Obatala : Orisha of the White Cloth

Obatala, is the chief of the White Cloth, the Orisha who in Yoruba cosmology, first descended from heaven to earth with the tools for making the earth livable for humans. While many experts say that the Yoruba migrated to what is now Nigeria (where they founded the holy city of Ile-Ife) in approximately seven hundred AD, other authorities trace their origins as far back as one thousand BC in the Sudan. But on the other hand, traditional Yoruba religious mythology holds that in primordial times a deity known as Obatala descended from Heaven to a water laden earth, spread a handful of soil that would form the continents, and settled onto a spot that would later be called Ile-Ife. Obeying his mandate from God himself, Obatala molded from clay the very first human beings at that very place. Following his return to heaven, Obatala’s immediate descendants began to maintain a shrine for the very structure in which they themselves were created from-clay, and where God, first gave men and women his greatest gift, the breath of life. Thereafter, members of the family were (and still are) installed as priests, responsible for remembering the intricate and poetic commemorative ceremonies of their ancestor, Obatala, Father of Mankind, the god of creation, perfection, purity, piety, and peace. Some say that the Yoruba people, indeed human existence itself, started in this building in a lowly quarter of Ile-Ife, the spiritual center of the Yoruba World.

Obatala is associated with purity, ethics and humility. 

Obatalá is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatalá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatalá is the source of all that is pure, wise peaceful and compassionate. 

In Ifa, Obatala energy is the essence of Clarity. Within the myriad of kaleidoscopic energies that comprise our universe, the energy of Clarity is critically important. It is Clarity that allows us to make the right decisions, to differentiate right from wrong and perhaps most importantly, to see the other energies as they truly are! All the tales, or pataki, of Obatala, are designed to illuminate this reality.

Obatala is always referred to as The Orisa of the white cloth. White, in this sense, forms a perfect background for correctly seeing and identifying that which is around you. White is also viewed as a sign of purity, but, too often, thanks to the pernicious Christian Missionary influence on the Yoruba philosophy, this idea of purity has religious or moral implications. Instead, purity is another aspect of Clarity for this energy is unblemished, pure in its ability to discern. The moral judgment of Obatala is not based on this sense of Christian purity, but rather on this energies absolute ability to see clearly the total spectrum of energies or issues involved. Obatala is often seen as the Wise Old Man. Again, age and wisdom are simply representative aspects of increased clarity and judgment. Obatala is seen as the King of the Orisa. Again, this is not a power struggle or ego issue, this is simply a way of pointing out that Clarity of purpose, destiny and behavior will always take precedence when confusion or disagreement exists. Obatala is also viewed as the Judge. The Pure clarity must remain clear and unblemished. That Obatala represents the Head is consistent. It is from the mind that Clarity will come forth. Each and every tale is simply a way of expressing Oludumare’s creation of this essential energy the energy of Clarity. For the Obatala child the expression and use of this primary energy is complex. The Obatala child will see a world of black and white. No Gray. To an Obatala child things are either right or wrong there is no middle ground.

 He is also referred to as the orisha of the north. He is always dressed in white, hence the meaning of his name, Obatala (King or ruler of the white cloth). His devotees strive to practice moral correctness as unblemished as his robe. They never worship Obatala with palm wine, palm oil or salt. They may eat palm oil and salt, but never taste palm wine.