A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE YORUBA CULTURE
Yorubas are considered to be rich in terms of culture and tradition. The name Yoruba was applied to all linguistically and culturally related peoples. The Yoruba People, of whom there are more than thirty-five million according to CIA World Factbook of 2012, occupy the southwestern corner of Nigeria along the Dahomey border and extends into Dahomey itself.
To the east and north, the Yoruba culture reaches its approximate limits in the region of the Niger River. However ancestral cultures directly related to the Yoruba once flourished well north of the Niger. Portuguese explorers “discovered” the Yoruba cities and kingdoms in the fifteenth century, but cities such as Ife and Benin, among others, had been standing at their present sites for at least five hundred years before the European arrival.
Archeological evidence indicates that a technologically and artistically advanced. Yoruba were living somewhat north of the Niger in the first millennium B.C., and they were then already working with iron. Ifa theology states that the creation of humankind arose in the sacred city of Ile Ife where Oduduwa created dry land from water. Much later on an unknown number of Africans migrated from Mecca to Ile Ife.
At this point the Eastern Africans and Western Africans synergized. Ife was the first of all Yoruba cities, Oyo and Benin came later and grew and expanded as a consequence of their strategic locations at a time when trading became prosperous. Ife, unlike Benin and Oyo, never developed onto a true kingdom; but though it remained a city-state it had paramount importance to Yorubas as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought.
Until relatively recent times the Yorubas did not consider themselves a single people, but rather as citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yaba, and other cities, regions, or kingdoms. The old Yoruba cities typically were urban centers with surrounding farmlands that extended outward as much as a dozen miles or more. Both Benin and Oyo are said to have been founded by Ife rulers or descendants of Ife rulers.
Benin derived its knowledge of brass casting directly from Ife, and the religious system of divining called Ifa spread from Ile-Ife not only throughout the Yoruba country but to other West African cultures as well. A common Yoruba belief system dominated the region from the Niger, where it flows in an easterly direction, all the way to the Gulf of Guinea in the south.
It is no accident that the Yoruba cultural influence spread across the Atlantic to the Americas. Yoruba slaves were sent to British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies in the New World, and in a number of these places. Yoruba traditions survived strongly in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. Yoruba religious rites, beliefs, music, and myths are evident even at this late day.
In Haiti, the Yorubas were generally called Anagos. Afro-Haitian religious activities give Yoruba rites and beliefs an honored place, and the pantheon includes numerous deities of Yoruba origin. Also, more than one-third of Afro-Brazilians claim Yoruba ancestry.
Yoruba culture is famously visible in Bahia, Brazil, manifesting in everything from its religion to its music; in Brazil, Yoruba religious activities are called Anago or Shango, and in Cuba, they are designated Lucumi. There are salient structures that constitute the Yoruba plethora of cultures and traditions.
The most prominent are the Yoruba political structure, the social fabric, the sociology of the race, especially in areas relating to love, marriage, food, music, dressing, language, inheritance, in-laws, respect for elders, and unmatched love for neighbours and everybody a Yoruba person has contact with, banking system are some of the cultural tenets that define the Yorubas.
ORIGIN AND LOCATION
The oral history of the Yoruba recounts Odùduwà to be the Progenitor of the Yoruba and the reigning ancestor of their crowned kings. Upon the disappearance of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ife to found other kingdoms. Each making its mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin 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 marauder’s 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 lifetime as she later passed on and was thereafter immortalised. The Edi festival celebrates this feat to date.
The Yoruba people live mostly in Southwestern Nigeria. Traditionally, the Yorubas organized themselves into networks of related villages, towns, and kingdoms; with most of them headed by an Oba (King) or Baale (a nobleman or mayor).
