Sacred-Texts Africa Index Previous

p. 54




   The relationships of the various gods are differently stated by different chiefs and priests of Ífè, and also by the same men at different times.

   It appears, however, that Arámfè ruled in Heaven, and sent his sons, Odúwa and Orísha, to a dark and watery region below to create the world and to people it. According to the legends told in Ífè, the gods were not sent away as a punishment; but there is some story of wrong-doing mentioned at Ówu in the Jébu country. Arámfè gave a bag full of arts and wisdom to Orísha, and the kingship to Odúwa.

   On the way from Heaven Odúwa made Orísha drunk, and stole the bag. On reaching the edge of Heaven, Odúwa hung a chain over the cliff and sent down a priest, called Ojúmu, with a snail-shell full of magic sand and a "five-fingered" fowl. Ojúmu threw the sand on the water and the fowl kicked it about. Wherever the fowl kicked the sand, dry land appeared. Thus the whole world was made, with Ífè as its centre.

   When the land was firm, Odúwa and Orísha let themselves down the chain, and were followed by several other gods. Orísha began making human beings; but all was dark and cold, because Arámfè had not sent the sun with Odúwa. So Odúwa sent up, and Arámfè sent the sun, moon and fire. (Fire was sent p. 55 on a vulture's head, and that is why the vulture has no feathers on its head.) Then the gods began to teach their arts and crafts to men.

   After many years Orísha made war upon Odúwa to get back his bag. The various gods took sides, but some looked on. The medicine-men provided amulets for the men on both sides. Arámfè was angry with his sons for fighting and threw his thunderbolts impartially—for he was the god of thunder in those days. The war is said to have lasted 201 years, and came to an end only because the gods on Odúwa's side asked him to give back the bag. Odúwa, in a huff, transformed to stone and sank beneath the earth, taking the bag with him. His son, Ógun, the god of iron, then became king.



   According to tradition, when the gods transformed, they ordered Odúm’la to speak for them, to be a father to the whole world and to remain on Earth for ever. In the words of an old chief: "It is our ancient law that the spirit of Odúm’la passes from body to body, and will remain for ever on the earth. The spirits of the gods are in their shrines, and Odúm’la speaks for them "

   I think the Órní claims to be Odúm’la himself. This is a matter of dogma, and I express no opinion.

p. 56



   There is little to add to the story of Odúwa told in Parts I, II & III.

   Arába told me another version of the end of the War of the Gods: Orísha and Odúwa agreed to stop the fighting on condition that each should have a man for sacrifice every seven months. Fourteen months was then regarded as a year.

   Another story Arába told me was: "The Moon is a round crystal stone, which is with Odúwa. They take it in front when they go to sacrifice to Odúwa—otherwise the god would injure the man who offers the sacrifice." Odúwa is said to have taken the stone from a Moslem, and to have been in the habit of looking at it.

   When I went to Odúwa's shrine, there was a great knocking of doors to warn the god of my arrival. I did not see the stone.



   The legend of Orísha's creation of Man is mysterious. He is said to have thrown images into wombs. I was once told he put signs into women's hands. I can only account for this story by the suggestion that it may date from a period when men had not discovered the connection between sexual intercourse and the birth of children.

p. 57

   As to spirit life before birth, the priest of Arámfè said "A child may have been with the spirits, but when he is born he forgets all about it."

   The sacrifice offered to Orísha consists of eight goats, eight fishes, eight rats and eight kola-nuts.

   Orísha was a god of great knowledge (apart from the contents of the bag which was stolen from him), and taught his son, Oluorógbo—who, according to tradition, is the ancestor of the white races.

   The Órní attributes ascendancy of Europeans to the up-bringing of Oluorógbo.

   Our ancestor has need of eggs, fowls, sheep, kola—and snails.



   Little is told of Obálufon, the husband of Mórimi.

   He was a man sent from Heaven by Arámfè, and was a weaver and a worker in brass. He also showed the people how to tap the palms for palm-wine.

   Apart from that, "he took care of everybody as a mother of a child, and used to go round the town to drive out sickness and evil spirits."

   His image represents him as a king.



