After many centuries of work, Olófin was tired and wished to retire. To Obatalá he turned over the task of educating humans. “Go out into the world, Obatalá, and find a way to make our texts and truths eternal. For soon, we will all withdraw into heaven, and while we are far away, the humans will still need our teachings to evolve.”
Obatalá went out into the world and taught the humans one-on-one. He gathered the priests and priestesses and instructed them in the mysteries of heaven and earth, and everything that lay between them. Odu, proverbs, patakís, history, and ebó: He taught all this, and more, to the first generation of initiates himself, and watched as they, in turn, began to instruct others.
Yet word of mouth changed the teachings from generation to generation, and Obatalá found he still had to instruct mortals one-on-one, especially when a great elder passed, taking many things untaught to his or her grave.
“Never again will I see heaven,” Obatalá thought. “For I will always be here, doing exactly this.”
The old man set out to find a way to record his teachings, permanently, so nothing would be lost. First, he wandered in the desert, and with his staff he drew symbols in the sand, recording everything that the humans needed to know to continue the spirituality of the orishas on earth. When he was done, he stood back, and looked at his writing.
A great wind blew; the sands shifted, and everything was lost.
“The sands shift, and nothing is left. This is no different than the death of an elder – an entire library is lost. This will not survive the ages. There must be another way,” he thought.
Obatalá continued to wander and think until he came to the land of Abeokuta. There were great stone slabs throughout the city, and he had another great idea. Using efun, he wrote out all the sacred patakís and lore of the faith on these great rocks, and when he was done, humans came and lauded his work.
But it was the rainy season, and when the rains came, they washed the stones clean.
“This will not do,” said Obatalá to himself. “Our teachings must be eternal. Again, time has erased them.”
Once more, Obatalá wandered the world, thinking about how to best preserve the knowledge of their religion. He wandered into Oyó, and came to Shangó’s palace. The orisha was there, and when he saw Obatalá, he was happy.
“Father!” he embraced the old man. “What has brought you to my kingdom?”
Together, the two walked through the courtyard while Obatalá unburdened himself on Shangó. “Olófin says that soon, we will all return to heaven. He gave me the task of immortalizing our teachings so everyone remembers them through the generations. I tried instructing the elder priests one-on-one, but the elders die, and things go untaught and are lost. That is not eternal; it is not what Olófin asked me to do. So I created writing, and wrote all our teachings in the sand. But the winds blew that away. It is not eternal, and is not what Olófin wanted. So I wrote all our teachings on stone, with efun, and the rains washed that away. It is not eternal. It is not what Olófin wanted me to do.”
“You, father, need something that can stand up to the elements. And you need something that can be stored safely.” Shangó called his men to cut down a great palm tree, and from its wood, they cut thin boards. Shangó mixed efun with the powdered shavings of the palm, and then sacrificed a white dove over that. It became a thick, black ink. He whittled a thin branch until it had a point, and dipped it in the ink. This, he gave to Obatalá.
“Now, Father, write what you will. When it dries, the wind cannot erase it, nor can the rain wash it away; and it will be light enough for us to store in our houses and study.”
Obatalá embraced the orisha, and thanked him. He then locked himself up in Shangó’s palace, and wrote out all the knowledge he had in his head.
And so it is through today. Whenever we want to immortalize our words, we write then down with ink on paper, and store them safely in our houses. Memories fade, but the writing lasts forever, and nothing is truly lost as long as those writings are saved.
_ _ _ _ _
“Storytelling seems to be a dying art, and people are starved for this knowledge. I believe that if we don’t start writing down the stories we know about the orishas, the odu, and the people who lived and died following the orishas, one day these things will be lost. The death of each elder priest or priestess represents the destruction of an entire folkloric library that simply cannot be rebuilt if these stories are not shared.” Ócháni Lele.