oya, oba, oshun: shango

In the previous post I explored Shango for his masculine energies. Why? Well, because as the Yoruba god of thunder, Shango is male strength. But what I did not mention was that three — yes, THREE — goddesses call Shango their husband: Oya, Oba, and Oshun.  So in order to balance the masculine Shango discussion, I happily take the space of this post to explore the divine feminine.

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As strong as Shango is, Yoruba myth tells that Shango gains some of his powers and strength from his wives. In fact, it is said that if it were not for the goddess Oya (pictured above), Shango never would have been able to control thunder and lightning. But that’s just a part of her story. For the rest of Oya’s story, I defer to this “African History Explained” installation (see the video below). Like Shango/ Thor, it is also interesting to consider Oya alongside X-Men’s Storm. 

The Orishas’ stories are told in religious spaces, in popular culture spaces, and are also studied in scholarly circles. Shango’s first wife, Oba is the Orisha of marriage and partnership. I share one version of Oba’s story below and it is delivered courtesy of a scholarly interview that was conducted in Cuba during the 1940s. Here is the transcription by William Bascom.shango and oba

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Oba covering left ear

Oh, Oshun!  What levels of jealousy and power you must possess to have tricked Oba in such a way!  Of the three, Oshun is said to have been Shango’s favorite wife. Oshun is a powerful Orisha of fresh water, fertility, love, and sensuality.  She creates life and can destroy it if angered enough to do so. Oshun is said to be the great balance to Shango’s heat. But none of these Orishas are limited to a mythological time or place, so for Oshun’s story I bring us into the contemporary with the awesome Afrofuturist hip-hop duo from Washington D.C. who take Oshun’s name and explore love and power in their music.

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Hip-hop duo Oshun

Oshun’s 2017 song titled “Sango” shows how artists are keeping the Yoruba traditions alive for non-practitioners in the diaspora.  The video is set by the water’s edge and within the four walls of an urban American apartment. The song is about relationships and correcting the balance that a fall into love can cause. Dressed in yellow, the color assigned to Oshun, the artists become the feminine Orisha. And Sango/Shango’s masculine power is portrayed by the love interest and seen in the double-sided oxê (ax) that glows red in the video.

In a 2018 interview, Oshun’s Thandiwe explained to Vice why she and co-rapper Niambi chose Oshun as a name for their duo: “The concept, the energy, just the known facts about this deity Oshun, are very powerful for a young woman, especially [one] of color, to essentially look up to. This goddess, this literal god that is a woman—is a mother, is beautiful, and she’s not a bossy, mean bitch—she’s a loving, beautiful, sweet energy. That really teaches all of us that we can be sweet because we’re all extensions of this energy that we come from.”

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As you can see, Oshun isn’t just Shango’s favorite wife, Oshun is the Orisha goddess that speaks power to Niambi and Thandiwe.  And back on Beyoncé’s visual–album Lemonade (2016), “Hold Up” demonstrates Bey’s acknowledgment of this Orisha too.

Rather than a simple song about Jay-Z and Bey’s relationship, it’s much more provocative to analyze the song’s lyrics as insight into Oshun and Shango and his other wives Oya and Oba so that it is Oshun singing out: “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you.” With this in mind, go ahead and re-consider Bey’s video through Oshun’s eyes.

In Oshun we meet Shango’s equal, the feminine power balance to his masculine strength.  But really, all three of Shango’s wives — Oshun, Oba, and Oya — are powerful feminine Orishas in their own right and, not surprisingly, Jamaican singer Jah9 (pronounced Jah-nine) may be the quintessential representation of the three goddesses.

JAH9 Jah9 is femiNINE energy and her very yellow 2014 video for the song “Avocado” pre-dates Beyoncé’s Oshun inspired Hold Up” by two good years! (See the “Avocado” video below.)  

All three Orishas’ qualities surface in Jah9’s work.  For example, she is alight with Oya’s wind, lightning, and storminess when singing her women’s call to action, “Unafraid” (2016).  On “Heaven (Ready fi di Feeling)” (2018), Jah9 sings a powerful song to all the women who walked in Oba’s pained shoes and are now ready to “forget about the past mistakes.”  She seems to mirror Oshun on “Avocado,” but also evokes the Yoruba Orisha of sexuality, pleasure, fertility, beauty, and love on “Love Has Found I” (2018).  

I am thankful to African diaspora women artists like Oshun, Beyoncé, and Jah9 for recognizing and reminding audiences both of the importance of the feminine Yoruba Orishas and of the Ghanaian concept of Sankofa: go back and get it. They all went back, got it, and continue to serve it to their audiences. I’m sharing this post just to make sure you digest it without complication. 

Balance is paramount in all creation, words included. Ashe!

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