This story is sometimes called “The Vengeance of Oluó Popó” but I think it really gets to the deepest motivations of this oricha.
In the land of Kowanilé there lived a diviner called Iká Bemí. He was a child of Changó and enjoyed great wealth. All of his lands were rich; he reined in tranquility, health, and economic growth. All of his businesses prospered and everyone lived well. One day a pilgrim arrived, leprous and dressed in sack cloth. It was Oluó Popó, who shook a conical bell made of wood and sang:
“Babá odire agolona e ago e mowanile."
He frightened all who saw him, and they fled from him. He knocked on Iká Bemí’s door. Hearing the song, the diviner was frightened and did not get out of bed. Oluó Popó continued to knock insistently, so Iká Bemí sent Elegba to find out what the beggar wanted. When Oluó Popó saw Elegba, he understood that Iká Bemí had belittled him. He became very angry and began to sing:
"Echichi abe ikú Awó kigbáru ikú arun kosi kode kilo mowanile."
Death and Illness responded, visiting the land. People and animals died in great numbers, and people began to flee, so business also dried up. Elegba told Iká Bemí that he needed to visit Orula to learn what was happening. When he visited Orula, the divination revealed the situation: Oluó Popó felt offended and undervalued by Iká Bemí, and Elegba and Ochún were the only ones who could convince the oricha to lift his curse. Following Orula’s directions, Iká Bemí returned to his land, took an herb called oporoporo and squeezed out as much liquid as possible. To this he added honey, smoked jutía and fish, and corn. He put all this into a lamp, lit it, and using traditional songs, called to Ochún for help.
When Ochún heard his chanting and smelled the lamp, she visited Iká Bemí, who prostrated himself and explained why he had called her. Ochún went outside and saw Oluó Popó hiding behind a baiyekú plant while observing the destruction of the land. Ochún moved toward the plant singing:
"Mowanile ea afiguerema Oshún adeo ilú odoyeo obalu aye afiguerema iyá yeo mowanile olu ogdo yeo ogbalu aye."
When Oluó Popó heard this song, he emerged to face Ochún. She approached him, and as she sang she passed her hand over his head with honey and palm oil. Oluó Popó calmed down, and Ochún gave him a stone that shined brightly, saying, “This is the secret you need to live peacefully in one place without wandering so much, but you must save this land.” Oluó Popó took off a necklace and gave it to Ochún, saying, “With this, the people of this place will save themselves, but they must respect me and remember me always.” With that, he began the return to his own land to seat his secret.
Ochún returned to Iká Bemí, gave him the necklace, and said, “Always wear this necklace. Now give three chicks to Elegba and a goat to Oluó Popó.” When he gave the chicks, Changó and Orula appeared and said, “Take the head of the goat and charge it, cover it with black and white beads, and place it with Elegba. From time to time, you must feed it with an old goat so you and your children can live many years on this Earth.”
I love this story because it shows the transformation of the oricha. Ochún rescues Babalú-Ayé from his life of constant movement and alienation. She seems to save him from himself, freeing him from his own abject life. Ochún often acts in this role of mediator, as she does in the stories in which she brings Ogún back from his self-imposed exile in the forest and in which she travels to heaven to convince Olodumare to end a draught. While we don´t know what exactly was in the secret that Ochún gave to Oluó Popó, we do know that it changed him. He takes this secret gift from Ochún—love perhaps?—and returns home, and this brings him peace of mind.
Similarly, when Iká Bemí honors Babalú-Ayé, he can enjoy long life. He must open the door of his life, wear Babá’s necklace, and make regular offerings. Rather than being rejected at the door, Babalú wants to be received, respected, and remembered.