“Awa ntoro ilosiwaju lowo Olokun”
“We seek prosperity from Olokun”
“Obirin takun takun ti ngbe inu Omi”
“Our bountiful lady of the Ocean”
Where does one begin to speak of the vast and mighty power that is Olokun, the owner of all waters on earth? Known as Yemoja in the diaspora, Olokun is the owner of all wealth, all riches, both materially and spiritually. She is the grand and majestic ocean that covers most of this home we call earth, and all rivers and streams bow down to her and empty into her arms. Her name Olokun means owner of the Ocean, and Olokun seri aje means she who created the ocean (and implies owner of all wealth). Her praise name Olokun serin ade means the maker of brass crowns, as she gifted Odudua, her husband, with the finest crown anyone had seen to date. As cowrie shells were used as money in olden days, she was seen as the possessor of all the great wealth of the Sea as well as the patron deity of traders and merchants due to trans-Atlantic trade. Even as late as the early 1900’s, offerings to Olokun were recorded in written documents during power struggles along the coastal kingdoms, consisting of white pigeon, salt and even a leopard.
Olokun worship historically was always concentrated on the shores of West Africa, as the Yoruba and related people shared her worship. Parts of Benin and Togo include Olokun worship, though oftentimes Olokun is viewed as a male irunmole there. We know that even as recently as the early 1900’s, sacrifices were being made to Olokun along the coastline of present day Nigeria by Obas desperate to retain power during the struggles and changes of that time.
It is of great importance to understand the relationship between Olokun and Orunmila, for they were best of friends. And it is important to remember how Ifa speaks using parables. Much like Olokun, the owner of vast wisdom and hidden riches, the meaning must be pondered over before true understanding arises and the messages and their wisdom are understood.
Orunmila went to Olokun, using the magic of the Akoko tree, to dwell with her in her underwater kingdom for many years. Though a great and learned diviner, he went to her to learn her wisdom and to become wealthy before returning to earth. Though the Yoruba speak of Olokun as ocean deity, she is also considered as having walked on earth and was the owner of a very successful bead making business. The remains of crucibles and many beads were discovered in archaeological excavations in the depths of her sacred shrine in Ile-Ife.
One cannot speak of Olokun without describing a very majestic and successful woman, owner of the finest cloth and beads, loving, stern, temperamental, giver of children though barren herself, and a very powerful sorceress with unlimited ASE. Her cdhildren are AJE, the large cowrie shells, and also the smaller cowrie shells which were used for centuries as a monetary unit all over West Africa. She is depicted in the colors of blue and white, with clear crystal beads or bright blue Olokun beads flowing over her large breasts, which represent her ability to nurture and give children.
If a child is born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck they are given to Olokun as their destiny and the Babalawos and followers of Ifa must make a special sacrifice for the children. They are initiated to Olokun to overcome their bad destiny as they are special children who must follow Olokun. In order to partake in the Olokun dance they must bring obi abata, a clay pot, chicken eggs and all things that are found in the ocean such as seashells, cowries etc., palm oil and put all in an oru pot, and sew a white bag to put everything inside. Anyone who digs up wholly or partially a white necklace must go to the Chief or King along with pigeons, snail, goat, beans and boiled corn. After receiving the items they will summon the Babalawos to make an offering to the ileke where it was found and to bring it out of the ground. If a pot is found, it will be taken out of the earth and worshiped. The ileke is called Olokun and it will be put inside of the pot. Like the human womb, Olokun is the womb of all life on earth and in the sea, the keeper of secrets and esoteric knowledge.
