some good info More InformationHistory of the Yoruba people

The African peoples who lived in Yorubaland, at least by the seventh 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. Yoruba spiritual heritage maintains that the Yoruba ethnic groups are a unique people who originally settled at Ile-Ife. Legend holds that Oduduwa created the world at this place by delegation from the high god, Olodumare. The name "Yoruba" is an adaptation of "euroba" (arabism). Yoruba civilization remains one of the most technologically and artistically advanced in West Africa to this time.
Some contemporary historians contend that the leading Yoruba are not indigenous to Yorubaland, but are descendants of immigrants from the ancient Near East to the region. According to the dynastic tradition of Oyo, the people left Mecca, under whose leadership of Oduduwa and reached Yorubaland towards 600 BCE where they established the kingdom of Ife.[1[[|]]] Oduduwa's relatives established kingdoms in the rest of Yorubaland. One of Oduduwa's sons, Oranmiyan, took the throne of Benin and expanded the Oduduwa Dynasty eastwards. Further expansion led to the establishment of the Yoruba in what are now Southwest Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, with Yoruba city-states acknowledging the spiritual heritage primacy of the ancient city of Ile Ife. The southeastern Benin Empire, ruled by a dynasty that traced its ancestry to Ifẹ and Oduduwa but largely populated by the Edo and other related ethnicities, also held considerable sway in the election of nobles and kings in eastern Yorùbáland.

Yoruba origin mythology

The mythology of the origin of the Yoruba, who refer to themselves as "Omo O'odua" (Children of Oduduwa), revolves around the mythical figure of Oduduwa or Odudua . The meaning of the name may be translated as "the spiritual one ("O/Ohun") who created the knowledge ("odu") of character ("iwa")." Many Yoruba believe in one God, Olodumare, but also believe that the only way to reach Him is through the divinities.
Some say that the making of land is a symbolic reference to the founding of the Yoruba kingdoms and that this is why Oduduwa is credited with the achievement.[2[[|]]]
Recently, historians have attributed this cosmological mythology to a pre-existing civilization at Ilė-Ifę 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 Ilé-Ifè where they came across Oreluere and his people. Other informants are convinced that Oduduwa and his followers were believed to have subjugated the pre-existing Igbo whom local informants relate to the present Igbo people, though this claim has not been supported by competent historians.

After Oduduwa

Main article: Oduduwa
Upon the "disapearing act" of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ilé-Ifè to found other kingdoms (Owu, Ketu, Benin, Ila, Sabe, Popo, Awori, (Ondo) and Oyo). Each making a mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin to Ile-Ife.[3[[|]]]

Golden age

Between 1100 CE and 1700 CE, the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife experienced a golden age. It was then surpassed by the Oyo Empire as the dominant Yoruba military and political power between 1600 CE and 1800 CE. The nearby splinter Yoruba kingdom of Benin was also a powerful force between 1300 and 1850 CE.
Most of the city states were controlled by Obas (elected monarchs) and councils made up of Oloyes, recognised leaders of royal, noble and, often, even common descent, who joined them in ruling over the kingdoms through a series of guilds and cults. 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 were supreme and the Ọba served as something of a figurehead.
In all cases, however, Yoruba monarchs were subject to the continuing approval of their constituents as a matter of policy, and could be easily compelled to abdicate for demonstrating dictatorial tendencies or incompetence. The order to vacate the throne was usually communicated through an aroko or symbolic message, of parrots' eggs delivered in a covered calabash bowl by the senators.

Modern history

The Yoruba eventually established a federation of city-states under the political ascendancy of the city state of Oyo, located on the Northern fringes of Yorubaland in the savanna plains between the forests of present Southwest Nigeria and the Niger River.
Following a Jihad led by Uthman Dan Fodio and a rapid consolidation of the Hausa city states of contemporary northern Nigeria, the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate invaded and annexed the buffer Nupe Kingdom and began to advance southwards into Ọyọ lands. Shortly afterwards, they overran the Yoruba city of Ilorin and then sacked and destroyed Ọyọ-Ile, the capital city of the Ọyọ Empire.
Following this, Ọyọ-Ile was abandoned and the Ọyọ retreated south to the present city of Oyo (formerly "Ago d'Oyo", or "Oyo Atiba") in a forested region where the cavalry of the Sokoto Caliphate was less effective. Further attempts by the Sokoto Caliphate to expand southwards were checked by the Yoruba who had rallied in defence under the military leadership of the City State of Ibadan which rose from the old Oyo Empire, and of the Ijebu city-states. However, the Oyo hegemony had been dealt a mortal blow. The other Yoruba city-states broke free of Oyo dominance, and subsequently became embroiled in a series of internecine conflicts. These wars weakened the southern Yorubas in their resistance to British colonial and military invasions. In 1960, greater Yorubaland was subsumed into the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The historical records of the Yoruba, which became more accessible in the nineteenth century with the more permanent arrival of the Europeans, tell of heavy Jihad raids by the mounted Fulani warriors of the north as well as of endemic intercity warfare amongst the Yoruba themselves. Archaeological evidence of the greatness of their ancient civilization in the form of, amongst other things, extensive city fortifications that are centuries old, nevertheless abound.[4[[|]]]


During the 19th century, the term Yoruba or Yariba came into wider use, first confined to the Ọyọ. The term is often believed to be derived from a Hausa ethnonym for the populous people to their south, but this has not been substantiated by historians.
As an ethnic description, the word first appeared in a treatise written by the Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba (16th century) and is likely to derive from the indigenous ethnonyms Ọyọ (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 Yoruba clergyman, subsequent missionaries extended the term to include all speakers of related dialects.
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 Ẹ kú àárọ? ‘good morning’ and Ẹ kú alẹ? ‘good evening.’

Political and Economic Life in Yoruba

Some Yoruba communities are literally city-states, encompassing just one urban area with its rural hinterland. However, most consist of several towns and many villages. Egba, with its present capital of Abeokuta, has the largest population of nine million, but there are many others.
he economy of Yorubaland is based on a vigorous combination of farming and trading which ranges from local marketing of farm produce to international dealing. Typically, Yoruba towns today consist of farmers, traders, office workers and professionals. The usual British division between town and country does not apply in Yorubaland. Farmers make the daily trek to the farm. There is comparatively little commuting into town to work.
Daily life centres on the farm and its products, now as it did in earlier centuries. The major staple product is yam, hut also cassava, maize, rice, and a variety of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, okra, eggplant, etc) are grown for local consumption. The major cash crops are cocoa, oil palm; also kola nuts and cotton, although the latter to a greater extent in the 19th century than more recently.

The Oni or King of Ife is acknowledged by all Yoruba as their pre-eminent ritual figure-head, but this is by no means the most powerful political office. There are a certain number of Yoruba Kings or Obas whose office-holders have the authority to wear a beaded crown.
This number is not static. Traditionally it was 16, a most auspicious number in Yoruba thought, but in a famous judgement in 1903, 21 were recognised by the Oni. Subsequently, others have been added to the list. The political power of any Yoruba Oba is now severely circumscribed by the Nigerian constitution and the prevailing political climate, but all retain considerable ritual authority.

Yoruba - 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 life—simple for children but elaborate for authority figures.

Yoruba religion

The Yorùbá religion comprises the original religious beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, a region that has come to be known as Yorubaland. During the Atlantic slave trade it was exported to the Americas, where it has influenced or given birth to thriving ways of life such as Lucumí, Umbanda and Candomblé.[1[[|]]] Yoruba religious beliefs are part of itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories and other cultural concepts which make up the Yorùbá society.


According to Kola Abimbola, the Yorùbá have evolved a robust philosophy,[1[[|]]] in brief, it holds that all human beings possess what is known as "Àyànmô"[4[[|]]] (destiny, fate) and are expected to eventually become one in spirit with Olódùmarè (Olòrún, the divine creator and source of all energy). Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person in Ayé (the physical realm) interact with all other living things, including the Earth itself.[2[[|]]] Each person attempts to achieve transcendence and find their destiny in Òrún-Réré (the spiritual realm of those who do good and beneficial things, a place somewhat similar to the Abrahamic Kingdom of Heaven). One's Orí-Inu (spiritual consciousness in the physical realm) must grow in order to consummate union with one's "Ipônri" (Orí Òrún, spiritual self).[4[[|]]] Those who stop growing spiritually, in any of their given lives, are destined for "Òrún-Apadi" (Lit. the invisible realm of potsherds). Life and death are said to be cycles of existence in a series of physical bodies while one's spirit evolves toward transcendence. This evolution is said to be most evident amongst the Orishas, the divine viziers of the Almighty God.
Iwapẹlẹ (or well-balanced) meditation and sincere veneration is sufficient to strengthen the Orí-Inu of most people.[2[[|]]][4[[|]]] Well-balanced people, it is believed, are able to make positive use of the simplest form of connection between their Oris and the omnipotent Olu-Òrún: an adúra (petition or prayer) for divine support.
Prayer to one's Orí Òrún has been known to produce an immediate sensation of joy. Ẹlégbara (Eṣu, the divine messenger) initiates contact with Òrún on behalf of the petitioner, and transmits the prayer to Ayé; the deliverer of àṣẹ or the spark of life. He transmits this prayer without distorting it in any way. Thereafter, the petitioner may be satisfied with a personal answer. In the event that he or she is not, the Ifa oracle of the Orisha Orunmila may also be consulted. All communication with Òrún, whether simplistic in the form of a personal prayer or complicated in the form of that done by an initiated priest of divination, however, is energized by invoking àṣẹ.
In the Yorùbá belief system, Olódùmarè has àṣẹ over all that is. It is for this reason that He is considered supreme.[2[[|]]]
According to one of the Yorùbá accounts of creation, during a certain stage in this process, the "truth" was sent to confirm the habitability of the newly formed planets. The earth being one of these was visited but deemed too wet for conventional life.
After a successful period of time, a number of divinities were commanded to accomplish the task of helping earth develop its crust. On one of their visits to the realm, the arch-divinity Obatala took to the stage equipped with a mollusk that held in its shell some form of soil; two winged beasts and some cloth like material. He emptied the soil onto what soon became a large mound on the surface of the water and soon after, the winged-beasts began to scatter this around until the point where it gradually made into a large patch of dry land; the various indentations they created eventually becoming hills and valleys.[5[[|]]]
Obatala leaped on to a high-ground and named the place Ife. The land became fertile and plant life began to flourish. From handfuls of earth he began to mould figurines. Meanwhile, as this was happening on earth, Olódùmarè gathered the gasses from the far reaches of space and sparked an explosion that shaped into a fireball. He subsequently sent it to Ife, where it dried much of the land and simultaneously began to bake the motionless figurines. It was at this point that Olódùmarè released the "breath of life" to blow across the land, and the figurines slowly came into "being" as the first people of Ife.[5[[|]]]
For this reason, Ile-Ife is localy referred to as the "cradle of existence".[5[[|]]]


