Saturday 10 December 2022


In Yorùbá cosmology, there is a belief that the world is a complex of opposing forces. For example the Yorùbá perception of the eclipse as a conflict between the sun and moon is a widespread belief. There is a belief of opposition or complementarity of sun and moon, day and night, hot and cold, wet and dry, visible and invisible, all complementing one another.

Hence there’s this popular saying: tibi tire la dá ilé ayé (world is sustained by good and evil). Also that “Inú ìkòkò dúdú l'ẹ̀kọ funfun ti ńjáde” (it is out of a black pot that the white porridge comes out). In other words, you use a black pot to cook and make white porridge.

The implication here apart from signifying that good things can come out of a bad event and vice versa, it also relates night to daylight because daylight comes out of the night. For this reason, Yorùbá cosmology has forces associated with those on the right and those on the left.

Those of the left are associated with evil, and those of the right with good. As a result of this, there’s a belief that there are certain deities created by Olódùmarè to reconcile these forces that are in perpetual opposition to one another - a part of dualism.

The Yorùbá Irùnmọlẹ̀ associated with this balancing act is “Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára”, the divine messenger, who is associated with the crossroads. Èṣù is not the aggregate of evil. He is the messenger of other Òrìṣà and Irùnmọlẹ̀, bringing both good and evil tidings. His embodiment of complementarity not only assumes the possibility of balance in the world but also implies unpredictability as humans are left guessing the fate Èṣù has in store for them.

This ambiguity has crowned Èṣù as a master trickster. He has been described as a chameleon, one that camouflages - a shadowy creature, now visible, now invisible!

Èṣú’s oríkì goes like: 

Barà tí ò lóògùn ìkà, tó sọ ilé àna rẹ̀ di ahoro 

Barà ni abẹ́lẹ́kún sunkún kí ẹ̀rù o ba ẹlẹ́kún

Bí ẹlẹ́kún bá nsunkún, Laáròyé a máa sun ẹ̀jẹ̀ 

Barà ni abónímí ṣu imí kí ẹ̀rù ba onímí

Bí onímí bá nṣu imí, Laáròyé a máa ṣu ìfun.

Barà who does not have evil medicine but turns his in-laws home into desolation

Barà is the one who weeps with those weeping and they will be frightened 

By the time they see Èṣú Laáròyé weeping blood

The one defecating will be full of fright by the time he sees Èṣú defecating his intestines.

This is our beloved Èṣú in Yorùbáland as exemplified in the above oríkì. The Irùnmọlẹ̀ that goes the extra mile in a frightening way when angered! A master unpredictable prankster indeed.

The elusive and unpredictable chameleon-like power of Èṣù is best illustrated in his ability to make pronouncements - a curse or a blessing. That is, to speak Àṣẹ - the power of the word and therefore to create into being the vital force of efficacy, the evocative power to bring something into effect.

Àṣẹ is generally understood to mean the force or power that the Supreme Being, Olodumare used to create the universe. It is believed that Olodumare handed this power over to Èṣù, who uses it to effect the balance between good and evil forces in the world and to make the final decision on human fate.

Èṣù is the keeper of Àṣẹ, and in the words of William Bascom in his book - Sixteen Cowries, Èṣù is “the divine enforcer” of fate. In Yorùbá cosmology, there is a ritual awareness of the ubiquity of Èṣù in the everyday language.

Orí (inner head/fate) is frequently used in both serious and trivial moments and there is a mental or psychical understanding in Yoruba belief system that implies acknowledgement of the role of fate in one’s dealing with other humans.

Fate implies favour and retribution, favour for the supplicant and retribution for the supplicant’s adversary. Our act of appealing to our Orí (fate) in conversation always assumes the expectation of a response either symbolic or actual.

