Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

In Honour of a War Deity: Obedu Festival in Oba-Ile in Osun State, Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

In Honour of a War Deity: Obedu Festival in Oba-Ile in Osun State, Nigeria

Article excerpt


The worldview of the Yoruba, a race which is domiciled mainly in the Southwestern part of Nigeria, cannot be properly understood without a good knowledge of their belief about their deities and gods. In Yoruba mythology, gods and deities are next to Olodumare and, as such, they are revered and worshipped (Idowu 1962). The Yoruba believe in spirits, ancestors and unseen forces and whenever they are confronted with some problems, they often seek the support of gods and deities by offering sacrifices to them and by appeasing them. In the same manner, the Yoruba believe in and worship the orisa (i.e., gods) because they (the Yoruba) consider Olodumare (i.e. God) to be too big and unique for any human being to have a direct access to and that God "does not interfere directly in natural events and history but works through a host of intermediaries" (see Idowu 1962: 56). The supremacy and the exalted position of God is highly recognized among the Yoruba as noted by Idowu (1973:56) when he says:

Yoruba theology emphasises the unique status of Olodumare. He is supreme over all on earth and in heaven, acknowledged by all the divinities as the Head to whom all authority belongs and all allegiance is due ... His status of supremacy is absolute. Things happen when He approves, things do not come to pass if He disapproves. In worship, the Yoruba holds Him ultimately First and Last; in man's daily life, He has the ultimate pre-eminence.

The orisa and deities thus serve as the intermediaries between God and Man in Yoruba cosmology just as Jesus is believed to be the intercessor between God and Man in Christianity. Farrow (1962:30) explains why the Yoruba do not consult Olodumare directly by saying "God is too exalted to be approached with the familiarity shown towards the divinities and too high and distant to be offered sacrifices and prayers". Adeoye (1979) also supports Farrow's view by claiming that divinities serve as intermediaries between God and human beings; and whenever there are teething problems confronting human beings, whether as individuals or as a community, it is these divinities that can appease Olodumare. Adeoye (1979:10) has this to say concerning the mediating roles of gods and divinities:

Igbagbo awon baba-nla wa ni pe awon Irunmole ati awon orisa tabi akanda eda wa laarin Ylorun ati awa eda owo re ti o da si ile aye; ati pe ni atetekooe ti Ylorun da imoran pe, e wa, e je ki a da eniyan ni aworan ara wa, awon ti o ke si ni awon irunmole, eyi si ni awon irunmole naa: Obatala, Orunmila, Ogun, Eou, Ela ati sango. Olorun yii ni Oluwa awon Irunmole wonyi ati awon akanda eda ti o di orisa ti o fi je pe okanlenirinwo orisa ni o wa ni ile Yoruba. (The belief of our ancestors is that divinities and gods as well as deified-ancestors serve as intermediaries between God and human beings on earth; and in the beginning when God said, 'Come, let us create man in our own image', those He invited were divinities, and the divinities are Obatala, Orunmila, Ogun, Eou, Ela and Oango. God is the Lord over all these divinities and heroes that became gods which makes the number of divinities in Yoruba land four hundred and one.)

According to Kanu (2013:539), the divinities are the off-springs of the Supreme Being who "share aspects of the divine status" and are accountable to God in the way they relate with human beings.

There is a serious controversy regarding the exact number of divinities in Yoruba land as the figure often ranges from 201, 1700, 1440 to 401 (see Idowu 1962). However, each divinity has a specific duty or function assigned to him by God. For instance, in Yoruba mythology, Obatala or Orisa-nla is the divinity responsible for molding human beings, Orunmila specializes in healing and revealing secrets while Osun is the goddess that is in charge of giving children to barren women. Also, in the African worldview, there is hierarchy among the divinities. Idowu (1962:71) says:

Orisa-nla is the supreme divinity of Yoruba land. …

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