Patakís from the Composites of Okana
The Story of the Maja
From the odu Okana Ejioko (1-2)
For days Maja was exhausted. No matter how much he slept he was sleepy; and no matter how much he rested he was tired. His arms and legs ached and his skin took on a rough, sallow pallor. “Husband, you don’t look well,” his wife complained, worry creasing her brow.
Maja sat still, staring into space. “I feel fine, woman,” he said. “I just need to rest.” He put himself to bed early that evening and slept fitfully.
In the morning the sheets were sweat-soaked, and he shivered as fever warmed his flesh uncomfortably. Maja’s wife put her lips to his forehead gently; it was hot and dry.
“You need help, Maja,” she insisted. “Come with me to my godfather, Mofá. Let him divine for you. Let him give you something to help you. You get sicker by the day.”
Maja’s wife was a believer in the orishas. Maja was a skeptic of the religion and all it entailed. He grumbled a bit, but he was so exhausted from his mysterious illness that he had not the strength to fight. With his wife he went to see the diviner.
Mofá divined: he prayed and questioned the orishas, casting the diloggún on the mat several times before speaking. “The orishas are not happy with you because you do not believe,” he said, concerned. “Your illness, however, is not their doing. It simply is. But Obatalá stands up to save you. You need a rogación; this will cool your fever and restore your health.”
“Obatalá wants me to make ebó? Who is this Obatalá? Show me! You cannot, for he is not real! I’m a sick man, and you want to cool my head with a rogación?” He breathed deeply. “Let my wife make ebó instead and cool her own head. I will seek out a doctor and take medicine to rid myself of this illness.”
Mofá sighed. “There is none more blind than he who refuses to see.”
Maja’s wife remained for a rogación. “It can’t hurt,” she told Mofá, and he shrugged his shoulders. Maja went home and called for the best physicians in Cuba.
“This is most unusual,” said one physician, and the others agreed. That evening they stayed with him; the fever grew. They administered medicines and remedies to bring it down, but to no avail. When his wife came home she was shocked. Her husband lay in bed, soaked in sweat, his fever so high he was delirious.
They worked all night to cool him and restore him.
Morning came, and Maja’s fever was lower but not broken; the physicians left, secure that he would recover. But as the day passed he became weaker. Soon his skin roughened and his extremities turned hard and blue. They were useless, and Maja lay in bed, unable to rise. “Call the doctors,” he cried to his wife. She ran from the house. He thought she was going to fetch a physician. The wife, however, went back to Mofá.
“He is dying,” she cried. “He is so weak that he cannot get out of bed.”
Mofá divined again and worry twisted his face. “Your husband refused to make ebó,” he told her, “and Obatalá is angry now. Your spouse sat here on the mat and made fun of him. He doubted his existence. A rogación will not help anymore. Obatalá says your husband must walk alone to a crossroads carrying a coconut and a white pigeon in each hand. Obatalá himself will come meet your husband and will restore him to health once he makes ebó.”
She went home to tell him what Mofá said. When he heard her words, he roared. “Woman! I lay in bed unable to stand, and your witchdoctor wants me to walk? Is he crazy? Get me a doctor quickly before I die!”
There were tears in her eyes when she ran to fetch the doctors, and when they were on their way to her house she ran to get the items for ebó. “Perhaps if I go and explain to Obatalá my husband cannot walk,” she reasoned, “he will have pity and save him.”
At the crossroads she stood with one coconut and one white pigeon in each hand; she was there barely a minute when Obatalá himself rode by on his white horse. Before the orisha dismounted she was on the ground prostrating herself, her tears wetting the dust. Obatalá blessed her.
“Father, my husband is dying. He cannot even walk. I came here with his ebó hoping that you would still save him.” Her face was twisted with anguish when she pleaded, “Please save him.”
Obatalá gave her a rogación and fed her orí in Maja’s name. When he was done, he wrapped her head securely in white cloth and told her, “Your husband has been sick too long, and he never made ebó for himself. His illness is too advanced. I might be an orisha, but I cannot break the natural laws Olódumare has set.” She hung her head and began to cry again. “His arms and legs are dead; they died while you traveled here. I can’t reverse that, but I can transform him into something new.
Your husband, Maja, will be known as the maja, and those who see him will scorn him as he has scorned me.”
The woman thanked Obatalá, and ran home, her feet barely touching the earth. Her heart was in her chest when she burst through her own door.
Maja was surrounded by several physicians, each with a look of horror on their faces. For his arms and legs had died, and his body transformed. Maja was a snake, and frightening in his countenance. Thus was the snake known as the maja born on the island of Cuba.