Bored with his life in heaven, one day Olófin descended to earth. During the time when Shangó, Odúduwa’s great-grandson, reigned over ancient Oyó, Olófin left heaven; gently, he floated down from the skies.
The earth seemed too far away, and Olófin had no earthly body. The winds of heaven made him float for a long, long time.
With his inexhaustible ashé, Olófin called flesh to his form. Still in the skies, among the clouds, he began the great transformation that would make him a flesh-and-blood man. As his body began to take form and shape, its weight drew him closer and closer to the earth until his feet, for the first time in centuries, touched dirt.
He landed in the middle of a great storm.
After centuries in heaven, Olófin had forgotten the power of a storm. He closed his eyes, and remembered. The rains pounded against his flesh, and although most men would have sought shelter, Olófin stood there, in the open, delighting in each drop that struck his skin. He raised his face to heaven and felt the wetness dripping from his skin. The winds lashed his body; he raised his arms outwards as if to capture its full force. His white robes were soaked, and they whipped against his chest; he enjoyed the sting of wet cloth.
The rains subsided leaving Olófin drenched, and he walked to the gates of Oyó. The mud splashed his sandals and robes; branches from trees stuck in his hair, and ripped the delicate fabrics he clothed himself with as he descended from heaven. Olófin didn’t mind these things: It was good to be alive, to walk, to be wet, and to feel. But when he arrived at Oyó’s gates, he arrived as a dirty beggar; no one greeted him as the king he was.
No one recognized him.
Olófin knew that he needed new clothes, so he went to the marketplace just outside Shangó’s palace walls. He knew he could use his power as an orisha to weave new clothing from the ashé in the air itself, but Olófin came down to experience life as a man; and he didn’t want to use his ashé. He wanted to experience things as a mortal.
Today, however, he experienced it like a dirty, ragged beggar.
He was in the marketplace begging alms. Most people ignored him; a few blessed him, but with only a few coins at a time. Olófin knew it would be quite some time before he had enough money to buy new clothes.
It was then that Shangó rode through the marketplace of Oyó on his white horse, surrounded by his palace guards. Shangó was the king, born of mortal parents. Yet he had the blood of the orishas and Odúduwa in his veins. When he saw the ragged beggar pleading for alms, something stirred inside; his pulse quickened as his heart raced. Something seemed familiar about the man standing, forlorn and lost. Then Shangó recognized him for who he was: Olófin. And Shangó was stunned.
“Father,” said Shangó when he realized the man wandering aimlessly in soiled whites was Olófin, “Why are you dressed like a beggar? You are a king, like me.”
“I have no money, son.”
“Money? Why does an orisha need money? Why do you not create your own robes? Or take what you need from the vendors. They cannot stop you, and anyone here would be honored to wrap you in their finest fabrics!”
Olófin sighed. “The mortal world has mortal rules. I came down to experience the world, to wander in it and feel what it has to offer. Only those who have our blood would recognize me as an orisha. To humans, I am simply another beggar, lost wandering in the streets. Without money, I cannot have new clothes. I am the father of all that is good. Should I steal, and take what does not belong to me?”
Shangó pulled a leather bag bulging at the seams with gold. “Take what you need. It is not seemly for one of our own to be in such filth.” Olófin accepted Shangó’s gift eagerly. “Just pay me back quickly.”
Shangó left on his white horse. Olófin smiled. “Yes, I will pay you back, son,” he whispered.
Many days passed, and Shangó never heard from Olófin again, for he retreated back to heaven to ponder his brief, vagrant wandering. Little did Olófin know that Shangó was in the marketplace that day preparing for a great feast and a tambor that he was having in honor of all the orishas on earth. The money Shangó gave Olófin was money he was planning to give to the drummers. Shangó truly thought Olófin would pay him back quickly, but when Olófin never even graced his palace with a visit, Shangó was angry. He had the fabrics for the throne, the food for the feast; he had everything he needed for his party save the drummers. And they would not come unless they were paid in advance. They would not come unless Shangó first made ebó to Añá. And since Shangó had no money to give them, the final preparations for his party could not be made. It would be a tambor . . . without a drum.
“I will kill Olófin when I see him,” Shangó roared in anger. Elegguá heard Shangó’s threats; and Elegguá quickly left the earth for heaven, where he sought out Olófin to tell him.
“Olófin,” Elegguá said. “Do you owe Shangó money?”
Olófin thought for a moment about the day in the marketplace. “Yes, I do, Elegguá.”
“Shangó is very angry with you. Shangó says he will kill you if you do not pay him back.”
Olófin thought about this for a moment. He knew that he was immortal, and Shangó could never destroy him. Still, he went to the diviners to mark ebó. “Your son wants a drum?” the diviner asked. “As ebó, you yourself should play the drum. This you will use to teach Shangó a lesson, and settle the debt between the two of you.”
The day of Shangó’s party came. “Drummers! Where are my drummers?” he roared. Everyone shrank in fear.
“The drummers demanded advance payment. You didn’t pay them. They won’t come,” answered Elegguá, although meekly. A childish grin was on his face.
Already, the orishas were gathering for the festival. Shangó’s blood boiled to his head. “I will KILL Olófin when I get my hands on him,” he muttered under his breath.
A loud rumble came from the far-end of the room. The orishas turned to face the corner from whence it came. The air shimmered, and took on a silvery sheen as the Olófin himself materialized. Before him stood the batá drums; and with him were three others: two more drummers, and an akpuon. The music began; the heavenly akpuon sang, and the orishas chanted in response. As the night moved on, the music became more primal, more powerful, and when the last chant was chanted and Yemayá had danced the bucket outside the palace walls, all settled in, exhausted, for the huge feast Shangó’s chefs prepared.
Silently, Olófin walked up to Shangó. “You wanted to speak with me, son?”
Shangó was exhausted from dancing, and was surrounded by throngs of admiring women. He pushed out his chest arrogantly. “You owe me money, Olófin. You almost ruined my party.”
“Yes, I do, don’t I?” His wizened eyes sparkled as he glanced to the doorway, and saw Elegguá standing there, pleased. “I created all that is good and powerful in this world. I even created money. I know its worth. First, however, I think you should pay me for the services I just rendered. Where is my derecho for the Añá I just played?”
Elegguá was stunned. “He did not pay you a derecho? He did not feed the drums? He did not come before Añá and fulfill his duties before the tambor?”
The room went quiet. “No. He did not.” Olófin’s words created stillness in the air, and Shangó hung his head in shame.
It was there that Shangó learned not to threaten Olófin. And it was there that the debt between the two was settled.