Ofrenda for Hurricane Victims

Ofrenda for La Virgen de Regla Yemaya-Olokun & the Souls Beneath the Deep

Oshun, Yemaya, Ancestor on the shrine at the end of the day with multitudes of swimming fish
showing people writing prayers and adding them to the altar

Community Altar & Ritual
for Victims of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita


Dia de Los Muertos

Oakland Museum, 2005
Yeye Luisah Teish and members of Ile Orunmila Oshun including Iya Oshogbo, Awo Fanira, Iya Ayokunle, Diane Rathey, and myself, created an interactive altar—Ofrenda and ritual honoring victims of the hurricanes. Photos: Gail Williams © 2005, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita it became clear that much of the death and disaster could have been prevented, especially for members of African American communities in New Orleans. Luisah Teish had family there—we were determined to create a space for people to honor and pray for the dead, known and unknown, and ritually acknowledge their grief.

The top-left image is a photo collage of two photographs taken in late afternoon. Oshun, Goddess of Rivers is with La Virgen de Caridad del Cobre and a doll statue representing ancestors. Their island is covered with offerings of “prayer fish,” flowers, and food placed by ourselves and visitors. In the photographs are two of Katrina’s victims.

The bottom-left photograph shows community members writing prayers on the fish and placing them on the altar. It is mid-afternoon. Yeye Luisah Teish is wearing a gold shawl and white head wrap.

As the day went on the rivers, oceans, and islands filled with swimming fish carrying prayers to the souls beneath the deep.
Many fish prayers in the waters of Yemaya & Olokun at the end of the day
In the late afternoon Yeye Teish led a closing ritual.
Yeye Luisah Teish singing for the ancestors, leading the ritual at our altar at the end of the day

Early in the day as we began to build the altar

Ofrenda/Altar for the Souls Beneath the Deep

We began the altar construction early in the morning. Diane Rathey (right) and Iya Oshogbo (wearing orange head wrap) talking to a museum volunteer.

The altar was decorated for the water deities, ancestors and Oya, Orisha of Wind and Storms and Guardian of the Cemetery. Oya was represented by images of Hurricane Katrina (from a satellite photo) printed on papers that were cut into squares or made into pinwheels.

There were three main areas on the Altar. The Rivers represented by Oshun, La Virgen de Caridad del Cobre, and an Ancestor on the left; the Oceans represented by La Virgen de la Regla and Yemaya-Olokun on the right. In the center was a huge petrified tree trunk—a permanent feature of the museum garden, for us an ancient ancestor stone. And a photo collage of headlines and photographs leans against the stone behind a basket filled with the paper fish and pens for writing prayers.

Showing the center of the shrine with the basket -empty of fish at the end of the day; and the photocollage of headlines and photos of New Orleans hurricane victims
Center of the shrine at the end of the day and the basket that held the paper fish, now empty. Photo collage of headlines and images of hurricane victims. Light green and gold paper fish with written prayers swimming to the deep.

close up of Oshun rivers  area with Oya pinwheels and photos of the dead
Rivers area of the altar showing Oya’s pinwheels and photographs of floating victims.

detail Oshun, Rivers area of shrine
Close up of Rivers island with Oshun (kneeling), La Virgen de Caridad del Cobre, and an Ancestor doll.

detail Yemaya Olokun area of the shrine
Close up of Oceans area with La Virgen de la Regla, Yemaya-Olokun (kneeling), and an Ancestor doll.