OBATALA – The Òrìṣà ńlá

A superhero artist rendition of Ọbàtálá

A brief exegesis

In Owú culture, Ọbàtálá is the father of Ajíbọ́sin, alias Asúnkúngbádé, the first Ólówú of Owú. He was a cotton farmer and Ifa consultant. At Ife, he was also the first ruler of the community before the advent of Odùduwà. This earthly Ọbàtálá is however only an avatar of a highly revered entity of the afterlife. Ọbàtálá is an Òrìṣà, a diety and animistic god!

The Òrìṣà Ọbàtálá is central to the Creation myth of the ancient Yoruba cultures of West Africa, where he is also manifest in the “white gods” of creativity and justice: Òrìṣàńlá , Oshala, Oshagiyan, Oshalufon, Òrìṣà Ókó, and Òṣà Fúnfún. He also provides the moral purpose of the historical king Ṣango, the Òrìṣà of lightning and thunder. Ọbàtálá is said to have descended from heaven on a chain to mould the first humans and indeed to mould every child in the womb, although he is regarded as only one aspect of Olódùmarè, the Almighty God, who alone can breathe life into the creations of Ọbàtálá.

A saint among saints and the archetypal spirit of creativity, Ọbàtálá has been carried to many cultures of the New World, where for centuries he has been honored as the patron of children, childbirth, albinos, and anyone with a birthmark. In the New World as in the Old it is said that, “Ọbàtálá marks his children”, in order words, they come to life with certain birthmarks, or mutant stigmatisations!

In Yoruba Language, Ọba means “king”, and tala [ala] is undyed fabric, the blank canvas, which is why the King of the White Cloth is said to be a tranquil judge. Ọbàtálá is honored with brilliant white cloth, white lace, white beads and cowries, white flowers, silver coins, and silver jewelry. He is honored with white hens, snails, white melon soup, pounded yams, and other white food such as ẹ̀kọ́; fermented corn wrapped in plantain leaves. His priests and priestesses wear only white, although his warrior avatars Ajaguna & Ọ́bamoro add a dash of blood red. Ochosi, the Orisha of the hunt is Ọbàtálá’s scout and surveyor and guards an inner court of the alter of Ọbàtálá in the ancient city of Ilé Ìfẹ̀,

The gentle Ọbàtálá is associated with honesty, purpose, purity, peace, the New Year, forgiveness, and resurrection, which is why some authorities associate him 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 Alamọ̀ Re Re; the One Who Turns Blood Into Children. He is Alábáláṣe; 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.”

Adherents at an Ọbàtálá festival

Ọbàtálá is the kindly father of all the òrìṣàs and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Ọ́lọ́rún who created the universe, it is Ọbàtálá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Ọbàtálá is the source of all that is pure, wise peaceful and compassionate. He has a warrior side though, through which he enforces justice in the world. His color is white which is often accented with red, purple and other colors to represent his/her different paths. White is most appropriate for Ọbàtálá as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them. Ọbàtálá is also the only Òrìṣà that has both male and female paths.

Ọbàtálá, 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.
He wakes up to create two hundred civilizing customs,
Who holds the staff called Ọ̀pásọ́rọ́, King of Ifọ́n.
Oṣànlá grant me white cloth of my own.
He makes things white.
Tall as a granary, tall as a hill.
Ajágunà, deliver me.
The king that leans on a white metal staff.

(Culled from Owulakoda.com. @Ashiwaju)