THE tendency which we noted in the case of the Ewe speaking peoples to replace gods which were purely local, and only worshipped by those dwelling in the vicinity, by tribal gods, and by gods worshipped by an entire people, has in the case of the Yoruba tribes been very fully developed, and all the gods possessing any importance are known to and worshipped by the Yoruba-speaking peoples as a whole. The effect of increasing the number of general objects of worship has been to diminish the importance of the local objects of worship, the genii loci, who, except in Jebu and in some of the remoter districts, have been so shorn of their power as now to- be scarcely above the level of the fairies and water-sprites of mediæval England, or, which is perhaps a closer parallel, of the Naiads and Hama-dryads of ancient Greece. This of course is what was to be expected, for the general objects of worship govern, between them, all the phenomena which most nearly affect mankind; and the special function of each genius loci is thus now vested in some other god, who is believed to be more powerful, because he is worshipped over a larger axea and has a more numerous following. Gods, however, which are purely tutelar have not been so much affected, and tutelary dieties of towns and of individuals are still common, because the native, while enrolling himself as a follower of a general god, likes also to have a protector whose sole business is to guard his interests; and who, though his power may be limited, is not likely to be distracted by the claims of others to his attention.
The term used by the Yoruba tribes to express a superhuman being, or god, is orisha, and as it is used equally to express the images and sacred objects, and also as an adjective with the meaning of sacred or holy, it answers exactly to the Tshi term bohszon, the Gã wong, and the Ewe vodu. The word orisha seems to be compounded of ori (summit, top, head) and sha (to select, choose); though some natives prefer to derive it from ri (to see) and isha (selection, choice), and thus to make it mean "One who sees the cult."
Olorun is the sky-god of the Yorubas, that is, he is the deified firmament, or personal sky, just as Nyankupon is to the Tshis, Nyonmo to the Gas, and Mawu to the Ewes. As was mentioned in the last volume, the general bias of the negro mind has been in favour of selecting the firmament for the chief Nature god, instead of the Sun, Moon, or Earth; and in this respect the natives resemble the Aryan Hindus, Greeks, and Romans, with whom Dyaus pitar, Zeus, and Jupiter equally represented the firmament.
[1. The Tshis and Gas use the words Nyankupon and Nyonmo to express sky, rain, or thunder and lightning, and the Ewes andYorubas, the words Mawn and Olorun to express the two former. The Tshi peoples say Nyankupon lom (Nyankupon knocks); "It is thundering"; Nyankupon aba (Nyankupon has come), "It is raining"; and the Gã peoples, Nyonmo, knocks (thunders), Nyonmo pours, Nyonmo drizzles, &c., while in just the same way the Ancient Greeks ascribed these phenomena to Zeus, who snowed, rained, hailed, gathered clouds, and thundered. Nyankupon has for epithets the following: Amosu (Giver of Rain); Amovua (Giver of Sunshine); Tetereboensu (Wide-speading Creator of Water), and Tyoduampon, which seems to mean "Stretched-out Roof" (Tyo, to draw or drag, dua, wood, and pon, flat surface).
Nyankupon and Nyonmo thunder and lighten as well as pour out rain, but Olorun, like the Ewe Mawu, does not wield the thunderbolt, which has become the function of a special thunder-god, and he consequently has suffered some reduction in importance. The name Olorun means "Owner of the Sky" (oni, one who possesses, orun, sky, firmament, cloud), and the sky is believed to be a solid body, curving over the earth so as to cover it with a vaulted roof.
Like Nyankupon, Nyonmo, and Mawu, Olorun is considered too distant, or too indifferent, to interfere in the affairs of the world. The natives say that he enjoys a life of complete idleness and repose, a blissful condition according to their ideas, and passes his time dozing or sleeping. Since he is too lazy or too indifferent to exercise any control over earthly affairs, man on his side does not waste time in endeavouring to propitiate him, but reserves his worship and sacrifice for more active agents. Hence Olorun has no priests, symbols, images, or temples,
[1. The n in oni, or ni, always changes to l before the vowels a, e, o, and u. See Chapter on Language, Verbs (6).]
and though, in times of calamity, or affliction, whjen the other gods have turned a deaf ear to his supplications, a native will, perhaps, as a last resource, invoke Olorun, such occasions are rare, and as a general rule the god is not worshipped or appealed to. The name Olorun, however, occurs in one or two set phrasesor sentences, which appear to show that at one time greater regard was paid to him. For instance, the proper reply to the morning salutation, "Have you risen well?" is O yin Olorun, "Thanks to Olorun;" and the phrase "May Olorun protect you" is sometimes heard as an evening salutation. The former seems to mean that thanks are due to the sky for letting the sun enter it; and the latter to be an invocation of the firmament, the roof of the world, to remain above and protect the earth during the night. Sometimes natives will raise their hands and cry, "Olorun, Olorun!" just as we say, "Heaven forbid!" and with an equal absence of literal meaning.
Olorun has the following epithets:--
(1) Oga-ogo (Oga, distinguished or brave person; ogo, wonder, praise).
(2) Olowo (ni-owo) "Venerable one."
(3) Eleda (da, to cease from raining), "He who controls the rain."
(4) Elemi, "a living man," literally "he who possesses breath." It is a title applied to a servant or slave, because his master's breath is at his mercy; and it is in this sense also that it is used to Olorun, because, if he were evilly, disposed, he could let fall the solid firmament and crush the world.
(5) Olodumaye or Olodumare. The derivation of this epithet is obscure, but it probably means "Replenisher of brooks" (0lodo, possessing brooks). We find the same termination in Oshumaye or Oshumare, Rainbow, and in Osamaye or Osamare, Water Lily, and it is perhaps compounded of omi, water, and aye, a state of being.alive.
