Yoruba people

The Yoruba people (Yoruba: Àwọn ọmọ Yorùbá) are an ethnic group of Southwestern and North central Nigeria as well as Southern and Central Benin in West Africa. The Yorùbá constitute over 40 million people in total; the majority of this population is from Nigeria and make up 21% of its population, according to the CIA World Factbook,[1] making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language which is tonal, and is the Niger-Congo language with the largest number of native speakers.
The Yorùbá share borders with the Borgu in Benin; the Nupe and Ebira in central Nigeria; and the Edo, the Ẹsan, and the Afemai in mid-western Nigeria. The Igala and other related groups are found in the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, Ewe and others in the southeast Benin. The Itsekiri who live in the north-west Niger delta are related to the Yoruba but maintain a distinct cultural identity. Significant Yoruba populations in other West African countries can be found in Ghana,[8][9][10] Togo, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Yoruba diaspora consists of two main groupings, one of them includes relatively recent migrants, the majority of which moved to the United States and the United Kingdom after major economic changes in the 1970s; the other is a much older population dating back to the Atlantic slave trade. This older community has branches in such countries as Cuba, Saint Lucia, Brazil, Grenada, and Trinidad
As an ethnic description, the word “Yoruba” was first recorded in reference to the Oyo Empire in a treatise written by the 16th-century Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba. It was popularized by Hausa usage and ethnography written in Arabic and Ajami during the 19th century, in origin referring to the Oyo exclusively. The extension of the term to all speakers of dialects related to the language of the Oyo (in modern terminology North-West Yoruba) dates to the second half of the 19th century. It is due to the influence of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria. Crowther was himself a Yoruba and compiled the first Yoruba dictionary as well as introducing a standard for Yoruba orthography.
According to the German historian Dierk Lange, the Yoruba were amongst the Israelites who were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. He related them with the tribe of Ephraim to be specific. The etymology of the ethnic name “Yoruba” is suggested on a page to originate with Jeroboam or “Yeroboam” – the first and most memorable king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.[19][20]
The alternative name Akú, apparently an exonym derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings (such as Ẹ kú àárọ? “good morning”, Ẹ kú alẹ? “good evening”) has survived in certain parts of their diaspora as a self-descriptive, especially in Sierra Leone.
The Yoruba culture was originally an oral tradition, and the majority of Yoruba people are native speakers of the Yoruba language. The number of speakers is roughly estimated at about 30 million in 2010. Yoruba is classified within the Edekiri languages, which together with the isolate Igala, form the Yoruboid group of languages within the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family. Igala and Yoruba have important historical and cultural relationships. The languages of the two ethnic groups bear such a close resemblance that researchers such as Forde (1951) and Westermann and Bryan (1952) regarded Igala as a dialect of Yoruba.
The Yoruboid languages are assumed to have developed out of an undifferentiated Volta-Niger group by the 1st millennium BCE. There are three major dialect areas: Northwest, Central, and Southeast. As the North-West Yoruba dialects show more linguistic innovation, combined with the fact that Southeast and Central Yoruba areas generally have older settlements, suggests a later date of immigration for Northwest Yoruba. The area where North-West Yoruba (NWY) is spoken corresponds to the historical Oyo Empire. South-East Yoruba (SEY) was probably associated with the expansion of the Benin Empire after c. 1450. Central Yoruba forms a transitional area in that the lexicon has much in common with NWY, whereas it shares many ethnographical features with SEY.
Literary Yoruba, the standard variety learnt at school and spoken by newsreaders on the radio, has its origin in the Yoruba grammar compiled in the 1850s by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who himself was a creole from Sierra Leone. Though for a large part based on the Oyo and Ibadan dialects, it incorporates several features from other dialects
As of the 7th century BCE the African peoples who lived in Yorubaland, were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. By the 8th century, a powerful Yoruba kingdom already existed in Ile-Ife, one of the earliest in Africa south of the Sahara-Sahel.
The historical Yoruba develop in situ, out of earlier Mesolithic Volta-Niger populations, by the 1st millennium BCE. Oral history recorded under the Oyo Empire derives the Yoruba as an ethnic group from the population of the older kingdom of Ile-Ife. The Yoruba were the dominant cultural force in southern Nigeria as far back as the 11th century.
The Yoruba are among the most urbanized people in Africa. For centuries before the arrival of the British colonial administration most Yoruba already lived in well structured urban centers organized around powerful city-states (Ìlú) centered around the residence of the Oba. In ancient times, most of these cities were fortresses, with high walls and gates. Yoruba cities have always been among the most populous in Africa. Archaeological findings indicate that Òyó-Ilé or Katunga, capital of the Yoruba empire of Oyo that flourished between the 11th and 19th centuries A.D. had a population of over 100,000 people (the largest single population of any African settlement at that time in history). For a long time also, Ibadan, one of the major Yoruba cities, was the largest city in the whole of Sub Saharan Africa. Today, Lagos (Yorùbá: Èkó), another major Yoruba city, with a population of over twenty million, remains the largest on the African continent.
Archaeologically, the settlement of Ile-Ife showed features of urbanism in the 12th – 14th century era. In the period around 1300 C.E. the artists at Ile-Ife developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta, stone and copper alloy – copper, brass, and bronze many of which appear to have been created under the patronage of King Obalufon II, the man who today is identified as the Yoruba patron deity of brass casting, weaving and regalia. The dynasty of kings at Ile-Ife, which regarded the Yoruba as the place of origin of human civilization, remains intact to this day. The urban phase of Ile-Ife before the rise of Oyo, c. 1100–1600, a significant peak of political centralization in the 12th century) is commonly described as a “golden age” of Ile-Ife. The oba or ruler of Ile-Ife is referred to as the Ooni of Ife.
