Legend has it that in the beginning what is now called earth was a watery marsh, non-inhabitable to human life. There were several species of animal that lived on the marsh and from time to time, beings ventured down a golden ladder (or spider’s web) to hunt game. It is said that one day Olodumare, who was deep in thought, summoned Obatala, his chief architect and most trusted divinity, and gave him the task of creating earth as we know it. Obatala who had gone to Orunmila, chief counselor and heveanly sage, for divination before being summoned, knew of the task in advance. The oracle advised Obatala that he must sacrifice before venturing to earth and that he must ask Olodumare for specific items, if he wished to have a successful mission. In accepting his assignment he asked Olodumare for a five-toed hen, a pigeon, a snail’s shell containing dirt and some vegetation. With the contents carefully placed in his sack, Obatala descended to the watery marsh.
When he reached an area that could successfully hold his weight, he emptied the dirt from the snail’s shell in a pile. The hen was released and started scratching the dirt, spreading it until it covered a wide area. The pigeon was then released and it took particles of the vegetation and planted it at various intervals in the dirt. After four days, Obatala returned to heaven and told Olodumare that he had completed his mission. God then sent the chameleon to “walk” on earth and to examine the work that Olodumare had performed. The Chameleon returned to Olodumare and said “Ife” (It is wide enough). The chameleon also reported that the earth was not dry enough at that time for habitation. Olodumare then asked Obatala to return again to earth and this time he gave Obatala the seedlings of several trees to plant; these trees are now sacred to the Toruba. Among the trees were Igbe, Ope, the Dodo, the Iroko, the Peregun, and the Ayan. When Obatala reached earth, the spot where he landed he called Ile’-Ife’, was to become the holy city of the Yoruba, and the place where man would first exist. Obatala returned to heaven after planting the trees and asked Olodumare to give earth rain, which He did.
Our elders tell us that Obatala was given a second task mission by the Almighty which was to make life forms that would eventually inhabit the earth. Obatala’s specific instructions were to create physical being. Obatala once again sought guidance from Orunmila, and this time he was told to ask Our Father for soft clay from which to mold the creatures. He was told by the oracle that these creatures would become a race, a human race and that they would reproduce. The oracle described the organs of reproduction that must be made. Obatala was told to sacrifice for success. It is said that in his anxiety and haste to begin this new project, Obatala forgot to sacrifice. Obatala asked God for the soft clay and God instructed Obatala that He would bring life to the man-forms; giving man “ase” and certain other attributes including free-will, that would sustain man through limited life on earth; after which man was to return home from his journey; home to Orun.
Obatala eargerly began his task molding the male first with a male organ and the female second, giving her breasts and reproductive organs to allow procreation of their race. After days of continuous labor, Obatala began to drink of palm wine to quench his thirst and soon became intoxicated. With eyes half-closed, and his senses numbed by both fatigue and the wine, he valiantly struggled to complete his task, but alas, the forms were now misshapened and irregular.
Our folklore says that Oduduwa, later to become the progenitor of the Yoruba, came across Obatala in his stupor and decided that he would finish the task. When the task was finally completed, all of the divinities assembled to witness the creation of man. Olodumare arrived and asked the divinities to cover their eye as he gave life to man. All of the divinities covered their eyes except Orunmila; who was chosen to the witness of man’s fate.
Olodumare then breathed life into the forms and some came to life with deformities. Olodumare in His infinite wisdom charged Obalatala, the architect of man, with being the patron of the cripple, the hunchback, the blind, the albino, dwarfs and all others that mat be afflicted with a physical handicap or deformed in any way. He also said henceforth, that it was taboo for Obatala to drink strong spirits.
Shortly thereafter, Olodumare informed his divinities that they were to travel to earth and settle it. Eventually they were told that they would cohabit this plane with man. Obatala was again chosen to govern man and divinities on earth. Olodumare also sent Orunmila to give information, counsel and guidance to Obatala, the divinities and to human beings.
Taken from: The Yoruba World of Good and Evil, Conrad E. Mauge Ph.D