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AFRICA'S OGUN



Following the myths to their source in history is a labyrinthine pursuit. It takes more than education and hardwork -  it takes some element of luck - to pluck the gem out of mushy mythology. It is such luck that I think is not pressed home in the book AFRICAS OGUN:Old World And New  edited by Sandra T. Barnes(Indiana University Press, 1989). In  a chapter Ogun, the Empire Builder, Sandra T. Barnes and Paula Girshik Ben-Amos, traverse the mytho-historical landscape of the Edo, Fon, and Yoruba in order to locate the god and to solve the riddle of the deity in terms
of beliefs
surrounding iron, .... found throughout the Guinea Coast. But they hit a blank. They did not find Ogun or rather they found Ogun everywhere. This authorized them to reach the conclusion that The meanings attached to Ogun were abstractions that were not tied to a single place or a single cultural context. They  conclude that all evidence for the emergence of Ogun is circumstantial.  In the introduction, Sandra Barnes had foreclosed the issue: The way to think about the beginnings of a deity such as Ogun, then, is to view his origins, by necessity, as indeterminate. At any historical point, the ideas reflected by Ogun, or the ideas out of which he is created, are a cultural assemblage..... through which people reflected on the historical milestones of their development - from first clearing the land to living in a glorious Age of Empire.

In the Introduction to  AFRICAS OGUN, Sandra T. Barnes claims that No date can be assigned to the birth of Ogun, nor can a place be assigned to his origins. In an earlier study, Ogun: an Old God for a New Age(1980), she had proposed that many of the themes surrounding Ogun are rooted in a set of pan-African ideas that probably accompanied the spread of iron -making technology throughout sub-Saharan Africa as far back as 2000 years(Barnes,1989). This idea of the sacred iron complex shared by Barnes is questioned by Robert G.Armstrong who makes use of linguistic evidence to show that the concept of Ogun was also equally associated with metaphysical ideas to do with hunting, killing, the resultant disorder that killing brings and the need for purification before the reintegration into society of people who have killed. Amstrong however does not resolve the question of when the concept of Ogun as factor of the divine iron complex was transformed into a divine being. The transformation in West African societies, as Barnes argues, obviously predated the 1700s when its emergence was first noted among slave populations in Haiti and the new world. Dennis Williams in his ICON AND IMAGE: A Study of Sacred and Secular Forms of African Classical Art(London,Allen Lane, 1974) gives the sixteenth century as a likely date of Oguns emergence as a divine being because that was when among the eastern Yoruba, ritual objects made of iron,  which can be dated because of the use of imported metal by Ogun devotees, began to proliferate ...  Williams thinks that it is only with imported metal that dating becomes possible or that the tentative nature of a dating which relies only on carbon dating was worth the while. But he pressed another hypothesis: pictorially reinforced by a brass plaque depicting a Benin warrior wearing miniature iron tools - the almost universal symbols of Ogun - that dates to the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Barnes and Ben Amos suggest an even earlier date for the emergence of Ogun based on an annual ceremony in the Kingdom of Benin which dates to the thirteenth or fourteenth century and which featured ritual battles and sacrifices of the type that today are appropriate only to Ogun. On the strength of this, they pin the geographic area of Oguns emergence to eastern Yorubaland and to the Kingdom of Benin, where ritual reenactments  of battle between kings and town leaders have long figured in large civic pageants dedicated to Ogun. Somehow, beyond identifying a broad geographical spread, they fail to pursue the matter any further.

The problem with their attempt at locating Ogun lies in their ignoring folk history. They do not consult the mythologies in the identified cultural geographies in order to confront the possibilities they open up as hypothesis. A little accommodation of folk history would have intimated the existence of an Ire in Ekiti in Eastern Yorubaland which mythology identifies as the point of  Oguns arrival after breaching the primeval gulf. Obviously following the line of earlier anthropologists who gave some primacy to Owo and Benin as great centers of art, they considered any other site as being too out-of-the-way to yield much by way of fresh evidence. Their quest, at the very point of discovering what they sought halted. Apparently standing by the most advertised of the stories which are basically Yoruba-derived, they fail to follow the Yoruba masquerade, so to say, to its hole in Ekiti-land. The result is that they merely enable us to identify some of the nationalities within the Ogun complex but without following the leads to be found in Johnsons History of the Yorubas (CSS Bookshops, 1989) Fadipes Sociology of the Yoruba(1976) and Idowus Olodumare:God in Yoruba Belief(Longman, 1962) which summarize the myths and folk histories. I personally prefer the summaries provided by Soyinka because of the more aesthetic context in which they are rendered.



In his foundational essay, On the Fourth Stage Soyinka writes: Yoruba myth syncretizes Obatala, god of purity, god also of creation, (but not of creativity) with the first deity, Orisan-la. The reign of this god had to end for the other gods to emerge. That is to say, unlike the Greek god Zeus, King of Olympus, Orisanla never had to supervise or supervene over the other gods .