Oyo and Ile-Ife
Ife continues to be seen as the “Spiritual Homeland” of the Yoruba. The city was surpassed by the Oyo Empire[36] as the dominant Yoruba military and political power in the 17th century.
The Oyo Empire under its oba, known as the Alaafin of Oyo, was active in the African slave trade during the 18th century. The Yoruba often demanded slaves as a form of tribute of subject populations, who in turn sometimes made war on other peoples to capture the required slaves. Part of the slaves sold by the Oyo Empire entered the Atlantic slave trade.[38][39]
Most of the city states were controlled by Obas (or royal sovereigns with various individual titles) and councils made up of Oloyes, recognised leaders of royal, noble and, often, even common descent, who joined them in ruling over the kingdoms through a series of guilds and cults. Different states saw differing ratios of power between the kingships and the chiefs’ councils. Some, such as Oyo, had powerful, autocratic monarchs with almost total control, while in others such as the Ijebu city-states, the senatorial councils held more influence and the power of the ruler or Ọba, referred to as the Awujale of Ijebuland, was more limited.
Yoruba settlements are often described as primarily one or more of the main social groupings called “generations”:
The “first generation” includes towns and cities known as original capitals of founding Yoruba kingdoms or states.
The “second generation” consists of settlements created by conquest.
The “third generation” consists of villages and municipalities that emerged following the internecine wars of the 19th century.
Monarchies were a common form of government in Yorubaland, but they were not the only approach to government and social organization. The numerous Ijebu city-states to the west of Oyo and the Ẹgba communities, found in the forests below Ọyọ’s savanna region, were notable exceptions. These independent polities often elected an Ọba, though real political, legislative, and judicial powers resided with the Ogboni, a council of notable elders. The notion of the divine king was so important to the Yoruba, however, that it has been part of their organization in its various forms from their antiquity to the contemporary era.
Ada Ogun, Historical Yoruba Ida (sword) with Iron blade and brass casted grip
During the internecine wars of the 19th century, the Ijebu forced citizens of more than 150 Ẹgba and Owu communities to migrate to the fortified city of Abeokuta. Each quarter retained its own Ogboni council of civilian leaders, along with an Olorogun, or council of military leaders, and in some cases its own elected Obas or Baales. These independent councils elected their most capable members to join a federal civilian and military council that represented the city as a whole. Commander Frederick Forbes, a representative of the British Crown writing an account of his visit to the city in the Church Military Intelligencer (1853), described Abẹokuta as having “four presidents”, and the system of government as having “840 principal rulers or ‘House of Lords,’ 2800 secondary chiefs or ‘House of Commons,’ 140 principal military ones and 280 secondary ones.” He described Abẹokuta and its system of government as “the most extraordinary republic in the world.”
Leadership
Gerontocratic leadership councils that guarded against the monopolization of power by a monarch were a trait of the Ẹgba, according to the eminent Ọyọ historian Reverend Samuel Johnson. Such councils were also well-developed among the northern Okun groups, the eastern Ekiti, and other groups falling under the Yoruba ethnic umbrella. In Ọyọ, the most centralized of the precolonial kingdoms, the Alaafin consulted on all political decisions with the prime elector or president of the House of Lords (the Basọrun) and the rest of the council of leading nobles known as the Ọyọ Mesi.
Traditionally kingship and chieftainship were not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. An electoral college of lineage heads was and still is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families from any given realm, and the selection is then confirmed by an Ifá oracular request. The Ọbas live in palaces that are usually in the center of the town. Opposite the king’s palace is the Ọja Ọba, or the king’s market. These markets form an inherent part of Yoruba life. Traditionally their traders are well organized, have various guilds, officers, and an elected speaker. They also often have at least one Iyaloja, or Lady of the Market, who is expected to represent their interests in the aristocratic council of oloyes at the palace.
City-states
Statue of Oduduwa adimula jigbini bi ate akun, first Emperor and Suzerain of the Yoruba at Ile-Ife
The monarchy of any city-state was usually limited to a number of royal lineages. A family could be excluded from kingship and chieftaincy if any family member, servant, or slave belonging to the family committed a crime, such as theft, fraud, murder or rape. In other city-states, the monarchy was open to the election of any free-born male citizen. In Ilesa, Ondo, Akure and other Yoruba communities, there were several, but comparatively rare, traditions of female Ọbas. The kings were traditionally almost always polygamous and often married royal family members from other domains, thereby creating useful alliances with other rulers. Ibadan, a city-state and proto-empire founded in the 18th century by a polyglot group of refugees, soldiers, and itinerant traders from Ọyọ and the other Yoruba sub-groups largely dispensed with the concept of monarchism, preferring to elect both military and civil councils from a pool of eminent citizens. The city became a military republic, with distinguished soldiers wielding political power through their election by popular acclaim and the respect of their peers. Similar practices were adopted by the Ijẹsa and other groups, which saw a corresponding rise in the social influence of military adventurers and successful entrepreneurs. The Ìgbómìnà were renowned for their agricultural and hunting prowess, as well as their woodcarving, leather art, and the famous Elewe masquerade.
Groups, organizations and leagues in Yorubaland
Occupational guilds, social clubs, secret or initiatory societies, and religious units, commonly known as Ẹgbẹ in Yoruba, included the Parakoyi (or league of traders) and Ẹgbẹ Ọdẹ (hunter’s guild), and maintained an important role in commerce, social control, and vocational education in Yoruba polities.There are also examples of other peer organizations in the region. When the Ẹgba resisted the imperial domination of the Ọyọ Empire, a figure named Lisabi is credited with either creating or reviving a covert traditional organization named Ẹgbẹ Aro. This group, originally a farmers’ union, was converted to a network of secret militias throughout the Ẹgba forests, and each lodge plotted and successfully managed to overthrow Ọyọ’s Ajeles (appointed administrators) in the late 18th century.
Similarly, covert military resistance leagues like the Ekiti Parapọ and the Ogidi alliance were organized during the 19th century wars by often-decentralized communities of the Ekiti, Ijẹsa, Ìgbómìnà and Okun Yoruba in order to resist various imperial expansionist plans of Ibadan, Nupe, and the Sokoto Caliphate
Main article: Yoruba culture
In the city-states and many of their neighbors, a reserved way of life remains, with the school of thought of their people serving as a major influence in West Africa and elsewhere.
Today, most contemporary Yoruba are Christians and Muslims. Be that as it may, many of the principles of the traditional faith of their ancestors are either knowingly or unknowingly upheld by a significant proportion of the populations of Nigeria, Benin and Togo
The Yoruba faith, variously known as Aborisha, Orisha-Ifa or simply (and erroneously) Ifa, is commonly seen as one of the principal components of the African traditional religions.
Orisa’nla, also known as Ọbatala, was the arch-divinity chosen by Olodumare, the Supreme God, to create solid land out of the primordial water that then constituted the earth and populating the land with human beings.
Traditional Yoruba religion
The Yorùbá religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practices of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, a region that has come to be known as Yorubaland. Yorùbá religion is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories and other cultural concepts which make up the Yorùbá society.[48]
Cockerel on Osun chalice. In the Yoruba creation story, Olodumare the supreme God sent Obatala to earth to create mankind. One of the things he took with him was a rooster, which spread soil over the earth by using its clawed feet
One of the most common Yoruba traditional religious concepts has been the concept of Orisha. Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) are various godly forms, that reflect one of the various manifestations / avatars of God in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system. Some widely known Orisha are Ogun, (God of metal, war and victory), Shango or Jakuta (God of thunder, lightening, fire and justice who manifests as a king always wielding a double-edged axe which conveys his Ashe or divine authority & power), Esu/Eshu elegbara (The trickster and sole messenger to the pantheon, who conveys the wish of men to the gods. He understands every language / tongue spoken by humankind, and is also the guardian of the crossroads, Oríta méta in Yoruba). Eshu has two avatar forms which are manifestations of his dual nature- positive and negative energies; Eshu Laroye, a teacher instructor and leader, and Eshu Ebita, jesty, deceitful, suggestive and cunning, Orunmila, The god of Infinite Knowledge, divination, wisdom and fortune-telling, who reveals the past, solution to problems in the present, and the future, consulted through the Ifa divination system by oracles called Babalawos.
Olorun is one of the manifestations / avatars of the Supreme God of the Yoruba pantheon, the owner of the heavens, and is associated with the Sun known as Oòrùn in the Yoruba language. The other two avatar forms of the supreme God are; Olodumare, the supreme creator and Olofin, who is the conduit between Òrunn (Heaven) and Ayé (Earth), Oshumare a god that manifests in the form of a rainbow, also known as Òsùmàrè in Yorùbá, Obatala god of clarity and creativity Etc.[50] This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in practices as varied as Candomblé in Brazil, Lucumí/Santería in Cuba and North America, orisha or ifa in Trinidad (Trinidad Orisha), Kélé in Saint Lucia, Anago and Oyotunji,[29] as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and a host of others. These varieties, or spiritual lineages as they are called, are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela, among others. As interest in African indigenous religions grows, Orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well. While estimates may vary, some scholars believe that there could be more than 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide
Oral history of the Oyo-Yoruba recounts Odùduwà to be the Progenitor of the Yoruba and the reigning ancestor of their crowned kings.
His coming from the east, sometimes understood by some sources as the “vicinity” true East on the Cardinal points, but more likely signifying the region of Ekiti and Okun sub-communities in northeastern Yorubaland/central Nigeria. Ekiti is near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, and is where the Yoruba language is presumed to have separated from related ethno-linguistic groups like Igala, Igbo, and Edo.[52]
After the death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ife to found other kingdoms. Each child made his or her mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of the Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin due to them to Ile-Ife.
After the dispersal, the aborigines became difficult, and constituted a serious threat to the survival of Ife. Thought to be survivors of the old occupants of the land before the arrival of Oduduwa, these people now turned themselves into marauders. They would come to town in costumes made of raffia with terrible and fearsome appearances, and burn down houses and loot the markets. Then came Moremi on the scene; she was said to have played a significant role in the quelling of the marauders advancements. But this was at a great price; having to give up her only son Oluorogbo. The reward for her patriotism and selflessness was not to be reaped in one life time as she later passed on and was thereafter immortalized. The Edi festival celebrates this feat amongst her Yoruba descendants
Yoruba culture consists of folk/cultural philosophy, religion and folktales. They are embodied in Ifa-Ife Divination, known as the tripartite Book of Enlightenment in Yorubaland and in its diaspora.
Yoruba cultural thought is a witness of two epochs. The first epoch is a history of cosmogony and cosmology. This is also an epoch-making history in the oral culture during which time Oduduwa was the head, the Bringer of Light, and a prominent diviner. He pondered the visible and invisible worlds, reminiscing about cosmogony, cosmology, and the mythological creatures in the visible and invisible worlds. The second epoch is the epoch of metaphysical discourse. This commenced in the 19th century in terms of the academic prowess of Bishop Dr. Ajayi Crowther. Although religion is often first in Yoruba culture, nonetheless, it is the thought of man that actually leads spiritual consciousness (ori) to the creation and the practice of religion. Thus, it is believed that thought is an antecedent to religion. Today, the academic and nonacademic communities are becoming more interested in Yoruba culture. More research is being carried out on Yoruba cultural thought as more books are being written on the subject.
