Where the world began
Ile Ife (EE-lay EE-fay) in the Yoruba creation myth is the spot where Obatala arrived on earth, having climbed down a chain from heaven, charged by God to make the first man. There are many stories about this episode involving chickens and sand, palm wine and trickery, but what is clear is that whatever happened,
it all began at Ile Ife.
The modern Ile Ife remains the center of traditional Yoruba culture, as it has been for centuries. The politics may change, but the wellspring remains the same. It is for this reason that Arthur Hall in 1969 chose Ile Ife as the name for his cultural center on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. That's the complex reason. The simple reason is that Ile Ife can be interpreted to mean House of Love, an African compliment to the etymology of Philadelphia as the City of Love.
The first Ile Ife Film was Ray Hartung's Ile Ife House of Love (1973). The first Ile Ife Film produced within the Ile Ife Center was Orisun Omi (The Well), which was filmed in Bahia, Brazil in 1978 and released in its present form in 1982. The literal translation of Orisun Omi from the Yoruba is the source of water.
The Ile Ife Center in Philadelphia dissolved in 1988, but when in 1994 we resolved to form a new nonprofit to produce Ile Ife Phila Pa, Ile Ife Films seemed to be an appropriate name (although perhaps also just another example of the tail wagging the dog). The project is now called And the Children Danced, but the working title Ile Ife Phila Pa came from the incredulous reaction of many West Africans to the business cards of the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble during their first West African tour in 1974 ~ they recognized Ile Ife alright, but could not imagine how it arrived in Phila., Pa.
Soon enough Ile Ife Phila Pa became a mecca for all Africans visiting Philadelphia. The collection of African art in the Ile Ife Museum was one of the finest in the country, much of it donated in appreciation for the work the Ile Ife Center was doing, and when appropriate, the pieces did not just sit behind glass, but were dressed and danced the way they were meant to be.
There are many other stories about Ile Ife, but in this context, perhaps this is a sufficient explaination of how the name wended its way to Searsport, Maine from where the world began.
See also The World Began at Ile-Ife: Meaning and Function in Yoruba Art (1990, 18 minute video, The Art Institute of Chicago) produced for the exhibition Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought with music by Arthur Hall and company and Treasures of Ancient Nigeria, text by Ekpo Eyo and Frank Willett (1980, Detroit Institute of Arts, Alfred A. Knopf, NY) published for the exhibition of the same name, also exhibited at
the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1982 (see chronology)
with performances by the AADE and the premiere of Orisun Omi
Ile Ife Films Index
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