 (p.27): Once, there was only the solitary being, the primogenitor of god and man, attended only by his slave Atunda. We do not know where Atunda came from  myth is always careless about detail  perhaps the original one moulded him from earth to assist him with domestic chores. However, the slave rebelled. For reasons best known to himself he rolled a huge boulder on to the god as he tended his garden on a hillside, sent him hurtling into the abyss in a thousand and one fragments. Again the figure varies  What has not varied is the mythical certitude  if such be known  that the stone rolled by a jealous slave down the back of the first and only deity.. shattered him  and From this first act of revolution was born the Yoruba pantheon (p.152). The shards also created mankind. Of some interest is that the slave Atunda (Atowoda) whose boulder did the deed is not one of the gods today (because he was a slave?) but it is to him that we owe the existence of the gods, and mankind, as well as the transference of social functions, the division of labour and professions among the deities whose departments they were thereafter to become.   Soyinka shows his partiality for his patron god by asserting that although none of the gods, not even Ogun, was complete in himself.. the shard of original Oneness which contained the creative flint appears to have passed into the being of Ogun, who manifests a  temperament for artistic creativity matched by technological proficiency. His world is the world of craft, song and poetry. Whether partial or not, these are the grounds upon which he has matched the god to Prometheus, Apollo, and Dionysus. Like these mythical personages, Ogun reached into the womb of the earth for properties that enabled him to forge the first technical instruments with which he saved the other gods from being stranded on the other side of the metaphysical divide. He broke the impassable barrier which they tried but failed to demolish in their bid to link up with mankind, to inspect or drink at, the fount of mortality. Ogun cleared the primordial jungle, plunged through the abyss and called on the others to follow. For this he was offered a crown by the other gods. He rejected the crown. At Ire,  after much hedging, he allowed himself to be importuned by the elders to accept to be their king. It was here that he was beguiled by Esu the trickster god to gorge himself in palmwine. Drunkenness empowered the god. He routed the enemies in battle even faster than usual. However under the influence of alcohol friend and foe had become confused; he turned on his men and slaughtered them.

If anything, this blind slaughter proved the gods incompleteness; which he obviously sought to hide by initially refusing to get involved in the ways of mortal beings. But consciousness of incompleteness never prevented Ogun from being the embodiment of challenge, the Promethean instinct in man, constantly at the service of society for its full self-realization. Infact, the reality of incompleteness, and the coexistence of contradictory attributes which bring Ogun closest to the conception of the original Oneness of Orisanla, becomes the constant motivation to bridge the gulf between gods and men. Through sacrifices, rituals, ceremonies of appeasement to the cosmic powers which lie guardian to the gulf, mankind seeks to bridge the gulf or at least make it less threatening. Soyinka does not explain the nature and the efficacy of these sacrifices and rituals. Part of the brief of being a devotee is to render praise to the god.  As the modal praise singer, he  toasts the practitioners of Ijala, the supreme lyrical form of Yoruba poetic art, followers of Ogun, who celebrate not only the deity but animal and plant life while seeking  to capture the essence and relationships of growing things and the insights of man into secrets of the universe.  Soyinka joins in celebratiing of Oguns many manifestations which is quite an industry, as Barnes and Ben-Amos affirm in their listing of the praise names of the god. As they observe, among the Fon: Gu himself was, in some manifestations, percieved as sword; he was a force with no head, only a great tool jutting out of a trunk of stone. From the day of creation onward the sword was given this praise: alit-su-gbo-gu-kle,  ,/the road is closed and Gu opens it. Among the Yoruba: Ogun is  Master of the World, the innovative deity who showed the way for others; the deity who brought fire; the first hunter; the opener of roads; the clearer of the first fields; the first warrior; the introducer of iron; the founder of dynasties, towns, kingdoms. As they note, each of these acts was in some way revolutionary. Each was in some way a first in the sense in which fire was a first principle that transformed ore into iron, just as it tranformed raw food into cooked, and thus, as Levi-strauss would put it, nature into culture. Thereafter Ogun brought a new political order through civil war or conquest, a new economy through clearing the fields, a new technology through the introduction of iron and a new way of life through the founding of towns and cities(Barnes, 1989:57). Among the Edo, specifically in shrines in Benin city, Ogun, according to them, was depicted in a war costume, wearing or holding the tools and weapons of his varied occupations. Often, his costume and significantly, his eyes were painted red....indicating his violent temper and capacity for causing harm(Ben-Amos quoted in Barnes(1989).

In his book, THE ENTREPRENEUR AS CULTURE HERO: Preadaptations in Nigerian Economic Development, published by Praeger Publishers, N.Y.(1980) Bernard I. Belasco takes on the story from the Benin end of the Ogun phenomenon. Following Jacob Egharevbas A Short History, he points out that Ogun, like Olokun  great God of the seagood luck, riches and goodness is not originally Yoruba but an Edo god. In the case of Olokun, he writes: Benin appreciation of the mystic and pragmatic qualities of the lagoon and ocean eventuated in the founding of the Olokun cult by Oba Ohen probably in the fifteenth century at a time before the Portuguese landed(p.79).. The priest of the cult was a state appointee whose primary task, wrapped up in the accoutrements of religious worship, was to safeguard trade-lines, the new wealth that was coming from the sea.Olokun, and the cult of the god of the sea, became the instrument of the state monopoly of the trade goods. At the same time, through the cult the state regulated the political and ideological effects of the introduction of overseas wealth. Olokun, Belasco posits, was later adopted within the Yoruba pantheon after re-symbolization,  nativization,, which turned the god into a goddess, daughter of Yemaja. The worship of Ogun also faced domestication among the Yoruba, but with a difference.  Belasco does not provide any specific evidence beyond the mere assertion. He points out however that Ogun worship followed the patterns of the influence of  Benin. Agreeing with Thomas Hodgkins proposition that firearms made possible Benin expansion westward on the lagoon to Lagos, Belasco contends that the ritualization of iron and the ascription to Ogun, god of war, of the added dimension, god of iron, appears to be associated with the period of large scale iron imports from overseas(p.64).

The implication is that the notion of the sacred iron complex which dates the Iron Age to between 500 -900 AD did not produce a divine personage around the iron hunger of the fifteenth century.

