Oshun Loses Her Beauty
Based on a Santerian story. Special thanks to Lesley Murdoch for her insights to Afro-Caribbean religions.
The Orisha are gods that came originally from Nigeria, in West Africa, as part of the Yoruba religion. The gods travelled with African people who were stolen as slaves from Africa and brought to North and Central America. Today, a religion named Santeria is based on these gods and is practiced in Cuba, Brazil, and parts of Central America. We also have practitioners here in the United States. Though stories about the Orisha may not mean the same to us as they do to Santerians, we can find great wisdom in them and we are thankful for being allowed to share them.
Olodumare, the Creator God, sits far up in the heavens. Other gods, Orishas, like to leave the sky and walk amongst the people on earth. All the Orishas have things they are in charge of:
Yemaya rules over the seas and lakes. She is called the Mother of All and protects pregnant women.
Shango rules over thunder, lightning, fire, and the dance. He loves the drums and having fun.
Eleggua is the god of doors and roads. He carries messages between humans and Orisha.
Oshun is the youngest goddess. She is found in the sweet waters of the world, such as streams and rivers. She is also the goddess of fertility.
Once, some of the Orisha decided they were tired of obeying Olodumare. He sat so far away. What did he know about running the universe? They had control over all things on earth. They thought he was no longer needed.
Olodumare knew the other Orisha were rebelling. He could have struck them down, but he decided to withhold the rains instead. Without the rain, the earth dried up. The rivers, lakes, and streams ran dry. No crops grew; animals were dying. Humans, too. The people cried out to the Orisha, "Save us! What have we done to anger you?"
The Orisha heard their cries. They knew that it was they, not the humans that had angered Oloddumare. They pleaded with him to bring the rain. But Olodumare was too far away and did not hear.
They asked for forgiveness and promised to obey him again. But Olodumare was too far away and did not hear.
Several of the Orisha tried to ascend into the heavens, but they could not reach Olodumare.
Oshun asked if she could try. The other Orisha laughed at her. "How can someone so small and young do what her elders could not? Just go back to sitting there, looking pretty." Oshun persisted. Finally, out of sheer desperation, the other Orisha agreed that she could try. They did not expect her to succeed.
Oshun turned herself in a beautiful peacock. She flew off towards the heaven. It was so far away, that her feathers begin to fall off. As she reached the sun, her colorful feathers were scorched and all the delicate feathers burned off her head. Yet she was determined to reach Olodumare and she flew on.
When Oshun thought she could not fly another mile, she reached the home of the Creator god, Olodumare. She collapsed in his arms and he saw that the beautiful peacock had been transformed into a vulture. Olodumare took Oshun and nursed her back to health.
"Your bravery and determination has softened my heart. I will bring the rains," said Olodumare. And he did. "From now on, you, dear vulture, will be the Messenger of the house of Olodumare and I will communicate only through you."
Oshun, as a vulture, returned to earth to honor and praise. Her gifts of determination and inner strength had saved the world.