Christianity and Islam[edit]
The Yoruba are traditionally a very religious people, and are today, pluralistic in their religious convictions. They are one of the more religiously diversified ethnic groups in Africa, and they can be found in many types of Christian denominations. There are also a large number of them engaged in Islam and the traditional Yoruba religion. Yoruba religious practices such as the Eyo and Osun-Osogbo festivals are witnessing a resurgence in popularity in contemporary Yorubaland. They are largely seen by the adherents of the modern faiths, especially the Christians and Muslims, as cultural rather than religious events. They participate in them as a means to celebrate their people’s history, and boost tourist industries in their local economies.
Islam came into Yorubaland centuries before Christianity and before the first Europeans ever set foot in Yorubaland. Yorubas first came in contact with Islam around 14th century, as a result of trade with Fulanis[54] of the Malian Empire, during the reign of Mansa Kankan Musa. Hence, why Islam is traditionally known to the Yoruba as Esin Male or simply Imale i.e. religion of the Malians. In fact, Islam was practiced in Yorubaland so early on in history, that a sizable proportion of Yoruba slaves taken to the Americas were already Muslim. Some of these Yoruba Muslims would later on stage the Malê Revolt (or The Great Revolt) which was the most significant slave rebellion in Brazil. On a Sunday during Ramadan in January 1835, in the city of Salvador, Bahia, a small group of slaves and freedmen, inspired by Muslim teachers, rose up against the government. Muslims were called Malê in Bahia at this time, from Yoruba Imale that designated a Yoruba Muslim.
According to Al-Aluri, the first Mosque was built in Ọyọ-Ile / Katunga in 1550 A.D. although, there were no Yoruba Muslims at the time, the Mosque served the spiritual needs of foreign Muslims living in Ọyọ. Progressively, Islam started to gain a foothold in Yorubaland, and Muslims started building Mosques: Iwo town town led, its first Mosque built in 1655 followed by Iṣẹyin, in 1760; Eko/Lagos got its first mosque in 1774; Shaki, 1790; and Oṣogbo, 1889. In time, Islam spread to other towns like Oyo (the first Oyo convert was Solagberu), Ibadan, Abẹokuta, Ijebu Ode, Ikirun, and Ede, all already had sizable Muslim communities before the 19th century Sokoto jihad. Several factors contributed to the rise of Islam in Yoruba land by mid 19th century. Before the decline of Ọyọ, several towns around it had large Muslim communities, however, when Ọyọ was destroyed, these Muslims (Yorubas and immigrants) relocated to newly formed towns and villages and became Islam protagonists.[55]
Secondly, there was a mass movement of people at this time into Yoruba land, many of these immigrants were Muslims who introduced Islam to their hosts. According to Eades, the religion “differed in attraction” and “better adapted to Yoruba social structure, because it permitted polygamy”, which was already a feature of various African societies; more influential Yorubas like (Seriki Kuku of Ijebu land) soon became Muslims with positive impact on the natives. Islam came to Lagos at about the same time as other Yoruba towns, however, it received royal support from Ọba Kosọkọ, after he came back from exile in Ẹpẹ. Islam, like Christianity also found a common ground with the natives who already believed in a Supreme Being Olodumare / Olorun. Without delay, Islamic scholars and local Imams started establishing Koranic centers to teach Arabic and Islamic studies, much later, conventional schools were established to educate new converts and to propagate Islam. Today, the Yorubas constitute the second largest Muslim group in Nigeria, after the Hausa people of the Northern provinces. They are mostly Sunni Muslims, with small Ahmadiyya communities.
The Yorubas were one of the first groups in West Africa to be introduced to Christianity on a large scale.[56] Christianity came into Yorubaland through the Europeans, whose original mission was commerce. The first European visitors were the Portuguese, they visited the Bini kingdom in the late 16th century, as time progressed other Europeans- such as the French, the British, and the Germans followed suit. British and French were most successful in their quest for colonies (These Europeans actually split Yorubaland, with the larger part being in British Nigeria, and the minor parts in French Dahomey, now Benin, and German Togoland). Home governments encouraged religious organizations to come, and to Christianize the so-called “animist” Africans. Roman Catholics (known to the Yorubas as Ijo Aguda, so named after returning former Yoruba slaves from Latin America, who were mostly Catholic, and were also known as the Agudas, Saros or Amaros) started the race, followed by Protestants, whose prominent member- Church Mission Society (CMS) based in England made the most significant in-roads into the hinterland regions for evangelism and became the largest of the Christian missions. Methodists (known as Ijo-Eleto, so named after the Yoruba word for “method or process”) started missions in Agbadarigi / Gbegle by Thomas Birch Freeman in 1842. Henry Townsend, C.C.Gollmer, and Ajayi Crowther of the CMS worked in Abeokuta, then under the Egba division of Southern Nigeria in 1846.
Hinderer and Mann of CMS started missions in Ibadan/Ibarapa and Ijaye divisions of the present Oyo state in 1853. The Baptist missionaries-Bowen and Clarke concentrated on the northern Yoruba axis-(Ogbomoso and environs). With their success, other religious groups- Salvation Army, Evangelists Commission of West Africa (ECWA) became popular among the Igbomina and other non-denominational Christian groups joined. The increased tempo of Christianity led to the appointment of Saros and indigenes as missionaries, this move was initiated by Venn, the CMS Secretary. Nevertheless, the impact of Christianity in Yoruba land was not felt until fourth decade of 19th century, when a Yoruba slave boy, Samuel Ajayi Crowther had become a Christian convert, linguist, whose knowledge in languages would become a major tool and instrument to propagate Christianity in Yoruba land and beyond.[57] Today, there are a number of Yoruba Pastors and Church founders with large congregations, e.g. Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church World Wide also known as Winners Chapel, Pastor Tunde Bakare of Latter rain Assembly, Prophet T. B. Joshua of Synagogue of All Nations, William Folorunso Kumuyi of Deeper Christian Life Ministry and Dr Daniel Olukoya of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries.