Olódùmarè is the most important "state of existence".[5[[|]]] Regarded as being all-encompassing, no gender can therefore be assigned. Hence, it is common to hear references to "it" or "they" (although this is meant to address a somewhat singularity) in usual speech. "They" are the owner of all heads, for during human creation, Olódùmarè gave "êmí" (the breath of life) to humankind. In this, Olódùmarè is Supreme[5[[|]]]
Perhaps one of the most important human endeavors extolled within the tribe's literary corpus is the quest to better one's "Iwa" (character, behaviour). In this way the tribal teaching transcends religious doctrine, advising as it does that a person must also better his civic, social and intellectual spheres of being; every stanza of the sacred Ifa oracular poetry has a portion covering the importance of "Iwa". Central to this is the theme of righteousness, both individual and collective.[6[[|]]]

An Alternative Version Of The Creation

The Yorùbá regard Olódùmarè as the principal agent of creation.
In another telling of the creation, Olódùmarè (also called Olorun) is the creator. In the beginning there is only water. Olódùmarè sends Obatala to bring forth land. Obatala descended from above on a long chain, bringing with him a rooster, some earth, and some iron. He stacked the iron in the water, the earth on the iron, and the chicken atop the earth. The chicken kicked and scattered the earth, creating land. Some of the other divinities descended upon it to live with Obatala. One of them, Chameleon, came first to judge if the earth was dry. When he said that it was, Olódùmarè called the land Ife for "wide". Obatala then created humans out of earth and called Olódùmarè to blow life into them. Some say Obatala was jealous and wished to be the only giver of life, but Olódùmarè put him to sleep as he worked. Conversely, it is also said by others that it is Obatala who shapes life while it is still in the womb.[7[[|]]]


An Orisha (Orisa or Orixa) is an entity that possesses the capability of reflecting some of the manifestations of Olódùmarè. Yòrùbá Orishas (translated "owners of heads") are often described as intermediaries between man and the supernatural. The term is often translated as "deities" or "divinities".[8[[|]]]
Orisha(s) are more like "anamistic entities" and have control over specific elements in nature, thus being better referred to as the divinities. Even so, there are those of their number that are more akin to ancient heroes and/or sages[3[[|]]] These are best addressed as dema deities. Even though in the basics of things, the term Orisha is often used to describe either of these loose groups of entities, it is mainly reserved for the former.[3[[|]]]
The Yorùbá Grand Priest and custodian of the Ifa Oracle, source of knowledge who is believed to oversee the knowledge of the Human Form, Purity, the Cures of illnesses and deformities. His suburdinate priests or followers are the Awos.
Èsù or Elegua
Often ill-translated as "uThe Devil" or "The Evil Being", Èsù is in truth neither of these. Best referred to as "The Trickster", he deals a hand of misfortune to those that do not offer tribute or are deemed to be spiritual novices. Also regarded as the "divine messenger", a prime negotiator between negative and positive forces in the body and an enforcer of the "law of being". He is said to assist in enhancing the power derived from herbal medicines.
The divinity of iron and metallurgy.
Mother of Waters, Nurturer of Water Resources. According to Olorishas, she is the amniotic fluid in the womb of the pregnant woman, as well as the breasts which nurture. She is considered the protective energy of the feminine force.
Wife of the former Oba of Oyo called Shango (another Yoruba Orisha, see below) is said to have turned into a river in Osogbo. The Yoruba clerics ascribed to her Sensuality, Beauty and Gracefulness, symbolizing both their people's search for clarity and a flowing motion. She is associated with several powers, including abilities to heal with cool water, induction of fertility and the control of the feminine essence. Women appeal to her for child-bearing and for the alleviation of female disorders. The Yoruba traditions describe her as being fond of babies and her intervention is sought if a baby becomes ill. Oshun is also known for her love of honey.
Associated with Virility, Masculinity, Fire, Lightning, Stones, Warriors and Magnetism. He is said to have the abilities to transform base substances into those that are pure and valuable. He was the Oba of Oyo at some point in its history. He derived his nickname Oba Koso from the tales of his immortality.
The other wife of the former Oba of Oyo called Shango (another Yoruba Orisha, see above), she is said to have turned into the River Niger. She is often described as the Tempest, Guardian of the Cemetery, Winds of Change, Storms and Progression. Due to her personal power, she is usually depicted as being in the company of her husband Shango. Orisha of rebirth.
Babaloo Ayè


Orisha oko



Nana buruku
The mother of Babalu Aye





Irúnmôlè are entities sent by the Supreme (Olódùmarè) to complete given tasks, often acting as liaisons between Orun (the invisible realm) and Aiye (the physical realm).[3[[|]]] Irúnmôlè(s) can best be described as ranking divinities; whereby such divinities are regarded as the principal Orishas.


external image 220px-The_Childrens_Museum_of_Indianapolis_-_Egungun_masquerade_dance_garment.jpgexternal image magnify-clip.png
A Egungun masquerade dance garment in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
The Yoruba believe in reincarnation within the family. The names Babatunde (father returns), Yetunde (Mother returns), Babatunji (Father wakes once again) and Sotunde (The wise man returns) all offer vivid evidence of the Ifa concept of familial or lineal rebirth. There is no simple guarantee that your grandfather or great uncle will "come back" in the birth of your child, however.
Whenever the time arrives for a spirit to return to Earth (otherwise known as The Marketplace) through the conception of a new life in the direct bloodline of the family, one of the component entities of a person's being returns, while the other remains in Heaven (Ikole Orun). The spirit that returns does so in the form of a Guardian Ori. One's Guardian Ori, which is represented and contained in the crown of the head, represents not only the spirit and energy of one's previous blood relative, but the accumulated wisdom he or she has acquired through a myriad of lifetimes. This is not to be confused with one’s spiritual Ori, which contains personal destiny, but instead refers to the coming back to The Marketplace of one's personal blood Ori through one's new life and experiences. The explanation in The Way of the Orisa[9[[|]]] was really quite clear. The Primary Ancestor (which should be identified in your Itefa (Life Path Reading)) becomes - if you are aware and work with that specific energy - a “guide” for the individual throughout their lifetime. At the end of that life they return to their identical spirit self and merge into one, taking the additional knowledge gained from their experience with the individual as a form of payment.

Yoruba religion around the world

Main article: Yoruba history
According to Professor S. A. Akintoye, the Yorùbá people spread across the globe in an unprecedented fashion;[10[[|]]] the reach of their culture is largely due to migration of personnel. Some of this movement occured during periods that pre-date the Egyptian dynasties whilst the most recent migration occurred during the "holocaust" of the 13001900 AD. During the latter period many were assimilated into the trade and transported to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela and other parts of the World. With them, they carried their religious beliefs. The school-of-thought integrated into what now constitutes the core of the "New World lineages"."[10[[|]]][11[[|]]][12[[|]]][13[[|]]]:

Relationship with Vodou

The popularly known Vodou faith, said to have originated amongst a different ethnic group (the Gba speaking peoples of modern Benin, Togo and Ghana), shares some similarities with the religion.

Ifa: the religion of the Yoruba peoples


Yoruba refers to a group of cultures linked by a common language. They occupied an area bounded by the Niger River, and including what is now known as the Benin Republic, southwestern Nigeria, and part of Togo. They held a belief system in common: the Ifa religion.
Starting in the 16th century, large numbers of Yoruba natives were transported as slaves to the Caribbean and the Americas. They combined beliefs and practices from their Ifa religion with elements of Roman Catholicism to produce the syncretistic religions of Candomblé, Palo Mayombe, Santeria, Vodun, etc. These are now flourishing in the Caribbean, South America and North America, notably in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Grenada, the Guyanas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Tobago, and Trinidad.
Information on the Internet can be found using such search phrases as: Yoruba faith, Orisha worship, and Ifa religion. Searching for "Ifa" will not be productive because so many organizations have IFA as their acronym.
The original religions of Africa have been declining over the past century due to the influences of colonialism, Western acculturation and proselytizing by Christianity and Islam. However, in the Americas and Caribbean, syncretistic religions involving African religions are growing rapidly.
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Deities and other supernatural forces: Followers of Ifa believe in:

Olodumare or Olorun as the supreme deity. According to author Bolasi E. Idowu:
  • "He is supreme over all on earth and in heaven, acknowledged by all the divinities as the Head to whom all authority belongs and all allegiance is due. . . His status of supremacy is absolute. Things happen when He approves, things do not come to pass if He disapproves. In worship, the Yoruba holds Him ultimately First and Last; in man's daily life, He has the ultimate pre-eminence." 1
He is also referred to as: Oluwa (Lord), Eleda (Creator), Olofin-Orun (King of heaven), Orise (the source of all things) and Oba-Orun (The king who dwells in the heavens). 2

Orisha (a.k.a. Orisa; literally "head guardians"), who are considered as ministers of Olodumare and intermediaries between Olodumare and humanity. Estimates of their number range from 201 to 1,700. These correspond to the Orisha in Santeri and Orixa in Candomblé. They include:

Esu, an trickster deity who generates confusion but is also a protector.