It may be mentioned that, just as the missionaries have caused Nyankupon, Nyonmo, and Mawu to be confused with the Jehovah of the Christians, by translating these names as "God," so have they done with Olorun, whom they consider to be a survival from a primitive revelation, made to all mankind, in the childhood of the world. But Olorun is merely a nature-god, the personally divine sky, and he only controls phenomena connected in the native mind with the roof of the world. He is not in any sense an omnipotent being. This is well exemplified by the proverb which says, "A man cannot cause rain to fall, and Olorun cannot give you a child," which means that, just as a man cannot perform the functions of Olorun and cause rain to fall, so Olorun cannot form a child in the womb, that being the function of the god Obatala, whom we shall next describe. In fact, each god, Olorun included, has, as it were, his own duties; and while he is perfectly independent in his own domain, he cannot trespass upon the rights of others.
Obatala is the chief god of the Yorubas. The name means "Lord of the White Cloth" (Oba-ti-ala.), and is explained by the fact that white is the colour sacred to Obatala, whose temples, images, and paraphernalia are always painted white, and whose followers wear white cloths. Another derivation is Oba-ti-ala, "Lord of Visions," and this gains some probability from the fact that Obatala has the epithets of Orisha oj'enia, "The Orisha who enters man," and Alabalese (Al-ba-ni-ase), "He who predicts the future," because he inspires the oracles and priests, and unveils futurity by means of visions. "Lord of the White Cloth," however, is the translation most commonly adopted, and appears to be the correct one. The god is always represented as wearing a white cloth.
Obatala, say the priests, was made by Olorun, who then handed over to him the management of the firmament and the world, and himself retired to rest. Obatala is thus also a sky-god, but is a more anthropomorphic conception than Olorun, and performs functions which are not in the least connected with the firmament. According to a myth, which is, however, contradicted by another, Obatala made the first man and woman out of clay, on which account he has the title of Alamorere, "Owner of the best clay;" and because he kneaded the clay himself he is called Orisha kpokpo, "The Orisha who kneads clay" (kpo, to knead or temper clay). Though this point is disputed by some natives, all are agreed that Obatala forms the child in the mother's womb, and women who desire to become mothers address their prayers to him; while albinoism and congenital deformities are regarded as his handiwork, done either to punish
[1. Al-oni (one who. has); ba (to overtake); ni (to have); ase (a coming to pass), "One who overtakes the coming to pass."]
some neglect towards him on the part of the parents, or to remind his worshippers of his power.
Obatala is also styled "Protector of the Town Gates," and in this capacity is represented as mounted on a horse, and armed with a spear. On the panels of the temple doors rude carvings are frequently seen of a horseman with a spear, surrounded by a leopard, tortoise, fish, and serpent. Another epithet of Obatala is Obatala gbingbiniki, "The enormous Obatala." His special offerings are edible snails.
Amongst the Ewe-speaking Peoples at Porto Novo, Obatala determines the guilt or innocence of accused persons by means of an oracle termed Onshe or Onishe (messenger, ambassador). It consists of a hollow cylinder of wood, about 31/2 feet in length and 2 feet in diameter, one end of which is covered with draperies and the other closed with shells of the edible snail. This cylinder is placed on the head of the accused, who kneels on the ground, holding it firmly on his head with a hand at each side. The god, being then invoked by the priests, causes the cylinder to rock backwards and forwards, and finally to fall to the ground. If it should fall forward the accused is innocent, if backward guilty. The priests say that Obatala, or a subordinate spirit to whom he deputes the duty, strikes the accused, so as to make the cylinder fall in the required direction; but sceptics and native Christians say that a child is concealed in the cylinder and overbalances it in front or behind, according to instructions given beforehand by the priests. They add that when a child has served for a year or two and grown too big for the cylinder he is put to death, in order that the secret may be preserved; and is succeeded by another, who, in his turn, undergoes the same fate-but all this is mere conjecture.
Odudua, or Odua, who has the title of Iya agbe, The mother who receives," is the chief goddess of the Yorubas. The name means "Black One" (dit, to be black; dudit, black), and the negroes consider a smooth, glossy, black skin a great beauty, and far superior to one of the ordinary cigar-colour. She is always represented as a woman sitting down, and nursing a child.
Odudua is the wife of Obatala, but she was coeval with Olorun, and not made by him, as was her husband. Other natives, however, say that she came from Ife, the holy city, in common with most of the other gods, as described in a myth which we shall come to shortly. Odudua represents the earth, married to the anthropomorphic sky-god. Obatala and Odudua, or Heaven and Earth, resemble, say the priests, two large cut-calabashes, which, when once shut, can never be opened. This is symbolised in the temples by two whitened saucer-shaped calabashes, placed one covering the other; the upper one of which represents the concave firmament stretching over and meeting the earth, the lower one, at the horizon.
According to some priests, Obatala and Odudua represent one androgynous divinity; and they say that an image which is sufficiently common, of a human being with one arm and leg, and a tail terminating in a sphere, symbolises this. This notion, however, is not one commonly held, Obutala and Odudua being generally, and almost universally, regarded as two distinct persons. The phallus and yoni in juxtaposition are often seen carved on the doors of the temples both of Obatala and Odudua; but this does not seem to have any reference to androgyny, since they are also found similarly depicted in other places which are in no way connected with either of these deities.
