“From the god of war to the God of Love”
In a Yoruba religion, ogun is a spirit believed to preside over iron, hunting, politics and war. It is often described as a god of iron, or as a god of war. Wherever his image appears it is often equipped with such items as a machete, a sabre, rum and tobacco…
First of all, I would like to consider the reason behind my interest in the story of ogun. My father comes from the Nigerian tribe called Yoruba. In addition, although today most people know me as Monika Ribeiro – the initial name given to me at birth was Monika Ogunmakin. I had become strongly attached to the surname because it signified connection to my precious Nigerian heritage. On the light side of things, I also appreciated the fact that growing up in Poland my surname sounded rather unique and caused my teachers (unable to pronounce Ogunmakin) to always call me by my first name instead. Hidden within my surname and not just there as it remains to be seen in the latter parts of this article – ogun (unknown to me) used to be a constant companion of mine.
Having done some research upon the discovery of his existence I found ogun to be a highly inconsistent character. Yes, he is believed to be a great warrior, but a great troublemaker as well. The double nature of the god of iron is often vengeful and “nurturing” at the same time. As it appears he nurtures in order to gain control and becomes vengeful when unable to… The idol represents a figure who offers “joy” and “rebirth”, yet at such high costs that his influence is highly destructive rather than constructive.
Nigeria’s past remembers ogun through the likes of Oba Ewuare well known to the history of Benin. Credited with its territorial expansion and praised for his exceptional political intelligence, by some historical reports this rather iconic figure has been strongly linked to the spirit of ogun. Definitely, that was due to his first name (before ascension Oba Ewuare had been known as Prince ogun). Yet, that was not the only reason why the story of Ewuare is often related along the story of ogun (the spirit).
Reportedly, Prince Ogun set his own city ablaze in a vengeful attempt to punish the inhabitants for side-tracking him. He was the first son of his father destined by the tradition to take the crown; yet due to a feisty character the prince was overlooked by the authorities who stood in favour of his younger brother instead. Reportedly, loyal and appreciative (on one side) Prince ogun in the pursuit of kingship did not hesitate to kill his younger sibling. Subsequently, Oba Ewuare did establish the city on the basis of complete sovereignty, which no close or far neighbour was to be able to bring to an end. Well, by the hand of the British his lordship did come to an end causing his efforts to remain unfulfilled forever. Still though, the story of Oba Ewuare serves well in helping one understand the ways of ogun (the idol).
According to some scholars the conceptual existence of ogun is hidden within the dichotomy of human power along with its effects (both beneficial and harmful). On the negative side – it refers specifically to anger at oneself and others. In one of the interviews, a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright Oluwole Soyinka was reported to say, “You must know of course about my fascination with the symbol figure of my society — ogun. He represents this duality of man; the creative, destructive aspect. And I think this is the reality of society, the reality of man, and that one would be foolish not to recognize this.”
Just like Soyinka, I believe ogun to be a “worthy” symbol of the society I live in (the world). On the other hand, having suffered under his patronage I am no longer fascinated by the idol. The sad reality of my “ogun experience” is quite vividly described in one of my poems titled “Retrospection.” Despite the fact that Mr Soyinka focuses on the experience of a society while I share my own, again to some extent I can relate to the following words of the Nobel Prize laureate, “The realism which pervades some of my work… is nothing but a very square, sharp look… I have depicted the depression in the minds…”
I appreciate Mr Soyinka's subsequent suggestion to embrace a retrospective study of our realities, accept our mistakes and then move beyond them by embracing lessons learned. Nevertheless, I find his advice to transcend our reality without moving beyond “ogun” rather incomplete. Mr Soyinka’s poems and other works often refer to his idol with much devotion and adoration. With all due respect, I find no justifiable reason to place any confidence in the god – whether he symbolizes our own human powers, or a spiritual force in question.
Yoruba Myth of Creation…
According to the Yoruba myth of Creation, Obatala (spirit of the Chief) climbed down the chain from Heaven to Earth bringing a rooster, sand and a few odd items to it. Subsequently, as the rooster began scratching the sand, which Obatala poured on the waters – the first land mass was created. Obatala failed to get life on Earth organized. In consequence of his failure ogun was sent to the rescue… According to the myth, Ogun brought with him the mystery of Iron, which enabled him to create cities in the Jungle. Still, ogun’s methodology was not fully effective and Orunmila (spirit of the Grand Priest) had to come to Earth in order to correct ogun’s mistakes.
What is my point, exactly?
Firstly, for the sake of reason it has been established that the ogun” of our human nature can resist neither its tendency to destroy creation, nor the tendency to create destruction. On the other hand, the mythical Ogun failed to fulfil the very first assignment given to him. In conclusion, ogun failed to be the solution.
As much as my own life was once an “Ogun makin’ project”, strong convictions born out of my new found (Christian) faith led me to begin the process of breaking with the spirit of my own powers. Having found the solution beyond the problem (myself) I believe the thorough study of the God of Love to be much more worthwhile and to be chosen over the extensive study of a lesser god… To be“no more god of iron…” and “no more god of war…” is a declaration found in the final part of my previously mentioned poem “Retrospection”. The poem, aside from being a vivid metaphor of my past negative experience conveys the most vital message of complete redemption for the human reality and the human soul.
All in all, my main purpose for writing this article is a hope to help inspire a genuine study of all our “ogun” experiences along with their negative consequences. In my opinion, we would be foolish not to recognize and accept the very fact that unless the reliance on the idol is broken things cannot change for the better… I pray that this time a sharp retrospective look at our past and present realities would be enough to motivate us towards permanently turning our gaze away from the god of iron and towards the God of Love.
Monika Beata Francisco-Ribeiro