Home > Blog > How Esu Came to be Known as Satan

How Esu Came to be Known as Satan

By Chidinma Okere on 10 Feb, 2020

In Yoruba cosmology, Olodumare, also written as Eledumare, is the supreme God. Next in the hierarchy of gods are the Orishas. Orishas are lesser gods. They are in charge of certain elements and adherents pray to them instead of directly to Eledumare. The supreme God is only consulted when a matter is beyond the powers of any of the Orishas or when there is a dispute among them. The exact number of Orishas is unknown. Some say that the number of Orishas is as many as you can imagine plus an extra one. The list of Orishas include Ogun, Osun, Sango, Obatala, Esu and others.

Ogun is the god of Iron

Osun rules over the sweet waters of the world, the brooks, streams and rivers. She embodies love and fertility.

Esu is the trickster god. He is the god of mischief.

To modern Yorubas, Esu is also Satan of the Bible. How did this come to be?


Traditional Yoruba worshippers (Aborisha) insist that Esu is not as ”devilish” as he has been made out to be in Christianity. They say that Esu, unlike the Christian Satan is not against the will of Olodumare. His will and ways are subject to the plans of the supreme God. In Yoruba mythology, Esu is simply one of the gods that make up Olodumare’s justice system.


This mix up can be traced to Sir Ajayi Crowther, Nigerian linguist and the first African Anglican bishop. It was he who translated the Bible into Yoruba. Bishop Crowther also wrote the first Yoruba dictionary that translated Yoruba into English. The mix up happened in the dictionary where he translated Satan as Esu. Why he did so is not known but as Christianity and Islam replaced traditional worship, people began to refer to Esu as Satan in line with Bishop Crowther’s translation.




Ajayi Crowther was instrumental in translating the Bible into Igbo language. In 1857, he wrote Isaoma-Ibo, the first book written in Igbo language and in 1882, he wrote the first detailed dictionary in Igbo. Perhaps, his input accounts for how Ekwensu became the Igbo word for Satan. 

In reality, Ekwensu of the Igbos is not Satan as the Christians know him. Like in Yoruba traditional system, Ekwensu is one of the dieties that make up the Igbo pantheon. Others include Ala, goddess of the earth and fertility, Anyanwu, god of the sun, Amadioha, the thunder god, etc.


For linguistic correctness, some scholars like Kola Tubosun have advocated for the following translations: devil as Bìlísì, Satan as Sàtánì, and Demon as ànjọ̀nú.


As the spiritual system of the Yorubas (and Igbos) is different from that of Christianity, many argue that Chukwu or Eledumare are not appropriate translations of the Christian God. Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comment section.








Book cover: Amazon

Highlighted page: In-house editing

Esu statues: https://www.imodara.com and https://www.pinterest