Category Archives: Dahomey

Shango

Etymology: Strike from shan

Also Known As: Badé, Changó, Esango (Edo people), Hevioso, Jakuta, Nzazi, Sango, Ṣàngó, Siete Rayos, Xangô (Latin America), Sogbo or Ebioso (Fon people)

In Nigeria, among the Yoruban people and the Dahomey religion, Shango is a god or Orisha of fire, thunder, and lightning. Like many storm and thunder gods, Shango lives up in the sky where he hurls thunderstones down to the earth, killing those who offended him or setting houses on fire.

Attributes

Animal: Black Cat, Dog, Duck, Fresh Water Turtles, Quail, Ram, Sheep, Tortoise

Colors: Red, White

Day of the Week: Friday and Ojo Jakuta, the fifth day of the week in Yorubaland.

Elements: Fire

Feast Day: December 4th, same as Saint Barbara

Gemstones: Thunderstones; either meteorites or stone celts

Metal: Iron

Number: 3 and 6

Patron of: Resistance, Strength, Power

Sphere of Influence: Thunder, Lightning, Fertility, War, Truth, Intelligence, Courage, Power, Dominance, Resistance

Symbols: Stone Celt, Double-Headed Axe, Bangles, Brass Crown, any object struck by lightning

Taboo (Yoruba): Cowpea, don’t eat this.

Depictions

Statues, imagery, and other art featuring Shango show him with a double axe on his head that represent thunder. He will often be dressed in clothing that’s red and white. Sometimes Shango has six eyes and other times he has three heads. In some traditions, Shango wears a headdress with cowrie shells on it.

In the Candomblé traditions, Xangô as he is called wears red and has a brass crown.

Worship

There is a religious ritual of Shango designed to help devotees and followers of Shango to gain and have self-control. Shango beads tell the story of his essence with white beads representing Obatala’s logic alternating in balance with the red beads of Aganju’s fire and passion when pursuing a goal.

The initiation ceremony of Shango came about after his deification which preserves his memory and the prosperity he brings to his followers on a personal level just as he brought prosperity to the Oyo kingdom in life.

Altars to Shango will often have a carved image of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to Shango with a double-bladed axe sticking out of her head. The axe symbolizes the devotee as being possessed by Shango. The woman has an expression that is calm and collected, representing the attributes or qualities she has gained from her faith.

Ritual foods for Shango include guguru, bitter cola, àmàlà, and gbegiri soup. The Bata drum is also used during Shango’s worship and rituals.

Candomblé

In this religion, Shango or Xangô was the son of the Oyo king Oranyan. During the African diaspora, Xangô gained strong importance among the slaves in Brazil for his strength, resistance, and aggression. Xangô became a patron orixa of plantations and many Candomblé terreiros. In contrast, Oko, the orixa of agriculture didn’t receive as much favor among slaves in Brazil and given the circumstances, I don’t blame them.

A dish known as amalá (a stew of okra with shrimp and palm oil) is sacred to Xangô.

Santería

In the Santería religion, Shango, or Changó as he is known is the focal or center point of the religion and represents the Oyo people of West Africa. Changó is a representative of the ancestors and all who adhere to the Santeria faith.

In Latin America, there is a major initiation ceremony that has been held for the last few hundred years that is based on the Shango ceremony of the Ancient Oyo. It is a ceremony that has survived and is considered the most complete to have arrived on the Western shores.

Yoruba

There is an initiation ceremony that is also based on the Shango ceremony and is the basis for all the Orisha initiation ceremonies within the Americas.

Other Traditions

Other traditions that venerate Shango are Folk Catholicism, Louisiana Voodoo, Palo, the Portuguese Candomblé and Umbanda, the Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Vodun.

Royal Ancestor

Before becoming deified or an orisha, Shango was once a mortal king, the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. After his death, Shango became deified. I have other sources that say Shango is the fourth king.

The lineage of kings is as follows: Oduduwa, Oranyan, and Ajaka. In life, Shango was known as Jakuta and was the third king or Alafin of Oyo kingdom. Jakuta was the brother to Ajaka known to be more peaceful compared to Jakuta’s more violent rule who could wield supernatural forces to create thunder and lightning. Jakuta ruled for a period of seven years that was noted for constant war campaigns and numerous battles. Towards the end of Jakuta’s reign, it is said he caused the unintentional destruction of his palace with lightning. While alive, Jakuta was married to three women named Oshun, Oba, and Oya.

Oral traditions tell how during Shango’s mortal reign, a subordinate chief challenged Shango’s rule. Many people were impressed by the subordinate chief’s feats and demonstration of magic, such that they went to follow this new leader. Dismayed by this public defeat and humiliation, Shango left Oyo and committed suicide by hanging.

A variation to this story I came across is that Shango was so fascinated by the use of magic that while calling down the powers of thunder and lightning, Shango accidentally set fire to his palace and killed his wives and many of his children. It is in shame from that, that Shango left the kingdom of Oyo.

When enemies and detractors of Shango were contemptuous and spreading his shame, a series of storms swept over Oyo, destroying many homes. This caused people to believe that Shango’s powers had made him a god or orisha and these storms were proof of his wrath. There are suggestions that Shango’s followers set fire to these homes.