If Belascos hypothesis is accepted, it would need to be explained how Ogun could have risen among the Edo and how his influence spread as wide as it has done.  I argue that the evidence here may be accessed, fruitfully, by bouncing the mythology that Soyinka presents against the history of the Edo people across the border from Eastern Yoruba land. To begin with the history: for the Edo people, as for most sub-saharan peoples, the fifteenth century happened to be one of the most innovative, most glorious. It was a period of renaissance in Africa at a time when there was also a rennaissance in Europe. This was the century of the great African city states and empires and their culture heroes  - Mari Jalak in Songhai, Rumfa in Kano, Sango in Oyo, Ossei Tutu among the Ashanti etc. In Benin, this rennaisance centred around the personage of a highly innovative King, Ogun, whose royal title was Ewuare. He reigned for about 45 years (1440-1485) according to dating provided by the historian of Benin, Jacob Egharevba and generally accepted with slight variations by Bradbury, Ryder, Webster and Sargent. What makes him interesting from the standpoint of the search for Oguns origins is not just his name but that the characterological sketches, ritual performances and other biographical intimations vouchsafed by folklore and mythology are coincident with his progress. Egharevba portrays him as a pure rennaissance character in a manner that justifies what has been described as Soyinkas semiotic overcoding of the personage of his patron deity. Ogun Ewuare is presented as the founder of an Edo nationality: Before him, the people of the capital were known by the name left behind by Oramiyan, the Ife founder of the extant dynasty among the Igodomigodo. Ogun was a descendant of the Oramiyan line. An exiled Crown Prince making secret intermittent visits to his future capital, he travelled over every part of Nigeria, Dahomey, Ghana, Guinea, and the Congo, a fact which must explain the many innovations that he brought to Benin when he finally became King. But to become King, he stalked, trapped and worsted his Younger brother who had usurped the throne. As reprisal for his earlier banishment and to make the people rue for accommodating a usurper, he burnt the city down; causing a great conflagration in the city which lasted two days and nights as a revenge for his banishment. However he  rebuilt the city, constructing those well-paved streets which were greatly admired by Ruy de Sequeira, the portuguese adventurer who visited Benin in 1472.  According to Egharevba:  It was he who had the innermost and greatest of the walls and ditches made round the city and he made powerful charms and had them buried at each of the nine gateways to the city, to nullify any evil charms which might be brought by people of other countries to injure his subjects. Infact the town rose to importance and gained the name City during his reign. He re-named the City - Edo - a city of love as against the old name of ile-ibinu, ( a city of quarrels) .The new name Edo belonged to the slave who gave him a ladder to escape from a dried up well where he had been hidden by the Ifa Priest who went to tell the city chiefs so that they might arrest and punish him. The night after his escape he ran into other dangers; he killed a leopard and a snake and planted an evergreen tree on the spot to commemorate it. This is celebrated in mythology except that the tradition of killing a leopard every year, although continued by his successors, has been displaced by the sacrifice of dogs, more readily available, the so-called meat of Ogun. He created a centralized Authority for the Kingdom: attenuated the lineage system and the age-grade system which had controlled the Kingdom in a pattern of segementary forms and made them answerable to the King. Every adult male became a kings man; every married woman became, notionally, a kings wife. He originated a bachelors camp (ekohae), a standing army for the king, in which each new king stays for seven days before his coronation. One of the first tasks of his rule was to bring from all the outlying districts the magicians, the famed artisans and the men of worldly and other-wordly affairs. He barracked them all in the City.  He re-structured the guild system, dividing the realm into occupational zones for iron-workers, woodworkers, brass and bronze workers, cotton and cloth-guilds etc. Ivory and wood-carving became a state industry during his reign. He was partial to iron-workers. They were to be captured but never to be killed in war. His influence was sufficiently widespread for this code to be observed by neighbours outside his Kingdom. He was himself an inventor. A musician, he invented a fife-like wind-instrument, eziken, and created ema-Edo, the royal band. He introduced the royal beads and the scarlet cloths (ododo) - which the stole from the Portuguese ship through the agency of the Olokun priest. This, with time, would be celebrated as a feat in the mythology of Ogun. True, he went down in history as a supreme arsonist and a destroyer of towns but also a builder of towns and cities, a town-planner. Egharevba writes that He fought against and captured 201 towns and villages in Ekiti. Ikare, Kukuruku,, Eka, and the Ibo country on the western side of the river Niger. It was during his reign that the infiltration of Onitsha as an outpost of Edo culture began. The influence of the Edo Empire across the southern belt of the Guinea coast into what is today known as Ghana generally credited to as a consequence of his authoritarian rule. The Ga of what is now Ghana, the Urhobo, the Esans and the Etsakos were migrants from his tyrannical rule which, at its most preposterous, included a decree banning sexual intercourse in the city for three years as part of the mourning for the death of two Princes, one of whom was the Crown Prince. This does account for the sobriquet among the Esans and Urhobo that he was Ewuare the Wicked. But it was certainly the origin of the apocryphal notion that he went to war with kegs full of sperm, blood and wine. It is celebrated by worshipers in Ire-amongst whom Ewuare sojourned before he became King. After he became King, he was invited by the people to help ward off their enemies. At first, he refused to be involved in their bickerings. Under pressure, he intervened. After the defeat of the enemies, he repeated the revolutionary feats he had occassioned in Benin. He turned upon the leadership of Ire and decimated their ranks, installing his own appointees as chiefs. This is the source of the quip that he turned upon his own people. Understandably, Ogun entered the Ekiti pantheon as a god of war as distinct from his centrality to the order of the divine iron complex which was favoured at Ife. Generally, Ogun worship in what was to become known as Yorubaland owed much more to the Ekitis whose version of the Ogun myth is more influential among the Ijebu and Egba. This may be easy to understand because the myth of origin of the Ijebu-Remo peoplepointedly indicates that the Ifa advised them, who were leaving Ife with Olofin Ogbolu, to migrate with certain Ekiti peoples. According to one authority on the history, (J.Olu Soriyans The Handbook of Ikenne History,1991)  that wave of migration shaped their course via Benin to their present locations in 1450. Ogun Ewuare was on the throne. If he features so much in the myths of origin of the people, it is to be understood in my view as a syncretism of all these migration themes. And it ought not to be such a surprise. For Ogun Ewuare was the overlord along the southern belt of what is now southwestern Nigeria during the period. The ajeles from Oyo (Sangos dormain) who were soon to be displaced by Ijebu armed traders, the parakoyis, were beholding to Oguns Olokun cult-members. As Belasco notes, Ogun themes which show him as an aggressor in most of the Yoruba myths are to be taken as Oyo versions of a domineering cousin with whom they had to be on good terms.

