In the mythology of the Yoruba people of West Africa, Olorun is the most powerful and wisest deity. The all-knowing god takes an active role in the affairs of both heaven and earth. Head of the Yoruba pantheon, Olorun is also known as Olofin-Orun (Lord of Heaven), Oba-Orun (King of the Sky), and Olodumare (Almighty).
According to Yoruba legend, Olorun was one of two original creator gods. The other was the goddess Olokun. In the beginning, the universe consisted only of sky and a formless chaos of marshy water. Olorun ruled the sky, while Olokun ruled the vast marshy waters below. There were thousands of other gods, but none had as much knowledge or power as Olorun.
Although Olokun was content with her watery kingdom, a lesser god named Obatala had ideas about improving her kingdom. He went to Olorun and suggested the creation of solid land, with fields and forests, hills and valleys, and various living things to populate it. Olorun agreed that this would be good and gave Obatala permission to create land.
deity god or goddess
pantheon all the gods of a particular culture
chaos great disorder or confusion
Obatala went to Orunmila, the eldest son of Olorun, and asked how he should proceed. Orunmila told Obatala to gather gold to make a chain that could be lowered from the sky to the waters below. When the chain was finished, Orunmila gave Obatala a snail's shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut. Obatala lowered himself on the chain and poured the sand on the waters. He then released the hen, which scratched at the sand and scattered it in all directions. Anyplace the sand fell became dry land. Stepping onto the land—known as Ife—Obatala built a house, grew palm trees from the palm nut, and lived with the black cat as his companion.
Obatala later became lonely and built clay figures. Olorun made these figures into humans by breathing life into them. Many gods descended from the sky to live on earth, and Olorun told them to listen to the prayers of humans and protect them.
Not pleased by these acts of creation, the water goddess Olokun tried to flood the land to regain the area she had lost. However, Orunmila used his powers to make the waters recede. Angry that the sky god's son had defeated her, Olokun challenged Olorun to a weaving contest to see who was the more powerful.
chameleon lizard that can change color
Olokun was a weaver of unequaled skill and knowledge, but every time she made a beautiful cloth, Agemo the chameleon— who carried messages for Olorun—changed the color of its skin to match her weaving. When Olokun saw that even Olorun's messenger could duplicate her finest cloths, she accepted defeat and acknowledged Olorun as the supreme god.