The traditional ilé orisha structure dictates that a new initiate, no matter their level of initiation, must be sponsored by two people, a godmother and a godfather.
However, the selection of a sponsor from each gender although practical, because it mimics the biological structure where we come from, is not always feasible. For the purposes of explaining the role of the oyugbona or oyugbonakán, let’s understand that the pair of main godparent and oyugbonakán can be made of two males, two females or a couple not necessarily married to one another.
The first time the oyugbonakán comes to the life of an aborisha (uninitiated person) is when the person receives the elekes and becomes an aleyo (a person initiated but not to a priesthood rank like an olosha), from the time this happens to the moment a person decides to make Kariosha, the relationship with both godparents should have significantly matured and the future iyawó should be able to make an informed choice and know the good and the bad aspects of these important religious models.
The oyugbonakán is not a servant, even if many define it as such. The oyugbonakán is more like a lieutenant. Before Kariosha the oyugbonakán will take the iyawó to do the ebbó de entrada or the beginning ebbó. The oyugbona will also be responsible for taking the iyawó to ilé ibú or the river, where the iyawó will be purified in an act that means a breaking with the past. The oyugbonakán will be in charge of paying respects to Oshún by offering, among other things, ochinchín, one of Oshún’s favorite treats and one made by the oyugbonakán herself.
The work of the oyugbonakán is far from over, she must make sure to bring the secreto del río and the tinaja (a secret procured at the river and a clay jar filled with river water) both are crucial to the ceremonies to come. Once the iyawó is settled for the evening, the oyugbonakán needs to make sure that all items for the ceremonies are organized and in place, afterwards she retires to prepare the ashé in a ceremony called machuquillo (grinding of ashé).
During Kariosha day, the oyugbonakán will not only be in charge of keeping an eye on the iyawó at all times, but also will be in charge of all the work done in the igbodu. No detail must escape from the eyes of the oyugbona and her duties and ceremonies should not be delegated to others.
I have seen plenty of lazy oyugbonakán delegating to others the rogación de ordón (prayers over the head done to the iyawó while sitting on the ordón or ceremonial rock, mortar or an almond tree trunk depending on the Orisha being crown), the obí after that rogación and many other things. I have seen oyugbonakán barely moving their lips to sing when the lavatorio (washing ceremony) was in progress or during the shaving and crowning of the iyawó.
Then again, I have seen plenty of oyugbonakán work with zeal to make sure their iyawós was treated like royalty and where the rooms were pristine and ran with martial precision. These oyugbonakán knew the power of each of their acts and the power their hands and words carry in each of their actions.
Either the main godparent or the oyugbonakán have mat duty or sleeping on the floor with the iyawó for the next 7 days. But invariably every morning, the oyugbona wakes up before anyone else, makes a ceremonial breakfast for the iyawó and also bathes and dresses the iyawó for the ceremonies and day to unfold. The oyugbonakán must know how to paint the lerí (head) and is in charge of hosting any elders coming to visit the iyawó on during the 7 days of ceremonies.
There are many other ceremonies performed on these days, the oyugbona organizes all of them. On the Día del Medio, the oyugbona will not leave the side of the iyawó, will take care of the change of ceremonial clothes and will sit with the iyawó during the ceremonial dinner. After every guest is gone, the oyugbonakán will prepare the iyawó for bed.
On the day of itá the oyugbonakán is in charge of assisting the oriaté with the ceremonies but she will not take notes on the itá notebook, nor will the main godparent, only the afeicitá (scribe) will record a lifetime worth of advice from each of the orishas and oloshas present at the ceremony.
On the last day, the iyawó must visit the marketplace and in some houses, a church. The oyugbonakán is the person in charge of this outing and must guide the iyawó through certain challenging actions. When the oyugbonakán returns, it is her duty to prepare a meal for the orishas with the items obtained at the market.
She will perform the last rogación for the 7 day period and then accompany the iyawó to her home along with her main godparent. The orishas will be brought to the house of the initiate by the oyugbonakán who will then be in charge of setting up the orisha on a mat at an appropriate place.
For the following year, the oyugbonakán will be in charge of doing a rogación each month for the iyawó and of paying surprise visits to the iyawó, functions that could be alternated with the main godparent. Either the main godparent or the oyugbonakán or both will also take the iyawó to visit the house of each of the oloshas who participated in the Kariosha to thank them for their help. This social call is important because the iyawó will start to put in practice social behavior and skills while honoring the guardian orisha of each of the priests who came forth to contribute their ashé in the iyawó’s life.
The oyugbonakán will be key during the ebbó meta (3 month ebbó) and in the process of presenting the iyawó to Anyá or the consecrated batá drums and, eventually, during her introduction to the igbodu.
As you can see the oyugbonakán has a many duties during and after the year in white, and for the rest of the life of this priest, the oyugbonakán will always be there to support the main godparent and to watch over the olosha. The oyugbonakán are hardly disposable, their role is one of great honor and respect.
These words are in recognition of the services and sacrifices made by all of those who selflessly gave themselves to the role of oyugbonakán.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá