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In Yoruba mythology, Olokun was the orisha (or spirit) of the waters of the earth and the depths of the ocean where the light never shone. He was considered as the ruler of all the bodies of water on earth and even had authority over the other water deities. Olokun was venerated as male, female or androgynous depending on the location.
Who Was Olokun?
According to the myths, Olokun was said to be the father of Aje, the orisha of wealth and the bottom of the ocean. Although most people believe that Olokun is a male deity, he was often viewed by the Africans as either male, female or as an androgynous deity. Therefore, Olokun’s gender usually depends on the religion in which the orisha is worshipped.
In Yoruba religion, Olokun, in the form of a female, was said to be the wife of the great Emperor Oduduwa. She was often angry and jealous of her husband’s many other wives and it’s said that she created the Atlantic Ocean in a fit of rage.
In some accounts, Olokun was said to be the husband or lover of Yemaya, the great mother goddess of the ocean and they had several children together. However, some sources state that Olokun had no lovers, wives or children and lived alone in his palace under the sea.
Olokun was a powerful orisha who was highly respected and feared since he had the power to destroy anything he wanted by unleashing the depths of the ocean. Crossing him could mean the destruction of the world so no deity or human dared to do it. Although he was a very aggressive and powerful orisha, he was also very wise and considered the authority of all the other water orishas in Yoruba mythology. He also controlled all the bodies of water, big or small, since it was his domain.
Myths about Olokun
Olokun, at a certain time, was displeased with humanity since he believed that the humans didn’t respect him as they should. Therefore, he decided to punish humankind, by sending tidal waves to bury the land and everything on it under water. The water obeyed his commands and the ocean began to swell up. Immense waves start invading the land and the people who lived far away from the coastline saw the mountains of water coming towards them, meaning certain death. They ran as far away as they could in fear.
In this version of the story, the orishas all saw what was happening and decided that Olokun had to be stopped from causing any further damage and so they sought the advice of Orunmila, the orisha of wisdom, divination and knowledge. Orunmila told them that they would need the help of Ogun, a powerful warrior who was excellent in metal work, to make the longest metal chain that he could possibly make.
In the meantime, the people pleaded with Obatala, the creator of human bodies, asking him to intervene and save their lives. Obatala first went to meet Ogun and took the very long chain that Ogun had made. He then stood between the ocean and the people, waiting for Olokun.
When Olokun heard that Obatala was waiting for him, he came riding a huge wave, holding his silver fan. Obatala ordered him to stop what he was doing. According to some versions of the story, Olokun had deep respect for Obatala and promised to abandon his plan to end humanity. However, in other versions, Obatala caught Olokun with the chain and trapped him at the bottom of the sea with it.
In an alternate version of the story, it was Yemaya, the ocean Mother Goddess who spoke to Olokun and calmed him down. As he calmed down, the huge waves receded, leaving behind beautiful pearls and corals scattered all over the beach, as gifts for humankind.
Worship of Olokun
Olokun was an important orisha in Yoruba religion, but he only played a minor role in the religion of the Afro-Brazilians. The people worshipped Olokun and made altars in their homes in honor of the orisha. It’s said that fishermen would pray to him daily, asking for a safe journey at sea and they worshipped him faithfully for fear of angering him. Even today, Olokun is venerated in regions such as Lagos.
Not much is known about Olokun apart from the above myths. While he wasn’t everyone’s favorite orisha, he was still very much respected by humans and orishas alike. Even today, when the sea swells up, or the waves are choppy, people believe that its because Olokun is angry and that if he weren’t chained up in the depths of the sea, he still wouldn’t hesitate to swallow all of land and humanity.