Ibeji, the deity of twins.

Ogun, the god of iron, war, justice, and the chase.

Orisa-nla, a senior Orisha who created the Earth and humanity.

Orunmila, the oracle divinity.

Osanyin, the god of magic and medicine.

Osun, the goddess of the river Osun

Oya, the goddess of the river Niger.

Sango, the god of thunder and lightning.

Sopona, the divinity associated with smallpox.

Yemoja, the goddess of all rivers.


Spirits, psychic agencies, or forces of nature. They are often associated with trees, rocks, rivers, forests, hills, etc.

Ancestors from previous generations who have died, become spirits and yet who retain an interest in their families. They can "... influence living members of the family for good or evil, but their influence does not extend beyond their specific families. In short, they act as intermediaries between their living descendants and the orisa or Olorun." 2


Creation story: New Orleans Mystic 3 writes:
"There are many variations on the story of creation and how the Orisha were born from the coupling of Oduduwa and Omonide (Obatala and Yemaya). An example is given in this excerpt from Dr. Marta Maria Vega's "Altar of My Soul:" 4
      • "The Orisha Olodumare, the Supreme God, originally lived in the lower part of heaven, overlooking endless stretches of water. One day, Olodumare decided to create Earth, and sent an emissary, the orisha Obatalá, to perform this task. Olodumare gave Obatalá the materials he needed to create the world: a small bag of loose earth, a gold chain, and a five-toed hen."
      • "Obatalá was instructed to use the chain to descend from heaven. When he reached the last link, he piled the loose earth on top of the water. Next, he placed the hen on the pile of earth, and ordered her to scatter the earth with her toes across the surface of the water."
      • "When this was finished, Obatalá climbed the chain to heaven to report his success to Olodumare. Olodumare then sent his trusted assistant, the chameleon, to verify that the earth was dry. When his helper had assured him that the Earth was solid, Olodumare named Earth 'Ile Ife,' the sacred house."
      • "Before he retired to the uppermost level of heaven, Olodumare decided to distribute his sacred powers 'aché.' He united Obatalá, the Orisha of creation, and Yemayá, the orisha of the ocean, who gave birth to a pantheon of orishas, each possessing a share of Olodumare’s sacred power. At last, the divine power of Olodumare was dispersed. Then one day, Olodumare called them all from Earth to heaven and gave Obatalá the sacred power to create human life. Obatalá returned to Earth and created our ancestors, endowing them with his own divine power. We are all descendants from the first people of the sacred city of Ile Ife; we are all children of Olodumare, the sacred orisha who created the world." 5

Belief in magic: Oogun, egbogi and isegun refer to magic. When magic is used to cure or prevent disease, it is called medicine. Attempts to protect a person from sorcery, improve their financial situation, bringing good luck, etc. are referred to as magic.

Belief in witchcraft: Aje, eye and osonga refer to witchcraft. This is typically performed by female witches who are believed to harm people or property through the use of their psychic power.

Belief in sorcery: Oso, oogun ika or oogun buburu refer to sorcery or bad magic. These involve attempts to harm or kill persons or destroy their property through the use of negative rituals.

OgunIn the Yoruba and Haitian traditional belief system, Ogun (or Ogoun, Ogún, Ogou, Ogum , Oggun) is a orisha and loa who presides over iron, hunting, politics and war. He is the patron of smiths, and is usually displayed with a number of attributes: a machete or sabre, rum and tobacco. He is one of the husbands of Erzulie, Oshun and Oya and a friend to Eshu.
Ogun is the traditional warrior and is seen as a powerful deity of metal work, similar to Ares and Hephaestus in Greek mythology and Visvakarma in classical Hinduism. He is also prominently represented as Saint George in the syncretic traditions of contemporary Brazil. As such, Ogun is mighty, powerful and triumphal, yet is also known to exhibit the rage and destructiveness of the warrior whose strength and violence must not turn against the community he serves. Perhaps linked to this theme is the new face he has taken on in Haiti which is not exactly related to his African roots, that of a powerful political leader.[1]
He gives strength through prophecy and magic. It is Ogun who is said to have planted the idea in the heads of, led and given power to the slaves for the Haitian Revolution of 1804. Therefore, he is often called in the contemporary period to help the people of Haiti to obtain a government that is more responsive to their needs.

Mythical OgunIn Yoruba religion, Ogun is a primordial Orisha whose first appearance was as a hunter named Tobe Ode. He is said to be the first of the Orisha to descend to the realm of Ile Aiye or the earth to find suitable habitation for future human life. In commemoration of this, one of his praise names is Osin Imole or the "first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth". He is celebrated in places like Ekiti, Oyo and Ondo States. He is believed by his followers to have wo ile sun, which means to have disappeared into the earth surface instead of dying, in a place named Ire-Ekiti. Throughout his earthly life, he is thought to have fought for the people of Ire thus known also as Onire.
In Dahomey mythology, Gu is the god of war and patron deity of smiths and craftsmen. He was sent to earth to make it a nice place for people to live, and he has not yet finished this task.
In Voudou he is syncretized with //St. Jacques Majeur// (St. James the Greater) in his incarnation as //Santiago Matamoros// (St. James the Moorslayer).
In Santería and Palo Mayombe, he has been syncretized with Saint Peter.
In the religious tradition of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, Ogum (as this Yoruba divinity is known in the Portuguese language) is often identified with Saint George, for example in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However Ogum may also be represented by Saint Sebastian, as it is often done in the northeast of the country, for example in the state of Bahia. Officially Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of the city of Rio de Janeiro, which is located in the state of the same name in Brazil. Matthias Röhrig Assunção also notes that St. Anthony is often identified with Ogun in Bahia.[2]
In all of his incarnations, Ogoun is a fiery and martial entity. He can be aggressively masculine — much like the spirit Shango — but can also rule the head of a female or effeminate male initiate to whom he takes a liking. He is also linked with blood, and is for this reason often called upon to heal diseases of the blood.
Embodiment of OgunOgun comes to mount people in various aspects of his character, and the people who venerate him are quite familiar with each of them.
His possessions can sometimes be violent. Those mounted by him are known to wash their hands in flaming rum without suffering from it later. They dress up in green and black, wave a sabre or machete, chew a cigar and demand rum in an old phrase "Gren mwe fret" (my testicles are cold). Often, this rum is first poured on the ground, then lit and, finally, the fumes generated by this are then allowed to pervade the peristyle. The sword, or much more commonly the machete, is his weapon and he often does strange feats of poking himself with it, or even sticking the handle in the ground, then mounting the blade without piercing his skin.
Ogun is the lascivious (unruly) Orisa; one that would take multiple enclosures to the battle-front; some filled to the brim with gunpowder; pockets full of miracles; allowances of wine and others sealed-tight in polished minerals.
King of Ire,

Orphan's shield,



Landlord of terraced hills.
Ogun appears in other forms, such as
  • Ogun Akirun,
  • Ogun Ajero,
  • Ogun Alagbede,
  • Ogun Alara,
  • Ogun Elemona,
  • Ogun Ikole,
  • Ogun Lakaye,
  • Ogun Meji,
  • Ogun Oloola,
  • Ogun Onigbajamo,
  • Ogun Onire,
  • Ogun Onile,[3]
  • Ogun the wounded warrior. He assumes a Christ-figure pose which the people know well from their Christian associations;
  • Ogun Feraille. He gives strength to the servitors by slapping them on the thighs or back;
  • Ogun Badagris. He may lift a person up and carry him or her around to indicate his special attention and patronage.
In all of the varied aspects of Ogoun, however, there is the dominant theme of power and militancy which serves to exemplify his position as a spirit of war.


Olokun is considered the patron Orisa of the descendants of Africans that were carried away during the Transatlantic Slave Trade or Middle Passage, sometimes referred to in the United States by African-Americans as the Maafa. It works closely with Oya (Deity of the Winds) and Egungun (Collective Ancestral Spirits) to herald the way for those that pass to ancestorship, as it plays a critical role in Iku, Aye and the transition of human beings and spirits between these two existences.
Olokun is experienced in male and female personifications, depending on what region of West Africa He/She is worshipped. It is personified in several human characteristics; patience, endurance, sternness, observation, meditation, appreciation for history, future visions, and royalty personified. Its characteristics are found and displayed in the depths of the Ocean. Its name means Owner (Olo) of Oceans (Okun).
Olokun also signifies unfathomable wisdom. That is, the instinct that there is something worth knowing, perhaps more than can ever be learned, especially the spiritual sciences that most people spend a lifetime pondering. It also governs material wealth, psychic abilities, dreaming, meditation, mental health and water-based healing. Olokun is one of many Orisa known to help women that desire children. It is also worshipped by those that seek political and social ascension, which is why heads of state, royalty, entrepreneurs and socialites often turn to Olokun to not only protect their reputations, but propel them further among the ranks of their peers.

