About Yoruba

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/


The Yoruba (Yorùbá in Yoruba orthography) are a large ethno-linguistic group or ethnic nation in West Africa. The Yoruba constitute approximately 30 percent of Nigeria's total population, and around 40 million individuals throughout the region of West Africa. They share borders with the Borgu (variously called Bariba and Borgawa) in the northwest, the Nupe and Ebira in the north, the Ẹsan and Ẹdo to the southeast, the Igala and other related groups to the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, and other Gbe-speaking peoples in the southwest. While the majority of the Yoruba live in southwestern Nigeria, there are also substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in Benin and Togo, as well as large diasporic Yoruba communities in Sierra Leone, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Trinidad, the Caribbean, and the United States.


The Yoruba are the main ethnic group in the states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo, which are political subdivisions of Nigeria; they also constitute a sizable proportion of Kwara and Kogi states as well as of the Republic of Benin.


Many people of African descent in the Americas have claim to Yoruba ancestry (along with several other ethnic groups) to some degree. A significant percentage of Africans enslaved in the Americas originated from this region.






Origin Myth

Several versions of the Yoruba origin exist, the most popular of which revolves around a figure named Oduduwa. As recorded by one of the earliest Yoruba historians, Reverend Samuel Johnson (an Ọyọ convert to Christianity), Oduduwa was the head of an invading army from the East (a locale often identified with Mecca, Egypt, the Sudan, or northeastern Nigeria) who established the constitutional monarchic system of government amongst the indigenous population he found.


Other versions of the myth posit that Oduduwa was sent down by Ọlọrun Olodumare, the Creator, to fashion the first human beings out of the clay soil of Ilė-Ifę. Odudua is also the name of an important Earth goddess, the wife of Ọbatala, and some scholars postulate a connection between the semi-mythical founder of the Ifẹ, Ọyọ, and Benin monarchic traditions and the ancient female deity. The name Oduduwa has been translated to mean "the one ("O/Ohun") who created the knowledge ("odu") of character ("iwa")" or "o dudu, o l'ewa/o n'iwa": he's black and beautiful/well-mannered, signifying the figure's paramount role in establishing Yoruba philosophy and blackness, whether mythical or historical. Yoruba people are always referred to as "Yoruba, Omo Oduduwa(O'odua)", sons of Oduduwa. The name is also linked to the literature of the Yoruba geomantic divination system, Ifa. The poetic chapters memorized and chanted by divination consultants (babalawo) during an Ifa session are called "odu".


Oduduwa was the founder of Ile-Ife. He was sent from the heavens by Olodumare to establish the earth and create its inhabitants after another minister of Olodumare, Obatala, failed to do this. To this effect, Oduduwa was given a cock and a sack of sand since the earth was covered with water at that time. While climbing down from the heavens, he lost grip of the cock that started flying down and in his bid to catch the cock let loose the sack of sand. Sand started slipping down onto the water down below. Getting down, Oduduwa realised that the sand had formed a small "land hill" protruding from the water and that the cock had perched on it spreading the sand with its legs. The land started spreading forming the soil of the earth. He named that spot Ile n'fe, the earth was extending, and hence the name of Ile-Ife, the ancestral town of humanity and the Yoruba. Obatala later came down with the others and created the humans.


General History

By 900 AD the Yoruba city-state of Ile Ife established itself as the dominate power in the land of the Yoruba (central and southwest Nigeria, Benin, and Togo)though complex states existed throughout the region. The city of Ile Ife, inhabitated by Yoruba in the 4th Century BCE, became the culture center of the people. In theory, Yoruba city-states largely acknowledged the primacy of the ancient city of Ile Ife. The southeastern Benin Empire, ruled by a dynasty that traced its ancestry to Ifẹ and Oduduwa but largely populated by the Ẹdo and other related ethnicities, also held considerable sway in the election of nobles and kings in eastern Yorubaland.


Most of the city states were controlled by monarchs (Obas) and councils made up of nobles, guild leaders, and merchants. Different states saw differing ratios of power between the two. Some had powerful, semi-autocratic monarchs with almost total control, while in others the senatorial councils were supreme and the Ọba served as a figurehead. In all cases, Yoruba monarchs were always subject to the continuing approval of their constituents, and could be easily compelled to abdicate for demonstrating dictatorial tendencies or incompetence. The order to vacate the throne was usually communicated through a symbolic message, or aroko, of parrots' eggs delivered by the senators.