The chief Yoruba cities/towns are Ilesa, Ibadan, Fiditi, Orile Igbon, Eko (Lagos), Oto-Awori, Ejigbo, Ijẹbu Ode, Abẹokuta, Akurẹ, Ilọrin, Ijẹbu-Igbo, Ijebu-Oru, Ijebu-Awa, Ijebu-ife, Odogbolu, Ogbomọṣọ, Ondo, Ọta, Ado-Ekiti, Ikare, Ayere, Kabba, Omuo, Omu-Aran, Egbe, Isanlu, Mopa, Aiyetoro – Gbedde, Sagamu, Iperu, Ikẹnnẹ, Ogere, Ilisan, Osogbo, Offa, Iwo, Ilesa, Esa-Oke, Ọyọ, Ilé-Ifẹ, Iree, Owo, Ede, Badagry, (Owu, Oyo), (Owu, Egba) (ife-olukotun), Ilaro, Oko, Esie, AgoIwoye, Iragbiji, Aagba, Ororuwo, Aada, Akungba and Akoko.
There are other towns and cities with historical affiliation with the Yoruba people because they share one or more similarities together. Some of these cities and towns are Benin city, Warri, Auchi, and Okene. They have developed a variety of different art forms including pottery, weaving, beadwork, metalwork, and mask making. Most artwork is made to honour the gods and ancestors and since there are more than 401 known gods to the Yoruba there is much sculpture and artwork made.
PRE-COLONIAL GOVERNMENT OF YORUBA SOCIETY
Traditionally kingship and chieftainship were not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. Monarchies were a common form of government in Yorubaland, but they were not the only approach to government and social organisation. The numerous Ijebu city-states to the west of Oyo and the Ẹgba communities, found in the forests below Ọyọ’s savannah 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, that it has been part of their organisation in its various forms from their antiquity to the contemporary era. 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. 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 (Paramount Chiefs) at the palace.
YORUBA’S TRADITIONAL RELIGION
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 syncretic pool known as the African traditional religions. It largely survived the so-called middle passage and is seen in a variety of forms in the New World as a result. Ife bronze casting of a king dated around the 12th Century, currently in the British Museum.
Orisa’nla (The great divinity) also known as Ọbatala was the arch-divinity chosen by Olodumare, the Supreme God, to create solid land out of the primordial water that constituted the earth and populating the land with human beings. Ọbatala descended from heaven on a chain, carrying a small snail shell full of earth, palm kernels, and a five-toed chicken. He was to empty the content of the snail shell on the water after placing some pieces of iron on it and then to place the chicken on the earth to spread it over the primordial water.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Music and dance have always been an important part of Yoruba culture for those living in Nigeria as well as in the diaspora. Yoruba music and dance are used for many different occasions in life such as religious festivals, royal occasions, and entertainment. Yoruba traditional music focuses on Yoruba deities. Drums and singing are the main elements of Yoruba music.
Instruments such as metal bells and wind instruments are sometimes used. Yoruba is a tonal language. Words must be pronounced in the appropriate tone (pitch) in order to understand speech in its correct meaning. There are three major tones: high, mid, and low. Most Yoruba music is based on these tonal patterns of speech.
Juju music emerged in the 1920s and is the most well-known form of Yoruba popular contemporary music in Nigeria. Juju has its roots in traditional Yoruba drum-based music. Juju is dance music played by large ensembles centred on guitars and drumming. Singing is a major part of Juju music and is inspired by Yoruba poetry, proverbs, praise songs, and the musical character of the language.
YORUBA TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE
For a man or a woman who has reached the age of marriage to remain single is against the mores of the Yorubas. Men get married even when they are sexually impotent in order to save either their faces or the faces of their immediate relatives, as well as to get one to look after their domestic establishment.
There are six important steps leading to the traditional Yoruba marriage:
- Igba ifojusode: The time for seeking a potential spouse.
- Ifa f’ore: The approval of the oracle-divinity.
- Isihun: The release of the voice of the young woman.
- Itoro: The request for the young woman’s hand in marriage.
- Idana: The creation of the affinity bond.
- Igbeyawo: The transfer of the wife to the husband’s lineage.
