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This carved wooden statue of Sopona was one of approximately 50 created by a traditional healer as commemorative objects for the CDC, WHO, and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication. It is adorned with layers of meaningful objects such as monkey skulls, cowrie shells, and nails.

Sopona (or Shapona) is the god of smallpox in the Yoruba religion.[1]

The Yoruba people of Nigeria believed that smallpox was a disease foisted upon humans due to Shapona’s “divine displeasure”, and formal worship of the God of Smallpox was highly controlled by specific priests in charge of shrines to the God. People believed that if the priests were angered they were capable of causing smallpox outbreaks through their intimate relationship with Shapona.[2]

Dr. Oguntola Sapara suspected that the priests were deliberately spreading the disease, and surreptitiously joined the cult. He discovered that the priests were causing the disease through applying scrapings of the skin rash of smallpox cases. Based on this information, the British colonial rulers banned the worship of Shapona in 1907.[3] Worship continued, however, with the faithful paying homage to the God even after such activities were prohibited.[2]

Shapona was exported to the New World in the slave trade, where he became known as Omolu or Babalu Aye in the Orisha religion.[4] Shakpana is an equivalent in Dahomey mythology.


  1. Henderson, D. A.; Preston, Richard (23 June 2009), Smallpox- the Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer (1st ed.), Prometheus Books, p. 32, ISBN 1591027225, 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hopkins DR (2002). The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in history. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-35168-8.  Originally published as Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History (1983), ISBN 0-226-35177-7
  3. "In Nigeria". British Medical Journal: 881. Oct 13, 1956. 
  4. "JAMA -- The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History, March 5, 2003, Wear 289 (9): 1171". Retrieved 2010-02-10. 


  • Bader, Richard-Ernst: Sopono, Pocken und Pockengottkult der Yoruba. Erster Teil. Medizinhistorisches Journal 20 (1985) 363-390 (German)
  • Bader, Richard-Ernst: Sopono, Pocken und Pockengottkult der Yoruba. Zweiter Teil. Medizinhistorisches Journal 21 (1986) 31-91 (German)

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