It’s been an insane day, one of unreasonable demands and ridiculous entitlements (can we say O-K-A-N-A?) but I managed to get this blog done. It’s not my best writing, but when it comes to Okana Irosun it’s probably some of my most important writing. So, please, don’t be too critical of its style. Just accept the teaching and have a wonderful evening!
Okana Irosun: it’s one of my favorite odu in the corpus of Okana. In this odu, Okana no longer occupies the role as the victimizer (you can read some of her stories in my volume “Teachings of the Santería Gods); she becomes the victim, and she transforms herself into a heroine.
This is how I remember the story as it was told to me; here, I tell it to you:
There came a day that Okana woke from her bed and felt ill. She didn’t feel sick, as if with a cold or the flu; she didn’t even have a sore throat. In her body, deep inside, there was an ache gnawing at her chest, a pull inside her skin, something that didn’t feel quite right. Her energy was low, but she wasn’t tired or even poorly rested. Still, Okana knew something was wrong. She bathed herself, and as her cloth moved over her breasts she felt something like a lump, a piece of flesh that wasn’t soft but more like soft clay. And when she touched it, it was numb like the place on her body didn’t exist. “This isn’t right,” she thought. Okana paid it no mind; and as she moved through her day her energy returned. By day’s end, the lump was out of her head.
But it wasn’t out of her body.
A few weeks went by, Okana bouncing between feeling well and vibrant and then sick and weak. One morning she rose and there were drops of blood on her gown by her nipples. That’s when she knew fear; and that’s when she went to see the diviners.
“You’re dying.” The diviner’s words were matter-of-fact, almost cold; but the old man casting the shells was trying his best to be supportive. “If you had come to me months ago,” he said, his voice growing soft, “or maybe weeks ago, perhaps an ebó might have saved you. Now, it’s too late. The cancer has grown in your breast. There is nothing to be done.”
The diviner thought he knew Okana from her odu sitting on the mat, Okana Irosun; but he didn’t know her inner strength. “I won’t die,” she told herself after she left the old man’s home. She barely believed it. “I. Won’t. Die.” Her voice was stronger; she was almost convinced. “I won’t die!” she screamed to the heavens. Okana went home, muttering and crying all the way.
It was as much an act of desperation as it was defiance when she put her machete in the flames. She watched the metal change from dark to straw; and she watched the straw deepen until it was a bright, vibrant red. She held the machete by its wood handle; it blackened from the heat but was only warm to the touch. She sat at the table and leaned over it, breasts bare, both resting on the surface in front of her. With her right hand resting on the hilt, she pushed the tip of the blade into the table just beside her left breast. The red metal was cooling, its outer edges turning to straw again. She braced herself. “If my breasts are going to kill me,” she hissed, “then my breasts must go.”
How long Okana lay on the floor in shock she didn’t know. When she woke up, there was pain in her chest like fire. Two lumps of flesh lay on the floor beside her, what was left of her breasts, and in her hand she still held the machete’s hilt. She let it loose. Her chest burned; it was blackened, scorched, but the heat of the metal had staunched the blood. Carefully she sat up. Okana was weak. She was hurt. But something inside her said, “You’ll live.”
And live she did.
Okana is a harsh family of odu for anyone, but for women the composite Okana Irosun is very problematic; and no matter how it falls on the mat, iré or osogbo, it flags issues with women’s health. For it was in Okana Irosun that breast cancer was born; and when Okana was told she was dying from the disease, she refused to give up. She sacrificed her own breasts. With no one to help her (no other woman, and certainly no man), Okana removed the most obvious symbol of her womanhood to survive. Simply, she gave herself the world’s first mastectomy.
Still, the odu does not come without hope. For Okana is not just “a” woman; in Okana Irosun she represents all women, and she has inside herself a store of strength no man will ever know. So when Okana Irosun falls on the mat be careful; take your health seriously; and don’t wait so long that misfortunes built into that odu ruin your health and your body.
Prevention is always the best medicine.