ODUNLAMI, SOPHIA (Religious Movement)

A Yoruba woman whose visions are associated with the beginning of the Aladura movement in Western Nigeria in the early twentieth century, Sophia Odunlami first became widely known locally in 1918 on account of her visionary experience during the influenza epidemic that ravaged South-Western Nigeria. When western medicine failed to hold back the disease or offer any help to those afflicted, the British colonial administration closed down some schools and churches to prevent its continuous spread. As a result of a dream, Joseph B.Shadare (his name later changed to Eshinsinade), a member of the Diocesan Board and a leading member of St Saviours Anglican Church, Ijebu Ode, started regular prayer meetings to seek divine intervention to halt the epidemic. One of those who joined the prayer meetings was Sophia Odunlami (later Mrs Ajayi), a relative of Shadare, then a young woman in her early twenties who was teaching in an Anglican school in a village near Ijebu Ode. Following a vision, she proclaimed that God would send rain that would cure those afflicted with the flu, and anyone using any other medicine whatsoever would die. This brought much public to the prayer meetings attention was drawn to the prayer group, which became known as Egbe Okuta Iyebiye (the Precious Stone or the Diamond Society). This society assumed a semi-autonomous existence as a Pentecostal group within the Anglican Church. Its doctrinal emphases included the rejection of all medicine and reliance on faith healing alone, the rejection of infant baptism—an issue that brought them into sharp disagreement with the Anglican clergy—and the importance of dreams and visions. Odunlami was a charismatic leader, a prophet and a visionary. When the Precious Stone Society severed its connection with the Anglican Church which had made life very difficult for members of the new society, Odunlami was one of those who in 1921 affiliated with the Faith Tabernacle Church, a holiness church based in the United States of America. Throughout her life, Odunlami was active in a leadership role and provided spiritual guidance to the group. In 1930, she condemned Josiah Ositelu’s use of some strange holy names (see Ositelu, Josiah) and thus distanced the Ijebu Ode group from Ositelu. Odunlami’s charismatic personality helped to break down the restrictive cultural barriers that confronted Yoruba women, and thus created more opportunities for women in church life in the early twentieth century.

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