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Yoruba World – The Yoruba culture is one of the most important, ancient and refined in Africa. This blog is meant for Nigerians, Italians and other international people who may be interested in the culture and might want to become more familiar with it.
Most people who live in the western region of Nigeria and the former Federal Capital Lagos, are Yoruba. Yoruba have a long history; when and where the story begins, no one quite knows. In the olden days, there are not many written materials left behind for us to read today. Then how can we know about the distant past? The best we can do is listen to the stories which people have handed down from generations to generations.
These stories of legends as we call them, are still told today by parents to their children. They are still all true in every details. In fact, there are often several different versions of the same story, but if we put them all together, we can learn what really happened in the earliest days of the Yoruba.
The Yoruba are divided into several tribes cities and towns which include the Oyo, Ijebu, Ekiti, Egba, Ijesha, Ondo, Akoko and Ife.
The Yoruba, claiming a common descent from Oduduwa, have a fairly homogeneous culture.
The cultural homogeneity is reinforced by a powerful religious belief system which make Ile-Ife the spiritual center as important as Oyo which was once a political center of a large part of Yoruba land
The Yoruba Culture originated from the Western Nigeria, and it is diffused in some neighbouring countries, but we know that their real origin was from somewhere else.
Through slave trade, the culture crossed the Atlantic ocean and took roots in Brazil, Cuba, U.S.A. and many central American countries, where it became one of the dominant culture. The slaves went without loads or properties, yet they conserved in their minds and souls the culture and deities which permitted many of them to survive.
For more than 50,000,000 people uprooted from Africa, of which many millions perished during the journey, up to date, nobody has asked pardon or forgiveness to Africa for that horible act, as the whole world justly is everyday doing to the state of Israel for the 6,000,000 Jews killed during the second world war. It is right and necessary to ask forgiveness to all wrongs done by humanity in the world, so that we may return to live in harmony and peace.
Politics in the old Oyo kingdom:
As the years passed, the city of Oyo, which Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa founded, grew into a great and powerful kingdom, and remained strong and independent for hundred of years.
The provincial kings that lived near Oyo were completely under the rule of Alafin, but those who lived further away, became more independent and powerful for example; those in Ijebu, Egba or Ilesha. When the Alafin died, the next king was chosen by seven chief councillor of state, who were known as the Oyo Mesi. In the earliest days, they always choose the Aremo; the eldest son of the passed away king, but unfortunately, the son sometimes kills his father, in order to become king himself. To avoid this, the Aremo was allowed to rule together with his father, and when his father died, the Aremo was expected to die too, by commititting suicide. The King was called the Alafin, and he was known also as Ekeji Orisa – that is, companion of the gods. The Yoruba kingdom was far too big for the Alafin to control by himself and under his rule were a number of smaller kings, and these were provincial kings, because each one ruled a particular area or province.
Yoruba’s Religious Beliefs:
Traditional Yoruba belief see the world made up of two connected realms; The visible world of the living which is called Aiye, and the spiritual world of the Orisas, the ancestors and the spirits, which is called Orun. Ase is the life force that is given to everything by the Creator of the universe.
Ase is in everything: plants, animals, people, prayers, songs, woods, rocks, and rivers. Existence is dependent upon Ase because Ase is the power to make things happen and change. The Yoruba believe in the Creator who rules over the entire universe along with many other gods that serve underneath him. The Creator of the universe is called Olorun.
Olorun lives in the sky and is considered to be the father of all the other gods. Olorun is the only god that never lived on earth. Olorun is the supreme God and has no special group of worshippers or shrine, like the other gods do. The Yoruba people worship over four hundred different deities. The gods are called Orisas. Some of the Orisas are worshiped by all of the Yoruba, Other gods are worshiped only by certain towns or families. Every person is given or receives a special deity to worship. A person usually worships the god of his father, but some worship the god of their mother. Some people are contacted by a particular god in their dreams and are instructed to worship them.
Creation according to the Yoruba’s Belief:
IFE – is an important Yoruba city, and It is their spiritual center. It is believed that there, is kept a shrine for every Yoruba divinity.
Ife was also the intellectual center of Yoruba traditional society. This ancient rain-forest city which now houses the University of Ife can be regarded as the Mecca of the Yoruba. It is, however, not certain whether the Ife of mythology where the divinities landed is the present-day Ile-Ife. There are several Ife known to Yoruba historians, but the one in which the divinities landed from heaven is known as Ife-Oodaye. The Yoruba people believe that Ife is the cradle of humanity. Ife therefore represents among other things to the Yoruba what could be termed the Garden of Eden. The mythology probably explains why the hen is used as an offering to Ifa more than any other creature. The hen was the first messenger of the divinities and therefore can be trusted as a means of sending messages through Ebo (sacrifice) to the divinities. Hens which have five fingers, are regarded by the Yoruba as strange creatures, and they are therefore used in the preparation of important medicines. The chameleon is a sacred creature of the Yoruba. In traditional Yoruba society, it was forbidden to kill chameleon except for medicinal or ritualistic purposes. The Yoruba regard the chameleon as Ajeegun, head (the one who makes medicines potent). The chameleon is usually included in many important medicinal preparations in order to increase their potency.
Every culture has stories that explain how the universe was created. This is one version of a creation story that is told by the Yoruba to explain the beginning of the universe.
OLORUN – lived in the sky with all the other gods. He told Orisanla, the god of whiteness, to create the earth for him. Olorun gave Orisanla some soil, a chain, a five toed chicken, and a snail shell and sent him on his way. When Orisanla got to the gates of heaven he noticed some other gods having a party. He stopped to chat with them for a bit and drank some of their palm wine. Orisanla became drunk from the palm wine and fell asleep. Orisanla’s younger brother Oduduwa noticed his brother fast asleep. He took all the things that Olorun had given him and went to the edge of the heaven with Chameleon. Oduaduwa dropped the chain and climbed down, throwing some of the soil onto the water. He then realized the chicken scratched out the earth, expanding it in many directions until the ends of the earth were made. Chameleon then stepped upon the earth to make sure that it was stable and solid. Oduduwa followed and settled at a place called Idio.
ORISANLA – soon woke and realized what happened. From that time on Orisanla put a taboo on palm wine. Even today those who worship Orisanla are forbidden from drinking palm wine. Orisanla came down to claim the earth but his brother, Oduduwa claimed that he was to be the owner of the earth since he had created it. The two brothers quite drunk continued fighting until Olorun heard them and called them to report to him. Olorun granted Oduduwa the right to own the earth and rule over it. Olorun then told Orisanla that he would become the creator of mankind. In order to keep peace amongst the two brothers Olorun sent them back to earth with Sango, the God of Thunder; Ifa the God of Divination; and Eleshije, the God of Medicine.
ODUDUWA – the father of the Yoruba:
There are three oral traditions among the Yoruba about the identity of Oduduwa.
First Story: oral tradition states that he descended from heaven and he was specifically sent to the world by God to rule mankind. He was said to have no earthly parents. According to this story, the creator of the world was Olodumare (The only almighty God). Before the world was created, there was only a watery, marshy waste. Olodumare live in heaven. In order to create the earth, Olodumare sent his son Oduduwa down from heaven. First, Olodumare let his son down with a chain carrying a handful of earth, a cockerel and a palm-nut. from these things, plants and animals grew. Oduduwa spread the earth over the marshes, the cockerel scratched it and the palm tree grew up in it from which all people came.
Second Story: The second oral tradition which is a later tradition gives Oduduwa an earthly personality. There are so many legends about the person of Oduduwa that it is necessary to find out who he really was, and what part he played in the spiritual and political lives of the people who inhabited the territories now known as the Western and Mid-Western areas of Nigeria. According to Yoruba legends, Oduduwa is the ancestor of the Yorubas and the progenitor of all the Yoruba Obas (kings) and also the Oba of Benin. There are conflicting stories in Yoruba mythology about his origin but one thing that is certain is that Oduduwa was a foreigner who settled in Ile-Ife. First, Yoruba people came to their present place from somewhere else, secondly, the first centre of Yoruba life was at Ile-Ife: (The Spiritual city).
The Yoruba people first came to Nigeria from somewhere, in the East. An area which included Egypt, Israel, Arabia and many parts termed today, the Miiddle-East; known in ancient time as North-East of Africa.
The story tells that Oduduwa was the son, not of Olodumare but of Lamurudu, a king of Mecca.
Oduduwa broke away from Islam, the religion of his people, and worshiped idols, He tried to force others to join him.
He converted the Muslim Mosque into a temple for worshipping idols. His priest and image maker was called Asara.
The story says that the religion of Islam triumphed in the end.
The priest Asara had a son called Braima, who was forced to sell idols even he hated doing so. When selling his father’s idols, he used to cry out:
“Who wants to purchase falsehood?” But when Braima grew up, he found an opportunity to destroy the idols. He poured oil over some of them and set fire, while others he battered to pieces with an axe.
He left the axe hanging round the neck of one of the idols- a huge figure in a human shape.
When the damage was discovered, the people asked Braima what had happened. He replied;
“Ask that huge idol who did it.” The men replied!
“Can he speak?” “Then,” said Braima,
“Why do you worship things which cannot speak?”
Braima was put to death for what he had done.
