Also known as: Obba
Oba, beautiful Yoruba river spirit, is overshadowed by other more famous river orishas like Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya, who began her incarnation as the orisha of the Ogun River. Being overshadowed is the central theme of Oba’s sole surviving myth.
Oba is Shango’s first wife, a position of rank and authority. One woman is never enough for Shango, a situation that was acceptable to Oba providing that his other women were properly subordinate. After all, kings have harems. Shango’s passionate love affairs with Oya and Oshun, however, were just too much. Shango treated them like queens. As anyone familiar with those two orishas knows, neither is subordinate to anyone.
Oba was puzzled and frustrated. She saw the passion, desire, and love in Shango’s eyes for Oya and Oshun, and she wanted it for herself. One of her rivals played a nasty trick on the sincere, gullible Oba, explaining that the key to Shango’s heart was a magical culinary ingredient. Whenever she cooked for Shango, this orisha said, she sliced off one of her ears and fed it to him. Oba was dubious but the orisha insisted that it was true; furthermore, the ears automatically regenerated, she said, pointing at her own two ears.
Oba was desperate and ready to try anything. When Shango finally arrived at her compound, having torn himself away from other lovers to meet his husbandly duties, he noticed the blood-stained bandage around Oba’s head but didn’t ask questions. When presented with the grisly appetizer, her severed ear, he was so appalled and disgusted, he fled from Oba’s embrace, never to return.
Which of Oba’s rivals played the trick? No one likes to say and there is much speculation. Perhaps they colluded together. (Of course, only one of those orishas is a famous chef.) Regardless, do not petition or make offerings to Oba simultaneously with Oshun and Oya. All three should be kept separate.
This myth may give the wrong impression: Oba is not submissive, stupid, or passive. She is an extremely competent, independent market woman involved in commerce and politics. Oba is a powerful orisha who can provide for her devotees. She is Shango’s first wife because she is beautiful, independently wealthy, and smart. In attempting to assert her rights, she was outfoxed by the more devious Oshun or Oya. Love is Oba’s Achilles’ heel.
Oba is venerated as a goddess of love in Brazil but considered a guardian of prostitutes in parts of Africa. She is invoked to punish those who exploit loving hearts. Oba is the orisha of lakes and ponds. Offerings may be placed on a home altar or brought to the lakeshore and presented there. Oba is syncretized to Saint Rita.
Favored people: Faithful wives, prostitutes, those who would risk everything for love, as well as women married to abusive, neglectful, and/or cheating spouses
Iconography: It can be difficult to find images of Oba but they exist, especially in Brazil where she is envisioned as a shapely, bejeweled woman with a bandaged head. She may be represented by images of Saint Rita, although this emphasizes Oba’s identity as suffering wife, not sexy love goddess. She may be represented on an altar by a jewelry box or music box.
Colors: Red, white
Sacred site: The Oba River, Nigeria
See also: Orisha; Oshun; Oya; Shango; Yemaya