The white element in Yorùbá religious culture

Everyone who is familiarized with Yorùbá religious culture, and its Brazilian counterpart Candomblé, knows well the concept of “White Deities”, the Òrìsà Funfun. Many authors mention them in different aspects. While Verger (2002*) devoted his attention to historical-oral aspects of the cult, ritual and visual-aesthetical elements, Hallgren (1988) places those deities in terms of what it calls “white circle”, which pretends to be an arrange of deities, originated from Ilé-Ifè, based on whiteness element. Suzanne Blier, in many of her works, postulated the importance of this white element in Fon-Dahomey culture in European-African Atlantic encounters. Not only Blier but also many other authors refer that this white element was vital in primordial Afro-European contact in this area since many deities were associated with whiteness and because of that, the natives interpreted the arrival of those white, long-bearded men as they come of gods.

Nevertheless, despite the fact of Yorùbá Òrìsà Funfun are deeply associated with whiteness, they are generally translated as “Gods/deities who dresses in white”. However, they are named Òrìsà Funfun, which literally means “White Gods”. We have a serious problem in our hands because they are never mentioned as “Òrìsà Àso Funfun”, “Gods in white cloths”. They are White Gods. Obviously, this presented a serious dilemma for natives during the colonization and slave trade, a fact that remains in the present day-by-day religious life of African and its descendants. A people that were enslaved, that was forced to work in New World, that was and stills are largely oppressed, would easily made a slight change of theology, presenting those White Gods as Black Gods that Dresses in White.

* Brazilian commemorative edition

Cite this article as: João Ferreira Dias, "The white element in Yorùbá religious culture," in Adarrum, Abril 7, 2017,

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