Romans and the Nordics. So what did the Africans do in Cuba? They observed the Christian system and its days, which is based on upon the Nordic, Roman and Greek gods. They realized Sunday was for the day of the sun and Monday was for the day of the moon and etc. Knowing Ọbàtálá is light and the father of physical form, they gave Ọbàtálá the day of Sunday, because the great light in our solar system is the sun and the sun gave birth to our solar system. They gave Yemoja the day of Monday, the day of the moon, because of her association with nurturing and motherhood and because the moon is associated with nurturing and motherhood. They looked and observed that Tuesday was associated with the planet Mars and Mars was the planet of war. So they looked in their pantheon and realize Mars would be associated with Ogun, therefore they gave the day of Tuesday to Ogun. They continued to do that with the remaining days and the orìṣà. Note: There are some traditional Yorùbá Elders that claim astrology is not Ifá.
So what is my point? What is my mission and purpose? My Oluwo taught us Ifá is the Wisdom of Nature. My mentor in Ode Remo says Ifá is everything that exists. This is most definitely the non-dogmatic approach. Here lies the POINT OF REFERENCE. When my students went to see and have a dialogue with a great teacher in Ifá from Nigeria, he told them what was Ifá, and what wasn’t Ifá. He told them things like chakras and astrology weren’t Ifá. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak to him on the matter of planets and stars and he informed me there are not even traditional Yorùbá names for most of the planets. He went on to say, because Yorùbáland was in the rainforest, they didn’t study the heavens; they studied their environment in the rainforest. He also said ninety-five (95%) percent of the rainforest in Yorùbáland was cut down by the British. He told me the people of the Sahara, the Somalis and the Ethiopians, have the knowledge of the stars.
It was now becoming clear what the REFERENCE POINT was for this great teacher. He also has said if it’s not in the Odu, it’s not Ifá. Well having the understanding traditional Ifá is from Yorùbáland, there are quite a few things that are not in the Odu, if it’s based on the environment, and the experience of the Yorùbá Culture. There are neither blue jays nor cardinals in Yorùbáland. There are many other animals and things in our environment (America) that are not in Yorùbáland and vice versa. There are things that have been experienced and being experienced that a traditional Babaláwo in Yorùbáland can’t truly address because they have NO REFERENCE for it. This has happened many times. I don’t know of any odu from Yorùbáland that speak about cardinals, blue jays, or robins. This is because these birds are not in the Yorùbá environment in southwest Nigeria. However aren’t these birds part of OUR environment in America? Remember the great teacher’s explanation on why THEY didn’t study the heavens?
Now, this is the question. What is Ifá? If Ifá is the Wisdom of Nature and is constantly expanding based upon the environment of the individual, how can you say that astrology is not Ifá, at least to the African American? We can see the heavens and the stars. How can it be said that if it’s not in the Odu, it’s not Ifá, knowing that these itans (stories) are based on traditional Yorùbá environments? So where does this leave the African American who practices Ifá in America, if we only accept the definition of Ifá from this great teacher? How are we able to do our part and expand and evolve, if we only accept his definition? Remember our experiences and our environment are not traditional Yorùbá, thus it wouldn’t be in the odu from THEIR reference point. Are there any odus(Ifá scripture) on toxic waste? And though I respect this great teacher, I disagree with his explanations. I have the title Akasanmon, which means one who studies the sky in Yoruba. Many of our teachers have forgotten certain things in our traditions. In my lineage alone we have references and names to the star Sirius, Venus, and other stars and planets being sacred to specific Orìṣà. The word irawo means star, and irawo aguala is a name for the planet Venus, and is sacred to the Orìṣà Oṣun. Irawoale or Irawo Oke refers to the star sirius and in Ifá scripture, sirius is referred to as the canoe star. Astrology/Astronomy is all over Ifá for those that can see and have a reference point for understanding. Moreover I want us Africans in the United States to embrace who we are in this incarnation and expand the tradition like our ancestors before us.
