Ochosi – Yoruban Divine Warrior

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Ochosi, also known as Oshosi, Ochossi or Oxosi, is a divine warrior and hunter as well as the embodiment of justice in Yoruban religion. He was a highly skilled tracker and was said to be the most talented archer that ever existed. Not only was Ochosi known for his hunting skills, but he was also gifted with prophetic abilities. Here’s a closer look at who Ochosi was and the role he played in Yoruba mythology.

Who Was Ochosi?

According to the patakis (the stories told by the Yoruba people), Ochosi lived in a large, iron cauldron with his brothers Elegua and Ogun. Although they were related to each other, they all had different mothers. Ochosi’s mother was said to have been Yemaya, the goddess of the sea, whereas Elegua’s and Ogun’s mother was said to be Yembo.

Ogun and Ochosi didn’t get along too well most of the time, but they often set their quarrels aside so that they’d be able to work together for the greater good. The brothers decided that Ochosi would be the hunter, while Ogun would clear a path for him to hunt and so they made a pact. Because of this pact, they always worked well together and soon became inseparable.

Depictions and Symbols of Ochosi

Ochosi was an excellent hunter and fisherman, and according to the ancient sources, he also had shamanistic abilities. He’s often depicted as a young man, wearing a headpiece adorned with a feather and horns, with his bow and arrow in hand. Ochosi is usually shown in close proximity to his brother, Ogun since they both worked together most of the time.

Ochosi’s  main symbols are the arrow and crossbow, which represent his role in Yoruba mythology. Other symbols associated with Ochosi are hunting dogs, a part of a stag’s horn, a small mirror, a scalpel and a fishing hook since these were the tools he often used when hunting.

Ochosi Becomes an Orisha

According to the myths, Ochosi was originally a huntsman, but later on, he became an Orisha (a spirit in Yoruba religion). The sacred patakis state that Elegua, the Orisha of roads (and as mentioned in some sources, Ochosi’s brother) once gave Ochosi the task of hunting a very rare bird. The bird was meant for Orula, the supreme oracle, to give as a gift to Olofi who was one of the manifestations of the supreme god. Ochosi took up the challenge and found the bird quite easily, catching it in a few minutes. He caged the bird and took it home with him. Then, leaving the bird at home, Ochosi went out to let Orula know that he had caught it.

While Ochosi was out, his mother came home and found the bird in its cage. She thought that her son had caught it for dinner so she killed it and realizing that she needed to buy some spices and other things to cook it, she went out to the market. In the meantime, Ochosi returned home and saw that his bird had been killed.

Outraged, Ochosi decided not to waste any time looking for the person who’d killed his bird since he’d already told Orula that he’d caught it and had to gift it to Olofi very soon. Instead, he ran out to catch another of the rare birds. Once again, he was successful, and without letting the bird out of his sight this time, he went with Orula to gift it to Olofi. Olofi was so overjoyed about the gift, that he immedately presented Ochosi with a crown and named him an Orisha.

Olofi asked Ochosi if there was anything else he wanted once he’d become an orisha. Ochosi said that he wanted to shoot an arrow up into the sky and have it pierce through the heart of the person who’d killed the first rare bird that he’d caught. Olofi (who was all-knowing) wasn’t too sure about this but Ochosi wanted justice so he decided to grant him his wish. As his shot his arrow high into the air, his mother’s voice could be heard screaming loudly in pain and Ochosi realized what had happened. While he was heartbroken, he also knew that justice had to be delivered.  

From that point on, Olofi gave Ochosi the responsibility of hunting for the truth wherever he went and serving the sentence as necessary.

Worship of Ochosi

Ochosi was widely worshipped throughout Africa by many people who prayed to him daily and built altars for him. They often made sacrificial offerings of pig, goat and guinea fowl to the orisha. They also made offerings of axoxo, a type of sacred food made of maize and coconut cooked together.

Ochosi’s devotees would burn a candle for the Orisha for 7 days in a row while praying to his statues, asking for justice to be delivered. Sometimes, they would carry a little statue of the Orisha on their person, claiming that it gave them strength and peace of mind when seeking for justice. It was a common practice to wear amulets of the Orisha on court dates since it gave the person strength to face whatever was to come.

Ochosi is syncretized with Saint Sebastian in Brazil, and is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro.

In Brief

While Ochosi wasn’t the most famous of deities in Yoruba mythology, those who knew him respected and worshipped the Orisha for his skills and power. Even today, he continues to be worshipped in some parts of Africa and in Brazil.

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