A war broke out between the Muslims and the idol worshippers. The Muslim party won.
They killed Lamurudu and drove away his children- including Oduduwa- from the town.
Oduduwa then travelled for about ninety days away from Mecca
until he and his party came to Ile-Ife and settled there.
It was there, too, that he met the founder of the Ifa religion, Agboniregun.
You will see that these three stories about Oduduwa are different.
But they do agree about two things.
One, that Yoruba people came to their present place from somewhere else.
Two, the first center of Yoruba life was at Ile-Ife.
‘The Religion & Beliefs of the yoruba People’ – (source: professor Bolaji Idowu Ph.D.)
ILE-IFE: “Our Ancestral Home”- The first of the creation here below; the original home of all things; the place from which the day dawns; the enchanted, holy city; the home of divinities and mysterious spirits!
That was the multifarious picture of Ile-Ife which use to form part of our childhood knowledge. Even today, in spite of several years of Western sophistication, the city still has a certain enchantment for the Yoruba people, if only because it is the heart which sets the religious blood coursing through their national veins.
Until comparatively recently, when easy communication has made it possible to travel almost all over the country safely and quickly, Ile-Ife used to be the sacred loadstone which filled the Yoruba people everywhere with a deep yearning for pilgrimage.
There was ever in evidence something nostalgic in everyone, always a community of interest everywhere, about the city.
CHIEF JEREMIAH OBAFEMI AWOLOWO – A great Yoruba leader:
IF Oduduwa was the father of the Yoruba, Chief Obafemi Awolowo is the great leader of the Yoruba people. He was the first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, (a Yoruba region) and what he achieved for his people, nobody before or up to date has done the same for the Yoruba.
He was a great gift to the Yoruba people, and to Nigerian as a whole, from God. For this, he was anointed by God to lead, but only his people accepted him. For all the good things he achieved for the Yoruba, and other parts of the country, tagged him a tribalist. As his idea was, “Charity begins at home,” and he thought proving that he was capable at home, he would eventually make the rest of the country to accept him as the leader in Nigeria. Awolowo was born in a well-been family, but the death of his father when he was a teenager made him went through hard time, but despite that, he was chosen by God like Moses to lead the Yoruba to the promised land. He strongly believed in educating his people, and the whole country, so he introduced the free elementary school in his region, which was later extended in the whole country. As a politician, he had preferred learned electors rather than illiterate electors, so he launched the universal primary education for all yoruba youths, and in early fifties, also created the secondary schools.
Awolowo created ‘modern three’ grade education or if you like it (middle school) to permit a gradual gap between the primary, Secondary schools, and University. He instituted the University of Ife at Ile-Ife in the holy city of the Yoruba. He also created the (CRIN) Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria in Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa. In the late fifties he introduced the rediffusion to the Western Region and brought the Television broadcasting service to the Yorubaland, the first in the whole of Africa, even before the white governed South Africa. Awolowo was one of the three major authors of Nigeria’s Independence. and he was tagged by the British, as ‘The man with plans.’ There were a lot more achievements, and won for his people, and as it happened to Moses in olden days, he never got to rule the country as a whole before he died! He started a Newspaper ‘The Herald Tribune’, and the opened the Wema bank, and both still exist up to date. As a political leader, he had men in his Political party, AG (Action Group) who we could term as his disciples,
The ”Yorubas” are the descendants of Ham who was the third son of Noah. They are the direct ancestors of Cush, the son of Ham, and the black Cushite migrants and settlers that refused to go to Africa with the other descendants of Cush and his son Nimrod but that rather chose to settle in the ancient Cities of Mecca and Medina in what is presently known as Saudi Arabia. They were there as settlers for thousands of years and they constituted a prosperous powerful, large and respected minority within the larger Arab community.
However they were eventually driven out of those Arab towns and communities and forced to leave them for refusing to give up their religious faith, their deep mysticism and paganism and their idol worship after Islam was introduced to those places by the Prophet Mohammed in 600 AD. They then migrated to the banks of the great River Nile in Egypt where they intermingled with the Egyptian Arabs, the Nubians and the Sudanese of the Nile. Many remained there but the bulk of them eventually migrated to what is now known as the north-eastern zone of Nigeria and once again mingled and bred with the Shuwa Arabs and the Kanuris of the Borno people. From there they eventually migrated down south to the forests and farm lands of Ile – Ife what is now known as south-western Nigeria making their primary place and location of pagan worship. Ife was to the Yoruba gods what Mecca is to the Muslims and the establishment of Ife as the centre of all that is Yoruba was confirmed by Oduduwa himself when he sent his sons out from Ife to other parts of Yorubaland to establish their own independent kingdoms.