   Mórimi is the great heroine of the Ífè legends. The story of her sacrifice which I have adopted is Arába's version.

p. 58

   I went also to Mórimi's priest, who showed me her image—of painted wood and no artistic merit—representing a naked negress. His story was much the same as Arába's; but, in his version, Mórimi sacrificed her only son, Yésu, for the whole world and not to any god. It would appear that some early Christian missionary had recognised the Virgin Mary in Mórimi; but it may be doubted whether the missionary had heard of Mórimi's visit to Úbo (See Note VII).



   The story of the Úbo Wars is that some colonists went from Ífè to found a new town which they called Úbo; but as the gods had given them nothing, they invaded Ífè. On the first occasion they were driven back; but the next year they came dressed in grass, terrified the people of Ífè and took the men as slaves. (And in those parts of Africa dead kings and gods in need of sacrifice are believed to prefer slaves to free men).

   Then Mórimi consulted Ífa, and was told to sacrifice six goats and six bags of cowries to Éshu, and go as a harlot to Úbo. Her mission was successful, and she returned with the necessary information—only to find the gods had transformed to rivers, stones, etc. (It seems that Ógun did not transform, as he was afterwards displaced by his son, Orányan).

   Acting on Mórimi's advice, Orányan set fire to the Úbo soldiers on their next inroad.

p. 59

   The end of Úbo is commemorated by Édi (the festival of Mórimi, which began on the 21st November in 1913). Men dressed in hay parade the town, but have to run for their lives when others pursue them with fire. Fire is also taken out to the Bush.

   On the first day of Édi, the Órní appears, but must remain in the Afin (Palace) for the remaining seven. During this period the women do honour to Mórimi's share in the victory by emulating her deed, and their husbands are not allowed to interfere.

   The meaning of the legend is doubtful. There may have been such a town as Úbo, but it seems likely that the Festival is connected with agriculture.

   Úbo (or Ígbo) means the Bush, and Mórimi may have advised the customary burning of the Bush to prepare the land for crops. The date of the Festival (early in the dry season), the fire and the men dressed in hay, all suggest this interpretation. On the other hand, the same arguments, combined with the seclusion of the Órní and the license of the women, would favour the view that Édi was the more general Festival of the Saturnalia. Possibly it was so originally; and the demons to be driven out appeared so material in the form of tropical vegetation that Úbo (the Bush to be burned) has obscured the former meaning of the Festival. If this be so, Mórimi's mission to Úbo may be a later fable to account for the license of the women before farming operations begin.

p. 60



   Óshun was a woman (or goddess) in high favour with both Odúwa and Orísha. "It were well were Óshun with us," said Odúwa, and Orísha agreed. Accordingly she took her place on Odúwa's left, Orísha being on his right; that is to say Óshun was considered the third personage in Ífè.

   The second chief in Ífè, the Obalúfe, claims descent from Óshun for himself and half the people of his quarter of the town. He has a well in his compound, called Óshun, which is said to be the actual water into which Óshun transformed herself. He says his first forefather took a calabash of the water with him when he went to war, and this gallon became the source of the River. The source is forty miles from Ífè, and perhaps the Obalúfe is right. The well is never dry; and it is needless to add that the water has many curative properties. One would be surprised if a descendant of Óshun died, except from other causes.

   "At the time of the Óshun Festival," says Obalúfe, "all her tribe collect sheep, goats, yams, agidi, palm-wine, kola, rats, fish and pigeons, and bring them to me for the feast. Óshun gets the blood of goats, sheep and pigeons, the head of a rat—but not of a fish. We eat the fish—although they are the children of Óshun and consequently our brothers." Óshun is more strait-laced than her descendants.

p. 61



   There is a pond in Ífè called Ókun (the Ocean), where Olókun transformed to water. Thence she flowed underground, and came out in the sea.

   Her priest showed me a bronze head of Olókun, which has considerable merit. He told me that, in return for sacrifice, Olókun gives beads. In Benin, Olókun is considered to be the Goddess of Wealth as well as of the Sea; and a King of Benin, who must have been alive about 1400 A.D., is said to have found the treasures of Olókun laid out on the shore and to have looted her coral.



   Ógun was the son of Odúwa, and is usually regarded as the God of Iron and of War.

   According to his chief-priest (the Oshógun), he went away to war and captured a woman called Deshóju, whom he made his wife. When Ógun returned to Ífè, Odúwa took Deshóju from his son. There is therefore some doubt as to whether Ógun was the father of Orányan—who was born with a leg, an arm and half his body black, the remainder being white (according to the Oshógun).

   Ógun may have had other attributes. He may have been a Phallic Deity, because there are hewn stones in Ífè, called the staves of Ógun, which appear p. 62 to be of Phallic origin. It is also noteworthy that, at the time of his Festival, Ógun is said to kill any marriageable girl he may find in her mother's house. (This happened once to Arába; the prospective son-in-law could not produce £5, and Arába, who gives no credit, lost a potential five pound note in the shape of his daughter). Further, when a child is circumcised the severed skin is put in a calabash of Ógun "to worship him (together with a snail in order that the wound may heal)."

   Ógun may also have been the Sun-God (or a worshipper of the Sun-God). His festival is commonly called Olójjor (Lord of Day). Oshogun says Ógun was Olójjor; Arába says Olójjor was someone else, the confusion being due to the circumstance that the two festivals take place at the same time. In this connection, the half-and-half colouring of Orányan is suggestive.

   The dog is the principal animal used for sacrifice to Ógun. Orányan prefers a ram, a rat, kola and much palm-wine.

   Eventually, Orányan displaced his father, who planted his staves in Ífè and went away. I have presumed the death of Osányi, as I cannot otherwise explain the fact that Ógun "went away" instead of transforming as the other gods had done. In his turn, Orányan "went away: he had too much medicine to die."

p. 63



   Peregún ’Gbo (or Peregún Ígbo) seems to have been a god who caused the forest to bring forth birds and beasts. He was a son of God, and came to earth with Ebbor (worship) and Édi, a god who causes men to do what they know to be wrong.

   It is evident from the incantation below that Peregún ’Gbo was originally approached by people in need of children, but nowadays the same formula is recited by the priest whatever a man may be asking for. The priest tells the man to bring a sheep, kola, palm-oil, a pigeon, a cock, and a hen; also a live goat for the priest.

   The priest kills the sheep, pigeon, cock and hen. The three birds and a part of the sheep are placed in separate broken pots with palm-oil. The man is then told to produce nine pennyworth of kowries, which are also put in the pots. The priest takes the balance of the mutton in addition to the live goat. The priest then faces the pots, puts pepper (átarè) into his mouth, and recites the incantation:—

1.Ígbo lóbi íror
   The forest bore the sloth.
2.Íror lóbi ógubor
   The sloth bore the monkey.
3.Ógubor lóbi áhan-námajá
   The monkey bore the leopard.
p. 64
4.Ahan-námajá lóbi érelu-agáma
   The leopard bore the guinea-fowl.
5.Érelu-agáma lóbi ekusá
   The guinea-fowl bore the hawk.
6.Ékusá lóbi óju-gbona
   The hawk bore the evil spirit who guards Heaven's gate.
7.Óju-gbona lóbi áfi íkere-tíkere éhin éku.
   The evil spirit bore the generative organs of men and women.
8.Peregún ’Gbo ni abobá Imálè.
   Untranslated. Imale is Peregún ’Gbo's messenger and is sent to do what the man asks.
9.Oriyámi la-popo
   Good luck is human.
10.Ése ámi lápè okúte ába
   The father of a lucky child is lucky.
11.Atorladórla Igbadá lordífa fun Orúnmila nigbatí nwon fi ojor íku re dóla.
   Atorladorla Igbadá approached Ífa on behalf of Orúnmila when they had fixed his death for the morrow. (Atorladórla Igbadá is a good spirit who keeps on postponing an evil deed contemplated by someone.)
p. 65
12.Orúnmila ni kátikun tíkun kátikerè tikerè.
   Orúnmila says menstruation will cease, and pregnancy will begin.
13.Orúnmila ni on ko yúnle orun.
   Orúnmila says that he (the child) will not go to Heaven (i.e. will be born alive).

   When the priest has finished the recitation, the man takes the pots to the shrine of Éshu (the Devil). The first ten sentences are in praise of Peregún ’Gbo, who ordered Atorladórla Igbadá to go to Ífa, and is now asked to send Imále to Orúnmila with the applicant's request. (The incantation is apparently in some form of archaic Yoruba, and the Babaláwo had to explain much of it to the interpreter. Some of the translations are probably very loose).



   Ífa was the Messenger of the Gods, and is consulted by the Yoruba on all subjects.

   His priests (called Babaláwo) profit considerably by divination, which they perform with sand on a circular board, or with a charm called Okpéllè.

   Okpéllè consists of eight pieces of bark on a string. These eight are arranged in fours.

   Each of the pieces of bark may fall either with the outside or the inside showing. Consequently p. 64 each set of four may fall in sixteen different ways having different names and meanings.

   The sixteen names are:—

1.Ógbè—all face down—inside showing.
2.Oyéku—all face up—outside showing.
16.Offun or Orángun.

   When Okpéllè is thrown on the ground and the two fours are identical the resultant is called:—

Ogbe Meji (i.e. Two Ogbes)Egutan Meji
Oyeku MejiOssa Meji
Iwori MejiErétte Meji
Édi MejiEturah Meji
Obára MejiOlogbon Meji
Okánran MejiEkka Meji
Roshun MejiOshe Meji, or
Aworin MejiOffun Meji

   These are called the Sixteen Messengers of Ífa.

p. 67

   The chance, however, of the four on the Babaláwo's left agreeing with that on his right is only one in sixteen. The other fifteen combinations which may appear with Ogbe on the right are called: Ogbe Yeku, Ogbe Wori, Ogbe Di, &c., similarly with the other Messengers of Ífa. These combinations are called the children of the Messenger who appears on the right. Thus, Ogbe Yeku is a child of Ogbe; Oyeku Logbe is a child of Oyeku.

   From this it will be seen that Okpéllè can show 256 combinations.

   Procedure.—A man comes to a Babaláwo to consult Ífa. He places a gift of cowries (to which he has whispered his needs) before the Babaláwo. The latter takes Okpéllè and places it on the cowries. He then says: "You, Okpéllè, know what this man said to the cowries. Now tell me." Then he lifts Okpéllè and lays it out on the floor. From the messenger or child which appears the Babaláwo is supposed to deduce that his client wants a son, has stolen a goat, or has a toothache, as the case may be. He then tells him what he must bring as a sacrifice to achieve his ends. In all cases the sacrifice (or a large part of it) is offered to Éshu (the devil) for fear that he might undo the good work. For instance, the client is poor and needs money: Édi Méji appears, and the Babaláwo tells his client to bring a dog, a fowl, and some cowries and palm-oil. The man splits the dog and the fowl; puts palm-oil and p. 68 cowries inside them, and takes them to Éshu. The Babaláwo presumably takes the bulk of the cowries for himself.

   The appearance of Ógbe Méji promises long life, but a goat must be brought.

   If a man has no children and Oyéku Méji appears, he must bring a ram and a goat.

   Iwóri Méji demands eggs, a pigeon, and cowries from a sick man.

   Édi Méji.—As above.

   Obára Méji.—A sacrifice of 2 cocks, 2 hens, and 250 cowries is needed to purify after menstruation.

   Okánran Méji.—A goat and 500 cowries bring on menstruation.

   Róshun Méjí.—A she-goat and 2 hens to cure a headache.

   Awórin Méji.—4 cocks and 800 cowries to bring about the death of one's enemy.

   Égutan Méji.—A ram (large) and 1,200 cowries to cure a bad bellyache.

   Ossa Méji.—Butcher's meat and 4 pigeons to drive away witchcraft.

   Erétte Méji.-2 pigeons, 2 cocks, and 600 cowries to get children.

   Etúrah Méji.—One large gown, a, sheep, and 300 cowries to cure eye disease.

p. 69

   Ológbon Méji.—Sacrifice 4 snails and 4 pigeons if you suspect someone wishes to poison you.

