Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post is Part III of an ongoing series that presents quotes from various online articles that provide information about the meanings of certain colors, designs, and objects in specific traditional African cultures.
The excerpts in this post provide some information about Olodumare and Obatala (Oxalá) and the color white in Yoruba traditional religion and in the Santeria and Condomble religions which it has influenced/influences.
Eight videos are also included in this post. These videos are from Nigeria, Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States.
Use pancocojams' internal search engine or click the "the meaning of colors in traditional African cultures" tag below to find other pancocojams posts on this subject.
The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.
Thanks to the researchers who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
EXCERPTS ABOUT OLODUMARE AND OBATALA AND THE COLOR WHITE
Pancocojams Editor's Note:
With the exception of the Excerpts given as #1 and #2, these excerpts are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.
I added italics to highlight statements in these excerpts about the color white.
"The Yoruba religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practices of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in present-day Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, commonly known as Yorubaland. Yoruba religion is formed of diverse traditions. It has influenced a host of thriving traditions such as Santería, Umbanda, and Candomblé. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of Itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts which make up the Yoruba society"...
[Pancocojams Editor's Note: In this pdf file page numbers are given at the bottom of each page.
I corrected some obvious typographical errors in this quoted excerpt of this pdf file.]
"RITUALS, SYMBOLISM AND SYMBOLS IN YORUBA TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
E. Dada Adelowo*
This has to do with the various taboo in connection with the administration of the various rituals and rites that constitute Yoruba traditional religion. This can also be called ritual holiness. The taboo are what the Yoruba call eewo, a ku see, ohun.
Each ritual has its taboo that should be avoided by the priest-king, Olofi dwon [woro, other priests, [woro or Abore, and the worshipers. For examples the priests and devotees of the god called Esu should avoid having any contact with palm nut oil (Yoruba: adi) in order not to incur the wrath of Esu. Moreover, the priests and devotees of the arch-divinity of Yoruba pantheon, Obatala, should avoid palmwine completely in order to maintain ritual sanctity with regard to the worship of Obatala. They should also promote anything white and avoid black items in order to keep the ritual sanctity in connection with the worship of the divinity. ·White is a symbol of purity, holiness and peace. So, priests and devotees of Obatala should, during ritual activities, present themselves as'pure and holy.
Let us start with the ritual in connection with the worship of God - Olodumare and gods - Orisa. There is a specific cult of Olodumare in Yorubaland. This may baffle those foreign arm-chair investigators who hold the thesis that Olodumare is not an object of worship in Yoruba religion. The point here is. because 016dumare cannot be confined into space (the Yoruba described Him as A-te-rere-K'aye - One who occupies the whole extent of the world); the ritualistic worship offered to Him takes place in the open and not in building like temples and mosques. The worshiper makes a circle of ashes (Yoruba: eeru) or white chalk (Yoruba: efun); within the circle, which is a symbol of eternity, he pours a libation of cold water, and in the centre he places his kolanut (Yoruba: obi on cotton wool- Yoruba: owu etUtu). He then takes the kolanut, splits it and holding the valves within the circle. Often, a white fowl (Yoruba: adiefunfun) is offered in the same way. In lle-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba, there is a priest-chief whose duty is to offer this ritual every morning in the name of the Doni and of all the people. However, it is unfortunate to note that the direct ritualistic worship of 0lodumare, as a regular aspect of cultic
activities in Yorubaland, is dying out. In some places, according to Bolaji Idowu, it is no longer known; in some, it has become the cult of women.
The Yoruba used wood and metal carvings, plants and animals as symbols of gods and ancestral spirits. Before we go further, iris important to note that, as said earlier, these symbols are not ends in themselves but means to certain ends. Thus those who are out to conduct a genuine research into the religious situation in Yorubaland should not take appearance for reality, means for an end, symbol for the symbolised and reality for shadow.
Divinities and ancestors are sure objects of worship and reverence among the Yoruba. However, it is to be noted that they are a means to get to Olodumare - God, the ultimate End of everything. The Yoruba 'have never made the mistake of putting God, Olodumare, on the same pedestal with the divinities (arisa) and the ancestors.
In their belief, 0lodumare is unique, incomparable. The. uniqueness of Olodumare is one reason why there are no images-graven or in drawing or in painting - of Him in Yorubaland. Symbols there are copious, but no images of Him. Symbols or images of deities or divinities abound in Yorubaland. Orisa'nla, the arch-divinity of Yoruba pantheon is usually pictured as an ancient figure in white and bedecked with white
ornaments. His temple, especially the inside, is washed white, his emblems are to be kept in white containers and consists, among other things, of white chalk and white beads. His priests and priestesses are robed in white and wear white ornaments.