Modern historians have not been as shy as the literary critics in confronting the secular elements in the history which separate fact from mythical hunch. In his book KINGDOMS OF THE YORUBA, first published in 1969, Robert S. Smith, provides a narrative which could move the questions towards some resolution. On page 64, he writes: During the first three or four centuries of Ado history two themes predominated. The first was the gradual expansion of the Ewis rule over the surrounding district, so that today, in addition to Ado, the Ewi rules over seventeen subordinate towns, of which Igede is the largest. The second theme consisted in a series of defensive wars which Ado fought with Benin. It was the expansion of Ado which apparently brought about the intervention in the area of Benin, since Ikere, a town some ten miles to the south of Ado which had formerly been subject to the Elesin, invited the Oba of Benin to send his troops there. According to Oguntuyi, this occurred during the reigns at Ado of Ata, the first Oba after Awamaro whose name is recalled, and at Benin of Ewuare, and if this association with Ewuare is correct it can be ascribed to the middle or second half of the fifteenth century. During the ensuing war Ekiti was overrun by the Bini, while the ruler of Ikere, the  Olukere, was himself replaced by a Bini whose title was the Ogoga. The Ewi survived but the Bini seem to have accquired a form of suzerainty over Ado, probably expressed by the payment of tribute. Thenceforth, Ikere under its Benin dynasty was to be a rival and a threat to Ado. Smith continues:  A second war between Ado and Benin took place during the reign of  Ewi Obakunrin. It was again occasioned by an appeal for help to Benin by the Ikere, who were protesting against the Ados attempts to enlarge the area under their control. The Ado say that in this Oluponnokusuponno (let everyone die in front of his own house) war, the Bini for the first time had firearms, but they merely discharged them into the air to cause  terror  perhaps the most effective use of the primitive muskets which these must have been. Once again Ado submitted to Benin and affirmed its loyalty. On page 67, Robert S. Smith adds the decisive strand of the narrative from the standpoint of the Ogun theme: One of the smallest of the independent towns in Ekiti  is Ire, some fourteen miles to the north-east of Ado. It is of interest as the centre of the worship of Ogun, god of both war and iron in the Yoruba pantheon. According to the ruler, the Onire, the town was founded by Ogundahunsi, son of Ogun, who himself was a son of Oduduwa, or so they say at Ire, though not at at Ife. On return from a long campaign, Ogun lost his temper with his son and killed him. Overwhelmed by remorse, he sank into the earth at the place in Ire where his shrine now stands. The Onire claims descent from Ogun and recites a list of rulers, ending with himself as twenty-ninth

Undoubtedly, there is so much that one can never know about the history. There is so much too that the artistic bricoleur has overlaid with imaginative leaps which we cannot contest successfully. The gaps between history and mythology however are not as wide as may well have been thought.  Certain questions are asked which provide clues.  How for instance could an Edo god become so totally absorbed within the Yoruba firmament. It is a question that religious proselytes may not ask knowing that the source of a religion may have no shrine for the god while devotees from afar take over the worship and build monumental shrines as in the case of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church  how far they are from Jerusalem! There is the case of Dionysus whose status as a Greek remained in intermittent contestation. The scandal in the case of Ogun is that to affirm his Edo provenance demands a recasting of the current knowledge of about nationalities in the Nigerian firmament. It is not only as Obayemi claims, that modern anthropologists have tended to separate the ethnic groups into compartments but that we may have to relocate the notion of core and periphery as they pertain to Ogun worship. Ekitiland, far from being a supine periphery of the Ife world was actually quite a producer of the spine of the collective racial self-conception as witnessed by the fact that it was the source of Ogun worship which is at the heart of the definition, not just Soyinkas definition, of the Yoruba pantheon. Added intelligence to the effect that Ifa Divination was introduced to and nationalized in Ile-Ife by the Ekiti sage,  Agbonmiregun, indicates the pervasiveness of the Eastern Yoruba influence. It is the insertion of the Ekiti element in the gods epiphany that makes it quite legitimate to call Ogun a Yoruba god in spite of his Edo provenance, and apart from the fact that Ogun was indeed a great grandchild of an Ife lord whom the Edo however claim to have fathered. The more substantive reason I would say is that the Yoruba have done more to entrench the worship of the god than the Edo  as it might be said that the Greeks did more for Dionysus and Rome has done more for Christianity than Jerusalem. If hunch be allowed, the deification of Ogun in Ire may be seen as an extension of the normal divinity of Kings in the Edo world which Ogun Ewuares long reign and his polysemic performances must have entrenched wherever he had influence. That area of influence, as it is generally agreed, included a wide swipe of the West Coast of Africa into what is now Ghana. It was certainly not an influence based not only on the force of arms which was source of much of his suzerainty. The influence went, not only with a profession of arms, what Alan Ryder in Benin and the Europeans 1485-1897, Longman, London,1977) describes as his skill in organizsing his subjects and harnessing hri energies to a war machind which became an inegral and permanent part of the state but also to the efficacy of the magical powers with which he protected his subjects and destroyed his enemies. This means that ideas about his godhood were widely acknowledged apart from his extra-ordinary acumen for protecting people of ideas  artists, artisans and medicinemen and warriors wherever he could found them. The distance between the myth and the history may not be fully bridged by such assessment of influence. But then there is still the need to deal with the logic of the myths themselves in terms of their implications for historical narratives.

