The people who lived in yorubaland at first(17th century BC) were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. The historical Yoruba developed in situ, out of earlier volta-niger populations by the first millennium B.C.E.

The Yoruba people are an ethnic group of south-western and north central Nigeria as well as southern and central benin  together known as YORUBALAND. The Yoruba constitute over 40million people in total. The majority of this population is from nihgeria and make up 21% of its population making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. Majority of the yporuba speak the Yoruba language which is tonal. The Yoruba shares border with the BORGU in BENIN, NUPE AND  the EDO, the ESAN, and the AFEMAI in the mid-western Nigeria. The IGALA and other related groups are found in the northeast and the EGUN,FON, EWE and others in the southeast Benin. The ITSEKIRI who live in the north west are related to the Yoruba but maintain a distinct cultural identity.

The word “YORUBA’” was first recorded in reference to the OYO EMPIRE in a treatise written by the the 16th century Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba. Archeologically, the settlement at IFE can be dated to the 4thcentury BC with urban structure appearing in 12th century BC. IFE was surpassed by the OYO EMPIRE as the dominant OYO military and political power between 1600EC and 1800EC. The oyo empire under the its king known as the alaafin of oyo, was active in the alaafin slave trade during the 18th century. The Yoruba often demand slaves as a form of tribute of subject of population, who in turn sometimes made war on other people to capture the required slaves. Part of the slaves sold by the oyo empire entered into the atlantic slave trade. Most of the city states were controlled by obas elected priestly monarch and councils made up of oloyes, recognized leaders of royal, noble and often even common descent who joined them in ruling over the kingdoms through a series of guilds and cults.

 Following a jihad led by UTHMAN DAN FODIO and a rapid consolidation of the hausa city states of the northern Nigeria, the Fulani sokoto caliphate invaded and annexed the buffer nupe kingdom. It began to advance southwards and shortly its army overran the Yoruba military capital of Ilorin and then sacked and destroyed oyo ile ; the royal seat of the oyo empire. Afterwards oyo-ile was abandoned and the oyo retreated south to the present city of oyo (formerly known as ago d’oyo or oyo atiba) in a forest region where the caliphate of sokoto was less effective.

Further attempt of the sokoto caliphate to expand southwards was checked by the Yoruba who had rallied in defence under the military leadership of the ascendant IBADAN Clan which rose from the old oyo empire and of the ijebu city-states. 

The Yoruba are among the most urbanized people in Africa. For centuries before the arrival of the british colonial administration, most Yoruba already lived in a well structured urban organized around powerful city state “ilu” centered  around the residence of the “oba”. Monarch was  a common form of government In yoruba land but they were not the only approach to government and social organization the EGBA frowned against the monopolization of power by a monarch and soon this lead to war. The other Yoruba city states broke free of oyo dominance and subsequently became a conflict that soon metamorphosed into a full scale war. These events weakened the southern yorubas in their resistance to british colonial and military invasion.

Today most contemporary Yoruba are Christians and muslims . many of the principles of the traditional faith of their ancestors are either knowingly or unknowingly upheld by a significant proportion of the populations of nigeria, benin and togo. The Yoruba faith variously known as aborisha, orisha-ifa or simply ifa is commonly seen as one of the principal components of the African traditional religion. Orisa’nla also known as obatala was the arch-divinity chosen by the olodumare(the supreme God) to create solid land out of the primordial water that then constituted the earth and populating the land with human being. Orisha are various godly forms that reflect one of the various manifestations of God in Yoruba spiritual or religious system.

Some of the widely known orisha are  ogun(the god of iron/metal), sango or jakuta(god of thunder and lightning, fire and injustice, who also manifest as a king always wielding a double edged axe which conveys his ase or divine power/authority), esu or esu elegbara(the trickster and sole messenger to the pantheon, who conveys the wish of men to the gods.

He understands every language spoken by mankind and is also the guardian of the cross roads,; orita-meta in yoruba). Esu has two forms, which are manifestations of his dual nature positive and negative energies; esu laroye , a teacher, leader and instructor and esu ebita, cunning, deceitful, suggestive. Also orunmila( the god of infinite wisdom, knowledge, divination and fortune-teller who reveals the past, solution to the problems in the present and the future consulted through the ifa divination system by oracles called babalawos), obatala(god of clearity and creativity), osumare(god of rainbow). Olorun is one of the manifestations of the supreme God of Yoruba (the owner of heaven ) and is associated with sun known as oorun in yoruba . the other two avatar forms of the supreme God are; olodumare(the supreme creator ) and olofin(conduit between “orun” heaven and “aye”earth).

The history of oyo-yoruba recounts oduduwa to be the progenitor of the Yoruba and the reigning ancestor of their crowned kings. His coming from the east sometimes understood by some sources ast the vicinity true east on the cardinal points but most likely the region of ekiti and okun sub-communities in northeastern yorubaland.  After the death of oduduwa there was a dispersal of his children from ife to other kingdom with each child making his or her mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of the Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms with each kingdom tracing its origin to ile-ife.

The Yoruba culture consist of folk/cultural philosophy, religion and folktales. Yoruba cultural thought is nawitness of two epochs, the first is a history of cosmogony and cosmology. The Yoruba are one of the more religiously diversified ethnic groups in Africa. Yoruba religious practices such as EYO and OSUN-OSOGBO festivals are witnessing a wide popularity in contemporary Yoruba land. They are largely seen by the adherents of the modern faith, especially the Christians and muslims.

The way of life of the Yoruba can  be seen via things as their dressing, kind of music, festivals, traditional art and architecture. The Yoruba building has similar plans to the Ashanti shrines but with verandahs around the court. The wall materials comprises of puddled mud and palm oil while roofing materials range from thatches to aluminium and corrugated iron sheet. A popular Yoruba fortification, the SUNG BO’S EREDO was the second largest wall edifice in Africa, it was built in honor of a traditional aristocrat, the oloye Bilikisu Sungbo.  The Yoruba work with a wide array of materials in the art including; bronze, leather, terracotta, ivory, textiles, copper, stone, carved wood, brass, ceramic and glass. A unique feature of the Yoruba art is the striking realism which unlike most African art choose to create human sculptures in vivid realistic and life sized forms. The art history of the nearby benin empire shows that there was a cross fertilization of ideas between the neighbouring Yoruba and the edo. The bennin court’s brass caster learnt their art from an ife master named iguegha. A lot of the Yoruba art works are associated royal courts and palaces. Yoruba palaces are often built with thicker walls, are dedicated to the gods and play significant spiritual roles. The Yoruba art is also manifested in shrines and masking traditions. Shrines dedicated to certain gods are adorned with carvings and array of altar figures and other ritual. Masking traditions vary by region,diverse mask types are used in various festivals and celebration.

Certain aspects of the Yoruba traditional architecture has also found its way into the new world in the form of short gun houses. However today the traditional architecture has greatly been influenced by modern trends. Masquerades are important feature of Yoruba traditional artistry. They are generally known as egungun or egun. There are different types of egun but  one of the most prominent one is the GELEDE. An ese ifa(orunmila divination) explains the origin of gelede as beginning with Yemoja.  According to the story yemoja could not have children and consulted ifa who advised her to make sacrifices and dance with wooden images on her head and metal anklets on her feet . after performing this ritual yemoja became pregnant and her first child was a boy nicknamed “EFE, yemoja’s second child was a female named “GELEDE” because she was obese like her mother. After EFE and GELEDE got married they also couldn’t bore children after consulting ifa they were advised to perform the same ritual as their mother did dancing with wooden image and metal anklets on their feet, no sooner after doing this they also gave birth to children of their own.  The ritual developed into the gelede danmce and was perpetuated by the descendants of EFE and GELEDE.  The rich, pomp and ceremonial nature of the Yoruba culture is made even more visible by the urbanized structures of Yoruba settlements. Occasions are avenues to experience the richness of the Yoruba culture. Traditional musicians are always on hand to grace the occasions with heavy rythnm and extremely advanced percussion which the Yoruba are well known for worldwide.  The Yoruba are very expressive people who celebrate major event s with colorful festivals and celebration (ayeye). These includes wedding ceremony(), naming ceremony(),  funerals(), house-warming(), new yam festival(), harvest ceremony(), chieftaincy() and so on. Others have a more spiritual connotations such as various days and celebrations dedicated to specific orisha like ogun day(), the osun festival , which is usually done at the osun-osogbo grove located on the banks of the osun river and around the ancient town of osogbo. The festival is dedicated to the river goddess osun which is usually celebrated in the month of august. The osun osogo festival is a two week long program. It starts with the traditional cleansing of the town called iwopopo  which is then followed in three days by the lighting of the 500-year-old sixteen-point lamp called ina olojumerindinlogun, the lighting of these sacred lamp heralds the beginning of the osun festival. Then comes the iboriade, an assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler, ataoja of osogbo for blessings. This event is led by the sitting ataoja of osogbo and the arugba yeye osun who is usually a young maiden dressed in white who carries a sacred white calabash that contains propitiation materials meant for the goddess osun, she is also accompanied by committee of priestesses. A similar event to this holds in the new world as odunde festival.

Another very popular festival is the EYO OLOKUN festival or ORISHA PLAY, celebrated by the people of lagos . the EYO festival is dedicated to the goddess of the sea “OLOKUN”, who is an orisha and whose name literally means “ownwer of sea”. The festival encompasses a week long series of activities and includes in the striking procession of thousands of men dressesd in white attire and wearing a variety of coloured hat called “AGA”. The procession moves through isale eko which is the historical centre of the lagos metropolis. They move on streets through various crucial locations and landmarks in city including the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos , the oba known as ‘’IGA IDUNGANRAN”. The festival starts from dusk till dawn and has been held on Saturdays from time.  A full week before the festival, the senior EYO group, the ADIMU who is identified by a black , broad-rimmed hat , goes public with a staff, when this happens it means the festival will take place on the following Saturday . each of the four other important groups- LABA(RED), ONIKO(YELLOW), OLOGEDE(GREEN) AND AGERE(PURPLE), take their turn in that order from Monday to Thursday. The eyo masquerade essentially admit tall people which is why it is described as AGOGORO EYO(meaning the tall eyo masquerade). In thje manner of a spirit visiting the earth on purpose, the eyo masquerade speaks in a voice suggestive of its orther worldlinesss, and when greeted it replies : “mo yo fun e, mo yo fun ara mi”(meaning I rejoice for you and I rejoice for myself). During the festival sandals and foot wear as well as suku: a hairstyle popular among the Yoruba, are prohibited. The festival has taken a more touristic dimension in recent times, attracts visitors from all across Nigeria and as well as the Yoruba diaspora population.

The music of the Yoruba people perhaps is known best for an extremely advanced drumming tradition especially using the dundun hourglass tension drums. The representation of musical instruments on sculkptural works from ile-ife indicate a substantial accord with oral traditions. A lot of these musical instruments dates back to the classical period of ile-ife . some wee already present prior to this period while others were created later. Yoruba drums typically belong to four major  families depending on the genre or context where they rae played. The dundun/gangan family ;is the class of hourglass shaped talking drum which imitate the Yoruba speech. This is possible because the Yoruba language is gftonal in nature. It is most common and present in many Yoruba tradition such as sekere, apala, juju and afro-beat. The second is the sakara family: this play a ceremonial role in royal settings, weddings and oriki recitation; it is found in traditions such as sakara music, were and fuji music. The third is the Gbedu families: this is used by secret fraternities such as ogboni and royal courts, historically only the oba  might dance to the music of this drum, if anyone else use this drum they were arrested for the sedition of royal authority. The gbedu are conga shaped drums played while sitting on the ground. The akuba drum is related to the gbedu drum just liked the ogido drum is a cousin to the gbedu drum. The fourth family is the BATA family which are well decorated double faced drums with various tones. They are believed to haVe been introduced by sango; an orisha during his earthly incarnation as a warrior king. Traditional Yoruba drummers are known as AYAN.the Yoruba believe that AYANAGALU was the first drummer, he is also believe to be the spirit that inspires drummers during renditions.  This is why some Yoruba family name contain the prefix “ayan ”. the ashiko, igbin, gudugudu, agidigbo and bembe are other drums of importance. Some other instrument found in Yoruba music include ; the goje(violin), shekere(gourd rattle), agidigbo(thumb piano that takes the shape of a  plucked lamellophone), saworo(metal rattles for the arm and ankles, also used on the rim of bata drum), fer(whistle), aro(cymbals), agogo(bell), different types of flute invludes the ekutu, okinkin, and igba. Oriki(praise singing), a genre of song poetry which contains a series of proverbial phrases, praising or characterizing the respective person is of egba and ekiti origin is often considered as the oldest Yoruba music tradition. Other Yoruba vocal tradition includes  ijala(hunters chant), ewi(poetry), and odu(ifa worship).  Yoruba music is regarded as the most important component of the modern Nigerian popular music scene.

The Yoruba has the highest dizygotic twinning rate In the world(4.4% of all maternity). They manifest at 45-50 twin set or 90-100 twin per 1,000 live birth possibly because of the high consumption of a particular kind of yam containing a natural phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to release an egg from each side. Twins are very important for the Yoruba and they usually tend to give a special name to each twin. The first of the twin to be born nis traditionally named “taiyewo” which means the first to taste the world or the slave to the second twin, this is often shortened to  TAIWO ,TAYE OR TAITE.  Kehinde is sometimes reffered to as” kehindegbegbon” or “omokehindegbegbon”which means the child that came last gets the right of the eldest.