Yemoja-Olokun-Mami Wata connections

Some Afro-Cuban lineages worship Olokun in tandem with Yemoja (Yemaya/Yemanja). In the past Lukumi and Santería worshippers considered these two Orisha to be manifestations of one another, although Western devotees believe that they are distinct but kindred energies that were paired together during the Maafa as a way of preserving both Orisha traditions. In nature, the bottom of the ocean represents Olokun.
However in Africa, Yemoja is the divinity of the Ogun River in Nigeria and Olokun is considered the mother of all bodies of water. As such, she is the principal vicereigne to Olodumare in matters that pertain to both oceans AND rivers. In Edo State (the former Bendel State), Olokun is the patron Spirit of the Ethiope River. In Benin, the deities are referred to as Ebo', not Orisa.
In Nigeria and Benin, Olokun is sometimes worshipped in tandem with Mami Wata. They do have similar temperaments and personas.

Olokun priesthood

Lukumi Orisa worshippers in the United States and the Caribbean do not initiate Olokun priests. However, in their traditions, you can receive an Olokun shrine for personal prosperity. Omo Olokun or children of Olokun are typically initiated to Yemoja in Lukumi lineages. In other Orisa lineages and "sects" in the west, particularly Oyotunji, Anago and all indigene Orisa’Ifa, initiations to Olokun do take place. In addition, Olokun initiation can be undertaken by way of Benin spiritual lineages.

Two origin stories of Olokun worship

Benin is widely accepted as the home or origin of Olokun worsip. While most Olokun initiates in Africa are female, the legends that mark the beginning of Olokun worship feature stories of men being its initial worshipers.

The hunter

There was a hunter that resided in Urhonigbe in the Edo kingdom of Benin. One day, he ventured off into the woods on a hunting expedition. While chasing a bush pig, he was attracted to the river Ethiope where he was captured and taken to the bottom of the river by a band of spirits. It was here that he was introduced to the deity Olokun. He stayed in this underwater abode for three years and, in the course of those three years, he was encouraged to participate in spiritual rituals that went on all the time. By so doing, he learned the spiritual sciences and worship practices associated with Olokun.
Back in his home town, his family and neighbors assumed he was dead after being gone for such a long time. They were surprised to say the least when he returned on the day his three year tour ended mute (without the ability of speech), carrying a water pot on his head. His only response to their queries was to dance hysterically, much to the shock of the townsfolk. Eventually the crowd that had gathered began to mock his dance and it started what was to become a 14-day tribute of ritual dancing to Olokun. At the end of this period, the hunter began to talk again and chose to share some of his experiences. All skepticism about his story were eased as he began to do spiritual work that created positive results for those around him. He was named chief priest of Olokun at this point. Even until today, hunters re-enact this famous tribesman's life with the annual festival and Ekaba dance. Urhoniigbe's Olokun temple sits on the spot where he is said to have rested his Olokun pot on the 14th day.

The palm tree

In Ebvoesi, there was a boy named Omobe (rascal, troublesome child) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older, his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth, the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away, he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match! He immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent. Ancestors, Undergods and all others lost at his hands, even Ogun. Finally, he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on his spiritual powers.
During the match, Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to his head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared it his permanent abode as a sign of Omobe's arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits. When Omobe returned home, the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days, Omobe made sacrifices. On the last day, Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After this, Olokun loosened his grip on Omobe's life and gave him peace.
Even so, it was subsequently said to all rascally children that Omobe's lack of respect for constituted authority had landed him in dire straits and that if they did not alter their ways they might share the same fate.

Contradictory stories in Orisa culture

In Orisa culture, it appears that some stories contradict or compete with other ones. The disparities or differences that exist are well understood by indigenous practitioners. They are seen as a way by which the spirits recommend that one researches various avenues of traditional religion, worship, practice and initiation within the Orisa system. Furthermore, while the stories are regarded as fact, they are also understood to be indicators of historical and social factors, which obviously differ from region to region.

Communion with Olokun

Those with a connection to Olokun may experience her/his messages and healing through dreams and when in contact with the ocean. Priests may use mirrors in a divination system known as scrying, clouds (sky-gazing) and more familiar oracles like Merindinlogun (16-cowry divination) to communicate with Olokun on behalf of his or her self, client, community or nation.

A prayer to Olokun

Iba Olokun fe mi lo're. Iba Olokun omo re wa se fun oyi o.
I praise the Spirit of the vast Ocean. I praise the Spirit of the Ocean who is beyond understanding.
Olokun nu ni o si o ki e lu re ye toray. B'omi ta'afi. B'emi ta'afi.
Spirit of the Ocean, I will worship you, as long as there is water in the Sea.
Let there be peace in the ocean. Let there be peace in my soul.
Olokun ni'ka le. Mo juba. Ase.
The Spirit of the Ocean, the ageless one, I give respect. May it be so.

Relationships as allegories

In female form among the Yoruba, Olokun is the wife of Olorun and, by him, the mother of Obatala and Odudua. Other relationships are numerous, especially when the gender of Olokun changes. Again, while these relationships are taken quite literally, they actually serve to tell occult members which Orisa work well together in healing situations, as well as to provide historical references to relationships between communities that serve as centers or hosts to main shrines for each of these Orisa.
Olokun is worshipped in Benin, Togo and among the Edo and Yoruba in Nigeria.

OshunOshun, or Ochun (pronounced [ɔʃún]) in the Yoruba religion, is an Orisha who reigns over love, intimacy, beauty, wealth and diplomacy. She is worshipped also in Brazilian Candomblé Ketu, with the name spelled Oxum. She should not be confused, however, with a different Orisha of a similar name spelled "Osun," who is the protector of the Ori, or our heads and inner souls.
Ọṣhun is beneficent, generous and very kind. She does, however, have a horrific temper, one which she seldom ever loses but which causes untold destruction whenever she does. Oshun is said to have gone to a drum festival one day and to have fallen in love with the king-dancer Shango, Undergod of lightning & thunder. Since that day, Shango has been married to Oba, Oya, and Oshun, though Oshun is said to be considered his principal wife.

SanteríaIn Cuban Santería, Oshun (sometimes spelled Ochún or Ochun) is an Orisha of love, maternity and marriage. She has been syncretized with Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre), Cuba's patroness. She is associated with the color yellow, metal brass,[1] peacock feathers, mirrors, honey and anything of beauty, her principal day of the week is Saturday and the number she is associated with is 5.
In one of the stories featuring her, she is forced to become a prostitute to feed her children and the other Orishas subsequently removed her children from her home while she was away, apparently planning to use them as slaves. Oshun is then said to have gone mad with grief and to have worn the same white dress every day as a symbol of this madness; it eventually turned yellow. Ajé-Shaluga, another river Orisha, fell in love with her while she was washing the dress in a frenzied state one day. He gave her money and gems, which he collected from the bottom of the river he lived in. She used these items to liberate her children, and ultimately married her kindly benefactor.
Oshun has had many husbands. Different tales attribute husbands to her, including Erinle, Oshosi, Orisha Oko, and Aje'-Shaluga. She is also the sexual partner of [[#]], Shango and Ogun at different points.
Her children include the Ibeji twins, Idowu, and Logun Ede.

This article may contain original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding references. Statements consisting only of original research may be removed. More details may be available on the talk page. (December 2008)
The Importance of Oshun in Yoruba CultureAccording to the Yoruba elders, Oshun is the "unseen mother present at every gathering", because Oshun is the Yoruba understanding of the cosmological forces of water, moisture, and attraction. Therefore, she is believed to be omnipresent and omnipotent. Her power is represented in another Yoruba proverb which reminds us that "no one is an enemy to water" and therefore everyone has need of and should respect and revere Oshun, as well as her followers.
Oshun is the force of harmony. Harmony which we see as beauty, feel as love, and experience as ecstasy. She, according to the ancients, was the only female Irunmole amongst the original 16 sent from the spirit realm to create the world. As such, she is revered as "Yeye" - the great mother of us all. When the male Irunmole attempted to subjegate Oshun due to her femaleness, she removed her divine energy (called ase by the Yoruba) from the project of creating the world and all subsequent efforts at creation were in vain. It was not until visiting with the Supreme Being, Olodumare, and begging for Oshun's pardon (as advised by Olodumare) that the world could continue to be created. But not before Oshun had given birth to a son. This son became Elegba, the great conduit of ase in the Universe, the eternal and infernal trickster.
Oshun is known as Iyalode, the "(explicitly female) chief of the market." [2] She is also known as Laketi, she who has ears, because of how quickly and effectively she answers prayers. When she possesses her followers, she dances, flirts and then weeps- because no one can love her enough and the world is not as beautiful as she knows it could be.
Roads of Oshun in LukumiIn Cuban Lukumi tradition, Oshun has many roads, or manifestations. Some of these include:

Oshun Ibu Ikole -- Oshun the Vulture. This Oshun is associated with Witches (Aje), and her symbols are the vulture, and the mortar and pestle (both of which are symbols of witchcraft). In Cuba, her mythology says that this Oshun saved the world by flying the prayers of the dying world up to the Sun (Orun), where Olodumare lives. In West Africa, however, this myth is attributed to Yemoja.

Oshun Ibu Anya -- Oshun of the Drums. This Oshun is the patron of dancing and the Anya drums. She is said to dance ceaselessly to forget her troubles.

Oshun Ibu Yumu -- This Oshun is the eldest Oshun. She sits at the bottom of the river, knitting.

Oshun Ibu D'Oko -- Oshun, the wife of Orisha Oko. This Oshun is pictured as a furrow to be plowed and a giant vulva, while her husband Orisha Oko is a farmer and pictured as a giant phallus. This is one of Oshun's most obviously procreative manifestations.

Oshun Ololodi -- Oshun, the diviner. This Oshun is the wife of Orunmila, the Orisha of Ifá divination.

Oshun Ibu Akuaro -- Oshun, the Quail. The children of this manifestation of Oshun are said to be very nervous people.

ObatalaIn the religion of the Yoruba people, Obàtálá is the creator of human bodies, which were supposedly brought to life by Olorun's breath.
Obàtálá is also the owner of all ori or heads. Any orisha may lay claim to an individual, but until that individual is initiated into the priesthood of that orisha, Obàtálá still owns that head. This stems from the belief that the soul resides in the head.

Obatala in Yoruba religionIn Ile Ife: the dying and rising divinityAccording to mythical stories Obatala is the eldest of all orisha and was granted authority to create the earth. Before he could return to heaven and report to Olodumare however, his rival Oduduwa (also called Oduwa, Oodua, Odudua or Eleduwa) and younger brother usurped his position by taking the satchel and created in his stead the earth on the Primeval Ocean. A great feud ensued between the two that is re-enacted every year in the Itapa festival in Ile Ife, Nigeria. Ultimately, Oduduwa and his sons were able to rule with Obatala's reluctant consent. It appears from the cult dramas of the Itapa festival that Obatala was a dying and rising god. He left his Temple in the town on the seventh day of the festival, stayed in his grove outside the town on the eighth day and returned in a great procession to his Temple on the ninth day.
In Ifa: essence of clarityIn Ifa, Obatala energy is the essence of Clarity. Within the myriad of kaleidoscopic energies that comprise our universe, the energy of Clarity is critically important. It is Clarity that allows us to make the right decisions, to differentiate right from wrong and perhaps most importantly, to see the other energies as they truly are! All the tales, or pataki, of Obatala, are designed to illuminate this reality.
Theological viewsObatala is always referred to as The Orisa of the white cloth. White, in this sense, forms a perfect background for correctly seeing and identifying that which is around you. White is also viewed as a sign of purity, but, too often, thanks to the pernicious Christian Missionary influence on the Yoruba philosophy, this idea of purity has religious or moral implications. Instead, purity is another aspect of Clarity for this energy is unblemished, pure in its ability to discern. The moral judgment of Obatala is not based on this sense of Christian purity, but rather on this energies absolute ability to see clearly the total spectrum of energies or issues involved. Obatala is often seen as the Wise Old Man. Again, age and wisdom are simply representative aspects of increased clarity and judgment. Obatala is seen as the King of the Orisa. Again, this is not a power struggle or ego issue, this is simply a way of pointing out that Clarity of purpose, destiny and behavior will always take precedence when confusion or disagreement exists. Obatala is also viewed as the Judge. Obatala is said to have been the Molder of men. What more important aspect in our creation could be the imparting of Clarity into our being? When drinking too much Palm Wine dulled that Clarity, Obatala is said to have created deformed and handicapped people. This is pictured as his "fall from grace." That Red Palm oil is never placed on Obatala is another example of this. The Pure clarity must remain clear and unblemished. That Obatala represents the Head is consistent. It is from the mind that Clarity will come forth. Each and every tale is simply a way of expressing Oludumare's creation of this essential energy the energy of Clarity. For the Obatala child the expression and use of this primary energy is complex. The Obatala child will see a world of black and white. No Gray. To an Obatala child things are either right or wrong there is no middle ground.[1]
According to mythical stories, Obatala created people with disabilities while drunk on palm wine, making him the patron deity of such people. People born with congenital defects are called eni orisa: literally, "people of Obatala". He is also referred to as the orisha of the north. He is always dressed in white, hence the meaning of his name, Obatala (King or ruler of the white cloth). His devotees strive to practice moral correctness as unblemished as his robe. They never worship Obatala with palm wine, palm oil or salt. They may eat palm oil and salt, but never taste palm wine.
Oriki (praise names)
  • Oluwa Aiye or Oluwa Aye - Lord of the Earth
  • Alabalase - He who has divine authority
  • Baba Arugbo - Old Master or Father
  • Baba Araye - Master or Father of all human beings (lit. citizens of the earth)
  • Orisanla (also spelt Orisainla, Orishanla or Orishainla) or Oshanla - The arch divinity
Obatala's wives
  • Yemoo (known as Yembo in Cuba)
  • Yemaya
  • Igbin (who became a drum still played for him)
Obatala in Latin AmericaIn Candomblé

Statue of Obàtálá in Costa do Sauípe, Bahía.
Obatalá (Oxalá) is the oldest "Orixa funfun" ("white deity"), referring to spiritual purity and pure light, both physically and symbolically as in the "light" of consciousness). In the Bahia State (Brazil), Obatala has been syncretized with Our Lord of Bonfim and is the subject of a large syncretic religious celebration, the Festa do Bonfim, which takes place in January in the city of Salvador and includes the washing of the church steps with a special water, made with flowers.
In Santería

According to the "Regla de Ocha branch", Obàtálá has been syncretized with Our Lady of Mercy.
Other names
  • Obatalá
  • Osala
  • Oshala
  • Oxalá
  • Orisala
  • Orishala
  • Orixalá
  • Ayagunna
  • Ocha Griñan
  • Oba Moro
  • Oba Lofun
  • Baba Acho
  • Yeku Yeku
  • Orisha Aye (Orisa Aiye, Orixa Aiye, Orisha Aye, Orisa Aye, Orisha Aye)
  • Alaguema
  • Obanla
  • Osanla
  • Oshanla
  • Ochanla
  • Osalufon
  • Oshalufon
  • Ochalufon
SnailsThe snail Achatina fulica is used for religious purposes in Brazil as deity offering to Obatala as a substitute for the African Giant Snail (Archachatina marginata) that is used in Nigeria, because they are known by the same name (Igbin, also known as Ibi or Boi-de-Oxalá in Brazil) in both Brazil and Nigeria.


Yemal by Sallie Ann Glassman
Yemanja is an orisha, originally of the Yoruba religion, who has become prominent in many Afro-American religions. Africans from what is now called Yorubaland brought Yemaya/Yemoja and a host of other deities/energy forces in nature with them when they were brought to the shores of the Americas as captives. She is the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a protector of children.

Name variantsBecause the Afro-American religions were transmitted as part of a long oral tradition, there are many regional variations on the goddess's name. She is represented with Our lady of Regla and Stella Maris.
In some places, Yemaja is syncretized with other deities:
Yemeya is the mother of all mothers of Saint Lasado. She also is the spirit of water, and her favorite number is 7.
AfricaIn Yorùbá mythology, Yemoja is a mother goddess; patron deity of women, especially pregnant women; and the Ogun river. Her parents are Oduduwa and Obatala. There are many stories as to how she became the mother of all saints. She was married to Aganju and had one son, Orungan, and fifteen Orishas came forth from her. They include Ogun, Olokun, Shopona and Shango. Other stories would say that Yemaya was always there in the beginning and all life came from her, including all of the orishas.
Her name is a contraction of Yoruba words: "Yeye emo eja" that mean "Mother whose children are like fish." This represents the vastness of her motherhood, her fecundity and her reign over all living things.
Yemaya is celebrated in Ifá tradition as Yemoja.[1] As Iemanja Nana Borocum, or Nana Burku, she is pictured as a very old woman, dressed in black and mauve, connected to mud, swamps, earth.[2] Nana Buluku is an ancient god in Dahomey mythology.

The goddess is known as Yemanjá, Iemanjá or Janaína in Brazilian Candomblé[3] and Umbanda religions.
The Umbanda religion worships Iemanjá as one of the seven orixás of the African Pantheon. She is the Queen of the Ocean, the patron deity of the fishermen and the survivors of shipwrecks, the feminine principle of creation and the spirit of moonlight. A syncretism happens between the catholic Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of the Seafaring) and the orixá Iemanjá of the African Mithology. Sometimes, a feast can honor both.[4][5]
In Salvador, Bahia, Iemanjá is celebrated by Candomblé on the very same day consecrated by the Catholic Church to Our Lady of Seafaring (Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes).[6] Every February 2, thousands of people line up at dawn to leave their offerings at her shrine in Rio Vermelho.

