OLOKUN (oni-okun, he who owns the sea), "Lord of the Sea," is the sea-god of the Yorubas. He is one of those who came from the body of Yemaja.
As man worships that from which he has most to fear, or from which he hopes to receive the greatest benefits, the inland tribes pay little or no attention to Olokun, who is, however, the chief god of fishermen and of all others whose avocations take them upon the sea. When Olokun is angry he causes the sea to be rough and stirs up a raging surf upon the shore; and it is he who drowns men, upsets boats or canoes, and causes shipwrecks.
Olokun is not the personally divine sea but an anthropomorphic conception. He is of human shape and black in colour, but with long flowing hair, and resides in a vast palace under the sea, where he is served by a number of sea-spirits, some of whom are human in shape, while others partake more or less of the nature of fish. On ordinary occasions animals are sacrificed to Olokun, but when the condition of the surf prevents canoes from putting to sea for many days at a time, a human victim is offered to appease him. It is said that such sacrifices have been made in recent times, even at Lagos, by the people of the Isaleko quarter, who are chiefly worshippers of Olokun. The sacrifice was of course secret, and according to native report the canoemen used to watch by night till they caught some solitary wayfarer, whom they gagged and conveyed across the lagoon to the sea-shore, where they struck off his head and threw the body into the surf.
A myth says that Olokun, becoming enraged with mankind on account of their neglect of him, endeavoured to destroy them by overflowing the land; and had drowned large numbers when Obatala interfered to save the remainder, and forced Olokun back to his palace, where he bound him with seven iron chains till he promised to abandon his design. This, perhaps, has reference to some former encroachment of the sea upon the low-lying sandy shores, which are even now liable to be submerged at spring-tides.
Olokun has a wife named Olokun-su, or Elusu, who lives in the harbour bar at Lagos. She is white in colour and human in shape, but is covered with fish-scales from below the breasts to the hips. The fish in the waters of the bar are sacred to her, and should anyone catch them, she takes vengeance by upsetting canoes and drowning the occupants. A man who should be so ill-advised as to attempt to fish on the bar would run a great risk of being
[1. Another myth of this nature has been mentioned in Chapter II., under Ifa.]
thrown overboard by the other canoemen. Olokunsu is an example of a local sea-goddess, originally, as on the Gold Coast at the present day, considered quite independent, being attached to the general god of the sea, and accounted for as belonging to him.
Olosa (oni-osa, owner of the laaoon) is the goddess of the Lagos Lagoon, and the principal wife of her brother Olokim, the sea-god. Like her husband she is long-haired. She sprang from the body of Yemaja.
Olosa supplies her votaries with fish, and there are several temples dedicated to her along the shores of the lagoon, where offerings of fowls and sheep are made to her to render her propitious. When the lagoon is swollen by rain and overflows its banks she is angry, and if the inundation be serious a human victim is offered to her-, to induce her to return within her proper limits.
Crocodiles ate Olosa's messengers, and may not be molested. They are supposed to bear to the goddess the offerings which the faithful deposit on the shores of the lagoon or throw into the sedge. Some crocodiles, selected by the priests on account of certain marks borne by them, are treated with great veneration; and have rude sheds, thatched with palm leaves, erected for their accommodation near the water's edge. Food is regagularly supplied to these reptiles every fifth day, or festival, and many of them become sufficiently tame to come for the offering as soon as they see or hear the worshippers gathering on the bank.
Shankpanna, or Shakpana, who also came from the body of Yemaja, is the Small-pox god. The name appears to be derived from shan, to daub, smear, or plaster, which probably has reference to the pustules with which a small-pox patient is covered, and akpania, a man-killer, homicide. He is accompanied by an assistant named Buku, who kills those attacked by small-pox by wringing their necks.
Shan-kpanna is old and lame, and is depicted as limping along with the aid of a stick. According to a myth he has a withered leg. One day, when the gods were all assembled at the palace of Obatala, and were dancing and making merry, Shankpanna endeavoured to join in the dance, but, owing to his deformity, stumbled and fell. All the gods and goddesses thereupon burst out laughing, and Shankpanna, in revenge, strove to infect them with small-pox, but Obatala came to the rescue, and, seizing his spear, drove Shankpanna away. From that day Shankpanna was forbidden to associate with the other gods, and he became an outcast who has since lived in desolate and uninhabited tracts of country.