Medieval Yoruba settlements were surrounded with massive mud walls. Yoruba buildings had similar plans to the Ashanti shrines, but with verandahs around the court. The wall materials comprised puddled mud and palm oil while roofing materials ranged from thatches to aluminium and corrugated iron sheets. A famous Yoruba fortification, the Sungbo’s Eredo was the second largest wall edifice in Africa. The structure was built in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries in honour of a traditional aristrocat, the Oloye Bilikisu Sungbo. It was made up of sprawling mud walls and the valleys that surrounded the town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State. Sungbo’s Eredo is the largest pre-colonial monument in Africa, larger than the Great Pyramid or Great Zimbabwe.
The Yorubas worked with a wide array of materials in their art including; bronze, leather, terracotta, ivory, textiles, copper, stone, carved wood, brass, ceramics and glass. A unique feature of Yoruba art, is their striking realism-which unlike most African art, choose to create human sculptures in vivid realistic and life sized forms. The art history of the nearby Benin empire show that there was a cross – fertilization of ideas between the neighboring Yoruba and the Edo. The Benin court’s brass casters learned their art from an Ife master named Iguegha, who had been sent from Ife around 1400 at the request of Benin’s oba Oguola. Indeed, the earliest dated cast-brass memorial heads from Benin replicate the refined naturalism of the Yoruba sculptures from Ife.
A lot of Yoruba artworks, including staffs, court dress, and beadwork for crowns, are associated with palaces and the royal courts.[63][64][65][66] The courts also commissioned numerous architectural objects such as veranda posts, gates, and doors that are embellished with carvings. Yoruba palaces are usually built with thicker walls, are dedicated to the gods and play significant spiritual roles. Yoruba art is also manifested in shrines and masking traditions.[67] The shrines dedicated to these gods are adorned with carvings and house and array of altar figures and other ritual paraphernalia. Masking traditions vary by region, and diverse mask types are used in various festivals and celebrations.[68] Aspects of Yoruba traditional architecture has also found its way into the New World in the form of shortgun houses.[69][70][71][72][73] Today, however the traditional architecture has been greatly influenced by modern trends.
Masquerades are an important feature of Yoruba traditional artistry. They are generally known as Egúngún, Singularly as Egún. The term refers to the Yoruba masquerades connected with ancestor reverence, or to the ancestors themselves as a collective force. There are different types of which one of the most prominent is the Gelede. An Ese Ifa (oral literature of orunmila divination) explains the origins of Gelede as beginning with Yemoja, The Mother of all the orisa and all living things. Yemoja could not have children and consulted an Ifa oracle, who advised her to offer sacrifices and to dance with wooden images on her head and metal anklets on her feet. After performing this ritual, she became pregnant. Her first child was a boy, nicknamed “Efe” (the humorist/joker); the Efe mask emphasizes song and jests because of the personality of its namesake. Yemoja’s second child was a girl, nicknamed “Gelede” because she was obese like her mother. Also like her mother, Gelede loved dancing.
After getting married themselves, neither Gelede or Efe’s partner could have children. The Ifa oracle suggested they try the same ritual that had worked for their mother. No sooner than Efe and Gelede performed these rituals- dancing with wooden images on their heads and metal anklets on their feet- they started having children. These rituals developed into the Gelede masked dance and was perpetuated by the descendants of Efe and Gelede. This narrative is one of many stories that explains the origin of Gelede. An outdated theory stated that the beginning of Gelede might be associated with the change from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society among the Yoruba people.[76]
The Gelede spectacle and the Ifa divination system represent two of Nigeria’s only three pieces on the United Nations Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity list, as well as the only such cultural heritage from Benin and Togo.
Festivals[edit]
Kneeling female figure The Arugba Osun, Brooklyn Museum collection
One of the first observations of first time visitors to Yorubaland is the rich, pomp and ceremonial nature of their culture, which is made even more visible by the urbanized structures of Yoruba settlements. These occasions are avenues to experience the richness of the Yoruba culture. Traditional musicians are always on hand to grace the occasions with heavy rhythms and extremely advanced percussion which the Yorubas are well known for world over. Praise singers and Griots are there to add their historical insight to the meaning and significance of the ceremony, and of course the varieties of colorful dresses and attires worn by the people, attest to the aesthetic sense of the average Yoruba.
The Yoruba are a very expressive people who celebrate major events with colorful festivals and celebrations (Ayeye). Some of these festivals (about thirteen principal ones)[78] are secular and only mark achievements and milestones in the achievement of mankind, these include wedding ceremonies (Ìgbéyàwó), Naming ceremonies (Ìsomolórúko), Funerals (Ìsìnkú), Housewarming (Ìsílé), New-Yam festival (Ìjesu), Odon itsu in Atakpame, Harvest ceremonies (Ìkórè), Birth (Ìbí), Chieftaincy (Ìjòyè) and so forth.[76] Others have a more spiritual connotation, such as the various days and celebrations dedicated to Specific Orisha like the Ogun day (Ojó Ògún), The Osun festival, which is usually done at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove located on the banks of the Osun river and around the ancient town of Osogbo.[79] The festival is dedicated to the river goddess Osun, which is usually celebrated in the month of August (Osù Ògùn) yearly. The festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers from all over Yorubaland and The Yoruba diaspora in the Americas, spectators and tourists from all walks of life. The Osun-Osogbo Festival is a two-week-long programme. It starts with the traditional cleansing of the town called ‘Iwopopo’, which is then followed in three days by the lighting of the 500-year-old sixteen-point lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun, which literally means The sixteen eyed fire, the lighting of this sacred lamp, heralds the beginning of the Osun festival. Then comes the ‘Ibroriade’, an assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler, Ataojas of Osogbo, for blessings. This event is led by the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo and the Arugba Yeye Osun (who is usually a young maiden dressed in white, who carries a sacred white calabash that contains propitiation materials meant for the goddess Osun, she is also accompanied by a committee of priestesses.[80][81] A similar event holds in the New World as Odunde Festival.[82][83]
Eyo Figure in lagos
Another very popular festival with spiritual connotations is the Eyo Olokun festival or Orisha play, celebrated by the people of Lagos. The Eyo festival is a dedication to the God of the Sea Olokun, who is an Orisha, and whose name literally mean Owner of the Seas.[78] Generally, there is no customarily defined time for the staging the Eyo Festival, this leads to a building anticipation as to what date would be decided upon. Once a date for its performance is selected and announced, the festival preparations begin. It encompasses a week-long series of activities, and culminates in a striking procession of Thousands of men clothed in white and wearing a variety of coloured hats, called Aga. The procession moves through Lagos Island Isale Eko, which is the historical centre of the Lagos metropolis. On the streets, they moves through various crucial locations and landmarks in the city, including the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos, the Oba, known as the Iga Idunganran. The festival starts from dusk to dawn, and has been held on Saturdays (Ojó Àbáméta) from time immemorial. A full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ eyo group, the Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. When this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other ‘important’ groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday.