Gifts for Iemanjá usually include flowers and objects of female vanity (perfume, jewelry, combs, lipsticks, mirrors). These are gathered in large baskets and taken out to the sea by local fishermen. Afterwards a massive street party ensues.
Iemanjá is also celebrated every December 8 in Salvador, Bahia. The Festa da Conceição da Praia (Feast to Our Lady of Conception of the church at the beach) is a city holiday dedicated to the Catholic saint and also to Iemanjá. Another feast occurs on this day in the Pedra Furada, Monte Serrat in Salvador, Bahia, called the Gift to Iemanjá, when fishermen celebrate their devotion to the Queen of the Ocean.
Outside Bahia State, Iemanjá is celebrated mainly by followers of the Umbanda religion.
On New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro, millions of cariocas, of all religions, dressed in white gather on Copacabana beach to greet the New Year, watch fireworks, and throw (white) flowers and other offerings into the sea for the goddess in the hopes that she will grant them their requests for the coming year. Some send their gifts to Iemanjá in wooden toy boats. Paintings of Iemanjá are sold in Rio shops, next to paintings of Jesus and other Catholic saints. They portray her as a woman rising out of the sea. Small offerings of flowers and floating candles are left in the sea on many nights at Copacabana.
In São Paulo State, Iemanjá is celebrated in the two first weekends of December on the shores of Praia Grande city. During these days many vehicles garnished with Iemanjá icons and colors (white and blue) roam from the São Paulo mountains to the sea littoral, some of them traveling hundreds of miles. Thousands of people rally near Iemanjá's statue in Praia Grande beach.
In Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul State, on February 2, the image of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes is carried to the port of Pelotas. Before the closing of the catholic feast, the boats stop and host the Umbanda followers that carry the image of Iemanjá, in a syncretic meeting that is watched by thousand of people on the shore.[7]
Cuba and HaitiShe is venerated in Vodou as LaSiren.
In Santería, Yemayá is seen as the mother of all living things as well as the owner of all waters. Her number is 7 (a tie into the seven seas), her colors are blue and white (representing water), and her favorite offerings include melons, molasses ("melaço" is sugar cane syrup), whole fried fishes and pork rinds. She has been syncretized with Our Lady of Regla.
Yemaja has several caminos (paths).[8] At the initiation ceremony known as kariocha, or simply ocha, the exact path is determined through divination. Her paths in Voodoo/Candomble include:
  • Ogunte: In this path, she is a warrior, with a belt of iron weapons like Ogun. This path lives by the rocky coastliness. Her colors are crystal, dark blue and some red.
  • Asesu: This path is very old. She is said to be deaf and answers her patrons slowly. She is associated with ducks and still or stagnant waters. Her colors are pale blue and coral.
  • Okoto: This path is known as the underwater assassin. Her colors are indigo and blood red and her symbolism includes that of pirates.
  • Majalewo: This path lives in the forest with the herbalist orisha, Osanyin. She is associated with the marketplace and her shrines are decorated with 21 plates. Her colors are teals and turquoises.
  • Ibu Aro: This path is similar to Majalewo in that she is associated with markets, commerce and her shrines are decorated with plates. Her colors are darker; indigo, crystal and red coral. Her crown (and husband) is the orisha Oshumare, the rainbow.
  • Ashaba: This path is said to be so beautiful that no human can look at her directly.
In the Congo religions, such as Palo Mayombe, Palo Monte, Kimbisa and Briumba, she is known as Kalunga, Mà Lango or Madré D'Agua—Mother of Waters.
In popular culture
  • The worship of Yemanja by the fishermen of Bahia, Brazil, is a central element of the 1936 Modernist novel Mar Morto (Dead Sea) by the famous Brazilian writer Jorge Amado, himself a native of that state. The book's wide publicity and translations to various languages made this goddess well-known to many people around the world - for example in Israel, where Hebrew books and songs make references to Yemaja, inspired by Amado's work (see Hebrew Wikipedia page he:ים המוות (ספר)).
  • In 1980, Héctor Lavoe performed "Para Ochún" on his album El Sabio. It featured Willie Colón on trombone and background vocals. The main verse repeats "Para Ochún y Yemaya" over and over.
  • In 1994, a house music track was produced, arranged and written by Little Louie Vega and his wife at the time, La India, called "Love & Happiness (Yemaya Y Ochún)" which features a Cuban chant/prayer dedicated Yemaya and her sister Ochún. The song can be found on Cream Classics Volume 2, or Renaissance: The Mix Collection [Disc 1].
  • As Yemanja, the goddess is also a very prominent subject of veneration by a Brazilian chef in the 2000 romantic comedy Woman on Top.
  • Yemaja, called with her Haitian name Lasirèn, plays an important role in Nalo Hopkinson's novel The Salt Roads.
  • In 2009, GaiaOnline released Yemaya's Pearl, an evolving item designed after her.
  • In the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island, the Voodoo Lady has a crystal ball she refers to as "The All-Seeing Eye of Yamalla".
  • In Helen Oyeyemi's 2007 novel The Opposite House, the frame narrative character is Yemaya or Aya for short, and the protagonist of the novel, who is of African and Cuban descent, is named Maja.
  • In the episode of the TNT series Saving Grace titled "Mooooooooo", Yaani King's character is seen apparently making an offering to Yemanjá after Earl transports her to Brazil.[9]
  • The novel Keeper makes references to her.
  • English rock band Queen Adreena composed a song called "Yemaya" on their debut album Taxidermy.[10]
  • In the HBO series True Blood, Season 4 Episode 6, Lafayette heals his boyfriend Jesús while channeling a Hispanic healer saying, "May Yemaya protect and heal you with the waters of the ocean of life. May the waves of her healing energy wash over you."
  • The novel The Invisible Mountain makes references to her.


external image 220px-Sopona.jpgexternal image magnify-clip.png
This carved wooden statue of Sopona was one of approximately 50 created by a traditional healer as commemorative objects for the CDC, WHO, and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication. It is adorned with layers of meaningful objects such as monkey skulls, cowrie shells, and nails.
Sopona (or Shapona) is the god of smallpox in the Yoruba religion.[1[[|]]]
The Yoruba people of Nigeria believed that smallpox was a disease foisted upon humans due to Shapona’s “divine displeasure”, and formal worship of the God of Smallpox was highly controlled by specific priests in charge of shrines to the God. People believed that if the priests were angered they were capable of causing smallpox outbreaks through their intimate relationship with Shapona.[2[[|]]]
Dr. Oguntola Sapara suspected that the priests were deliberately spreading the disease, and surreptitiously joined the cult. He discovered that the priests were causing the disease through applying scrapings of the skin rash of smallpox cases. Based on this information, the British colonial rulers banned the worship of Shapona in 1907.[3[[|]]] Worship continued, however, with the faithful paying homage to the God even after such activities were prohibited.[2[[|]]]
Shapona was exported to the New World in the slave trade, where he became known as Omolu or Babalu Aye in the Orisha religion.[4[[|]]] Shakpana is an equivalent in Dahomey mythology.

OyaIn Yoruba mythology, Oya (Alternative spellings: Oiá, Iansã, Iansan), is the Undergoddess of the Niger River. Oya has been syncretized in Santería with the Catholic images of the Virgin of Candelaria.

AspectsShe is seen in aspects as the warrior-spirit of the wind, lightning, fertility, fire, and magic. She creates hurricanes and tornadoes, and guards the underworld.[1] She is the spirit of tornadoes (which are said to be her whirling skirts as she dances), lightning (the power of which she acquired from her husband, Shango), earthquakes, and any kind of destruction. Beyond destruction, Oya is the spirit of change, transition, and the chaos that often brings it about. Her association with the marketplace, and more specifically with the gates of cemeteries (as opposed to the entire underworld), reveals her in her aspect as facilitator of transition. Oyá, when danced, often has a horse tail. Her clothes have all the colors but black. She has a face expression of really big and open eyes, and she breathes and blows up her chins, and often screams.
Oya's close association with the passage from life into death also means she is one of the few Orishas which are worshiped alongside the Egun ancestors, whose cult is most often distinct from that of the Orishas. In the stories of the faith, she can transform herself into a water buffalo. One of her preferred offerings is the eggplant.
NameIn Yoruba, the name Oya literally means "She Tore".[2] She is known as Oya- Iyansan,Oya - the "mother of nine." This is due to the Niger River (known to the Yoruba as the Oya) traditionally being known for nine tributaries. In Brazil, in Candomblé, she is generally saluted with the phrase "Èpa heyi!. while in Cuban-derived Yórùbá traditions, the faithful often salute her by saying "Hekua hey Yansa."
Connection to Other OrishasShe is closely associated with many Orishas, but most especially Chango, Oggun, Oba (Obba), Yewá/Euá and Ochún/Oxum. Oya is believed to have been Shango's favorite wife. She is also called "the one who puts on pants to go to war" and "the one who grows a beard to go to war".
As the deity of the wind, Oya manifests in Creation in the forms of sudden and drastic change, strong storms, and the flash of the marketplace. Her representation of natural disasters and death is not as arbitrary as it may seem, these factors often serving as a means of creation for her.
Oya is said to have a sister named Ayao who is received by some of her initiates. The ritual and existence of Ayao is questionable, and it is hard to trace her origins outside of the Lukumi system. Ayao is mentioned in books by Lydia Cabrera and surfaced in the United States in the mid-nineties (1994–1995).
SyncreticismOya has been syncretized in Santería with the Catholic images of the Our Lady Of Candelaria (Saint Patron of the Canary Islands in Spain) and St. Theresa. Her feast day is February 2.


