Kò sí bí ilẹ̀ ṣe lè mọ́ tó, kó máà ṣú, kò dẹ̀ sí bí ilẹ̀ ṣe lè ṣú tó, kó máà mọ́.
No matter how bright the day, night will fall, and no matter how dark the night, it will yet become dawn.
Like in most creation stories, in the beginning, there wasn’t much. Sure, there was life in the sky with all the Orisha living up there but apart from that, nada, just water and marshy wastelands below. I’ll introduce you to the Orisha properly later on but for now think of them as the all-star team of the Yoruba. This group had everything from a lightning throwing god to a small pox deity. With all of this, some of them felt like there was something missing. Now, I don’t know why but maybe some of the gods were getting a little bit bored with the whole daily routine, there was no excitement. And that’s understandable, with gods you’d imagine that since they’re perfect beings, everything about them must be perfect but the thing about this is that life must seem like a big infinite cycle beginning and ending in the same way. What they needed was something new, something random, something… human. These were probably the thoughts that ran through the god, Obatala’s head as he went to the chief god, Olorun, to ask for permission to go to the earth and maybe create something worthwhile.
Out of all the Orisha, Obatala was the most creative and innovative. He always looked forward and sought out ways to improve what was already there. His curiosity always won over. He was that one deity who always wondered and asked questions (it annoyed the other Orisha to great lengths but with family you just have to deal with it). Olorun saw this in Obatala and thus, was not surprised when Obatala came with his request.
“Baba, I have come with something to ask you.” Obatala said as he prostrated, laying flat on the ground to show respect as was the Yoruba custom.
“Rise,” Olorun said with a simple hand gesture, in his baritone voice that could be heard for miles and miles. “What have you come to say?”
Obatala rose up and dusted his clothes, the simple loincloth he wore. “Baba, I’m grateful for the paradise we are all living in but I feel like it could be better, I want to—“
“Make new clothes for all of us to wear?” Olorun said, rising slightly from his throne with excitement. “These garbs we wear are itchy and always get in the way, I was thinking of maybe a collection of men and womenswear based on—.” Olorun stopped as he saw the confused look on Obatala’s face, it would seem that introducing fashion was not what the young god had in mind.
“Uhm,” Obatala began again, their eccentric leader always threw him off, “I’d like to go down to the earth, explore it a little maybe even create a few beings. I’ve had this idea for a long time about little people that look like us but without powers or—“
Olorun waved his hands in a shooing motion. Anything that didn’t relieve him of the constant itch he felt in his groin was none of his business. “I give you my blessing but you must first consult my eldest son, Orunmila, he can see the future and will be of help to you.”
Obatala bowed again and left the chief god’s chambers. Olorun was a wise god and he saw more than his subjects could, his eyes glittered in the light as he hoped Obatala knew what he was doing. What he planned to do was no easy task.
So, Obatala went to Orunmila’s abode. The other gods steered clear away from this god out of fear mostly. There was something about his silver eyes and manic smile that sent fear rippling through the spine of even the strongest gods. He had the power to see the future, and all other threads of time. It was said that Orunmila had even foretold the age of the death of the gods. Obatala shivered, knowledge like that was something that even the gods should not have. And yet, he kept on walking to Orunmila’s home, he knew this was the only way.
He was about to knock on the door when it opened widely and he was greeted with the face of the eldest son of Olorun. He was smiling his usual frenzied smile, gesturing for Obatala to come in.
“See?” he said as Obatala followed him in. “I knew you would knock on my door at this exact time and I also know what you have come to ask me”
Obatala expected nothing less from him but it shook him a little, did this mean that Orunmila had seen the whole course of Obatala’s life?
“So, will you help me?” Obatala asked.
Orunmila scratched his beard for a moment. “I will, but remember young god, I have seen the future. Beware the liquid that dulls the mind.”
Obatala didn’t understand what Orunmila was saying but he was overjoyed on the inside. His request had been accepted!
Obatala was preparing his bags for the journey, remembering the word Orunmila had spoken to him some time ago.
“You will need some things for you to be successful in your journey,” He said stroking his long grey beard. “You’ll need a long gold chain, a snail’s shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut.”
Obatala looked at Orunmila with a little scepticism. “These objects have nothing in common,” he said, half wondering how he’d even obtain them.
“Just follow my instructions, it’ll all make sense, in time.” Orunmila said, already turning his back on Obatala to focus on one of his other projects.
Obatala secured his bags with the items inside. The white hen and the black cat had to be tied separately and tightly since they caused the most trouble. He slung them both with a string he tied on his back, picked up his bags with one hand and the chain in the other.
As he walked out of his hut, he could feel the other eyes of the gods boring holes into his back but he didn’t dare look back. This was something he felt he needed to do and he wouldn’t allow anything destroy his confidence.
Orunmila was at the edge of the sky, waiting for him. “Okay, young god, give me the chain and I will tie it to a tree and you will climb down it until you reach the bottom.”
“What will I do after?” Obatala asked.
Orunmila simple stared at him and answered, pointing to his items. “Do not worry, you already know. Now give me the chain.”
Obatala simply nodded, he had made it this far now, what was a little shimmy down?
As he climbed slowly down, he realised that the task was harder than even he had thought. The winds up there were harsh and cold, it whipped his clothes in a frenzy, He constantly had to adjust his grip on the animals and the bag he had also moved to his shoulder to avoid them from falling. The trip lasted for days and nights, as time passed even Obatala became wary of this endless journey.
He climbed down until he realised that the harsh winds were replaced by a kind of mist. He kept on climbing down until he realised he was finally at the bottom of the chain. The mist obscured most of his vision but he could still see a little because of the faint glow of the chain. He was confused about what to do next when a gentle idea nudged him.
He reached into his bag and brought out the snail’s shell and spilled the sand all over the mist, he heard the sound of it hitting the surface and some liquid splashed on his feet. He realised that maybe the whole earth was covered in water. As he poured the sand, it kept on flowing from the shell until it settled in a small patch of land. He let go of the chain and his feet met the warm hard ground.
He realised that he still needed to spread the sand across the whole earth when other idea came to him. He untied the hen and let it roam. Immediately, it moved around, clawing its way into the earth, spreading it around. Soon, it had created vast mountains and valleys.
He decided that the land looked a bit too plain and so he planted the palm nut Orunmila told him to get. Soon, it became an incredible palm forest!
And so, Obatala settled down in this new land with his cat as his pet to keep him company.
Days soon passed and months and then years with Obatala alone on this strange land with only his cat for company. As to be expected, he became bored, the days started to become monotonous. So, one day he began moulding figures made of clay as he drank his palm wine from the gourd he brought down with him.
Obatala was a creative god and as he worked, the clay seemed to be all that mattered to him. He kept on drinking, immersing himself in this creation, but the palm wine was slowly muddling his mind. Obatala didn’t care, and he just kept on moulding the clay, figure after figure, his eyes like that of a madman. In a sense, that is what the palm wine made him become.
As he was rounding up, he called on Olorun to breathe life into his figurines as the breath of Olorun was the spark of all life. As he did this, he promptly collapsed, drunk.
Obatala woke up, expecting to see his wonderful creations frolicking around on the earth, smiling and waiting for their patron god to wake up so they could worship him. Only as Obatala woke up, sober, did he realise the weight of what he had done.
He had made humans, yes, but due to his intoxicated state, he had gotten the proportions a little differently than he had already imagined. These were humans, just different than what he had planned. Obatala saw this and wept, cursing himself and swearing not to drink again. Only then, did he remember Orunmila’s words to him what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Beware the liquid that dulls the mind.
He should have listened. In his heart, body and soul, he knew he should’ve listened. He stood up and embraced them all, for they were his creations and he still loved them deeply. After this, he set on creating more human beings, this time sober, paying more attention to them as he should have. He called Olorun to breathe life into them once again and they became humans. They soon began populating and building their own civilisation with shrines to worship the gods. Obatala became the patron god of humanity and the disabled. He took exceptional care of them, knowing he was the reason they had even been brought to life in the first place.
The Orisha had been watching Obatala’s progress and they were pleased with the product of his work, all except Olokun, who felt resentment for Obatala and his creations since he was never consulted about earth and the humans.
Olokun was a proud sea god but he knew waging a battle against Olorun would end in him losing and being banished. He also knew that if he fought Obatala, the other gods would be forced to take sides, resulting in a civil war among the gods. Olokun knew that he had to do something, but what?
He looked down from the heavens and he saw the humans once again, they were growing exponentially and as Olokun looked, he saw that they did not even respect the land they were gifted with. They were crass, clumsy and short sighted, never fully thinking in the direction of the future.
Olokun’s anger soon grew the more he saw, and in his destructive mood, he caused a great flood that ravaged the lands. Homes were destroyed and humans drowned under the cruel waters. Lives were lost and the remaining humans cried to the gods, asking for an explanation.
The gods never answered.
From then on, the remaining human beings took nature more seriously, treating it with a kind of reverence.
Or so the story goes.