Controlling the Boundaries of Morality: The History and Powers of Ayelala Deity


The worship of deities has always been a major religious preoccupation among the Yoruba. Among these deities is Ayelala, a water goddess, who is not only worshiped with pomp and pageantry but also highly revered and respected for its judicial powers. As a deity of retribution and justice, Ayelala is believed to possess great powers which she uses against varying forms of social vice, such as armed robbery, sexual offences, and witchcraft to mention a few. Ayelala is reputed for seeking vengeance when the offender has forgotten her or his crime, and strikes her victims by inflicting on them bodily swelling and in few cases, dryness. Such is Ayelala’s overwhelming power and potency that the deity seeks to control the boundaries of morality and at the same time forms a
major bulwark against societal impropriety.

Our article examines the history of Ayelala, being one of the popular deities worshipped in coastal Yorubaland. It also interrogates how the deity’s power stems from the importance of boundaries and difference, insofar as these warrant the strict obedience of individuals, their families and the society as a whole to the prevailing set of moral demands. The article contends that beyond the narratives of power, potency and retribution, Ayelala’s role as an arbiter of justice underscores the importance of civic values held within communities where the deity is worshipped – which are also values that undergird intergroup relations. Though Ayelala worship is pervasive among the Ilaje, Ikale and Ijaw-Apoi communities of Ondo state, Nigeria, the deity is also linked with other neighboring and distant communities which highlight the unifying tendencies of a common religion and deity belief among different sub-ethnic groups.
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