Those who do not understand the religion of the Yoruba might think that the items are the things that matter here. This is patently wrong. The message here is that all those white items point to Orisa-'nla as presenting, to the Yoruba, the idea of ritual and ethical purity, and therefore the demands and sanctions of high moral pattern.
The white items are mere symbols symbolising purity, holiness, cleanliness on the part of the ritual leaders and the worshipers of Orisa- 'nla.”
So far we have been able to give a broad survey of rituals, symbols and their implications in Yoruba traditional religion. It is seen in the paper that the idea of the supreme Being, called 0lodumare in Yoruba religion, is central in and crucial to Yoruba belief system. We have seen this rituals, symbolism and symbols have ultimate reference to Olodumare who is believed to be the Maker,the Creator, the Owner of Life.
It is also made clear in the paper that the Yoruba are not worshipers of woods, plants, animals and so on as erroneously conceived by some foreign researchers.
Rather, they employ those items to give some kind of concrete and objective reality to their religious dreams and aspirations. Thus all items in their religious thought, apart from the supreme Being, are a means to an end, the end itself being the supreme Being known as 0lodumare, Oluwa; Olorun, 0lofin drun, EImaa. Those who do riot know but are ready to learn and know should realise that in all things the Yoruba are religious. The focal point of their religious aspiration is God. It would be proper then for those who want to conduct a genuine research into the traditional religious thought of the Yoruba to avoid prejudice and preconceived notion and show extra caution, openness and sympathy by calling the Yoruba what they actually call themselves. There is no point pontificating on items that are alien to one. Such would lead one to commit academic fallacy that does not augur well for true scholarship.
Santeria Church of the Orishas Dedicated to the religion of Santería and worship of the Orishas
Obatalá (also spells Obbatala or Obatala) is the eldest of the orishas in Santeria and king of the religion in orun (heaven). He is also the father of many of the orishas and as such is given great respect and deference by the other orishas in matters of great importance. He also acts as the “referee” or judge when the orishas have quarrels, working to restore and preserve peace at all times. To reflect his place of importance in the Lukumí pantheon, Obatala’s shrine is always placed higher than any other orisha in the home. Obatala is the owner of all heads, because it is said that he molded the bodies of humans before Olodumare breathed life into them. As such, Obatala protects all people, and acts as a guardian for those who do not yet know who their guardian orisha is.
Obatala encourages us to be patient and to handle matters with calm and reason. His ashé (power) is perfectly embodied within his favorite color: white. He is always dressed in white and all of his offerings are white to reflect his spiritual purity and the coolness of his energy. White is our most sacred color in Santeria because it represents Obatala. When olorishas attend ceremonies we wear white clothing as holy vestments and to surround ourselves with Obatala’s protective energy. Iyawos (new initiates) in Santeria have to wear white clothing from head-to-toe for a year for the same reason: as a symbol of purity and as an energetic protection against osogbo.
Obatala along with Oshun, Yemaya and Changó is one of the four pillar orishas that every olorisha receives at his kariocha initiation. Obatala is unique in that half of his roads are female and half are male. In that sense Obatala transcends gender, further demonstrating his ability to act impartially in orun (heaven) and with the orishas. If there is ever a debate about who a person’s guardian orisha is, they can safely be initiated with Obatala as he is the owner of all heads. Obatala is often depicted as elderly, with a full head of white hair, dressed in white robes.
Symbols, Numbers, Colors and Attributes of Obatalá
Obatala’s eleke is always made with white beads. This unique Obatala eleke has mother-of-pearl and purple beads added for the road Oba Moro.
Sacred Place in Nature: hills, mountains or high places
Tools: A horsetail fly-whisk (some roads use a sword or cane)
Temperament: Calm, reasonable, quiet (some roads, like Ayáguna are youthful and fiery)
Syncretized Catholic Saint: Our Lady of Mercy or Jesus Christ"...
Click http://www.aboutsanteria.com/what-is-santeria.html for general information about Cuba's Santería (Lucumi) religion.
The Orisha, Who Do You Most Identify With?
"In the Yoruba based religions, the Orisha are angelic emanations of The Creator (God Almighty) manifesting through nature. To put it simply, God created the universe and everything in it. God then manifested bits of himself creating lesser gods or guardian angels, governing over the various forces of nature. So yes, for every force of nature, there is a spiritual being governing it.
Obatala’s day is Sunday.
The day for settling differences. Useful for long-range planning and the perfect day for the preparation of amulets and charms for longevity and good health.