How for instance do we account for the distance between the Jacob Egharevbas Short History which locates Ogun Ewuare in the 15th Century and the mythical one that puts Ogun at the very origin of the world where he wrests ore from earth-wombs to make the instruments with which he cleared the path to mortality? The answer may be partially provided by the notion of the divine iron complex as a pre-existing format to the rise of the god among the Yoruba and other nationalities on the West Coast. The question is how the divine iron complex suddenly acquired an Ogun Ewuare personage at its core in the 15th century. Surely, this strains  the non-mythic sensibility which tries to make sense of the  pantheon. Incidentally, the same question has been raised in relation to Sango, a fifteenth century King of Oyo, deified as god of thunder and lightning and now retributive justice who  is allowed within the region of that original hubris that created the Yoruba pantheon. Shouldnt one really wonder that the Edo people who, for centuries, must have had rituals connected with thunder and lightning suddenly in the fifteenth century began to worship Sango, a failed King of Oyo, as a god of thunder and lightning. To compound matters, there are versions of the same myth which may or may not be considered inauthentic, in which Obatala who is syncretized as the first deity journeys to Sango-country, where, tricked by Esu, the trickster god, he is imprisoned for stealing Sangos horse. Whatever the level of our acceptance of the logic of mythic fabulation, this stretches the logic of chronology a bit too far. A little naturalism tells us that: Sango and Obatala could not have been contemporaries nor could the Oyo King have bounced out when Orisanlas head was split by the revolutionary slave. Soyinka, the mythopoeist explains however (p.9) that Sango is anthropomorphic in origin, but it is necessary in attempting to enter fully into the matrix of a societys conceptions of becoming, to distinguish between primary and secondary paradigms of origin  the primal becoming of man and his racial or social origination. He concedes that Whatever semantic evasions we employ  the godness, the beingness of god, the otherness of , or assimilate oneness with god  - they remain abstractions man-emanating concepts or experiences which presuppose the human medium. There is surely a logic and rationality to this myth which rationality itself must pay some attention. Given a cyclical conception of time, which accommodates reincarnation as a norm of the natural world, and thus allows a grandfather to call his grandchild Baba, we can suppose that a god who emerges five hundred years or a millennia after the initial splitting of the godhead may be addressed as being there in the origin of the world.  The logic of it is that once accepted as a god, the mortal personage becomes ageless and in some circumstances place-less. Possibilities, I dare say, are then opened for secular interventions in the narratives and drama of the gods.

A secular intervention is mandated in the case of Orisan-la by the narrations of historians who have moved away from the sectarian and ultra-nationalist and myth-seduced scholarship of Johnsons History of the Yoruba. The new historians broaden their sights beyond one nationality to highlight cross-ethnic themes bordering on a common metaphysical heritage, a common divination system and a sub-structure of earth-mother worship, that links the worlds of the Nupe, Ekiti, Ife,  Igodo-Edo, Igala, Nri-Igbo within the same Kwa-language complex. Obatala is properly located within this complex as the last of the sixteen Kings of Ife before the arrival of Oduduwa, the mythical founder of the Yoruba race. He it was who drove Obatala from the Kingdom thus causing the shattering dispersal of the autochthons that the Orisanla suffered. In historical terms, Obatala and his party belonged to a system of lineage heads, autochthons who had a sub-regional impact along the forest belt of the West Coast of Africa. They ran their affairs by a system of age-grades which would proliferate as (an Otu system in Igodo-Benin, the Ogboni among Western Yoruba, the Oshugbo among the Ijebu) providing the umbrella for the exercise of civic competence. They were the custodians of  the Ifa Oracle which was the communal wisdom of the children of EFA, the earth-mother. Of course, Ifa is the acknowledged product of several nationalities  the Nupe, Edo, Ekiti, Igbo and others in the forest belt of the Niger/Benue complex. It was introduced to Ile-Ife by the Ekiti sage Agbonmiregun. Its nationalization at Ife gave the status of a centre of civilization to the place, to which all the surrounding nationalities had to come for prophecy and wisdom. The idea of going to Ife for divination became in itself a means of authenticating identities. The city attracted people from far and wide. The minders of the Oracle, Obatalas party, belonged to an ethic of purity and communion-building whose sense of shared empathy gave nerve to earth-mother worship. It was into this conceivably ideal framework of values that Oduduwa is said to have come from Orun, an indeterminate location which no self-respecting historian now bothers to accept as either the Middle East or Heaven but places within the Niger-Benue complex. Even within that complex only Edo mythmakers or historians (take your pick) locate the antecedents of the progenitor in a manner that is at least in agreement with Ifas assertion that the progenitor was a stranger in Ife. Certain nationalist historiographical exigencies may posit otherwise, but I think that Soyinkas equation of Orisanla with Obatala (and by extension, Orunmila) throws our quest in the laps of the historians, Ade Obayemi and Isola Olomola, in their contributions to I.A, Akinjogbins IFE, the cradle of a race  and Adiele Afigbo (especially in The Igbo Experience: A Prolegomenon and Igbo enwe eze: beyond Onwumechili and Onwuejeogwu. In different ways, they have roundly speculated upon the historical status of Obatala as the pre-existing King of Ife before Oduduwa. In their historiography, the assertive arrival of Oduduwa in Ife (through what we might call a coup) led to the displacement of Obatala and his party of  autochthons, the Igbo who will thereafter be known to popular imagination through the Moremi myth. Olomola in fact posits that the pre-existing name for Ife was Igbomokun while Afigbo designates The entire group of the first migrants which stretched from Yorubaland to the present Igboland .. as Mega-Igbo, to distinguish them from the micro-Igbo. The scattering of the autochthons explains the famine which befalls the land. Who needs to ask what becomes of harvest time if farmers never had a planting season? Surely, as in Obotunde Ijimeres play The imprisonment of Obatala, Creation comes to a standstill/When he who turns blood into children/ is lingering in jail. Or in exile. The displacement of the autochthons who were the farmers, artisans and the keepers of the shrine led to calamities. Tradition has it that Oduduwa made efforts to bring back Obatalas party. But the reconciliation did not work. Intermittent battles, a virtual civil war, erupted and petered out until it became the case that Obatalas party  were to be encountered thereafter in scattered remnants which today are recalled only in terms of the names of towns that bear Igbo as suffix or prefix to their names. This is as much history as myth.