In Yoruba mythology, Oshunmare (also Oshumare, Oxumare) is a divine serpent which is believed to create the rainbow,[1] both male and female, and is a symbol of creation, human procreation and the link between the world of the mundane and that of the ancestors.[1] This idea is more a part of worship in the Americas than it is in West Africa.[2]


In the pioneering works in African religious scholarship by indigenous and Western writers, Idowu, Mbiti, Parinder, Ray, Tempels, and others, have shown that Africans are not so intellectually impoverished as to be lacking in a sophisticated conception of the Supreme Being. Such a Being is recognized and given a premier position or status in their religions. These scholars have also identified some of the attributes of the Supreme Being within the indigenous African religions that they have studied. Some of these attributes have been very similar to those projected in the Christian religious understandings of the Supreme Being--omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, benevolence, divinity, creator, etc.
Their works have provided starting points for further research and discussion, but most students of religions have been wont to ignore this aspect of their worthy contribution to scholarship, and have rather taken their works as definitive and beyond question. Even when contrary views are aired, the pioneering works of these first African theologians, religious scholars, and anthropologists are often cited as authorities to uphold a point of view that was fast losing credibility.
The African, particularly the Yoruba, about whom Idowu, Mbiti and others have written, unarguably, possess a conception of Supreme Deity. In fact, this Supreme Being has many superlative attributes, but the possession of these qualities does not lead to the type of impasse or contradiction that arises within theistic Christian religion; namely, the irreconcilability of the existence of God and evil in the universe. Staying strictly within Yoruba religion, these writers present Olodumare as Christian God, Muslim Allah, and Esu as Satan or Devil. That this interpretation is wrong and misleading in the consequences it produces is argued here.
Supporting the need for his research into Yoruba beliefs in the Supreme Being, Bolaji Idowu says:
  • In all the previous works which have relevance to the religion of the Yoruba, the Deity has been assigned a place which makes Him remote, of little account in the Scheme of things. Very few people who really know the Yoruba can escape the uneasy feeling that there is something inadequate, to say the least, about such a notion; and it is the "uneasy feeling" that led to my investigation of what the Yoruba actually believe about the Deity (1).
Such a mistaken conception of the Supreme Being among the Yoruba is consonant with the general attitude of the European colonialist who, out of ignorance, derided the culture, custom, religion, political organization, science, commerce, etc., of the so-called "primitive" peoples of the world. Such an attitude easily excuses and justifies their actions in the subjugation and forceful appropriation of the colonies. Surely, a people that supposes the Supreme Being to be a little "higher" than some other being, or puts Him "first among equals" must be inferior to those people who place Deity above and beyond the level of other beings entirely (2). Such people need assistance, because
  • . . . the native says that he enjoys a life of complete idleness and repose, ... and passes his time dozing or sleeping. Since he is too lazy or too indifferent to exercise any control over earthly affairs, man on his side does not waste time in endeavouring to propitiate him, but reserves his worship and sacrifice for more active agents (3).
And, as Parrinder says, in a rather ambivalent way that exhibits his confusion and the dilemma of the foreign theologian scholar:
  • Polytheists who justify their worship of lesser gods, when pressed, may refer to the remoteness of the sky or at least to the more pressing demands of the other gods. These are nearer to him, more likely to intervene in his life, and easier of access. They might be annoyed if they were neglected in favour of one sole deity. Any priest will say that his god is a son of the Supreme Being, and that God speaks through His sons. But he will argue that he must obtain the favour of all the spirits, and not please one alone, lest the others withdraw their favour or power . . . He is thought to be more remote from human affairs and needs than the other gods which are his sons (4).
Further on he says:
  • On the whole, worship is irregular . . . Apart from occasional ejaculations made before a journey or an undertaking, many people do not seem to give God much place in their life . . . Prayers are offered to Him at any time and place, though generally these are individual prayers (5).
Finally, numerous issues of interest arise from these passages. Remarking on them is only to elicit how they have made this and similar studies necessary. First is the idea of deus incertus and deus remotus of Westermann that it echoes (6). Second is the conception of the divinities as the sons of the Supreme Being--an idea imported, (or smuggled as P'Bitek will say), into the conception of the relationship between God and the divinities from Christian religion. From all available data, there is scarcely any suggestion that Olodumare had any sons (7). Other divinities are his creations; some have been with him and are still messengers to Him and no one knows or contemplates their origin as such. Finally, the suggestion that God, because of His remoteness, is seldom worshipped or His peace of mind disturbed by unnecessary worries and that He is called everywhere and anywhere and at any time by (wo)men, seems to be an issue of self-contradiction. In fact, Idowu has pointed out the error in supposing that Olodumare is not worshipped (8).
Idowu, Mbiti, Awolalu, and even Parrinder (when the facts cannot be ignored) have the apparent contradictions in their own works, but these errors have persisted inspite, or because, of them (9). Kato, for example, as recently as 1975, says:
  • Most of his (Mbiti's) writings concern the basic philosophy of African Theology. The basic premise seems to be the presupposition that African traditional religions are well organized systems. It is assumed that the animist in Africa has not only known God truly, but that he has worshipped him (10).
On the next page he says,
  • But contradiction is not the worst problem of Mbiti's theology. It is this universalism that poses a threat to Biblical Christianity in Africa. His great enthusiasm in 'Africanizing' Christianity, while done in good faith poses a great threat to the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (11).
For Kato, traditional concepts of God in Africa are defective, inferior and unworthy of his Divine Supremacy. Only the gifted Semites of the first century had clear vision. One may ask what about Islam, and other world religions? His response is an obvious derision. He quotes Okite as saying of Mbiti's Concepts of God in Africa that:
  • . . . (the book) reads like a massive research project of St. Anselm's intended to prove that even for Africa, God is that than which nothing greater can be conceive (12).
Now, self-contradiction in a rational being at the level found by Kato is surely inexcusable, but threatening Biblical Christianity as the Pastor is professed to have done is a crime (sin) against his faith. How can any Christian make such a blasphemous comparison or analogy? Thus, his effort fails, as his belated attempt at an anthology aimed at showing African God as a being that which nothing greater can be conceived is doomed ab initio. We must wipe out all non-Christian beliefs, religions, cultures, ideas and (projected ad absurdum) all non-Christian peoples, to make the earth safe for the second coming of the saviour--unless they repent. The transplantation of Christianity (and Islam) and the Middle Eastern, Arabian culture with its Greco-Roman appendages must be total if humanity in Africa is to see the true light (13). Only the achievement of this goal would please Kato.
For brevity, one may systematize what has become glaring from the foregoing considerations. In the first place, the most early writers did not credit the African (the Yoruba) with any knowledge of God. Secondly, irrepressible facts have negated such a position, so the scholars now credit Africans (Yoruba) with ideas, concepts, and even, worship--no matter how minimally--of God. The period is that of development attendant upon the awareness created by African scholars steeped in Christian theological persuasion. Thirdly, the dispute then shifted from the ontological issue of the existence of God to people's conception of Him. That is, do these Africans (Yoruba) really have an adequate idea of this Imago Dei (14)? Where and how are they going to come by it? There is no Mount Sinai or Horeb, no green grazing pasture that spreads limitlessly, only dense forests! So, the revelations they can have must be of lesser divinities related to fertility, huge rocks, and trees! That is the position of Kato and those with similar intellectual pretensions.
Then, the onus has shifted back on the African scholar who has always been in a position of weakness. A colonized people need to struggle on all planes to assert their equal humanity with others. So, they introduced the fourth dimension of intellectual smuggling of their Christian beliefs into the religious terrain of Africa; they Hellenized and clothed the African God in borrowed garbs, as if He had always been nude!
In these attempts, some problems have arisen. This has been so because of the conceptual categories and attributes they have used. In this regard, Kato is right in accusing Idowu, Mbiti, Awolalu, etc., of Hellenizing African God. While Okot P'Bitek called for demythologizing and dehellenizing the African God, Kato has called for the eradication of African God, as it amounts to total falsehood (15). But these calls have not even considered whether such conceptualizations of the Supreme Being by the writers have been true to the available facts. P'Bitek's work stemmed from nationalism, while Kato's work stemmed from ecumenism. P'Bitek did show that intellectual smuggling is an academic crime that should be purged, but the implication of the cure and the cure itself consists in the elucidation of their mistakes. One of such mistakes was the absence of a clear discussion of the relationship between God (Olodumare) and evil. As Kato says:
  • Another problem in Mbiti's presentation is the absence of hardly any reference to evil attributed to God in African traditional religions (16).
Now, Kato seems to be saying that Olodumare is partly evil; that is his interpretation of the understanding of evil by Africans. This needs to be subjected to closer examination. It is this and related matters that constitute the point of departure of this essay from the works of Mbiti, Idowu, and others. When the African theologian scholars discuss the attributes of God among the Africans, they ignore the problem of evil. The attributes they ascribe to Olodumare are, according to Idowu, that he is creator, king omnipotent, omniscient, judge, immortal, and holy (17). In another work, Olodumare is unique, real, controller and one (18). According to Mbiti, God (Olodumare) in addition to those attributes listed by Idowu, has other attributes such as transcendence, immanence, self-existence, pre-eminence, greatness, causal powers, immateriality, mysteriousness, unity, eternity, plurality, mercifulness, kindness, love, faithfulness, and goodness (19). All these attributes, when co-present in the Supreme Being to the maximum, generate the problem of evil in any religion. This problem has remained a cancerous one in Judaeo-Christian religion (post Old Testament) and has been the source of truculent atheism, skepticism, and agnosticism. We will briefly examine this problem as it arises in Christian religion and ask whether this problem is equally or even ever present in the Yoruba understanding of God (Olodumare).
The theistic problem of evil can be properly appreciated if one apprehends the import of the following passage from Quinn. Of theistic religions, he says:
  • According to theists, human persons are called upon to worship God. Theists typically hold that their reverence and adoration are the appropriate responses to Him. This view presupposes that God deserves or merits worship. If a being were not worthy of worship, then surely worship directed at such a being would be widely inappropriate. But what features must a being have to be fitting and deserving object of worship? It seems clear that only a morally perfect being could be worthy of unqualified devotion typical of theistic worship. Moral goodness falling short of perfection might earn a being admiration but never adoration. This is why it is essential to theistic orthodoxy that God be thought of as perfectly good (20).
That Christianity and other theistic religions believe in God is a basic component of these religions. These religions would not have any further significance and would loose their followers and devotion if the God-head is detracted from. As such, affirmation of the existence of a perfect God is a necessity. However, the affirmation of the existence has often sprung from diverse cognitive directions and sources syncretized into an absolute epistemic criterion. To support the position that God exists, some would adduce revelation--that God disclosed Himself in varying degrees appropriate to circumstances to certain people such as Moses, Mohammed, and the writer of Revelations in the Holy Bible; some others will claim knowledge of the numinous by direct intuition from the innermost of their being; some will adduce moral grounds to support such knowledge; some others will use the nature of the cosmos to support their epistemic affirmation, while others yet claim the knowledge by a leap of faith. By whatever method of cognitive discovery God is arrived at within all forms of theism, certain attributes are said to be intrinsic to His nature to deserve the exalted and unparalleled devotion and worship.
While it could be philosophically interesting to critically analyse the validity or otherwise of the various epistemic sources and grounds for the existence of Deity, while atheism and agnosticism, and of course, theism, has been occasioned by this type of philosophical undertaking, this is not of direct relevance to our discussion of the problem of evil. Our concern is with the given-ness of Deity in theism. This given-ness also has certain attributes. It is the consequence of these attributes that brings into focus, against the background of factual and rational experience and contemplation, the problem of evil. Going back to Quinn in his very ingenious and lucid essay quoted from above, one clearly sees the ramifications of the issue. He avers that:
  • Theists also hold that God created the heavens and the earth. God is, therefore, responsible for at least some of the good and evil in the cosmos of contingent things. Theists cannot avoid grappling with the problem of evil. How could a perfectly good being create a cosmos containing less good than the very best he could have created? And if a being worthy of worship could create the best cosmos he could, is a theist committed to holding that this is the best of all possible worlds (21).
Thus, properly understood, the Divine Being, worthy of worship in the great scriptural religions (and here the reference points are Christian and Islam), has been conceptualized in such a way that He has all positive attributes in superlative and unlimited degree, and lacks all negative attributes totally. As the greatest conceivable Being, He is not in want of any positive attribute, or predicate.
But this is what experience seems to contra-indicate. For, if that being, so conceived and not otherwise conceivable, created the inhabited world of humans so organized, then one needs to account for at least the natural disease and evils that have recurrently plagued the universe created by this being. One may leave aside moral, economic, socio-political evils as being dependent upon man, and as such preventable if man so wills. Formulated minimally, the problem of evil for the theist is this:
  • If God is omnipotent, omniscient, creator (causa sui or prima causa)

