Yoruba people: Wikis


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Kwara State drummers.
Total population
Over 30 million (est.)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Nigeria 29,039,480 [2]
 Benin 1,009,207+ [3]
 Ghana 350,000 [4]
 Togo 85,000 [5]
 United States
 United Kingdom
 Brazil as Candomblé Ketu
 Cuba as Lucumi
Latin America

Yoruba, Yoruboid languages


Christianity 60%, Islam 30%, Orisha veneration and Ifá 10%.

Related ethnic groups
Bini, Nupe, Igala, Itsekiri, Ebira,

Diaspora: Lucumi, Candomblé Ketu

Yoruba people (Yorùbá in Yoruba orthography) are one of the largest ethno-linguistic or ethnic groups in west Africa.[6] The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language (Yoruba: èdèe Yorùbá; èdè). The Yoruba constitute around 30 million individuals throughout West Africa[7] and are found predominantly in Nigeria with approximately 21 percent of its total population.[8]

Yoruba settlements are often composed of three main generations:

  • The first generation is made up of founding towns and cities of the origin or capitals of Yoruba states/kingdoms.
  • The second generation is those created by conquest, diaspora or/and resettlement.
  • The third generation is those that emerged after the Yoruba wars

The Yoruba share borders with the Borgu (variously called Bariba and Borgawa) in the northwest, the Nupe (whom they often call, 'Tapa') and Ebira in the north, the Edo, the Ẹsan and Afemai to the southeast. The Igala and other related groups are found in the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, and other Gbe-speaking peoples in the southwest. While the majority of the Yoruba live in western Nigeria, there are also substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in the Republic of Benin, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, USA, the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas,Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Ghana and Togo.[9]



General history

Ife bronze casting of a king dated around the 12th Century

The African peoples who lived in the lower western Niger area, at least by the 4th century BC, were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. Both archeology and traditional Yoruba oral historians confirm the existence of people in this region for several millennia.

Contemporary historians as well as Yoruba legend contend that the Yorubas are not indigenous to Yorubaland, but are descendants of immigrants to the region. It is believed that the forefather of all the Yoruba people was an important man called Oduduwa, (also known as Odudua, Odua or Eleduwa). It is also known that he was a Prince from the royal family in Mecca. At the time when he was a young prince in Mecca, the people of Mecca including the royal family were worshipers of different idols and deities. When the Islam religion was adopted by the royal family and introduced to the kingdom of Mecca, Oduduwa rebelled refusing to convert to Islam. This caused a split in the royal family and amongst the noblemen loyal to the prince. As a result, Oduduwa was expelled and forced into exile. According to legend, he gathered all the men and women loyal to him numbering thousands and began a journey. He headed southwest from mecca and came to settle in Sub-saharan Africa. He established his kingdom in a place called 'Ile Ife' (also known as Ife)and thus became the first 'oba' (meaning 'king' or 'ruler' in the Yoruba language). This settlement flourished and developed into what is now Yorubaland in modern day Nigeria.

Between 1100 AD and 1700 AD, the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife experienced a golden age, the oba or ruler of Ife is referred to as the Ooni of Ife.[10] It was then surpassed by the Yoruba Oyo Empire as the dominant Yoruba military and political power between 1700 AD and 1900 AD,[11] the (oba) or ruler of Oyo is referred to as the Alaafin of Oyo. Ife, however, remained and continues to be viewed as the spiritual homeland of the Yoruba. The nearby Benin Empire, with its capital in the modern day Benin City in modern day Nigeria was also a powerful force between 1300 and 1850 AD, the ruler of Benin City is referred to as the Oba of Benin.[12]

Most of the city states were controlled by Obas (rulers) with various titles and councils made up of Oloye, guild of noble leaders or chiefs, and merchants. Different states saw differing ratios of power between the kingship and the chiefs' council. 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.

Cosmogonic origin mythology

Yoruba people



Orisa'nla (The great divinity) also known as Ọbatala was the arch-divinity chosen by Olodumare, the supreme deity, to create solid land out of the primordial water that constituted the earth and populating the land with human beings.[13] 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.

Recently, historians have attributed this cosmological mythology to a pre-existing civilization at Ilė-Ifę which was invaded by a militant immigrants from the east, led by a king named Oduduwa. Oduduwa and his group had been persecuted on the basis of religious differences and forced out of their homeland. They came to Ilė-Ifę where they subjugated the pre-existing Ugbo inhabitants (Ugbo-Ilaje) though often erroneously rendered as Igbo but unrelated to the present Igbo people), under the leadership of Oreluere (Ọbatala).

After Oduduwa

Upon the death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ilė-Ifę to found other kingdoms (Owu, Ketu, Benin, Ila, Sabe, Popo, and Oyo). Each made a mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin to Ile-Ife.

Pre-colonial Yoruba society


Oyo Empire and surrounding states.

Monarchies were a common form of government in the Yoruba-speaking region, 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.

