Ogun, God of Iron and Rum

First Ooni of Ife after the death of Oduduwa, Ogun is a warrior and the powerful spirit of metal work as well as of rum and rum-making. He is also known as the ‘god of Iron’, and is present in Yoruba religion, Haitian Vodou, and West African Vodun.


In Yoruba religion, Ogun is an ancient orisha in Yoruba Land. In some traditions, he is said to have cleared a path for the other orisha to enter Earth, using a metal axe and with the assistance of a dog. To venerate this, one of his praise names, or oriki, is Osin Imole or the “first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth”. He is the god of war and metals.

In his earthly life Ogun is said to have been the first king of Ife. In one of the accounts, he is said to have killed his subjects because of their inability to show respect to him and ultimately killing himself with his own sword. Disappearing into the earth at a place called Ire-Ekiti, he promised to help those who call on his name. It is mentioned that in his earthly life he fought for the people of Ire, thus is known also as Onire. He is now celebrated in, Ogun, Ekiti, Oyo, and Ondo states.

One of the most popular tradition in the Yoruba region, warriors, hunters, blacksmiths and even technologists follow this deity. His followers can choose to swear to tell the truth in court by choosing to kiss a piece of iron in his name. Drivers carrying an amulet of Ogun to ward off traffic accidents is no big news and a very rampant act amongst his followers. His distinctive symbols are as follows Iron, the dog, and the palm frond. They symbolize Ogun’s role in transformation, mediation, and function. Iron is the chief emblem of Ogun. Ogun altars and ceremonies display and use iron objects both in Yoruba areas and across the African diaspora. Followers of Ogun wear chains of iron implements; Ogun festivals feature the display of knives, guns, blacksmith implements, scissors, wrenches, and other iron implements from daily life.

Meats serve as sacrifices to Ogun. While dogs are the traditional companions of hunters Ogun’s personality is not farfetched. He is said to have been aggressive, able to face danger and quite straightforward. Other sacrificial animals associated with him include the spitting cobra (black snake) whose behavior is also aggressive and fearless. It is good to note that Hunters and blacksmiths avoid eating or witnessing the mating of blacksnakes. Other important sacrificial offerings to Ogun are the Clarias submarginatus (a species of catfish), alligator pepper, kola nuts, palm wine and red palm oil, small rats, roosters, salt, snails, tortoise, water, and yams. (Clyne: 1997). Many of these sacrificial offerings were carried into New World traditions.

African god pantheon Ogun

Ogun is also known for his creativity alongside destructive nature, amounting to a misunderstanding of his aura. He stands as the guardian to execute the repercussion humans bear for breaking the laws of nature, making him greatly feared. Despite that, when called on Ogun comes to the plight of his followers, blessing and protecting them.

Ogun loved hunting and was referred to as “Osin-Imole”, that is, the Chief among the divinities. A narrative mention that he cleared the thick impenetrable way with his iron implements for other divinities when he was coming from heaven to possess the earth. Being a ruthless deity, he lived in seclusion at the top of the hill where he went about hunting. Tired of secluded life, he decided to go for a settled life, which he had rejected earlier on. He came down from the hilltop in a garment of fire and blood but could not find an abode in any community. So, he borrowed fronds from the palm-tree and headed for Ire where he was made king. Hence, the name Ogun Onire (Ogun, the Lord of Ire) was given to him.

The Ogun festival is celebrated in Ondo between the months of August and September every year. According to Olupona the preparation for the festival commences seventeen days before the actual Ogun day at the appearance of the new moon. At an early morning ceremony in the house of Ayadi, the ritual specialist of Ogun public worship, the upe (a traditional trumpet made from a long gourd) is sounded to notify the people of the on-coming festival. The sound of upe then becomes a common feature throughout the period of the festival, which lasts seven days. The sound of the upe is very significant because it carries messages which are sometimes complimentary and at other times abusive from one youth to the other.

During the seventeen-day interval, the worshippers of Ogun assemble in groups to praise the divinity and other past cultural heroes associated with him, such as Jomun Ila.

On a major market day, which is nine days before the festival, the king’s emissary makes the official announcement of the ceremony. Many activities are usually carried out in preparation for the festival, among which is the communal clearing of paths and the repairing of bridges and other footpaths. Five days to the festival, a few households perform a ceremony called aleho.

There are usually three parts to the ceremony — aisun ogun (night vigil), ogun ale (night ogun) and ogun owuo (morning ogun celebration). The procession involves all traditional and modern day professionals and guilds. Every possible professional group in Ondo — such as blacksmiths, medicine men and women, drivers, hunters, tailors, barbers, to mention just a few, participate in this celebration. The only exceptions are probably civil servants and white-collar workers. Most of them are usually dressed in rags, palm- fronds with their faces and bodies smeared with blue dye, white powder and or charcoal. Some, however, use that period to show affluence and nobility by wearing unusually beautiful multicoloured outfits.

The Osemawe is not left out of this festivity. He usually leads the early morning procession. He wears a beaded crown that covers his whole face with white sheet tied on his left shoulder over his agbada (flowing gown). Others such the high chiefs, medicine men and other trades men follow the king’s procession. Every professional demonstrates his trade. The most esteemed group is the traditional medicine men referred to as oloogun (medicine people). They are attired in medicine garments laced with all kinds of frightening herbal substances. This group usually engages young school children to write signposts, which display the name of their pedigree and praise names, some with warnings written in proverbs and the metaphorical magico-medical expertise of the oloogun.

Sources —


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