IN the myths of the origin of the various gods described in the last two chapters we probably see the result of the indwelling-spirit theory having been lost sight of. As long as a god was accepted to be the animating principle or spiritual entity of some natural object or feature, his origin required no explanation, for his existence was bound up with the feature or object, and, if the question was thought of at all, he must have been, in the native mind, coeval with the origin of the world. When, however, as has been the case with most of the deities worshipped by the Yoruba tribes as a whole, the gods ceased to be identified with local objects or natural phenomena, some other explanation of their origin became necessary; for man, however low he may be in the scale of civilisation, is always desirous of knowing the reasons for everything, and the West African negro in particular is of a very inquisitive turn of mind. Then, in order to satisfy the natural desire to know who the gods were and whence they came, the myths we have already recounted grew up, and the numerous discrepancies in them appear to show that the process was comparatively recent. It looks as if the stories had not yet had sufficient time to become generally known in a commonly accepted version.
The deities Obatala and Odudua represent, say the priests, Heaven and Earth. Oloran is the real Heaven-god, or Sky-god, answering to the Ewe Mawu, but he is now almost pushed out of sight, and Obatala, a more active agent, acts for him. The difference between Olorun and Obatala appears to be that the former is the personal divine firmament, and the latter an anthropomorphic sky-god, a later conception; and we perhaps here see a repetition of the process by which in the religion of ancient Greece Kronos supplanted Uranus. Obatala, or Heaven, marries Odudua, or Earth, and has two children, named Aganju and Yemaja, who, according to the priests, represent Land and Water. These two intermarry and have a son, Orungan, "Air," the region between the solid firmament, and the earth. Orungan ravishes his mother Yemaja, who, while endeavouring to escape from further outrage, falls and bursts open, whereupon a number of gods emerge from her gaping body.
The gods whose origin is thus accounted for as the offspring of Yemaja, are of various types. The Sea-god (Olokun), the Thunder-god (Shango), the Sun, the Moon, the Lagoon (Olosa), the three river-goddesses Oya, Oshun, and Oba, the god of Mountains (Oke), and Ogun, god of iron and war and of the River Ogun, are all the product of Nature-worship, but are not of one type, for the Sun and Moon belong to the
[1. Rhea, bride of Kronos, to some extent represented the earth in Grecian mythology.]
old order of things, to the same religious system as Olorun, and are personally divine, while the others belong to the new order, and are anthropomorphic. Shankpanna, god of small-pox, is personified pestilence, and belongs to another type; while Dada, Oshosi, Aje Shaluga, and Orisha Oko, as the respective patrons of vegetable productions, hunters, wealth, and agriculture, may be regarded as the tutelary deities of industries, and as belonging to a third class of religious conceptions. The myth thus assigns a common origin alike to the ancient gods and to those which are more modern.
There are, however, other gods who do not belong to this family circle; that is, they are not descendants of Obatala and Odudua, so the mythological scheme is incomplete, no attempt being made to account for their origin. These gods are the God of Divination (Ifa), the Forest-god (Aroni), the Phallic-god (Elegba), the Harmattan Wind (Oye), the Rainbow (Oshumare), the tutelary deity of households (Olarosa), the god of Medicine (Osanhin), and Shigidi. These also are of various types. The Harmattan Wind and the Rainbow are Nature-gods of the old order, and Aroni, god of forests, of the new. Olarosa and Osanhin are tutelary deities, and Shigidi is personified nightmare. Ifa was probably originally the God of fecundation, though now his chief function is to foretell the future. Elegba, primarily a phallic divinity, seems to be gradually becoming a personification of evil, and here we perhaps see a tendency towards Dualism, which in the future might, if undisturbed, result in Elegba becoming the Evil Deity, and Obatala or Ifa the Good.
The incompleteness of the scheme seems, as has been said, to show that the myth of Yemaja is comparatively recent, and this is supported by the fact that the myth itself is not universally accepted in its entirety. Shango, for example, is said by some to be of independent origin, like Ifa; and Odudua, the mother of Yemaja, according to the myth, is by others included in the number of those who sprang from Yemaja's body. No general consensus of opinion has yet been arrived at, but the myth of Yemaja is the only one that holds the field, and no doubt in course of time the gods whose origin is as yet unexplained would also be held to have come from the daugliter of Obatala, and Odudua.
We find the same want of accord in the myths of the origin of man. According to some, Obatala made the first man and woman out of clay or mud, whence he has obtained his titles of Alamorere and Orisha Kpokpo; while, according to others, the first pair came, with the gods, from the body of Yemaja. Although the first story somewhat resembles the account of the origin of man given in the Book of Genesis, there is no reason for supposing it to be borrowed. When uncivilised man, after speculating about the origin of mankind, has come to the conclusion that there must have been a first pair, and has accounted for that first pair by the theory that they were made by a superior being out of something; the material which he would be most likely to select for their manufacture is clay or mud, because it is with these that he makes his own first rude attempts to model the human form. To make a rude imitation of the figure of a man in clay requires far less skill and far less labour than to carve one out of a block of wood, whence it is that most of the images of the gods are made of clay. Clay figures being primordial, and images being ordinarily made of clay even when the arts have somewhat advanced, this would be the substance which the myth-makers would introduce into their myths describing the origin of the first pair, a connection of ideas between clay and the human form already existing.
The second story, which cannot be any older than the myth of Yemaja, of which it is a part, is sufficiently precise to give the name of the first couple, that of the man being Obalofun (Lord of Speech), and that of the woman Iya (Mother). After coming out of the goddess at Ife, they settled there, and had a numerous progeny, which increased and multiplied till the whole earth was populated, hence it is that Ife is considered the cradle of the human race. Of course Obalofun and Iya were Yorubas, for it is a peculiarity of every uucivilised people to believe that the first man and woman were of their race.
Another tradition, though it makes Ife the place of origin of the Yoruba tribes, represents it as being colonised by persons migrating from the interior. This tradition is perhaps a dim recollection of a historical fact, historical, that is, in so far that the Yoruba tribes probably did in the remote past come
[1. According to one Greek myth, Pandora, the first woman, was ruade by Hepæestus out of earth, and, according to anotlier, Prometheus made man out of earth and water. See also Lucian, "Dialogues of the Gods," i.]
down from the interior, and occupy the territory in which they were found at the commencement of the present century; for the cognate Tshi tribes of the Gold Coast also have a tradition of a migration from the interior. Most probably the two traditions refer to a great southward movement of the original stock from which the Tshi, Gã, Ewe, and Yomba tribes are descended, and which, starting from some central point in the interior, spread out in fan-shape till it reached the sea-coast. The tradition of the Yoruba migration is as follows.
Long ago a certain person living in the far interior sent fifteen people from his country to go to the south, and with them came, of his own free will, one named Okambi, who afterwards became the first King of Yoruba. When they were leaving, the person who sent them gave Okambi a slave, a trumpeter named Okinkin, a fowl, and something tied up in a piece of black cloth. They journeyed for some time, and when they opened the gate of the south and passed into the unknown country, they found nothing but water spread out before them. At first they thought of returning, but fearing the anger of the person who had sent them, they entered the water; and, finding it quite shallow, waded on through it. This they did for some time until Okinkin the trumpeter sounded his trumpet, in accordance with the instructions the person had given, and thereby reminded Okambi of the something tied up in black cloth, which was to be opened when the trumpet
[1. This name means "an only child." Okan, one, and bi, to bear.
2. Okinkin appears to mean "owner of a very small portion."]
sounded. The cloth was accordingly untied, and a palm-nut, with some earth fell into the water from it. The nut immediately began to grow, and shot up so rapidly that in a few minutes it had become a tall palm with sixteen branches. All the party, being very tired from their long wading climbed up into the tree and rested on the branches till next morning, in which position a certain person named Okiki saw them from the country from which they had been sent out. When he saw them, Okiki reminded Okinkin the trumpeter that it was his duty to sound the trumpet again, whereupon he sounded it, and Okambi untied the piece of black cloth a second time. When it was opened, earth fell from it, and, drying up the water, made a small mound. The fowl that the personage had given Okambi then flew on to the mound and scratched the earth here and there, and wherever the earth fell it dried up the water. When there was a good space covered with earth, Okambi came down from the tree, bringing with him his trumpeter Okinkin and his slave Tetu. The other persons wished to come down also, but Okambi would not
[1. This number often recurs in Yoruba myths. There were sixteen palm-nuts on the two palms in the garden of Orungan, the chief man, which Ifa obtained for the purpose of divination, and sixteen palm trees grew up from the palm-nut that Ifa planted on the rock at Ado. Sixteen persons, viz. fifteen and Okambi, commence the journey to the south.
2. This name is sometimes given as Okiki-shi. Okiki means rumour, or report, and Okiki-sbi, "borrowed from report." There is an unintelligible Gã proverb, "Nobody knows who has born Okaikoi," which perhaps refers to the same personage.
Tetu means "executioner."]
allow them to do so until they had promised to pay him, at stipulated periods of time, a tribute of 200 cowries apiece. The place where the palm sprung up from the water afterwards became Ife, and, some time after, three brothers set out from there in different directions, to make fresh discoveries. When they went away they left a slave, named Adimu, to rule Ife during their absence.
This tradition is vague and meagre of detail, the only points brought out being that a certain number of persons migrated southward from the interior, and found a region covered with water. This latter detail, however, strongly supports the theory that a real migration took place; for the large stretches of shallow water of the lagoon system, which during the rainy season are enormously extended by the inundation of the low-lying portions of the surrounding country, could scarcely have failed to excite the wonder of a people accustomed to the plateaus and mountain ranges of the interior, and to leave a lasting impression upon their memories.
[1. Adimu, a tight grasp, hold-fast.]