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, where 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,[14] 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."[citation needed] He described Abẹokuta and its system of government as "the most extraordinary republic in the world."[citation needed]


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. 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.

City states

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 Ilesa, Ondo, and other Yoruba communities, several traditions of female Ọbas, though these were comparatively rare.

The kings were traditionally almost always polygamous and often married royal family members from other domains.[15]

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 powers through their election by popular acclaim and the respect of their peers. Similar practices were adopted by the jẹsa and other groups, which saw a corresponding rise in the social influence of military adventurers and successful entrepreneurs.

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 to overthrow Ọyọ's Ajeles (appointed administrators) in the late 1700s.

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.


Traditional Yoruba Religion

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 and Puerto Rico, Voudoun in Haiti, and Candomblé in Brazil.

Itan is the term for the sum total of all Yoruba myths, songs, histories, and other cultural components. These mostly originate from the ese (verses) of the Odu Ifa.

After the Ọyọ empire collapsed and the region plunged into civil war, ethnic Yoruba were among the largest in number of African peoples who were enslaved and taken by European traders to Cuba,[16] Puerto Rico,[17] Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad[16] and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th century). The enslaved Africans carried their Orisha 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 which are Lucumí (Cuba, Puerto Rico), Oyotunji (U.S.), Anago (Nigeria), Candomblé (Brazil), Umbanda (Brazil), Batuque (Brazil) and Kaaro oojire (Nigeria).

The popularly known Vodou 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 one creator God and approximately 400 supernatural spirits. Some of the most prominent spiritss are "Olorun" (God of Heaven), "Eshu" (The Devil), "Ogun" (god of Iron), "Obatala" (Spirit of justice), "Yemonja" (Spirit of fertility and waters| Mermaid), "Ọya" (Spirit of wind and storm), "Orunmila" (Spirit of divination or fate), "Ibeji" (Spirit of twins), "Ọsanyin" (Spirit of medicines and healing), "Ọsun" (Spirit of love, protector of children and mothers), Sango (Spirit of thunder and lightning), and "Ochosi" (Spirit of the hunt). Some of these deities, actually lived amongst the people, often as warriors with fearsome reputations. These reputations often leads to them becoming deitified in death, with people naturally trying to harness their abilities. For instance Shango (Spirit of thunder and lightning)was known to emit fire from his mouth when he talks, and was able to initiate and control thunder and lightning.

Human beings and other sentient creatures are also assumed to have their own individual deity of destiny, called "Ori", 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 veneration 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 a colorful 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.

Today, many contemporary Yoruba are Muslims and Christians evenly population wise. A small number of Yoruba, especially in the remote or rural areas, retain many of the cultural concepts of Yoruba pagan traditions, yet they are likely to be (by name or by birth) Muslims or Christians.

Twins in Yoruba society

The Yoruba present the highest dizygotic twinning rate in the world (4.4 % of all maternities).[18] Twins are very important for the Yoruba and they are often known for tending to give special names to each twin.[19] The first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Taiyewo or Tayewo, (which means 'the first to taste the world'), 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 eldest'.


Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu, the London-baesd Muslim scholar claims in his Arabic-English Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Quran and Sunnah that Islam has played a major role in enriching African languages through the Arab traders whose communication skills helped the people in the continent to develop technical and cultural augmentations in their Languages, poinitng at Ki-Swahili and Af-Somaali in East Africa and Turanci Hausa and Fula-Nyami in West Africa as the most evident.[20] Nigeria-born Sheikh Adelabu, a Ph D graduate from Damascus cited among commonly Arabic words used in Yoruba Language names of the days such as Atalata (Ar. Ath-Thulatha الثلاثاء) for Tuesday, Alaruba (Ar. Al-Arbi'a الأربعاء) for Wednesday, Alamisi (Ar. Al-Khamis الخميس) for Thursday, and Jimoh (Ar. Al-Jum'ah الجمعة) for Friday. By far Ojo Jimoh is the most favourably used. It's usually preferred to Yoruba unpleasant word for Friday Eti, which means Failure, Laziness or Abandonment.[21]

Sheikh Dr. Adelabu used assertions like these in his works such as Islam in Africa - West African in Particular, and Missionary and Colonization in Africa.[22] to argue that Islam had reached Sub-Sahara Africa, including the Yoruba Lands in West Africa, as early as the first century of Hijrah through Muslim traders and expeditions during the reign of the Arab conquror, Uqba ibn al Nafia (622–683) whose Islamic conquests under the Umayyad dynasty, in Amir Muavia and Yazid periods, spread all Northern Africa or the Maghrib Al-Arabi, including present-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco.

