Ilaje; Ijaw (Nigeria)

A commoner engaged in sex with an Ilaje nobleman’s wife, a criminal offense. Discovered, he fled, seeking refuge among the Ijaw people, who granted him asylum. The Ilaje demanded his return (and death). Now an issue of pride, the Ijaw refused. This dispute threatened to escalate into warfare: negotiations were held.

The Ilaje and Ijaw formulated a shared moral code, condemning witchcraft, war, and theft. However, the Ilaje would not compromise regarding the escaped commoner: either he had to return to face the death penalty or a substitute had to die for him, and so an enslaved woman was produced to serve as ransom. Before she was executed, she was expected to pray and follow ritual procedures, but this woman, described as devoutly religious, could not. Allshe could say was “Aiyélála,” which translates as “the world is incomprehensible,” a cry of protest against the injustice of her fate. Following her death, she was deified and called Aiyélála. (Her real name is a ritual secret. She is a historic person, a deified mortal. Details of her life are secret, revealed only to initiates.)

Aiyélála is associated with witch trials. Ordeals to determine whether malicious witchcraft has occurred are held at her shrine. She is an arbiter of social morality and justice. Aiyélála is petitioned to provide justice and to punish those who have caused harm or broken crucial social codes. She is also invoked for prosperity.

Shrine: Her primary shrine is on the small island where she was executed. Public altars are erected near riverbanks, and people maintain home altars as well.

Allied spirits: Babalu Ayé; Eshu Elegbara; Shango

Favored people:

Those who fish professionally or who ply the sea for their trade

Sacred sites:






See Also:

Babalu Ayé; Eshu Elegbara; Orisha Oko; Shango


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes