Sunday, April 3, 2011

oshun and oya, in private

Sometimes I wonder if Oshun really gives a damn about Chango.

I mean, there's Oshun. Keeper of the hearth and home. Happy to keep the home fires burning. Happy to hold it all together when Chango is off fighting the good fight, being dramatic, charismatic, and good.

Oshun, I think, is in love with love. Maybe even the idea of love. And she is not at all ambivalent about children and kitties and dogs. She pours out love and caring. And she's very attached to that house.

But Chango?

I mean, I think it's probably a relief for Oshun when Chango goes off awandering. She gets a little time to herself to contemplate the principles of love, without having to deal with the pain in the ass who's very nearly never there.

The women of Medjerda were thrilled when their husbands were away.

They got the courtyard all to themselves then. They could relax. They were not beholden. Multiple wives —polygyny, in other words — was prized, even by the younger women, even though by the time I got there polygyny had been illegal for about 15 years. Bummer, that. I mean it. Multiple wives. How cool is that — for the women, I mean.

Be stuck with Chango all by yourself? Well, no. Having a co-wife or two would make living with a man who thought himself a god (not to mention, taking care of his mother as well) more bearable. Polygyny would ease the terrible burden. The young women I talked with (rural, marriageable fellahi girls) were uniformly not looking forward to being stuck with some preordained husband of their own. Partly it was the geezer factor. It was only the older men who could afford marriage at all.

And love wasn't what it was cracked up to be, either.

The problem with love for these Medjerdiya girls was that the young men they might fancy were almost certain to be unemployed and likely unemployable. There wasn't any land left to distribute. And only one son might inherit his father's lot, and still not own it. They had no education to speak of. And getting a passport to work abroad usually just wasn't in the cards. But many of them did get out. Basbor de la lune — passport of the night. Sneaking over the border to Libya. Well, that's not going to happen again any time soon.

Of course, the women of Medjerda are not devotees of Oshun at all. They put their trust in Allah, and they do their part resisting. I think they'd find Oshun a tad unrealistic.

Romantic love can only get a person into deep shit.

But the love of the household, the children — well that's a pretty safe place to be. And when Chango's off with his Oya, you can relax into knowing the place is all yours. And the kids are too. And you build an obligation in them, so that when they're grown and there's no place else to go — they'll take you in. But if you yourself try to leave before they're grown, you can't take them with you, and so when you and they are young there's no place you can go.

There's a law in Tunisia, still on the books I believe. About foreign women who marry a Tunisian man. Should they divorce, the children are his and his family's. She cannot take them out of the country, not even for a visit without his leave. Family law wholeheartedly supports patrilineal privilege.

The Imazighen of Morocco, have it just the other way around. When a man leaves, the children stay with their mother. Matrilineal, still, to the core, the Berbers are. But it's not at all the law.

Heartbreaking either way. Staying. Overstaying. Leaving. Falling in love. Dangerous stuff, these.

Oshun. She believes in love. Embodies it, as if it will keep her safe. She's needed there at home. Who else will do her job? You can't fire her, right? Disaster would ensue.

But the Changos of the world do fire her. Or they leave her there to figure it all out on her own. For the Changos of the world, the adventure is with Oya. The larger issues. The global affairs. High drama, intensity, and the cause of justice in the air.

Most likely I've misrepresented Oshun here.

And that's me — who can Oshun as fiercely as the next person. Tiger-mummy extraordinaire. I can do that. I do do that. But my Oshun still comes out looking a whole lot like Oya. Just like my chicken soup can't help ending up a minestrone, heavy on the lemon.

But I can't stand an Oshun who is beholden. Who sits at home and waits for Chango's return. Who doesn't stand a chance in the realm of grand adventure. Who has nowhere else to go.

And yet, look at all those altars! Oshun, that's what people want. Find me a mate, Oshun. Bring me children, Oshun. Give me your life, Oshun.

It's not like anyone's asking for Oya's favors, unless they are very, very desperate for a dramatic change.

Oshun wins inside the public imagination. She's got a hold, a grasp Chango's not willing to let go of. Somebody's got to do it. And she does it so bloody well.

Oya walks away, or rather, she turns and runs. You're not going to tame her the way you tame Oshun.

Strange thing about Oya is that she too has to live someplace. Strange thing is that Oya can do Oshun all by herself and do her really, really well indeed. I think there's not a soul on earth who thinks that but me. Okay, you say, but that's not love. Okay, I say, but maybe it is.

I mean, Oya's got to come from somewhere and she's got to go home again too sometimes. And Oshun might be afraid of adventure. But Oya finds it all divine.

Sometimes I think I'm more like Oya. Sometimes there's no question I do Oshun. Maybe it's Chango who's overrated. Time to think more about Ogun.


  1. Oba is keeper of the hearth and home, here you have described Ochun with Oba's qualities. This is becoming more common these days, but it is not energetically correct. My experience with Ochun is very different. She is young, independent and flirtatious. Definitely not sitting at home! When Shango is out, Ochun is busy cavorting with Ogun! Oba is home pining for Shango. Oya does not give a damn. Ochun, Oba, Oya are like triple goddess: maiden, mother, crone.

  2. True enough that Oba is better in the pining-for-Shango department, and Ochun is certainly much more resourceful. I don't think the three correlate to stages of life (maiden-mother-crone) in the Western sense—and surely none of them are much the crone! Still, you're right that I left Oba out here, and for that I apologize to her and wish her only well.

  3. Never disrespect the sound as if you're bitter comparing your own life to Oshun and Oya.
    Maferefun Shango...ashe

  4. The Orisha have been very good to me, and I have honored them. The life of the Orisha is not at all my life but theirs, as is the periodic bitterness you speak of. What I have been given is the gift of balance. And for that, I am supremely grateful!