What does this creation myth tell us about Yoruba culture? How does it enhance the brief amount of historical information given in the introduction to the Creation of the Universe and Iife?
You might consider the following questions in developing your posts:
• Why would a god desire companionship?
• How do the Yoruba gods care for the world and the people?
• How do the events of the myths demonstrate the concerns of the Yoruba tribe?
• Are those concerns still vital today?
• The chameleon is an interesting character. What is the significance of the contest between Olorun and Olokun, and the way that the chameleon participates in the trickery? How does that reflect on the proclamation that Olorun is the greatest of the gods?
Please use quotes that apply directly from the story which is included below.
Rosenberg, D. (1999). World mythology: An anthology of the great myths and epics (3rd ed.). Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC Pub. Group.I
The Yoruba people represent a major African culture that has roots extending back as far as 300 B.C., when a technologically and artistically advanced people lived just north of the Niger River. Today, more than ten million Yoruba people live in the southwest corner of Nigeria, from the Benin border north to the Niger River.
Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Yoruba identified with the city-state in which they lived rather than with their larger culture. One Yoruba city-state was as likely to fight against another Yoruba city-state as against a neighboring culture.
Historically, Ife was the principal Yoruba city and was considered sacred. Religious ideas developed there and spread to other Yoruba city-states. The Yoruba religious system of prophecy even spread to other cultures in western Africa.
The mythology of the Yoruba people contains hundreds of gods, from major gods—the subjects of the following creation myth—to minor gods who protect local villages and regions. The Yoruba gods are human in form, thought, and way of life. They relate to one another as members of a large, human family, and they experience love, jealousy, anger, and sympathy. They enjoy human beings and like to spend time with them on earth. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Yoruba gods are sensitive to human problems and receptive to human prayers.
The Yoruba creation myth shares many characteristics with the creation myths of other cultures. For example, the creation of land is similar to the Japanese myth, the creation of human beings is similar to the Chinese myth, and the occurrence of a great flood is similar to the myths of the Greeks, the Sumerians and Babylonians, and the Scandinavians. The gods in the Yoruba myth are likable because they exhibit many of the best characteristics of the human personality, most notably creative intelligence and the ability to care about others.
The Yoruba creation myth is recorded in The Treasury of African Folklore (1975), edited by Harold Courlander, a noted scholar of the Yoruba. Courlander relates other Yoruba myths in Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes (1973).
THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE AND IFE
In the beginning the universe consisted only of the sky above and the water and wild marshland below. Olorun, the god who possessed the most power and the greatest knowledge, ruled the sky, while the goddess Olokun ruled the endless waters and wild marshes. Olokun was content with her kingdom, even though it contained neither vegetation nor animals nor human beings.
However, the young god Obatala was not satisfied. As he looked down from the sky, he said to himself, “The world below needs something of interest! Everything is water-soaked, and not one living thing enlivens the area! I must talk with Olorun and see what can be done to improve the situation.”
Obatala said to Olorun, “Poor Olokun rules nothing but marshland, mist, and water! What she needs in her kingdom are mountains and valleys, forests and fields. All kinds of creatures and plants could live on that solid land.”
Olorun replied, “Of course, solid land would be far better than this endless expanse of water. But who can create it? And how?”
“With your permission,” Obatala replied, “I will create solid land.”
“It is always my pleasure to give you whatever you wish, Obatala,” Olorun replied. “You know that I love you as my son!”
So Obatala went to the house of Orunmila, the oldest son of Olorun, who had the gift of prophecy. Orunmila understood the secrets of existence, including fate and the future.
Obatala said to Orunmila, “Your father has given me permission to create solid land where now nothing exists except endless water and wild marshland. With your superior knowledge, you can teach me how to begin my project. I want to populate the earth with living beings who will be able to raise crops and build villages.”
Orunmila replied, “First, Obatala, you must acquire a chain of gold long enough to reach from the sky above to the waters below. Then you must fill a snail’s shell with sand. Finally, you must place that shell, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut in a bag and carry them with you as you climb down the chain to the wild marshland. That is how I advise you to begin your project.”
“Thank you, Orunmila,” Obatala replied. “I will find the goldsmith and begin at once.”
The goldsmith said, “I will make you a chain of the length you need if you will bring me the gold I need to fashion it. I do not think you will find enough gold in the sky. But ask each of the gods for whatever gold he or she possesses, and you may succeed. I wish you well!”
Obatala approached the gods one by one. To each god he said, “I plan to create solid land where now there is nothing but water and wild marshland. Then I will create all sorts of plants and creatures to live on that land. Before I can begin, I need the goldsmith to make me a chain that will stretch from the sky above to the waters below. Will you contribute whatever gold you possess?”
The gods were sympathetic to Obatala’s cause. They gave him their gold: necklaces, bracelets, rings, and even gold dust.
The goldsmith examined the gold Obatala had collected and said, “Can you not find more gold? This will not be enough!”
“It is the best I can do,” Obatala replied. “I have asked every god in the sky, and each has given me whatever he or she owned. Make as long a chain as you can, with a hook at one end.”
When the chain was ready, Orunmila accompanied Obatala while he hooked one end of the chain to the edge of the sky and lowered the rest of it toward the waters far below. Orunmila gave Obatala the sand-filled snail’s shell, the white hen, the black cat, and the palm nut. One by one, Obatala put them into a bag, which he slung over his shoulder. Then he said farewell to Orunmila and began to climb down the golden chain.
Obatala climbed lower and lower and lower. When he was only halfway down, he saw that he was leaving the world of light and entering the world of twilight.
Again he climbed lower and lower and lower. As he reached the end of the chain, he could feel the mist rising cool and wet upon him and hear the splashing of the waves as they crashed upon the sea. But he could see that he was still far above the ocean.
`I cannot jump from here,” he thought. “The distance is so great that I will drown!”
Then, from the sky far above, Orunmila called out, “Obatala! Use the sand in your snail shell!”
Obatala reached into the bag at his side, withdrew the snail’s shell, and poured the sand on the waters below him.
No sooner had he finished when Orunmila called out, “Obatala! Free the white hen!” Obatala reached into the bag at his side, withdrew the white hen, and dropped it on the waters where he had poured the sand.
The hen fluttered down, landed upon the sandy waters, and immediately began to scatter the sand by scratching at it. Wherever the sand fell, it formed dry land. The larger piles of sand became hills, while the smaller piles became valleys.
Obatala let go of the golden chain and jumped to the earth. He named the place where he landed Ife. He walked with pleasure upon the solid land that he had created. The earth now extended farther in all directions than his eyes could see. It was still completely devoid of life, but it was a beginning.
Obatala dug a hole in the dry land and buried his palm nut in the soil. Immediately, a palm tree emerged and grew to its full height. The mature tree dropped its nuts upon the land, and they also quickly grew to maturity. Obatala built himself a house of bark and thatched the roof with palm leaves. He then settled down in Ife with his black cat for company.
Olorun wished to know how Obatala was progressing with his plan, so he sent his servant, the chameleon, down the golden chain to find out.
When the lizard arrived, Obatala said to him, “Tell Olorun, ruler of the sky, that I am pleased with the land I have created and the vegetation I have planted. But it is always twilight here. I miss the brightness of the sky!”
When the chameleon gave Obatala’s message to Olorun, the ruler of the sky smiled and said, “For you, Obatala, I will create the sun!” Once Olorun tossed the sun into the sky, it shed light and warmth upon Iife as it moved across the sky on its daily journey.