The unaltered tale in all traditions centers on the survival of the Oracle; it meant that, as insider or outsider, there was always an institutional cover for the ethic that Obatala represented. What Soyinka credits Obatala with is more like a programme of a masonic order personified by a leader. Obatala is  all clear tone and winnowed lyric, of order and harmony, stately and saintly. Significantly, the motif is white for transparency of heart and mind: there is a rejection of mystery; tones of vesture and music combine to banish mystery and terror; the poetry of the song is litanic, the dramatic idiom is the processional or ceremonial.  This is affirmation of the archetypal cool god, who does not accept blood sacrifices, whose task is to create the lifeless form of man into which life is breathed by Olodumare, the Supreme deity himself. . A peep at the historical narratives suggests how Obatala, as leader of the autochthons emerges as the back of which Orunmila, the master of divination and prophecy, the keeper of the old gnosis, is the front. Even before deification, Obatala, the autochthon, is quite a world from  Ogun and Sango, the hot gods of the pantheon. The latter create dynasties, build states, live by performing outstanding feats, engaging in proto-scientific experiments such as lightning conduction in the case of Sango or in Oguns case, making a living by breaking frontiers, bathing in blood, if need be, and daring to push nature to its limits. Whereas Obatalas followers are preservers of customs, institutions and traditions, the hot gods are patrons of darers and inventors, state builders. Obatala is the philosopher who interpretes the world where the Ogun-Sango complex is determined to change it. The hot gods create the lived experiences that provide the knowledge which Obatala-Orunmila (Agbonmiregun?) turn into the wisdom of the divination tray.  It is not surprising for instance that Ogun is present in myths of origin of most towns because the god of iron was patron diety of the warriors or clearers of paths towards new habitations. At Ire-Ekiti, as the history shows, there was especial reason to picture Ogun as a foundational deity even if he was not there at the beginning.

 Obatala may be god of creation and epitome of purity and may have been syncretized from the original oneness of Orisanla but like all the gods of incompleteness is always marked by some act of excess, hubris or other human weakness.  As Soyinka remarks The uncancelled error of Obatala, god of soul purity, was his weakness for drink.One day, Obatala allowed himself to take a little too much of that potent draught, palmwine. His craftmans fingers slipped badly and he molded cripples, albinos and the blind. As a result of this error, Obatala rigidly forbids palm wine to his followers. That is the language of myth. The language of history is that much of what is known about Obatala is the product of the victors so  that the politics of representation may have had a lot to do with this characterization. Such that when Soyinka tells us that part of the compensating principle of the Yoruba world view is revealed in the fact that by contrast, Ogun, who was yet another victim of draught, makes palm wine a mandatory ingredient of his worship, we ought to consider other explanations. If there was a special need to distinguish the cool god Obatala from Ogun the archetypal hot god, this palmwine ethic does it.  One god strives to resist temptation, hard as it may be to succeed, the other accedes to it. But there is indeed more to it than just a palm-wine. A naturalistic explanation inheres in the  timeless truth that warriors and hunters and where do you find an army that is not involved with wine and women  are wine-swilling tribes.  It may tell us a lot about the pragmatic nature of the Yoruba but it tells us more about the general nature of the warrior ethic which Ogun personified. Which is really another way of saying that Soyinkas mythopoesis emphasizes its Yoruba-centredness but it is divested of the high nationality markers, as the critic Ato Quayson notes in Biodun Jeyifos Wole Soyinka: Freedom and Complexity (p.207). When Soyinka uses the word Yoruba the not-so-parochial reader is supposed to read it as African  meaning traditional.  That this is the proper implication of Soyinkas usages is discernible from his refusal or unwillingness to buy one inauthentic version of the Ogun myth which puts him as arriving in Ile-Ife after he breached the primeval gulf and cleared the junge to mankind. His choice of the authentic source of the Ogun myth in Ire actually displaces a politics of nationality that it would have had in the normal frescos of nationality that are being painted by ultra-nationalist historians in search of a Yoruba nation that was always there, even if it had to wait for the nineteenth and twentieth century  to be discovered by adventuring nation-builders. Although anyone wishing to discover its Yorubaness may be able to find and bow down to it, it is more important for Soyinka to expand the myths to embrace fresh realities than to use them for their usual role of validating one town or another or the affirming of a particular social heriarchy. It is so generally oriented towards an ever-widening cultural geography that it made more caused more than humourous vibes during the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm  when Soyinka included Nordic gods among the younger siblings of Ogun. The maneuver is sometimes so successful that one wonders that appear fails to press home the grain of truth in Anthony Appiahs suggestion of a kind of Yoruba imperialism of the African thought-world in his book, IN MY FATHERS HOUSE.  Appiah concedes that if Soyinka is an imperialist he is not necessarily for the Yoruba cause but for his own artistic revision of the Yoruba pantheon. His revisionism is simply the artists Will To Power, reducing all history to myth which we are obliged to share only as the artistic bricoleur has fashioned it. The quite ingenious removal of Ogun from the local politics of nationality allows the god to travel outside the realms of ancestor worship to which it would have been unnecessarily hitched if Soyinka had located him too closely with Ife, a central precint of Yoruba cultural geography. The consequent  displacement  has enabled Soyinka not only to create a metaphysical universe in which Ogun ranges over enormous swathes of terrestial space but to stride beyond the Yoruba Universe towards pan-African ambitions and projects.

