Orisha IYA NLA (Mother of Nature) | Panel Discussion

Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Connecting the philosophical principles and the enigma that center the dynamic principles of the primordial mother, the Mother of Nature, the mother of mothers, to contemporary organizing spiritual principles of today is imperative. The Orisha Iya Nla worshipped by the Gelede an ancient women society suggest that the essence of the sacred and inherent power of women have extraordinary potential is essential to the world. 

Yoruba's historically understood that creation places women at the center of the world and society.  That the enigmatic knowing of women continues to reveal itself in inexplicable ways speaks to organizing principles that have sustained our cultural legacy from West African to the Americas. One of the practices that center women, the Geledes, early in the transatlantic surfaced in the Diaspora and became infused into the broader practices of the Orisha based traditions in the Americas. 

The panel will address how the principles of the Gelede women societies addressed organizing principles for the good of the community as a whole. What is the narrative and action for the present infused with the ancient knowledge of our primordial mother?


DeShannon Barnes-Bowens, M.S. (Iyanifa Iwalewa Ifasalewa Oyetunde)

Babalorisha John Mason 

Iya Amma D. McKen 

Iya Cynthia Turner 



Iya Marta Moreno Vega

When: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 |  6 pm - 8 pm 

Where: Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Insisture 

Admission: $15.00 - In Advance | $20.00 - At the Door | Purchase Your Ticket Here 



Meet the Panelists: 


DeShannon Barnes-Bowens, M.S. (Iyanifa Iwalewa Ifasalewa Oyetunde) is the founder of ILERA Counseling; Education Services, and works as a psychotherapist, professional development trainer, and spiritual counselor. Through ILERA, she offers workshops and programs focusing on: sexuality and spirituality, sexual abuse, vicarious trauma and wellness. DeShannon received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri - St. Louis, and a Master’s degree in Counseling from Pace University. She is an initiated priestess in the Orisa- Ifa spiritual tradition and a member of Ile Okun Inu temple based in the U.S. and Ilaro, Nigeria. DeShannon is also an ordained Interfaith-Interspiritual Minister through the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, where she currently teaches and serves as a Dean to first-year seminary students. She is the author of Hush Hush: An African American Family Breaks their Silence on Sexuality and Sexual Abuse (2007, 2015). The second edition of her book inspired a full-length play of the same title, as well as an arts education program called Hush Hush the Healing Project. DeShannon is the first recipient of the Bill T. Jones Award from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, and an Emeritus Scholar for State of Formation. Some presentations of her work have taken place at the American Academy of Religion, Harvard University, The Children’s Aid Society, Washington University, New York Theological Seminary, University of Connecticut, and the Values Caucus of the United Nations. For more information about DeShannon and her work visit


John Mason

Babalorisha John Mason is a leading, internationally noted scholar, educator, writer, poet, playwright, musician, composer, photographer, Yoruba religious art sculptor and installation artist, diviner and priest of Obatala initiated in 1970. He is a graduate of City College of New York. Mason received a 1999 Guggenheim Fellowship in Folklore and a BAC-2001 NYCDCA award.

From 1969-75 he worked as a Basic Education Instructor with the NYC Manpower Program under CUNY and developed curriculum for the five areas of education needed to prepare students to pass the General High School Equivalency Examination, and to work successfully with reading and writing assignments that would be encountered at the college freshman level. From 1973-78 he was a Music & Culture Instructor for: Center of Puerto Rican Studies, CUNY; Muse-Jazz School, Brooklyn; District #4, Bd. of Ed., NYC; ASPIRA, NYC. 

In 1997, Mason was invited to bring Omo 'Nago a percussion and choral group of master musicians, to perform Sacred Yoruba Orisa Music at the Smithsonian Institution 1997 Festival of American Folklife held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. He has organized many community-based out-reach and educational activities, for the elderly and youth, respectively, in East Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Mason created the program, "Literacy Built Through Creative Actions," which has been implemented at: The Brooklyn Children's Center; Clara Cardwell PS/IS 308; and Mary McLeod Bethune M.S.394. 

In 1973 he co-founded and is currently director of the Yoruba Theological Archministry, a non-profit research center located in Brooklyn, NY. For more than fifty years he has been involved in the intensive and extensive study of all aspects of Yoruba culture in the Americas and West Africa. His thorough documentation of this cultural movement throughout the Americas and West African diaspora has led to him being considered one of the leading authorities in the field, and his work has led to the publication of eleven major books in the field of African studies in the Americas. 

