Olokun rhie egogo rrel, Rhie emaba rrel Niya gha ga okun mwenl E ni s’ede ehil E avba egbel Ewoe n’ ame
Olokun Incantation Translation
“Olokun bring the bell / Bring the iron rod / That I can use to serve my Olokun / So that I can live as my spirits wish / We have met ourselves / Spirits of the water”.
Olokun God / Goddess of The Sea
Olokun, God / Goddess of the sea is a powerful and benevolent deity who can give children, healing, wealth, riches, and other blessings to worshipers.
One of his praise names is Oba n’ Ame No Se No Rre Oke (The King of the Sea Is Greater Than the King of the Land).
Olokun has a palace of cowries in his kingdom beneath the sea, but the oba (king) of the land does not.
Olokun Worhsip Songs
A popular worship song praises his omnipotence:
A ighigbe oba n’ amel I vba oba n’ ame mwen
“You do not fight the king of the water / I come to meet the king of the water for help”.
Every ritual action performed, every object used, and every image drawn or painted in orhue on the floor of the shrine was a tool for conveying prayer.
Olokun worship is affected by the direction of the sun, time of day, and calendar day. The god is served either in the morning or in the evening as the sun begins to bend in the west.
Worship and divination related to Olokun take place during daylight hours, except for special sacrifices, night dances held during annual festivals (Okpovbie O Ghe Ukpogbe), and the ceremony related to initiation (Na Na Khue Akhue Bo). River ceremonies for him occur on market days in Benin City and environs.
Because messages are customarily sent to the deity as the sun rises or sets, early-morning worship is of paramount importance to a member of the Olokun cult.
Generally, the floor in front of the altar is washed at the beginning of each day. In the morning, before a ceremony begins, a single design or group of orh ue images will be sifted or painted there.
Olokun Prayer And Invocation
During prayer an ohen (priest) may invoke various spirits that operate with Olokun in his palace beneath the sea, calling out their praise names, such as Oba n’ Ame (King of the Water), Eze n’ Unghegbe n’ Ebo (Glittering White River [That Reflects Heaven and Earth] or Adesukhunmwun (Stainless Sky).
As a direct salutation, while praying they may sift four or more parallel vertical lines in orhue on the floor as well as on shrine objects such as bases of water vessels and molded figures.
As the ceremony continues, Olokun can be invoked through the voice of a bell and a salutation song like this one: Okpe egogo ede gbel Okpe emaba ede gbel Okpe ukuse ede gbel Ede gbel Ede gbel Ede Oba gbel Ede Osa gbe (The bell ringer, the day has dawned / The drummer in charge of the drum-maraca, the day has dawned / The maraca player, the day has dawned / The day has dawned / The day has dawned / Oba’s day has dawned/ God’s day has dawned).
Most orhue iconography can be classified as salutatory designs, serving designs, purification designs, or initiation designs.
Since I have already mentioned salutatory designs with an emphasis on ritual functions for Olokun, I offer a concise explanation of the other categories.
Olokun Serving Designs
These are used for invocatory purposes and for offering gifts to the spirit realm, erinmwin. We believe that the heavenly spirits must be fed so that they can carry out their work in the physical world.
When requesting aid, the ohen (priest) usually offers the heart, liver, breast, and left leg or wing of an animal sacrifice to the shrine.
Olokun Purification Designs
The ohen (priest) uses native chalk to make the body spiritually clean, so that his ability to receive clear visions and messages from the spirit realm is not hampered:
Ihonmwen egbe n’ ebo mwen
I purify myself for my shrine.
Without a purified body an ohen (priest) cannot be free to treat ill clients and select or prepare medicinal substances.
An ohen (priest) leads a disciplined life in which many taboos must be observed.
These vary with particular specialties of worship. When taboos are violated, by necessity or accident, purification may be necessary.
In addition, routine purification is a necessary aspect of anohen’s existence. It is typically carried out before traveling and before leaving the house to mix with other people, to collect medicinal substances, or to visit patients.
