Olokun is the divinity of the sea, and an emblem of the material prosperity worshipped by the Edo people. For the cult of Olokun, life-size groups of royal figures are still made. Olokun is personified in several human characteristics: patience, endurance, sternness, observation, meditation, appreciation for history, future visions, and royalty personified, while its characteristics are found and displayed in the depths of the Ocean. Its name literally signifies Owner (Olo) of Oceans (Olkun). Olokun also signifies unfathomable wisdom. Olokun is a Bini word, the language of the Edo people of South Nigeria.

The African Goddess symbolizes the African spiritual essence. In African culture, there exists a deep bond between Man and God. The act of passing fingers through the hair is one of extreme affection. The fingers and the hair are likened to the relationship between the weeds and the tide. Therefore, their connection is not only inseparable, but also natural. There is perfect harmony between the two entities as brought out by the metaphor. The hair of the Goddess is as dark as the night that shields the moon. The function of the word ‘darkness’ is positive here, and not negative. Rather than blocking the light of the moon, it covers the ‘nakedness’ of the moon, thereby protecting it. Therefore, it is a divine attribute.

Though these emotions are for a divine being, the emotions are entirely ‘human’ in being jealous and passionate, and therefore they are purely raw. He is jealous like Jehovah, the God of the Jews. Note that this is a protective and possessive jealousy, like that of a Mother Hen protecting her chicks.The jealousy of Jehovah is one that tries to better itself. The poet also asserts that his is the passionate love of a man towards a woman, that no one can match up to.

No wakeful eyes of man, with its ability to see, can match or outdo the function of sleep. For, only sleep has the power of holding a dream consistently. No vision is complete without the ability to dream. And the image of Olokun, with her open eyes, is in a dream-like trance. She, therefore, holds the state of dreaming with wakeful eyes. Furthermore, the poet might see the reflection of his eyes in that of the Goddess.

The poet states that the drunken crumble before her. The drunken ones are those in despair. Particularly, as people turn to God as the last resort when they crumble owing to lack of hope. They are devastated as ancient walls are and break down. Olokun, the good maid of the sea, is full of rich bounties for men. She ‘lifts’ them from their fallen position with mercy. As we are bowed to beggars, regardless of distinction, you lift us to your breasts. The action signifies the maternal affection of suckling the baby in need. In the second stanza, the poet had expressed such protective affections for her. Here there occurs an inversion in the roles, implying the reciprocal relationship between the two.

The region mentioned here is that of the Nigerian delta and there is a close affinity between the people and the sea. The goddess at once transforms into the African culture, heritage and their system of beliefs. There is the emphasis on the perfect harmony between the earthly world and spiritual world.

© Rukhaya MK 2010

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