OBATALA, the King of the White Cloth, is the oldest Orisha. He is considered to be the Father of all the other Orishas, and since they are kings and queens, for us, he is King of Kings. There are 16 caminos of Obatala, eight of them male and eight of them female. He is the servant of Olofi, and under the direction of Olofi, he became the creator of the mankind. Legend goes that Obatala was very fond of palm wine, and one day he drank a little too much while he was engaged in his work of fashioning the bodies of those to be born. The result was that some of his creations were born less than perfect with deformaties in their bodies. Naturally Olofi scolded Obatala for his error and forbid him to drink palm wine while engaged in that most important work. Since that time, those born with deformaties are considered to be children of Obatala and it is forbidden to make fun of them. Likewise, albinos are considered to be children of Obatala. White is the color of Obatala, representing purity and cleanliness and his children often wear white to please him and also as a protection. It is said that Obatala throws his white mantle over his children so that evil cannot touch them. Obatala is syncrenized in Cuba as Our Lady of Mercy. In Brazil, he is often identified with Christ the Redeamer (Cristo Redentor). Certain other Catholic Saints are associated with the different caminos of Obatala such as Saint Joseph, Saint Anne or even Saint James. We will discuss the different caminos of Obatala later in our pages.
In Haiti, Obatala is known as Damballah. When he possesses his children, they move about on the floor in the manner of snakes. Damballah is the primordial serpent. One of the oldest representations of the world or universe is the symbol of the serpent biting its own tail. Damballah in Haiti is identified with St Patrick, because in the picture of St. Patrick, he is shown chasing the serpents from Ireland. Followers of the Lwa, as the Ocha are called in Haiti, naturally assumed that the picture had to do with Damballah. Since the French, Spanish and Portugues forced the people in slavery to worship in a Christian way, the images of the Saints became means of the captive slaves to continue the adoration of the Orishas and Lwas under the guise of Christianity. The slave-owners and the missionaries were happy that the captive people had adopted Christianity and the slaves had found a way of continuing their worship of their ancient dieties, that antedated Christ by thousands of years.