The Yoruba people are considered the largest ethnic group in Africa, inhabiting the southwestern and north-central region of Nigeria, as well as southern and central Benin. The Yorubas are one of the three main ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. Others are the Igbos and Hausas.
It is believed that civilization started in the 8th century in Ile-Ife ( the origin of Yoruba lineage), this was centuries before the arrival of the British Colonial Masters. Archaeological findings in Ile-Ife showed existing sophisticated artistic skills in the 12th–14th century era. Artists sculpted traditional and cultural edifices out of terracotta, stone, ivory, brass, bronze and copper as far back as 1300 CE. As of today, after numerous political divisions and influences, the Yoruba are the main ethnic group in Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo State, and they also make up a sizable proportion of Kwara, Kogi and Edo State in Nigeria. They spread to other African countries such as Egypt, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Also extending to countries like Brazil, North Carolina in USA, and Cuba.
Major towns and cities
Traditionally, the Yorubas organised themselves into networks of related villages, towns and kingdoms; with most of them headed by an Oba (King) or Baale (a nobleman or mayor). Major Yoruba cities and towns include Ile-Ife, Ibadan, Lagos, Ijebu Ode, Abeokuta, Akure, Ilorin, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogbomosho, Ondo, Badagry, Ado–Ekiti, Osogbo, Ilesa, Oyo, Owo, Kabba, Offa, Ilesa, Ilobu, Ede etc. There are other Yoruba cities and towns such as Ketu, Sabe, Dassa and others in Republic of Benin.
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, Okene etc.
Yoruba mythology states that, in the beginning, the universe was made up of only two elements: the sky above and a watery chaos below. Oduduwa (a servant of the Supreme Being, Olodumare) was tasked with creating the Earth. The belief is that he ventured down from heaven with a long chain, carrying a calabash filled with sand, along with a five-toed fowl. Not a single patch of dry land could be found as the whole Earth was covered in water, and so Oduduwa poured the sand on the water and the fowl on top of it. Every one of the fowl’s steps would produce new solid ground, and a chameleon, sent down to check up on this process, would determine if the land was dry enough and solid enough. What remains as water today are all the places not touched by the sand. And today, it is said that some of the objects Oduduwa brought from heaven are still in Ile-Ife, including the chain he used to climb down to earth.
Origin of the Yoruba People
Oral history of the Yoruba people recounts Odùduwà to be the progenitor of the Yoruba and the reigning ancestor of their crowned kings.
He came from the east, sometimes understood from Ife traditions to be Oke-Ora and by other sources as the “vicinity” true East on the Cardinal points, but more likely signifying the region of Ekiti and Okun sub-communities in northeastern Yoruba land in 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.
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 natives 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 raiders. 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 raiders 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 deified. The Edi festival celebrates this feat amongst her Yoruba descendants.
One of the most common Yoruba traditional religious concepts are Olodumare, Olorun and Orisa. Olodumare or Olorun is the principal manifestations of the Supreme God of the Yoruba pantheon.
Orisa are various godly forms that reflect one of the various manifestations God in the Yoruba religious system. Some widely known Orisa are;
- Ogun, (a god of metal, war and victory, usually celebrated with masquerades dancing),
- Sango (a god of thunder, lightning, fire and justice who manifests as a king and who always wields a double-edged axe that conveys his divine authority and power),
- Esu (a trickster who serves as the sole messenger of the pantheon, and who conveys the wish of men to the gods. He understands every language spoken by humankind, and is also the guardian of the crossroads, Oríta méta in Yoruba),
- Orunmila (a god of the Oracle; reveals the past, gives solutions to problems in the present, and influences the future through the Ifa divination system, which is practiced by oracle priests called Babalawos)
- Naming Ceremony
In Yoruba land, one of the most important traditions observed is ‘orúko àmútọ̀runwá’ – the naming of a newly born child. Names are given to children by their parents, grandparents (paternal and maternal) and some other close relatives. A typical Yoruba child can bear as many as 16 different names. The circumstance surrounding the child’s birth also plays a significant role to the naming of the child. For instance, A child born with dread lock is called Dada.
