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Yoruba Families

Yoruba Families

The 22 million Yoruba who live in southwestern Nigeria are one of the four major sociolinguistic groups of contemporary Nigeria. The others are the Igbo to the east, and the Hausa and Fulani to the north. Subgroups of the Yoruba in Nigeria include the Awori, the Ijesha, the Oyo, the Ife, the Egba, the Egbado, the Ketu, the Ijebu, the Ondo, the Ekiti, the Yagba, and the Igbomina. These subgroups have been described as belonging to a distinct cultural category because of such binding factors as a generally intelligible language, myth of common origin, and basically similar political structures. Besides the Yoruba in Nigeria, subgroups of Yoruba descent exist in other areas of the world as a result of the Atlantic slave trade and the artificially drawn international boundaries. In French Dahomey, now known as The Republic of Benin, the Yoruba are known as the Nago. In Cuba, they are known as the Lukumi. In Sierra Leone, they are known as the Aku, and in Surinam as Yoruba (Warner-Lewis 1996). In Brazil, the Yoruba culture influenced a religion known as Candomble (Murphy 1994; Voeks. 1997). In North America, particularly in Miami, Florida, Yorubainfluenced syncretistic religion is known as Santeria (Gonzalez-Wippler 1998).

Yoruba Culture and the Meaning of Marriage

Yoruba culture is not static. At the same time, every generation tries to preserve aspects of the indigenous tradition. This effort is counterbalanced by the pragmatic desire of the Yoruba to appropriate change in the garb of tradition. The dialectical relationship between the unchanging aspects of Yoruba culture and the dynamics of change are fueled by two sources of human interaction. The first source of change pertains to the new conflicts in human interaction that cannot be explained by Yoruba tradition. The second is the permanent effect of contact with Islam and the West, expressed in such institutions as law, marriage, religion, education, and public health services. Tola Olu Pearce has drawn attention to the importance of situating the present resistance to women's efforts to participate in the democratic process in Africa in the context of precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial times if it is to be fully understood. As she noted, "What is of theoretical import is the fact that elements of all three historical periods interact in the present" (2000). For example, Yoruba marriage forms have been influenced by Christian and Muslim marriage practices in all the three phases even as the steps to Yoruba marriage project a decidedly traditional outer form. In marriages in contemporary Yoruba society, the modernized Yoruba cling tenaciously to this outer form as a proof of loyalty to the original culture. Traditional Yoruba courtship and marriage must be understood in the context of the impact of the precolonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods.

The family is the most sacred and significant institution to the Yoruba, who are child-centered, ruled by the elderly, and controlled by adults. The family is an effective unit of political control, religious affiliation, resource allocation, and assurance of safety. It is also the most effective agent of socialization. The family teaches the first lessons in discipline, personal gratitude, and affection. The family is where young people are exposed to their first preferences and prejudices. In the family, the lessons in honor and shame are learned, just as are the first lessons in dissembling to avoid the truth that may injure the well-being of the community. More poignantly, it is in and through the copious lessons in religious symbolism learned in the family that one comes to understand the cyclical and connected way of life in the here and now, the future, and the hereafter. Many Yoruba proverbs reiterate the view that the dead gave birth to the living, and the living ought to give birth to and nurture the children who represent the future.

The Yoruba further cloak these sentiments in the garb of religious obligation by insisting on a notion of afterlife whose reward is the opportunity for those elders who died well or properly to come and visit their progeny on earth. They attach their soul to the two other souls of the child to be born (Bascom 1956). Eleda, the first soul, is every individual's share in divine essence. The ori is that which is unique, or that which distinguishes one from any other person. In and through the child that is born, the dead are reincarnated to temporarily be with and bless the living. The sociological significance of this notion of birth and rebirth lies in its usefulness as a social welfare policy (Zeitlin; Megawangi; Kramer; Colleta; Babatunde; and Garman 1995). It ensures that children are wanted, nurtured, and brought up to be fine examples of what the Yoruba call Omoluwabi—the well-bred child. If a parent believes a son or daughter is a reincarnation of the parent's mother or father, the parent will not abandon the child. Seen in this context, marriage for the Yoruba man or woman is a necessity. As Nathaniel Fadipe noted:

For a man or a woman who has reached the age of marriage to remain single is against the mores of the Yoruba. 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 a few cases of confirmed bachelors; men, who have reached middle age without getting married even though they are in position to do so. But they are a product of modern times with its individualism, and are most invariably Christians. (1970, p. 65)

Ideally, marriage should establish the foundation of the family. When it does, marriage is a union not only of the two spouses, but the two extended families to which they belong. Marriage itself is the proof that both spouses are good products and ambassadors of their families. By successfully going through the demanding steps to the Yoruba marriage, the spouses are a good reflection on the quality of character of their families. They have shown restraint as people who are well brought up, focused, enduring, reliable, disciplined, and people who are able to defer gratification until they are ready for the responsibilities of adulthood. As the Yoruba say, "It is easy to get married; what is difficult is to provide daily food for the family" (Ati gbeyawo, kekere; owo obe lo soro). In other words, the ability to satisfy the hierarchy of human needs was critical to the Yoruba evaluation of the spouses' readiness to be united in marriage. They ought to be able to provide food and shelter and safety. They ought to have the level of commitment and patience needed to inculcate a sense of belonging and self-esteem in their children. The test of the level to which one has internalized a sense of belonging and self-esteem is manifest in the desire to excel and find self-fulfillment in the service of the family. To ensure that the spouses have the requisite level of the skills that will enable their family to find its own balance, an elaborate system of calibrated steps and activities tests the endurance of the spouses. These steps reiterate the fact that the selection of the spouse is a communal affair that involves several symbolic steps (Babatunde 1992).

Steps That Lead to Marriage

Six important steps lead to the traditional Yoruba marriage:

  • The time for seeking a potential spouse (Igba ifojusode);
  • The approval of the oracle-divinity (Ifa f'ore);
  • The release of the voice of the young woman (Isihun);
  • The request for the young woman's hand in marriage (Itoro);
  • The creation of the affinal bond (Idana); and
  • The transfer of the wife to the husband's lineage (Igbeyawo).

When the young adult male is between twenty three and twenty-eight years of age and the female is between eighteen and twenty-five, they are both expected to be identifying potential spouses. At this time, the male is expected to have acquired skills that will allow him to provide for his family. The Yoruba socialization ensures that the daughter learns, from the age of seven, to serve as a little mother and child-caregiver to her younger siblings. By the time she is preparing for marriage, the Yoruba female would have learned some of the preliminary skills she will need to be a wife and mother from watching her mother and other women in her family.

