Monday, March 05, 2007

Orunmila vs. Orisa Nla in the creation of the world

The creation myth of the Yoruba people is one of the earliest stories I posted to this website as it was one of those I 'remembered'. I always loved the story - the climbing down from heaven on a rope, the chicken (or lizard or chameleon - I have probably heard versions with these) spreading the earth which was contained in a calabash and especially one of the creators (Orunmila) getting drunk on the way and Oduduwa, his helper taking over his responsibilities. But do I have the participants in this creation myth wrong? I would like to thank the reader who wrote today to point out that possibility:

About your creation myth, I've heard this in several variations both in Nigeria and the diaspora, but never has Orunmila been involved, always Orisa Nla. As a bababalwo, I understand that Orunmila is Eleri Ipin (witness to creation), witness, but not the actual creator himself. I'm fair positive you might want to modify this story to reflect that. Can I ask where you heard this version?

In answer to that question, I am unable to cite a source. I wrote the story as remembered from numerous tellings and retellings (with slight variations) from many years ago. It is quite possible that I have the characters in the story switched up. He also suggested a book on the subject:

From a scholarly standpoint, a very good english version is in the book called "Olodumare: god in Yoruba belief" by Prof. E. Bolaji Idowu the former head of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria AND fomer head of the Methodist Mission in Nigeria. Though a christian, he was very interested in traditional thought/practices and did a very good job in the book of presenting the stories without a christian bias.
I will have to update the story as soon as possible and hope I have not mis-educated too many people in the interim. If you know other versions of the Yoruba creation myth, I would love to hear them - you can post in the comments here or send me a note.



I unfortunately cannot add much to the conversation, except for a website I discovered recently while in search of a name for our 3rd born. might have some relevant information or at least pointers.

Just thought I would share it in case you are yet to discover it.

folktaler said...

Hi, I've never been to that website, so thanks for sharing. The website - - did say Obatala was to create the world. And that sounds pretty familiar - it was immediately obvious to me that I may have mixed up Obatala and Orunmila. The article also said Obatala is also known as Orisa Nla - I never knew that. I had been thinking that I was pretty sure I had never heard of Orisa Nla in relation to world creation, but if he is Obatala, it certainly makes sense. Find and Replace coming up.

Anonymous said...

You are correct in saying there are many variations. For example in my tradition in Abeokuta we are taught that it was Orunmila who ascended to the earth on the chain. That is why you see the image of the chameleon on Orunmila's divination tray. Ifa is by no means linear in it's concepts so you will often be subjected to what appears to be a variation in truths.
Awo Ifalodun