 The consequent universalist twist to Oguns will, I would say, is a civilizing agency. From Ire, Oguns agency clears the paths. A cutlass, hoe, spear, or axe in the communal foraging for living space under the direction of the Ifa Oracle brings one migrant party after another to its pre-determined home. Ogun becomes a prime agency in the founding and defence of domiciles, performing an essentially civilizing role in bringing clans and moieties and tribes to the platform of a common nationality and beyond that to the racial commune. Every ethnic group or fraction that wishes can swear by its own Ogun. Soyinka aids this process by so successfully divesting his patron deity of all historical accouterments thus enabling the god to travel across borders into neighboring cultures as just an African god. Indeed, it is as an African God that Ogun has been travelling for centuries mainly through the agency of the Yoruba, a more-travelled people than the Edo. In the resilience of the god in the New World is hidden an ambition that is advertised by Soyinkas universalism. It ought not to be surprising therefore that as Ogun travels from one place to another, there are accretions of new characteristics around a core-personage who definitively over-appropriates the qualities of the other gods in the pantheon.  The god takes on an onomatopoeic cast in the sense that in the modern context of an industrial civilization the iron complex is at the heart of almost every endeavour. To talk of electricity and electronic science, Sangos fort, is to accost Ogun. Although the plastic arts, Obatalas realm, is not of Ogun,  how can it be denied in the modern world.? The transposition of the god from pre-industrial to an industrial deity is  one of those poetic leaps of the religious imagination which makes the conception of eternity and timelessness so easy to accomodate within the constraints of finite concepts.

The imperialistic sway of the god has however been contested by another Nigerian dramatist, Femi Osofisan. A Yoruba like Soyinka, he once argued that Soyinkas recourse to the gods was retrogressive,(retrogressive from what?), but he has since chosen Orunmila, another deity, master of divination, as the god most likely to be of service in our times. Apparently, he is so enamoured of the metaphoric significance of his chosen deity that he does not see  the necessity to elaborate the gods ritual properties. He avers:  In response to Soyinkas Ogun model, I have substituted the Opon Ifa paradigm, in which you have a dialectical fusion of the Esu-Orunmila principlesThis fusion yields, in his view, anarchic conservativism such as was recommended by Professor Billy Dudley who saw the necessity for political skepticism on the part of the citizenry and therefore some measure of disorder as inevitable in society if order is to be achieved. Away from rigorous anarchism, which is a rejection of all authority, Osofisans Esu, a deity much maligned by Christians and mistaken for Satan represents the principle of free choice and of revolution  the god who, with his prominent phallus, promiscuously incarnates the place of doubt and disjunction, but also justice and accommodation in our metaphysical cosmos.. Orunmila is presented as the winnowing spirit which distils wisdom from chaos, prophecy from uncertainty, harmony from disjunction. Although the ethic of the god functions within basic animism which Osofisan once considered unprogressive by nature, he takes refuge in it, setting up Soyinkas Ogun in diametrical opposition to Orunmila. On oguns side you have cultic separation from the banality of the quotidian, the language of the shrine the psychic and cerebral which leave terror untouched, while on the other side you have deliverance, a solidary voice of consolation, the language of the public square, and therapeutic possibilities. Soyinkas Ogun is presented as a harbinger of power-mongering and bloodlust whose messianism however positive, carries the potential danger of the annihilation of an entire nation through the tryrants hubris. Osofisan asks: in an age where soldiers are the authors of our anomie, responsible for spreading the poison of violence and corruption in the ventricles of public life, is the Ogun image not precisely the kind we need to discourage and e-emphasize in our polity?. Evidently, what Osofisan upholds is a continuation of the partisan confrontation which has helped to create in Yoruba history parties that read their histories not from the past to the present but from the present to the past, such that those who identify with a particular personage in a current situation re-interpret the past in terms of that personage. It is a charactersistic that Bernard Belasco describes as a feature of Yoruba consciousness ..saturated in a series of lived antinomies which may be synopsized as the Obatalan-Ogun opposition  peace-war, lineage-palace, communal-individual, autochthon-stranger, kin mutuality-market exchange, mother-witches . Belasco, benefitting from the writings of Bolaji Idowu explains it as an evocation of the historic conflict between a warrior stratum led by Oduduwa and indigenous horticulturalists whose tutelary divinity was Obatala (p.108). Osofisans self-advertized  functioning within the ambit of these antinomies may not be skin deep, only an artistic maneuver. But it provides enough grist for wonder about how the effort he has made to distance himself from the tainted aura of militarism fits into rituals that are within the precedent logic of the chosen deity. Face to face with an era of war, do we appeal to peace-niks, the flower-children or the minder of the arsenal? Surely, not having threshed out, in ritual terms, his chosen deitys relation to an age of militarism, it is as a metaphor in the present tense that his Orunmila intervenes in current battles. As a pacifist in war-torn zone, it is important never to forget that Orunmila functions within Oguns sphere of existence.

