1. Beyoncé’s Grammy Performance Channels Oshun, Spotlights African Spirituality
Beyoncé arguably dominated discussion surrounding this year’s recent Grammys. Her performance was an obvious homage to the West African goddess/Yoruba deity Oshun.
In many artistic representations, Oshun is depicted in gold, semi-nude bikinis with elaborate headdresses. Beyoncé paid tribute to Oshun before in “Hold Up,” the second single off her album “Lemonade.” She also shares another trait with Oshun — she is expecting twins. The regions in West Africa where the Yoruba are the dominant ethnic group have the highest rate of twin births.
2. Who Is Oshun and Why Is She Important?
Oshun is the goddess of love, sensuality, beauty and the arts in the Yoruba religion inhabiting the southwestern region of Nigeria and the southern part of Benin and Togo. Visual representations typically depict her wearing yellow and surrounded by fresh water because she rules rivers that sustain life. The Yoruba goddess also can heal the sick, bring about fertility and prosperity, and answer the cries/prayers of the needy. Oshun also serves as the protector of the poor and the mother of orphans.
3. Oshun Is Globally Venerated
The goddess goes by several names, including Yeye, Osun, Oxun, Oshoun, Oxum and Ochun. During the Middle Passage, when millions of Africans were forcibly taken to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands in the transatlantic slave trade, Osun was brought along as well. Enslaved Black people kept her alive in new spiritual systems in the Americas. For instance, she is seen in Candomble (Brazil), Santeria (Cuba and Puerto Rico), Obia (Jamaica), Voodoo (Haiti and Louisiana) and the Umbanda (Argentina). These new-world spiritualities are all connected to the Yoruba.
4. African Spirituality Was Merged with Other Religions In the Diaspora
During the slave trade, enslaved West Africans were forced to convert to Christianity and abandon their traditional faiths. In order to maintain their spiritual customs, Africans had to hide their religion in plain sight. Oshun is synchronized with Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba and Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil. In Trinidad, she is associated with St. Philomena. Oshun is often compared to the Virgin Mary from Christianity.
5. Oshun the First Feminist Represented Indispensable Female Power
In Nigeria, Oshun is said to be indirectly responsible for the creation of the Yoruba world, according to Dr. Jacob Olupona, professor of African Religious Traditions and Chair of the Committee on African studies at the Harvard Divinity School. As the myth goes, Oshun was
the only female irunmole (primordial deity) sent to set up the world by Olodumare (one of the three manifestations of the Supreme God in the Yoruba myth). The other males sent to work on the creation of the world ignored Ọṣhun’s presence.
Ọṣhun, however, was not deterred. She gathered other women and protested the men’s disrespect by forming the Iyami Aje, a band of women endowed with power.