Friday, July 11, 2014

African Orisha: Shango

In the Yorùbá religion, (also spelled, Sango, Shango, often known as Xangô or Changó in Latin America and the Caribbean, and also known as Jakuta) (from '=shan, 'to strike') is perhaps one of the most popular Orisha; also known as the god of fire, lightning and thunder. Shango is historically a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as he was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom prior to his posthumous deification. In the Lukumí (Olokun mi = "my dear one") religion of the Caribbean, Shango is considered the center point of the religion as he represents the Oyo people of West Africa, the symbolic ancestors of the adherents of the faith. All the major initiation ceremonies (as performed in Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico and Venezuela for the last few hundred years) are based on the traditional Shango ceremony of Ancient Oyo. This ceremony survived the Middle Passage and is considered to be the most complete to have arrived on Western shores. This variation of the Yoruba initiation ceremony became the basis of all Orisha initiations in the West.

Following Oduduwa, Oranyan and Ajaka, Sango (or Jakuta) was the third Alafin (king) of Oyo. In Professor Mason's mythological account of heroes and kings, contrary to his peaceful brother Ajaka, he was a powerful and even violent ruler. Moreover, he is said to have had supernatural forces because he could produce thunder and lightning. He reigned for seven years, the whole of which period was marked by his continuous campaigns and his many battles. The end of his reign resulted from his own inadvertent destruction of his palace by lightning. During his lifetime, He was married to three wives namely Osun, Oba and Oya. Oya (who is his favorite) was a mystical creature who can transform into human form although is basically an animal.

The religious ritual of Shango was possibly designed in order to help the devotees of Shango gain self-control. Shango's beads tell the story of "his" essence, the logic of Obatala (white) alternating in balance with the fire of Aganju (red) in passion towards some goal. Historically, Shango brought prosperity to the Oyo Empire during his reign. After his deification, the initiation ceremony of the cult of his memory dictates that this same prosperity be bestowed upon followers, on a personal level. According to Yoruba and Vodou belief systems, Shango hurls bolts of lightning at the people chosen to be his followers, leaving behind imprints of stone axe blades on the Earth's crust. These blades can be seen easily after heavy rains. Veneration of Shango enables—according to Yoruba belief—a great deal of power and self-control.

Shango altars often contain an often-seen carved figure of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to the god with a single double-blade axe sticking up from her head. The axe symbolizes that this devotee is possessed by Shango. The woman's expression is calm and cool, expressing the qualities she has gained through her faith.

An oshe shango, or dance wand, is carried by devotees at the annual festival for Shango.

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