Festivals[edit]

Kneeling female figure The Arugba Osun, Brooklyn Museum collection
One of the first observations of first time visitors to Yorubaland is the rich, pomp and ceremonial nature of their culture, which is made even more visible by the urbanized structures of Yoruba settlements. These occasions are avenues to experience the richness of the Yoruba culture. Traditional musicians are always on hand to grace the occasions with heavy rhythms and extremely advanced percussion which the Yorubas are well known for world over.[77] Praise singers and Griots are there to add their historical insight to the meaning and significance of the ceremony, and of course the varieties of colorful dresses and attires worn by the people, attest to the aesthetic sense of the average Yoruba.
The Yoruba are a very expressive people who celebrate major events with colorful festivals and celebrations (Ayeye). Some of these festivals (about thirteen principal ones) are secular and only mark achievements and milestones in the achievement of mankind, these include wedding ceremonies (Ìgbéyàwó), Naming ceremonies (Ìsomolórúko), Funerals (Ìsìnkú), Housewarming (Ìsílé), New-Yam festival (Ìjesu), Odon itsu in Atakpame, Harvest ceremonies (Ìkórè), Birth (Ìbí), Chieftaincy (Ìjòyè) and so forth. Others have a more spiritual connotation, such as the various days and celebrations dedicated to Specific Orisha like the Ogun day (Ojó Ògún), The Osun festival, which is usually done at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove located on the banks of the Osun river and around the ancient town of Osogbo. The festival is dedicated to the river goddess Osun, which is usually celebrated in the month of August (Osù Ògùn) yearly. The festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers from all over Yorubaland and The Yoruba diaspora in the Americas, spectators and tourists from all walks of life. The Osun-Osogbo Festival is a two-week-long programme. It starts with the traditional cleansing of the town called ‘Iwopopo’, which is then followed in three days by the lighting of the 500-year-old sixteen-point lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun, which literally means The sixteen eyed fire, the lighting of this sacred lamp, heralds the beginning of the Osun festival. Then comes the ‘Ibroriade’, an assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler, Ataojas of Osogbo, for blessings. This event is led by the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo and the Arugba Yeye Osun (who is usually a young maiden dressed in white, who carries a sacred white calabash that contains propitiation materials meant for the goddess Osun, she is also accompanied by a committee of priestesses. A similar event holds in the New World as Odunde Festival.
Eyo Figure in lagos
Another very popular festival with spiritual connotations is the Eyo Olokun festival or Orisha play, celebrated by the people of Lagos. The Eyo festival is a dedication to the God of the Sea Olokun, who is an Orisha, and whose name literally mean Owner of the Seas.[78] Generally, there is no customarily defined time for the staging the Eyo Festival, this leads to a building anticipation as to what date would be decided upon. Once a date for its performance is selected and announced, the festival preparations begin. It encompasses a week-long series of activities, and culminates in a striking procession of Thousands of men clothed in white and wearing a variety of coloured hats, called Aga. The procession moves through Lagos Island Isale Eko, which is the historical centre of the Lagos metropolis. On the streets, they moves through various crucial locations and landmarks in the city, including the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos, the Oba, known as the Iga Idunganran. The festival starts from dusk to dawn, and has been held on Saturdays (Ojó Àbáméta) from time immemorial. A full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ eyo group, the Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. When this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other ‘important’ groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday
The Eyo masquerade essentially admits tall people, which is why it is described as Agogoro Eyo (literally meaning the tall Eyo masquerade). In the manner of a spirit (An Orisha) visiting the earth on a purpose, the Eyo masquerade speaks in a ventriloquial voice, suggestive of its otherworldliness; and when greeted, it replies: Mo yo fun e, mo yo fun ara mi which in Yoruba means: (I rejoice for you, and I rejoice for myself). This response connotes the masquerades as rejoicing with the person greeting it for the witnessing of the day, and its own joy at taking the hallowed responsibility of cleansing. During the festival, Sandals and foot wears, as well as Suku: A hairstyle that is popular among the Yorubas, one that has the hair converge at the middle, then shoot upward, before tipping downward, are prohibited. The festival has also taken a more touristic dimension in recent times, which like the Osun Osogbo festival, attracts visitors from all across Nigeria, as well as Yoruba diaspora populations. In-fact, it is widely believed that the play is one of the manifestations of the customary African revelry that serves as the forerunner of the modern carnival in Brazil and other parts of the New World, which may have been started by the Yoruba slaves transplanted in that part of the world due to the Atlantic slave trade.
