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 a 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 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. Since to me, cooking is an act of passion and love where one should give of oneself when cooking so each ingredient is highlighted, celebrated and transmuted from plain food into a feast for the soul, then what better way to honor Shangó than through food.
I remember that in one of my Odundé Orisha I welcomed into my house a new friend I had met in the Dallas community, awó Orunmila and oní Shangó from Nigeria named Babatunde. He was the very first Nigerian I had met and I was excited to have him as a guest. Knowing he was a son of Shango, I decided that I would do a few special treats to celebrate his visit and put to the test what I had heard about Nigerians and their love 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 in honor of Yemayá and 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 felt 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, I was on fire with the passion of his prayer and at the same time, I felt coolness and tranquility.
After the prayer was done, I did not wanted 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 everyone is made to wait until the end of the party to eat. Once the Obí divination is done, 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, an 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 demolished 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, but 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…well just 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.
If you are a omokekere Shangó or not, feel free to share below what is your favorite orisha party meal or any stories associated with Shangó’s penchant for food.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá