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Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha

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Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha
Illustrative image for Sango

Ṣàngó is an Orisha, which has a connection with the Yoruba’s in Nigeria and Latin America’s. With history to refer to, Sango is a royal ancestor of the Yoruba’s as he was the third Alafin (king) of the Oyo Kingdom. He is considered as one of the most powerful rulers in Yoruba land, and is noted for his anger.

Sango’s other names are Shango, Changó, Xangô, Jakuta, Siete Rayos, with respect in the Yoruba religion,Dahomey mythology,Vodun, Santería,Candomble, Haitian Vodou, Louisiana Voodoo, Folk and Catholicism, Sango’s day is the fourth day of the week, his colour or attire is red and white only and it is only worshipped in Nigeria , Benin, Latin America.

Sango’s vastness as an Orisha is a whole lot to tell as it is connected to a lot of things but let touch his history before moving on.

History of Sango as told by the Yoruba of West Africa.

Sango was the third Alaafin of Oyo. He was the second son of Oranmiyan; the founder of Oyo Empire; the youngest of the grandsons of Oduduwa. Sango was a brave and powerful man that inherited most of his special abilities from the Nupe, his mother’s people. During the reign of Alaafin Ajaka, Oyo Empire was under a regular treat of war from Olowu, Ajaka’s cousin; who rules Owu Kingdom. Olowu later sent his warriors to capture Alaafin Ajaka and bring him to Owu. In their bid to rescue Alaafin Ajaka, the Oyomesi (Oyo’s council of chiefs), sent for Sango in Nupeland where he had lived. He rescue to Ajaka and he was crowned King while Alaafin Ajaka was sent into exile.

Sango, in his lifetime, had three wives: Oba, the first wife and in the traditional sense the legitimate, Oshun, the second and Oya, the third, a concubine (as no marriage right or dowry was paid on her) was a spirit who has the power to transform from human to animal. She also has the power to summon rain. Together with Sango’s thunderbolt, they had terrific victories in battle. The resulting Jealousy by Oba and Oshun makes Oya to be more close to Sango- becoming his princess consort (Ayo) and having access to Sango’s thunderbolt (Edun Ara) which later bring about his doom.

During the reign of Sango, he had two generals: Timi Agbale Olofa-ina (also known as Olu-ode) who could shoot arrows of fire and Gbonka (also Known as Eliri) who was equally powerful. After disobeying his direct order not to match on Owu in Battle, Sango follows Oya’s advice to get rid of them and sent them to govern the border towns of the Empire. Timi obeyed him and left for Ede but Gbonka stayed back in Oyo to pose further treat. Sango in his quest to destroy them both: sent Gbonka to Ede to capture Timi which he did. Sango who believed that the match in Ede was staged asked for a re-match in Oyo and Gbonka defeated Timi. Sango then ordered that Gbonka should be burn to ashes. Mysteriously, he appeared after three days giving Sango ultimatum to vacate the throne for his infidelity. Sango angrily request for his Edun-Ara from Oya that has being in the possession of it. He found it to be wet and stained with blood from her period.

He left the palace to a high rock facing the palace to re-affirm the potency of his thunderbolt. The thunder he created stroke the palace and burnt it down. Oba and Oshun; after losing everything to the inferno, left the palace angrily blaming one another for allowing Oya such access to Sango and became the undergoddess of the river Oba and Oshun respectively. (both in Osun state Nigeria). Oya, on her part, went back to the forest in Nupeland where Sango found him and became the undergoddess of Odo- Oya(now known as river Niger).

Sango In Ritual

Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha
Sango Priestess with Ase Sango, Nigeria, 1975 (Drewal, 1986, 1965)

Sango is among the most revered Oyo deities within the Yoruba culture. Through the depiction of the colors white and red, the possession priestess is able to portray coolness (white) and power of Sango (red). Additionally, it can be observed that despite the gender orientation of those in the ceremony, the clothing is intentionally conformed to what is typically expected to be seen on women. Through the inclusion of cross-gender references, the priestess is effectively relaying the strength observed in women within the Yoruba culture. This is an explicit observation of the levels of gender equality present. This ritual roots within the story of Shango and his wife, Oya, who were exiled after Shango’s failure as a king. As a result of being exiled, they were led to commit suicide yet Oya remained by Shango’s side. As observed within the photo, the priestess is nearing an engagement in a dance while grasping Ase Sango. Dancing and drumming are the mediums through which contact with Sango is initiated. Through entering a trance, the priestess combines herself, the dancing, and Sango to bring the Deity’s presence to the ceremony. The priestess is effectively portraying Sango’s calm and collected mind that works in coalition with his energetic and powerful actions.

Sango Dance Staff

Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha
Sango Staff Ase Shango, Nigeria, 19th -20th Century ArtStor

Within the ritual of worship for Sango lies the manifestation of Sango’s Ase, the dance staff. The dance staff is an explicit example of a power object which, the priestess utilizes in ceremonial dance to bring Sango into the ceremony. Often depicted on the Nigerian Sango dance staff is the double axe. The inclusion of this feature relays the idea that Shango was a once mighty king and now an extremely powerful deity. Additionally, this is representative of the power and importance of doubles in the Yoruba culture; Strength is found in pairs. Alongside the representation of the axe is a woman who is depicted supporting the axe and standing strong. This is indicative of the importance placed upon women in the Yoruba culture as they are the key supporters and nurturers of life. An interesting parallel that can be drawn from the artwork is the dress seen on the dance staff as well as the performer pictured above. Through crossing gender boundaries a sense of equality is found that extends Sango’s opinion of Oya, his wife. Although faint, there is a depiction of twin bolts on the heads of the axe. The depiction of these bolts provides those practicing with Sango’s moral vengeance and steadfast mind while maintaining a powerful response to the act at hand.

Sango In Trinidad

Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha
Interior of the Town Shrine to the Deity Sango, Oyotunji, South Carolina, 1989 (Omari, 1989, 68)

Over the course of the African Diaspora, Yoruba art and religion has reached the most western corners of the globe; this includes the United States. The Yoruba Village in South Carolina, Oyotunji, is not an exception to this fact. Through acknowledgement of the several power objects and worship items depicted, it can be concluded that Oyotunji practices a conglomerate of believes from Yoruba, Santeria, and Haitian Vodou cultures. Although Sango’s representation of power across genders is recognized, there is a divide as depicted on the wall. Men and women typically contribute to differing aspects of society within Oyotunji. Despite being required to capitalize on the aspects of Yoruba culture to survive (as depicted by the American currency on the wall), the main goal of Oyotunji is a return to the “pure” African roots that the society is based off of. With traditional Yoruba dance staffs, drums, and the inclusion Sango’s defining qualities present at the shrine, the efforts are evident. Ultimately, the Sango shrine in Oyotunji provides an accurate portrayal of the village’s desire: to initiate the revival and continuation of the core values of Sango as depicted in the Yoruba culture originating in Nigeria.

Sango And Catholicisim: Syncretism

Sango: The Hugeness Of The Powerful Orisha

Santa Barbara Religious Card, Late 20th Century

The depiction of Santa Barbara in Cuban Santeria directly relates to the Yoruba beliefs practiced through Sango. Initially, by expressing the Christian Saint as a female, the gender values are addressed, allowing for power to be transferred to not only males, but females as well. The castle is a direct reference to Sango’s previous status as a mortal king but also alludes to his vast power. The sword is a Christian translation of the double headed axe, the true Ase of Sango. Additionally, the calmness of the painting allows the “cool” aspect of society to be addressed, thus drawing people to seek help from the levelheaded and powerful Sango. Within Saint Barbara’s story lies the idea that her father was killed by lightning as a result of her faith and devotion to her God, thus resulting in another parallel and even further syncretism between the Yoruba and Christian beliefs. As she was protected by the lightning that saved her, the idea that Sango is a protector of the people is also expressed. Additionally, the fire in her chalice alongside the stormy skies signify Sango’s capabilities of manipulating thunder and lightning, his preferred medium of attack. The Saints ability to maintain a level head and defy those around her are indicative of the Ase possessed by the Orisha, resulting in many connections to be made and mass syncretism between Christian and Yoruba beliefs to become evident.

Additional Credit: Wikipedia, This Is Africa, Art 276.

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