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Sango, Oyo Empire’s Enigmatic Emperor

By Yahaya Michael Bolakale
12 February 2023   |   2:00 pm
The Yoruba tradition is rife with legendary and mythological episodes, and no deity crystallises this tradition, especially its euhemeristic inclinations than Sango, son of Oranmiyan and third Alaafin of the Oyo Empire. The Yoruba Pantheon plays host to gods; some are cosmic, they were there at the dawn of creation, others are mortals who found…

The Yoruba tradition is rife with legendary and mythological episodes, and no deity crystallises this tradition, especially its euhemeristic inclinations than Sango, son of Oranmiyan and third Alaafin of the Oyo Empire.

The Yoruba Pantheon plays host to gods; some are cosmic, they were there at the dawn of creation, others are mortals who found themselves on the Pantheon through willpower, charisma, feats and historicity, while Ogun and Obatala, especially, belong to the first category, Sango is firmly in the second group.

In the Yoruba tradition, not very unlike beatification or canonisation, there are historical figures that upon their death became deified.

So, who is he?
Multiple sources claim Sango (a.k.a Jakuta) is the third Alaafin of the old Oyo Empire. Sango is described as powerful and assertive. The double-headed axe, ‘Oshe’ is his ritual symbol and the tool with which he calls down lightning and thunder (eeerrrrm, the similarities with Thor in Norse mythology are striking). He becomes the King of the Oyo people after he helped them overcome a major adversary. He has three wives, Oya, Oba and Osun (yes, it is what you are thinking- the rivers). He is the god of retributive justice and in Yoruba culture, Sango is the god you go to when you need immediate justice. When people want to affirm their innocence, they often invoke Sango as a witness. Sango is warlike; he thrives in conflict as he enjoys attention and accolades. He is not immune to fits of anger as he once inadvertently sets the palace on fire.

Exploits?
Sango is a controversial figure for many reasons. He demonstrates great power when he helped the people of Oyo overcome their adversaries. Some sources claim he gets jealous of Gbonka and Timi, his most accomplished generals and devises means to eliminate them. The elaborate scheme is only partially successful and the aftermath forced him to go into exile. At a place just outside Oyo known as Koso, he ascends to heaven and fully cements his deity status.

Why is he revered?
Firstly, he is born of nobility. In Yoruba culture, royalty commands reverence. He is invoked during the coronation of Kings in Yorubaland. He ascends the throne as the Alaafin of the old Oyo Empire after his elder brother, Ajaka. Unlike his brother, who is described indelicately as ‘spineless’ for his pacifist outlook on life, Sango is ruthless and relentless and in his seven years reign.
He takes Oyo to many wars, emerging triumphant in all of them. He establishes the empire as a force to be reckoned with.
Sango protects his own, and he is one of the most worshipped and followed gods in the Pantheon. Sango is charismatic and fun loving. His rituals involve a lot of dancing and merriment.

His status in pop culture
Sango is actually one of the gods in the pantheon who enjoy the dominance in popular culture. Nollywood has a moderately successful movie that chronicles his time and life. His worship has been exported to the Americas and because he shares a lot of similarities with Thor, the Avenger and Norse mythology’s god of thunder, so, he has a lot of cool points. The ‘Oshe’ is often juxtaposed with Mjolnir.