Temples dedicated to Shankpanna are always built in the bush, at some little distance from a town or village, with a view to keeping him away from
[1. Akpania, kpa, to kill, and enia, a person.
2. Perhaps bu, to rot, emit a.stench, and iku, death.]
habitations. He is much dreaded, and when there is an epidemic of small-pox the priests who serve him are able to impose almost any terms they please upon the terrified people, as the price of their mediation, To whistle by night near one of Shankpanna's haunts is believed to be a certain way of attracting his notice and contracting the disease. As is the case with Sapatan, the small-pox god of the Ewe tribes, who have perhaps adopted the notion from the Yorubas, flies and mosquitos are the messengers of Sbankpanna, and his emblem is a stick covered with red and white blotches, symbolic, it seems, of the marks he makes on the bodies of his victims.
Shigidi, or Shugudu, is deified nightmare. The name appears to mean "something short and bulky," and the god, or demon, is represented by a broad and short head, made of clay, or, more commonly, by a thick, blunted cone of clay, which is ornamented with cowries, and is no doubt emblematic of the head.
Shigidi is an evil god, and enables man to gratify his hate in secret and without risk to himself. When a man wishes to revenge himself upon another he, offers a sacrifice to Shigidi, who thereupon proceeds at night to the house of the person indicated and kills him. His mode of procedure is to squat upon the breast of his victim and "press out his breath;" but it often happens that the tutelary deity of the sufferer comes to the rescue and wakes him, uponwhich Sbigidi leaps off, falls upon the earthen floor, and disappears, for he only has power over man dur ing sleep. This superstition still lingers among the negroes of the Bahamas of Yoruba descent, who talk of being "hagged," and believe that nightmare is caused by a demon that crouches upon the breast of the sleeper. The word nightmare is itself a survival from a similar belief once held by ourselves, mare being the Anglo-Saxon mære, elf or goblin.
The person -who employs Shigidi, and sends him out to kill, must remain awake till the god returns, for if he were to fall asleep Shigidi would at that moment turn back, and the mission would fail. Shigidi either travels on the wind, or raises a wind to waft him along; on this point opinions differ. The first symptom of being attacked by Shigidi, is a feeling of heat and oppression at the pit of the stomach, "like hot, boiled rice," said a native. If a man experiences this when he is falling asleep, it behoves him to get up at once and seek the protection of the god he usually serves.
Houses and enclosed yards can be placed under the guardianship of Shigidi. In order to do this a hole is dug in the earth and a fowl, sheep, or, in exceptional cases, a human victim is slaughtered, so that the blood drains into the hole, and is then buried. A short, conical mound of red earth is next built over the spot, and an earthen saucer placed on the summit to receive occasional sacrifices. When a site has thus been placed under the protection of Shigidi, he kills, in his typical manner, those who injure the buildings, or who trespass there with bad intentions.
Olarosa (?Alarense, helper) is the tutelary deity of Houses. He is represented as armed with a stick or sword, and his image is found in almost every household guarding the entrance. His office is to drive away sorcerers and evil spirits, and to keep Elegba from entering the house.
Dada, more properly Eda, or Ida, is the god of New-born Babes and Vegetables. The name appears to mean natural production, anything produced or brought forth by natural process. Dada is repre. sented by a calabash ornamented with cowries, on which is placed a ball of indigo. He is one of those who came from the body of Yemaja.
Oya is the goddess of the Niger, which is called Odo Oya, the river of Oya. She is the chief wife of the thunder-god, Shango, and, as has already been said, her messenger is Afefe, the Wind. At Lokoro, near Porto Novo, there is said to be a temple of Oya containing an image of the goddess with eight heads surrounding a central head. This is supposed to be symbolical of the numerous outfalls of the Niger through its delta. Oya, and the two following sprang from Yemaja.
Oshun, goddess of the river of the same name, which is the sacred river of Jebu Ode, is the second wife of Shango. Crocodiles which bear certain marks are sacred to her, and are considered her messengers. Human sacrifices are made to Oshun in time of need.
Oba, the third wife of Shango, is the goddess of the River Ibu, or Oba.