Before the abolition of the slave trade, some Yoruba groups were known among Europeans as Akú, a name derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings such as Ẹ kú àárọ? ‘good morning’ and Ẹ kú alẹ? ‘good evening’. The terms "Nago", "Anago", and "Ana", derived from the name of a coastal Yoruba sub-group in the present-day Republic of Benin, were also widely used in Spanish and Portuguese documents to describe all speakers of the language. Yoruba in francophone West Africa are still sometimes known by this ethnonym today. In Cuba and Spanish-speaking America, the Yoruba were called "Lucumi", after the phrase "O luku mi", meaning "my friend" in some dialects. During the 19th century, the term Yariba or Yoruba came into wider use, first confined to the Ọyọ. The term is often believed to be derived from a Hausa ethnonym for the populous people to their south, but this has not been substantiated by historians. As an ethnic description, the word first appeared in a treatise written by the Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba (1500s) and is likely to derive from the indigenous ethnonyms Ọyọ (Oyo) or Yagba, two Yoruba-speaking groups along the northern borders of their terrority. However, it is likely that the ethnonym was popularized by Hausa usage and ethnography written in Arabic and Ajami. Under the influence of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Yoruba clergyman, subsequent missionaries extended the term to include all speakers of related dialects.


The pre-colonial Yoruba living in the savannah region between the forest and the Niger river were pressed further south by conflicts with the Sokoto Caliphate, a militant Muslim empire founded by the Fulani Quranic scholar Uthman Dan Fodio. After usurping power in the Hausa city-states of northern Nigeria, the Sokoto Caliphate also seized power in Ilorin, one of the northernmost Yoruba towns, and ravaged Ọyọ-Ile, the capital city of the Ọyọ Empire. After losing the northern portion of their region to the cavalry-dependent Sokoto Caliphate, the Ọyọ for the most part retreated to the latitudes where tsetse flies made horses unable to survive. The Caliphate attempted to expand further into the southern region of modern-day Nigeria, but was decisively defeated by the armies of Ibadan, a newly-founded Yoruba city, in 1840.


Precolonial social organization

Though monarchies were fairly common throughout the Yoruba-speaking region, they were not the only approach to government and social organization. The numerous Ẹgba communities, found in the forests below Ọyọ's savannah region, were a notable example. These independent polities often elected an Ọba, though real political, legislative, and judicial powers resided with the Ogboni, a council of notable elders.


When citizens of more than 150 Ẹgba and Owu communities migrated to the fortified city-state of Abeokuta during the internecine wars of the 19th century, 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 then 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 an 1853 edition of the Church Military Intelligencer, 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."


Gerontocratic leadership councils that guarded against the monopolization of power by a monarch were a proverbial trait of the Ẹgba, according to the eminent Ọyọ historian Reverend Samuel Johnson, but such councils were also well-developed among the northern Okun groups, the eastern Ekiti, and other groups falling under the Yoruba ethnic umbrella. Even in Ọyọ, the most centralized of the precolonial kingdoms, the Alaafin consulted on all political decisions with a prime minister (the Basọrun) and the council of leading nobles known as the Ọyọ Mesi.

Ibadan, a city-state and proto-empire founded in the 19th 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 powers 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.


Occupational guilds, social clubs, secret or initatory 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 to overthrow Ọyọ's Ajeles (appointed administrators) in the late 1700s.

Similarly, covert military resistance leagues like the Ekitiparapọ and the Ogidi alliance were organized during the 19th century wars by often-decentralized communities of the Ekiti, Ijẹṣa, Ìgbómìnà and Okun Yoruba in order to resist various imperial expansionist plans of Ibadan, Nupe, and the Sokoto Caliphate.


The monarchy of any city state was usually limited to a number of royal lineages. A family could be excluded from kingship and chieftancy 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. There are also, in Ileṣa, Ondo, and other Yoruba communities, several traditions of female Ọbas, though these were comparatively rare.


The kings were almost always polygamous and many had as many as 20 wives and often married royal family members from other towns/city states.



The Yoruba are one of the ethnic groups in Africa whose cultural heritage and legacy are recognizable in the Americas, despite the debilitating effects of slavery. Oriṣa religion, often called "Ṣango" worship and various musical artforms popularized in Latin America, especially Cuba, and Puerto Rico are rooted in Yoruba music. Perhaps their best known material artist is Olowe of Ise. Their religious beliefs are complex, and recognize a wide variety of deities. Ọlọrun or Olodumare is venerated as the creator, with the other Oriṣas serving as emissaries or intermediaries that help with human concerns. As previously mentioned, the Yoruba have converted to Christianity and to a lesser extent Islam in large numbers since the 19th century. In the United States, they are recognizeable, along with other Nigerian immigrants, as very strict Christians, observing many of the conservative biblical views. They are also prominent in some urban Muslim congregations and continue to participate in various forms of Ifa/Oriṣa religious worship.