The Yoruba has legendary types of clothes that makes them distinct from other cultures around them. Clothing material traditionally come from processed cotton by traditional weavers. They believe that the kind of cloth worn by a man depicts his personality and social status and that different occasion require different clothing outfits. The Yoruba have avery wide range of materials used for making clothing, the most basic being aso-oke ; which is a hand loomed cloth of different patterns and colors sewn into various styles. It comes in many different colors and patterns. Aso oke comes in three major styles based on the pattern and coloration; alaari-a rich red aso-oke, sanyan- a brown and light brown aso oke, etu- a dark blue aso oke.  Other clothing material include etu,ofi,aran, adire. Clothing im Yoruba ia gender sensitive, for mens wear they have buba, esiki and sapara which are regarded as ewuawotele(underwear), while they nalso have dandogo, agbada, gbayeri, sulia and oyala which are also known as ewu awosoke(over wear). They also have various types of sokoto(native trouser) that are sown alongside the mentioned ones above. They include; kembe, gbaanu,sooro,kaamu and sokoto elemu. A man’s dressing is considered incomplete without fila (cap) and some of nthe fila include gobi,abeti-aja, labankada. Women have different types of dresses and the most common ones are iro, buba, gele,iborun and ipele. The women have two underwear ; tobi and sinmi. There are many lkinds of beads (ileke), hand lace, necklaces (egba orun), and bangles(egba owo) that are abound in Yoruba land that both male and female put on for adornment. Chief, priests, kings or people of royal descent especially use some of these beads often. Some of these beads include Iyun, Lagidigba,Akun etc. an accessory essentially common among royalty and titled babalawos is the irukere which is an srtistry processed animal tail. The horse tail whiskers are symbols of authority and stateliness. Most men go about with their hair lowly cut or neatly shaven every time. Hair is considered the glory of the woman. They usually take care of their hair in two major ways; they plait and weave. There are many types of plaiting styles; Kolese, Ipako-Elede, Suku, Kojusoko, Alagogo, Konkoso etc.  Traditionally, the Yoruba considers tribal mark as a way of adding beauty to the face of individuals. This apart from the fact that they show clearly from which part of yorubaland an individual comes from, since different areas are associated with different marks. Different types of tribal marls are madeon the face with traditional blade, this is often done at infancy when children are not pain conscious. Some of these tribal marks include Pele, Abaja-Egba, Abaja-Merin, Keke,Gombo,Ture, Pele-Ife, Keke Owu, Pele- Ijebu etc. this practice has almost faded –out

Solid food mostly cooked, pounded or prepared with hot water are basic foods of the Yoruba. These foods are all product of crops like cassava, yams, cocoyam and forms a huge chunks of it. Others are plantains, corn, beans, meat and fish are also choices.  Some of the common foods are Iyan, Amala, Eba, Fufu, Moinmoin, Akara. Soups include Egusi, Ewedu, Okra, Vegetables . items like rice and beans are part of the regular diets. Some dishes are also prepared for ceremony such as Ekuru, corn, cassava and flours to mention a few.

The Yoruba culture was originally an oral tradition and majority of the Yoruba people are native speakers of the Yoruba language. Yoruba is classified within the EDEKIRI languages which together isolates IGALA from the YORUBOID groups of languages within the VOLTA-NIGER branch of NIGER-CONGO family. IGALA and YORUBA bear  a close resemblance that researchers  regarded IGALA as a dialect of YORUBA. Yoruba dialect show more linguistic innovation combined with the fact that southeast and central Yoruba areas generally have older settlements. The areas where north-west Yoruba is spoken corresponds to the historical Oyo empire. South-east Yoruba was probably associated with the expansion of Benin empire.

Samuel Ajayi Crowther ; the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria was himself a Yoruba and compiled the first Yoruba dictionary as well as introducing a standard for Yoruba orthography

Yoruba settlement are often described as primarily one or more of the major social groupings called “generations”. The first generation includes towns and cities known as original capitals of finding Yoruba kingdom, the second generation consist of settlements created by conquest, the third generation of villages and municipalities that emerged following the wars of the 19th century.  

Yoruba people or descendants can be found all over the world especially in the united kingdom, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Latin America and the Caribbeans. Significant Yoruba communities can be found in south America and Australia.  Yoruba people has historically been spread across the globe by the combined forces of the Atlantic slave trade and voluntary self migration.  The Yoruba left an important presence in  Cuba and Brazil particularly in Havana and Bahia. According to the 19th century report, the Yoruba are still today the most numerous and influential in this state of Bahia. The most numerous are those from the Oyo capital of Yoruba kingdom.  Genetic studies have shown Yoruba to cluster most closely with other west African Niger-Congo-speaking people.

Leave a Comment