Because Yoruba society in male-oriented, it is structured in favor of men taking initiative in the steps that lead to marriage. Thus, it is the man who formalizes his desire to proceed to the next level of courtship by visiting the house of the spouse-to-be. It is the man who pays his prospective to Isihun—payment to release the voice of the female so that the couple can talk with one another (eesee Ishihun). It is the suitor's male relations who take the initiative to institutionalize the marriage by first going to ask for the hand of the spouse. The suitor's male relations plan for the ceremony that creates affinal bond between the two families. Finally, the spouse is transferred from one group of patrilineal kin to another.

Oja Ale

In traditional Yoruba society, the forum for meeting the potential spouse is the evening marketplace, Oja ale. During this period of seeking a spouse, it is a cultural obligation for mothers of young female adults to find a reason for them to go to the market. Often, among the highly entrepreneurial Yoruba, some commodity is found for the female to sell in the evening marketplace. The female continues to go to the evening market until a serious prospect is identified. The seriousness of the prospective spouse is determined, when after many meetings in the evening market, the young man offers to go and visit the young female in her parent's home. Among the Yoruba, avoidance is part of the etiquette regulating one's interaction with one's affinal relatives. The determination to visit the house of one's potential spouse is a final proof of readiness to engage in a serious relationship. However, before the suitor takes this important step, he should inform his father about his intentions. The father of the suitor then informs the eldest male member of the extended family, Idile, who is known as the elderly father (Baba agba).

The suitor's father communicates the message to the eldest member of the lineage in symbolic language, "Elderly father, your son has seen a beautiful flower that he thinks he wants to pluck" (Omo yin ti ri ododo elewa ti o feja). The elderly relative then replies, "Can our family members pluck a flower from that family tree?" (Nje awon ebi wa leja ododo lati iru igi bee). The father of the suitor answers that from inquiries already made, members of their extended family can pluck flowers from the said tree. Then the elderly father gives his blessing by appointing a wife of the family to serve as the go-between (Alarena).

The choice of a very respected wife as the go-between has complex sociological implications. As an affinal member of the lineage, she has the immunity of an outsider with a proven record of excellent service as a wife and a role model for new wives of members of the lineage. The Yoruba, who are very secretive and status-conscious, would find it offensive for a family member of the husband to take on this sensitive job of finding background information about the family history of the prospective wife. Because the go-between is an outsider acting on behalf of the male descendants of family, the culture accords her the immunity to carry out her assigned duty as a neutral party. Yet the main condition for her selection is her intense loyalty to the extended family into which she married. The office of the go-between is also a mechanism for the smooth integration of the wife-to-be into her family of marriage. If things work out, the new wife is not completely alone in her new family. She has an ally in the go-between.

The go-between tries to discover information that will assist the elders of the suitor's family in deciding whether the spouse would be a good companion for their son and a good resource in the extended family. If the go-between finds out that members of the spouse's family are lazy, that their womenfolk are stubborn and incorrigible in their marital homes, or if men in the extended family of the spouse are notorious debtors or have been known to have debilitating diseases, this information will be passed on to the elders, who will subsequently bring pressure to bear on their son to discontinue the relationship. If inquiries reveal that the spouse's family members have a reputation for hard work, respect for elders, a great sense of nurture and motivation to induce their children to excel, every effort will be made to move the courtship to the next step in the process. The male elders direct the father of the suitor to find out from the oracle the future prospects of the union. The Yoruba are pragmatic. They want to know ahead of time whether the endeavor is worth the effort. The oracle is an instrumental use of symbolic inquiry to fathom the profitability of a future enterprise.

Select male elders of the suitor's lineage would consult the oracle divinity (Orunmila) who serves as the refraction of the supreme being, Olodumare. The intention is to find out whether the marriage will benefit the extended family. Symbolic presents are made to the priest of Orunmila. The priest of Orunmila is known as the Keeper of Secrets or fortune-teller (Babalawo). The gifts include a goat, two fowl, two pigeons, a tortoise, and a snail. This ritual consultation serves as an occasion for the redistribution of meat, a scarce commodity in Yoruba society. Parts of the goat, such as the head and the hind legs, are sent as present to the elderly members of the consulting family. The rest of the goat is cooked for the members of the extended family of the fortune-teller. The other items serve as the consultation fees for the service rendered. Again, it is very rare for the results of the oracle divination to contradict the general mood of the extended family modeled on the findings of the go-between. It is not without reason that the pragmatic Yoruba proverb emphatically asserts that one ought to use one's hands to repair one's fortune (Owo eni laafi ti tun ara eni se).

If the oracle is positive, the process of courtship, until then private and secretive, now becomes a public event with all the formality for which the ancient, dignified Yoruba culture is known. If the portent is negative, elders dig up some forgotten past occurrence that has prohibited marriage between members of both families. The sociological significance of this step in the marital process has to do with the desire to cloak the wishes of the extended family in the present in the garb of tradition so as to make the results more final and readily acceptable to the parties. It would be unthinkable in the traditional close-knit Yoruba society for the spouses to take the only choice left to them by refusing the pronouncement of the oracle and opting to elope. In the Yoruba traditional society, one's fortunes and safety are guaranteed only as a member of one's group of ascription. To separate oneself from the group by elopement would amount to social suicide.

Once the approval has been given, the suitor is then allowed to visit the home of the prospective spouse. The visit takes place at dusk and is accompanied by an extreme show of cordiality. The suitor is always accompanied by a male peer. The visitors greet every senior member of the household, male and female. Upon the conclusion of the elaborate greeting, seats for them are placed in a conspicuous place. The two sit patiently and endure being ignored for about an hour. They then begin the elaborate ritual of departure, which includes completely prostrating themselves flat on the belly for one senior member of the house after another. Upon the conclusion of this ritual, the suitor goes out and waits patiently for the spouse to emerge. When the spouse arrives, the male companion moves to a safe distance.

A unique aspect of the first six visits is that only the male speaks. By the seventh meeting, the male pays the female the equivalent of two dollars and ten cents to release, literally, the voice of the spouse to converse (si ohun). This ritual establishes a hierarchy of superordination and subordination. The wife-to-be is already conceding to the prospective husband the right to be the head of the family. These visits continue for six months, after which the time is set for the crucial ceremony of Itoro.

Itoro—begging for the prospective spouse's hand in marriage—is conducted between the male elders of the suitor and the spouse. The man's family members pay a visit to the compound of the extended family of the prospective spouse. It is important that the visit be unannounced, even though everyone involved seems to be in the right place at the right time. It is important too that upon arrival at the woman's house, her father uses symbolic language to tell the visitors that it is not his right, but that of his elders, to give his daughter in marriage. He proceeds to take the group to the eldest member of the family. At the house of the eldest member, all the senior members of the prospective spouse's lineage are waiting. This deference of the father to the eldest member of the family is a demonstration that the marriage of a member of the family is the business of all the members of the extended family because the suitor and the spouse are ambassadors of their extended families. The two families become united in a very special way by the union of the two people in marriage. Before the parties depart, a date is set for the most important ceremony, the Idana or creating the affinal tie.

