We are quickly approaching the end of the third month since the manmade disaster fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana in the middle of the gulf. Everyday, more and more toxic oil spews into the gulf from the well where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. With reports of oil and tar appearing on the beaches of Galveston Island, Texas, every gulf state is now directly impacted and we are still weeks away from any permanent form of containment. Everyday we tap into British Petroleum’s underwater cameras to see the cloud of oil spewing a mile under water. Everyday we see images of birds doing their best to cope with their oil soaked wings and failing miserably. But it is only today that I bother to think about this disaster from Yemonja’s and Olokun’s perspective. And I call myself an Orisa devotee.
For those of you who may not remember, and for those of you who never cared to take note, my spiritual belief system is partially built on the ancient African spiritual traditions of the Yoruba people. In this belief system, Olokun and Yemonja are the spiritual entities who are best known for, and are mostly associated with, life in the ocean and deep water. Think of Olokun as the forebear to Neptune or Poseidon or even Aquaman. And Yemonja is often depicted as a mermaid. Olokun is associated with the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean. Yemonja is associated with the top waters and the shoreline. The two work hand in hand with each other as well as with other Orisas.
Yemonja is often referred to as the mother of life and with good reason. While there are some people who believe in creative design theories that surmise that the Supreme Being started snapping his fingers on the fifth day and animal life just started popping out of thin air, a lot of people are aware of more scientific theories that promote the belief that life started in the ocean. If the ocean is the source of life, the ocean is the mother of life, and Yemonja is associated with the ocean, one might conclude that Yemonja is the mother of life.
The ocean is the spiritual realm of these two Orisas, and others, and we are doing our best to screw it up. We might give a rat’s ass about the globs of oil and tar that are appearing along the gulf shores. British Petroleum promises to do everything possible to restore shorelines and beaches. But is anybody really thinking about the vast parts of the waters that are not so heavily influenced by tourists’ dollars? I remember BP CEO Tony Hayward doing his best to convince people that there was nothing to worry about in the deep waters in the middle of the gulf because all the oil is lighter than water and so all the oil will simply rise to the top. But the reality is a lot more complex. Water is heavier than air but somehow enough moisture gets sucked up into the atmosphere to produce torrential rainstorms.
Like the rain in the air, plumes of oil droplets are floating in the middle of the gulf like underwater clouds. But, unlike the clouds of water in the atmosphere that have to release the moisture to impact us here on the ground, the underwater clouds of oil don’t have to release anything. The underwater oil clouds can maintain their integrity and still impact the life of all those sea creatures. And what effort will be made to remove these plumes and restore the ocean back to its oil-less condition? While British Petroleum is hiring people to clean beaches and make a good show of trying to look like somebody with that outfit cares, it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing will be done to set the middle of the gulf back to its original condition.
Imagine how you would feel if somebody came to your house, started digging in your living room, struck oil and let it spewed all over your house. And then, to add insult to injury, the only part of this disaster that will get cleaned up is the part of your property along the perimeter. You probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much. I know I wouldn’t appreciate it if something like that were to happen to me. I’d be thinking I’d want whoever did it to clean the whole place or at least try.
One thing I can say about nature, it can take care of itself. As members of the Orisa community, Yemonja and Olokun have nothing if they do not have time on their side. Given enough time, the constant scrubbing of the water on the shore will clean even the biggest tar ball. The plumes of oil in the gulf will eventually dissipate. One day, the waters in the gulf will be restored. It wouldn’t matter if we managed to fill the entire gulf with our Texas crude, we simply cannot out last nature.
What we can do is impact nature’s ability to sustain us. We might think all we have to do is clean the beach so that the damage to our tourist industries is minimized. But there might be a long term impact to this as well. What would be the entire magnitude of impact if we actually managed to contaminate the source of life and a major food source? Yemonja and Olokun work together to provide a lot for us. You’d think we’d be more careful with the way we interact with nature. But it looks like just the converse is true. As humans who are part of the ecological chain of nature, we should never so callously pollute the hands that feed us. You’d think we’d have more respect for the cradle of life.