It is also performed after visiting with clients, after bathing, and at the end of an illness or menstruation. Dancing on a worship day or entering the shrine during a ceremonial day necessitates prior cleansing rites, as does the initiation of an ohen or novice into the Olokun cult.
Olokun Ritual Materials
The materials used in conjunction with purification prayers vary according to the complexity of the ritual.
In routine situations an ohen (priest) passes one alligator pepper seed in a circle over the head and then discards it.
At the end of the ritual, after chewing seven of these seeds, the priest sprays himself with the chewed seeds and saliva.
Olokun Powerful Incantation
An incantation like this one might be used:
Orhanl Obo kasal Owe kasa
“Freedom to clear oneself from taboos / To unite the hands to be active and free again / To unite the legs to be active and free again / To unite or unbind oneself from an unclean body.”
When the ohen (priest) is delivering a child, carrying out an initiation, or treating an illness that puts him at risk, the cleansing procedure becomes more involved.
Because its style is specific to each ohen, whose interpretation has been shaped primarily by those who initiated him, the following description should be regarded simply as one example of these rites.
The ohen (priest) draws a row of seven circles in native chalk in an open space outside facing either east or west- toward the sun. Between seven and fourteen cowries and sometimes coins are placed randomly within the designs.
As the ohen (priest) prays, he waves in circles overhead a stick of palm broom on which the shell of an egg (ehon okhokho) from a local breed of chicken has been placed.
The ohen priest continues this motion with the shell and stick as he walks or spins on one foot through each circle.
This action is repeated seven times as the ohen (priest) walks back and forth through the design, switching the stick between the right and left hand as his movements change direction. Then he faces the sun and blows impurities off the shell and stick.
Next, a one-day-old white chick (ovbi okhokho uko) is tied to afo and ikhinmwin leaves. Rotating this bundle over his head, the priest continues to walk through the design.
The chick is subsequently slaughtered, and the ohen smears its blood on his face and body: from the left to the right eye, then from the center of the forehead to the base of the neck, and on the ears, breast, navel, wrists, and ankles. The remains of the chick are thrown between the ohen’s spread legs from behind and then discarded.
Finally a few coins and large sacrificial cowries are added to a thin solution of chalk, wood ash, and water called Emuen O Gbe Awua (Ashes Kill Taboo).
The priest applies this solution to the body with afo leaves formed into a sponge shape, wiping the eyes from left to right, and sprinkling the head, body, hands, and legs.
In the last phase of this ritual, the ohen faces the sun, jumps, and sprays himself with seven alligator pepper seeds he has been chewing. The taboos are thereby released from his body. Afterwards the water is tossed from behind through the legs of the ohen, who always faces the sun.
Any cowries or coins that touch his legs or feet are kept as gifts for the shrine. In some instances an ohen may call on a colleague to assist in purification rites of this type.
Olokun Initiation Designs
Designs that appear in Olokun initiation for the priesthood function slightly differently from those used on other occasions: they identify the particular shrine in which the rituals associated with the initiation of a priest are occurring.
Usually a member of the initiating team of ohen (priest) is appointed to draw a series of floor designs for fourteen consecutive mornings in several locations including in front of the door of the celebrants’ room, the bath house, the house, and the shrine of the ohen (priest) in charge of the initiation.
Through these drawings, Olokun and associated spirits are constantly being invited into the shrine.
It is conventional practice to depict objects that are essential in worship, along with wave-like patterns and water imagery.
In the beginning rites of initiation into Olokun, the purification design involves fourteen chalk circles instead of seven.
They are drawn in two parallel rows, forming a channel between them through which the novice walks back and forth.
At the end of the ritual, the afo and ikhinmwin leaves, tied to a chick, are
swept around the feet of the novice while he stands in the middle of the channel.
Afterwards he jumps and spits out chewed alligator pepper seeds and sprays saliva.