However, those loyal to Shango said that he really ascended to the heavens by climbing a chain and that he became an orisha. Shango would gain the attributes of an earlier orisha, Jakuta who represented the wrath of the supreme deity Olorun-Olodumare. Shango’s cult and worship would continue to grow and spread throughout Oyo and Yorubaland. Even neighboring people of the Edo and Fon would adopt Shango into their religions.

Orisha

Shango is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruba religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. Shango is regarded as the most powerful of all the Orisha.

With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Shango was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America, and South America.

Irunmole

Much like the Hindi avatars, Shango has had many Irunmole or manifestations. The names of some of them are Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. All of these people are believed to have been an incarnation of Shango and like many such Irunmole, had great wisdom and power while they lived.

Parentage and Family

Father

Oranyan – The mortal king of Oyo before Shango become deified.

Mother

Yemaja – Orisha mother goddess and protector of birth.

Consort

In some traditions, Shango’s wives are said to be the rivers.

Oba – She tried to win Shango’s love by offering her ear to him to eat. In anger, Shango sent her away and she became a river goddess.

Oshun – A river goddess and Shango’s favorite as he loves her cooking.

Oya – A Storm and Mother goddess, she is also the Niger river. It is said she stole the secrets of Shango’s magic.

Siblings

Oya – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.

Shango’s Wives

As noted, the main wives of Shango are venerated as Orisha. All three are associated with rivers in Nigeria. The first is Oya, connected to the Oya River. Oya would become the orisha of battle, storms, and hurricanes. Oya had once been married to Ogun but would fall in love with Shango. Together, Oya and Shango partner up when going out to battle.

Then there is Oshun who is connected to the Osun River. Oshun is the orisha associated with love, sensuality, and femininity.

Lastly, we have Oba who was forever hopelessly in love with Shango. Oba would find herself rejected by Shango after another of his wives tricked Oba into cutting off her ear to feed to him. Oba went into exile in a cemetery and become the orisha of violent storms and death. She would also become the Oba River, specifically where it meets with the Osun River.

Orisha Of Thunder & Lighting

Shango is known as an orisha of thunder and lightning.

Fire – It should come as no surprise that one of Shango’s domains is that of fire as well. After all, lighting strikes are known to cause a fire.

Oṣè – This is the name that the double axe in Yorubaland that Shango has is called. The double axe symbolizes and represents lightning.

Resistance – During the African diaspora and slavery, Shango became a very important symbol of resistance.

Thunderbolts – Stone Celt

A celt in this case is a primitive stone tool like an adze, hoe or axe. Farmers would sometimes find these primitive, prehistoric tools while out-tilling their fields. Believing these stone celts were Shango’s thunderbolts, the farmers would take them to Shango’s priests who kept these in Shango’s shrine in an inverted mortar.

Shango was renowned and feared for his powers and whenever he spoke, fire came out of his mouth.

Jakuta – When not identified as an ancestor, it is believed that Shango likely usurped the duties and aspects of an older deity by the name of Jakuta. This older deity, Jakuta was known to hurl fire stones as punishment towards people if they acted against the wishes of Olodumre, the Supreme God, or Orisha. The name Jakuta means “Hurler of stones” or “Fighter with stones.” The prefix Ja means to hurl from aloft and the suffix okuta means stone. That’s interesting to note in connection to the stone celts that farmers would find out in fields and believed to be thunderbolts. Jakuta is also associated with a fellowship of meteorites.

Possession – Those who worship Shango and become possessed by him can eat fire, using oil-soaked cloth known as itufu to do so. Some may carry pots of live coal on their head or shove their hands into coals without any harm.

Fertility Orisha

As a fertility deity, particularly masculine fertility, Shango grants wealth and prosperity to his followers just as he did for the kingdom of Oyo during his mortal life and reign.

Dance – Shango’s power, seen in his ritual dances represents the dangerous side of sexual relationships. Another interpretation is a warning of the arrogancy in using military force for political gains and leadership. The bata drums are beaten to represent the sound of thunder.

War Orisha

As seen in the dances that Shango does, he is also he orisha of war as in life, he held many continuous campaigns and battles to expand his influence.

Oṣè – The double axe that represents lightning is also a symbol of military prowess and the use of violence.

Justice – There is also a close association of the use of force or might to make right and enforce justice. Shango was known for being rather harsh and strict with his subjects.

Catholic Saints

There are a few different Saints that Shango has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering him.

Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Shango is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armorers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.

Saint Jerome – They are the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists. In some traditions, he is regarded as the husband to Saint Barbara and for that reason, Saint Jerome gets syncretized or equated with Shango.

Syno-Deities

Jupiter – The Roman god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.

Marduk – The Mesopotamian god of fertility and storms can be comparable to Shango.

Raijin – The Japanese god of thunder.

Teshub – The Hurrian god of the sky and thunder.

Thor – The mighty thunderer of Norse mythology, he is the god of thunder and war.

Zeus – The Greek god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.

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