ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

Xangô, The Thunderbolt

Author | Autor: Reginaldo Prandi

Translated by Laurie Anne Carpenter | Illustrated by Pedro Rafael

How the Stories of Xangô Came to Us

Brazil and Africa have many things in common
besides the fact that both share Atlantic
coastlines and both are situated in the Southern Hemisphere.
Natives first populated Brazil,
and then Europeans colonized it.
Black Africans were brought to Brazil as slave labor,
and then blended into the population.
Much later the Asians arrived,
as well as people from other parts of the Americas,
and others from all over the world.
The people groups that formed Brazil brought
their customs and traditions,
their religions, their saints, and their gods.

One of the groups of Africans who were brought to Brazil
were the black Yorubas, also called Nagôs.
They worship gods knows as orixás
and believe that for a long time
the orixás lived out many adventures on earth
before inhabiting Orum, the heaven of the orixás.
The nagôs believe that it was Olorum, the Lord of Heaven, who created the orixás,
endowing them with the mission of creating the world we all live in
and of taking care of everything that happens here.
Xangô is one of the orixás, the god who governs thunder.
Once he was a great and just king here on earth
and, after he was transformed into an orixá, was also a king in the Orum.
He was given authority over all things
involving government and justice.
But there are many orixás, because Nature is complex
as is the life of human beings.
Every aspect of both realms has its own orixá,
the deity in charge of that part of life.
The sea has Iemanjá, who also oversees maternity.

Metallurgy and the roads belong to Ogum.
Oxóssi is the lord of hunting, who fights against hunger.
Ossaim controls foliage and the preparation of medicines.
Iansã is the goddess of lightning, controller of storms.
Oxum is the goddess of fresh water, wealth, and love.
Omulu is the orixá with power over pestilence and the cure to diseases,
while Oxumerâ governs rain,
and so on.
For every single thing there is an orixá responsible for it.
In order for human beings to live in happiness,
peace, health, wealth, prosperity, and love,
they need to count on the favor of the orixás.
That is why humans offer the oxirás gifts, feasts, music and dancing.
This is how the Yoruba religion explains the world.

When the Yoruba were captured, separated from their families
and transported in slave ships from Africa to Brazil
to be brutally enslaved in our country,
they did not come alone; they brought their orixás.
They rebuilt their African religion here,
and worshipped their gods, offering them many gifts,
with a lot of music and dance,
according to their traditions.
And the orixás helped them tolerate their bondage.
On May 13, 1888, slavery was abolished from Brazil,
but few Africans returned to Africa.
Most of them were already Brazilian, they had become a part of this country.
And their orixás also stayed on permanently,
and the veneration is still alive yet today in the temples called candomblés.

Many are the stories that speak of the orixás,
and these stories teach us about how their lives
and adventures.
They speak of their romances, their struggles,
their desires and even of their pain.
And all of this happened in the remote past,
when they inhabited the world in which we live.
The Yoruba also believe that everything in life repeats itself.
Thus an incident that happens today to one of us
may have already happened, many years ago, to one of the orixás
or to another human or perhaps even to an animal.
For the Yoruba, knowing these ancient stories is valuable,
for if one knows the causes and the ending,
it would be easier to solve one’s problems.

The one who knows all stories from all time
is the orixá of the oracle: Ifá, the Soothsayer.
When Ifá lived in our world, he learned many ancient stories.
When someone had a problem, he would try to determine
which story was happening to the person
and would then prescribe what must be done to help him or her.
He had 16 magical shells called búzios
that we would throw to the ground or onto a sieve.
The pattern in which the shells fell would help Ifá
to discover which of the ancient stories was repeating itself,
for the Yoruba believe that nothing is new,
and that all is repetition.

Even after Olorum took Ifá to Heaven and made him an orixá,
his stories were remembered by his followers.
They learned the magic of the game of búzios,
and along with it uncovered the stories lived out
by men
and women,
and children.
The disciples of Ifá search for the causes of problems,
prescribing remedies and solutions.
They tell people which orixás should receive gifts
and which offerings are best to get them to help the person
recover health and obtain peace, love, money, and prosperity.
In Brazil the followers of this tradition are the “saint fathers” and “saint mothers,”
who lead the cult to the orixás in the Candomblé worship yards.
They throw búzios and know all the ancient stories
that Ifá the Soothsayer
would tell when he lived on earth.

