Working with Atenas: Ojuani Meyi

So Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye includes the divination sign Ojuani Meyi as one of the atenas he writes under the awán basket. He says it is the birth place of Asojano’s vessel and ritual broom, his cazuela and his . Priests like Abreu see themselves as ceremonialists, claiming that every ritual is a contemporary expression of a timeless story from a particular odu.

In Ojuani Meyi is where Asojuano came down to end the war between Guinea and Partridge.

In ancient times Guinea Hen and Partridge were the witches of the forest. They were both so strong in their witchcraft that they entered into a battle to the death, dragging all their followers into the struggle. While they cast great spells, terrible epidemics assaulted the Earth, and their children emerged from their eggs with witchcraft. Their young were witches by birthright. (Since that time, their eggs have been used in dangerous witchcraft.)

So many were the deaths that Alakaso carried the news to Heaven. There, he found no one willing to go down to Earth to end the war; so Ojuani Meyi asked Olodumare for permission to go and put an end to the conflict. Olodumare told him that was fine, but that he should wait for the right moment. And that moment arrived when Alakaso advised him that in the land of Dassa the armies of Guinea and Partridge were preparing for battle. When the two armies had assembled face to face with their respective kings in front, Ojuani Meyi cast himself from Heaven, crying out “Shakuaná”—meaning “Crowned King.” He landed between the two armies. Guinea and Partridge were both surprised and horrified when, in the havoc of combat, Shakuaná challenged them to a duel. They accepted and attacked. When Partridge landed on Shakuaná’s head to paralize him with excrement, Shakuaná struck him with the, the ritual broom he had brought from Heaven. With a quick stab, Shakuaná ran Guinea through with the já and ended the war, thus making all the children and vassals of Guinea and Partridge into the slaves and servants of Shakuaná. In this way, Shakuaná ended the war, epidemic, and death that were assaulting Dassa.

People use this story to explain that the guinea and partridge are the secret of the crown of Asojano. They say that Mawo, as the Arará call Olodumare, made a crown with the heads of guinea and the partridge and used it to crown the King of Dassa, known from that time by the name Shakuaná Odasamu. Their feathers also adorn the já. (I’ll post a photo next week when I return to the office.)

The já is the quintessential tool of Asojano. In ceremonies priests use it like a broom to sweep off osobo—negativity, especially death and illness—from people. Made from the central stems of young palm fronds, the já has a highly beaded handle that is home to a powerful carga, a ritual charge of ingredients meant to bring Asojano’s aché to bear. I have collected many “recipes” for the já from many knowledgeable elders, and I can say the carga brings us back to working with substances.

The story also makes some other things plain. Ojuani Meyi, the sign itself in the form of a spirit, comes down and takes the name Shakuaná, the most powerful and secret name of Babalú-Ayé. So this sign becomes the oricha himself. No wonder Abreu uses it in awán.

The story also shows the intimate relationship between this oricha and Olodumare himself. Here Olodumare sends him to Earth to put an end to a witchcraft war and an epidemic in one. Here too Olodumare makes his crown and makes him king. So strong is the link between this oricha and the Supreme God that he carries the praise name Omolú, the son of God, and he is routinely referred to as the wrath of Olodumare.

While this story make clear the warrior quality of Ojuani Meyi qua Shakuaná, the specific power of the já and its links to Guinea, Partridge and Olodumare, it does not seem to tell us anything about the vessel of Asojano.


  1. "With a quick stab, Shakuaná ran Guinea through with the já and ended the war, thus making all the children and vassals of Guinea and Partridge into the slaves and servants of Shakuaná. In this way, Shakuaná ended the war, epidemic and death that were assaulting Dassa."

    And in doing so, taking into himself the collective witchcraft powers of Guinea and Partridge, it would seem. From the description of his crown among the Arará, birds again speak both of witchcraft and the seat of power.

    I wonder if in sweeping illness off of a person with the já, the priest sweeps the illness back into the earth (and to Shakuaná, who stores it until the next epidemic)?

  2. I think you are onto something here. Shakuaná definitely has intimate relationships with witchcraft. Crowns do usually have feathers or birds: In fact, most initiates' crowns take red parrot feathers.

    Your reflections on the destiny of the removed illness intrigue me. I have wondered the same thing and come to the same tentative conclusion.

    1. Benediction. May I also add that when the guinea hen is sacrificed to Asojano in an awan, the Orisha comes down and possesses one of his sons or daughters. It happens only at this moment because that is when Asojano defeats both witches and takes on their powers.


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