Obalúaiye (King of the hot soil) or Omolú (Child of the heat) are the names that are generally given to Sànpònná, good of the smallpox and the contagious diseases which name is dangerous to pronounce.Hi is the one who punishes criminals and insolents by sending them smallpox and different epidemics.

The cult Obalúaiye and the Nanã Buruku, seems to form part of pré Odùduà religious systems. None of them are on the list of Odùduà’s followers, when he arrived to Ifé. But some Ifá legends say that Oblúaiye was already installed in Òkè Itase before Orúnmìlà, who already formed part of the group. The antiquity of Obalúaiye’s and Naña Buruku’s cults where often confused in some parts of Africa, it is indicated by one detail of animal sacrifices that is made. That ritual is made without iron instruments, indicating that the two divinities formed part of a previous civilisation long back to the Iron Age and Ògún’s arrival with Odùduà.

Some legends tell about Obalúaiye and Naña Buruku against Ògún, because of their refusal, to recognise the Iron Good’s seniority as being higher then their own, and as a consequence, the non existence of iron material during the religious activities. The dispute between the gods could be interpreted as a clash of religions belonging to different civilizations, successively installed in the
same place and dating of periods respectively before and after the Iron Age, it may also result from the different origin of town people, some from the east with Odùduà and others from the west, prior to this event

The place of origin of Obalúaiye is uncertain, but there is a big possibility that it was in the territory of Tapá (o Nupê). If Tapá is not his origin, it is probably a dividing point of belief. Frobenius wrote that according to the people in Ibadan, Obalúaiye was formerly the King of The Tapá’s.

In 1953 we hade the opportunity to assist to one of the beautiful ceremonies in a place called Isaba in the “Holi of ex-Dahomé” in that time the view mode in the region was still preserved the benefits of foreign civilizations. It was right before the road of Podê-Kêto in this swampy region, where until then no road bed had resisted the rainy seasons. The feasts where made in Obalúaiye’s temple and had the name of the River Idi, this river ran nearby the premises in the Ahori region, from the Nigerian part of the border.

The temple was build by a large rustic fencing, made of stakes, driving into the ground deep in the forest defining the space devoted to the god of smallpox. In the heart was a small mound of earth, with a clay pot above (Ajere), with the cover full of holes almost like the scars that are left by the smallpox, symbolising the act that is made by the King that owns the land against the malefactors and the arrogant. Two cottages were located opposite each other at both ends, cabins were designed for the climate of that region with bamboo walls and thatched roofs, plus they had a big shelter without walls or fences that served as local meeting, with a kitchen, and a shelter for inclement weather, and bedrooms for the people who came to take part in the festivities.

The ceremony’s objective was to show the first dances of the initiates in public. There where an àìsùn (sleepless waiting) in the evening and around eight a clock in the evening, the participants of the Obalúaiye cult where sitting on mats, reunited in a big retreat. The initiates where lying on the floor with shaved heads, very absently, dressed with a blanket of cowries and tied on the left shoulder, they hade an endless amount of bracelets made of cowries tied around the ankles and pulses, and brought long cowries oracle necklaces as to imitate cobra scales resembling the ones called the Oxumaré and called Brajá in Brasil. Their faces, hands, and feet liberally covered with red powder, osún.

The atabaques (African drums) beat from time to time and intermittent lively rhythm that inspired some of the attendees to dance for a few moments. Small oil kerosene lamps (fìtílà) gently illuminated the assembly. At midnight they brought a clay cup containing oil on board with cotton wicks and they where lit on while the kerosene lamps where lit off. The assembly sat around and one of the responsible of the cult, started to release substances and leaves on the flames, pronouncing disconcerting words. His hands passed and repassed over the fire, now burning bright, with the burning substances, now hesitating looking extinct, but reviving with new products and leaves, and the audience attentively observing the scenery.

When the flames died out and the darkness was total, the assistants made a long cry and when the small lamps where lit up again the clay cup was no longer in the middle, a relived, and happy air came from everyone.

