The tragic Shakespearean love story of Romeo and Juliet is universally celebrated as the true definition of what love is: the two impressionable minds see past the inter-family feud and stand firm in the face of the opposition to what they hold dear. And at the end, only death can lay its cold hands on their burning desire successfully.
Death also plays a significant role in an equally tragic love story between Sango, a powerful Alaafin of Old Oyo Empire and Oya, his concubine who was a spirit with powers to transform into animals and summon rain.
Sango had other women in his life – Oshun, the first and the one historians considered to be the legitimate wife and Oba was the second.
The first two wives posed big competition. But Oya had something they both lacked. She became Sango’s favourite and the bond between them was made stronger due to the complimentary superpowers they possessed. And together, they were a powerful force.
When it’s time to ravage their enemies, Oya, who had the power to summon wind, would lead the charge. With her power, she would blow off roofs, fall trees and breathe life into the fire set by Sango’s thunder. Generally, Oya was more than a wife to Sango. They were like Bob and Helen Parr of The Incredibles.
The strong bond between them gave Oya more than access to Sango’s heart. She also had access to Sango’s Edun Ara or thunderbolt [nope, not the same thunderbolt in Tunde Kelani’s movie of the same title], which fast-tracked Sango’s doom.
Oya, it was said, was the one who advised Sango to get rid of his two powerful war generals, Timi Olofa Ina and Gbonka [not the one in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame] after they initially refused his order not to wage a war against Owu. Sango sent the duo to border towns of Oyo Empire. Timi went to Ede (where history says he became the first king; Timi is the official title of kings of Ede]. But Gbonka stayed in Oyo.
Twice, Sango pitted Gbonka against Timi in order to get rid of them. Twice Gbonka was victorious. He ordered that Gbonka be burned to ashes after the second fight against Timi.
Powerful Gbonka reappeared after three days demanding that Sango should abdicate the throne. In anger, Sango requested his Edun Ara from his beloved Oya.
He got the Edun. But there was a problem. It was wet and stained with blood from Oya’s menstruation. To refortify the Edun, Sango, history says, went to a nearby rock. The thunder from that exercise struck his palace and razed it down.
It was all down for Sango thereafter. Gbonka challenged him. Unwilling to fight, he disappeared into the air. Another version of Sango’s end has it that he hanged himself in a place called Koso.
Either way, an account of how Oya died has it that she was saddened by Sango’s disappearance/death so much that she decided, much like Juliet did for Romeo, to take her own life.
American folklorist William Bascom notes: “Oya is the favourite wife of Shango, the only wife who remained true to him until the end, leaving Oyo with him and becoming a deity when he did. She is Goddess of the Niger River, (Odo Oya), but she manifests herself as the strong wind that precedes a thunderstorm.”
Essentially, Oya is probably someone you can refer to as “ride or die chick” in the present-day popular culture.