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Olokun: On The Trail Of The Sea Goddess

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All around Yoruba land,  Olokun is celebrated and worshipped but few people know the source and why. KAYODE FALADE went in search of the goddess. His report.

ust entering the cradle of Yoruba land, Ile-Ife in Osun State one comes across a big roundabout. It is in the heart of the University City which is also the source of the Yoruba race. At the centre of the roundabout is a huge golden bust sprouting from the earth. It is called Ori Olokun. Ori in the Yoruba language means head.

For many, it is just a replica of one of the famous Ife bronze art celebrated all over the world as one of the legacies of ancient Yoruba art.

To others, the figure is also used as a symbol of the Yoruba race especially Ile-Ife, the source. But Ori Olokun is the bust of Olokun, the Yoruba goddess of the sea or ocean and wealth.

Why is the bust in Ile-Ife and not in Lagos or Badagry which is closer or nearer to the big water?

The Walode of Ile-Ife Chief Kolawole Omotayo, is the Abore (Chief Priest) of Olokun of the Source and he responded: “Olokun is the goddess who gathered all the water of the earth together, at creation, and moved it to its current location – the sea.

“At the beginning of life, the earth was formless and filled with water. Olodumare then sent Obatala, his chief orisa, to the world to commence the process of filling it with life. Thus Obatala, armed with igba iwa, descended from heaven through a chain to do the bid of his master.

“On his way, however, he came across wine from Igi Olufon. The great orisa could not resist a swig. This he took and could not stop until he got drunk and fell into a deep slumber. Days after, Olodumare was expecting a feedback but Obatala was nowhere to be found to give his Lord the report of his assignment.

“Olodumare knew what was happeneing, so He now sent Oduduwa. When Oduduwa got to Obatala, he never woke him up from his drunken stupor but proceeded to collect the igba iwa, Adie elese marun (five-toed hen) and sand from him. He then proceeded on the creation course. Hence, he did as he was bided by Olodumare: poured the sand on the water and set the Adie elese marun loose. It was Adie elese marun that now scattered the dust on the water. Hence where the sand is became land and where it did not cover became stream, pound, river as the case and size may be. And so life began in Ile-Ife.”

But where did Olokun come in?

The Walode continued: “It got to a time when flood threatened to overcome the earth. This was when Olokun rose to the rescue of humanity. Right from Ilode, where we stand now, the great goddess Olokun began of drawing all the water together. After this she moved everything through Ilare to a very remote part of the earth then which is now the sea of today. That is why everywhere, wherever they are, all water still links the sea. So, Olokun, it was who, saved the earth from flood.”

A myth. So it sounds. The Iwude did not agree. He explained: “The white men, you know, are very inquisitive. They traced the path of the sea from Lagos up to Ile-Ife. They came to this Ilode looking for Olokun. Another thing is that any time we hold the olokun festival and we offer sacrifice; all the articles and things used for the sacrifices are always found at the Bar Beach, Lagos the following day. You can confirm this anytime the festival is held. We just held one about two months ago.”

Shedding more light on the goddess, he continued: olokun is one of the 201 orisa that descended from heaven to earth. It is still alive and present among us. It appears to people she wants to see especially members of this family.

“There are two kinds of water here on Isalu Aye (earth). The first is Okun (Sea) while the other is Osa (River or the lagoon found in Lagos). The two are here in Ile-Ife. Olokun is for the sea while Osara is for the other. Right now the Osara festival is going on. Olokun is the goddess of the sea while Osara is that of river or lagoon. Olokun gives wealth while Osara is in charge of fruits of the womb. They are both here in Ile-Ife.

The reporter’s curiosity grew. Since Olokun could make herself visible to people, he would want to see her. Another of the hierarchy of the Iwude family responded: “It is possible. If it had been some years ago, it would have been almost immediate. The house (shrine) of Olokun was among us then. There she was domiciled always. However, as expansion continued, people started building near her and she kept on withdrawing. There was even a time in the past when some white men were on her trail. This made her to further withdraw. When we were much younger, it was very possible especially during the festival. However, the custodians had to do some things for well keep”

The Iwude then asked the reporter whether or not he was serious about seeing the goddess. If he were, then, he would have to undergo some rituals; Olokun would make herself visible.

In which form? In her normal form of course,” the chief priest of the goddess of wealth assured the reporter. There is a caveat though; people with tribal marks or people who are filthy cannot see her. Anyone who did not undergo the necessary rituals would also go blind on seeing her.

To her worshippers and adherents, “she is a worthy orisa to be with. Any one worshipping her sincerely does not lack. She bestows on her own favour and wealth. She is called “Olokun seni ade” which means she is in charge of the crowns of kings. Crowns are made of expensive beads. She was in charge of the crown of Oduduwa.

“However, her worshippers must not think evil of others. She is a clean goddess. She abhors any kind of filth be it physical or spiritual. No one should go near her just after the act of copulation. She is a female so she detests infidelity. The Olokun also abhors light. No torch should be taken to her shrine. She is worshipped in pitch darkness.”

He, however, sympathised with those who worship Olokun in other places. To him, they are ignorant of the source of the goddess.

“Sometime in the past, emissary was sent from Badagry to Ile-Ife to seek help in the worship of Olokun. We taught them. But those who genuinely want to worship Olokun come to its source, Ile-Ife”



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