Traditional Dieties in Yoruba Land (part 1)

The faiths of the Yoruba peoples of Western Nigeria vary significantly from one part of the region to another; the same deity may be male in one village and female in the next, or the characteristics of two gods may be embodied in a single deity in a neighboring region; in the city of Ile Ife alone the trickster god is worshipped under three different names. These variations inevitably arose as the myths were passed by word of mouth; add to them the incorporation into the Yoruba faith of facets of outside religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, and understanding the faith becomes difficult indeed. The religions, however, share a similar structure, described by E. Bolaji Idowu as “diffused monotheism”; a single omnipotent creator-god rules over the universe, along with several hundred lower gods, each with a specific domain of rule.

As such, the Yorubas, as they are known celebrate various festivals and have many beliefs as to how a deity be worshipped.

Shango, the god Wole Soyinka refers to in his poem “Hunt of the Stone”, occupies a major position in the pantheon of the Yoruba, although he holds a less important position in neighboring ethnic groups. Shango (also spelled Sango and Sagoe) creates thunder and lightning by casting “thunderstones” down to earth; wherever lightning strikes, priests search the surrounding area for the thrown stone.

The Yoruba believe these stones have special powers, and they enshrine the stones in temples to the god and sometimes at an open space within the confinement of a compound. Shango has four wives, each personified by a major Nigerian river; his chief wife, Oya, is represented by the River Niger. One myth about Shango tells of when he was human and ruled as the fourth king of the ancient Yoruba capital of Oyo. He had a charm that could cause lightning, with which he inadvertently killed his entire family. In remorse he hanged himself, and upon his death he became deified. Although the “foremost national deity”, according to some, the Yoruba do not consider him the most powerful or even the most important god; rather, his popularity may have resulted from attempts to ward off the frequent tornadoes that strike western Africa.

Shango is the only deity worshipped in the Shango cult popular in towns like Ibadan, Oyo, ile-Ife, Ode-Omu, Gbongan, Ojudo, Owode-Ede, Ede, Osogbo, Osu etc. Cult members speak of their fellowship in terms of their together being the “children” of their “orisa” (sango in this case).  In many cases this arose from their regard for that deity as their protector from birth or even before it: “By Sango I was begotten and by Lakijena I was brought forth and them will I ever serve”, was the declaration of a woman at the yearly festival of Kesi, her township in Abeokuta. Most Sango cult members are also Ifa and obatala worshippers and most want to identify with their deities by adding the name of their diety to their names: Sangotade, Sangobanwo, Sangoseyitan, Sangofunmi, Onifade, Sangotola, Ifayemi, Ifabunmi, Sangogbemi, Ifagbemi, Sangobiyi, Ifabiyi, Bamgbose etc.

Cult attachments are related to lineage in several ways. One of the main functions was to sustain family reproduction: They were expressed in kinship idioms and were largely passed on through family ties. The cult headship or priesthood is a significant resource for the lineage and usually, in Ifa, Sango and Obatala worship, the first born of the family is lined up to take the office or  initiated into the cult leadership when they are considered to have come of age. All attempts to gather details about the initiation process were abortive as at the time this research was conducted, as every consulted individual on the subject referred to it as a secret that can never be revealed, not if they do not want to be in any danger. The fact was categorically establishes though, that it is the responsibility of every initiated cult member to replace himself before death.

Brief history of Sango:

Sango was the third Alaafin-king of old Oyo empire. He took over from his brother Ajaka who was regarded as weak. During his reign he was constantly fighting battles with other towns. He mistakenly destroyed his palace with lightning which brought about the end of his reign.

Sango is widely referred to as the God of thunder. He ruled Oyo kingdom for seven years and married three wives Oya Oba and Osun. He is worshiped on the fifth day called ojo Jakuta. His followers like to wear a white or red attire which was his popular clothings.

Image result for sango god of thunderSango is a popular Orisa in Yorubaland, as such his festival plays a very important traditional and cultural role with the Yoruba people. Sango is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the present Oyo State. It is a day when Yorubas used it to reconnect which each other, and to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Yorubas such as drumming, dancing and singing.

Image result for ogun orishaSango, Oya, Ifa, Obatala, Ogun… these are all Yoruba deities with a story that is rather intertwined; one can not tell one without mentioning the other, especially with the similarities in their shrines, always having a kind of stone, local guns, liquid residues, palm leaves, a tree, ancient pots, etc.



Brief History of Sango Festival:

Image result for sango festivalThe festival dates back over 1000 years ago when Sango mysteriously disappeared from the palace. He was believed to have committed suicide after he was challenged by one of his powerful chiefs who ordered him to leave the palace. Since then the festival has been celebrated by the people of Oyo and many Sango worshippers.