- Wedding Ceremony
The institution of marriage is also a very big deal for the Yoruba people, because it is considered to be a union of not only the husband and wife but of both families and extended families. When a young man and woman meet, they fall in love and both decide whether they’d spend the rest of their lives together. If yes, they let their parents know. The man’s parents arrange to meet with the bride’s parents for an introduction. After the approval from her parents, they ask the man and his family to provide certain items to pay off her bride price.
A wedding day is set and is celebrated generously with dancing, eating, drinking and a presentation of gifts to the couple. After the wedding, the ‘Ekun Iyawo’ ritual is observed, where the bride is seen crying as she is escorted by family, friends and well wishers to her husband’s house – she now leaves her parents and belongs to the family of the husband. She is prayed for and her feet are washed in a ritual that is said to cleanse away any bad luck she might be bringing into her new home.
- Funeral Rite
In Yoruba belief, death is not the end of life; rather, it is a transition from one form of existence to another. The ogberis (ignorant folks) fear death because it marks the end of an existence that is known and the beginning of one that is unknown. Immortality is the dream of many, as “Eji-ogbe” puts it: Mo dogbogbo orose; Ng ko ku mo; Mo digba oke; Mo duro Gbonin. (I have become an aged ose tree; I will no longer die; I have become two hundred hills rolled into one; I am immovable.) Reference to hills is found in the saying “Gboningbonin ni t’oke, oke Gboningbonin”.
The Yoruba also pray for many blessings, but the most important three are wealth, children and immortality: ire owo; ire omo; ire aiku pari iwa. There is a belief in an afterlife that is a continuation of this life, only in a different setting, and the abode of the dead is usually placed at a place just outside this abode, and is sometimes thought of as separated by a stream. Participation in this afterlife is conditional on the nature of one’s life and the nature of one’s death. This is the meaning of life: to deliver the message of Olodumare, the Supreme Creator by promoting the good of existence. For it is the wish of the Deity that human beings should promote the good as much as is possible. Hence it is insisted that one has a good capacity for moral uprightness and personhood. Personhood is an achieved state judged by the standard of goodness to self, to the community and to the ancestors. As people say: Keni huwa gbedegbede; keni lee ku pelepele; K’omo eni lee n’owo gbogboro L’eni sin. (Let one conduct one’s life gently; that one may die a good death; that one’s children may stretch their hands over one’s body in burial.)
The achievement of a good death is an occasion for celebration of the life of the deceased. This falls into several categories. First, children and grand children would celebrate the life of their parent who passed and left a good name for them. Second, the Yoruba are realistic and pragmatic about their attitude to death. They know that one may die at a young age. The important thing is a good life and a good name. As the saying goes: Ki a ku l’omode, ki a fi esin se irele eni; o san ju ki a dagba ki a ma ni adie irana. (if we die young, and a horse is killed in celebration of one’s life; it is better than dying old without people killing even a chicken in celebration.)
It is also believed that ancestors have enormous power to watch over their descendants. Therefore, people make an effort to remember their ancestors on a regular basis. This is ancestor veneration, which some have wrongly labelled ancestor worship. It is believed that the love that exists between a parent and a child here on earth should continue even after death. And since the parent has only ascended to another plane of existence, it should be possible for the link to remain strong.
Some common Yoruba foods are iyan (pounded yam), Amala, eba, semo, fufu, Moin moin (bean cake) and akara, Ikokore. Soups include egusi, ewedu, Ila (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, Ogi (pap) among others. Popular drink in the Yoruba land is emu (Palm wine).
Dressing and fashion
Fashion is a thing of pride to the Yoruba people, and they are well known for textile production. Their clothings come in different styles and designs. The most popular of them is Aso-Oke. Aso-Oke is a hand loomed cloth of different patterns and colors sewn into various styles. 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)
These materials are further made into designs such as; iro and buba, gele (head gear), agbada, fila (cap), sooro, kembe, etc.
Source: The Culture Trip