Shango’s prowess is depicted in many patakí not only related to female orisha but also related to his mouth. He is the mouth of fire, a gift given to him by Osaín. His voracity can be seen partly the representation of the inner mechanisms of the machinery that moves society to consume, proliferate, and advance.
In war, he is represented as the strategist that advances troops wisely and conquers. As the figure of the lover, he is the driver of women’s passions and devotions. As a ruler, he is highlighted for the applied fairness of his wisdom, and furthermost, he is the unstoppable force of a joy for life that is seen in his every action, from his dancing to his passion for food.
I have yet to meet an Oní Shangó in one way or another did not reflect one of these fundamental traits but mostly I have noticed that Shangó folks can certainly and joyfully put down a good amount of food. Even if they are careful about the amounts they eat, they certainly do it with relish. We are not talking about gluttony, no; we are talking about a sheer enjoyment of what is being consumed. To me, cooking is an act of passion and love. When I am in the kitchen, I give myself to the task of highlighting, celebrating, and transmuting ingredients into a feast for the soul. Thus, one of my ways of Shangó for me is through food.
When I turned five years in Osha, I remember having a guest of honor at my odundé Orisha (anniversary celebration). A friend new to the Dallas community, an awó Orunmila and oní Shangó from Nigeria. Babatunde was the very first Nigerian I had the pleasure to cook for as my guest. Knowing he was a son of Shango, I decided that I would do a few special treats to celebrate his visit and make sure I would have enough hotness in some of my dishes to make him happy as I had heard that Nigerians have a fondness for hot food.
Babatunde came in with a drum in hand and after the formalities of introduction were over, he said he wanted to do oriki orisha or prayers in honor of Yemayá. I was truly pleased. I was escorting him to the shrine room as we passed by the kitchen; he stopped, closed his eyes, and inhaled. He stood there motionless and closed his eyes, it must have been just seconds but his face lit up as he said, “Omimelli, do I smell pigeon peas and rice?” I nodded and volunteered the rest of the menu which also included amalá adún and amalá ilá among other things.
Babatunde started to pray and to punctuate his prayers with the beat of his drum. Everyone fell silent, those in the hallway came slowly and crowded the room, the energy encircled me and I felt as though my spirit could no longer fit inside of my body. The passion of his words was patent to everyone, and at the same time, there was a sense of coolness and tranquility.
After the prayer was done, I did not want to move but he quickly reminded me that he was eager to try Puerto Rican food for the first time. I am not one to make my guests wait as I seldom see in Orisha anniversary parties where snacks are served but the meal punctuates the near end of the affair. I see no reason to have folks languishing snacking on finger foods when there is a feast to be shared.
There were two kinds of roasts, one was stuffed pork tenderloin glazed with apricot and the other a tender roast beef spiced with thyme and horseradish, rice and pigeon peas, potato salad, a green salad, roasted yams with honey and spices, and okra stew New Orleans style with plenty of spices and freshly baked bread. People were enjoying themselves, but no one like Babatunde.
I was puzzled by two things, how can such a slim person consume such mass quantities of food and how in the world did he managed to quickly demolish one large bottle of Habanero sauce (Sudden Death Sauce is the brand in case you are curious) and did not even take a bit of water! The sauce I served would put an elephant to sweat and hop on his rear legs. However, to my surprise, it did not even bother Babatunde.
Well, I guess I will stretch my imagination and pretend that when an olosha is blessed with a mouth that can hold the secret of fire, butting down a bottle of Sudden Death Sauce is just well, normal.
His energy was contagious; you could feel it all around. By the time desserts were shared, he certainly looked like a happy cat, and so did the rest of my friends and godchildren who enjoyed sweetening their mouths with the traditional desserts made for the orisha. I am particularly fond of amalá adún or sweet cornmeal porridge made with spices and a healthy amount of brown sugar and honey. The only food that was not demolished was the nice plate of amalá ilá made just for Shangó. I think at the end of the day, no one wants to lay a finger on babá’s favorite dish out of respect for the orisha with a mouth of fire.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá