Written by Wasentha Young
Conducting research for my next mask over the internet, I happened upon an ivory carving that is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo - public domain). It is much like how I'd like to construct the eyes for my next mask. It was made in Nigeria. It is an Orufanran – an ornament. An Orufanran is something that an Olowo (one who deserves respect) wears on his clothing during a particular ceremony.
I thought, well, what ceremony is that? I went deeper. It turned out to be a ceremony for Queen Oronsen. So…, who is Queen Oronsen? I went back to Googling. There were several stories about this queen. She was an Orisha – a goddess in one of the faith-based religions of the Yoruba people.
While hunting Olowo Rerengejen came across this beautiful woman, and he asked her to marry him. He did not know she was an Orisha, nor did she say. Humans were forbidden to directly interact with Orishas. She fell in love with him and said she would remain on earth if he did not violate three unbreakable taboos. She insisted that nobody should grind okra in her presence, farmers were not to throw down piles of wood in her vicinity, and water should never be poured into the yard. He agreed and instructed his other wives to obey.
[There was also another story which included an oddity. This person claimed to know the "real" story. They stated that one of the taboos to never be revealed was that she defecated in her room. (Her being a Goddess - her poop came out with value. :-) ) Olowo Rerengejen would then sell her excrement as beads which brought him great wealth.]
Queen Oronsen therefore blessed his kingdom with prosperity and safety which brought her the favor of Olowo Rerengejen. As time went by the other wives began to get jealous of her favor, and while he was out hunting, violated the sacred trust. Enraged, Queen Oronsen abandoned the palace for a forest and refused to return.
I wanted to know more. I wanted to know who Oronsen was as an Orisha. What were her characteristics. So, I delved deeper. I searched the internet, I came across
this Wikipedia site that told the stories of all the Orishas, kind of in the form of the
Creation Myth. There it was – Shapeshifter.
This story told about the same hunter who was near a river where he saw this
Ram take off its outer shell, become a beautiful woman, Oronsen, who then went
for a swim in the water. He was so taken by her beauty he could not resist taking
the skin away.
When she came out of the water there was no skin for her to put back on. He told
her that it was better for her to be a human than an animal and asked if she would join
At this point the stories merged. (Except the one about the beads.)
I let all the stories sit in my dream/awake mind and asked my ancestors to join me
there. As I was walking around my home cleaning and such, something started to
happen. A different yet similar story started to take shape. Throughout this process I laughed a lot. It seemed like all my ancestors had gotten together, with a bit of humor, and this is the story they told:
THE STORY SHAPESHIFTED
A leader, one who deserved the respect of his people, went out on a vision quest.
He sat by the river and began to pray to the orisha - Oronsen, asking for her help because he felt he was no longer able to provide for his people. He sat for quite a while before he began to receive a vision. He saw a ram drinking and swimming in the water. After a magnificent swim it grazed and pooped, grazed and pooped.
The vision was a message, a way he could guide his people to prosperity. He was
to take the poop of rams that graze, turn it into mulch, and use as fertilizer for the
He returned to his people and did as he was instructed. Within a year the field’s
yield was plentiful and his people thrived.
Other villages became jealous of his peoples’ prosperity and began to imitate the
method. Farming land began to take over the pastures, water redirected to grow
plants dried the river, the mill supply was eaten by rodents, the rams disappeared, and the land inevitably became depleted of its nutrients, unable to sustain its yield.
So, every year there is a celebration, offerings are made, they pray, sacrifice their desires and greed, and respectfully care for the land as it will shapeshift and bring them sustainable nourishment.
Note: I believe that She, Oronsen, represents more than a shapeshifter. On a deeper level she is the energy of symbiotic relationships and cyclical process.
I give, thanks.