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Oduduwa Was a Woman, Yemoja Committed Incest and Other Shocking Myths & Beliefs About Yoruba Creation

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The Yoruba people of Ketu  are said to hold to the following aspects of the Yoruba creation myths traditionally:

1) Oduduwa is represented by a woman nursing a child, while sitting down.
2) Oduduwa was also known as “the earth goddess”
3) Oduduwa bore Orisha-nla two children, a son and a daughter, namely, Aganju ( The land) and Yemoja( The water).
4) Aganju married his sister Yemoja and bore a son, called Orungan ( the air) . Orungan fell in love with his mother, Yemoja and took advantage of her, which made Yemoja flee from Orungan. When Orungan finally caught up with Yemoja to console her, Yemoja fell on her back and two streams of water gushed from her water and joined to form a lagoon.
5) From her body also came 15 gods, said to be the grandchildren of Oduduwa and Orisha- nla.

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And thus, the earth and all its Orisas were created. Starkly different to the chicken, snail, shell, chameleon ,rope and palmwine version.  The Ketus are also Yoruba in fact very staunchly so. What accounts for the variation in creation myths?

If you are not already familiar with it, here is the  more popular Yoruba creation myth :

The Supreme Being (Olodumare) resides in the heavens with his divinities ( orisha). Below this spiritual universe was a great void and a great deal of water.

It occurred to Olodumare to create another universe peopled by mankind. He gave an order to the arch –divinity Orisha-nla to descend and begin the work of creation.

Olodumare gave Orisha-nla a five toed hen, a chameleon, a small quantity of loose earth in a snail shell, and chain with which to descend into the void. Orisha-nla left the presence of Olodumare determined to carry out this task to the best of his ability.

hens

On his way he became thirsty and helped himself to a copious amount of palm wine, he became intoxicated and fell into a deep sleep.

When he did not return to the heavens at the appointed time, Olodumare sent down Orisha-nla’s younger brother Oduduwa to find out if all was well with him.

snail shell

Oduduwa came upon the drunken Orishanla , took stock of the situation , and quietly proceeded to carry out the work of creation. He descended in to the void by the chain , threw the loose earth onto the water, and released the five toed hen. The hen scratched the earth and spread it to the end of the world.

Then Oduduwa let down the chameleon to test the firmness of the earth. The chameleon had been chosen for this test because of its extreme carefulness and the delicacy of its movements. It gave its approval , and the spot where the creation took place was  called “spreading”  ( Ife) in commemoration of the event.

chameleon

Orisha-nla appeared not long after, to discover that his task had been accomplished by his younger brother who had, in so doing usurped his right as the creator of the earth. He quarrelled with Oduduwa for his impertinence. The quarrel was reported to Olodumare, who effected a reconciliation between the estranged brothers. In compensation , he commissioned Orisha-nla to carry out the task of moulding the human figure. He confirmed oduduwa’s right to own and rule the earth on his behalf from the sacred city of Ife. Oduduwa later gave birth to several children, who moved away from Ife to establish kingdoms of their own.

This narration of the Yoruba  creation myth was taken from the paper  “Ketu Myths And The Status of Women: A Structural Interpretation of Some Yoruba Myths of Origin” by  ED Babatunde. (A good read on the status of Yoruba women in times past.)

Personally, I prefer the latter version. I also like that it excludes the creation of so called deformed people by Orisha-nla in his drunken stupor.

2 thoughts on “Oduduwa Was a Woman, Yemoja Committed Incest and Other Shocking Myths & Beliefs About Yoruba Creation

  1. Well, if Oodua is a ‘woman’ where are the oriki, orin, esefa about this and mainly where are the images of this ‘female Oodua nurturing a child’? In Ketu the story is other and Odua or Oduwa is spouse of Soipasan… Nobody could to this day bring to our attention this female religious poetry… We only have the male Oodua oriki and songs. Oduduwa iba! Baba-a mi, a da iwa, Oodua ajagun segun, jagunjagun, etc.

  2. Where are the oriki, orin, esefa etc? Good question. Let’s see what cab be found through some research. This will be a topic to revisit.

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