Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Bean Cakes

In 1802, the Fulani sheikh Usman dan Fodio declared jihad against the Hausa. Thirty years later his successors moved against the Yoruba.

The disunited Yoruba city-states fell rapidly before the Fulani onslaught. By 1834, the cities of Oló Iyé, Ikoyí, Offá, and Erín had been taken, with massive destruction and forced Islamization. The huge Fulani army then turned south, and in 1840 camped outside the city of Oshogbó at the great bend of the River Oshún.

Oshogbó had grown into a populous city, its population more than doubled by refugees. (Those years are still known in Yoruba as itán isá isá, the 'time of running.') As Yoruba cities go, Oshogbó was not a particularly ancient city; at this time, it had seen only 10 obás, kings.

The city had been founded by the obá Laró, who led his people there after a dispute over succession in Ibokún, and was built in pact with the goddess Oshún. Laró first planned to build in a grove on the river bank, but the goddess herself emerged from the river and told him that the grove was sacred to her, and that he must build instead on a nearby hill. If, she promised him, he would protect her grove, she would protect his city.

They say that, on the eve of the battle, the priestesses of Oshún dressed themselves as market women and went among the Fulani army peddling bean cakes, the light, fluffy black-eyed pea fritters that are popular street food up and down the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America. In Brazil they are called acarajé.


Some say that Oshún herself led her priestesses in this. The poisoned bean cakes killed thousands, and next day the dispirited Fulani army was defeated resoundingly by the Yoruba fighters, with the aid of British rifles. The Muslim advance was halted, and the Old Ways were saved. Eparreí Oshún!

Oshún's sacred grove at Oshogbó still stands, and every summer hosts a massive festival in honor of the Lady of the River.

The city of Oshogbó has never to this day been taken by an army.

And in its peaceful streets, women still sell bean cakes.


Ulli Beier, The Return of the Gods: the Sacred Art of Suzanne Wenger (1975). Cambridge University Press.


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Tagged in: Oshun River worship
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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