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The Yoruba share borders with the Borgu (variously called Bariba and Borgawa) in the northwest, the Nupe (whom they often call, 'Tapa') and Ebira in the north, the Edo who are also known as Bini or Benin people (unrelated to the people of the 'Republic of Benin'), and the ?san and Afemai to the southeast. The Igala and other related groups are found in the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, and other Gbe-speaking peoples in the southwest. While the majority of the Yoruba live in western Nigeria, there are also substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in the Republic of Benin, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, USA, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas,Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Ghana and Togo.
Ife bronze casting of a king dated around the 12th CenturyThe 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 region. It 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.
Further information: Oduduwa
Between 1100 AD and 1700 AD, the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife experienced a golden age, the oba or ruler of Ife is referred to as the Ooni of Ife. 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.
Further information: Kingdom of Ife
Most of the city states were controlled by Obas (rulers) with various titles and councils made up of Oloye, guild of noble leaders or chiefs, and merchants. Different states saw differing ratios of power between the kingship and the chiefs' council. Some such as Oyo had powerful, autocratic monarchs with almost total control, while in others such as the Ijebu city-states, the senatorial councils held more influence and the power of the ruler or ?ba, referred to as the Awujale of Ijebuland was more limited.
Orisa'nla (The great divinity) also known as ?batala 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. ?batala descended from heaven on a chain, carrying a small snail shell full of earth, palm kernels and a five-toed chicken. He was to empty the content of the snail shell on the water after placing some pieces of iron on it, and then to place the chicken on the earth to spread it over the primordial water.
Recently, historians have attributed this cosmological mythology to a pre-existing civilization at Il?-If? which was invaded by a militant immigrants from the east, led by a king named Oduduwa. Oduduwa and his group had been persecuted on the basis of religious differences and forced out of their homeland. They came to Il?-If? where they subjugated the pre-existing Ugbo inhabitants (possibly Egba or Urhobo though often erroneously rendered as Igbo but unrelated to the present Igbo people), under the leadership of Oreluere (?batala).
Upon the death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Il?-If? 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.
Oyo Empire and surrounding states.Monarchies were a common form of government in the Yoruba-speaking region, but they were not the only approach to government and social organization. The numerous Ijebu city-states to the west of Oyo and the ?gba communities, found in the forests below ?y?'s savanna region, were notable exceptions. These independent polities often elected an ?ba, though real political, legislative, and judicial powers resided with the Ogboni, a council of notable elders.
During the internecine wars of the 19th century, the Ijebu forced citizens of more than 150 ?gba 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 Ab?okuta 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 Ab?okuta and its system of government as "the most extraordinary republic in the world."
Gerontocratic leadership councils that guarded against the monopolization of power by a monarch were a proverbial trait of the ?gba, according to the eminent ?y? historian Reverend Samuel Johnson, but such councils were also well-developed among the northern Okun groups, the eastern Ekiti, and other groups falling under the Yoruba ethnic umbrella. In ?y?, the most centralized of the precolonial kingdoms, the Alaafin consulted on all political decisions with a prime minister (the Bas?run) and the council of leading nobles known as the ?y? Mesi.
The monarchy of any city state was usually limited to a number of royal lineages. A family could be excluded from kingship and chieftancy if any family member, servant, or slave belonging to the family committed a crime such as theft, fraud, murder or rape.
In other city-states, the monarchy was open to the election of any free-born male citizen. There are also, in Ilesa, Ondo, and other Yoruba communities, several traditions of female ?bas, 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 ?y? 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 j?sa 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 ?gb? in Yoruba, included the Parakoyi (or league of traders) and ?gb? ?d? (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 ?gba resisted the imperial domination of the ?y? Empire, a figure named Lisabi is credited with either creating or reviving a covert traditional organization named ?gb? Aro. This group, originally a farmers' union, was converted to a network of secret militias throughout the ?gba forests, and each lodge plotted to overthrow ?y?'s Ajeles (appointed administrators) in the late 1700s.
Similarly, covert military resistance leagues like the Ekiti Parap? and the Ogidi alliance were organized during the 19th century wars by often-decentralized communities of the Ekiti, Ij?sa, Ìgbómìnà and Okun Yoruba in order to resist various imperial expansionist plans of Ibadan, Nupe, and the Sokoto Caliphate.
Traditional Yoruba Religion
Yoruba religion and mythology is a major influence in West Africa, chiefly in Nigeria, and it has given origin to several New World religions such as Santería in Cuba and Puerto Rico, Voudoun in Haiti, and Candomblé in Brazil.
Itan is the term for the sum total of all Yoruba myths, songs, histories, and other cultural components. These mostly originate from the ese (verses) of the Odu Ifa.
After the ?y? 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 century). The enslaved Africans carried their Orisha religious beliefs with them. These concepts were combined with preexisting African-based religions, Christianity, Native American mythology, and Kardecist Spiritism into various New World lineages which are Lucumí (Cuba, Puerto Rico), Oyotunji (U.S.), Anago (Nigeria), Candomblé (Brazil), Umbanda (Brazil), Batuque (Brazil) and Kaaro oojire (Nigeria).
The popularly known Vodou religion of Haiti combines the religious beliefs of the many different African ethnic nationalities taken to the island with the structure and liturgy from the Fon-Ewe of present-day Benin and the Congo-Angolan culture area, but Yoruba-derived religious ideology and deities also play an important role.
Yoruba deities include "?ya" (wind/storm), "Ifá" (divination or fate), "?l?da" (destiny), Orisha or Orisa "Ibeji" (twin), "?sanyin" (medicines and healing) and "?sun" (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 occasions.
Today, many contemporary Yoruba are active Christians and Muslims, yet retain many of the moral and cultural concepts of their traditional faith.
Twins in Yoruba society
Ibeji twins.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 or Tayewo, (which means 'the first to taste the world'), this is often shortened to Taiwo, Taiye or Taye. Kehinde, is the name of the last born twin. Kehinde is sometimes also referred to as Kehindegbegbon which is short for Omokehindegbegbon and means, 'the child that came last gets the eldest'.
Time is measured in isheju or iseju (minutes), wakati (hours), ojo (days), ose (weeks), oshu or osu (months) and odun (years). There are 60 isheju in 1 wakati; 24 wakati in 1 ojo; 7 ojo in 1 ose; 4 ose in 1 oshu and 52 ose in 1 odun. There are 12 oshu in 1 odun.
Yoruba area in Nigeria.The Yoruba are the main ethnic group in the Nigerian federal states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo; they also constitute a sizable proportion of Kwara and Kogi states as well as Edo.
Location in Benin
The Yoruba/Ife are the main group in the Benin department of Ouémé, all Subprefecture; Collines Province, all subprefectures; Plateau Province, all Subprefectures; Borgou Province, Tchaourou Subprefecture; Zou Province, Ouihni and Zogbodome Subprefecture; Donga Province, Bassila Subprefecture; Alibori, Kandi Subprefecture
Location in Togo
The Yoruba/Ife are the main group in the Togo department of Plateau Region, Ogou and Est-Mono prefectures; Centrale Region, Tchamba Prefecture
The chief Yoruba cities/towns are Ibadan, Fiditi, Eko (Lagos), Ejigbo, Modakeke/Akoraye, Ij?bu Ode, Ab?okuta, Akur?, Il?rin, Ij?bu-Igbo, Ogbom???, Ondo, ?ta, Ado-Ekiti, Ikare, Sagamu, Ik?nn?, Ilisan, Osogbo, Offa, Iwo, Ilesa, ?y?, Ilé-If?, Odeomu, Ilaro and Ago-Iwoye.
Traditionally the Yoruba organized themselves into networks of related villages, towns, and kingdoms, with most of them headed by an ?ba King or Baale a nobleman or mayor. Kingship is not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. An electoral college of lineage heads is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families, and the selection is usually confirmed by an Ifá divination request. The ?bas live in palaces usually in the center of the town. Opposite to the king's palace is the ?ja ?ba, 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.
The triangular tradeA significant percentage of Africans enslaved during the Atlantic slave trade in the Americas managed to maintain the Yoruba tradition of 'Orisha' (also spelt, 'Orisa') veneration, as well as their continual belief in God, the Supreme Being, who they refer to under different names such as 'Olorun', 'Olodumare', 'Eleda', 'Olofin-Orun' and 'Eledumare'.
Different names and slavery-era diaspora
During the 19th century, the term 'Yoruba ' or 'Yariba' came into wider use, first confined to the ?y?. The term is often believed to be derived from a Hausa ethnonym for the populous people to their south, but this has not been substantiated by historians.
As an ethnic description, the word 'Yoruba' first appeared in a treatise written by the Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba (1500s) and is likely to derive from the indigenous ethnonyms ?y? (Oyo) or Yagba, two Yoruba-speaking groups along the northern borders of their territory. However, it is likely that the ethnonym was popularized by Hausa usage and ethnography written in Arabic and Ajami. Under the influence of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Creole (of Aku origin) clergyman, subsequent missionaries extended the term to include all speakers of related dialects.
Aside from "Yoruba" and its variant "Yariba", this ethnic group was in different times and places known by a variety of other names, including "Yorubo", "Akú", "Okun", "Nago", "Anago" and "Ana" and "Lucumi".
Before the abolition of the slave trade, some Yoruba groups were known among Europeans as Akú, a name derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings such as ? kú àár?? good morning’ and ? kú al?? good evening.’ A variant of this group is also known as the "Okun", Okun being also a form of "A ku". These are Yorubas found in parts of the states of Kogi - the "Yagba", Ekiti and Kabba.
The language spread of Kru, Igbo and Yoruba in the United States according to U. S. Census 2000.The terms "Nago", "Anago" and "Ana" were widely used in Spanish and Portuguese documents to describe all speakers of the language. They derive from the name of a coastal Yoruba sub-group in present-day Benin. Yoruba in Francophone West Africa are still sometimes known by this ethnonym today.
In Cuba and Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking America, the Yoruba were called "Lucumi" after the phrase "O luku mi", meaning "my friend" in some dialects. This term is at present used mainly to refer to an Afro-Caribbean religion derived from the traditional Yoruba religion, more often known as Santería now becoming popular in the USA.
The origin of the Yoruba, who often refer to themselves as "Omo O'odua" (Children of Oduduwa), revolves around a man called Oduduwa who became the first Oba (meaning 'king' or 'leader' in the Yoruba language) at the Yoruba kingdom of Ile-Ife (also known as Ife), under the title of the Ooni of Ife. It was from Ile-Ife that the descendants of Oduduwa went on to find other Yoruba kingdoms such as Oyo and Ketou. One of them even managed to rule over a famous non-Yoruba-speaking kingdom towards the east of Ife as the Oba of Ile-Ibinu, which later became known as Ubini, the Edo, and finally Benin (not to be confused with the country called the Republic of Benin which was previously known as Dahomey.
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