Odù Ọ̀wọ́nrínṣogbè says the following about Èṣù:

Gbọn-gbọn-gbọn ni wọ́n rọ’kọ́

Gbọ̀n-gbọ̀n-gbọ̀n ni a rọ àdá

Léjìdà-léjìdà ni wọ́n rọ agogo idẹ

A d’ifá fún Alárè Ohùn Tótó

Alárè Ohùn Tótó

Ọmọ a bu erin bí ẹni tí ńbu’ṣu

Ọmọ a bù kan gẹ̀dẹ̀gbẹ̀ tẹ́lẹ̀ kòkò

Bí wọ́n ti ńjẹ Alárè wọn ò tọ́jọ́

Wọ́n ní kí ó dúró ní ‘dúró, kí ó bọ odó

Wọ́n ní kí ó bẹ̀rẹ̀ ní ‘bẹ̀rẹ̀, kí ó bọ ọlọ

Kí ó dúró lóòró gangan, kí ó fi oun Èṣù f’Èṣù

Èṣù Olugbe, Awo Láàmúlé 

A d’ifá fún Láàmúlé, 

Orí ò rẹ’rù, orí d’orí ate

Èṣù gba tì ẹ, Ẹ̀gbà gba tì ẹ

Oun ẹ rí, ẹ f’Èṣù

Èṣù gbàá ọlọ o

Ọ̀wọ́nrínṣogbè, k’Èṣù gbà

K’ẹbọ dà f’ẹlẹ́bọ

Èṣù gbá ọlọ ẹ, gbà-gbá ọlọ o

Oun ẹ rí, ẹ f’Èṣù o

Èṣù gbàá ọlọ ẹ, gbà-gbá ọlọ o

Oun ẹ rí, ẹ f’Èṣù o.

In English:

“When we forge a hoe, we beat ‘Gbọn-gbọn-gbọn’; 

When we forge a cutlass, we beat ‘Gbọ̀n-gbọ̀n-gbọ̀n’;

When we forge a brass gong, we turn it over and over and over; 

If we bring them together, they become only one alone” was the one who cast Ifá for Ohùn Tótó, the Alárè. 

Alárè Ohùn Tótó, the son of one who chops elephant like yam

The son of one who chops a big chunk of elephant meat for cooking 

All past Alárè Chiefs have been dying young 

For him not to die young, 

They said Ohùn Tótó, the new Alárè should stand upright and offer a sacrifice to the mortar. 

They said he should squat and offer a sacrifice to the grinding stone. 

They said he should stand in the yard and give to Èṣù what he demands. 

Èṣù Olugbe, the chief priest of Láàmúlé was the one who cast Ifá for Láàmúlé. 

The one who did not carry loads on his head yet became bald. 

Èṣù, please take your portion, Ẹ̀gbà (Ẹlẹ́gbára) please take your portion 

Whatever you find, give it to Èṣù 

Ọ̀wọ́nrínṣogbè says, we should give to Èṣù what belongs to him

So that the sacrifice would be accepted.

The no-nonsense nature of Èṣù is further demonstrated in the following snippet from Odù Ọ̀wọ́nrínṣogbè

À ní k’ọmọdé ó tọ́jú Èṣù 

Ọmọ kékeré ń tọ́jú iṣẹ́

Iṣẹ́ t’ọmọdé bá f’alẹ́ ṣe, f’àárọ̀ ṣe 

Ìrọ̀lẹ́ ọjọ́ kan ni Èsù Ọ̀dàrà á gba dànù

Pankẹrẹ́ jínwínní Awo ‘nú ‘gbó...

A youth was instructed to propitiate Èṣù

He ignored the instruction but focused on his work

Little did he know that whatever work a youth does from dawn to dusk

Would only take a moment to be destroyed by Èṣù

The fearsome cane, priest of the forest...


1. Osagie I: African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture in the Works of Femi Euba

2. Euba F: Archetypes, Imprecators, and Victims of Fate: Origins and Developments of Satire in Black Drama

3. LawaL B: “A Big Calabash with Two Halves: The Yoruba Vision of the Cosmos.” - A lecture delivered at Stellar Connections: Explorations in Cultural Astronomy symposium

By Olobe Yonyon

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...