Olokun, orisa that lives in water
She spreads herself all over the earth
Orisa that has no hand
Orisa that has no leg
She uses her power to take your legs out from under you
That makes a small child fall down flat
Please, we beg you, do not make me fall down
Okun, help me to achieve my desires
Olokun, bless my head
Make my head become a head of riches
The way you have turned the head of foreigners
Who make the ocean as their passageway
Ocean that is not black like dyed cloth
The mother that helps her child avoid being caught
Olokun the Queen of Water
The good protector, help me protect my child
The one who leads children
Save me and save my soul
Nobody can see the end of Okun
And no one sees the end of Olosa (lagoon)
No one can see the root of omo gelegele
Those who dare try to see the end of Okun
Are ships in the ocean
Ocean is orisa that went to the land of her people
Ocean is the most powerful amongst all waters
Olokun seri aje has long narrow hands
That she uses to remove her daughters from holes
Seri aje Save me O!
You cannot use a calabash to pour Okun
The odu of Ogbe Ate tells us a true story of Olokun, as the odu Ifa have been handed down orally for thousands of years, and it is to this authentic and reliable Yoruba source that I will tell one story of Olokun, and know that there are many other versions backed up by Odu Ifa, such as how Olokun became a cowrie diviner, or how she became the most powerful among all diviners.
Olokun is one of the most prominent, powerful and courageous orisa on earth and she holds a very high position among all diviners, besides being one of the prettiest. Her home is in Ile-ife, in the area called Igbo Olokun. The followers of Olokun were not many in the beginning. Many of them were leaving to follow and worship other orisa. Those who left were saying “Olokun is too honest, she doesn’t tolerate lies”. Olokun only wanted honest people around her. Olokun’s intelligence goes beyond ordinary human intelligence and she doesn’t tolerate any kind of nonsense from anyone. Very neat and tidy, she detests a dirty environment.
One day Olokun realized that she was not achieving the mission that Olodumare had given her because she was so honest, detested lies, didn’t like dirt, and did not tolerate those things in others. She decided to consult Baba Orunmila.
To her surprise, he said that he would assist her and help her to solve all of her problems. He said he needed to make sacrifice and after doing so, all of the people who had left her would come back to join her again. Furthermore, he said that she would become a powerful orisa that everyone would worship, that the work would make her rich and had never been done before on earth. Olokun of course agreed on the spot to make the sacrifice.
One day Olokun noticed a big stone that was a lovely blue color, as if water were inside, in the backyard of her home. She began thinking about what she could use the stone for. Days later she decided to fashion a necklace using the blue stone and she made a lovely ileke. When the other diviners saw the ileke they began begging Olokun to please give them their own set of ileke necklace and wrist beads. They started buying the beads from Olokun and she began to be rich and famous, to the extent that all the people who left her came back and joined her. Olokun took them back as any merciful mother would. In spite of her fame, wealth, many followers and her power amongst all the irunmole and people, she still had one problem: she did not have a husband she could lay under so she could have a child. To solve this problem she went once again to Orunmila to ask for his help.
The odu that was divined for Olokun was Ogbe-Fun II I
Ifa said that she will have her own husband , that he will be someone of very good character from among the diviners, that she is the one he will marry, but she must make sacrifice. She carried out the sacrifice in grand style, following all that Ifa said.
Not much later all her prayers were answered.
This is when Odudua Olofin heard the news about Olokun and her powers and beautiful beads. He began buying necklaces and bracelets from her and he himself was an accomplished blacksmith who also made lovely necklaces and bracelets made of metal. Upon first meeting her he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and also saw that she not under any man, nor were there any men chasing her. She was clearly not an easy woman. He saw her as a very dignified woman and he began to look for a way to befriend her in order to take her as his wife. But he began to be afraid of her power and her position. He sent for Orunmila to divine the Ifa oracle for him. Heaven advised him to go ahead and propose to Olokun, that she would accept his offer and that he should make sacrifice in order to have many children with her. Odudua refused to make the sacrifice for children. To his great surprise, Olokun accepted his proposal to be his wife with no objections. This is how Olokun became the wife of Odudua Olofin.