The music of the Yoruba people is perhaps best known for an extremely advanced drumming tradition,[88] especially using the dundun[89] hourglass tension drums. The representation of musical instruments on sculptural works from Ile-Ife, indicates, in general terms a substantial accord with oral traditions. A lot of these musical instruments date back to the classical period of Ile-Ife, which began at around the 10th century A.D. Some were already present prior to this period, while others were created later. The hourglass tension drum (Dùndún) for example, may have been introduced around the 15th century (1400’s), the Benin bronze plaques of the middle period depicts them. Others like the double and single iron clapper-less bells are examples of instruments that preceded classical Ife.[90] Yoruba folk music became perhaps the most prominent kind of West African music in Afro-Latin and Caribbean musical styles. Yorùbá music left an especially important influence on the music of Trinidad, the Lukumi religious traditions,[91] practice and the music of Cuba
Yoruba drums typically belong to four major families, which are used depending on the context or genre where they are played. The Dùndún / Gángan family, is the class of hourglass shaped talking drums, which imitate the sound of Yoruba speech. This is possible because the Yoruba language is tonal in nature. It is the most common and is present in many Yoruba traditions, such as Apala, Jùjú, Sekere and Afrobeat. The second is the Sakara family. Typically, they played a ceremonial role in royal settings, weddings and Oríkì recitation; it is predominantly found in traditions such as Sakara music, Were and Fuji music. The Gbedu family (literally, “large drum”) is used by secret fraternities such as the Ogboni and royal courts. Historically, only the Oba might dance to the music of the drum. If anyone else used the drum they were arrested for sedition of royal authority. The Gbèdu are conga shaped drums played while they sit on the ground. Akuba drums (a trio of smaller conga-like drums related to the gbèdu) are typically used in afrobeat. The Ogido is a cousin of the gbedu. It is also shaped like a conga but with a wider array of sounds and a bigger body. It also has a much deeper sound than the conga. It is sometimes referred to as the “bass drum”. Both hands play directly on the
Today, the word Gbedu has also come to be used to describe forms of Nigerian Afrobeat and Hip Hop music. The fourth major family of Yoruba drums is the Bàtá family which are well decorated double faced drums, with various tones. They were historically played in sacred rituals. They are believed to have been introduced by Shango, an Orisha, during his earthly incarnations as a warrior king. Traditional Yoruba drummers are known as Àyán. The Yoruba believe that Àyángalú was the first drummer. He is also believed to be the spirit or muse that inspires drummers during renditions. This is why some Yoruba family names contain the prefix ‘Ayan-‘ such as Ayangbade, Ayantunde, Ayanwande.[94] Ensembles using the dundun play a type of music that is also called dundun. The Ashiko (Cone shaped drums), Igbin, Gudugudu (Kettledrums in the Dùndún family), Agidigbo and Bèmbé are other drums of importance. The leader of a dundun ensemble is the oniyalu meaning; ‘ Owner of the mother drum ‘, who uses the drum to “talk” by imitating the tonality of Yoruba. Much of this music is spiritual in nature, and is often devoted to the Orisas.

Agogo metal gongs
Within each drum family there are different sizes and roles; the lead drum in each family is called Ìyá or Ìyá Ìlù, which means “Mother drum”, while the supporting drums are termed Omele. Yoruba drumming exemplifies West-African cross-rhythms and is considered to be one of the most advanced drumming traditions in the world. Generally, improvisation is restricted to master drummers. Some other instruments found in Yoruba music include, but are not limited to; The Gòjé (violin), Shèkèrè (gourd rattle), Agidigbo (thumb piano that takes the shape of a plucked Lamellophone), Saworo (metal rattles for the arm and ankles, also used on the rim of the bata drum), Fèrè (whistles), Aro (Cymbal)s, Agogô (bell), different types of flutes include the Ekutu, Okinkin & Igba
Oriki (praise singing), a genre of sung poetry, which contains a series of proverbial phrases, praising or characterizing the respective person is of Egba and Ekiti origin, is often considered the oldest Yoruba musical tradition. Other Yoruba vocal traditions include Ijala (hunter chants), Ewi (poetry), and Odu (Ifa worship songs).[95] Yoruba music is typically Polyrhythmic, which can be described as interlocking sets of rhythms that fit together somewhat like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. There is a basic timeline and each instrument plays a pattern in relation to that timeline. The resulting ensemble provides the typical sound of West African Yoruba drumming. Yorùbá music is regarded as the most important components of the modern Nigerian popular music scene. Although traditional Yoruba music was not influenced by foreign music, the same cannot be said of modern-day Yoruba music which has evolved and adapted itself through contact with foreign instruments, talent and creativity.
The Yoruba present the highest dizygotic twinning rate in the world (4.4% of all maternities). They manifest at 45–50 twin sets (or 90–100 twins) per 1,000 live births, possibly because of high consumption of a specific type of yam containing a natural phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to release an egg from each side. Twins are very important for the Yoruba and they usually tend to give special names to each twin.[97] The first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Taiyewo or Tayewo, which means ‘the first to taste the world’, or the ‘slave to the second twin’, this is often shortened to Taiwo, Taiye or Taye. Kehinde is the name of the last born twin. Kehinde is sometimes also referred to as Kehindegbegbon which is short for Omokehindegbegbon and means, ‘the child that came last gets the rights of the eldest’
The Yoruba calendar (Kojoda) year starts from 3 June to 2 June of the following year. According to this calendar, the Gregorian year 2008 CE is the 10,050th year of Yoruba culture. To reconcile with the Gregorian calendar, Yoruba people also often measure time in seven days a week and four weeks a month:
Yams are one of the staple foods of the Yoruba. Plantain, corn, beans, meat, and fish are also chief choices.