The Yoruba performance repertoire includes various masquerade plays, folk operas, and a vibrant video cinema. One Yoruba masquerade, Gẹlẹdẹ from the Ketu region of the modern Republic of Benin, has been recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Other aspects of Yoruba culture that have been recognized as masterpieces of human cultural ingenuity include the Ifa corpus, a collection of hundreds of poems used in divination ceremonies; and the Ọṣun-Oṣogbo Sacred Grove, one of the few remaining functional sites for traditional religious ceremonies in Nigeria and a magnet for visitors from all over the world. Countless scholarly articles have also examined the performances of Egungun (representative of ancestral spirits visiting the living); Epa (symbolic performances variously promoting valor and fertility); and Ẹyọ, a procession of masked dancers.


Yoruba religion and mythology

Yoruba religion and mythology is a major influence in West Africa, chiefly in Nigeria, and it has given origin to several New World religions such as Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Candomblé in Brazil.


Itan is the term for the sum total of all Yoruba myths, songs, histories, and other cultural components.


Many ethnic Yoruba were enslaved and taken to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Trinidad and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th century, after the Ọyọ empire collapsed and the region plunged into civil war), and carried their religious beliefs with them. These concepts were combined with preexisting African-based religions, Christianity, Native American mythology, and Kardecist Spiritism into various New World lineages:

The popularly known Vodun religion of Haiti combines the religious beliefs of the many different African ethnic nationalities taken to the island with the structure and liturgy from the Fon-Ewe of present-day Benin and the Congo-Angolan culture area, but Yoruba-derived religious ideology and deities also play an important role.


Yoruba deities include "Ọya" (wind goddess), "Ifa" (divination or fate), "Ẹlẹda" (destiny), "Ibeji" (twins), "Ọsanyin" (medicines and healing) and "Ọsun" (goddess of fertility, protector of children and mothers), Ṣango (God of thunder).


Human beings and other sentient creatures are also assumed to have their own individual deity of destiny, called "Ori (Yoruba)", who is venerated through a sculpture symbolically decorated with cowrie shells. Traditionally, dead parents and other ancestors are also believed to possess powers of protection over their descendants. This belief is expressed in worship and sacrifice on the grave or symbol of the ancestor, or as a community in the observance of the Egungun festival where the ancestors are represented as colorfully masquerade of costumed and masked men who represent the ancestral spirits. Dead parents and ancestors are also commonly venerated by pouring libations to the earth and the breaking of kolanuts in their honor at special occasions.


A significant portion of the population either follows the traditional religion called Ifa or consult with the clergy of traditional diviners known as babalawo, or "Father of secrets."


The majority of contemporary Yoruba are Christians and Muslims, with indigenous congregations having the largest memberships among Christians.


Yoruba cities

The chief Yoruba cities are Ibadan, Lagos, Abeokuta (Abẹokuta), Akure (Akurẹ), Ilorin (Ilọrin), Ijebu Ode (Ijẹbu Ode), Ijebu-Igbo (Ijẹbu-Igbo), Ogbomoso (Ogbomọṣọ), Ondo, Ota (Ọta),Ìlá Ọràngún, Ado-Ekiti, Shagamu (Sagamu), Ikenne (Ikẹnnẹ), Osogbo (Osogbo), Ilesa (Ilesa), Oyo (Ọyọ), and Ife (Ilé-Ifẹ)

Traditionally the Yoruba organized themselves into networks of related villages, towns, and kingdoms, with most of them headed by an Ọba [King] or Baale [a nobleman or mayor]. Kingship is not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. An electoral college of lineage heads is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families, and the selection is usually confirmed by an Ifa divination request. The Ọbas live in palaces usually in the center of the town. Opposite to the king's palace is the Ọja Ọba, the king's market. These markets form an inherent part of Yoruba life. Traditionally the market traders are well organized, have various guilds, and an elected speaker.



Yorubaland stadia include the National Stadium, Lagos (55,000 capacity), Teslim Balogun stadium (35,000 capacity), Liberty Stadium, Ibadan (the first stadium in Africa) (40,000 capacity), Mọṣhood Kaṣhimawo Abiọla Stadium Abẹokuta (28,000 capacity), Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan (25,000 capacity)

Yoruba people play board games like Ayò.

See also

Language links

External links

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.)