Most people would agree that on the whole, we humans are a flawed lot. Some of us blame this on Original Sin (think Adam and Eve), some of us blame this on angry gods (Zeus giving mankind the first female, Pandora, and her well known box of woes), and others still on a combination of bad genes and cosmic indifference. This is all a little humorless; the Yoruba creation myth from Western Africa (Nigeria, Togo and Benin) has a far better punch line for why we are the way we are.
Cast of Divinities:
Olurun, God of the heavens
Olukun, Goddess of the watery abyss
Obatala, their son who intends to unite them through creating the Earth
Orunmila, their other son, who is a master of divination
Black Cat – a black cat who might be a bad influence…
the palm seed – definitely a bad influence
To connect the heavens and the oceans, Obatala proposed the creation of the Earth. His father told him to seek advice from his brother, who was skilled in the art of divination (known in Yorubaland as Ifa). His brother, Orunmila, gave Obatala a list of seven necessary items.
- a gold chain long enough to reach from heaven down to earth
- a snail’s shell
- filled with sand
- a white hen
- a black cat
- a palm nut
- a bag big enough to hold the other items
Using the gold of the Gods, a chain was forged; hanging it from a corner of the sky, he slung his bag over his shoulder, and began his descent.
From the heavens, Orunmila shouted instructions: Obatala was to pour out the sand from the snail’s shell, and then release the hen.
The hen began scattering the sand, scratching at it, flinging it about; where the sand landed, earth emerged.
Having created solid land, he planted the palm seed, which immediately sprung up.
Obatala and the cat spent their time lounging in its shade. Now, Obatala still hadn’t finished his final task, which was to fill the land with living things. However, after the cat pointed out the joys of naturally fermented palm wine, Obatala found himself happily distracted.
After a night of drinking and dancing, Obatala fell into a drunken stupor (no one knows the fate of the cat). While he slumbered, his brother Orunmila descended to Earth, and set about creating life; all that swims through the water, crawls on the land, or flies through air can thank Orunmila, as Obatala was too drunk to finish his work.
Obatala woke up shocked. He ascended to the heavens and confronted his father, who shrugged off his anger. However, as a peace gesture, he pointed out that Orunmila had failed to create humanity and offered that job to Obatala as a consolation prize.
Obatala seized the opportunity and returned to the Earth to create human beings. Unfortunately, he was still drunk, and it showed in his workmanship. And thus, all human maladies, misfortunes and mishaps can be traced back to the day God drank too much.
The Takeaway? Don’t blame us, we’re children of a drunken God.
External Resources: African Myths and Tales, Epic Tales (2019), foreword Dr. Kwadwo Osei-Nyame Jnr