Therefore I accept the definition of Ifá from my Oluwo and my mentors from Ode Remo. Ifá is the wisdom of nature and it is everything that exists. This means it is constantly expanding and evolving. Isn’t one of the meanings of Ife, to expand? This is exactly what the Africans of Cuba, Brazil, and every other African group that had to adapt to a new environment did. This is what we must do, those who live in a new environment. This is the purpose of Ẹṣegan, i.e. GAN Philosophy. The world is constantly changing and evolving. It is about adapting and studying your environment. When the European came to the so-called New World i.e. to the Americas in 1492, there weren’t any goats, rams, sheep, pigs, cattle, chicken or horses. These particular livestock weren’t a part of the American landscape. With that being said, an Ifá practitioner trying to practice Ifá from a Yorùbá perspective without the above animals would have difficulty, if the word change weren’t in their vocabulary. The Ifá practitioner in early America would have had to be creative and innovative. The Babaláwos and Olorìṣàs would have had to develop new ways to communicate with the gods.
In Africa in 1492 there weren’t any corn, tomatoes, pineapples, or potatoes. Europeans introduced these plants to Africa from the Americas. Historians call this The Columbian Exchange.
The Portuguese did not introduce corn to Africa until the 16th century. This causes me to laugh because I know of Ifá verses that speak of corn products. Here lies the irony. There are Ifá priest that say chakras and astrology are not Ifá, but then there are Ifá verses that speak on a fruit that is not indigenous to Yorùbáland, and was not brought there until the 16th century by Europeans. Corn has become one of the African Continent’s staple foods, but using the logic of some of the Ifá priests, corn couldn’t have been apart of Ifá before the 16th century because it wasn’t in their environment. If that is the case why do they have a problem with us implementing astrology and numerology in our Ifá practice? It is called adapting and expanding on what is in our environment; the same thing the Yorùbá did when they implemented corn in their diet and in the Ifá oracle. This exemplifies African spiritual systems are living traditions forever evolving.
“The boundaries of true spirituality are forever expanding. A TRUE seeker will not let ANY religious dogma or ideologies prevent him/her from evolving.”
Excerpt from the GAN Doctrine
Practicing a tradition is good if it can be utilized in our current environment. Studying other traditions is good for our study and understanding, but it is not our law.
When we as a people moved into a new space & time (environment), we became a new people with a new way of life. When people are taken away from their old environment and brought to a new environment, there are practical traditions that are retained and new traditions that are developed. After a period of time, our new culture becomes our new tradition. Consequently when one’s environment changes, one’s way of life changes, therefore the culture has been modified and so have the traditions.The term culture is connotatively used as a way of life. Etymologically speaking, culture dealt with the tilling of the ground. In antiquity, the non-agriculture way we used the term culture was to describe the process of the development of the soul. Thus, in antiquity the culture of a group of people was their way of interacting and communicated with themselves, their surroundings, and their God. Thus, when one brings or adopts a spiritual system from a different environment, the old traditions of the spiritual system should be modified and new traditions developed for the current environment. Those traditions that come from spiritual systems that are brought into a new environment that are useful or practical, should be retained and those that are not should be discarded as obligatory. First and foremost, culture should be about the development of the community in general and individual souls in particular. For this reason, we have developed Ẹṣegan, i.e. GAN Philosophy, our contribution to Isese Lagba, which are the traditions of our ancestors.
1. Zakharia Fouad, “Characterizing the admixed African ancestry of African Americans” December 2009
3. Gioia Ted, https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/g/gioia-jazz.html, Oxford University Press, 1997.
5. Ripani Richard J. The New Blues: changes in rhythm & blues 1950-1999 p. 172
6. Farley Christopher John, http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,661084,00.html
July 6, 2004
7. http://www.africaresource.com/arts-a-culture/hip-hop/217-hip-hop-black-cultural April 22, 20078. Graden Dale Torston, From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia 1835-1900 University of New Mexico Press 2006, 103.
9. Fryer Peter, Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil Pluto Press, 97.
© Copyright of the Ṣàngódaré Institute for the Study of GAN Philosophy