Yoruba people are well known for their attire. Clothing materials traditionally come from processed cotton by traditional weavers. The Yoruba have a very wide range of clothing. The basic being the Aso-Oke, which comes in different colours and patterns.
SOME COMMON STYLES ARE:
- Alaari – a rich red Asọ-Oke.
- Sanyan – a brown and usual light brown Asọ-Oke.
- Ẹtu – a dark blue Asọ-Oke.
OTHER CLOTHING MATERIALS INCLUDE
- Ofi– pure white yarned cloths, used as cover cloth, it can be sewn and worn.
- Aran– a velvet clothing material sewn into Dansiki and Kẹmbẹ, worn by the rich.
- Adirẹ– cloth with various patterns and designs, dye in indigo ink (Ẹlu).
YORUBA WEARS ARE GENDER-SENSITIVE:
Men wear Kẹmbẹ, Dandogo, Dansiki, Agbada, Buba, Sokoto, and matching caps such as: Abeti-Aja – dog ear-shaped cap, fila-ẹtu, etc.
Women wear Iro (wrapper) and Buba (the top) with a matching head-gear (gele). For important outings, a Yoruba woman will add a Shawl (Ipele/Iborun) on the shoulder and can add different forms of accessories. The Yoruba believe that the 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 other 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 philosophy is anchored in Yoruba proverbs. Different occasions also require different outfits among the Yoruba.
The Head occupies a pre-eminent place compare with other parts of the body; so too, the hair that covers the head. The culture and tradition of hair-do is rooted in both the spiritual and biological roles of the individual head. The head is treasured and respected, because, it is the center of body activity; through hair-do and care, Ori (head) is highly esteemed.
In times past, even at present hairdos or styles perform several roles among Yorubas; these functions or roles include the medium of communication, the mark of initiation, state of mind, religious beliefs, marital and social status of women in the society. For instance, a hairstyle from the forehead which ends at the back of the neck shows the carrier is married; besides, married women carry hairstyles from both sides of the head, and finish up at the middle of the head in such a network shape that connects the forehead and back together.
On the other hand, maiden style runs from the right side of the head to the left ear. The smaller, and the more hair strands a young lady carry, the more beautiful such a lady will look. Maidens usually carry hair-style of 8 to 14 strands, in braided or wrapped form. Braiding and binding (the use of thread to make strands) are the two common ways to beautify hair by Yoruba women in the past.
However, braiding (Irun biba; knotting hair) comes in different styles, these include:
- Suku – a braiding hair style either short or long knots, it runs from forehead to the back or crown of the head.
- Kolẹsẹ – as the name suggests (without legs), it is a braiding style, each knot runs from the front and terminates at the back of the head, close to the neck.
- Ipakọ-Ẹlẹdẹ – this braiding style starts from the back of the head, but ends at the front.
- Panumọ (keep quite) – hair style, with two different starting points, the back and the front. The knots meet at the center with a little opening.
- Ojompeti (rain soaked ear) – braiding starts from one side of the head, ends close to the ear. All these have been taken over by perming or applying chemical to the hair to straighten it, the hair is then put in rollers and head put under the standing dryer for about 30 minutes to one hour. Some will braid with attachment (synthetic hair) to make long braids.
YORUBA TRIBAL MARK
The interesting feature of Yoruba’s physical appearance which is fast disappearing because of the extant laws, and international campaign, is the tribal marks. Tribal or facial mark– is a specific mark, which comes in different shapes and sizes, commonly found on the face. There are various tribal marks, by different ethnic groups within the Yoruba nation.
The Ijesa people are known by “Pele.” Pele, is a-four-horizontal-line; a-quarter-of-an-inch-long made on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth.
The Ondo natives of (Ondo State) are identified by half-an-inch-vertical lines on both sides of the nose down to the mouth (marks are thick and long).
