Obatala: The Creator and Wisdom Keeper in Yoruba Mythology

Fiyinfoluwa Victory
August 6, 2023

Obatala is one of the most revered and prominent African deities, particularly within the Yoruba religion, which originated in Nigeria. As an Orisha, Obatala is considered to be one of the oldest and most wise of the deities and is associated with creativity, civilization, and human beings themselves. This mythic figure plays a vital role in the creation story of the Yoruba people, and his influence can be seen in various aspects of Yoruba culture and society.

According to Yoruba mythology, Obatala was created by Olodumare, the Supreme God, along with other deities, known as “Orishas.” Olodumare tasked Obatala with the divine mission of creating the world and all of its inhabitants. In order to accomplish this, Obatala was given a bag full of sacred earth or clay, as well as a golden chain. With this, he descended from the heavenly realm of Orun to the earth, which was then covered in water.

As Obatala descended, he hung the golden chain from the sky and used it to descend safely onto the earth. Once he reached the water-covered planet, Obatala poured the earth from his bag onto the water’s surface, creating land. He then fashioned the first human beings out of clay, giving them life and breath. These humans became the progenitors of the Yoruba people and were imbued with divinity as they were created by Obatala himself.

However, the myth takes a tragic turn when Obatala becomes overwhelmed by the responsibility of his creative duty. He begins to drink palm wine excessively and eventually becomes intoxicated. In his inebriated state, Obatala starts creating imperfect and disabled individuals. When Olodumare discovers Obatala’s mistake, he is disappointed and decides to intervene.

Olodumare then creates another deity, Oduduwa, to finish the creation of the world. Oduduwa is given the task of shaping the physical landscape, casting out Obatala from his position of responsibility. Oduduwa arrives with a golden chain, similar to the one used by Obatala, and uses it to descend onto the earth and complete the creative process. Oduduwa is considered the ancestor of the kings of Yoruba tribes and the founder of the Yoruba civilization.

Despite his demotion, Obatala remains an influential deity within the Yoruba pantheon. He is revered for his role as the creator of human beings and civilization and is often depicted as a wise and elderly figure, clothed in white robes and carrying a staff. Obatala is believed to reside in the heavens, where he continues to contribute to human affairs as a guardian and caretaker.

The myth of Obatala reflects the Yoruba people’s understanding of the creative process and the potential for human fallibility. It teaches important lessons about responsibility, moderation, and the consequence of one’s actions. Obatala’s intoxication represents the dangers of excess and the need for self-control, while Oduduwa’s arrival reestablishes balance and order. This myth serves as a cautionary tale, encouraging individuals to understand and fulfill their responsibilities with focus and sobriety.

AYE” (SekereObatala – Ose Oregbe)

Aye is a percussion instrument that is used by Obatala, also called (Orisanla). He uses it for entertainment, invocation, and messaging purposes. Now, it is used by Obatala devotees to invoke his spirit during prayers, rituals, and festival periods for his spirit to descend. Aye is a very important tool in worshiping the Gods, especially Obatala. Whenever the God sends any of his spirits or priestesses to deliver a message, it is this instrument that he or she will be beating while on the journey to ward off evil and attacks. On getting there, the Aye has to be beaten for the God’s spirit to possess the priest or priestess for him to speak through him or her.

Beyond the creation myth, Obatala has a significant influence on various aspects of Yoruba culture. For instance, rituals and festivals dedicated to Obatala are common, with devotees dressing in white and offering sacrifices to honor this revered deity. White is considered the sacred color of purity and is associated with Obatala’s essence, as well as representing peace, harmony, and clarity.

In addition, Obatala’s wisdom and intelligence are highly respected within Yoruba society. He is considered the patron deity of doctors, healers, and diviners, and his guidance is sought in matters of decision-making and problem-solving. Obatala’s influence is also found in the visual arts, with his image often depicted in sculptural and painted forms in Yoruba shrines, representing the divine power of creation and potential for human growth.

Obatalapriests in their temple in ife Picture by Dierk Lange https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Obatala_Priester_im_Tempel.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

Furthermore, Obatala’s moral teachings and emphasis on unity and equality have been a source of inspiration for social justice and political movements within Yoruba society. The values of fairness, justice, and respect for all are seen as virtues embodied by Obatala, and his myth serves as a reminder of the importance of these principles in maintaining social harmony and cohesion.

Obatala is a deity in Yoruba mythology who is associated with creation, purity, and wisdom. In the Yoruba religion, it is believed that Obatala prefers to eat plain white food such as white yam, white hens, snails, white melon soup, pounded yams, and other white food such as eko, fermented corn wrapped in plantain leaves. The taboo associated with Obatala’s food is that it must be cooked without any salt or other seasoning. This is because Obatala is associated with purity, and salt is seen as a contaminant that can diminish the deity’s power. Therefore, any food that is offered to Obatala must be prepared in a special way that ensures that it is completely free of salt or any other seasoning.

Additionally, it is believed that anyone who cooks food for Obatala must be completely pure and free from any impurities. This means that they must abstain from sex and other bodily pleasures for a certain period of time leading up to the preparation of the food. This is because Obatala is associated with purity and spiritual cleanliness, and it is believed that any impurities in the preparation process could taint the offering and make it unacceptable to the deity.

The myth of Obatala is not just a tale of creation but a symbol of wisdom, responsibility, and social order within Yoruba mythology. From his role as the creator of the world and the first human beings to his influence on various aspects of Yoruba culture and society, Obatala embodies the ideals and values that the Yoruba people hold dear. Through his myth, the Yoruba people are reminded of the importance of balance, moderation, and personal accountability, as well as the potential for growth and unity. Obatala’s legacy continues to shape and inspire the Yoruba people, ensuring that his story remains central to their cultural and spiritual identity.


·       Drewal, H. J., Mason, J., & Pemberton, J. III. (1992). Yoruba: Nine centuries ofAfrican art and thought. Center for African Art.

·       Kramer, C. (2018). Obatala: Orisha and the Chief of the White Cloth. In The RoutledgeHandbook of African Religion and Philosophy (pp. 197-208). Routledge.

·       .English: Obatala priests in their temple in ife   Creator: Dierk Langehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Obatala_Priester_im_Tempel.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

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