   Ekka Méji.—4 hens, oil, and 700 cowries for earache.

   Offun Méji.—If children keep on dying, sacrifice 16 snails, 16 rats, 16 fishes, and 1,600 cowries, and the following children will live.

   Osse Méji.—8 snails, 8 pigeons, and 800 cowries for children.

   Ogbe Yeku.—(a) If a man has no money, he must bring 4 pigeons, 2 shillings, and soap. The Babaláwo mixes leaves (ewe-ire) with the soap as a charm, and the man must use it for a bath.

   (b) If a man is very ill, he must offer 3 he-goats and 5s. 6d. He will then be better.

   Ogbe Wori.—(a) If a man is sick, he must offer 8s. and a sheep. Otherwise he will die.

   (b) If a man needs money, he must bring thread and 6 pigeons and buy soap. The Babaláwo gets ewe aji and puts them on the soap with the pigeon's blood. The thread is put inside the soap. The man then washes.

   (c) If a man has committed a crime, he must bring 7 cocks and 35s. The Babaláwo kills the cocks, and takes the 35s. for himself. He takes the sand of Ogbe Wori from the Ífa board and puts some on each cock's breast, with 260 cowries. Five of the cocks are then p. 70 given to Éshu and the other 2 are taken to a place where three roads meet. Then either a necessary witness will not appear in court or the accused will be found not guilty.

   (d) If two men want the same woman, and Ogbe Wori appears (when one of them consults Ífa), the Babaláwo asks for 4 hens and a he-goat. The woman then becomes the client's wife. Éshu gets the hens and the goat's blood; the Babaláwo, the goat.



   The priest puts pepper (atáre) into his mouth and recites:—

Akélejá! Akélejá!
      A spirit who grips a man by the throat and makes breathing quick and uneasy.

      A spirit who causes eye-disease.

      Spirits which trouble sick persons.

      Spirits now called Anjánu, who cause delirium.

      One who causes bad bellyache.

      Spirits who cause severe headaches.

p. 71

      One "who has a very sharp edge to his cloth," and causes backache.

      Imps seen at night in white cloths. Now called Elérè. They afflict children.

Olómo-áro, niyéye éshukú!
      "Olómo-áro, who art the mother of evils." She does no harm but is invoked because her children, already named, will listen when prayed in their mother's name.

Arónposhé Íreké!
      The husband of Olómo-áro and the father of the evil spirits. If he is not invoked the sick man dies. He is also called upon to stop his sons' mischief.

Íshuku den lényimi!
      "Evil, leave my back!" When this has been spoken, the spirits leave the sick man.

Bi Ébura Nla ba de éti ómi, apéyinda.
      "If the Great Evil comes to the river's bank, he will turn back."

   Ébura Nla is the master of all the evils. If called by the other spirits, he comes to the further bank of the river Arénkenken, which is described as the "water of Heaven". If he crosses to the near side, the sick man dies.

p. 71

   After finishing the incantation, the priest takes some of the pepper from his tongue and puts in on the patient's head. The patient recovers, and is able to take nourishment at once.

   (The Yoruba of this is probably archaic. The interpreter did not understand it, and the Babaláwo had to explain).



   "Ajíja was a doctor who lived with Arámfè, and came to earth with another doctor. They made various medicines—one to kill a man when asked to do so. He pronounced certain words, and the man died. He could also kill with his walking-stick. He lives on Óke Arámfè (Óke Óra), and can only be approached through Arámfè (the father of the gods), because he is a bad man. He is worshipped near Arámfè's shrine.

   "When he wishes to make trouble, he comes through the town. He sometimes sets fire to a house by picking the fire up and putting it on the thatch.

   "When a man meets Ajíja, he should protect himself by putting pepper in his mouth and saying: "Ahanríyen, Fágada Shaomi" (names of Ajíja), "ki íru re bómi" (put your tail in water). The man should then spit the pepper at Ajíja.

   "Sometimes Ajíja turns into a big lizard."

   According to another story, Ajíja is a devil with one leg who throws men down and breaks their ankles.

Sacred-Texts Africa Index