Other Yoruba ethnic groups have different types of facial marks;
Ogbomoso natives of (Oyo State) are identified by multiple straight and curved lines (Gombo) on both sides of the face. Other sub-groups within the Yoruba nation have only curved lines on both sides of their face. Even, a particular mark, may have varieties among neighbors; for instance, Pele has about three versions:
- Pele Ijesa (discussed above)
- Pele Ekiti (quarter-of-an-inch-horizontal line) and
- Pele Akoko (about the same length, but comes in either vertical or horizontal format); the style will depend on Akoko by Ekiti, Bini, and Okun neighbors.
The purpose of facial marks in the past was to identify each group within the Yoruba nation, to beautify, and to identify slaves. Because of the health implications and several cases of abuse, it has become an outlaw practice in Nigeria. Yoruba has the following tribal marks: Abaja, Kẹkẹ or Gọmbọ, Ture, Pele, Mande, Jamgbadi.
Yoruba people have a variety of food items from where common or locally based foods are made. Prominent among these food items are:
- Yam (Isu): Water-Yam, Coco-Yam, Yellow-Yam, Potatoes,
- Grains: Iresi (Rice), Ewa (Beans): (White/ Brown/Black)
- Cereal: Millet, Soya-Beans, Sorghum,
- Plantains: Paranta, Ọgbagba
- Corn: Brown/Red
- Wheat: Oka, Ọpa-Ẹtun, Oka-Baba
- Cassava: Ẹgẹ, Gbaguda
- Vegetable: is a part of balanced diet in every Yoruba homes, it includes leafy and fruit/seed based vegetables.
- Vegetable/Leafy category-such as: Ẹfọ, Tẹtẹ, Ebolo, Gbure, Ewedu
- Vegetable/fruit and seed- such as: Onion, Carrot, Pepper (Rodo, Tatase, Wẹwẹ), Tomatoes.
- Melon: Ẹgusi N’ la/kekere
- Mushroom: (Olu/Oosun)
Fruits- Yoruba has a lot of fruit-bearing trees, which for centuries were part of their dietary composition, and sources of materials for local medicines. Some of these trees include:
- Orange: Ọsan
- Lime: Ọsan-wẹwẹ
- Cherry: Agbalumọ
- Cashew: Kasu
- Pine-Apple: Ọpẹ-Oyinbo
- Paw-paw: Ibẹpẹ
- Palm-Nut/Date: Ẹyìn
- Palm-Kernel: Ekurọ
- Mango: Mangoro
- Locust Bean: Iru-Woro/Pẹtẹ
- Wall-Nut: Awusa
- Sugarcane: Ireke
OIL PRODUCTS AND THEIR SOURCES
- Epo-pupa: Palm-Oil from Palm Tree
- Ororo: Vegetable Oil
- Ẹgusi: Melon oil from melon seeds
- Ẹpa: Ground-Nut oil: from ground-nut seeds
- Ororo: Castor oil
- Adin-Ẹyan: Palm-Kernel oil from processed palm-nuts
- Adin-Agbọn: Coco-nut oil from coco-nut
Meat based foods from domestic and wild animals
- Ewurẹ/Mẹẹ, Obukọ: Goat
- Agutan, Agbo: Sheep
- Malu: Cattle
- Ẹlẹdẹ: Pig
- Chicken based meat: Fowl(Akukọ), Duck(Pẹpẹyẹ), Turkey(Tolotolo), Hen(Adi’ẹ), Guinea Fowl
Wild games of various types- herbivorous, carnivorous, and insectivorous. Meaty foods also include seafood of different types such as fish, shrimps, and crabs and from animals which habitation is very close to the water- like crocodiles and alligators.
SOUP/STEW AND SPICES
Other stews include plain pepper stew, the viscous vegetable (Ewedu), soups to eat foods like Amala, Iyan, Eba, and Fufu.
GREETINGS IN YORUBA
Yoruba attached great importance to greetings, every occasion, season, job, and event has appropriate greetings. Anyone who lacks greeting courtesy is considered uncultured, and uncivilized.
