Oya is one of the seven primary orisha in the Yoruba religion, which originated in the Old Oyo Empire of Ancient Yorubaland, present-day Nigeria. She stands at the gates of the cemetery, yet she does not represent death. She is only the keeper and guardian of the gates, allowing souls to enter. Because of her post, she has a special relationship with the ancestor world (egun and egungun). Oya is actually the opposite of death; she is symbolic of the air that humans breathe, and she can perpetuate life or death with her wrath (i.e., hurricanes, tornadoes). Practitioners of the religion believe she is Olofi's (Oludumare: God in the Yoruba tradition) secretary, informing him of all Earthly events. Because this is the aspect of Oludumare that governs the affairs of man, Oya is also a master of disguise. Occasionally, she is masked, allowing her to play numerous roles in her relationship with humans and the egun (ancestors). A common disguise is that of a buffalo.
Oya is also known as a master of disguise; she wears a mask to conceal her identity when doing her bidding or in the case of battle. She is a fierce female orisha, a known warrior who joins Shango in all of his wars. In these battles, she is likely to fight with a sword in each hand or bring along some symbolic attributes such as a machete and hammer. Oya is also known to carry a black horsetail, which is used to bless and clean her followers.
Oya is the owner of the number 9, the number of completion. Therefore, nine copper bracelets are worn on her right arm, and a copper crown with nine points adorns the head of her human personification. Her elekes (necklace made of beads) are brown and red beads with white and black stripes. It is believed that she finds favor with most colors except black. She is known for a multicolored skirt and bandanna in the Lucumi context.
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