According to a myth Odudua is blind. In the beginning of the world she and her husband Obatala were shut up in darkness in a large, closed calabash, Obatala being in the upper part and Odudua in the lower. The myth does not state how they came to be in this situation, but they remained there for many days, cramped, hungry, and uncomfortable. Then Odudua began complaining, blaming her husband for the confinement; and a violent quarrel ensued, in the course of which, in a frenzy of rage, Obatala tore out her eyes, because she would not bridle her tongue. In return she cursed him, saying "Naught shalt thou eat but snails," which is the reason why snails are now offered to Obatala. As the myth does not make Odudua recover her sight, she must be supposed to have remained sightless, but no native regards her as being blind.
Odudua is patroness of love, and many stories are told of her adventures and amours. Her chief temple is in Ado, the principal town of the state of the same name, situated about fifteen miles to the north of Badagry. The word Ado means a lewd person of eithersex, and its selection for the name of this town is accounted for by the following legend. Odudua was once walking alone in the forest when she met a hunter, who was so handsome that the ardent temperament of the goddess at once took fire. The advances which she made to him were favourably received, and they forthwith mutually gratified their passion on the spot. After this, the goddess became still mora enamoured, and, unable to tear herself away from her lover, she lived with him for some weeks in a hut, which they constructed of branches at the foot of a large silk-cotton tree. At the end of this time her passion had burnt out, and having become weary of the hunter, she left him; but before doing so she promised to protect him and all others who might come and dwell in the favoured spot wliere she had passed so many pleasant hours. In consequence many people came and settled there, and a town gradually grew up, which was named Ado, to commemorate the circumstances of its origin. A temple was built for the protecting goddess; and there, on her feast days, sacrifices of cattle and sheep are made, and women abandon themselves indiscriminately to the male worshippers in her honour.
Before her amour with the hunter, Odudua bore to her husband, Obatala, a boy and a girl, named respectively Aganju. and Yemaja. The name Aganju means uninhabited tract of country, wilderness, plain, or forest, and Yemaja, "Mother of fish" (yeye, mother; eja, fish). The offspring of the union of Heaven and Earth, that is, of Obatala and Odudua, may thus be said to represent Land and Water. Yemaja is the goddess of brooks and streams, and presides over ordeals by water. She is represented by a female figure, yellow in colour, wearing blue beads and a white cloth. The worship of Aganju seems to have fallen into disuse, or to have become merged in that of his mother; but there is said to be an open space in front of the king's residence in Oyo where the god was formerly worshipped, which is still called Oju-Aganju-"Front of Aga-nju."
Yemaja married her brother Aganju, and bore a son named Orungan. This name is compounded of orun, sky, and gan, from ga, to be high; and appears to mean "In the height of the sky." It seems to answer to the khekheme, or "Free-air Region" of the Ewe peoples; and, like it, to mean the apparent space between the sky and the earth. The offspring of Land and Water would thus be what we call Air.
Orungan fell in love with his mother, and as she refused to listen to his guilty passion, he one day took advantage of his father's absence, and ravished her. Immediately after the act, Yemaja sprang to her feet and fled from the place wringing her hands and lamenting; and was pursued by Orungan, who strove to console her by saying that no one should know of what had occurred, and declared that he could not live without her. He held out to her the alluring prospect of living with two husbands, one acknowledged, and the other in secret; but she rejected all his proposals with loathing, and continued to run away. Orungan, however, rapidly gained upon her, and was just stretching out his hand to seize her, when she fell backward to the ground. Then her body immediately began to swell in a fearful manner, two streams of water gushed from her breasts, and her abdomen burst open. The streams from Yemaja's breasts joined and formed a lagoon, and from her gaping body came the following:--(l) Dada (god of vegetables), (2) Shango (god of lightning), (3) Ogun (god of iron and war), (4) Olokun (god of the sea), (5) Olosa (goddess of the lagoon), (6) Oya (goddess of the river Niger), (7) Oshun (goddess of the river Oshun), (8) Oba (goddess of the river Oba), (9) Orisha Oko (god of agriculture), (10) Oshosi (god of hunters), (11) Oke (god of mountains), (12) Aje Shaluga (god of wealth), (13) Shankpanna (god of small-pox), (14) Orun (the sun), and (15) Oshu (the moon). To commemorate this event, a town which was given the name of Ife (distention, enlargement, or swelling up), was built on the spot where Yemaja's body burst open, and became the holy city of the Yoruba-speaking tribes. The place where her body fell used to be shown, and probably still is; but the town was destroyed in 1882, in the war between the Ifes on the one hand and the Ibadans and Modakekes on the other.
The myth of Yemaja thus accounts for the origin of several of the gods, by making them the grandchildren of Obatala and Odudua; but there are other gods, who
[1. The order, according to some, was Olokun, Oloss, Shango, Oye, Oshun, Oba, Ogun, Dada, and the remainder as above.]
do not belong to this family group, and whose genesis is not accounted for in any way. Two, at least, of the principal gods are in this category, and we therefore leave for the moment the minor deities who sprung from Yemaja, and proceed with the chief gods, irrespective of their origin.
Shango, the god of thunder and lightning, is, next to Obatala, the most powerful god of the Yorubas; he was the second to spring from the body of Yemaja. His name appears to be derived from shan, "to strike violently," and go, "to bewilder;" and to have reference to peals of thunder, which are supposed to be produced by violent blows. He has the epithet of Jakuta, "Hurler of stones," or "Fighter with stones" (Ja, to hurl from aloft, or ja, to fight, and okuta, stone); and stone implements, which have long ceased to be used in West Africa, are believed to be his thunderbolts.
