Posts Tagged ‘Androgynous’



Olokun is the sea Goddess of Lagos, Nigeria.  She is a part of Yoruba Religion of West Africa. Her Famous name outside of Lagos is Yemaya (Yemoja).  She is an Orisha,  an intermediary between the humankind and the Deity. Yemaya-Olokun is described as mother of waters , she is the guardian of women and her influence is located in the womb and in the breasts of pregnant women.

  The Name of Olokun means owner of the sea, the supreme governor of the lives in it (and also the drowned). She lives at the abbeys and described as female dressed in white garment and big white hat. She holds the wisdom and wealth of the sea and also the unknown mysteries of the depths. She reveals in the dreams and visions of the fishermen and the sailors. That is why she is considered as a mediator between life and death, sky and earth.

  The Yoruba people  believes that leaving an offerings for Olokun near the sea shore will influence them and comfort them in any case of pain, poverty, illness and sorrow. Olokun is also  described as a big mother who takes care of her children, and do not abandon them in conditions of  grief and mourn.

  Olokun's Festival is celebrated at Lagos every year during the first days of November. Where there is a big march of people whom is dressed as Olokun with her white gown and big hat and with their faces concealed beneath a white prayer shawl.

  There are vast cults of sea goddesses on the both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It is notable that In Cuba, and in Trinidad-Tobego there are similar believes and rituals for Oloc'un (Same goddess but different spelling, Olokun in Latin America is written with a C  and not with a K). apparently, Nigerian slaves that were brought to Amrica  had continued the cults of their ancestors on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, There are variety of sea goddesses' Carnivals at Cuba, Brazil and Trinidad, with many similarities to the divination of Olokun of Lagos. It is notable that in the Mythology of Latin America the sea Goddess does not described as a white lady but as a black mermaid. Another difference is the fact that the followers of Santeria religion imagine Olokun as androgynous, both male and female.

The Nigerian Poet ,John Pepper Clarck, wrote in 1961,an intriguing poem about Olokun. It is read as follows:


I love to pass my fingers,

As tide through weeds of the sea

And wind the tall fern-fronds

Through the strands of your hair

Dark as night that screens the naked moon:


I'm Jealous and passionate

Like Jehovah, God of the Jews,

And I would that you realize

No greater love had woman

From man than the one I have for you!


But what wakeful eyes of man,

Made of the mud of this earth,

Can stare at the touch of sleep

The sable vehicle of dream

Which indeed is the look of your eyes?


So drunken, like ancient walls

We crumble in heaps at your feet;

And as the good maid of the sea,

Full of rich bounties for men,

You lift us all baggers to your breast.


[John Pepper Clarck, 'Olokun', Modern Poetry from Africa, Edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier, Penguin Books: Baltimore 1963, page 111]  


   The comparison between the poet's longings for Olokun and The Jewish God, Jehovah, is most surprising and unexpected. How can we Understand this comparison? The Most influential biblical love song, The Song of Songs, was often interpreted  that the Male-lover is God, and the female-lover is Sekhinah, a female image of the holy spirit which symbolizes the true nature and essence of Israel. If the poet partakes the role of Jehovah, The male lover in the Song of Songs, he is probably hints that Olokun resembles  Shekhinah, as a female image of the holy spirit.

  This notion, although striking and puzzling, raised in my memory, a sixteenth century story about one of the Kabbalist sages of Safed who saw the image of Sekhinah in revelation upon the wailing wall at Jerusalem.  This story is taken from the treatise The light of the Righteous that was written by the seventeenth century kabbalist R. Meir Popers, one of the most known disciples of Lurianic Kabbalah. It read as follows:


There was a man is Safed, a unique man, one of his kind, and his name was R. Avraham Ha-Levi. On every midnight he used to wake up and walked around Safed's streets, mourning and yearning, crying and shouting, and every sage, he used to call his name, until he was awakened too. On that hour all the community was filled by voices of scholars learning Mishnah and Talmud, and reciting prayers and holy praises and hymns, and who can really understands this degree of pietism. Once, The Holy R. Isaac Luria (Ha-Ari) testified on R. Avrahm's soul that he is the transmigration of  the prophet Jeremiah, and told him that he is going to die soon, unless he will correct his deeds, and if he would do so he would live another twenty-two years. The correction of R. Avraham was to go forth to Jerusalem and prays in front  of the Wailing Wall, and if the prayer will be received he would see the Image of  Shekhinah in a revelation, and then he will know he is going to live. When hearing R. Isaac Luria's words, This dedicated man went and closed himself for three days and three nights like a griever. Finally, after three days he went to the wailing wall and prayed and cried until he lifted his face and saw upon the Western Wall's stones an image of a woman from behind, and in which garment he saw her, I'm not willing to write, to save its supremacy (greatness). And as soon as he saw her he fell on his face, and shouted and cried, than said: Zion! Zion! It's a shame on my soul for seeing you in this condition, and he mourned, and yearned, and hit his face and pulled his hair, until he fainted, and then he dreamed of the arrival of an image of a woman who held his face softly, and wiped his tears, and told him: Take comfort, my son Avraham, because there is an hope for you, and you will return to life, and I will bring you forth and have mercy on your soul. And when he was awakened and returned to Safed, R. Isaac Luria approved that R. Avraham saw the Shekinah in a vision, and confirmed that he is going to live another twenty-two years.

[R. Meir Popers, Light of the Righteous, Chapter 11, Printed in: R. Moses Kordovero, Prayer of Moses (Prayer Book), Parts I-II, Combines with the book Light of the Righteous by R. Meir Popers, Jeruslam 2004, page 16; Translated from Hebrew by Shoey Raz].


    There are few notable affinities between the two female figures: Olokun and Shekhinah. They both are big mothers comforting their sorrows childs, and standing to their defense. They both imagined as female Images, naked, or dressed in white plain garment of deep simplicity. They both describe as merciful and anxious for people's health. The Shekinah doesn’t show her face to R. Avrahm while he sees her upon the Wailing Wall; Olokun's face are hidden beneath a veil. It is notable that few of the main nicknames of the Shekinah in the Kabbalist Literature are: Sea, The sea of wisdom, A Well, A fountain, and A Body of Water, which of course, parallels  the main features of Olokun, the sea goddess of Lagos.


דברים שאמרתי בערב העיון 'להעז לערער מבני-תּרבּוּת' בגלריה ללימודי אפריקה בתל-אביב. תודתי לפרופ' לין שלר (אונ' בן גוריון),שותפתי לפאנל, ולאוצרת עידית טולידאנו — על שהזמינה אותי לערב, ועל שגרמה לי להעז לחשוב באפריקאית, ולנסח, אולי לראשונה, כמה קווים וזיקות שבין דת ואמנות ניגרית ובין דת יהודית וספרות קבלית.

תרגום עברי של שירו של ג'ון פּפּר קלארק ניתן לקרוא כאן.



בתמונה: תהלוכת אלוקון, לאגוס, בתחילת נובמבר כל שנה  (צלם לא ידוע, מועד לא ידוע). 

Read Full Post »