There are many Orixas in Candomble, the Afro-Brazilian religion, and all of them revered, but none might be so feared and respected than Omolu, the Orixa of smallpox and other infectious diseases. AIDS, the Ebola virus and other modern disease has come to be under his realm
Orixas are the nature gods of Candomble, and you might think that disease is most unnatural, because it is often frightening to most of us, but disease is part of life here on Earth, and Omolu, and his specific dance in particular, embodies that aspect of Earthly life, as well as the emotional suffering that can accompany it.
Omolu is the eldest son of Nana, the mother of all the Orixas. As a child, he contracted smallpox and as Nana was unable to cure him, she left him by the sea. Along came Yemanja, who took pity on Omolu and brought him to her ocean realm, where she brought him back to health. Unfortunately, because the smallpox scarred him so badly, she wove for him a hood and disguise made of what we know as raffia leaves, all of which covered his body, so that he would not be seen by those who would be afraid to look at him.
After a time, Omolu showed an innate understanding of human nature and disease. When Yemanja noticed this, she suggested he reconcile with his mother, Nana.
Upon their reconciliation, he was then known as master of the land. Consequently, another name for him is “Babalu Aye,” or “Father, Lord of the Earth.”
Ceremonies & Offerings
Omolu’s day is Monday, and on this day he is generally venerated with food offerings. Hobbled by disease, he is universally known for accepting grains and legumes, such as black-eyed peas, black beans and roasted corn, which symbolise his earthy colours of brown, black, and white He also accepts sacrificed male goats and pigs, which are two of his favourite animals.
He has the power to not only prevent or contain disease, he has the ability to control his devotees through either causing or allaying fears. Because his power is considered so great, many dare not speak his name or possibly insult his powers, or else he might unleash smallpox as retribution. This said, he is known for being outgoing and communicative with others. You might think this strange, given the fear he can inspire, but he communicates well because he understands human nature.
Omolu is both feared for the disease he represents, and respected for his understanding of human nature. His dance, performed with the mask and body-cloak of raffia, symbolises his own struggles as well as the overall struggles of living life on Earth.