To wield the thunderbolt is certainly one of the proper functions of the sky-god, and the process by which he becomes deprived of it is not by any means clear. It does not appear to be the result of advancing culture, for the Zeus of the Greeks and the Jupiter of the Romans, who had respectively the epithets Kerauneios and Tonans, retained it; as do the Nyankupon of the Tshis and the Nyonmo of the Gas; while, like the Ewes and Yorubas, the Aryan Hindus
[1. For the same notion among the Tshis and Gas, see Note at p. 36.]
made another god, namely, Indra, offspring of Dyaus, wield the lightning.
The notion we found amongst the Ewes that a birdlike creature was the animating entity of the thunderstorm has no parallel here, and Shango is purely anthropomorphic. He dwells in the clouds in an immense brazen palace, where he maintains a large retinue and keeps a great number of horses; for, besides being the thunder-god, he is also the god of the chase and of pillage. From his palace, Shango hurls upon those who have offended him red-hot chains of iron, which are forged for him by his brother Ogun, god of the river Ogun, of iron and of war; but this, it should be observed, is seemingly a modern notion, and the red-hot chains furnished by Ogun have a suspicious resemblance to the thundefbolts of Jupiter, forged by Vulcan. The Yoruba word for lightning is mana-mana (ma-ina, a making of fire), and has no connection either with iron (irin) or a chain (ewon); while the name Jakuta shows that Shango is believed to hurl stones and not iron. The iron-chain notion, therefore, appears to have been borrowed from some foreign source, and, moreover, not to yet have made much progress. The Oni-Shango, or Priests of Shango, in their chants always speak of Shango as hurling stones; and whenever a house is struck by lightning they rush in a body to pillage it and to find the stone, which, as they take
[1. Hunting and thunder were likewise the functions of the Aztec god, or goddess, Mixcoatl. (Nadaillac, "Prehistoric America," p. 298.)
2. Oni, one who possesses or gets.]
it with them secretly, they always succeed in doing. A chant of the Oni-Shango very commonly heard is, "Oh Shango, thou art the master. Thou takest in thy hand thy fiery stones, to punish the guilty and satisfy thine anger. Everything that they strike is destroyed. Their fire eats up the forest, the trees are broken down, and all living creatures are slain;" and the lay-worshippers of Shango flock into the streets during a thunderstorm crying, "Shango, Shango, Great King! Shango is the lord and master. In the storm he hurls his fiery stones against his enemies, and their track gleams in the midst of the darkness." "May Shango's stone strike you," is a very common imprecation.
According to some natives, Oshumare, the Rainbow, is the servant of Shango, his office being to take up water frorn the earth to the palace in the clouds. He has a messenger named Ara, "Thunder-clap," whom he sends out with a loud noise. A small bird called papagori is sacred to Shango, and his worshippers profess to be able to understand its cry.
Shango married three of his sisters: Oya, the Niger; Oshun, the river of the same name, which rises in Ijesa and flows into the water-way between Lagos and the Lekki lagoon, near Emina; and Oba, also a river, which rises in Ibadan and flows into the Kradu Water. All three accompany their husband when he goes out, Oya taking with her her messenger Afefe (the Wind, or Gale of Wind), and Oshun and Oba carrying his bow and sword. Shaugo's slave Biri (Darkness) goes in attendance.
The image of Shango generally represents him as a man standing, and is surrounded by images, smaller in size, of his three wives; who are also represented as standing up, with the palms of their hands joined together in front of the bosom. Oxen, sheep, and fowls are the offerings ordinarily made to Shango, and, on important occasions, human beings. His colours are red and white. He is consulted with sixteen cowries, which are thrown on the ground, those which he with the back uppermost being favourable, and those with the back downward the reverse. He usually goes armed with a club called oshe, made of the wood of the ayan tree, which is so hard that a proverb says, "The ayan tree resists the axe." In consequence of his club being made of this wood, the tree is sacred to him.
The priests and followers of Shango wear a wallet, emblematic of the plundering propensities of their lord, and the chief priest is called Magba, "The Receiver." As amongst the Ewe tribes, a house struck by lightning is at once invaded and plundered by the disciples of the god, and a fine imposed on the occupants, who, it is held, must have offended him. Persons who are killed by lightning may not, properly speaking, be buried; but if the relations of the deceased offer a sufficient payment, the priests usually allow the corpse to be redeemed and buried. Individuals rendered insensible by lightning are at once despatched by the priests, the accident being regarded as proof positive that Shango requires them. A common idea is that Shango is subject to frequent outbursts of ungovernable temper, during which he thumps and bangs overhead, and hurls down stones at those who have given him cause for offence.
The foregoing are, with the exception of the myth of the fiery chains, the old ideas respecting Shango; but on to them are now rapidly becoming grafted some later myths, which make Shango, an earthly king who afterwards became a god. This Shango was King of Oyo, capital of Yoruba, and became so unbearable through rapacity, cruelty, and tyranny, that the chiefs and people at last sent him a calabash of parrots' eggs, in accordance with the custom that has already been mentioned; with a message that he must be fatigued with the cares of government, and that it was time for him to go to sleep. On receiving this intimation, Shango, instead of allowing himself to be quietly strangled by his wives, defied public opinion and endeavoured to assemble his adherents; and, when this failed, sought safety in flight. He left the palace by night, intending to endeavour to reach Tapa, beyond the Niger, which was his mother's native place; and was accompanied only by one wife and one slave, the rest of his household having deserted him. During the night the wife repented of her hasty action, and also left him; so, when in the morning Shango found himself lost in the midst of a pathless forest, he had no one with him but his slave. They wandered about without food for some days, seeking in vain for a path which would lead them out of the forest, and at last Shango, left his slave, saying, "Wait here till I return, and we will then try further." After waiting a long time, the slave, as his master did not appear, went in search of him, and before long found his corpse hanging by the neck from an ayan-tree. Eventually the slave succeeded in extricating himself from the forest, and finding himself in a part of the country he knew, made his way towards Oyo, where he told the news.
