Obatala: African Deity Inspired Costume Design

Obatala: African Deity Inspired Costume Design

Take a look at these inspiring costumes by Melissa Simon-Hartman, award winning artist who works with carnival, cosplay and couture. Melissa combines her background from Trinidad and Ghana to inspire her work.

“The intent is to respectfully create an artistic presentation in honour of the religion of the Orishas during an annual festival with traditions based on repentance. The characters are fictional with carefully researched Yoruba names possessing attributes that pay homage to Obatala, an Orisha that symbolises wisdom, purity and creation and has been synchronised with Zeus, Odin, Krishna and Buddha.

Obatala (known as Obatalá in Latin America and Yoruba mythology) is an Orisha. He/She is the Sky Father/Mother and the creator of human bodies, which were brought to life by the smooth breath of Olodumare.

Long ago, Obatalá’s stubborn character and state of drunkenness got him into trouble and he missed the opportunity to create the world. After his failed mission, he appeared before Olodumare, who prohibited him from ever drinking palm-wine again. Olodumare said, “What you did, Obatalá, is a very serious matter! Your behaviour has cost you the creation of the world. I hope you have learned a valuable lesson!” Obatalá said, “Ah, yes, I did! It will never happen again!” Olodumare said, “That is good to hear. From now on, palm-wine is your prohibition. Do not ever drink it again!” Obatalá’s repentance is significant to our theme as we honour the rich history of African diasporic traditions at carnival which itself is a festival that traditionally leads to repentance from Ash Wednesday annually.


In Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, devotees celebrate Obatalá through September festivals. Devotees wearing white costumes parade through the streets beating drums and chanting songs. In these festivals, all Orishas are worshipped, offerings are made, and food is shared. In these festivals, a community of humans celebrates a community of Orishas, mingling the human with the divine. Back in Ile-Ife, the believers wearing silver jewelry and white garments enter the Obatalá shrine and chant devotional songs in unison playing igbin bells, a classical instrument invented centuries ago to celebrate Obatalá, the sweetest god of thoughts, dreams, and purity.

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