Time is measured in isheju or iseju (minutes), wakati (hours), ojo (days), ose (weeks), oshu or osu (months) and odun (years). There are 60 isheju in 1 wakati; 24 wakati in 1 ojo; 7 ojo in 1 ose; 4 ose in 1 oshu and 52 ose in 1 odun. There are 12 oshu in 1 odun.[citation needed]

Months in Yoruba calendar: Months in Gregorian calendar:
Sere January
Erele February
Erena March
Igbe April
Ebibi May
Okudu June
Agemo July
Ogun August
Owere (Owewe) September
Owara (Owawa) October
Belu November
Ope December
Yoruba calendar traditional days
Ojo-Obatala[citation needed]

The Yoruba calendar (Kojoda) year starts from 3 June to 2 June of the following year.[citation needed] According to this calendar, the Gregorian year 2008 A. D. is the 10050th year of Yoruba culture.[citation needed] To reconcile with the Gregorian calendar, Yoruba people also measure time in seven days a week and four weeks a month:

Modified days in Yoruba calendar Days in Gregorian calendar
Ojo-Aiku Sunday
Ojo-Aje Monday
Ojo-Ishegun/Atalata Tuesday
Ojo-'Ru/Alaruba Wednesday
Ojo-Bo/Alamisi Thursday
Ojo-Eti/Jimoh Friday
Ojo-Abameta Saturday[23]


Location in Nigeria

Yoruba area in Nigeria.

The Yoruba are the main ethnic group in the Nigerian federal states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo; they also constitute a sizable proportion of Kwara and Kogi states as well as Edo.

Location in Benin

The Yoruba/Ife are the main group in the Benin department of Ouémé, all Subprefecture; Collines Province, all subprefectures; Plateau Province, all Subprefectures; Borgou Province, Tchaourou Subprefecture; Zou Province, Ouihni and Zogbodome Subprefecture; Donga Province, Bassila Subprefecture; Alibori, Kandi Subprefecture

Location in Togo

The Yoruba/Ife are the main group in the Togo department of Plateau Region, Ogou and Est-Mono prefectures; Centrale Region, Tchamba Prefecture

Yoruba towns

The chief Yoruba cities/towns are Ibadan, Fiditi, Eko (Lagos), Ejigbo, Modakeke/Akoraye, Ijẹbu Ode, Abẹokuta, Akurẹ, Ilọrin, Ijẹbu-Igbo, Ogbomọṣọ, Ondo, Ọta, Ado-Ekiti, Ikare, Sagamu, Ikẹnnẹ, Ilisan, Osogbo, Offa, Iwo, Ilesa, Ọyọ, Ilé-Ifẹ, Odeomu, Ilaro and Ago-Iwoye.

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 Ifá 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.

Yoruba Diaspora

Atlantic slave trade

The triangular trade

A significant percentage of Africans enslaved during the Atlantic slave trade in the Americas managed to maintain the Yoruba tradition of 'Orisha' (also spelt, 'Orisa') veneration, as well as their continual belief in God, the Supreme Being, who they refer to under different names such as 'Olorun', 'Olodumare', 'Eleda', 'Olofin-Orun' and 'Eledumare'.[citation needed]

Different names and slavery-era diaspora

During the 19th century, the term 'Yoruba ' or 'Yariba' 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 'Yoruba' 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 territory. 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 Creole (of Aku origin) clergyman, subsequent missionaries extended the term to include all speakers of related dialects.

Aside from "Yoruba" and its variant "Yariba", this ethnic group was in different times and places known by a variety of other names, including "Yorubo", "Akú", "Okun", "Nago", "Anago" and "Ana" and "Lucumi".

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.’ A variant of this group is also known as the "Okun", Okun being also a form of "A ku". These are Yorubas found in parts of the states of Kogi - the "Yagba", Ekiti and Kabba.

The language spread of Kru, Igbo and Yoruba in the United States according to [24] U. S. Census 2000.

The terms "Nago", "Anago" and "Ana" were widely used in Spanish and Portuguese documents to describe all speakers of the language. They derive from the name of a coastal Yoruba sub-group in present-day Benin. Yoruba in Francophone West Africa are still sometimes known by this ethnonym today.

In Cuba and Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking America, the Yoruba were called "Lucumi" after the phrase "O luku mi", meaning "my friend" in some dialects. This term is at present used mainly to refer to an Afro-Caribbean religion derived from the traditional Yoruba religion, more often known as Santería now becoming popular in the USA.

The origin of the Yoruba, who often refer to themselves as "Omo O'odua" (Children of Oduduwa), revolves around a man called Oduduwa who became the first Oba (meaning 'king' or 'leader' in the Yoruba language) at the Yoruba kingdom of Ile-Ife (also known as Ife), under the title of the Ooni of Ife. It was from Ile-Ife that the descendants of Oduduwa went on to find other Yoruba kingdoms such as Oyo and Ketou. One of them even managed to rule over a famous non-Yoruba-speaking kingdom towards the east of Ife as the Oba of Ile-Ibinu, which later became known as Ubini, the Edo, and finally Benin (not to be confused with the country called the Republic of Benin which was previously known as Dahomey.

See also


External links

Simple English

Yoruba is an ethnic group of people living in Africa. They live on the west coast of Africa, mostly Nigeria and Ghana.

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