Obatala is the KING OF THE WHITE CLOTH. It is through the understanding of this title that much of Obatala’s role in existence can be explained.
Obatala is the king. He is the King of the Orisa because of his great age. In Yoruba culture, age is the most important ingredient in the attaining and in the wielding of, power. Obatala is the old man and is symbolic of honored maturity. It is because of his age and his great wisdom that he is first among equals in the pantheon or Orisa. The Orisa revere him because of his purity of intention. He represents and enforces the idea of ethical rightness, which is his greatness and most persuasive force. OBATALA IS THE KING OF POWER. but his arsenal is his wisdom. He is the force in nature which is the obligation to do what is right. He is the conscious feeling of doing the right thing. It is here that OBATALA’S great power becomes most evident. OBATALA demands and sanctions high morality.
OBATALA is one of the oldest Orisa, and because of his humility, his calmness, his ethics, his clearness of thought, and his purity, he was selected by God (Olodumare) to be the leader. OBATALA is the head and he owns all the heads, even of the other Orisa. He rules the head and the head rules the body. The Head is the symbol of OBATALA and it is GOD’S greatest creation. The soul of man exists in the head;
there fore , the head is the seat of the soul. Since OBATALA is the fore, the head is the seat of the soul. Since OBATALA is the head he sits at the top, not only of the order of ORISA in the philosophical sense, but at the top of the human body in physical plane. He is characterized as a judge, and he is the one who was picked to make the right decisions. This is not just because he owns the head, but because he is a calm, clear, lucid Orisa who represents coolness of thought, and rational deliberation. Just as Obatala owns all heads, he also attacks the head; his attacks being characterized by loss of sight, and/or brain hemorrhages. His children must also be careful of insanity of all types, for he is the father of insanity.
OBATALA is linked with the color WHITE, because WHITE is associated with the Idea of Purity, and clearness, and as the symbol of something not to be touched. He is the idea of being free from spot or blemish, and free from moral impurity. OBATALA wears White Robes. He is above touching. OBATALA is the concept of an ORISA who is sanctioned who is in the state of Purity, and who is above reproach. OBATALA is the idea of an ORISA who shines as WHITE and BRILLIANT as the sun. He is portrayed as an Old Man who has seen GOD, (Olodumare) and who therefore, emanates the glow of great wisdom, happiness and peace within his soul.
OBATALA is associated with cloth because he is the one who brings fabric to man. He is the one who brings fabric to man. He invented CLOTH. OBATALA made the thread from cotton, wool and wove the cloth of man, which covers, warns and protects man from the elements.
OBATALA is the creator deity, He is creator, and the sharper of human brings which he formed out of clay. He was the first Orisa to use clay, and he was the first sculptor and the first potter. He is the one who shapes the fetus in the womb. Folklore states that OBATALA got drunk from palm wine and malformed some of the Human beings, thus creating Albinos, Dwarfs, Hunchbacks, Cripples, the Dumb and the Blind. These people, therefore come under OBATALA’S special patronage.
OBATALA is the Father of Wisdom. He is the idea of wisdom that is acquired through years of countless decisions and experience. He represents planning through wisdom.
OBATALA is a Mountain Deity. He is said to live on a high plateau. He is also said to live on a wooded hill. OBATALA is an Orisa who lives in the cool, peaceful woodland, because although he is radiant like the sun, he is old and cannot stand long periods in the direct sunlight.
He is symbolized by the Gorilla, the Snail, the Elephant, the Boa Constrictor, and the Chameleon. Each of these animals represents a specific aspect of OBATALA.
The Gorilla is an animal that has the highest mental ability of all animals. It lives on the mountainside and is a shy forest animal. It has the capacity to learn from experience and to act with reason. The Gorilla is the largest primitive living today. It is not a malicious forest animal, and despite its strength and power, is peaceful and sociable.
The Snail is a slow-moving animal. It is an animal which hides in its shell for protection and which lives in the ocean, the river, on the mountain and the plain. It is one of the oldest animal life forms in the chain of evolution, and it represents OBATALA because of its cool and medicinal secretions which are used to wipe one’s brow and cool off one’s head. The snail’s life blood is also used in this way.
The elephant is associated with both power and wisdom. It is associated with OBATALA because it displays some of the characteristics of the aged. It has poor vision, and limited hearing. The elephant does have an extraordinary sense of touch and balance. The idea of balance relates to the concept of the aged maintaining their balance in life. The elephant is also a symbol because it is extremely intelligent.
The Boa Constrictor is the largest snake. It exists in the forest and kills its pray by crushing it to death. It lives quietly in the trees and hunts by using the heat sensing pits along its lips, at night.
The Chameleon also lives in the low branches of trees in the forest. It defends itself not only by changing colors, which is a limited ability, but by hiding in the trees. The chameleon will hide itself out of sight, them turn different colors.
All of the animals that symbolize OBATALA have one of more of these characteristics. Most of them possess enormous hidden strength in relation to their size, and most of them prefer to remain hidden away from view. The idea of hiding is an important quality here. All of these animals either hide or keep their distance whenever possible. The elephant is a possible exception, but then most other animals tend to keep their distance from it.
This idea alludes to the untouchability, the sanctification of OBATALA. It also alludes to the idea that OBATALA, although a peaceful force of nature, is deeply respected for his enormous power which is hidden behind veils of shy humility. OBATALA is humility and wisdom.
OBATALA is the idea that it is through wisdom that man gains and keeps power, and it is through wisdom that man gains and keeps power, and it is through the judicious use of power that man finds peace. Although OBATALA is associated with great KINGS and KINGDOMS, the POWER of OBATALA is not just the force of arms or physical might. OBATALA rules the hidden power of reason which exists within the head.
Therefore, when it is said that OBATALA uses no witchcraft, that ELEGBA is his witchcraft, it is meant that OBATALA brings the powers of wisdom, reason and ethics to a situation. He encourages one to do the right thing, and if one refuses, ELEGBA steps in and fixes them, because it is he who punishes those who don’t do things right.
Obatala is the idea of age, of the long memory and of taking it easy. He is represented as both male and female, because reason and good judgment come from both sexes. There is even a theory that OBATALA could have been a hermaphrodite.
Obatala is the God of Laughter. He represents the wisdom attained through age, and is the one who appreciates the nuances and calamities of life. It is through wisdom that man is able to see the humor behind man’s folly, and it is through humor that the lessons of life becomes more palatable and easier to digest.