December 10, 2007
I was in my ocha room this morning, putting fresh flowers to Obatalá and redecorating her shrine. Each time I add something to her, each time I rearrange her implements, each time I clean her and refresh her, I stand back, and cry. Being her child, I know I am heavily prejudiced, but I can’t think of any orisha more beautiful than Obatalá.
Especially my road of Obatalá, Obánlá.
Today, however, I remembered another iyawó who was about to go to the river. She thought I had Oshún crowned; and while she was waiting for ebó de entrada to begin, she told me, “I really wanted to be crowned with your orisha, Oshún.” Before I could correct her, she continued, “I wanted to be crowned any orisha EXCEPT Obatalá.”
The word “except” plunged into my heart like a sharp knife cuts through butter. Only one word came out of my mouth, “Why?”
She, as many I have met before her, lamented the fact that while Obatalá was a great orisha (“they all have wonderful ashé,” she said, as if she knew what ashé was), he was still a “boring old man.” She went on and on about how colorful the other orishas were, and how much fun they were. I listened until she was done.
And then, I corrected her.
I told her that Obatalá was more than an old man. He was a young man. This she knew.
“But did you know that Obatalá is also . . . a woman? I have a female Obatalá crowned.”
The iyawó listened as I explained to her that out of all the orishas, none knew what it was to truly create save Obatalá. Obatalá created all the heads in heaven; he crafted all the bodies on earth. Obatalá knew what it was like to be drunk; Obatalá even knew what it was like to be high. Obatalá knew cold, hard logic, and he also knew the throes of madness.
Obatalá knew what it was like to be murdered; and, Obatalá knew what it was like . . . to murder. He knew passion. He knew rage. He knew heartache. He knew despair. He knew war.
He created war.
But SHE . . . also knew what it was like to be a young girl. She knew what it was like to be an old woman. She knew what it was like to be a virgin; and, she knew what it was like to be a whore, to use her body to get exactly what she wanted.
She knew what it was like to be young and locked in a loveless, sexless marriage to an older man, and, yes, she knew the pleasures of sexual ecstasy.
And while other orishas might control the moment of conception, it was Obatalá who reached into the womb to mold and guide the new life to birth.
“What does Obatalá NOT know?” I asked the iyawó. “What does she NOT do?”
Before she could answer, they came to take her to do ebó de entrada. I never found out if I changed her mind, or if she ever came to love Obatalá as embracing the full spectrum of divine and human experience. But I do know one thing . . .
Those who have Obatalá crowned are among the most blessed in this religion. At the end of the day, when the other orishas fail us, or even turn their backs on us, it is Obatalá who is the most forgiving, and it is to her . . . or him . . . that all of us must one day turn to for help.