Nanú, the Mother of Babalú-Ayé
So little is known about Nanú that many elders refer to her simply as “the mother of Babalú-Ayé,” “the mysterious one,” or “the stronghold” or “strength.” She is related to the other roads of Babalú-Ayé and has many of the same functions. She comes to remove obstacles to health and well-being, and she is treated in much the same way as other manifestations of Babalú: she is treated with great respect because of her awesome power. She is feared because death is always with her, and she too rules infectious disease. She is secretive, but provides important revelations. She is wealthy beyond our understanding. She lives in the wilds and wanders on the road. She struggles with how to express moral ideals in an imperfect world. She seems to be dead, only to rise again. Nevertheless, her iconography and ceremonies are slightly different from the other Babalú-Ayés.
Nanú has a broom, which is received by her devotees the first time she eats goat. The já points to her work as cleansing agent in the lives of her followers. Like the other roads of Babalú, she cleans negativity. The broom, which is by definition dirty, sits on her altar. Thus, we bow before what is dirty and infectious. Unlike the other Babalús, her broom is bent over at the top to form a loop. She uses this loop to “hook” things for her devotees. This form also evokes female gentials and differentiates her from the other Babalús, whose brooms take a phallic form. (In fact, some elders link her explicitly to the vulva.)
Like other roads of Babalú-Ayé, Nanú is associated with the dry earth and her secrets often include earth from 7 different places. However, Nanú always lives in a tinaja, a low-fired terra-cotta vessel that clearly evokes depth. Ochún Ibú Ikolé, Yemayá Aganá and Olokun all live in this same kind of vessel. The vessel suggests that Nanú lives in the deepest part of the earth. Her tinaja is usually painted black and the lid is often decorated with cowry shells. The color black points to the unknown, again drawing attention to her mystery. Cowry shells that were used as currency in much of West Africa show her great wealth. Cowries, also used in divination, point to her ability to provide revelations to her followers.
When we invoke Nanú, we usually call a grander set of powers. We generally start by calling Elegguá Echú Afrá and whatever male road of Babalú-Ayé we have. We follow these invocations by calling upon the aché of the moon, the stars, the comets, and the dark, surface layer of planet Earth. Again, this links her to the complex of divinities associated with the Earth and with the mysterious darkness and powers of the night. Unlike other roads of Babalú, Nanú only eats female animals.