In this manner the records were kept of all the stories of Xangô the Thunderbolt
and of the other orixás as well.
These are part of the memory of the descendents of the slaves
and also of many other Brazilians
whose ancestors came from continents other than Africa,
but, over time, have come to love the black gods.
In the Candomblé worship yards there is always music
and dance, with lots of color and movement.
In this way the ancient stories of the orixás
are played and remembered in the Candomblés.

There are so many stories of the African gods
brought to Brazil by the slaves
that many, many pages would be needed to tell them all.
So besides this book, there is another, a brother to this one,
which also speaks of the stories of the orixás.
To be fair, it is called Ifá the Soothsayer,
because it is full of the stories
that Ifá the Soothsayer liked to tell.

The King Who Spat Fire from His Mouth

Xangô, the king of Oió, ended up with the name “Thunderbolt”
because of one of his magic tricks.
He was the sovereign king of Oió, all-powerful king
of the largest of all the empires of that region of old Africa.
His life was dedicated to war and the business of the kingdom.
When he was at home, he loved to eat his favorite dish:
okra cut into thin slices
and cooked in palm oil with dried shrimp,
served with mashed yams and white wine,
along with a well-spiced lamb roast.
He had three wonderful wives:
Obá the Helpful, the oldest, who prepared all the food
and who would go with him to war if necessary, a jack of all trades.
Oxum the Beautiful, who enchanted Xangô with her allure,
captivating him in at atmosphere of luxury and loving care.
Iansã the Fearless, who went with him to war
and participated in all his adventures and discoveries.
Iansã the Fearless was literally afraid of nothing, not even of the dead,
which was the only thing that could intimidate the king of Oió.

Xangô was a tireless conqueror
of women and kingdoms.
This king, who would later become known by his nickname, Thunderbolt,
was always in search of new weapons
for conquering new territories.
When not at war, he would care for his people.
At the palace he would meet anyone, judging their lawsuits,
settling their disputes, making justice.
He was never still.
One day he sent Iansã to the neighboring kingdom of the Baribas.
He wanted her to bring back a certain magic potion,
about which he had heard wonders.
Iansã went and found the magic mixture,
which she took home in a little hollow gourd.
The trip home was long and Iansã could not help her curiosity.
So she took a sip of the potion and found that it tasted bad.
When she spat it out,
she immediately understood the power of the potent liquid:
She spat fire!

Xangô was very enthusiastic at the discovery.
He was already the most powerful among men,
and now, imagine this: he could spit fire from his mouth.
What enemy could resist?
What nation wouldn’t surrender?
Xangô began testing the best ways of using the new artifice,
which required dexterity and precision.
The next day he climbed to a hilltop, taking the little gourd,
and from the highest point he began to spew his terrifying jets of fire.
The white-hot bursts would hit the earth singeing trees,
igniting pastures, and annihilating animals.

The people, petrified, called it a bolt of lightning,
from the furnace of the mouth of Xangô, the fire which gushed out set off explosions.
From afar, the people could hear the terrifying noise
that accompanied the flames expelled by Xangô.
The intense uproar, the phenomenal blasts,
which terrorized everyone and made the people run,
they called thunder.
But poor Xangô, his luck was against him.
In one of the exercises with his new weapon,
Xangô the Thunderbolt, missed his aim and ignited his own palace.
From the palace, the fire spread from rooftop to rooftop,
burning all the houses in the city.
In just a few minutes, the proud town of Oió turned to ashes.
After the blaze, the leaders of the empire gathered to meet,
and dismissed Xangô the Thunderbolt from his position
and banished him forever from the city.

Xangô lost his throne and everything else.
Along with his three wives, he left.

Xangô was never again seen in person
but there are many stories about things that happened to him
after he was dethroned and banished from his capital city.
But whoever has heard this story knows,
whenever the furious rumble of thunder is heard,
that Xangô is not far away.
He was a just and powerful king
and to this day he helps whoever needs him.
He carries in his hand a double axe
and with it he administers justice.
They say his three wives became charmed
and that they run in the waters of the three African rivers.
Iansã inhabits the currents of the Niger River,
Obá lives in the placid course of the Obá River,
and Oxum dwells in the continuous flux of the Oxum River.
They are the three rivers, the wives of the Thunderbolt.