The priest, standing back to back with the novice, throws the leaves through the novice’s legs while the latter straddles the design.
igha-ede is composed of two intersecting lines that form a cross. The cross may be circled at the end points and at the intersection that divides the design into four sections. Four is an important number.
The space between earth and heaven is said to be divided by four pillars: Ikadele enene (ene) no da agbon yi.
Olokun worship requires the use of quartered kola nuts in prayer and sacrifice, and the sections are offered in pairs, either two or four at a time. They are also a tool in divination.
When the kola is split into four along natural lines, the faces will fall either up or down, resulting in two pairs of male and female sections, according to tradition.
How they fall determines whether the reading is positive or negative. The number four is also of great significance in daily life.
For example, the Edo week is divided into four days, and each day into four sections: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. In the traditional kitchen, cooking pots are set on four stones or four molded sand supports.
The igha-ede design represents a crossroads or junction, duality in nature, and the balance between positive and negative elements in the face of constant change.
Spirits congregate at junctions to either bless humans or tempt them into wrong doing or misfortune.
“Uhien, avbe ada mwen aro” (Even the junctions have eyes).
A simple cross configuration may symbolize the intersection of the earthly and otherworldly realms.
A person who stands in the center of the image can “cross over” and speak in erinmwin.
Through igha-ede, one can send the spirits messages as well as gifts of food and drink.
Those suffering from illness may be treated with special bathing preparations while standing at the intersection of the design and requesting aid.
Igha-ede can also deliver a message from Olokun to the ohen (priest) who owns the shrine in which the design operates.
An expression commonly recited in prayer refers to directional points:
Ekpen vbe orie laho, ghegun mwen deyu unu agbon
“East and West, I beg you; do not let me fall into the mouth of the world.”
In other words the priest is asking the spirits to keep him (or his client) from falling into the hands of enemies.
The concept of directions and their implied intersection, and of the division into physical and spiritual realms, is evident in various rituals.
While in trance, a priest may salute all spirits present in all corners of the world by offering them ground orhue.
He may dance to the perimeters of the compound beyond the shrine and blow orhue from his palm or fan to the north, south, east, and west.
Therefore, just as igha-ede indicates the division of physical space, it can also divide psychic space that is spiritually charged.
In order to improve one’s condition, one must offer Olokun sacrificial gifts revealed through divination.
In a group situation, however, the ohen may use his rattle staff (ukhurhe), which is usually carved with decorative patterns, to drive evils from the heads of celebrants and to appeal to the spirits until appropriate sacrificial offerings can be made.
The officiating priest may call for his ukhurhe during an Ugie (weekly ceremony) and recite:
Esell ghi lele mwenl Lele mwen omol
Eseghi lele mwen Ese ghi lele uwal Lele uwa
omo oool Ese ghi lele uwa
“Sacrifices won’t follow me/ Won’t follow my child/ Sacrifices won’t follow you all / Won’t follow your children / Sacrifices won’t follow you all.”
While the priest asks the spirits to protect all those present, he passes the ukhurhe in a circular movement over the heads of the participants as they bend
Afterwards the ohen walks to the nearest junction and blows the impurities off the staff. While dancing the ohen (priest) may request that a drink be served to the spirits present.
He passes a glass filled with gin over the heads of those in attendance and pours it on the ground at the nearest crossroads. The following song precedes this:
Okun mwen d’ayonl Daghorome, Daghorome dal Gha dal Gha da, akudal Gha da, gha da, akudal Ayon ma gbe erha mwenl Ayon ma gbe iye mwenl Gha da, gha dal Ideghe deghe ghi gbe okhuael Amen n ukpaho ghi le okhiokhi
“My Olokun, come and drink this wine for me / Be drinking, be drinking, be drunker/ Be drinking, be drinking, be drinking, be drunker / Wine did not kill my mother / Wine did not kill my father / Be drinking, be drinking; Nothing happens to a basket suspended in air / Water for washing hands is floating in circles”.