Oduduwa—also known as Odudua or Oduwa—is the chief goddess of the Yoruba pantheon, representing the earth and love. Together with her husband Obatala, she helped to create the world. Oduduwa is also a contemporary of Olorun, the Supreme Being; in other words, she was not created by Olorun the way her husband was.
Oduduwa and Obatala are often symbolized by a closed white calabash (a kind of gourd). The lid of the gourd represents Ọbatala, the symbol of heaven, while the bottom represents Oduduwa, the earth. This image presents Oduduwa and Obatala as a single androgynous deity.
Older myths of the goddess depict her as the embodiment of virtue. Oduduwa is also imagined as quite beautiful; she is associated with the color black, which symbolizes beauty among the Yoruba people. As a mother goddess and creator of the earth, Oduduwa is typically depicted nursing a child at her elongated breasts. But as the patroness of love, her virtuous identity is transformed into “unbridled immorality.”
Oduduwa and the Creation of Humanity
Oduduwa plays an important role in the Yoruba creation myth. In this myth, Olorun sent Obatala to create the earth and mankind. As he worked, Obatala was overcome with thirst, so he decided to drink some palm wine. He continued to create humans from clay, but the more he worked, the more he drank. In the end, he became so inebriated that he fell asleep.
Olorun sent Oduduwa down to see how Obatala was progressing, but she found him fast asleep. When the goddess saw the failed creations Obatala had made while drunk, she took it upon herself to complete the task given to her husband. As a result, she became the mother of the Yoruba people.