How the Messenger Made a Fortune and Ended Up Punished

Exu, the Messenger, had always been known for is cleverness.
There is no one more mischievous, crafty, and deceitful than Exu.
Exu is a tireless worker:
he is constantly taking and bringing messages from the orixás,
he is always taking gifts and offerings from men to the gods,
but is always up for a good prank.
He loves to deceive people and pull the legs of simpletons.
He delights in the confusion of dumb humans.
Exu is an incorrigible trickster
And sometimes his tricks turn against him.

One day Ifá the Soothsayer, who Exu served as a messenger,
called him and said:
“You have worked too much, my friend.”
“That’s true,” said Exu,
“for with the passing of each day
it seems we have more people needing our services.”
“I am going to give you some extra pay, Exu,
a special reward,
a little gift.
I think it’s time you earn a little wealth,
and become a rich man.”
Ifá spoke and gave Exu a large suitcase.
Exu examined the gift, inside and out, and asked:
“An empty suitcase, my friend?
What good is this to me?”
Ifá laughed:
“There, there, my dear friend and messenger,
for someone as intelligent and clever as you
a good empty suitcase is enough!”
Exu picked up the suitcase with a scowl on his face
and, suspecting that Ifá might be making a joke at his expense,
thanked him coldly and departed.

Exu was traveling toward a nearby city,
where he would deliver an important message to the king.
As he arrived, he looked for a place to spend the night.
He found accommodation in the house of a storeowner,
the richest man in the region.
He was welcomed by the rich man,
who gave him a place to sleep, food, and fresh water.
Exu asked his host to find somewhere to put his suitcase,
suggesting that he find a secret and secure place for the case,
as it was full of money.

Later that night, when all were sleeping,
Exu left the house, pretending to go to the yard to relieve himself.
Making sure no one saw him,
he lit fire to the straw on the roof of the house.
When the blaze began to spread,
Exu began to run through the house yelling
“Fire! Fire!”
Everybody awoke and nobody died in the fire,
but the house itself was left in a big pile of ashes.

After the shock, the owner of the house remembered
that amongst his losses was Exu’s money-filled suitcase.
Everything had been devoured by the flames, even the suitcase itself.
Exu complained about his host, saying that he had requested
secrecy and security for the safekeeping of the suitcase.
As Exu threatened to complain to the king about his losses,
the storeowner had no option but to reimburse Exu
for the amount of the entire fortune he said had been destroyed by the fire.
Exu became rich, very rich.
Exu was very happy with the suitcase that Ifá had given him.

But Olorum, the Lord of Heaven, who saw the whole thing,
Asked to see Exu and reprimanded him with divine vigor:
“Your mother Iemanjá must be very disappointed.
You are always up to your pranks, your mischief!
But this time you have gone too far, Messenger.”
He scratched his head and continued,
“You don’t need to return the money,
For the storeowner is a thief and he deserved to be robbed.
Keep it, for I know that you like money very much.”
Exu was very happy at these words,
and didn’t even hide a little smile of satisfaction.
Olorum cleared his throat, frowned, and continued:
“But you violated the shelter that was given you,
You scorned the house that took you in when you had no roof.
A home is a sanctuary, a holy thing!
Because of this, your punishment is to live banished to the streets,
without a roof over your head.
Now you may go, my son, my Messenger,
and see to it that you fill your head with good sense.”

That was the sentence declared by Olorum, the Supreme Being,
and Exu, the Messenger, from that time on has lived on the streets,
on the highways, sleeping at crossroads.
Sometimes we can see him standing near the entrance of some house,
but at the gate, near the street, never inside the house.
Yet he is always content, a worker and a prankster.
He is always playing around in his mischievous way,
but there is nobody more efficient at what he does in his profession.
He delivers everything: offerings, messages, stories,
and he has never complained about having to live outside.

Ifá the Soothsayer, after hearing about everything that happened, said:
“My friend Exu doesn’t miss a trick.
I bet he did all of this on purpose,
just in order to justify his life as a homeless wayfarer.
That’s the life he likes to lead.”

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