Love has been known to transcend the earthly realm, existing between the gods and goddesses as we know them. This article revisits some of the eternal love stories of African gods, dwelling on their relevance and importance in these present times.
The language of love is universal. It is spoken in the history books, sacred texts, and traditional rites that have existed millions of years ago and continue to this present day. Love is not restricted to a day’s celebration, such as Valentine’s Day. Its meaning goes beyond roses are red, violets are blue. To different people it could be affection, loyalty, pain, passion, happiness, and even betrayal.
An Undying Love In Ancient Egypt
Egypt is a country in Northeastern Africa. Its civilization dates back to the 4th millennium BCE. Egypt is well known for its rich culture and well-preserved arts and monuments like the Pyramids of Giza, which have led many archaeologists and the occasional tourist to uncover several secrets of the world.
Ancient Egypt boasts one of the largest and most complicated pantheons of gods—boasting over 2000 deities. Individual gods and goddesses possess more than one characteristic, which is why Egyptian society is highly influenced and represented historically by the rise and wane of their popularity.
Let’s jump right into the great love story of the Egyptian god Osiris and the goddess, Isis, which has inspired many lovers to date. Of course, the historical accuracy of the tale remains up for debate, having been told orally from generation to generation, but who can resist a good love story (except the haters).
The Legend of Osiris and Isis
Osiris, the oldest of the four siblings, became the King of Egypt and took his sister Isis as his wife. Osiris, also called Usir, was a benevolent king, loved and respected by men and gods. Isis was a very supportive wife and queen to Osiris. She taught Egyptian women how to weave, bake, and brew beer. In modern times, Osiris and Isis would be the picturesque power couple.
Set was a hater who coveted what Osiris had, even though he was nowhere as good as his brother. So deep was his envy that he hatched a diabolical plan to get his brother out of the way.
Set trapped Osiris in a decorated wooden chest, which he then covered with lead and threw into the Nile. After getting rid of Osiris, Set became the King of Egypt and married his sister Nepthys.
Isis, deeply distressed about the whereabouts of her husband, went in search of him. After searching for a long time, she finally discovered Osiris still trapped in the chest in a place called Byblos.
Isis Rescues Osiris
After rescuing Osiris, Isis brought him back to Egypt (wrong move). When Set discovered the chest, he was so furious that he chopped his brother’s body into pieces like a kebab. He dispersed the parts all over Egypt, because playing king was one role he was not ready to relinquish to his brother.
Of course, Set’s barbaric act shattered Isis. She had lost her husband again, so soon after finding him. She turned to her sister Nepthys (who was also her sister-in-law) for help. Together, they found and assembled the scattered parts of Osiris’s body (Avengers assemble!). Isis then used her great, magical powers to piece together the puzzle that was Osiris’s body, but left out his penis.
Just before you ask the question, know that Osiris was mummified without his reproductive organ. Here’s the part of the story that blew my mind away. Isis brought Osiris back to life (which in my book makes Isis a baddie) long enough for her to get pregnant.
Nine months later, she bore Osiris a son named Horus. Uhm, what can I say? The gods work in mysterious ways.
Osiris, now a proud father, made a hasty retreat to the underworld, where he became ruler and judge of the dead, which is why he plays a dual role in ancient Egypt as the god of fertility and death. Isis is the goddess of motherhood, magic, and fertility. She is known for her compassion and mercy and is regarded as a protector of the dead. She is also the patron goddess of healing (pretty obvious why) and the moon.
The story of Isis and Osiris is legendary in Egyptian mythology because it is perceived as a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, life and death, and the power of love and loyalty. It is a reminder that love can indeed conquer all.
Yorubaland: A Fiery Love
The Yoruba people make up one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, and are also very widespread across the diaspora.
Like most of Africa, oral tradition serves to remind the Yoruba people of their myths, literature, philosophy, morality, and worship.
