In Yoruba mythology, the creation story centers around the supreme being, Olodumare, who is the creator of the universe and all living things. According to Yoruba belief, Olodumare created the earth and the sky and placed the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky. Olodumare also created a number of other deities, known as orishas, who were responsible for various aspects of the natural world and human life.
One of the most well-known creation stories in Yoruba mythology is the story of Obatala, the orisha of creation and wisdom. According to the story, Obatala was sent by Olodumare to create the earth and all living things. Obatala used a snail shell filled with sand and water to create the earth, and he used his breath to create plants and animals. Obatala also created humans, giving them the gift of life and the ability to think and reason.
The Yoruba creation story is an important part of Yoruba culture and is passed down through oral tradition. It is often told through stories, songs, and dance, and it serves as a way to explain the origins of the world and the place of humans within it.
In the beginning the universe consisted only of the sky above, the water and wild marshland below. Olorun, the god who possessed the most power and the greatest knowledge, ruled the sky, while the goddess Olokun ruled the endless waters and wild marshes. Olokun was contented with her kingdom, even though it contained neither vegetation, animals or human beings.
However, there is a young god known as Obatala who was not satisfied. As he looked down from the sky, he said to himself, "The world below needs something of interest! Everything is water-soaked, and not one living thing enlivens the area! I must talk with Olorun and see what can be done to improve the situation." Obatala said to Olorun, "Poor Olokun rules nothing but marshland, mist, and water! What she needs in her kingdom are mountains and valleys, forests and fields. All kinds of creatures and plants could live on that solid land."
Olorun granted Obatala request to create the universe(solid lands). So Obatala went to the house of Orunmila, the oldest son of Olorun, who had the gift of prophecy. Orunmila understood the secrets of existence, including fate and the future. Obatala said to Orunmila, "Your father has given me permission to create solid land where now nothing exists except endless water and wild marshland. With your superior knowledge, you can teach me how to begin my project. I want to populate the earth with living beings who will be able to raise crops and build villages."
Orunmila replied, "First, Obatala, you must acquire a chain of gold long enough to reach from the sky above to the waters below. Then you must fill a snail's shell with sand. Finally, you must place that shell, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut in a bag and carry them with you as you climb down the chain to the wild marshland. That is how I advise you to begin your project."
So there was a need for a chain, Obatala approached a goldsmith who said, to him, "I will make you a chain of the length you need if you can get the gold, I will create the chain, I do not think you will find enough gold in the sky, but ask each of the gods for whatever gold he or she possesses, and you may succeed. I wish you well!" Obatala approached the gods one by one. To each god he said, "I plan to create solid land where now there is nothing except water and wild marshland. Then I will create all sorts of plants and creatures to live on that land. Before I can begin, I need the goldsmith to make me a chain that will stretch from the sky above to the waters below. Will you contribute whatever gold you possess?" The gods were sympathetic to Obatala's cause. They gave him their gold: necklaces, bracelets, rings, and even gold dust. The goldsmith examined the gold Obatala had collected and said, "Can you not find more gold? This will not be enough!" "It is the best I can do," Obatala replied. "I have asked every god in the sky, and each has given me whatever he or she owned. Make as long a chain as you can, with a hook at one end."
When the chain was ready, Orunmila accompanied Obatala while he hooked one end of the chain to the edge of the sky and lowered the rest of it toward the waters far below. Orunmila gave Obatala the sand-filled snail's shell, the white hen, the black cat, and the palm nut. One by one, Obatala put them into a bag, which he slung over his shoulder. Then he said farewell to Orunmila and began to climb down the golden chain. Obatala climbed lower and lower and lower. When he was only halfway down, he saw that he was leaving the world of light and entering the world of twilight. Again he climbed lower and lower and lower. As he reached the end of the chain, he could feel the mist rising cool and wet upon him and hear the splashing of the waves as they crashed upon the sea. But he could see that he was still far above the ocean. 'I cannot jump from here," he thought. "The distance is so great, I will drown!"
From the sky above, Orunmila calls out to Obatala, and tells him to dump the sand onto the Earth and drop the hen. The hen scratches at the sand, spreading it around and forming the first solid land on Earth.
Obatala lets go of the chain and falls to earth, naming the place where he landed “Ife.” He plants the palm nut, which immediately sprouts into a palm tree.
Now the creation of Ile-Ife started. Obatala begins to make clay figures in the likeness of himself. He walked with pleasure upon the solid land that he had created. The earth now extended further in all directions than his eyes could see. It was still completely devoid of life, but it was a beginning. Obatala dug a hole in the dry land and buried his palm nut in the soil. Immediately, a palm tree emerged and grew to its full height. The mature tree dropped its nuts upon the land, and they also quickly grew to maturity.
Obatala built himself a house of bark and thatched the roof with palm leaves. He then set tied down in Ife with his black cat for company.
The humans created by Obatala come together to form the first Yoruba Village in Ife. Obatala returns to the sky–thereafter, he splits his time between Ife and his home in the sky. The gods never gets tired of hearing Obatala describe the city that he had created on earth. Many of them were so fascinated with what they heard about lfe that they decided to leave their sky homes and live among the human beings on earth.
Not every god, was pleased with Obatala's success on lfe. Obatala had not consulted the goddess Olokun, ruler of the sea, when he had created solid earth and a Yoruba city in her kingdom.
Obatala’s kingdom of Ife was created without Olokun’s permission. As such, Olokun becomes very angry. She sends a great flood to destroy Obatala’s kingdom. The flood destroys most of Obatala’s kingdom. The humans who survived the flood sent eshu, the messenger god, to Olorun and Obatala, asking for help. Orunmila goes to Earth, causing the waters to retreat.
Olokun challenges Olorun to a weaving contest. Knowing that he cannot beat Olokun, Olorun devises a plan to accept the challenge, without actually participating. He sends a chameleon to judge Olokun's skill; every time Olokun weaves a new cloth, the chameleon mimics the fabric. Olokun accepts her defeat.
She said to the chameleon, "Tell your master that the ruler of the sea sends her greetings to the ruler of the sky. Tell him that I acknowledge his superiority in weaving and in all other pursuits as well. Olorun is indeed the greatest of the gods!" So it came to pass that peace returned between the ruler of the sky and the ruler of the sea, and that peace restored order in the universe.