Obatala is the Father of the White Cloth, Peace, Calm. His domain is the Sky, Clouds, Mountaintop."...
Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America
Miguel A. De La Torre - 2004 - History
white dove is a symbol of Obatala, and for this reason he is petitioned for peace when his fellow orishas act cruelly toward humans. While Obatala has been revealed through several Catholic saints, he is best known as Our Lady of Ransom. (As mentioned earlier, crossing between genders is common among the orishas.”...
"Obatalá, Owner of All Heads
Obatalá (Obbatalá) is called the creator of earth and the sculptor of mankind because he was given this job by his father Olodumare, the supreme God in the Lucumí pantheon....
Obatalá is the owner of all things that are white, as well as the human head and all of its thoughts and dreams. He also owns silver and white metals, and the ceiba tree. Obatalá likes cotton, cocoa butter, cascarilla (powder made of egg shells), marble eggs, and snails. As tribute, he likes merengues, white rice, white custard, rice pudding, black eyed peas, fruits with a grainy texture like pomegranates, pears and custard apples, roasted ñamé (sweet potato) and malanga (taro root). Obatalá's food can never be salted. He's an Oricha who came directly to earth from heaven as the son of God, specifically Olodumare and Olofi. He was sent to earth to do good and govern as the king of the planet. Obatalá is calm, wise, understanding, and he loves peace and harmony. He demands proper behavior from his children and, out of respect, they obey him. No one can swear or blaspheme in front of Obatalá, and no one should appear naked in his presence. He hates alcohol and prohibits his children from drinking it. He always dresses in white, and his eleke (beaded necklace) is also white. He lives in a white porcelain sopera (soup tureen) kept on the altar of the home."..
In the Americas
Obatalá (also known as Ochalá or Oxalá; Orichalá or Orixalá) is the oldest "Orisha funfun" ("white deity"), referring to purity, both physically and symbolically as in the "light" of consciousness. In Santería, Obatalá is syncretized with Our Lady of Mercy and Jesus Of Nazareth.
In Candomblé, Oxalá (Obatalá) has been syncretized with Our Lord of Bonfim; in that role, he is the patron saint of Bahia. The extensive use of white clothing, which is associated with the worship of Oxalá, has become a symbol of Candomblé in general. Friday is the day dedicated to the worship of Oxalá. A large syncretic religious celebration of the Festa do Bonfim in January in Salvador celebrates both Oxalá and Our Lord of Bonfim; it includes the washing of the church steps with a special water, made with flowers."...
Friday, January 17, 2014 Postado por MARIA O'LEARY
"BONFIM FESTIVAL - SALVADOR - BRAZIL
The best time to visit the Brazilian city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia, is in the summertime, between the months of December and March. At this time the city is on fire with religious, folk, and popular festivals all filled with music, food, drinks, água de cheiro (perfumed water), flowers, dancing and happiness. Almost every weekend in this time frame there is either a lavagem (ritual washing of a church which culminates into a party) or a Candomblé `beating of the drums' (a ceremony in the Nigerian Yoruba religion of Candomblé). The three most popular festivals are: the Lavagem of the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, the Festa of Yemanjá (Yoruban Goddess of the Ocean) and of course, Carnaval. (Pravina Shukla)
Bonfim Festival (Lavagem do Bonfim) is one of the biggest events in Salvador. The Catholic celebration starts at Nossa Senhora da Conceição Church, with devotees wearing white clothing, beads and carrying the important vases containing perfumed water along with beautiful flowers before heading to Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church, which is the best known in Bahia State and an important symbol for locals. The festival honors Senhor do Bonfim (associated with the important orixá Oxalá, by Candomblé - Nigerian Yoruba religion - whose color is white).
The annual and popular Lavagem do Bonfim festival is attended by thousands of people who come to not only take part in the ritual blessing but to also join in the celebrations afterwards.
The procession travels for about 10 miles to the Church of Bonfim where even more spectators are gathered, eagerly awaiting the blessing that takes place there. During the blessing, the perfumed water that has been so carefully carried is subsequently poured over people's hands and on their heads.
The steps of the Church of Bonfim are also cleaned with the perfumed water as part of the ritual cleansing of the church. At this point, all sing the anthem of Senhor do Bonfim and it is after this event that the street parties often begin and contain plenty of music entertainment, singing and dancing not to mention plenty of street vendors to help keep everyone going. People go to the booths by the Church of Bonfim to eat and drink. There's dancing on the streets, among the traditional booths of Baianas selling acarajé (West African food made of black eyed peas fried in palm oil).