In the rolling hills of Oyo, once lived a man called Sango, blessed with extraordinary powers. His life and deeds inspired many. He had an intriguing relationship with his three wives, Oba, Oṣun and Oya. Their story started long after Olodumare (God) sent the Orishas, Oduduwa and Obatala, down to the earth to create land.
Sango was bestowed with spiritual powers by his mother’s people in Nupe, and gifted with thunderbolt stones (Edun Ara) by his grandfather. The latter allowed him to summon thunder from the sky at will (reminds you of a certain Norse god who totes a hammer).
Sango’s prowess as a formidable warrior was known all over the land. It has been mentioned that his mercurial anger caused him to pour fire out of his mouth.
Sango and Oba
When Sango was ready to settle down, like every typical African mother, his mother advised him to marry a beautiful and virtuous woman. Sango took her advice to heart. He hoped that one day he would meet a woman that would be befitting to be his wife.
Apart from being a great warrior, Sango loved to dance. When Sango was at a cultural event where the people were feasting and dancing, he admired a beautiful young dancer named Oba, and fell in love with Oba when he saw her dancing. They got married soon after.
Several years passed and Oba was unable to conceive. What should have been a long and happy union was blighted by childlessness because Sango desperately wanted an heir. With Oba’s consent, he went to search for a second wife.
Sango and Oṣun
There’s an African adage that says, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. As it is today, so it was before. Sango was a man who delighted in filling his stomach with a sumptuous meal.
One afternoon when Sango was returning from a friend’s place, he took a route which led past an open hut. There was an irresistible aroma in the air just around the hut.
Sango was fully committed to having a taste, so he quickly knocked on the door of the hut to investigate further. He was stunned when the beautiful and amicable Oṣun stepped out to greet him. Oṣun was well known for her cooking prowess. The chance meeting between the two would later bloom into a relationship.
Sango welcomed Oṣun into his home as his second wife. Oba, the Iyale (senior wife), received Oṣun well. The two had a cordial relationship which later turned sour after Sango favored Oṣun’s cooking over Oba’s. It would be the start of a bitter enmity between the two which would follow them to their graves.
Sango and Oya
Oya was a beautiful and powerful young woman whose abilities complemented Sango’s powers and made them one of the most terrific divine couples. Everything about the love between Sango and Oya was astounding and likened to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
It started when Sango spotted Oya for the first time at the marketplace and found her enchanting. He followed her from the market and discovered that she could transform into an animal by taking on its skin.
Another day, Oya took off her antelope skin in the forest and concealed it carefully. After she left, Sango came out of his hiding place, stole the skin, and hid it in his home. When Oya returned and couldn’t find the skin, she was devastated.
It was at that moment that Sango revealed himself. He comforted Oya and took her to his home to live with him as his wife. His deception would come back to haunt him in the future.
Oya was a mysterious talented beauty whose origin was unknown. Soon it was clear to his other wives that she had won Sango’s heart completely. Filled with jealousy, Oba and Oṣun sought ways to destroy the relationship between the two.
Sango and Oya faced many difficulties but stayed together through them all. They also shared their most treasured secrets including the source of Sango’s power, the Edun Ara, which Sango gave to Oya to safeguard for him.
Seven years after Sango became one of the most powerful and respected Alaafins of Oyo, Oya convinced him to eliminate two of his appointed generals, Timi Agbala and Gbonka. Both were as powerful as Sango and Oya felt threatened by them.
The plot to get rid of the generals led to the unfortunate demise of Sango and Oya, with different historical recountings.
Their tragic love story is celebrated as a symbol of true love: respect and devotion, forgiveness and trust. Sango and Oya protected their love from family interference and treachery, choosing each other over everyone else.
Sango and his wives were immortalized after their deaths.
Love is the ultimate power. It takes the active participation of the parties involved for it to work. Sacrifices have to be made whether great or small. There’s no formula for love, but certain elements must be present in the equation for it to survive through time and beyond. Such should be our love for our mother continent—Africa.