Aje Shaluga is the god of Wealth, and confers riches on his worshippers. The name appears to mean either "the gainer who makes to recur," or "the sorcerer who makes to recur." (Aje, sorcerer; aje, earner, or gainer, and shalu, to recur.) His emblem is a large cowry. One proverb says, "Aje Shaluga often passes by the first caravan as it comes to the market, and loads the last with benefits;" and another, "He who while walking finds a cowry is favoured by Aje Shaluga." The large cowry, emblematic of Aje Shaluga, has no value as. a medium of exchange, the small white cowries being alone used for that purpose. He is the patron of dyes and of colours generally. He came from the body of Yemaja.
Orisha Oko (oko, farm, garden, plantation) is the god of Agriculture, and is one of those who sprang from the body of Yemaja. As the natives chiefly depend upon the fruits of the earth for their food, Orisha Oko is much honoured. There is scarcely a town or village that has not a temple dedicated to him, and he has a large number of priests and priestesses in his service.
Although his first care is to promote the fertility of the earth, he is also -the god of natural fertility in general, for he is a phallic divinity, and his image is always provided with an enormous phallus. He thus resembles Priapus, who, although a phallic deity, was, apparently, primarily a garden-god, who fostered and protected crops. (Catullus, xix. xx.; Tibullus, I. i.)
An emblem of Orisha Oko is an iron rod, and honey bees are his messengers. It is probably with reference to his phallic attributes that he has the title of Eni-duru- "the erect personage." One of his functions is to cure malarial fevers, to which those who disturb the soil in the process of cultivation are particularly liable.
There is an annual festival to Orisha Oko, held when the yam crop is ripe, and all then partake of new yams. At this festival general licence prevails, the priestesses give themselves indiscriminately to all the male worshippers of the god, and, theoretically, every man has a right to sexual intercourse with every woman he may meet abroad. Social prejudices have, however, restricted the application of this privilege, and it is now only slave-girls, or women of the lowest order, who are really at the disposal of the public, and then only if they are consenting parties. At this festival all kinds of vegetable productions are cooked and placed in vessels in the streets, for general use.
Osanhin (san, to benefit) is the god of Medicine, and, as he is always applied to in cases of sickness, his worship is very general. His emblem is the figure of a bird perched upon an iron bar.
Aroni is the Forest-god, and, like the last, has a knowledge of medicine, though the cure of disease is not his special function. The name means "One having a withered limb," and Aroni is always represented as of human shape but with only one leg, the head of a dog, and a dog's tail.
Aroni seizes and devours those who meet him in the forest and attempt to run away when they see him; but if a man faces him boldly and shows no sign 'of fear, he leads him to his dwelling in the fastnesses of the forest, and keeps him there for two or three months, during which time he teaches him the secrets of the plants and their medicinal properties. When the pupil has no more to learn Aroni dismisses him, giving him a hair from his tail to prove to the incredulous that he has really been initiated.
An eddy of wind, rushing through the forest and swirling up the dead leaves, is considered a manifestation of Aroni.
Aja, whose name appears to mean a wild vine, is a deity somewhat similar to Aroni. Like Aroni, she carries off persons who meet her into the depths of the forest, and teaches them the medicinal properties of plants; but she never harms anyone. Aja is of human shape, but very diminutive, she being only from one to two feet high. The aja vine is used by women to cure enflamed breasts.
Oye, the god of the Harmattan wind, is a giant who, according to some, lives in a cavern to the north of Ilorin, while others say that 'he resides on the mountain named Igbeti, where Elegba is supposed to have his palace.
lbeji, Twins (bi, to beget, eji, two) is the tutelary deity of twins, and answers to the god Hoho of the Ewe-tribes. A small black monkey, generally found amongst mangrove trees, is sacred to Ibeji. Offerings of fruit are made to it, and its flesh may not be eaten by twins or the parents of twins. This monkey is called Edon dudu, or Edun oriokun, and one of twin children is generally named after it Edon, or Edun.
When one of twins dies, the mother carries with the surviving child, to keep it from pining for its lost comrade, and also to give the spirit of the deceased child something to enter without disturbing the living child, a small wooden figure, seven or eight inches long, roughly fashioned in human shape, and of the sex of the dead child. Such figures are nude, as an infant would be, with beads round the waist.
At Erapo, a village on the Lagoon between Lagos and Badagry, there is a celebrated temple to Ibeji, to which all twins, and the parents of twins, from a long distance round make pilgrimages.