The ashes from the ceremony were going to be mixed with the beverages, and the ritual baths that where going to be giving to the initiated. The following morning the initiated made the traditional journey to the river and in the beginning of the afternoon, the first reeve was made in public. Their developments were accompanied by their initiators and various Obalúaiye priests who came from the temples of villages near by. The trances were manifested with great gestures of their hands and tipping bodies from the front and back, and with such violence that the elégùn seemed to be about to lose their balance.

Attendees came immediately to protect and embrace their agitated bodies; the trances calmed down and everyone bow in front of the mound of earth covered by the vessel (ajere), short after they started to dance once again. You could see the air from the older ones, in contrast to the concentrated and tense expression of the initiated,

The initiated has a broom called África ilewo (Xaxará in Brazil and Jay in Cuba by the Arará) in their hands the symbol of spreading and cure of the diseases. In Brazil and Cuba, as in Africa Sànpònná, he is cautiously called Obalúaiye or Omolu. Chosen ones whom are consecrated in his name wear two kinds of collars, the “Lagibida” is made by tiny black spinning discs or a brown beaded necklace with black stripes, when the entity appears on one of his chosen, he is greeted by the Atotô cry.

His children dances covered with straw from the coast and their heads are also covered by a hood from the same straw that also covers a great part of their faces. Taken together, they look like small mountains of straws with legs, carrying a xaxará (brooms made by palm leaves) decorated with cowries, beads and small calabash that are supposed to contain remedies. They dance curved to the front as if they where tormented with pain, simulating the cough and the shivers with fever.

It is said in Odù Ogbè Ògúndá that Obalúaiye came to the world of Arará of Dahomey and it is clear the Òdu Ìretè Òbàrà that Obalúaiye was thrown out of his land by the Yorùbás.

Sànpònná, Asojano, Obalúaiye or how you wish to call him, is the full domain of the Dahometanos, a town located in Benin, the place where the secrets of the Asojano deity came from. This deity is known in Cuba as Arará, they are the ones who carried the secret to Cuba with the Arará name and they are also the ones who consecrate Asojano in Arará, this because the person that delivers the deity either has to be consecrated with Asojano in Arará or has to be consecrated in a Arará Voodun. Asojano speaks trough Ifá, he doesn’t speak through the Érìndínlógún oracle. Asojano is like Osányìn adenoids, Ifá is Asojano’s only interpreter and the Babaláwos that are consecrated in Ifá in Arará and handled his ceremonies, are called Bokonos, they where in charge of executing the Itas of the Asojano voodun.

In Dahometana soil Ifá was known as Fá, Òrúnmìlà was also called Afafá and Ifá’s divination gift arrived to them, even though they did not worship Òrìsàs, they worship Voodun. Sònpònná, Asojano or Obalúaiye is considered as the son of Òrànmíyàn and Yemòjá, he was cruel by nature and was often problematic. He once killed a man in a fight, and to punish him, his parents throw him out. He lived in the streets until a man with great medical knowledge took him in, and made him his slave. He later taught Asojano to prepare deadly potions and poisons.

With his new given knowledge, he started to create pour “liquid” in the soil in different parts of the city, which is why many people started to became ill with smallpox. Posing as a doctor hi started to give people hope, that he could cure the epidemic and people started to approach him to ask for his help. Sònpònná cured some of the ones who asked for his help, at the same time that he killed many of them. Obviously he had immunity, and as the other doctors that tried to cure the sick ones, died, he was never affected, that is why he was deified and feared at the same time.

People the dies in smallpox are never buried by ordinary people; there are only the ones whom are devoted by this deity that take care of this task. The family of the deceased has to give a great amount of money to the Sònpònná priest, so that he sends his assistants to take care of the corpse.

Oríkì Obalúaiye
(Praising the King of the hot soil)


Iba Obálúaiye, Asin-mo-l’égbàá-iyanjú, aso – oní – ìkónkò – t i – mbó l’or í –eékú.
Praising the King of the hot soil, we call you by your respectable names

Ibarida f’le mi bun mi ko wo. Ase.
Can the spirit of the hot soil avoid my home


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