In reality, clearly, the antinomies, become sefl-defeatist. First, because the pride of the animism, something that Soyinka has consistently emphasized is that it is eclectic and liberal, admitting into its frameless frame, any new knowledge produced by the hot gods. Once new knowledge is incoporated and domesticated within the Ifa system: it becomes part of the Knowledge Industry. It is pooled knowledge which makes no distinction between the two supposed polarities, Ogun on one side and Orunmila on the other. The differences break down as each god answers to a different set of problems, a different principle, but benefits from the pooling of knowledge within the Ifa system.  This is not necessarily a virtue. What it says about the pantheon however is that there isnt one god for all occasions. No god is complete enough to answer all questions. Setting two gods at loggerheads whom you would need to reconcile to get things properly done is like wasting a life in order to complain about it. The truth of the matter is that although Soyinkas Ogun appears to range over the whole pantheon, there are realms foreclosed to the god because there are areas in which the god  lacks salience or shall we say competence. In those areas, increasingly constricted under Ogunnian pressure, the superiority of the animistic and pagan system to other contending religious brackets lies in upholding a multiple principle in nature within a oneness that is both ontology and goal. It may well be speculated that seeking to achieve that Oneness was Awolowos achiement in secular politics. It never quite held, for Yoruba or for Nigerian politics for reasons which are outside the scope of this lecture. The interesting part however is that what subsists shares the Judeao-christian ideal which recognizes saints, and affirms the plural principle. True not in the same manner than the animist system grants autochtony to the deities but it sets grounds, across the board for illegitimizing the oppositional logic that places one god against another in the supposed search for harmony or therapy. Beyond the zeal of proselytizing religions, therefore, the point is to recognize planes of existence in which only some principles but not others are, or can be active in a world of shared or shareable empathy.

Unfortunately, Osofisans response to Soyinkas Ogun is from an oppositional site in a binary altercation that places Orunmila, with or without the help of Esu, on a collision course with the god of iron and war. Wittingly or unwittingly, Obatala-Orunmila, deity of prophecy and preserver of accepted knowledge, is given a new role from the one authorized by the rituals of the god. The truth is that what devotees want do not necessarily determine what the gods can do. What the gods do is already part of their nature as prescribed by their location in the pantheon. Osofisans Orunmila may well be presented as a god of justice and protector of the masses but this is only from the standpoint of metaphor not ritual. In history, in mytho-historical time, that is, Obatala was indeed god of the popular masses, leader of the Igbo, the natives in Ife, until Oduduwas coup against him led to his exile and his armed attempts to re-possess the kingdom. Given Obatalas famed revulsion for violence and bloodshed, it is understandable that his war of return or re-possession consisted in entering the town in gory-faced masks which frightened people off while they raided and looted and abducted women. That is, until Moremi, a princess of the town, took what must be regarded as the authentic mix of Ogunnian and Obatalan step of letting herself be carried, married off to one of her abductors, learning the secrets of the masked attackers and reporting back to her own people. In spite of Moremis feats, in modern festivals, the masquerades still come out from the bush or the holes and women are prevented from going out.  It suggests genealogies beyond the common run for todays rituals. Clearly, we have here in a nutshell the context that produced the Moremi myth which Femi Osofisan has dramatized in a highly idiosyncratic manner in Morountodun, sassily reworking history and myth as a powerful metaphor. His resort to metaphor, un-supported by lived experiences but straining for the wisdom of the divination tray, allows him, in Soyinkas words,  to offer  heroic myths up as sacrifice on a would-be universalist altar by a deliberate and gratuitous distortion. One quick point here is that when Soyinka talks of a gratuitous distortion he is making a distinction between his own kind of revision, on the one hand, the inauthentic versions that have imported Christianity into the pantheon, on the other and the wilder ideological presumptions of Osofisans dramaturgy. Whether it is a will to ideological respectability or some other imperative that yields such a distortion, what matters is that there are, putatively, consequences from the standpoint of a hermeneutics of social organization. For anyone living in a time of crisis and seeking to understand and provide solutions to crying problems, the question is whether a particular distortion can meet the Nietzschean scheme in The Birth of Tragedy for a mythic foundation which guarantees its union with religion and its basis in mythic conceptions that  serve as the potent unwritten law of the commonwealth. Such a foundation is the ambition of Soyinkas mythopoesis. But it is an ambition that, in my view, cannot be realized without a recasting of the mythic sensibility in a more secular direction than it has pursued so far. Whether the search is for social harmony, a revolution or plain social change there is a peculiarity to the knowledge that the gods provide which can be of service in contemporary society whichever way we view it: Afrocentric, Western, modernist or post-modernist.

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