So I was having dinner with a friend and we were talking about religion (again !). Somehow the conversation turned to creation and the Nigerian people. He said that because many Nigerians were Christian they believed in ‘Adam and Eve’. I thought about this for a second and replied that might be true for some people, but before Christianity came to Africa/Nigeria there was a rich culture of beliefs/myths about the creation of the earth. So I thought I would write down the one that I have read about. I must point out – like most of these things, there are variations…
In the beginning there was the sky above and the water below. This was ruled by the Orisha – the council of gods.
Olorun – ruled the sky above
Olokun – the goddess ruled the waters below
One day Obatala (second son of Olorun, also known as the king of white cloth, Orisha-Nla or Olufun) decided to create dry land. He sought advice from from the Orunmilla (wisest Orisha, oldest son of Olorun and god of prophecy). Obatala was adviced to gather:
a long gold chain (in some versions this is a rope)
snail shell with sand
Obatala then hung the gold chain from the sky and climbed down. While on the chain he poured out the sand from the shell and released the hen. The hen scratched and picked and scattered the sand in all directions. The sand became vast mountains and valleys. He buried the palm nut and it became a palm forest. The spot at which he landed on the earth was called Ife. There he settled down and lived with the black cat.
However Obatala got bored and wanted company. He then started shaping figures from clay. While he was doing this he drank palm wine and eventually got drunk. He therefore did not notice that the figures that he made were imperfect. He asked Olorun to breathe life into the figures. Obatala is known as the patron of mankind, specifically of the ‘deformed’/disabled. He promised not to drink palm wine again.
All the orishas were pleased with his work. Except for the the Goddess Olokun. She was angry because she was not consulted about the creation of the earth. She therefore created a flood and wiped everything out. After this people took the sea seriously.
Interesting isn’t it…?
In other versions of the story that I have read – Obatala gets drunk and his older brother Oduduwa is the god that throws the sand and the hen. Also Orumila causes the flood waters to recede.
The city of Ile- Ife is though to be the origin of the Yoruba culture and of all life.
Ile-Ife is in fact where some of my relatives live. I have been there only twice in my life – at 17 and 27 years of age but that of course is another blog for another day.