In the Orisha faiths, Obatalá is the son/daughter of God (Olodumare) and creator of Earth and humans.
Orisha faiths of West Africa, Central Africa and the African Diaspora are verbal traditions that vary by region, community and even by family. Yet the Orisha are natural forces which exist everywhere.
The Creation Myths
In the beginning the Earth was all water. Oludumare (God) gave Obatalá some dirt and a chicken with instructions to create the Earth. Obatalá piled the dirt in the center of the oceans and put the chicken on top of it. The chicken scratched the dirt and thereby created the land.
Then God told Obatalá to create humans. She/He created many healthy bodies, but after drinking some palm wine , made some that were not perfect. Knowing the pain caused by her/his mistakes, Obatalá cares deeply for the disabled.
Characteristics of Obatalá
Obatalá has a wife, but is gender-fluid with both female and male aspects. This is true of all of us, if you think about it. The creative part of a woman is her Animus or male aspect. The creative part of a man is his Anima or female aspect.
The spark of consciousness in us is Obatalá. She/He looks after everyone, unless another Orisha takes you.
Obatalá wears white because it has all the colors in it and she/he takes care of all of us. She/He accepts offerings of white foods without spices. White clothes, coconut milk, white pumpkin, silver and ivory are associated with Obatalá.
Obatalá is the godmother/father of the Orishas so she/he looks after them and settles their arguments.
The white dove is Obatalá. What other associations do humans make with white doves? Isn’t that wonderful how similar we are?
Obatalá in Africa
She/He is the founder of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the Yoruba holy city where Obatalá came from heaven.
Obatalá in the Americas
Africans brought Obatalá to Cuba, Haiti and Brazil. From there his devotion spread through Santería and Candomblé, the American religions related to the Yoruba cosmology that dominates African Diaspora culture in the Caribbean and South America.
It’s said that to avoid persecution, the faithful syncretized Obatalá with both Our Lady of Mercy and Jesus, while Candomblé faithful syncretized her/him with Our Lord of Bonfim, the patron saint of Bahia, Brazil, the Brazilian cultural heartland.
But there may be another way to see syncretization. The colonizer’s point of view is that syncretization is done to hide and protect folk faiths. But perhaps Africans (or Indigenous peoples) recognized the similarities that colonizer priests refused to accept.