The Idana ceremony centers on the payment of bride-wealth. This payment officially transfers the two crucial rights in the woman to the extended family of the suitor. Although the Yoruba term for bride-wealth literally translates Owo ori as "money for the head," in actual fact, this practice has, among the Yoruba, little to do with the transfer of economic resources as price for the wife-tobe. Yoruba families would cringe at the idea of putting monetary value on the head of a daughter. The presents involved in this ceremony have very little economic worth. Their significance has to do with the symbolic value they reiterate for enhancing the goals and objectives of the Yoruba family.

The anthropology of bride-wealth has identified prime and contingent obligations as the two categories of bride-wealth (Fortes 1962; Babatunde 1998). Primary obligations are essential to marriage because they transfer the core rights in the woman as a mother to the house of her husband. This core right is the procreative rights of the woman. Contingent obligations, however, transfer the rights to the woman as a homemaker.

The items involved in the Yoruba primary obligations are not negotiable. They have been fixed by tradition, and their use is not restricted to marriage because the culture tends, generally, to repeat rituals continuously to reinforce the aim, intention, purpose, and acceptable practices deemed crucial to the survival of the group. These items that are used in other rituals of the Yoruba life-cycle retain the same symbolic function. They include honey (oyin), salt (iyo), palm oil (epo pupa), kola nut (obi; kola acuminata), and bitter kola (Orogbo). Each item serves as a motif for prayers that reinforce what is desirable and necessary to make a marriage, and, indeed, life itself successful. Examples of prayers include:

  1. This is honey; the quality of honey is sweetness. May your married life be sweet, that is, happy by being blessed with many children and money to take care of them.
  2. This is salt. It preserves and sweetens, may you be preserved in your lives so that you live long and see your children's children.
  3. This is palm oil. It reduces the harsh taste of pepper in the soup. May the harsh impact of difficult times be ameliorated;
  4. This is kola nut. It produces prolifically. May you wife be as fertile as the kola nut tree and be blessed with many children who survive and do great things in life;
  5. This is bitter kola. It means that you will live long and see your children achieve great things in your lifetime;
  6. This is a pen. We use it to write. Education is the means to greatness. May you learn to read and write and become famous through achievement in education;
  7. This is the Bible/Koran. It is the holy book of power. May your faith provide direction to you in life;
  8. This is candle. It lights the way. May the word of God provide the light that will guide you through life;
  9. This is money. Money is needed for fulfillment and enjoyment of life. May you be blessed with plenty of it in your lifetime.

The property or quality of each item in the ritual repertoire is used to attempt to achieve a similar effect in the couple about to get married. This is based on the twin magical principles of the effect of like producing like and on effect by contact. The special quality of the ritual item is used as a motif in the prayer to reinforce the purpose and expectation of marriage. Taste is transformed to a condition of living in terms of what the Yoruba regard as happiness. Thus, a life that is sweet is equal to one that is happy. Yoruba understanding of happiness includes wealth, demonstrated in long life, begetting many healthy children who outlive their parents, having many wives, large cash crop farms, and status in the community.

The secondary obligations consist of duties that are periodically performed by the son-in-law to parent-in-law. The husband performs these duties as a continuous demonstration of his indebtedness to the family that has provided him with a wife. These duties include the provision of free labor to weed the farms, thatch leaking roofs, and harvest farm products, and political and economic support in times of competition for the various achieved status in the Yoruba community.

Co-Wife and Sibling Rivalry

Rivalry between co-wives and between siblings is useful for the maintenance of patrilineal ideology. To prevent the conjugal tie from threatening loyalty to the lineage, a wedge is put between husband and wife (Babatunde 1983). From the start, the wife understands that the Yoruba monogamy is the commencement of a possible polygyny (Sudarkasa 1996). The thought of sharing one's beloved with other wives reduces the intensity of the conjugal tie. A second source of rivalry is the practice that a man can marry two or more wives. The division of children within the family according to mothers creates competing groups within the family. Children of the same mother (Omo Iya) are often set against those of other mothers. The term that describes all the children who belong to the same father is Obakan. The relationship between the Omo-Iya and Obakan, respectively, must be understood in the dialectical terms referred to by Edward Evans-Pritchard as "fusion and fission" (1940). Children of the same father, Obakan, unite to protect their father's property and their common interests. When competing for resources within the family, they subdivide into groups of children of the same mother to protect their interests at this level. Yoruba fireside tales, told while the evening meal is cooking, often reiterate the lesson of the jealous co-wife who, in the attempt to hurt the children of her co-wife, ends up killing her own children. The Yoruba practice of having co-wives and all children eat from the same big bowl of food is both a way to prevent internal divisions within the family and to lessen those that already exist.

Monogamous marriages also have sibling rivalry, especially in contemporary times. Because seniority exerts some political control in the group, the assumption is that elders know more. As long as the society remained agrarian, the arrogation of roles and statuses sought to respect the function of seniority in the articulation of control. Morally contradictory practices like efforts to deliberately tell lies to protect the integrity of the senior were condoned. The ability to dissemble was seen as a proof of cultural suavity. With modernization, individual achievement and merit replaced the privileges of ascription and seniority. Ability, not age, became the most important factor in seniority. Conflict arose because many junior siblings seemed to succeed more in the new order. This change made the position of the senior son or daughter precarious. The significant amount of mistrust and conflict between senior and junior siblings in contemporary Yoruba families is the price that is being paid to resolve the transition from the predictable agrarian culture to the complex modern culture.

Birth Control and Childrearing

Among the Yoruba, the weaning practice maintains a three-year gap between births. Subtle cultural methods of reinforcements are brought to bear on the female to observe this method of spacing and birth control. Since the Yoruba social structure is male-oriented, some of those methods of enforcement of traditional forms of birth control are asymmetrical. They impose the duty of control on the female while excusing the male from the same rigorous disciplinary expectations. To satisfy his sexual cravings at this time, the Yoruba man is allowed to take another wife, with the supposed assistance of the first wife. If a wife gets pregnant within oneand one-half years of giving birth, she is made the subject of jokes and made to look like one who belongs to the wild, one whose hot passions were not tamed as she grew up. Not only is she the focus of jokes, but by extension, her extended family is blamed, too. The husband is not exempt from blame, but is excused to begin a relationship that can become formalized into a marriage.

A more positive method of birth control is the cultural obligation of continence for the mother once her daughter begins to give birth to children. This expectation is related to the expectation that the mother spends between three to six months to assist the daughter in nursing and postpartum care. When they see the need, the Yoruba use innuendo, derisive songs, and open avoidance to show disapproval for mothers who compete with their daughters to have children.

