Vodun God

Sakpata

A figure of Sakpata, the god of earth, photographed by Sostoli, (2017).

A figure of Sakpata, the god of earth, photographed by Sostoli, (2017).

Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0

Overview

In the Fon religion of West Africa, Sakpata (also known as Sagbata) is an earth deity and the god of smallpox. “Sakpata” is also a general name given to the earth and the entire pantheon of earth gods.

There are two versions of Sakpata’s genealogy. According to one tradition, Sakpata is the firstborn son of Mawu-Lisa, the creator god. When Mawu-Lisa divided up the realms of the world, Sakpata received authority over the earth.

However, another tradition states that Sakpata is the eldest son of Da Zodji and Nyohwè Ananu, twin gods who (in this alternative account) were the firstborn children of Mawu-Lisa. Da Zodji and Nyohwè Ananu went on to give birth to many other gods, and their children received dominion over the earth. These children became collectively known as the Sakpata gods—the gods of the earth pantheon.[1]

As the god of smallpox, Sakpata is worshipped in hopes of preventing outbreaks of this terrible disease. According to some accounts, the god first became revered as a protector against smallpox after an epidemic decimated the region where he was worshipped.[2]

Pronunciation

  • English
    Fon
    SakpataSakpata
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [sahk-pah-tah]/sak.pa.ta/

Sakpata Gains Control of the Earth

Tapestry of Sakpata, photographed by Ji-Elle, (1900's).

A tapestry depicting Sakpata, the god of smallpox from The Musée du Quai Branlyphotographed by Ji-Elle, (1900's).

Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0

When it came time to divide up the realms of the world, Sakpata and his brother Sogbo (also known as Hevioso) quarreled over which of them would receive control of the earth itself. Sakpata moved to the earth to stake his claim, but he was unable to take the rain with him.

To punish his brother, Sogbo withheld the rain from the earth. (According to an alternative account, the deceiver god Legba had told Mawu-Lisa that there was not enough water in the sky, so Mawu-Lisa ordered Sogbo to withhold the rain.) As a result, there was a great drought, and “the earth was in danger of conflagration.”[3]

Mawu-Lisa sent her messenger, Legba, to check on Sakpata and the earth. When Sakpata told Legba about the drought, the messenger god promised to help.

Legba sent a bird named Wututu with instructions on how to solve the problem: Wututu told Sakpata to build an immense fire so that the smoke would reach the sky. Sakpata did as he was told, and the smoke signaled to Mawu-Lisa that the earth was burning and that the sky was in danger of catching fire.[4]

Seeing the smoke, Mawu-Lisa ordered Sogbo to release the rain and extinguish the fire. Ever since, the rain has been regulated so that it always rains when there is a dire necessity for it. The bird Wututu remained on the earth so he could signal whenever the rain was needed.

With Wututu’s help, Sakpata and Sogbo were reconciled, and Sogbo now helps his brother every time the earth is threatened by drought.[5]

References

Notes

  1. Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010), 28, 97.

  2. Aloysius Muzzanganda Lugira, African Traditional Religion (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009), 61.

  3. Harold Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), s.v. “S.”

  4. Lynch and Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z, 97.

  5. Scheub, A Dictionary of African Mythology, s.v. “S.”

Secondary Sources

  • Lugira, Aloysius Muzzanganda. African Traditional Religion. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

  • Lynch, Patricia Ann, and Jeremy Roberts. African Mythology, A to Z. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010.

  • Scheub, Harold. A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Citation

Mackay, Danielle. “Sakpata.” Mythopedia, August 07, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/sakpata.

Mackay, Danielle. “Sakpata.” Mythopedia, 7 Aug. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/sakpata. Accessed on 13 Dec. 2023.

Mackay, D. (2023, August 7). Sakpata. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/sakpata

Authors

  • Danielle Mackay

    Danielle Mackay is a writer and scholar who received her MA in Classical Studies from Rhodes University in South Africa

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