When the chiefs and elders heard that Shango had hanged himself they were much alarmed, fearing that they would be held responsible for his death. They went, in company, with the priests, to the place where the slave had left the body, but were unable to find it, for it was no longer on the tree. They searched in every direction, and at last found a deep pit in the earth, from which the end of an iron chain protruded. They stooped over the pit and listened, and could hear Shango talking down in the earth. They at once erected a small temple over the pit, and leaving some priests there to propitiate the new god, and establish a worship, returned to Oyo, where they proclaimed: "Shango is not dead. He has become an orisha. He has descended into the earth, and lives among the dead people, with whom we have heard him conversing." Some of the townspeople, however, being ignorant and foolish, did not believe the story, and when the criers cried, "Shango is not dead," they laughed and shouted in return, "Shango is dead. Shango hanged himself." In consequence of this wicked conduct, Shango came in person, with a terrific thunderstorm, to punish them for their behaviour; and, in order to show his power, he killed many of the scoffers with his fiery stones, and set the town on fire. Then the priests and elders ran about -among the burning houses, shouting, "Shango did not hang himself. Shango has become an orisha. See what these bad men have brought upon you by their unbelief. He is angry because they laughed at him, and he has burned your houses with his fiery stones because you did not vindicate his honour." Then the populace fell upon the scoffers and beat them to death, so that Shango was appeased, and his anger turned away. The place where Shango descended into the earth was called Kuso, and soon became a town, for many people went to dwell there.
Perhaps this myth really does refer to some former King of Oyo, though why such a king should usurp the functions of the thunder-god, is not at all clear. It is inconsistent in part, for it makes the chiefs and elders alarmed at the suicide of Shango, because they feared to be held responsible for his death; yet they would have been equally responsible had he complied with established custom, and committed suicide when he received the parrots' eggs they sent him. The fact of the ayan being sacred to the god Shango, no doubt caused that tree to be selected for the legendary suicide of the king Shango; and the iron chain which protruded from the hole in the ground was probably suggested by the notion of red-hot chains of lightning. As we have said, this myth is rapidly becoming blended with the older ones, and, in consequence of these events having taken place at Kuso, Shango has the title of Oba-Kuso, "King of Kuso."
Another myth makes Shango the son of Obatala, and married to the three river goddesses Oya, Oshun, and Oba, but reigning as an earthly king at Oyo. The story relates that one day Shango obtained from his father Obatala a powerful charm, which, when eaten, would enable him to vanquish all who opposed him. Shango ate most of the medicament, and then gave the rest to Oya to keep for him; but she, as soon as his back was turned, ate the rest herself. Next morning the chiefs and elders assembled at the palace as usual, to judge the affairs of the people, and each spoke in his turn; but when it came to Shango's turn to speak, flames burst forth from his mouth, and all fled in terror. Oya, too, when she began to scold ber women in the palace, similarly belched forth flames, so that everybody ran away, and the palace was deserted. Shango now saw that he was, as a god, inferior to none; so calling his three wives to him, and taking in his hand a long iron-chain, he stamped on the earth till it opened under him, and descended into it with his wives. The earth closed again over them, after they had gone down, but the end of the chain was left protruding from the ground.
This myth well exemplifies the confusion that has now been created in men's minds between the thunder-god proper and the demi-god, the result being a kind of compound Shango, possessing attributes of each. The Shango of this story resembles in his marital relations the thunder-god, but the descent into the earth with the iron chain, the end of which is left above ground, is like the legendary descent of the deified king, and is probably only another version of the same event. It is probable that contact with Mohammedans has had something to do with the invention of this myth. The genii, as we read of them in the "Arabian Nights," are frequently described as breathing forth flames to destroy their opponents; and a descent into the earth, which opens when stamped upon, is a mode of exit often found in the same collection. These ideas do not appear to be ones at all likely to have arisen spontaneously in the negro mind, and we find nothing of the sort in the groups cognate to the Yoruba. Moreover, a thunder-god must, from the very nature of his being, live above the eaxth amongst the clouds; and to make him descend into the bowels of the earth, is to place him in a situation where he could not exercise the functions of his office. These remarks equally apply to the following myth.
Since his descent into the earth with his three wives at Oyo, Shango has often come back to the world. One day, when down in the earth, he quarrelled with Oya, who had stolen some of his "medicines;" and she, terrified at his violence, ran away, and took refuge with her brother the Sea-God (Olokun). As soon as Shango discovered where she had gone, he swore a great oath to beat her so that she would never forget it. Next morning he came up from below with the Sun, and, following him in his course all the day, arrived with him in the evening at the place where the sea and sky join, and so descended with him into the territories of his brother Olokun. The Sun had not knowingly shown Shango the road across the sky to Olokun's palace, for Shango had been careful to keep behind him all the time, nearly out of sight, and to hide when the Sun looked round.
When Shango reached Olokun's palace and saw his wife Oya there, he made a great noise and commotion. He rushed towards her to seize her, but Olokun held him; and while the two were struggling together Oya escaped, and ran to bide with her sister Olosa (the Lagoon). When Olokun saw that Oya had gone he released Shango, who, now more furious than ever, ran after his wife cursing and threatening her. In his rage he tore up the trees by their roots, as he ran along, tossing them here and there. Oya, looking out from her sister's house, saw him coming along the banks of the lagoon, and, knowing that Olosa could not protect her, ran out again, and fled along the shores towards the place where the Sun goes down. As she was running, and Shango coming behind, roaring and yelling, she saw a house near at hand, and, rushing into it, claimed protection of a man whom she found there, whose name was Huisi. She begged Huisi to defend her. Huisi asked what he, a man, could do against Shango; but Oya gave him to eat of the "medicines" she had stolen from her husband, and he, being thus made an orisha, promised to protect her. As Shango approached, Huisi ran from his house down to the banks of the lagoon, and tearing up a large tree by the roots, brandished it in the air, and defied Shango. There being no other tree there, Shango seized Huisi's canoe, shook it like a club, and the two weapons, striking together, were shattered to pieces. Then the two oiishas wrestled together. Flames burst from their mouths, and their feet tore great fissures in the earth as they dragged each other to and fro. This struggle lasted a long time without either being able to gain the mastery, and at last Shango, filled with fury at being baffled, and feeling his strength failing, stamped on the earth, which opened under him, and he descended into it, dragging Huisi down with him. At the commencement of the combat, Oya had fled to Lokoro; she remained there, and the people built a temple in her honour. Huisi, who had become a god by virtue of the "medicine" he had eaten, also had a temple erected in his honour, on the spot where he had fought with Shango.
In this myth Oya steals the medicine and gives it to Huisi; in the former one she also stole it, but ate it herself. In each case it caused flames to burst from the mouth.
Ifa, god of divination, who is usually termed the God of Palm Nuts, because sixteen palm-nuts are used in the process of divination, comes after Shango in order of eminence. The name Ifa apparently means something scraped or wiped off: he has the title of Gbangba (explanation, demonstration, proof). Ifa's secondary attribute is to cause fecundity: he presides at births, and women pray to him to be made fruitful; while on this account offerings are always made to him before marriage, it being considered a disgrace not to bear children. To the native mind there is no conflict of function between Ifa and Obatala, for the former causes the woman to become pregnant, while the latter forms the child in the womb, which is supposed to be a different thing altogether.
[1. Near Porto Novo.]
Ifa first appeared on the earth at Ife, but he did not come from the body of Yemaja, and his parentage and origin are unexplained. He tried to teach the inhabitants of Ife how to foretell future events, but they would not listen to him, so he left the town and wandered about the world teaching mankind. After roaming about for a long time, and indulging in a variety of amours, Ifa fixed his residence at Ado, where he planted on a rock a palm-nut, from which sixteen palm-trees grew up at once.
Ifa has an attendant or companion named Odu (? One who emulates), and a messenger called Opele (ope, puzzle, or ope, palm-tree). The bandicoot (okete) is sacred to him, because it lives chiefly upon palm-nuts. The first day of the Yoruba week is Ifa's holy day, and is called ajo awo, "day of the secret." On this day sacrifices of pigeons, fowls, and goats are made to him, and nobody can perform any business before accomplishing this duty. On very important occasions a human victim is immolated.
A priest of Ifa is termed a babalawo (baba-ni-awo), "Father who has the secret," and the profession is very lucrative, as the natives never undertake anything of.importance without consulting the god, and always act in accordance with the answer returned. Hence a proverb says, "The priest who is more shrewd than another adopts the worship of Ifa." As Ifa knows all futurity, and reveals coming events to his faithful followers, he is considered the god of wisdom, and the benefactor of mankind. He also instructs man how to secure the goodwill of the other gods, and conveys to him their wishes, His priests pluck all the hair from their bodies and shave their heads, and always appear attired in white cloths.
The general belief is that Ifa possessed the faculty of divination from the beginning, but there is a myth which makes him acquire the art from the phallic god Elegba. In the early days of the world, says the myth, there were but few people on the earth, and the gods found themselves stinted in the matter of sacrifices to such an extent that, not obtaining enough to eat from the offerings made by their followers, they were obliged to have recourse to various pursuits in order to obtain food. Ifa, who was in the same straits as the other gods, took to fishing, with, however, but small success; and one day, when he had failed to catch any fish at all, and was very hungry, he consulted the crafty Elegba, who was also in want, as to what they could do to improve their condition. Elegba replied that if he could only obtain the sixteen palm-nuts from the two palms -that Orungan the chief man, had in his plantation, he would show Ifa how to forecast the future; and that he could then use his knowledge in the service of mankind, and so receive an abundance of offerings. He stipulated that in return for instructing Ifa in the art of divination, he should always be allowed the first choice of all offerings made. Ifa agreed to the bargain, and going to Orungan, asked for the sixteen palm-nuts, explaining
[1. Compare this with Lucian, "Zeus in Tragedy," where Zeus complains that the sea captain Mnesitheus had, only sacrificed one cock to entertain sixteen gods.
2. The son and ravisher of Yemaja is also so named]
to him what he proposed to do with them. Orungan, very eager to know what the future had in store for him, at once promised the nuts, and ran with his wife Orisha-bi, "Orisha-born," to get them. The trees, however, were too lofty for them to be able to reach the palm-nuts, and the stems too smooth to be climbed; so they retired to a little distance and drove some monkeys that were in the vicinity into the palms. No sooner were the monkeys in the trees than they seized the nuts, and, after eating the red pulp that covered them, threw the bard kernels down on the ground, where Orungan and his wife picked them up. Having collected the whole sixteen, Orisha-bi tied them up in a piece of cloth, and put the bundle under her waist-cloth, on her back, as if she were carryino, a child. Then they carried the palm-nuts to Ifa. Elegba kept his promise and taught Ifa the art of divination, and Ifa in his turn taught Oruno-an, who thus became the first babalawo, It is in memory of these events that when a man wishes to consult Ifa, he takes his wife with him, if he be married, and his mother if he be single, who carries the sixteen palm-nuts, tied up in a bundle, on her back, like a child; and that the babalawo, before consulting the god, always says, "Orugan, ajuba oh. Orisha-bi ajuba oh." ("Orungan, I hold you in grateful remembrance. Orisha-bi, I hold you in grateful remembrance."
