But before I go on to explain why some orisha initiates eat coconut and why some don’t, let me go back 15 years down memory lane. Once upon a time, I remember a couple of Santeros that I met in Austin, Texas and who were the first blockheads who absolutely thought they had all the knowledge in the world when it came to Santeros not eating coconut. It so happened that my husband, an aleyo back then, was asked to pick up some dessert for the meal we were cooking. As usual, being the polite Southerner he is, he found a gorgeous coconut cake and decided to get it, but he also wanted to offer a choice to those present, so he also got a chocolate cake. He came to our godfather’s Iwori Oddi’s home happy with his choices, and godfather greeted him at the door to help him carry the cakes and praised him on both choices for they were also his favorite cakes.
To my husband’s horror, the Santera, Isabel screeched at him as he entered the kitchen and started to give him grief over buying a coconut cake. “Don’t you know that Santeros do not eat coconut!” shouted the woman. My godfather’s wife reminded her that she was a guest, my husband had gotten not one but two cakes, not everyone present was a Santero and not everyone had the same prohibitions, “ So eat what you will and let the other people be” where doña Maria Luisa’s words to Isabel who had no choice but to respect the elder’s suggestion.
Food restrictions or ewe, are very personal, they come from itá which happens to be a very personal and dare I say one of a kind process.
But let us examine the issue at hand. In the post I am told that since Obi is an orisha we do not eat obi because we would be eating orisha. Ok!
Obí is not an orisha. Dida Obi is the full term and it means the casting of the four sections of the Kola nut (Cola acuminata). However, in the New World Cola cuminata does not grow but in Brazil and it is not even native from that land either, it is native from Africa. Thus, our ever practical Yoruba ancestors found a substitute, the coconut. Of course, since we have a rich oral tradition, this substitution was followed by the creation of patakis do support the substitution of the Kola nut with coconut- by the way obí is not equal to coconut, the word for coconut is àgbón.
One of said patakis talks about the need to be humble. Here is my shortened version of it.
Obí is considered pure and white inside and slowly he starts thinking much of himself because he is placed by Olofi at the top of a palm tree so everyone can see how great he is. Obí’s ego grows and his humble heart starts to shrivel. One day he asks his friend Elegua to invite his buddies to a party he will be having. Elegua seeing his friend had such a change invites lots of beggars and dirty people. This does not sit well with Obí who expels the guests out of his house. The story gets to Olofi’s ears and he decides to dress as a beggar himself and pays a visit Obí who is offended at the sight of the beggar. Olofi reveals who he is and Obí is profoundly ashamed of his behavior. Thus Obí is cursed to be dark outside, white inside and to be forever a servant to Eleguá by becoming an oracle.
Then there is the story of Elegua as the son of Echu Okú Boron and Añaguí who found a coconut with shinning light and after picking it up he threw it behind a door where he forgot about it. Shortly after that the young man died. The elders gathered to investigate the death of Elegua and through divination discovered that the reason was that the coconut had been forgotten and eaten inside by bugs and thus, the conclusion was to use a stone to represent Elegua and this is how Elegua as an orisha was born. Perhaps this is where some people draw the conclusion that the coconut is Elegua or it can at least be interchangeable.
The question remains, do we commit an act of THEOPHAGY when we eat coconut? I think not. Not from my point of view. Besides, the act of eating a god is not something that is alien in many religions. Don’t Christians eat the body of God at every mass? Don’t a lot of Santeros stride the fence of two religions and are Catholics and Santeros at the same time? So, a person can ‘eat’ the body of God at the mass and then they are horrified at chewing a piece of coconut?
What happens when one does a rogación or head feeding isn’t part of the process to imbue the rogación with one’s ashé by chewing on coconut and mixing some of the spit with the coconut?
I think next time someone has the desire to point out what they feel is a ‘huge’ perceived mistake or lack of knowledge on my part, they ought to stop and analyze exactly what is it that they believe and why. Where did they learn their information and is it logical or just a mere repetition of oral tradition? I am not criticizing oral tradition, I am just saying that one has to ferret the golden nuggets out of a mnemonic device such as a Pataki and not just simply take the story for a fact word by word. Reading between the lines is such a wonderful thing; don’t shy at the opportunity for analysis.
I am more than happy to admit fault when faults are due, but in this case, I stand by my word. Eating coconut is NOT taboo for everyone. Eating coconut is not a case of theophagy because àgbón is not a god more than an ikin (palm nuts) is a god. They are both divination tools, nothing more nothing less. But if a person’s itá states not to eat coconut, by all means keep they should keep their restrictions; just don’t impose them to the rest of us as a one-size-fits all rule.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá