in Yoruba orthography
) are one of the largest ethno-linguistic
or ethnic groups
. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language
( ; èdè). The Yoruba constitute
around 30 million individuals throughout West Africa and are found predominantly in
Nigeria with approximately 21 percent of its total
The Yoruba share borders with the Borgu
(variously called Bariba and Borgawa) in the northwest, the
(whom they often call, 'Tapa') and
in the north, the Edo
who are also known as Bini or Benin people
(unrelated to the people of the 'Republic of Benin'), and the
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.
majority of the Yoruba live in western Nigeria, there are also
substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in the Republic of
Benin, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, USA, Trinidad and
Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Antigua and
Barbuda, Bahamas,Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Ghana and Togo.
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.
Some contemporary historians contend that some Yoruba are not
indigenous to Yorubaland, but are descendants of immigrants to the
is believed that an important man called Oduduwa, (also known as Odudua, Odua or Eleduwa),
who many believe to have arrived from an easterly direction,
established a kingdom at 'Ile Ife' (also known as Ife) and thus
became the first 'oba' (meaning 'king' or 'ruler' in the Yoruba language) of who today are known as
the Yoruba people.
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.
It was then surpassed by the Yoruba Oyo Empire
as the dominant Yoruba military and
political power between 1700 AD and 1900 AD, 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.
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,
. 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
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. 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
Recently, historians have attributed this cosmological mythology to
a pre-existing civilization at Ilė-Ifę
was invaded by a militant immigrants from the east, led by a king
. 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 (often erroneously rendered as
but unrelated to the present Igbo people
), under the leadership of Oreluere
Upon the death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children
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
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
, though real political, legislative, and judicial
powers resided with the Ogboni
council of notable elders.
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
, 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
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
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
) and the council of leading nobles known as the
The monarchy of any city state was usually limited to a number of
royal lineages. A family could be excluded from king
and chieftancy if any family member, servant,
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.
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
(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.
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
Traditional Yoruba Religion
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
is the term for the sum total of all
, songs, histories, and
components. These mostly
originate from the ese (verses) of the Odu Ifa.
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, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th
The enslaved Africans carried their Orisha religious beliefs
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
(Nigeria), Candomblé (Brazil), Umbanda (Brazil), Batuque (Brazil) and Kaaro
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 "Ọya
Orisha or Orisa "Ibeji
" (twin), "Ọsanyin"
) and "Ọsun
" (goddess of fertility
, protector of children
and mothers), Sango
(God of thunder).
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
Today, many contemporary Yoruba are active Christians
retain many of the moral and cultural concepts of their traditional
Twins in Yoruba society
The Yoruba present the highest dizygotic
twinning rate in the world (4.4 % of all maternities). Twins are
very important for the Yoruba and they are often known for tending
to give special names to each twin. The first of the twins to be
born is traditionally named Taiyewo
(which means 'the first to taste the world'), this is often
shortened to Taiwo
, is the name of the last born twin. Kehinde is
sometimes also referred to as Kehindegbegbon
short for Omokehindegbegbon and means, 'the child that came last
gets the eldest'.
Time is measured in isheju
(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.
|Months in Yoruba calendar:
||Months in Gregorian
|Yoruba calendar traditional
The Yoruba calendar (Kojoda) year starts from 3 June to 2 June of
the following year. According to this calendar, the Gregorian year
2008 A. D. is the 10050th year of Yoruba culture. To reconcile with
the Gregorian calendar
people also measure time in seven days a week and four weeks a
|Modified days in Yoruba
||Days in Gregorian
Location in Nigeria
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
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
Yoruba/Ife are the main group in the Togo department of Plateau Region, Ogou and Est-Mono
prefectures; Centrale Region,
Yoruba cities/towns are Ibadan, Fiditi,
Eko , 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
Traditionally the Yoruba organized themselves into networks of
related villages, towns, and kingdoms, with most of them headed by
an Ọba King
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.
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
' (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
'Olofin-Orun' and 'Eledumare'.
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
(1500s) and is likely to
derive from the indigenous ethnonyms Ọyọ
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
. 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
Before the abolition of the slave trade, some Yoruba groups were
known among Europeans as Akú
name derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings such as Ẹ
‘good morning’ and Ẹ kú alẹ?
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 terms "Nago
" 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.
Cuba and Portuguese- and Spanish- speaking America, the
Yoruba were called "Lucumi" after the phrase
"O luku mi", meaning "my friend" in some dialects.
is at present used mainly to refer to an Afro-Caribbean religion
derived from the traditional Yoruba
, more often known as Santería
now becoming popular in the
The origin of the Yoruba, who often refer to themselves as "Omo
O'odua" (Children of Oduduwa
around a man called Oduduwa
who became the
(meaning 'king' or 'leader' in
language) at the Yoruba
kingdom of Ile-Ife(also known as
Ife), under the title of the Ooni of Ife.
from Ile-Ife that the descendants of Oduduwa went on to find other
Yoruba kingdoms such as Oyo and Ketou.
them even managed to rule over a famous a 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.
- Joshua Project,. (2007)
- CIA World Factbook
- http://yorubaorganization.com/articles/ifa_eng.htm Second
- http://www.royaldiadem.co.uk/yoruba.php Under
- http://www.cultural-expressions.com/ifa/ifahistory.htm 7th