The fifth book in our children’s book series, Shango’s Axe of Thunder, is a celebration of Shango, the fourth king of the Oyo Empire. The Oyo Empire was an ancient West African kingdom that reigned from the 15th century until 1835. Shango’s story is quite an interesting one and inspired the creation of the Shango religion. Today millions of people around the world honour Shango as a God.
Who is Shango?
Shango was thought to be the forth King of Yoruba (Oyo Empire). He reigned for seven years and was described as a tough leader with a fiery temper and wild disposition. He was said to be very calculating and often times manipulative. During his reign he fought many battles and was considered to be a brave leader, but many felt he led through fear, oppression and trickery.
During his reign he made it his mission to move the seat of government from Oko to Oyo and was able to successfully do this by devising a plan that avoided combat but still led to the death of the princes and chiefs.
Despite some of Shango’s criticism he was respected as an effective leader who strengthened the power and influence of the Oyo Kingdom.
His reign came to an end after his leadership was challenged; he then fled into the forest where he committed suicide.
It was believed that Shango had a keen interest in making charms and had knowledge of how to make a preparation that could attract lightning. Myth has it that his reign actually came to an end when he was trying out this preparation, which he didn’t think would work, so he tested it in his own home. The preparation is said to have worked and a storm developed immediately with lightning striking the palace and starting a fire. Many of his wives and children died in this fire and he was so distraught that he decided to abdicate his throne and fled to the forest.
After his death Shango was deified and worshipped by the Yoruba as the god of thunder and lightning.
The Shango Religion
The Shango religion is an African-inspired religion practised mainly in Trinidad, Grenada and Brazil. It came into being in the 19th century and was developed by the Yorubas who become enslaved and were transported to the Caribbean and South America. Whilst previously the worship of Shango became incorporated into the already existing religious practices of the Oyo Empire, the Shango religion was developed later in the Americas by enslaved Yoruba people who built an entire religion around Shango. Additionally Shango is worshipped in the voodoo religions in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. Shango’s religious followers believe that he did not die but ascended into the heaven and his disappearance was in fact his transformation into a god.
Well… that in a nutshell is the story of Shango, a very interesting story of how an African king was deified. Africa’s history is filled with so many interesting figures and we think it’s so important that our children understand their rich, powerful history and culture. Researching these stories can be a great moment of discovery for children and we have to open up their world to the diverse cultures that exist.
Johnson, Samuel, History of the Yorubas: from the earliest time to the beginning of the British protectorate. London 1921 (pp. 149–152).
The African American Registry