It is said to be usual in Ondo to destroy one of twins. This is contrary to the practice of the Yorubas, and, if true, the custom has probably been borrowed from the Benin tribes to the east.
Oshumare is the Rainbow-god, the Great Snake of the Underneath, who comes up at times above the edge of the earth to drink water from the sky. The name is compounded of shu, to gather in dark clouds, to become gloomy, and the word mare, or maye, which occurs in one of the epithets of Olorun, and the meaning of which is uncertain. This god is also common to the Ewe-tribes, under the name of Anyiewo, and has been described in "The Ewe-Speaking People of the Slave Coast of West Africa." A variety of the python, called by the Yorubas ere, is the messenger of the rainbow-god, and is sacred to him.
Oke, mountain, or hill, is the god of Mountains, and is worshipped by those who live in mountainous or rocky country. If neglected, he is apt to roll down huge masses of rock upon the habitations of those who have been forgetful of his wants, or to sweep them away by a landslip. When any great mishap of this nature occurs, a human victim is offered up to turn away his anger. The falling of boulders or detached pieces of rock is always considered the handiwork of Oke and a sign that something is required. The emblem of Oke is a stone or fragment of rock. He is one of those who sprang from Yemaja.
At Abeokuta there is a rocky cavern in which Oke is worshipped. It is popularly believed by the other tribes that the Egbas, when defeated in war, can retire into this cavern, which then hermetically seats itself till the danger is past.
Oshosi, who is also one of those who came from Yemaja, is the patron of Hunters. He resides in the forest, and drives the game into the snares and pitfalls of his faithful followers, whom he also protects from beasts of prey. He is represented as a man armed with a bow, or frequently by a bow alone. Offerings are made to him of the fruits of the chase, chiefly of antelopes.
According to the myth, the sun, moon, and stars came from the body of Yemaja. Orun, the Sun, and Oshu, the Moon, are gods, but the stars do not seem to have been deified. The worship of the sun and moon is, moreover, now very nearly obsolete, and sacrifices are no longer offered to them, though the appearance of the -new moon is commonly celebrated by a festival.
The stars are the daughters of the sun and moon. The boys, or young suns, on growing up tried to follow their father in his course across the sky to where the sea and the sky meet, and which, say the Yorubas, is the place where the white men go and find all the things with which they fill their ships; but he, jealous of his power, turned upon them and tried to kill them. Some of them sought refuge with Olosa, some with Olokun, and the remainder with their grandmother, Yemaja, who turned them into fish. Thus all the sons were driven out of the sky, but the daughters remained with their mother and still accompany her by night. This myth is virtually the same as that current among the eastern Ewe-tribes, who have almost certainly learnt it from their Yoruba neighbours.
To see the new moon is lucky, and, just as in England, people wish when they first see it. As amongst the Ewe-tribes, an eclipse of the Moon is supposed to indicate that the Sun is beating her, and steps are taken to drive him away, similar to those described in "The Ewe-Speaking People."
The Yorubas pay some attention to the heavenly bodies. The planet Venus, when near the Moon, is called Aja-Oshu, the Moon's Dog, becauseshe travels with it. When a morning star she is called Ofere, or Ofe, which seems to mean a pale blue colour. When an evening star she is called Irawo-ale, Star of the Evening. Sirius is called Irawo-oko, Canoe Star, because it is believed to be a guide to canoemen. A proverbial saying likens the stars to chickens following a hen, the Moon; and the Milky Way is called the group of chickens."
Olori-merin, possessor of four heads, is another god whose worship is nearly, if not quite, obsolete. He was the tutelary deity of towns, and was represented by a hillock, or, if no hillock existed within the precincts of the town, by an artificial mound.
Sacrifice was made to Olori-merin every three months, or four times a year, and always consisted of a new-born child not more than three or four days' old. The child's throat was cut by a priest, and the blood, caught in a calabash or earthen vessel, was placed on the summit of the mound, after which the flesh was sliced up into small pieces and buried in the mound. During this dreadful scene the mother had to be present. This sacrifice was called Ejodun (Eje-odun), "The season of blood."
Olori-merin had, as his name betokens, four heads, with which he watched the four points of the compass from the top of his mound, and it was believed that no war or pestilence could attack a town under his protection. He had the legs and feet of a goat. Sometimes, at -night, he appeared in the shape of a venomous serpent.