Friday, June 10, 2011

Güeró, Oshumaré the Rainbow in Arará

A couple weeks ago, I was back in the streets of Havana chasing down friends, asking obtuse questions of subtle people. As usual, I spent some long afternoons in conversation with Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye, the most renowned Arará-Sabalú priest of Asojano to date. He was a bit tired and very busy: he had just crowned his 33rd Asojano and was in the middle of giving Asojano to a Puerto Rican woman from Florida. We talked about Asojano, but we spent a lot time talking about Güeró as well.

Güeró, also known as Danda-Güeró or Jueró, is the rainbow serpent. Born in Ogbe-Oyekú, the rainbow links heaven and earth. The proverb in that sign says that the rainbow only occupies the piece of the sky that God permits. Given that Echu Emere came to Earth with Güeró, it is easy to imagine that he is given at the same time, but I never got a chance to ask Pedro about that.

According to Pedro, Güeró actually came to earth in Osá-Ojuani. This sign includes is long story where Olofi created the world covered in water. However, he asked his children to do all they could to gather the waters so people could have a place to live on Earth. Since Güeró was a majá—a snake—and had no hands, he was worried that he could not do his part. So he visited the diviner, who told him to make a niché-Osain in a long-necked medicine gourd to help himself. Then the diviner set him afloat in the water atop the gourd, and Güeró did not climb down till he had created solid ground. After sixteen days, all the deities had to report to Olofi. Other orichas had created rivers, but Güeró had created the Earth and the great oceans that surround it. Olofi gave gold and jewels to other orichas, but to Güeró he gave a deformed woman with reddish hair.

When Güeró complained about that, the diviner Orula explained that Olofi had given Güeró his daughter. Orula said he should add some things to the long-necked gourd and he did. Güeró and his wife lived together, but one day they were broke, and Güeró began a conversation with his wife. She said that he should not worry, that he would have a fortune. She asked him to turn his back, and when he did, she whistled loudly. In that instant strong winds began to blow from the north, south, east, and west, and living things—plants, animals, human beings—appeared all over the world. And his wife, who was Aida-Güeró, became very beautiful. Then Güeró understood the great prize that Olofi had given him, and he too became very beautiful. Together they became the rainbow. Since then, they have lived on high and other orichas envy them. Ochosi even tried to kill the rainbow, but Güeró lit it up with his light, and the Orichas said, “Güeró is like Olofi himself.” And Güeró continued his path through the skies.

There is so much to say about this story that I am not sure where to begin. Danda-Güeró and his wife Aida-Güeró reiterate the Dahomean inclination to seeing the beginning of things in twins, a powerful way to image the dynamic polarity necessary for creation. And what could be more opposite than the fearsome, earthly snake and the beautiful, celestial rainbow.

In this story Güeró is none other than the creator of the Earth, and Pedro is fond of remarking that “Güeró is a kind of Obatalá.” The comparison of Güeró to Olofi also strikes me as particularly fascinating. In 1948, Esteban Baró waxed poetic about Güeró, saying that the rainbow is supreme because it cannot be measured and that the other orichas worshipped him (Bascom Papers, Carton 26, Folder 3, page 247).

More on all this later.


  1. If I'm not mistaken, one of the sources for the place-name Dahomey originates with the serpent Da, both in Danda-Guero and Da, the mighty snake that encircles and thus forms the earth.