For the consultation of Ifa a whitened board is employed, exactly similar to those used by children in Moslem schools in lieu of slates, about two feet long and eight or nine inches broad, on which are marked sixteen figures. These figures are called "mothers." The sixteen palm-nuts are held loosely in the right hand, and thrown through the half-closed fingers into the left hand. If one nut remain in the right hand, two marks are made, thus | |; and if two remain. one mark, |. In this way are formed the sixteen "mothers," one of which is declared by the babalawo to represent the inquirer; and from the order in which the others are produced he deduces certain results. The interpretation appears to be in accordance with established rule, but what that rule is is only known to the initiated. The following are the "mothers":
[1. This process is repeated eight times, and the marks are made in succession in two columns of four each.]
No. 6 is No. 5 inverted; 8 is 7 inverted; 10, 9 inverted; 13, 12 inverted; and 14, 11 inverted. Meji means "two," or "a pair," and the following appears to be the meaning of the names:--(1) The close pair (buru, closely). (2) The removed pair (Yekuro, to remove). (3) The street pair (Ode, a street). (4) The closed-up pair (Di, to close up, make dense). (5) The squatting-dog pair (losho, to squat like a dog). (6) The cross-bow pair (oron, cross-bow). (7) The striped pair (abila, striped). (8) ?Vulture-pair (akala, vulture). (9) The pointing pair (sha, to point). (10) The pair ending downward (Ku, to end, da, to upset on the ground). (11) ?The top-heavy pair (Dura, to make an effort to recover from a stumble; opin, end, point). (12) The tattoo-mark pair (ture, name of certain tattoo-marks). (13) The edge pair (leti, on the edge of). (14) The folded-up pair (Ka, to fold or coil). (15) The opened pair (shi, to open). (16) The alternate pair (fo, to pass over, pass by, jump over, skip).
From these sixteen "mothers" a great many combinations can be made by taking a column from two different "mothers," and figures thus formed are called "children." Thus (13) and (2) and (11) and (10) make respectively-
As the figures are read from right to left, the system is probably derived from the Mobammedans. James Hamilton, indeed, describes a very similar mode of divination which he saw in the oasis of Siwah, where it was called Derb el ful, or Derb el raml, according to whether beans or sand were used. He says: "Seven beans are held in the palm of the left hand, which is struck with a smart blow with the right half-closed fist, so that some of the beans jump into the right hand - if an odd number, one is marked; if even, two. The beans are replaced in the left hand, which is again struck with the right, and the result marked below the first. This being repeated four times gives the first figure, and the operation is performed until there are obtained four figures, which are placed side by side in a square; these are then read vertically and perpendicularly (sic), and also from corner to corner, thus giving in all ten figures. As each may contain four odd or four even numbers, they are capable of sixteen permutations, each of which has a separate signification, and a proper house, or part of the square in which it should appear."
The initiation fee paid to a priest for teaching the art of divination is, it is said, very heavy, and moreover does not cover the whole of the expense; for the Oracle is, like Oracles generally, ambiguous and obscure, and the neophyte finds that he constantly has to refer to the priests for explanations of its meaning, and on each such occasion he is required to pay a consultation fee. When a man is initiated the priest usually informs him that he must
[1. "Wanderings in North Africa," pp. 264-65.]
henceforward abstain from some particular article of food, which varies with the individual.
Ifa figures in connection with a legendary deluge, the story of which, now adapted to the Yoruba theology, was probably derived from the Mohammedans. Some time after settling at Ado, Ifa became tired of living in the world, and accordingly went to dwell in the firmament, with Obatala. After his departure, mankind, deprived of his assistance, was unable to properly interpret the desires of the gods, most of whom became in consequence annoyed. Olokun was the most angry, and in a fit of rage he destroyed nearly all the inhabitants of the world in a great flood, only a few being saved by Obatala, who drew them up into the sky by means of a long iron chain. After this ebullition of anger, Olokun retired once more to his own domains, but the world was nothing but mud, and quite unfit to live in, till Ifa came down from the sky, and, in conjunction with Odudua, once more made it habitable.
Elegba, or Elegbara (Elegba-Bara), often called Esbu, is the same phallic divinity who was described in the volume on the Ewe-speaking Peoples. The name Elegba seems to mean, "He who seizes" (Eni-gba), and Bara is perhaps Oba-ra, "Lord of the rubbing" (Ra, to rub one thing against another). Eshu appears to be from shu, to emit, throw out, evacuate, The propensity to make mischief, which we noted as a minor characteristic of the Ewe Elegba, is much more prominent in the Yoruba god, who thus more nearly approaches a personification of evil. He is supposed always to carry a short knobbed club, which, originally intended to be a rude representation of the phallus, has, partly through want of skill on the part of the modellers of the images, and partly through the growing belief in Elegba's malevolence, come to be regarded as a weapon of offence. Because he bears this club he has the title of Agongo ogo. Ogo is the name of the knobbed club, and is most probably a euphemism for the phallus; it is derived from go, to hide in a bending or stooping posture. The derivation of agongo is less easy to determine, but it seems to be from gongo, tip, extremity.