Some common Yoruba foods are iyan (pounded yam), Amala, eba, semo, fufu, Moin moin (bean cake) and akara. Soups include egusi, ewedu, okra, vegetables are also very common as part of diet. Items like rice and beans (locally called ewa) are part of the regular diet. Some dishes are also prepared for festivities and ceremonies such as Jollof rice and Fried rice. Other popular dishes are Ekuru, stews, corn, cassava and flours – e.g. maize, yam, plantain and beans, eggs, chicken, beef and assorted forms of meat (pumo is made from cow skin). Some less well known meals and many miscellaneous staples are arrowroot gruel, sweetmeats, fritters and coconut concoctions; and some breads – yeast bread, rock buns, and palm wine bread to name a few
DRESSING AND THE CLOTHING OF THE PEOPLE
The Yoruba have legendary types of clothes that make them distinct from other cultures around them. They take immense pride in their attire, for which they are well known. Clothing materials traditionally come from processed cotton by traditional weavers. They believe that the type of clothes worn by a man depicts his personality and social status, and that different occasions require different clothing outfits.
Typically, The Yoruba have a very wide range of materials used to make clothing, the most basic being the Aṣo-Oke, which is a hand loomed cloth of different patterns and colors sewn into various styles. and which comes in very many different colors and patterns. Aso Oke comes in three major styles based on pattern and coloration;
Alaari – a rich red Aṣọ-Oke,
Sanyan- a brown and usual light brown Aṣọ-Oke, and
Ẹtu- a dark blue Aṣọ-Oke.
Other clothing materials include but are not limited to:
Ofi- pure white yarned cloths, used as cover cloth, it can be sewn and worn.
Aran- a velvet clothing material of silky texture sewn into Danṣiki and Kẹmbẹ, worn by the rich.
Adirẹ- cloth with various patterns and designs, dye in indigo ink (Ẹlu or Aro).
Clothing in Yoruba culture is gender sensitive. For men’s’ wear, they have Bùbá, Esiki and Sapara, which are regarded as Èwù Àwòtélè or under wear, while they also have Dandogo, Agbádá, Gbariye, Sulia and Oyala, which are also known as Èwù Àwòlékè / Àwòsókè or over wears. Some fashionable men may add an accessory to the Agbádá outfit in the form of a wraparound (Ìbora).

Ìrùkèrè made from horse or cow tail
They also have various types of Sòkòtò or native trousers that are sown alongside the above-mentioned dresses. Some of these are Kèmbè (Three-Quarter baggy pants), Gbáanu, Sóóró (Long slim / streamlined pants), Káamu & Sòkòtò Elemu. A man’s dressing is considered incomplete without a cap (Fìlà). Some of these caps include, but are not limited to; Gobi (Cylindrical, which when worn may be compressed and shaped forward, sideways, or backward), Tinko, Abetí-ajá (Crest-like shape which derives its name from its hanging flaps that resembles a dog’s hanging ears. The flaps can be lowered to cover the ears in cold weather, otherwise, they are upwardly turned in normal weather), Alagbaa, Oribi, Bentigoo, Onide, and Labankada (A bigger version of the Abetí-ajá, and is worn in such a way as to reveal the contrasting color of the cloth used as underlay for the flaps).
Women also have different types of dresses. The most commonly worn are Ìró (wrapper) and Bùbá (blouse–like loose top). Women also have matching Gèlè (head gear) that must be put on whenever the Ìró and Bùbá is on. Just as the cap (Fìlà) is important to men, women’s dressing is considered incomplete without Gèlè. It may be of plain cloth or costly as the women can afford. Apart from this, they also have ìborùn (Shawl) and Ìpèlé (which are long pieces of fabric that usually hang on the left shoulder and stretch from the hind of the body to the fore). At times, it is tied round their waists over the original one piece wrapper. Unlike men, women have two types of under wears (Èwù Àwòtélè), called; Tòbi and Sinmí. Tòbi is like the modern day apron with strings and spaces in which women can keep their valuables. They tie the tòbi around the waists before putting on the Ìró (wrapper). Sinmí is like a sleeveless T-shirt that is worn under before wearing any other dress.
There are many types of beads (Ìlèkè), hand laces, necklaces (Egba orùn), anklets (Egba esè) and bangles (Egba owó) that are abound in Yoruba land, that both males and females put on for bodily adornment. Chiefs, Priests, kings or people of royal descent, especially use some of these beads, often. Some of these beads include Iyun, Lagidigba, Àkún etc. An accessory especially popular among royalty and titled Babalawos / Babalorishas is the Ìrùkèrè, which is an artistically processed animal tail, a type of Fly-whisk. The horsetail whiskers are symbols of authority and stateliness. It can be used in a shrine for decoration but most often is used by chief priests and priestess as a symbol of their authority or Ashe. As most men go about with their hair lowly cut or neatly shaven every time, the reverse is the case with women. Hair is considered the ‘ Glory of the woman ‘. They usually take care of their hair in two major ways; They plait and they weave. There are many types of plaiting styles, and women readily pick any type they want. Some of these include kòlésè, Ìpàkó-elédè, Sùkú, Kojúsóko, Alágogo, Konkoso, Etc. Traditionally, The Yoruba consider tribal marks ways of adding beauty to the face of individuals. This is apart from the fact that they show clearly from which part of Yorubaland an individual comes from, since different areas are associated with different marks. Different types of tribal marks are made with local blades or knives on the cheeks. These are usually done at infancy, when children are not pain conscious. Some of these tribal marks include Pélé, Abàjà-Ègbá, Abàjà-Òwu, Abàjà-mérin, Kéké, Gòmbò, Ture, Pélé Ifè, Kéké Òwu, Pélé Ìjèbú etc. This practice has almost faded into oblivion.
The Yoruba believe that development of a nation is akin to the development of a man or woman. Therefore, the personality of an individual has to be developed in order to fulfill his or her responsibilities. Clothing among the Yoruba people is a crucial factor upon which the personality of an individual is anchored. This belief is anchored in Yoruba proverbs. Different occasions also require different outfits among the Yoruba
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