One popular tradition is to have a Bonfim ribbon tied around your wrist and to make a wish, if the ribbon wears off naturally then it is believed that your wish will come true.
This festival takes place usually the second Thursday of January every year. This ritual has been occurring in Salvador since 1754.
There are also horse-drawn carriages, musicians, as well as government officials, including the mayor of Salvador. The Carnaval group Filhos de Gandhy (Son of Gandhi), who traditionally lead the procession, march right behind the Baianas all the way to the Church of Bonfim."...
This article includes a number of photographs. One of the photographs about Bonfim, shows that Bonfim ribbons can be of any color, including white.
Example #1: Ilu Aye - Obatala video by DennisFlores.com
Dennis Flores. Published on Mar 26, 2006
ILU AYE (Literally, "The Drum of the World" in Yoruba)was founded in 2004, to celebrate the connections between the peoples and cultures of the African Diaspora. Bringing together the next generation of Afro-Puerto Rican, -Dominican, and -Cuban percussionists and singers, ILU AYE is dedicated to preserving and promulagting the rich cultural legacy of Africa in the Americas and the Caribbean, through performance, educational workshops, and community-centered gatherings where the rhythms of the African Caribbean reign. Trained by master musicians from all three islands, and versed in sacred and popular rhythms such as bata, guiro, rumba (Cuba); bomba and plena (Puerto Rico); and palos, salves, and kongos (Dominican Republic), ILU AYE interprets traditional songs and reinvigorates the genres with original compositions by renowned akpwon, Osvaldo "Bembe" Lora....
Example #2: Orisha Dance
Baba Abayomi, Published on Jul 20, 2007
Song and Dance For Orisha Obatala from 17th annual African Street Festival.
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread about this African Street Festival:
"this was at the Annual African Street Festival in Brooklyn sometime in th 80's This the Afrtican Traditional Religion of Ifa. They are singning for the various orisas. This song is for Obatala."
Example #3: Obatala and Oshun Festival 2009 Part II of III
Iya Fayemisi Shangobukola, Published on May 13, 2009
Obatala and Oshun Festival 2009 Part II, Ode Remo, Ogun state, Nigeria.
African Traditional Isese Festival.
During this Yoruba festival the followers worship Orisa Obatala and Oshun with dances, songs and traditional donations. This festival took place in February - March, 2009 in the Ode Remo town, Ogun state, Nigeria.
The organizator of this festival is IyalOrisa Iya Afin Iyedola Onajoko Oduwole Sokunmbi, among with the female community of Obatala priestesses.
Here's some information about Osun from http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-africa/oshun-african-goddess-love-and-sweet-waters-002908
..."Although Oshun (also spelt Osun) is regarded principally as a goddess of love, there are other aspects to this Orisha as well. One of the most important roles that Oshun plays is that of the goddess of the sweet waters and the protective deity of the River Oshun in Nigeria....
Although Oshun governs love and the sweet waters, she is also regarded as a highly benevolent deity. Oshun is said to be the protector of the poor and the mother of all orphans. It is Oshun who brings to them their needs in this life. Additionally, Oshun is regarded as a healer of the sick, the bringer of song, music and dance, as well as prosperity and fertility. Oshun is also depicted as a teacher, who taught the Yoruba agriculture, culture and mysticism. She also taught them the art of divination using cowrie shells, as well as songs, chants and meditations taught to her by her father Obatala, the first of the created Orishi."...
Osun's color is honey yellow.
Example #4: Nigeria- Obatala Shrine in Ile Ife
wavawoman, Published on Jun 16, 2009
©2006 Wavawoman Films, LLC] Devotees inside the Obatala Shrine in Ile-Ife, Nigeria playing igbin bells and dancing for Obatala.
Example #5: Band Cidade - Lavagem do Bonfim
Band Bahia, Published on Jan 14, 2011
Olho na Tela. Olho na Band.
Example #6: Lavagem do Bonfim . Salvador . Bahia
Marcelo Reis, Published on Jun 19, 2011
Google translation from Portuguese to English: Lavagem do Bonfim = Cleaning the Bonfim
Example #7: Festival De Obatala
Ileorisa Apesin, Published on Jul 17, 2013
Festival de Obatala Realizado en Trinidad y Tobago
Difundiendo la Tradiccion Yoruba
Example #8: Yoruba Andabo - Obbatalá
AyvaMusica, Published on Jan 12, 2014
Commenters in this video's discussion thread indicated that this dance was performed in Cuba.
This concludes Part III of this pancocojams ongoing series about the meaning of colors in traditional African cultures.
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