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Yoruba Mythology: Female Orishas And Their Roles

By Oluwatomiwa Ogunniyi
30 October 2022   |   8:00 am
The worship of Olodumare and the Orishas is still very much active in Yorubaland and the African diaspora such that families are named after them. As we conclude this four-part series, we take a look at the female Orishas. Ọ̀ṣun: Ọṣun is an Orisha that reflects one of the manifestations of the Yorùbá Supreme Being…

The worship of Olodumare and the Orishas is still very much active in Yorubaland and the African diaspora such that families are named after them. As we conclude this four-part series, we take a look at the female Orishas.

Ọ̀ṣun:
Ọṣun is an Orisha that reflects one of the manifestations of the Yorùbá Supreme Being in the Ifá oral tradition and Yoruba-based religions. She is one of the most popular and venerated Orishas. This is the Orisha of love, intimacy, beauty, wealth, femininity, fertility, and diplomacy. Osun is an important river deity among the Yorùbá people who is the goddess of divinity, femininity, fertility, beauty and love. She is connected to destiny and divination.

In Yoruba folklore, she is married to Sango as a primordial spirit and mortal as his third and favourite wife. She had some issues with the first wife, Oba which led to Oba cutting off her ear to feed Sango. This caused Sango to burn his palace in anger, which eventually led to the end of his reign and life. It is also said that Osun was the first woman to be referred to as an Iyalode.
She is a river deity, and the Osun river is named after her. The river has its source in Ekiti state and passes through the city of Osogbo, where her main shrine is. The Osun-Osogbo Festival is celebrated in her name annually. It is a two-week-long festival that usually takes place in August at the main shrine on the banks of the Osun river.

Oba:
This is the Orisha of marriage and domesticity. She was the first wife of Sango and was rivalled by Osun, who was his favourite wife. She tricked her into cutting her ears for Sango with the hope of pleasing him, but that backfired, leading to him burning his palace and his demise.
She is a river deity, and the river Oba, whose source is at Igbon, was named after her. Due to the wars of the 19th century in Yoruba land, her worshippers moved her centre of worship to the town of Ogbomosho.

Olókun:
She is the Orisha of the seas and oceans. She is revered as the ruler of all water bodies and has authority over other water deities. She is the mother of Aje, the Orisha of wealth.
In some accounts, she is said to be the wife of Oduduwa and she manifested the Atlantic Ocean. She is mostly seen as female, but some communities and traditions believe that she can take a male form and is sometimes seen as androgynous.
Olokun is highly revered for her ability to give great wealth, health, and prosperity and is worshipped by many West African traditions besides the Yoruba.

Ajé:
She is the Orisha of wealth and the daughter of Olokun who respects Aje. As such, she is referred to as Aje Olokun. According to some schools of thought, it is essential to praise Aje to get favours from Olokun because of the deep love the Orisha has for her daughter.

Aje’s main strengths are sufficient wealth and more significant economic benefits for her subjects. Praise and sacrifice are not enough for a person to be blessed with wealth by Aje. The person must have an active job or business that can be blessed by her, meaning she only helps those willing to work. As the daughter of Olokun, her followers worship her at the coast of rivers while dressing in pure, clean white materials and cowries.

Yemọja:
She is the mother of all Orishas and is the patron deity of women and the Ogun River. She cures infertility in women and is also a source of wealth. She is deeply protective and cares deeply for her children. She is not quick to anger but can be destructive when angry. She is depicted as a mermaid who governs everything about women, pregnancy, parenting, child safety, love, and healing.
According to folklore, when her waters broke during childbirth, it caused a great flood, creating rivers and streams, which is why she is worshipped at almost any stream, river, or water body across Yorubaland. Other rivers are also dedicated to her in Yorubaland, apart from the River Ogun.
Olókun fills the role of sea deity in Yorubaland, while Yemoja is a leader of the other river deities.

Yewa:
The Orisha of maternity and children is very jealous. She wants all her children, devotees, and worshippers to be virgins; this is why she can kill the spouse or children of her devotees tragically. The river Yewa is named after her.

Oya:
She is known as Ọya-Ìyáńsàn-án, the mother of nine because the nine children she gave birth to were all stillborn.
She is the patron of the Niger River, known to the Yoruba as the Odò-Ọya, and she is the Orisha of wind, lightning, violent storms, fertility, fire, rebirth, and magic.