But to his surprise, Olokun refused to move and live with Odudua in his palace as she said it would disrupt her work of making beads for necklaces and bracelets. Odudua accepted this because he loved her so much, and also because of her beauty, wealth, power and position in society. Olokun continued doing her work and without any doubts or compromise, she loved Odudua completely, but the fact is that she did not bear him any children. She still made beautiful jewelry for him, including a brass crown that was of such beauty that it was the most beautiful in all the land and it was on his head. Europeans discovered the glass making quarry and brass works that Olokun used to create her works on the border of Ileshe in Ogun State and Esinmirin in Ile-Ife, Oyo State.
As time went by, Olokun had lots of money, her blessings were accumulating, the irunmole were all coming to her side. Among all the diviners in Ile Ife it was Olokun who was the most famous (she was also an accomplished cowrie diviner). She was very generous to all and very happy to be in the midst of people and attending to their needs. This made all the irunmole want to be around her and also ask for her assistance, but it also made them jealous. Her shrine was always full and because of this they used to complain that they were really the better ones. Every year a festival was held for Olokun and everyone knew it would be the largest, grandest, and many gifts were handed out freely for all.
The verse of OSE WORIN tells us that the irunmole would choose to go to her festival over all the other’s festivals and this caused so much jealousy that they agreed as a group to not attend her festival. Obatala consulted Ifa to see if he should go to her festival, or stay away with all the other irunmole. The irunmole asked Obatala if he was going and he said “No, I won’t go”, but Ifa told him to send his messenger, the Chameleon Alagemo, so Obatala could continue to have a friendship with Olokun. Unbeknownst to Obatala, all of the irunmole who had said they were not going to her festival, went, and when Alagemo the Chameleon saw this he cried “Oh NO! Obatala has been betrayed by them. Look at them all here!”. Obatala had asked Alagemo to tell Olokun that his destiny had forbade him to attend her festival.
After the festival Chameleon appeared in the gardens of the all the irunmole and he took all of the colors of their clothes. This made them very afraid and they thought that Obatala was ready to do battle with them, thinking that he had sent his messenger on ahead. The irunmole all started to feel very guilty that they had betrayed Obatala but Olokun and Obatala remained friends in spite of the irunmole’s attempts to make them quarrel.
Olokun was very troubled that the irunmole were not ready to honor and respect her. They thought they were all Gods, but not her. She went to Orunmila to talk to him, as she was not happy with everything that was happening on earth. She had decided to leave IFE land and told Orunmila that she would be amazed if he could find a solution to help her.
Orunmila divined for Olokun and the odu that came was Eji Ogbe. Orunmila assured her that all of her problems would resolve and she would find a new home. He asked her to do the sacrifice. He told her to go at night and get one calabash of water and in the morning one calabash of water, to go to the left side of earth and bring water and to the right side of earth to bring water, both morning and evening, and to go to the Red Sea to bring water. Orunmila used the waters to make sacrifice for her and when he was finished he said she should take the waters he had prayed over and to bathe her body, then stay inside her home for 7 days. She must not open the door, see anyone, or see daylight. She did exactly as he said.
On the third day she discovered that the door in front had turned to grass and the door in back had turned to copper. The wooden door on the right side had turned to zinc, and the door on the left side had turned to silver. On the seventh day when she decided it was safe to leave the house she saw that all under her home had become water. Olodumare had decided to giver her a house on top of the water. Olokun was amazed and set out to Orunmila’s house to give him the news. He was very happy for her and she took him home to treat him as a pampered guest, entertaining and feeding him as he had never experienced before. He began to sing praises that Olokun had given him a wonderful gift and that he was happy Eledumare had allowed him to understand the message. Olokun began singing praises saying “IFA is great!”. Ever since that day Orunmila enters the ocean to divine for Olokun. The story continues on as to how Orunmila came to live with Olokun for many years in her underwater realm, but as all good stories go, we shall save that part of the story for later.
PRAYER TO OLOKUN
I bow before your mystery Olokun
The Queen of all Mothers
Mother of all Orisa
The Womb of all Life
The Keeper of feminine ASE
Womb of the whole World
Orisa of all Oceans and Rivers
It is you who holds the mystery of divine feminine Ase
Mo juba O!
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