Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ogum and Oxossi


From its beginnings in the west coast of Africa, to its arrival and acceptance in Brazil, Candomble is a dynamic polytheistic religion with its own culture, history, and lifestyle. It is a religion that revolves around rituals, offerings, and dances; all for its several deities, more commonly known as orishas. Each orisha has its own: story, color, metal, and social role. Some orishas are related to others, some are individuals, and some have an interesting dynamic between each other. Perhaps the best example of this dynamic can be found in the relationship between Ogum, the warrior, and Oxossi, the hunter. Many of the deities were personified through saints in the early colonization of Brazil and throughout slavery, as only Catholicism was permitted. An example of this being Oxossi, who can be represented as St. Sebastian and St. George. This allowed the Africans to continue their practice of Candomble while having the appearance of partaking in Catholicism. Candomble would be non-existent in Brazil if the slaves did not disguise their religion in such a clever way.



Ogum is a fierce warrior, who is constantly at battle, as seen in his dances. His space is that of the forest, and often before arriving at battle, he must cut a path through the brush. He is typically dressed in blue, or green, and wields machetes. However, after arriving in battle, Ogum switches to a dagger and shield. This process can be described in Anna Scott’s Choreostories: “When he has two daggers, Ogúm fights without the shield, using the daggers to catch the weapon of his opponent. Finally, he spins around (all of this is done bouncing on the left leg) cutting down victims all around him.” He is the deity of metal and technology, and Anna B. Scott calls him the “deity of the 21rst century”.


Oxossi is said to be the brother of Ogum, and by others, his son. However, most view Oxossi as the partner of Ogum, as their talents complement each other well. Oxossi is a hunter and a wizard. He occupies the brushes, hence his color of green. Oxossi is commonly seen with a bow and arrow in hand and typically on the hunt for animals. He is an excellent tracker and finds paths in the most difficult of situations. His ability to get out of tight situations makes him the deity most called upon for those in arguments or negotiations (choreostories). Both Ogum and Oxossi are the deities of Iron.


When dancing at a ceremony for Ogum, the dancer typically tells the story of Ogum through their steps and motions. Starting with both arms being held back, as to be machetes, the dancer takes three steps to the right, throws their arms in their arm (symbolizing Ogums' cutting through the forest/creating a new path). This is then repeated in the opposite direction. Just as the story changes from the scene in the forest to the battlefield, so does the dance. The machete is no longer present, and the dagger and shield replace it. His dance evolves into fighting his opponents and slaying all those around him with hsi dagger (or daggers). The speed on the dance progresses with the tempo of the drums and the amount of action in the story. Variations of Ogum include the dancer dressed in either blue or green atire. The entirety of the dance brings to life the fierceness of Ogum, the warrior-general.


Just as Ogum, Oxossi’s dance tells his story. However, as a hunter, his story is about the chase of the animal. “He dances with a bow and an arrow mimetically rendered by holding out the index and thumb on both hands and touching the inside tip of one index finger to the tip of the opposite thumb; the right hand leads. With the hands in this position, the arms become a natural reign for his horse, while simultaneously serving as the bow (Scott).” His dance is accompanied by drums and the dancers' steps quicken with the drums. Throughout the dance, oxossi will step in a way as if he is on a horse. This steps mimics a sort of gallop, hands embracing the reigns. The dancer is typically dressed in a green robe/gown, and is sometimes accompanied with a bow, as well as an animal tail.

Connection and Partnership

As previously stated, Ogum and Oxossi are often viewed as partners, and for good reason. Ogum uses his machetes to cut through the forest in order to find his battlefield, but he calls on Oxossi to guide him. Oxossi, an expert hunter and tracker tells Ogum where to cut as he is known for finding paths where no one else can. Together, the pair can get out of any situation, or go anywhere they please. This partnership is recognized and many joint festivals have been held in their honor. Typically, deities have their own ceremony, for example the run de ogum, or festa de oxossi, but on certain occasions, a festa de oxossi e ogum may be thrown. This dynamic between Ogum and Oxossi is a unique one, and is not seen in any other orisha ceremony. While orishas such as Omolu and Nana are known to have a connection (as they are son and mother), Ogum and Oxossi are matched solely on how their attributes complement each other.


Ogum- The day of Tuesday is dedicated to Ogum and followers wear blue ceremonial outfits with green necklaces. Ogum is supposed to be mentioned first when making offerings to Orishas, as he is supposed to “make way for them”. Animal sacrifices are common during ceremonies for Ogum.


The cult of Oxossi is nearly dead in Africa, but is still practiced today in Brazil. The day dedicated to Oxossi is Thursday and common gifts or offerings to him include pigs, Axoxo, corn, and coconut. The parades thrown for Oxossi show him with his bow, arrow, shield, and animal tail (which is supposed to be a symbol of royalty).


Candomble is a complex religion with many specific rules, ceremonies, and especially dances. Each orishas is unique with its color, element, offering, purpose, and dance-steps. The dances performed for the orishas tell their story step by step, and the dancer follows the rhythm and tempo of the drums. Each hand movement or step in itself is telling a story, for example, the machetes (arms of the dancer) used in Ogum’s dance to show him cutting through the forest. These steps are just as eleaborate as the parades held for the orishas, which are typically only for one orisha at a time, that is with the exception of Oxossi and Ogum. These two collaborate and cooperate in order to make paths that would be impossible for any other deity.

Works Cited:
Scott, Anna B. Choreostories. Ms.
"Orixas." Orixas. 2007. E.CA. 3 May 2009 .
Fryer, Peter. Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil. Hanover: Wesleyan Unversity P, 2000.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic work, Geoff. Great clips and awesome images. Wonderful to report them as a team. It often is not done that way it should be! Thanks for the 'food.'