Daily common greetings:
- Ekaaro (Good morning),
- Ekaa san(Good afternoon),
- Ekaale (Good evening)
- Greetings by Jobs: Ẹ ku isẹ o.
- Traders/Sellers: Ẹ o ta o, Aje a wọ igba o, Ẹ ku ọrọ aje (you will sell )
- Blacksmith: Arọye o Response Ogun a gbe Ọ. Arọye ni t’Ogun
- Cloth Weaver: Ojugbooro O. Ọbalufọ a gbe Ọ
- Native Doctor: Ewe a jẹ o
- Hair Dresser: Oju gbooro o
- Response: Oya a ya o
- Carver of Craftman: Ẹ ku ọna
- Response: Ọna a wọ oju o
- Hunter: A re pa ni t’ Ogun. A re pa ni t’ asa
- Response: Oguna gbe yin o. A dupẹ o
- Palm Wine Tapper: Igba a rọooo; Ẹmọ sẹ o
- Response: Ẹmọ sẹ ni t’ Ajao, ni t’ adan
MODERNISATION AND CHALLENGE TO OMOLUABI
Omoluwabi is quintessential Yoruba. Omoluwabi is not lazy. Omoluwabi cherishes industry and he earns respect and accomplishments through hard work. Omoluwabi is ever truthful. An Omoluwabi will NEVER tell lies under any circumstance. He or She is bold and courageous. An Omoluwabi will not steal, because he hates anything that will bring shame to his family or to himself.
With the increasing influx of modernisation, globalization, and technology the sacred and formally cherished Yoruba culture and tradition have been relegated to the background. The present generation particularly the younger ones are not interested in the culture but instead embrace the western culture. The age-long concept of OMOLUWABI is almost no longer in practice.
Monetisation and the quest to get rich quick has pervaded the fabric of society, Omoluabi is now an aberration while corruption is wide. The sum total of Yoruba philosophy is Iwa l’ewa meaning “Character is beauty”. And to the Yoruba, attitude determines your altitude. Take away a man’s culture; his entire being is rendered prostrate.
There is therefore a dying need to restore and transmit the Yoruba culture to the younger generation so that it does not go into extinction through whatever means so as to preserve some dying cultures. Yoruba boys traditionally prostrate and girls kneel down to greet, this is already fading out in most urban families where the sole language of communication is English.
Culture is germane regarding the identification of people. It is the major attribute resulting in the behavioural characteristic of different groups. It is consequently exhibited by the different members of the group. The language (particularly the dialect), dressing, food, hairstyle, music, and aspect of culture which is group-specific shows diversity.
The Yoruba cultural values, ethics, and norms have been bastardized in the name of civilization and western education. The believe in the phenomenon of “Omoluwabi” has nose-dived like a meteor in the night sky and the younger ones find it difficult to respect their elders. The neglect of Yoruba cultural value and good attitudes is a thing of concern to the wise in the land of “Olofin Oodua, Onipopo of Popo, Oranmiyan, Orangun ile-ila, Elejelumope, and onitagi olele.
The departed Yoruba legends and titans are weeping in their graves, on account of the stupendously shrinking space available to traditional Yoruba values and ethics. The understanding of Yoruba culture begins with the core interest and understanding of our Language. The richness of our culture, tradition, wisdom, witticism, and varied expressions lies in our language.
The concept of Omoluwabi should be replaced with its esteemed position in Yoruba societies. Modernization is good, but its replacement with our shared culture and tradition is dangerous. The Yoruba Language should not be relegated totally. Young lads should be taught the language right from the stage when they start talking, in primary schools, junior and senior secondary school.
Many of our core values from the culture are already abolished particularly among the elite. Below are a few of these values already relegated include: substitution of Suku for fixing of weave-on, Iyan for poundo, Apala for Hip Hop, Aran for Jeans, etc. hence there a need for change in appreciating Yoruba Culture because the failure of this can be dangerous to the unborn generations.
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