Morality, Childrearing, and Food Distribution Among the Yoruba

Anthropological literature on African infant care practices (Babatunde 1992) reiterates that children are being prepared to seek group survival through acquiring a sense of belonging and loyalty to the group. Living in a harsh environment with rudimentary technology, other people constitute ones' technology (Turnbull 1974). So Yoruba parents teach their children obligatory sharing. They also teach them practical lessons by withholding portions of meat, eggs, and other animal foods from children because they believe that when children acquire tastes in these expensive and scarce commodities, the desire to satisfy them will make children steal (Ransome-Kuti 1972). From a more pragmatic economic perspective, it was also considered most uneconomical to eat an egg that could produce a chicken, which would in turn produce more chickens. Thus, in the attempt to teach discipline, self-denial and deferred gratification, this pattern of food distribution within the family leads to unintended nutritional crises. Although claims about these crises were made in qualitative research studies, only in the 1990s were the claims empirically confirmed by quantitative research findings (Setiloane 1995).

In a study conducted as part of UNICEF's Child Development Project in Nigeria from 1986 to 1989 entitled Child Development for the Computer Age, quantitative research using anthropometrics measures was conducted in rural and semirural settlements along Ifo-Otta, in Ogun State, forty-five minutes from Lagos. To be eligible for this family study, the mother had to be Yoruba; the child had to be between twenty-two and twenty-six months old; the child could not be a twin. The researchers also required that the child have a birth certificate to verify its age and that both mother and child lived in the household. A systematic sampling frame specified that every second house was to be selected, with daily starting points. Sample size for the cross-sectional field research totaled 211, including a census sample of 181 mothers and their children and an additional subsample of thirty households screened for the presence of malnourished children.

Survey instruments included a fifty-two item questionnaire that asked how frequently foods were consumed, as well as structured observations of feeding and play; the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Bayley 1969); a socioeconomic and attitudinal questionnaire containing the Caldwell H.O.M.E Inventory (Cadwell and Bradley 1984); an ethnographic study of ten households, and, finally, anthropometrics measurements of weights and heights of children. The impact of beliefs on withholding meat and nutrient-dense foods for children was surveyed in a section with the question: Is there any reason why you don't think a child of this age should have more meat? The participants answered yes or no to the following choices: (a) more might cause child to have worms; (b) more might cause a child to steal; and (c) more could spoil child so he expects too much when things are scarce. This section also included the question: Do you believe that a child of this age (two years) should have more meat if you can afford it?

Responses to questions on stealing, spoiling, and moral character were combined together using factor analysis to create an index. The score of any respondent could range from a minimum of 0 (0 on all 3 items) to a maximum of 3 (1 on all 3 items). The index was subsequently condensed to a dichotomous variable representing mothers who had abandoned all beliefs about meat and moral training (0) and those who retained one or more (1). Each of these variables was used alternatively as a measure of mother's beliefs.

The data collected show that the distribution pattern gave available meat to fathers and mothers at the expense of their children. Among adults, men were favored over women. The median values of mothers' allocation rules deprive the children relative to their protein requirement needs when they need it most—between age one day to two years—and gives adult males more than their nutritional requirements. Although this outcome was predictable given the Yoruba male-oriented ideology, what was surprising was the result of the data on the impact of modernization on food allocation. A more in-depth examination of the meat allocation rule through cluster analysis showed that the total amount of meat mothers allocate changes with modernization. However, the ratio of meat relative to the total available remains the same, and adult males still get much more than their nutritional needs. But because modernization makes more amount of meat available, the children get more meat to meet their requirements. The data prove the saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

See also:Nigeria


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emmanuel d. babatunde

kelebogile v. setiloane

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ETHNONYMS: Anago, Awori, Egba, Egbado, Ekiti, Ibadan, Ife, Ifonyin, Igbomina, Ijebu, Ijesha, Ketu, Kwara, Ondo, Owo, Oyo, Shabe


Identification. The name "Yoruba" appears to have been applied by neighbors to the Kingdom of Oyo and adopted by missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century to describe a wider, language-sharing family of peoples. These peoples have gradually accepted the term to designate their language and ethnicity in relation to other major ethnic groups, but among themselves they tend to use the subgroup ethnonyms listed above.

Location. The Yoruba peoples reside in West Africa between approximately 2° and 5° E and between the seacoast and 8° N. Today this area occupies most of southwestern Nigeria and spills into the People's Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo. Yoruba homelands, roughly the size of England, straddle a diverse terrain ranging from tropical rain forest to open savanna countryside. The climate is marked by wet and dry seasons.

Linguistic Affiliation. Yoruba belongs to the Kwa Group of the Niger-Congo Language Family. Linguists believe it separated from neighboring languages 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. Despite its divergent dialects, efforts are being made to standardize the language for use in the media and primary schools.

Demography. The Yoruba-speaking population of Nigeria was estimated to be 20 million in the early 1990s.


The movement of populations into present Yorubaland appears to have been a slow process that began in the northeast, where the Niger and Benue rivers meet, and spread south and southwest. Archaeological evidence indicates Stone Age inhabitants were in this area between the tenth and second centuries b.c. By the ninth century a.d., blacksmithing and agriculture had emerged at Ife, a settlement that reached an artistic and political zenith between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries and is mythologized as the cradle of Yoruba peoples. Political development also appears to have been slow and incremental. Never unified politically, the Yoruba at contact were organized in hundreds of minor polities ranging from villages to city-states to large kingdoms, of which there were about twenty. Expansion took place through the federation of small communities and, later, through aggressive conquest. The famed Kingdom of Oyo, which emerged in the fourteenth century, relied heavily on trade and conquest to make it West Africa's largest coastal empire. At its peak in the late seventeenth century, seventy war chiefs lived in the capital city.

For many Yoruba, urbanism was a way of life. Europeans learned of the city of Ijebu Ode early in the sixteenth century, when they exchanged brass bracelets for slaves and ivory. The Ijebu Yoruba were, and continue to be, known for their business acumen. Commerce with Europe expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the New World demand for slaves increased. This lucrative trade stimulated competition, a thirst for increased power, and a rise in internal warfare that laid waste to the countryside and depopulated vast areas. Oyo declined in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but urban populations expanded, and two new states emerged, Ibadan and Egba, founded by wartime refugees.

Following the abolition of the slave trade, missionaries arrived in the 1840s, and Great Britain annexed a small strip of the Yoruba-dominated coastlandthe Settlement of Lagosin 1861. Gradually, British forces and traders worked their way inland; by the dawn of the twentieth century, all Yoruba were brought into the empire. Early exposure to Christian education and economic opportunities gave the Yoruba an advantage in penetrating European institutions. By the time of Nigerian independence (1960), they had taken over most high administrative positions in their region, making theirs a relatively smooth transition to a Westernized bureaucratic government.

Cultural Relations

Neighboring groups are the Bariba, Nupe, Hausa, Igala, and Idoma to the north; the Edo (Benin), Ijo, Urhobo, and Igbo to the east; and the Fon, Ewe, and Egun to the west. Since precolonial times, there has been extensive contact among population groups and, consequently, much cultural blending in the borderlands.


From early times, Yoruba settlements varied in size from hunting and farming camps to cities, the largest of which had 20,000 to more than 60,000 inhabitants by the 1850s. Most indigenous capitals were circular, densely settled, and protected by earthen walls. Typically, a royal compound measuring around a hectare and a market occupied the centers. Clustered around them in pie-shaped wedges were the residences of chiefly and commoner families. Agricultural lands lay outside the walls, and farmers commuted from town to farm. The usual in-town residence was a rectangular compound, the outer walls consisting of contiguous rows of rooms that surrounded an inner courtyard used for cooking, domestic work, and social life. Buildings were constructed of mud bricks and covered with thatch. Today they are of concrete blocks or concrete-washed walls roofed with tin or zinc. Compounds are being replaced by large multistoried, freestanding structures, arranged in two long rows of rooms bisected by a central corridor.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The precolonial economy was primarily based on agriculture and trade, although fishing, hunting, and crafts were significant. As recently as 1950, two-thirds of the men were farmers. Depending on the ecological zone, the main food crops included beans, yams, and, later, cassava and maize. The main cash crops have been kola and cocoa in the forest belt and cotton and, more recently, tobacco elsewhere. Intercropping and swidden methods have been practiced, with fallow periods ranging from three to ten years following a typical three-year cultivation period. Until around the mid-twentieth century, mechanization and draught animals were lacking; the main tools are still the hoe, ax, and machete. Yoruba women seldom farm, although they may assist with harvesting or transporting produce. Farmers have suffered in the late twentieth century from fluctuating world prices for cash crops, civil war, and an oil boom, all of which have driven many into urban employment in commercial, governmental, and service sectors.

Industrial Arts. Men traditionally practiced metalworking, wood carving, and weaving. Since the mid-nineteenth century, they have also taken up carpentry, tailoring, and shoemaking. Artisans often belonged to guilds. Women's crafts included pottery making, spinning, dyeing, weaving, and basketry; dressmaking was added in the nineteenth century.

Trade. An extensive system of marketing and long-distance trade is a hallmark of Yoruba history. Precontact overland commerce emphasized kola, woven cloth, and salt; coastal trade with Europeans involved slaves, cloth, ivory, and, by the nineteenth century, palm products. Both men and women conducted long-distance commerce. Women organized local trade networks and markets and, as a consequence, were given official roles in public affairs. Markets still meet daily, at night, and in periodic cycles of four or eight days. Their revenues still help to support local government.

Division of Labor. There is a division of labor according to sex (see "Industrial Arts" and "Trade") and a clear division of finances. Husbands and wives keep their work and accounts separately, each taking responsibility for some household and child-care expenses. Labor also is divided according to age: heavy work is reserved for the young; the load lightens with age. The goal is to gain sufficient wealth to control the labor of others and thereby free oneself from physical work and from being accountable to a superior.

Land Tenure. Most land is held corporately by descent groups and allocated to members according to need. Rights to use farmland and housing are primarily patrilateral in the north (although rights can be acquired through female agnates) and cognatic in the south. Tenant farming, sharecropping, and leasing were introduced by the British. The land-tenure system was changed in 1978 when the Nigerian government took control of all unoccupied or unused land and rights to allocate it.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent groups are important in marking status, providing security, and regulating inheritance. There are strong bilateral tendencies, but agnatic ties are emphasized among northern Yoruba, among whom descent groups once were largely coterminus with residence, but not among southern Yoruba, who tend to have more dispersed residences and stress cognatic ties. Descent groups have names and founding ancestors, and in some cases they own chieftaincy titles. Women rarely succeed to the titles, although their sons can. Descent groups formerly regulated marriage, agriculture, and family ceremonies and maintained internal discipline. Elder male members still act as decision makers, adjudicators, and administrators; formerly, they served as representatives in civic affairs. Extended-family relationships are individually cultivated and are important for mobilizing various types of support.

Kinship Terminology. The few basic kinship terms are applied in a classificatory manner. Except for mother/father, grandmother/grandfather, and wife/husband, there are no gender-specific terms; senior siblings are distinguished from junior siblings; no cousin distinctions are made; and all children are addressed by the same term regardless of sex or age. To indicate more precise relationships, descriptive phrases must be used.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is prohibited among people who can trace a biological relationship. There are no ideal partners. First marriages still may be arranged by elders, who assess the suitability of spouses in terms of mental and physical health, character, or propitiousness of the union. Some marriage alliances were arranged for political or economic reasons. The type of ritual and amount of bride-wealth depended on the status of the partners. Marital residence was patrilocal but in the late twentieth century has become neolocal. Men traditionally married, and some continue to marry, polygynously. Increasingly since the mid-twentieth century, marriages between educated men and women reflect personal choice. Divorce is now common, although it is said to have been rare in precolonial times.

Domestic Unit. Agnatically related men often shared the same large compound, taking separate sections for their wives and children. Each wife had a separate room but cooked for and made conjugal visits to her husband in rotation. Until the age of puberty, children slept in their mothers' rooms; youths moved to a common room, and girls soon moved to the compounds of their husbands.

Inheritance. Landed property is inherited corporately following descent-group lines; other property such as money or personal belongings is divided among direct heirs, with equal shares going to the set of children born to each wife. Nothing is passed to a senior relative or wife unless there is a will. Wives and slaves were once inherited by junior siblings.

Socialization. The closest ties are between mother and child. Mothers indulge their children, whereas fathers are more remote and strict. A child is treated permissively until about age 2, after which physical punishment and ridicule are used to regulate behavior. Pre-Western and pre-Islamic education stressed economic and psychological independence, but not social independence. Children learned occupations from parents of the same sex by participating from age 5 or 6 in their work. Imitation and games played a large part in socialization.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Social status was and still is determined according to sex, age, descent group, and wealth. These features determine seniority in social relationships and govern each actor's rights, obligations, and comportment vis-à-vis others. In the past, elder males ideally held most positions of civic authority, although senior women were known to do so. Emerging class distinctions are calculated according to wealth, education, and occupation. High prestige also goes to people who are generous, hospitable, and helpful to others.

Political Organization. The indigenous political system consisted of a ruler and an advisory council of chiefs who represented the significant sectors of a society: descent groups, the military, religious cults, age grades, markets, and secret societies. Such representatives advised, adjudicated, administered, and set rules. The ruler performed rituals, conducted external affairs, kept peace, and wielded general powers of life and death over his subjects. Palace officials acted as intermediaries between the king and chiefs of outlying towns and tributary holdings. The political structure of each village or town replicated, in smaller scale, the structure of the capital. Kingship and some chiefships were hereditary. Primogeniture was not practiced; rather, branches of a ruling house were allowed to choose, in turn, from among competitor-members. Other titles could be achieved or bestowed as an honor. Today the ancient political systems survive with new functions as arms of local government.

Social Control.

Depending on gravity and scale, disputes or crimes were judged by descent group leaders, chiefs, rulers, or secret societies. Order was maintained by these same authorities and their aides. Deterrents included fear of harsh punishment, supernatural retribution, curses, ostracism, and gossip.

Conflict. Internal struggles for power were strongest between the monarch and town or warrior chiefs. External conflict involved raiding for slaves and booty and large-scale warfare. From 1967 to 1970, a civil war pitted Yoruba and northern peoples against their eastern neighbors; the battle ravaged the nation and depleted its resources. Hostility, precipitated by the quest for power and national resources, persists along ethnic and subgroup lines.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The ancient Yoruba religious system has a pantheon of deities who underpin an extensive system of cults. Rituals are focused on the explanation, prediction, and control of mystical power. Formerly, religious beliefs were diffused widely by itinerant priests whose divinations, in the form of verses, myths, and morality tales, were sufficiently standardized to constitute a kind of oral scripture. In addition to hundreds of anthropomorphic deities, the cosmos contains a host of other supernatural forces. Mystical power of a positive nature is associated with ancestors, the earth, deities of place (especially hills, trees, and rivers), and medicines and charms. Power of an unpredictable, negative nature is associated with a trickster deity; with witches, sorcerers, and their medicines and charms; and with personified powers in the form of Death, Disease, Infirmity, and Loss. Individuals inherit or acquire deities, through divination or inspiration.

Christianity was introduced from the south in the mid-nineteenth century; Islam came from the north in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Today Yoruba allegiances are divided between the two global faiths, yet many simultaneously uphold aspects of the ancient religious legacy. Syncretistic groups also blend Islam or Christianity with Yoruba practices.

Religious Practitioners. Priests and priestesses exercised considerable influence in precolonial times. They were responsible for divining, curing, maintaining peace and harmony, administering war magic, and organizing extensive rites and festivals. Many duties of political and religious authorities overlapped.

Ceremonies. Rituals are performed largely to appease or gain favor. They take place at every level, from individuals to groups, families, or whole communities. In addition to rites of passage, elaborate masquerades or civic festivals are performed for important ancestors, to celebrate harvest, or, formerly, to bring victory in war.

Arts. The Yoruba are known for their contributions to the arts. Life-size bronze heads and terracottas, sculpted in a classical style between a.d. 1000 and 1400 and found at the ancient city of Ife, have been widely exhibited. Other art forms are poetry, myth, dance, music, body decoration, weaving, dyeing, embroidery, pottery, calabash carving, leather- and beadworking, jewelry making, and metalworking.

Medicine. Yoruba medicine involves a full spectrum of ritual, psychological, and herbal treatments. Rarely practiced in isolation, curing is as dependent on possession, sacrifices, or incantations as medicinal preparations. Curing is learned through an apprenticeship and revealed slowly, because treatments are closely guarded secrets.

Death and Afterlife. Each individual is endowed with an inner force that determines his or her destiny. It is part of one's "multiple soul," which after death either resides in the sky with other mystical powers or is reincarnated. As ancestors, the dead influence the living, and sacrifices are made to gain their favor. Funeral rites are commensurate with one's importance in lifesimple for children but elaborate for authority figures.


Bascom, William (1969). The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Eades, J. S. (1980). The Yoruba Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fadipe, N. A. (1970). The Sociology of the Yoruba. Ibadan: University of Ibadan Press.

Lloyd, P. C. (1965). "The Yoruba of Nigeria." In Peoples of Africa, edited by James L. Gibbs, Jr., 549-582. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Smith, Robert S. (1988). Kingdoms of the Yoruba. 3rd ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


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LOCATION: West Africa (primarily Nigeria; also Benin and Togo)

POPULATION: 5.3 million


RELIGION: Ancestral religion; Islam; Christianity


The Yoruba are one of the largest African ethnic groups south of the Sahara Desert. They are, in fact, not a single group, but rather a collection of diverse people bound together by a common language, history, and culture. Within Nigeria, the Yoruba dominate the western part of the country. Yoruba mythology holds that all Yoruba people descended from a hero called Odua or Oduduwa. Today there are over fifty individuals who claim kingship as descendants of Odua.

During the four centuries of the slave trade, Yoruba territory was known as the Slave Coast. Uncounted numbers of Yoruba were carried to the Americas. Their descendants preserved Yoruba traditions. In several parts of the Caribbean and South America, Yoruba religion has been combined with Christianity. In 1893, the Yoruba kingdoms in Nigeria became part of the Protectorate of Great Britain. Until 1960 Nigeria was a British colony and the Yoruba were British subjects. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation structured as a federation of states.


The Yoruba homeland is located in west Africa. It stretches from a savanna (grassland) region in the north to a region of tropical rain forests in the south. Most Yoruba live in Nigeria. However there are also some scattered groups in Benin and Togo, small countries to the west of Nigeria. The occupations and living conditions of the Yoruba in the north and south differ sharply.

Current census figures are difficult to obtain. The Yoruba population is estimated to be 5.3 million.


The Yoruba language belongs to the Congo-Kordofanian language family. Yoruba has many dialects, but its speakers can all understand each other.

Yoruba is a tonal language. The same combination of vowels and consonants has different meanings depending on the pitch of the vowels (whether they are pronounced with a high voice or a low voice). For example, the same word, aro, can mean cymbal, indigo dye, lamentation, and granary, depending on intonation. Pele o is "Hello"; Bawo ni? is "How are you?"; and Dada ni is "Fine, thank you."


According to a Yoruba creation myth, the deities (gods) originally lived in the sky with only water below them. Olorun, the Sky God, gave to Orishala, the God of Whiteness, a chain, a bit of earth in a snail shell, and a five-toed chicken. He told Orishala to go down and create the earth. Orishala approached the gate of heaven. He saw some deities having a party and he stopped to greet them. They offered him palm wine and he drank too much and fell asleep. Odua, his younger brother, saw Orishala sleeping. He took the materials and went to the edge of heaven, accompanied by Chameleon. He let down the chain and they climbed down it. Odua threw the piece of earth on the water and placed the five-toed chicken upon it. The chicken began to scratch the earth, spreading it in all directions. After Chameleon had tested the firmness of the earth, Odua stepped down. A sacred grove is there today.


As many as 20 percent of the Yoruba still practice the traditional religions of their ancestors.

The practice of traditional religion varies from community to community. For example, a deity (god) may be male in one village and female in another. Yoruba traditional religion holds that there is one supreme being and hundreds of orisha, or minor deities. The worshipers of a deity are referred to as his "children."

There are three gods who are available to all. Olorun (Sky God) is the high god, the Creator. One may call on him with prayers or by pouring water on kola nuts on the ground. Eshu (also called Legba by some) is the divine messenger who delivers sacrifices to Olorun after they are placed at his shrine. Everyone prays frequently to this deity. Ifa is the God of Divination, who interprets the wishes of Olorun to mankind. Believers in the Yoruba religion turn to Ifa in times of trouble. Another god, Ogun (god of war, the hunt, and metalworking), is considered one of the most important. In Yoruba courts, people who follow traditional beliefs swear to give truthful testimony by kissing a machete sacred to Ogun.

Shango (also spelled Sango and Sagoe) is the deity that creates thunder. The Yoruba believe that when thunder and lightning strike, Shango has thrown a thunderstone to earth. After a thunderstorm, Yoruba religious leaders search the ground for the thunderstone, which is believed to have special powers. The stones are housed in shrines dedicated to Shango. Shango has four wives, each representing a river in Nigeria.

The Yoruba who practice other religious are divided about evenly between Muslims (followers of Islam) and Christians. Nearly all Yoruba still observe annual festivals and other traditional religious practices.


Local festivals are usually dedicated to individual deities. Yoruba may also celebrate the following holidays, depending on whether they are Christians or Muslims: New Year's Day, January; Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), June or July; Easter, March or April; Maulid an-Nabi (Muhammad's birthday); Ramadan, followed by a three-day feast; Nigerian Independence Day (October); Eid al-Fitr ; Christmas (December).


A newborn infant is sprinkled with water to make it cry. No word may be spoken until the infant cries. Also, no one younger than the mother should be present at the birth. The infant then is taken to the backyard. The umbilical cord is bound tightly with thread and then cut. The placenta is buried in the backyard. On the placenta burial spot, the child is bathed with a loofah sponge and rubbed with palm oil. The child is held by the feet and given three shakes to make it strong and brave. After a specified number of days, a naming ceremony is held. Relatives attend and bring small amounts of money. Male and female circumcision are usually performed in the first month.

Marriages are arranged. A man must negotiate with the girl's father. If he is approved he must bring the family a payment called a bride wealth, paid in three installments. Wedding ceremonies begin at the bride's house after dark. There is a feast to which the groom contributes yams. The bride then is taken to the groom's house. There she is washed from foot to knee with an herbal mixture meant to bring her many children. For the first eight days after marriage she divides her time between her husband's and in her parents' compounds. On the ninth day she moves to her husband's home.

Burials are performed by the adult men who are not close relatives but belong to the clan of the deceased. The grave is dug in the floor of the room where the deceased lived. After the burial there is a period of feasting. Many of the rituals associated with burial are intended to insure that the deceased will be reborn again.


Kinship is the most important relationship for the Yorubas. Best friends are very important as well. A best friend is referred to as "friend not-see-not-sleep." This means that one does not go to sleep without having seen his best friend. When approaching death, a Yoruba shares his last wishes with his best friend.

Also important are clubs that grow out of childhood associations. When a group of young friends starts spending time together, they form a club. They choose a name and invite an older man and woman to serve as advisors. The clubs continue through adulthood. They hold monthly meetings, with the members serving as hosts in turn.


Traditional compounds (which house clans) in Yoruba villages are made up of rectangular courtyards, each with a single entrance. Around each courtyard is an open or a partly enclosed porch. Here the women sit, weave, and cook. Behind this are the rooms of each adult. Today the old compounds are rapidly being replaced by modern bungalows made of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Most Yoruba towns, even small ones, have adequate basic services, including electricity, running water, and paved roads.


Every Yoruba is born into a clan whose members are descended from a common ancestor. Descent is patrilinealboth sons and daughters are born into the clan of their father. Clan members live in a large residential area called a compound. The males are born, married, and buried in it. Females live in the compound of their birth until they marry. Then they go to live with their husbands. The eldest male, or Bale, is the head of the compound. A husband is responsible for settling quarrels within his own family. However, if he is unsuccessful or if an argument involves members of two different families, it is referred to the Bale.

Within the compound, the immediate family consists of a man, his wives, and their children. The Yoruba practice polygyny (having more than one wife). Each wife and her children are considered a sub-family. They have a separate room within the husband's and they share possessions. Each mother cooks for her own children only. A man is expected to treat each wife equally. However, wives compete to gain additional favors for their own children. The father is strict and distant. Often, he sees little of his children. When they are young, children of co-wives play together. However, as they grow older, they usually grow apart because of quarrels over possessions.


Western-style dress is worn in urban areas. Traditional clothing is still worn on important occasions and in rural areas. It is very colorful and elaborate. Traditional fabrics were block printed with geometric designs. Women wear a head tie made of a rectangular piece of fabric. They carry babies or young children on their backs by tying another rectangular cloth around their the waists. A third cloth may be worn over the shoulder as a shawl over a loose-fitting, short-sleeved blouse. A larger cloth serves as a wrap-around skirt.


Fufu (Pounded Yam)


Choose one of these:

  • 3 or 4 white yams, preferably round and fat
  • 3 or 4 orange yams
  • 1 bunch plaintains
  • 1 bunch green (unripe) bananas


  1. Peel the vegetable or fruit of choice and cut into chunks or slices. Place the pieces into a pot and cover with water.
  2. Cover the pot and heat until the water boils. Cook until the yams (plaintains or green bananas) can be pierced easily with a fork.
  3. Drain well and place one or two pieces into a large mortar and pestle. Pound the pieces until a mass is formed that pulls away from the sides of the mortar. (This cannot be done with an electric mixer, because the pounded yams will be very stiff.)

Fufu is served with soups and stews at main meals. Diners pinch off a piece of fufu, make an indentation in it, and use it as a spoon to scoop up a mouthful of the main dish.

Chicken and Okra Soup


  • 6 to 10 chicken legs or wings
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 18 large okra, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground red pepper
  • 1½ ounces (40 grams) dry crayfish, ground
  • 2 medium fresh tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon potash


  1. Place the chicken in a pot with salt and pepper, cover with water and boil until tender. Drain, reserving broth for next step. Remove meat from bones and cut into bite-sized chunks.
  2. Combine okra with reserved broth and remaining ingredients. Boil for 5 minutes. Add chicken and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Serve with fufu.

Men wear tailored cloth hats, gowns, and trousers. One popular type of gown is shaped like a poncho. It reaches to the fingertips, but is worn folded back on the shoulders. Trousers are usually very loose and baggy. All the cloth for traditional clothing is hand woven. Often it is elaborately embroidered.


The Yoruba diet consists of starchy tubers, grains, and plantains. These are supplemented by vegetable oils, wild and cultivated fruits and vegetables, meat, and fish. The daily family diet relies on cassava, taro, maize, beans, and plantains. One of the most popular foods is fufu (or foo-foo ), similar to a dumpling, but made of cassava (white yams). Rice and yams are eaten on special occasions.

The recipes are very popular and are usually served together.


Since attaining independence (1960), Nigeria has set a high priority on education. Universal primary education has become the norm in southern Nigeria, where the Yoruba live. Secondary school (high school) education also became common. The first university in Nigeria was located in a Yoruba city. Originally called University College, it is now known as the University of Ibadan. The majority of students at Ibadan are Yoruba.


The Yoruba oral tradition includes praise poems, tongue twisters, hundreds of prose narratives and riddles, and thousands of proverbs.

Yoruba music includes songs of ridicule and praise, as well as lullabies, religious songs, war songs, and work songs. These usually follow a "call and response" pattern between a leader and chorus. Rhythm is provided by drums, iron gongs, cymbals, rattles, and hand clapping. Other instruments include long brass trumpets, ivory trumpets, whistles, stringed instruments, and metallophones. Perhaps the most interesting musical instrument is the "talking drum." The "talking drum" features an hourglass shape with laces that can be squeezed to tighten the goatskin head, altering the drum's pitch.


About 75 percent of the Yoruba men are farmers, producing food crops for their domestic needs. Farming is considered men's work. Clearing or hoeing fields is done only by men. Wives help their husbands plant yams and harvest corn, beans, and cotton. They also help at the market, selling farm produce. Some Yoruba have large cocoa farms worked by hired labor.

The Yoruba enjoy trading. Huge markets with over a thousand sellers are common. Trade in foodstuffs and cloth is confined to women. Meat selling and produce buying are the province of men.

The new, educated generation is moving away from farming, and its members are looking for white-collar jobs.


Although there are few organized sports, Yoruba (like other Nigerians) in some areas participate in wrestling and soccer.


Traditional entertainment includes rituals, dancing, and music making. Modern forms of entertainment include watching television and going to movies and discos. Most households own televisions sets. The more religious households prohibit family members, especially women, from going to see films. Among urban teenagers, American youth culture is popular. Most young people listen to rap and rock music from the U.S. Ayo, a board game, is popular among people of all ages. It is a mancala gamea type of game popular in west Africa, that is played on a board with two rows of indentations or wells that are filled with small seeds or stones.


Crafts include weaving, embroidering, pottery making, woodcarving, leather and bead working, and metalworking.

Both men and women weave, using different types of looms. Cloth is woven from wild silk and from locally grown cotton.

Men also do embroidery, particularly on men's gowns and caps, and work as tailors and dressmakers. Floor mats and mat storage bags are also made by men.

Women are the potters. In addition to palm oil lamps, they make over twenty kinds of pots and dishes for cooking, eating, and carrying and storing liquids.

Woodcarvers, all of whom are men, carve masks and figurines as well as mortars, pestles, and bowls. Some Yoruba woodcarvers also work in bone, ivory, and stone. Blacksmiths work both in iron and brass to create both useful and decorative objects.


There are vast differences in wealth among Yoruba of different social classes. Many urban occupations do not provide adequate wages to support a family.

Nigeria's human rights record is poor. A Yoruba, Olisa Agbakobe, led a group of lawyers that founded the human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO).

The crime rate in Nigeria is high, particularly in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, and other urban areas. More than half the offenses are property crimes. Drug-related crime is a major problem. Young people are using both marijuana and cocaine in increasing numbers.


Bascom, William. The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1984.

Hetfield, Jamie. The Yoruba of West Africa. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1996.

Koslow, Philip. Yorubaland: The Flowering of Genius. Kingdoms of Africa. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.


World Travel Guide. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Yoruba (yō´rōōbä), people of SW Nigeria and Benin, numbering about 20 million. Today many of the large cities in Nigeria (including Lagos, Ibadan, and Abeokuta) are in Yorubaland. The old Yoruba kingdom of Oyo was traditionally one of the largest states of W Africa, but after the mid-1700s its power slowly waned. At the beginning of the 19th cent., Fulani invasions, slave raids from Dahomey, and the growing contact with Europeans divided the Yoruba into a number of small states. In the second half of the 19th cent. the Yoruba gradually fell under British control, and they were under direct British administration from 1893 until 1960. Yoruba religion includes a variety of gods. Vestiges of Yoruba culture are also found in Brazil and Cuba, where Yoruba were imported as slaves.

See G. J. A. Ojo, Yoruba Culture (1967); E. Krapf-Askari, Yoruba Towns and Cities (1969); R. S. Smith, Kingdoms of the Yoruba (1969); H. Courlander, Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes (1973).

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Yo·ru·ba / ˈyôrəbə/ • n. (pl. same or -bas ) 1. a member of a people of southwestern Nigeria and Benin. 2. the Kwa language of this people and an official language of Nigeria. • adj. of or relating to the Yoruba or their language.

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"Yoruba." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 14, 2017).

"Yoruba." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from


Yoruba People of sw Nigeria of basically Christian or Islamic faith. Most are farmers, growing crops that include yams, maize, and cocoa. Many live in towns built around the palace of an oba (chief) and travel daily to their outlying farms.

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"Yoruba." World Encyclopedia. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Yoruba." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from


Yorubaabba, blabber, dabber, grabber, jabber, stabber, yabber •Alba, Galbaamber, camber, caramba, clamber, Cochabamba, gamba, mamba, Maramba, samba, timbre •Annaba, arbor, arbour, barber, Barbour, harbour (US harbor), indaba, Kaaba, Lualaba, Pearl Harbor, Saba, Sabah, Shaba •sambar, sambhar •rebbe, Weber •Elba •Bemba, December, ember, member, November, Pemba, September •belabour (US belabor), caber, labour (US labor), neighbour (US neighbor), sabre (US saber), tabor •chamber • bedchamber •antechamber •amoeba (US ameba), Bathsheba, Bourguiba, Geber, Sheba, zariba •cribber, dibber, fibber, gibber, jibba, jibber, libber, ribber •Wilbur •limber, marimba, timber •winebibber •calibre (US caliber), Excalibur •briber, fibre (US fiber), scriber, subscriber, Tiber, transcriber •clobber, cobber, jobber, mobber, robber, slobber •ombre, sombre (US somber) •carnauba, catawba, dauber, Micawber •jojoba, Manitoba, October, sober •Aruba, Cuba, Nuba, scuba, tuba, tuber •Drouzhba • Toowoomba • Yoruba •Hecuba

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"Yoruba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Yoruba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 14, 2017).

"Yoruba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from