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For the name, see Oya (name).

In Yoruba mythology, Ọya (Alternative spellings: Oiá, Iansã, Iansan), is the Undergoddess of the Niger River. Ọya has been syncretized in Santería with the Catholic images of the Virgin of Candelaria.


She is seen in aspects as the warrior-spirit of the wind, lightning, fertility, fire, and magic. She creates hurricanes and tornadoes, and guards the underworld.[1] She is the spirit of tornadoes (which are said to be her whirling skirts as she dances), lightning, and any kind of destruction. Beyond destruction, Ọya is the spirit of change, transition, and the chaos that often brings it about. She owns the marketplace, as the Yorubas have a saying "Life is a Marketplace and our true house is in heaven". She is also the giver of life. She lives at the gates of cemeteries (as opposed to the entire underworld), which reveals her in her aspect as the facilitator of transition. Ọya, when danced, often has a horse tail. Her clothes have all the colors but black. She has a face expression of really big and open eyes, and she breathes and blows up her chins, and often screams.

Ọya's close association with the passage from life into death also means she is one of the few Orishas which are worshiped alongside the Egun ancestors, whose cult is most often distinct from that of the Orishas. The reason she is worshiped with Egungun is because the Egungun are her children. In the stories of the faith, she can transform herself into a water buffalo. One of her preferred offerings is the eggplant.


In Yoruba, the name Oya literally means "She Tore".[2] She is known as Ọya- Iyansan, Ọya - the "mother of nine." This is due to the Niger River (known to the Yoruba as the Odo-Ọya) traditionally being known for having nine tributaries. In Brazil, in Candomblé, she is generally saluted with the phrase "Èpa heyi!" while in Cuban-derived Yórùbá traditions, the faithful often salute her by saying "Hekua hey Yansa."

Connection to Other Orishas[edit]

She is closely associated with many Orishas, but most especially Chango, Oggun, Ọba (Obba), Yewá/Euá and Ochún/Oxum. Oya is believed to have been Shango's favourite wife. She is also called "the one who uses air as her cutlass", "the one who wraps herself in fire, like a cloth", "the one who puts on trousers to go to war", and "the one who grows a beard to go to war". She was known to lead Shango in battle, which makes sense physically as Ọya is the Orisha of lightening, and Shango is the Orisha of thunder (lightning always precedes thunder).

As the deity of the wind, Ọya manifests in Creation in the forms of sudden and drastic change, strong storms, and the flash of the marketplace. Her representation of natural disasters and death is not as arbitrary as it may seem, these factors often serving as a means of creation for her.

Ọya is said to have a sister named Ayao who is received by some of her initiates. The ritual and existence of Ayao is questionable, and it is hard to trace her origins outside of the Lukumi system. Ayao is mentioned in books by Lydia Cabrera and surfaced in the United States in the mid-nineties (1994–1995).


Ọya has been syncretized in Santería with the Catholic images of the Our Lady Of Candelaria (Saint Patron of the Canary Islands in Spain) and St. Therese of Lisieux, and her feast day is February 2.

In some places of Brazil like Salvador, Ọya, also known as "Iansan" or "Yansã", belongs to the mystical cast of the religion Candomblé and has been merged with the Catholic figure of Saint Barbara. Thus, as the saint, she is celebrated on December 4.[3]

In Pop Culture[edit]

In Octavia Butler's dystopian Parable series, the heroine bears the name Lauren Oya Olamina. Lauren founds a religion called Earthseed, with the main tenet "God is change."

There is a young mutant girl by the name of Idie Okonkwo, primarily featured in Wolverine and the X-Men, who took on the codename Oya.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Oya at". Pantheon.org. 2001-04-05. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  2. ^ Sexuality and the world's religions - David W. Machacek. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  3. ^ A Bahia de Santa Bárbara