He is a high-ranking spirit among the Orishas, but in the old days he did like a drink or two. Not a good thing when you have a holy mission to perform.
His father, the supreme sky god Olorun, gave him the mighty task of building the Earth. Unfortunately, on his way to perform this important job, Obatala ‘accidentally’ gatecrashed a Godparty and spent the rest of the evening roaring drunk on palm wine.
Meanwhile, little sibling Oduduwa spotted an opportunity. Why should big brother get all the fame and glory? So he stole the holy building materials and did a little planet-constructing behind his back. As you can see if you look around you, he did a pretty good job.
Chief architect and supreme deity Olorun was so pleased with Oduduwa’s efforts that he promoted him to God of the Earth. The drunken sop Obatala was ridiculed, chastised and punished with a tedious punishment — he was put to work making men and women.
If you ever wondered why humans aren’t quite as perfect as they should be, here’s the answer: our Holy Maker was drunk at the time. Since that day, every deformity or disability to afflict mankind has been blamed on his fumbling alcoholic fingers.
Obatala eventually learned the error of his ways and went very firmly on the wagon. Olorun accepted his apologies and gave him dominion over the mortals he’d created. But only the heads. (You may think your head belongs to you, but it doesn’t. It is only on loan. In reality it belongs to an immortal ex-alcoholic demi-deity from Africa.)
With an amazing transformation he reinvented himself as the Great White God, a shining figure in resplendent white cloth. Far from encouraging alcoholic excess and bleary-eyed drunken confusion, he now promotes purity, clean living and clarity of thought. We just hope those impressive gleaming robes do not conceal a hip flask.
As top spiritual entity of the Orishas with roles covering fertility, childbirth and fortune, he is now enthusiastically venerated all over the world, from Africa to Brazil. He has even been remixed by Catholicism, which is always keen to borrow other people’s gods — especially ones so shiny and white as him.
Obatala’s wife is Yemaya. What a roller-coaster marriage she’s had.
Obatala Facts and Figures
Pronunciation: Coming soon
Alternative names: OBÀTÁLÁ, OBATALÁ, OLUFON, ORISALA, ORISHALA, ORISHA-NLA, ORISHA-POPO, ORISANLA, OSHANLA
Area or people: Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin
Celebration or Feast Day: Unknown at present
In charge of: Purification
Area of expertise: Purity
Good/Evil Rating: GOOD, quite approachable
Popularity index: 1773
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Article last revised on May 19, 2019 by Rowan Allen.
Editors: Peter J. Allen, Chas Saunders
References: Coming soon.