The Many Roads of Babalú-Ayé: Soyaya

As I have pointed out in other posts, Babalú-Ayé has many, many roads—perhaps more than any other oricha. Here is story from Oyekún Biká about a road called Soyaya.

In the land of Dassa, there was a bokono, as the Arará call their babalawos. This bokono was called Juanlani and his sign was Oyekún Biká. He was plagued by many struggles with other bokonos, and one day he divined for himself. His own sign came out, indicating that he should give Babalú-Ayé a goat, a rooster, a guinea hen, smoked fish with jutía, cocoa butter, cascarilla, rum, a coconut, and money. Babalú-Ayé, who was called Tokuen in Dassa, said his brother Soyaya could solve his problem. Soyaya lived with the oricha Olokun at the bottom of the sea, so Babá sent Juanlani to take the ebó to seashore and call Soyaya with a gongoli, a old-fashioned wooden bell. Three times Juanlani did this and Soyaya did not appear. At the end of the third day, as Juanlani was leaving, a beautiful green and gold fish leapt from the sea and landed at his feet.

Juanlani picked it up and put in it in a clay container with sea water. It turned out that the fish grew and grew, and Juanlani had to move it to a tinaja, a deep clay container. When it no longer fit, he carried it back to the sea and prepared to throw it back. But the fish said, “Climb on top of me, I will carry you to your salvation.” So Juanlani climbed on, and the fish carried him to the palace of Olokun, who gave Juanlani a secret to vanquish his enemies. Then the fish said, “I am Soyaya, son of Dasoyí and Nanú. I am the one no one knows but all respect. I am the spirit of that which gives life to the odu Oyekún Biká Biká, and that is why every time you go to war, my blood will revive and save you.”

The fish in this story is the Yellowtail Snapper, called rabirrubia in Spanish and eyá iñiru in Lucumí. When this sign comes out for people, they are often told that they must feed the head with a Yellowtail Snapper and then receive Babalú-Ayé-Soyaya.

This road of Babalú lives in a tinaja, rather than a cazuela like most Babalús. Some say he lives at the bottom of the sea, as this story suggests. Others say he lives in the waves as a young fisherman. The only other road of Babalú that I know who lives in a tinaja is his mother, Nanú.

While most obviously about Soyaya, this story touches on many different roads. First it says Babalú-Ayé is called Tokuen in Dassa. While I have never heard this anywhere else, I have heard elders speak of a road called Tokuo, who separates the land from the sea. I have heard people suggest that Soyaya is the twin brother of Someno Maya, another road of Babalú that seems to have nothing to do with fish or the sea. Still others says he is the father of Kalinotoyi, a Babalú who lives in the sea or on land and is often compared to the manati, an animal widely associated with Olokun. It fascinates me that the mysterious Babalú-Ayé, lord of the Earth, should have a road that turns back to the mysterious Olokun, lord of the bottom of the sea, who also traditionally lives in a tinaja.

It is very rare to have a story from a divination sign that quotes an oricha. It draws your attention to what he has to say. While specific to Oyekún Biká, I think to that Soyaya’s wisdom here can be said of Babalú-Ayé in general: he is the one that no one knows but all respect.