Obatala, strong king of Ejigbo
At the trial a silent, tranquil judge.
The king whose every day becomes a feast.
Owner of the brilliant white cloth.
Owner of the chain to the court of heaven.
He stands behind people who tell the truth.
Protector of the handicapped.
Oshagiyan, warrior with a handsome beard.
The above is a praise song for Obatala, the powerful and sweetest god who is central to the creation myth of the ancient Yoruba cultures of West Africa.
One of the longest and never-ending debates about life is the creation of humans. Religion tells us that a Supreme Being created the world and everything in it.
Science, on the other hand, tells us that humans evolved from their ancestors all through history to be what we are now: Homo sapiens.
In Africa, the appearance of humans, and many other natural phenomena have been explained in myths. They are as diverse as the communities in Africa, but it is not surprising to see similarities in communities related to or living close to each other.
According to the Yorubas, Obatala descended from heaven on a chain to mold the first humans and to mold every child in the womb, even though there is Olodumare, the Almighty God, who alone can breathe life into the creations of Obatala.
Also known as Oluwa Aiye (Lord of the Earth), Alabalase (he who has divine authority), and Baba Arugbo (old man), Obatala is said to be the oldest of all Orishas. Orishas are divine beings that govern various aspects of human life.
According to the Yoruba creation myth, in the beginning, there was only the sky above, water and marshland below.
Olorun, who was the chief god, ruled the sky, and the goddess Olokun ruled what was below.
Obatala later asked Olorun to permit him to create dry land for all kinds of living creatures to inhabit.
After being given the go-ahead, Orunmila, the oldest son of Olorun and the god of prophecy, told him that he would need a gold chain long enough to reach below, as well as, a snail’s shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut, all of which he was to carry in a bag, an account by Gateway Africa said.
“All the gods contributed what gold they had, and Orunmila supplied the articles for the bag. When all was ready, Obatala hung the chain from a corner of the sky, placed the bag over his shoulder, and started the downward climb,” Gateway Africa writes.
According to Yoruba beliefs, Obatala first settled in Ile-Ife, where the Yorubas believe that the world began. At Ile-Ife, Obatala created beings like himself.
“He dug into the sand and soon found clay with which to mould figures like himself and started on his task, but he soon grew tired and decided to take a break.
“He made wine from a nearby palm tree, and drank bowl after bowl. Not realizing he was drunk, Obatala returned to his task of fashioning the new beings; because of his condition he fashioned many imperfect figures. Without realizing this, he called out to Olorun to breathe life into his creatures. The next day he realized what he had done, and swore never to drink again, and to take care of those who were deformed, thus becoming Protector of the Deformed,” the account by Gateway Africa said.
Soon, the new people started building hats as Obatala had one, and Ile-Ife eventually became the mother city of humanity.
Known as “a saint among saints and the archetypal spirit of creativity”, Obatala is famed among many cultures of the New World, where for years he has been honored as the patron of children, childbirth, albinos, and anyone with a birthmark, according to ileife.org.
It is even said that when Africans were forcibly taken from their homes to be slaves in Haiti and the Americas, Obatala was with them, consoling them while they worked in white cotton fields as slaves.
Known as the god of special needs and compassion, Obatala does not have a permanent gender. Being androgynous, Obatala is “the god of all human beings without regard to gender.”
Obatala is associated with whiteness and his worshippers, till date, honour him with “brilliant white cloth, white lace, white beads and cowries, white flowers, silver coins, and silver jewelry.”
In Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, devotees celebrate Obatala through September festivals. During these festivals, devotees wear white costumes and parade through the streets while chanting songs and beating drums, a report by huffpost.com said.
These devotees also worship all Orishas during these festivals, make offerings and share food.
According to ileife.org, some authorities associate Obatala with Christ and the Egyptian Osiris.
“As the divinity of created form, ‘the old man’ is the patron saint of artists, called the Divine Sculptor. He is also called Alamo Re Re, the One Who Turns Blood Into Children. He is Alabalashe, the Wielder of the Scepter of Life, and he is O Ho Ho, the Father of Laughter, Who sits in the sky like a swarm of bees.”