Oba (goddess)

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For other uses, see Oba (disambiguation).

In Yoruba mythology, Ọba or Obbá is the Orisha of the River Ọba, whose source lies near Igbon, where her worship originates.[1] During the wars of the 19th century, her centers of worship moved to the more secure town Ogbomosho.[2] She is traditionally identified as the first wife of Shango (the third king of the Oyo Empire and the Orisha of thunder and lightning) and to have fallen victim to one of her scheming junior co-wives. Oba was tricked by Oya or Oshun into cutting off her ear and trying to feed it to Shango.[3]

Worship in Ogbomosho[edit]

At her center of worship in Ogbomosho, Ọba is described as the wife of Ajagún and is praised as "Ọba, who owns parrot tail feathers and fights on the left".[4] While her worshipers agree that she was once married to Shango, they say that she left him in favor of Ajagún.

Myths of Ọba's Ear[edit]

Ọba's humiliation by a rival co-wife is one of the most well-known tales associated with this Orisha. While William Bascom's study identified several unusual variations of it, the most popular myth found in West Africa, Brazil, and Cuba has Ọba cutting off her ear to serve to her husband Shango as food, because one of her co-wives (most often Oshun) has convinced her this will secure Shango's attention. Once Shango sees the ear and realizes Ọba has mutilated herself, he chases her from his house and into permanent exile. Bascom notes that though this story is known in many parts of Yoruba country, it was not recognized by her priest in Ogbomosho.[5]

There are a few variations of the myth in Cuba where Oya rather than Oshun tricks Ọba. Another Cuban variation excludes the wifely rivalry entirely, explaining Ọba's self-mutilation of both ears as an effort to feed Shango after they run out of goat and he is in need of food for his struggle against Ogun.[6] By comparison, in the verses of West African Ifa, we find the story inverted somewhat. Ọba cuts off her ear at the advice of Ifa and the measure successfully ties Shango to Ọba, until Orunmila himself steals Ọba from Shango.[7]

Relationship to Other Orisha[edit]

Cuban Santeria[edit]

González-Wippler, in her study of Cuban Santeria, describes her as the daughter of Yemaja and one of the consorts of Shango. She is said to have given her husband her ear to eat, an event which led to her eventual flight from his presence. Grieving, she became the Obba river which intersects with the Osun river (Osun was another wife of Shango and is believed to have been the one who tricked her into the giving of the ear) at turbulent rapids, a symbol of the rivalry between the two wives.[8] The Obba River flows through Iwo, that is why the Iwo people are called the children of the River Obbá (Iwo Olodo Obá).

Osun's betrayal notwithstanding, the real rivalry in the royal household was apparently between Oba and her husband's third wife, Oya. Obbá was the only wife of Shango who could birth imperial heirs, a fact which is cited as the root cause of the virulent anger of the other wives.


  1. ^ Bascom 1976: 154
  2. ^ Bascom 1976: 153-54
  3. ^ Bascom 1976; Brown 2003; González-Wippler 1994
  4. ^ Bascom 1976: 154
  5. ^ Bascom 1976: 154
  6. ^ Bascom 1976: 151-52
  7. ^ Bascom 1976: 156-60
  8. ^ González-Wippler 1994


  • Bascom, William. "Ọba's Ear: A Yoruba Myth in Cuba and Brazil" in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 149–165.
  • Brown, David H. 2003. Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • González-Wippler, Migene. Santeria: The Religion. Llewellyn: 1994.