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In the Yorùbá religion, Sàngó ( also spelled, Sango or Shango, often known as Xangô or Changó in Latin America and the Caribbean, and also known as Jakuta[1]) is perhaps one of the most popular Orisha; also known as the divinity of thunder and lightning, Sango is historically a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom prior to his post-humous deification. In the Lukumí (Olokun mi = "my dear one") religion of the Caribbean, Shango is considered the center point of the religion as he represents the Oyo people of West Africa, the symbolic ancestors of the adherents of the faith. All the major initiation ceremonies (as performed in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela for the last few hundred years) are based on the traditional Shango ceremony of Ancient Oyo. This ceremony survived the Middle Passage and is considered to be the most complete to have arrived on Western shores. This variation of the Yoruba initiation ceremony became the basis of all Orisha initiations in the West

Historical Sàngó

Shango (or Jakuta)[2] was the third Alafin(king) of Oyo[1].

The king is a major character in the divination literature of the Lukumi religion. Stories about Shango's life exemplify some major themes regarding the nature of character and destiny. In one set of stories, Shango is the son of Aganju and Obatala when in female form. As the story goes, Obatala, the king of the white cloth was travelling and had to cross a river. Aganju, the ferryman and Undergod of fire, refused him passage. Obatala retreated and turned himself into a beautiful woman. He returned to the river and traded his/her body for passage. Shango was the result of this unusual union. The tension between reason represented by Obatala and fire represented by Aganju would form the foundation of Shango's particular character and nature. In further patakis or stories of the faith, we find that Shango goes in search of Aganju, his father, and the two of them play out a drama of conflict and resolution that culminates with Shango throwing himself into the fire to prove his lineage. All of the stories regarding Shango tend to revolve around dramatic events such as this one. He has three wives; his favorite (because of her excellent cooking) is Oshun, a river Undergoddess. His other wife, Oba, another river spirit, was conned by Oshun into offering their husband her ear to eat. His anger was greatly kindled by this, and she is said to have fled from his presence to subsequently become the Oba River, which merges with the Oshun River to form dangerous rapids that are believed to be the physical manifestation of her life-long hatred for her fellow royal consort. Lastly, Oya was Shango's third wife, and was the one out of the three who managed to learn the secrets of his special powers to use in later life.

Another Sango pataki from Yorubaland goes like this; Sango was an Alaafin, ruling as king in Oyo. He learnt the some of the secrets of his special abilities from the Ibariba, his mother's people. He came back to Oyo and amazed with his ability to make fire come out of his mouth. He thus ruled with fear of his special powers. He had two war generals, Timi and Gbonka. Timi Agbale Olofa-ina could shoot arrows of fire. Gbonka was equally powerful. Alaafin Sango sensed that he was not safe with these two powerful generals and tried to set them against each other. He sent Gbonka to Ede, another town in Yorubaland, to capture Timi. Gbonka was immune to Timi's fire arrows, because he also mastered the secrets of fire, and put Timi to sleep by chanting incantations. He brought Timi back to Oyo. Sango insisted they fight again in the public square. Gbonka repeated his feat, was again victorious and cut Timi's head off. Gbonka then asked to be burned alive. He was burnt to ashes, and miraculously re-appeared on the third day. Gbonka then gave Sango the ultimatum to leave town for his infidelity. Sango is then said to have sadly left town and committed suicide on the Ayan tree in a place called Koso. His followers quickly rallied and declared defiantly that the king did not commit suicide, rendered in the Yoruba language as "Oba ko so". They then attacked anybody who said otherwise with the lightning that they had been allowed to wield by the death of their lord. That is why anyone killed by lightning in Yorubaland is buried by the members of the Royal Cult of Sango, whose members are typically referred to as Baba-mogba. As a tacit acknowledgement of the propaganda that is ascribed to the cultists, one of the late king's praise names is Olukoso- the one who did not hang.

The earlier story of Shango and Oba, meanwhile, seems to be the tribe's way of saying "one must be wary of dark counsel". As we have already said, Shango had three wives, Oba, his first and, in a traditional sense, legitimate wife, Oshun, his second wife, and Oya, his concubine and the only one of his wives that he made his princess consort. At that time they are said to have lived in a compound. In that compound, Shango had his own house and each wife had her own house surrounding his. He would then visit his wives in their houses to eat and to sleep with them. Oba went to Oshun one day and asked her how she kept Shango so happy. Oshun, being asked this, is said to have been filled with resentment. As children of the first wife, Oba's children would inherit Shango's kingdom. Her children would not have nearly the same status, being birthed by his concubine. She then decided to play a trick on Oba, out of jealousy. She told Oba that many years ago, she had cut a small piece of her ear off and dried it. From this she made a powder which she sprinkled on Shango's food from that moment on. As he ate it, she told Oba, Shango would desire the food and Oshun all the more. Oba, excited by this information, ran home to prepare Shango's amala, his favorite meal. Once it was done, she decided that if a little piece of Oshun's ear produced such an effect, her whole ear would drive Shango mad with desire for her and he would forget Oshun forever. She sliced off her ear and stirred it into Shango's food. When Shango came to eat, he sat down and began eating without looking at his dish. When he finally glanced down, he saw an ear floating in the stew. Shango, thinking Oba was trying to poison him, drove her from his house. Oba ran from the compound, crying, and fell to the ground to become a river, where she is still venerated today. As an Orisha, she is the patron of matrimony and is said to destroy any marriage that abuses either partner.

