From a plateau of granite rock mountains with deep canyons and valleys, out of the dense forest and rolling grasslands of the southeastern Guinea Highlands, flows the great Niger River, the third longest river in Africa. In Nigeria, the river leaves much of its waters in the Niger Delta, a massive area that covers over 70,000 km (approx. 43,500 square miles). The Niger then journeys on to the Atlantic Ocean. Far beneath this mass of waters is the realm of Oya (also called Iansan), the underworld goddess of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
The culture of the Yoruba people is rich in mythology and folklore. They believe that to keep their oral and philosophical culture alive is of the utmost importance, for the philosophy of the mind is what leads them to religion and ultimately to their spirituality. Oduduwa, believed by the people to be the ancestor of their kings, was a philosopher as well as a deity. He defined the proper behavior, culture and manners by being the epitome of those traits. He is seen as the Bringer of Light. Oduduwa is an Orisha, which is a manifestation of Olodumare (God).
Oya, like Oduduwa, is also an Orisha. She is a warrior and the spirit of the wind.
Oya is also the spirit of lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and destruction. Yet from the chaos of destruction comes change and transition which she is the spirit of as well. She guides and assists those in transition, especially when in passage from life to death.
Oya, as the goddess of the underworld, stands in wait at the gates of cemeteries to help the spirits of those who have died go forth along their spiritual journey to another realm. Oya, as the female warrior of the Yoruba pantheon is the representation of the power of femininity -- yet the female to Oya is not the weaker of the sexes, for she is symbolic of the strength, courage and independence of women. When she is invoked, she shows her assertiveness and feminine powers. When changes are to come she dances and the swirling of her skirts of all colors is like the winds of the tornadoes and hurricanes she calls.
The mighty Niger River flows with time (life), is in constant change (chaos), flows to it's destination (death) till it reaches the ocean (passage) and goes on to other waters (spirit). Oya is the river, the goddess of chaos, death, passage to spiritual realms. The Niger River has nine tributaries and Oya is the Mother of Nine.
Oya carries a sharp machete which she uses to cut through stagnation, as the force of the waters will cut through whatever in in its path thereby making room for new growth. Being the spirit of the wind she carries the dead to the otherworld. Oya's spirituality and task as a goddess of death is a message to us to flow with our destiny, embrace any change that fate hands us and to reach the end of our journey with the knowledge that we kept on our true path in life.
As the wind, Oya is the first breath of each soul born into this world, and the last breath taken.
Image Credits: Oya-Iansan, Mother Of Nine