His most noted published works include: Baba’s Esu-Elegba Tales (2015), Araaraara: Wondrous Inhabitor of Thunder (2012), IRONTI APONNI MEJI: Remembrance of Two Flatterers (2006), IYIN PIPE: Praise of Completeness-Yoruba Art from the Danny Simmons’ Collection (2004), Who's Knocking On My Floor?: Esu Arts in the Americas (2003), Adura Fun Orisa: Prayers for Selected Heads (2002), Idana Fun Orisa: Cooking for Selected Heads (1999), Beads, Body and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe (1998, with Henry John Drewal; Finalist, Herskovits Award of ASA, 1999 and ACASA Arnold Rubin Award 2001), Olookun: Owner of Rivers and Seas (1996), the groundbreaking study, Orin Orisa: Songs for Selected Heads (1992), Four New World Yoruba Rituals (1985), and Black Gods: Orisa Studies in the New World (1985, with Gary Edwards). 

In 1998, John Mason, a traditional and jazz percussionist, formed MASON-JAM-JA BAND. With fifty years experience as a percussionist and poet, Mason turns his attention to composing and performing music that draws on classic, traditional West African religious and secular rhythms, song melodies and text to extend the improvisational vocabulary of spirituals, blues, bebop, hard bop, Afro-Latin, and Rap music. 
Mason’s original compositions are performed in Blues for Diana, a two-act, blues, dance drama is written by John Mason. He has also created: The African Suite in Six Movements, The Cuban Suite, The Sacred Suite, In Praise of Our Mothers, Four Women Dance, Tails of Shorty Long, Aiku/Anti-Death Tonics, and Anti-Depression Tonics. He has also created and performed a one-man review entitled Johnson 
Memories, and written the books and music for the plays University of the Playground and Memoirs of the Mothers of the Children of Fishes. The band/orchestra/chamber ensemble has performed as the house band at McDonalds Cafe (oldest Black-owned restaurant in Brooklyn) , and presented Mason’s original compositions at: The American Museum ofNatural History, the Miami Art Museum, The Museum for African Arts, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Julia Burgos Cultural Center in East Harlem, Jazz 966, Riverbank State Park, East Stroudsburg University, Ramapo College, Simmons' Corridor Gallery, Medgar Evers' Jazzy Jazz, Caribbean Cultural Center, Yale University, BAM Cafe, The Open Center, Black River Dance Studio, Goucher College, etc


Amma Mcken

Amma McKen has devoted her life to preserving the traditions of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria, who kept their religion alive in slavery, in part by identifying the Orishas with Christian saints. The music, she said, “has followed the slave trade and has ended up in Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and gone to places like New Orleans and other places in the South. And it’s just a matter of drummers handing the music down, the lineage, to other musicians. And the musicians taking those same rhythms and elaborating on them and making different variations.” The drums are tuned to play the tones of the Yoruba language so that they speak directly to the Orishas and invite them to participate. During a Bembe, spirit possession may take place.

Recognized as a priestess of the goddess Yemonja and as an Akpon, or song leader, McKen has been called upon to officiate and lead the singing at Bembes throughout the United States and the Caribbean. She became the first African American Akpon to produce a recording of the traditional songs, Alaaka Oso: Owner of the Songs Is Eloquent. In 1998, she collaborated with the African American Dance Ensemble and the Carolina Dance Ensemble to stage "Cultural Journey: Back to the Roots." She co-founded and serves as director of the musical group Omi Yesa.

In teaching, McKen finds that she must use a different approach with adults than with children, who are generally more receptive to an oral tradition. But she feels that “if you are passionate enough about wanting something, regardless of what it is, you can get it. And I use myself as an example to tell other people. … ‘Go for it. Go for it. It’s there for you to receive; you can get it.’ ”

Bibliography Mason, John. Orin Orisa: Songs for Selected Heads. (Brooklyn, New York: Yoruba Theological Archministry, 1997.)
The Orisha Project: An audio & photo documentary of black Americans living the Yoruba traditional religion in The US. <

Orisha IYA NLA (Mother of Nature) is part of Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute's Sacred Traditions arm of work which honors the sacred belief systems of indigenous and African-based cultures around the world. These traditions often share core values: honoring ancestors, connecting with the divine forces of nature, and cultivating sacred energy within to achieve one's personal mission on earth and build strong families, communities, and societies. Through panels, workshops, conferences, and wellness circles, CCCADI facilitates deeper understanding and awareness of these traditions so that communities can leverage this ancient wisdom for the challenges they face today.


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