Orisa Veneration

Orisa(s) are venerated as incarnate natural forces; spirits which represent conduits of Olódùmarè's energy expressing itself in the Universe. Like the colors of the spectrum, each Orisha rules over a certain aspect, or level of life. Together they unite as one singular expression, that is Olódùmarè

It is said that some of the Orisa are ancient, created as far back as the "beginning of time" . Orisa are thought to be both divinities and immortalized ancestors of Yorubaland. Sango fits both of these descriptions, for he is not only regarded as the divinity that embodies the essence of thunder and lightning, but is also regarded as a personal dema deity of the Oyo Empire.

Veneration of Shango

The religious ritual of Shango was possibly designed in order to help the devotees of Shango gain self-control. Shango's beads tell the story of "his" essence, the logic of Obatala (white) alternating in balance with the fire of Aganyu (red) in passion towards some goal. Historically, Shango brought prosperity to the Oyo Empire during his reign[2]. After his deification, the initiation ceremony of the cult of his memory dictates that this same prosperity be bestowed upon followers, on a personal level. According to Yoruba and Vodou belief systems, Shango hurls bolts of lightning at the people chosen to be his followers, leaving behind imprints of stone axe blades on the Earth's crust. These blades can be seen easily after heavy rains. Veneration of Shango enables—according to Yoruba belief—a great deal of power and self-control.

Shango altars often contain an often-seen carved figure of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to the god with a single double-blade axe sticking up from her head. The axe symbolizes that this devotee is possessed by Shango. The woman's expression is calm and cool, expressing the qualities she has gained through her faith.[3][4]

Veneration in different cultures

Shango is venerated in Haitian Vodou, as a god of thunder and weather; in Brazilian Candomblé Ketu (under the name Xangô)[1]; in Umbanda, as the very powerful loa Nago Shango; in Trinidad as Shango god of Thunder, drumming and dance ; and in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela - the Santeria equivalent of St. Barbara,[5] a traditional colonial disguise for the Deity known as Changó.

In art, Sango is depicted with a double-axe[6][4] on his three heads. He is associated with the holy animal, the ram, and the holy colors of red and white.

Jakuta distinct from Shango

According to R.E. Dennett, Norma H. Wolff, A.B. Ellis and W. Michael Warren: "The Yoruba have confused Jakuta with Shango ..., but there is in reality a difference between Jakuta ... and Shango ... . ... Jakuta as the thrower of stones ... is rather the thunderbolt than the lightning ... . He is likened at times to the east wind, the cause of the coming of the thunderstorm".[7] "Shango usurped the duties of an older deity, Jakuta, who hurled fire stones to punish people when they acted against the wishes of Olodumare, the Supreme God".[8] The name "Jakuta, "Hurler of stones," or "Fighter with stones" (Ja to hurl from aloft, ... and okuta, stone)" is an allusion to "stone implements ... believed to be his thunderbolts." Jakuta was "associated with a fellowship of meteorites".[9]

See also

  • Santería - Caribbean-originating belief system that combines Catholicism with Yoruba religion
  • Saint Barbara - Catholic saint used as representation Shango in Santería.
  • Shango Baptist - Trinidad and Tobago originating belief system that combines Orisha worship with Christianity
  • Shango - A member of the Orisha Pantheon published by DC Comics.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bascom, William Russell (1980). Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World. Indiana University Press. pp. 44. ISBN 0253208475. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lum, Kenneth Anthony (2000). Praising His Name in the Dance. Routledge. pp. 231. ISBN 9057026104. 
  3. Charles Spencer King.,"Nature's Ancient Religion" ISBN 978-1440417337
  4. 4.0 4.1 Visona, Monica B., Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, Michael D. Harris, Suzanne P. Blier, and Rowland Abiodun. A History of Art in Africa. New York: Prentice Hall, Inc. and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001. p. 253
  5. Shango syncretism -
  6. Drewal, Henry John & Pemberton, John III. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. The Center for African Arts in association with Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1989. p. 13
  7. R. E. Dennett : Nigerian Studies, or the Religious and Political System of the Yoruba. Macmillan & Co., London. p. 64
  8. Norma H. Wolff and W. Michael Warren : "The Agbeni Shango Shrine in Ibadan", p. 36b. In :- AFRICAN ARTS, vol. 31, no. 3 (Summer 1998), pp. 36-49
  9. Luis Nicolau Parés : "Shango in Afro-Brazilian Religion", p. 21, fn. 3. In :- RELIGIONI E SOCIETÀ, vol. 54 (2006), pp. 20-39

Further reading

  • Joel E. Tishken, Tóyìn Fálọlá, and Akíntúndéí Akínyẹmí (eds), Sàngó in Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009).

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