The image of Elegba, who is always represented naked, seated with his bands on his knees, and with an immensely, disproportionate phallus, is found in front of almost every house, protected by a small hut roofed with palm-leaves. It is with reference to this that the proverb says: "As Eshw has a malicious disposition, his house is made for him in the street" (instead of indoors). The rude wooden representation of the phallus is planted in the earth by the side of the hut, and is seen in almost every public place; while at certain festivals it is paraded in great pomp, and pointed towards the young girls, who dance round it.
Elegba, in consequence of the bargain he made with
[1. In the case of Priapus we find a similar connection between the phallus and a cudgel. See Catullus, xx., "The Garden God."]
Ifa, receives a share of every sacrifice offered to the other gods. His own proper sacrifices are, as among the Ewe tribes, cocks, dogs and he-goats, chosen on account of their amorous propensities; but on very important occasions a human victim is offered. In such a case, after the head has been struck off, the corpse is disembowelled, and the entrails placed in front of the image in a large calabash or wooden dish; after which the body is suspended from a tree, or, if no tree be at hand, from a scaffolding of poles. Turkeybuzzards are sacred to Elegba and are considered his messengers, no doubt because they devour the entrails and bodies of the sacrifices.
There is a noted temple Lo Elegba in a grove of palms near Wuru, a village situated about ten miles to the east of Badagry. The market of Wuru is under his protection, and each vendor throws a few cowries on the ground as a thank-offering. Once a year these cowries are swept up by the priests, and with the sum thus collected a slave is purchased to be sacrificed to the god. A slave is also sacrificed annually, towards the end of July, to Elegba in the town of Ondo, the capital of the state of the same name. Elegba's principal residence is said to be on a mountain named Igbeti, supposed to be situated near the Niger. Here he has a vast palace of brass, and a large number of attendants.
Circumcision among the Yorubas, as among the Ewes, is connected with the worship of Elegba, and appears to be a sacrifice of a portion of the organ which the god inspires, to ensure the well-being of the remainder. To circumcise is dako (da-oko) da, to be acceptable as a sacrifice, and oko, the foreskin. Circumcision is ileyika, or ikola, the former of which means "the circular cutting" (ike, the act of cutting, and ikeya, a circuit), and the latter, "the cutting that saves" (ike, the act of cutting, and ola, that which saves). Except among the Mohammedans there is no special time for performing the rite of circumcision, it being fixed for each individual by Ifa, after consultation, but usually it is done early in life. No woman would have connection with an uncircumcised man. A similar operation is performed on girls, who are excised, by women operators, shortly before puberty, that is, between the ages of ten and twelve years.
As is the case in the western half of the Slave Coast, erotic dreams are attributed to Elegba, who, either as a female or male, consorts sexually with men and women during their sleep, and so fulfils in his own person the functions of the incubi and succubi of mediaeval Europe.
Ogun is the god of iron and of war, and, like Shango, is also a patron of hunters. Iron is sacred to him, and when swearing by Ogun it is usual to touch an iron implement with the Ilorgue. The name Ogun seems to mean "One who pierces" (gun, to pierce, or thrust with something pointed). He is specially worshipped by blacksmiths, and by those who make use of iron weapons or tools. Any piece of iron can be used as a symbol of Ogun, and the ground is sacred to him because iron ore is found in it. He is one of those who sprang from the body of Yemaja.
The usual sacrifice offered to Ogun is a dog, together with fowls, palm oil, and minor articles of food. A proverb says, "An old dog must be sacrificed to Ogun," meaning that Ogun claims the best; and a dog's head, emblematic of this sacrifice, is always to be seen fastened up in some conspicuous part of the workshops of blacksmiths. On very important occasions, however, a human victim is offered, and, as in the case of a sacrifice to Elegba, the entrails are exposed before the image and the body suspended from a tree. The victim is slain by having his head struck off upon the stool of Ogun, over which the blood is made to gush. The reason of this is that the blood is believed to contain the vital principle, and therefore to be an offering, particularly acceptable to the gods.
This belief appears to be common to most barbarons peoples; the Israelites held it, and blood was considered to be so peculiarly the portion of their national god, that the blood of all animals slain, whether for sacrifice or food, had to be presented as an offering, no one being allowed to eat it under pain of death.
When war has been decided upon, a slave is purchased at the expense of the town, or tribe, and offered as a sacrifice to Ogun, to ensure success. The day before that on which he is to be immolated, the victim is led with great ceremony through the principal thoroughfares, and paraded in the market, where he is allowed to say or do anything he pleases (short of escaping his impending fate), may gratify his
[1. Genesis ix. 4; Leviticus xvii. 11, 14.
2. Leviticus xvii. 3,4; iii. 16,17; vii. 28-27.]
desire with any woman who takes his fancy, and give his tongue every licence. The reason of his being thus honoured for the twenty-four hours before being sacrificed, is that it is believed he will be born again and become a king; and, after the head has been struck off, the corpse is treated with the greatest respect by all. In order for this sacrifice to be effective, it is necessary that the war leaders should take the field before the body begins to become offensive. The Ibadans, who appear to be rather averse to human sacrifice, always used to perform this duty by deputy, paying the priests of Ife to sacrifice for them a slave in that town. When the war of 1877 began they omitted to do this, thinking that the affair would not be serious; and, attributing their subsequent want of success to the omission, they afterwards sacrificed a slave to Ogun in their camp at Kiji in 1885, they having been prevented from doing it earlier by their leader, a Mohammedan, who died in that year.
The priests of Ogun usually take out the hearts of human victims, which are dried, reduced to powder, then mixed with rum, and sold to persons who wish to be endowed with great courage, and who drink the mixture. The reason of this is that the heart is believed to be the seat of courage and to inherently possess that quality; and that when the heart is devoured or swallowed the quality with which it is inspired is also taken into the system.