  • All-loving, all-good, all-merciful, then how can we explain evil?

  • Does God cause evil?

  • If God does not cause evil, then who causes it?

  • Who created this cause of evil?

  • Was the creator of evil all-knowing, past, present, and future?

  • Or, is God actually all-good, all-loving and all-powerful but unable to stop evil-- which is patently absurd?

  • Or, does God not wish to stop evil (22)?
This is the dilemma that the theist has to squarely face! Christianity and other monotheistic religions, conceptualized in this fashion, do not seem to have any easy way of escaping either of the horns of the dilemma or of passing between. If they choose to say that God did not create evil, then it would follow that there either is no evil in the world, which is patently false, unless we redefine our concepts, or that someone else created evil, which means that God did not create everything. Even with this caveat, there would still remain the problem of accounting for who created the creator of evil--or else, evil is self-caused, which is equally unconvincing. If they choose to say that God did not wish to eradicate evil, then it could mean either He lacks the power to do so, or He is sadistic and malevolent, options which are totally unacceptable to the theist. There then seems no way of escaping the problem without either redefining and limiting the attributes of Deity or becoming an atheist, or at least, an agnostic.
The most popular attempt to deal with the problem in Christianity and Islam consists in saying that Lucifer, or Devil, or Satan, who was formerly God's deputy or right-hand angel, is the cause or originator of all evils in the universe. That he used to be a good angel charged with powers second only to that of God, but, that through conceit and conspiracy, he became demonic and totally evil. Thus, although capable of having appearances of temporary goodness, whatever schemes he may conceive are ultimately in the pursuance of his diabolical goals of evil. He is thus the Devil. What a good Christian and Muslim should do then is to bear his/her coat of armour and join God's salvation army and fight against the evil one--Satan, the prince of darkness.
Persuasive and simple as this seems, it cannot escape obvious objections or, at least, rejoinders. If God had been all-knowing and all-good, He would not have created Satan or Lucifer. If, par impossible, He did create Satan in error, then it should not have been too difficult for Him to rectify the error and improve or destroy Satan, unless He is not, contra hypothesis, all-powerful.
Before going further to consider this problem as it relates to Olodumare among the Yoruba people, it should be emphasized that the problem of evil did not arise within the context of Old Testament religion. There God could and did exercise His powers to suit the ends He designed and desired--which desire is coincident with ultimate up-rightness and justice, even though the justice is from the Jewish perspective. Hence, He caused the destruction of Pharaoh's army and used an earth tremor to destroy the walls of Jericho, while commanding Saul to utterly slay the Amalekites. There He was the Creator who stood firmly for justice and only forgave the penitent who makes atonement or remission for sins against Him and His chosen people. Nowhere was God regarded in the Old Testament as evil or as a weakling for doing these things that caused people great harm. Even the New Testament episode of sending demons into swine that later perished in the Sea was interpreted by the gospellers as something good--not minding the investment of the owners of the swine who were non-Jews.
On the extra-theological plane, one may ask the relevant epistemic questions as to the source of the knowledge of the creator of evil, Satan or Lucifer. Was it based on eye-witness experience? Was it based on inference derived from such an account? Was it mere speculation from the latter phenomenon of apparently inexplicable natural disasters and human suffering? How are we to fight an enemy about whom in all we know are partisan accounts? How do we even come to the knowledge that Lucifer is the origin of all evil and not just the fall-guy and scape-goat used for the deliberate desires and actions of a Theistic God?
Such questions will surely not be entertained by a committed theistic, yet they are relevant and should not detract from his commitment to his God as it will only further enhance his understanding of his God. I do not see how man is any worse for his knowledge that God is disposed to reward or punish with good or evil, depending on human goodness or evilness as the Old Testament does show.
It is purely an academic issue to start by saying that Yoruba people do have many divinities through which each group approach Olodumare it follows that one cannot speak of a Yoruba traditional religion. Such line of reasoning will only assist in detracting from the crucial task of understanding how the Yoruba conceive of evil before Christianity. As far as it is rationally possible, it should be stated emphatically that the problem of evil did not, does not, and need not arise within Yoruba traditional religion. In fact, this initial axiomatic assertion needs all the emphasis it can elicit; in spite of all efforts to show the contrary, only this conclusion seems the plausible and defensible one.
Olodumare has all the attributes which Idowu, Mbiti, Awolalu, Dopamu, and other theological scholars have annotated; that is, Olodumare is the origin of the universe and in the language of Anselm, He is the Being that which none greater can be conceived.
Let us consider some of these attributes, particularly those that have generated the dilemma of how to account for evil in Christianity. In this regard, we shall be brief and state the facts as they have been presented by other scholars and as found in Yoruba traditional religion.
(a) Olodumare is the Creator, Cause and Origin of all Things:

Here Idowu says:
  • . . . we have learnt that the divinities were brought into being by Olodumare and that the work of creating the earth was commissioned by Him. Everything in heaven and on earth owes its origin in Him. In His capacity as Creator He is known as Eleda-- "the Creator", "the Maker". He is the Origin and Giver of Life, and in that capacity He is called Elemi-- "the Owner of Spirit", or "the Owner of Life" (23).
The evidence that Olodumare is the creator of everything is displayed in virtually all accounts of the relationship between Olodumare and the Universe. Where He did not directly cause or create, He instructed the divinities to create and He supervised the creation work. So, He created both the good and the bad, the well-formed and the deformed, the rainy season and the drought. Through Him must be sought the cause of all things. And everything there is has a rationale and can be understood and used by the thoughtful and gifted like the herbalists and medicine men.
(b) Olodumare is the Most Powerful Being for Whom Nothing is too Great or too Small, Below or Beyond to Accomplish:

Here the powers of obas, ancestors elders, witches, herbalists, medicine men, divinities, etc., are all derived from Olodumare and are limited and limitable by Him. It is this feature which transmutes in the language of patristic and scholastic church-men into the concept of omnipotence, and this cannot be quarreled with, since the Yoruba obviously believe that all good and bad take their origin from Olodumare (24).
Here, as in the creativity of Olodumare, one should not be surprised that good and evil are all in the control and dispensation of Olodumare. Ultimately, each proper usage or improper usage of such power is subject to Olodumare's final pronouncement of judgement. His ways are such that evil doers never escape punishment.
(c) Olodumare's Knowledge is Incomparable and Hence Has no Equal:

Having avoided the usage of the classical and neo-classical diction of omnipotence, it is also advisable to avoid the nomenclature of omniscience in the description of the over-arching knowledge and wisdom of the Supreme Deity among the Yoruba people. This is not because it has built-in conceptual difficulties and engenders dilemmas. There is no disputing the fact that Olodumare has the greatest knowledge. However, the fact that some things happen "behind His back" or "without His direct awareness" has been borne out in the practical aspects of creation, sustenance, and running of the universe, here, there, and everywhere, including even the domain of Olodumare (Orun or heaven). He has had recourse to the use of Orunmila and Ifa, the wise ones and the means of discerning the situation of things past, present, and future.
This suggestion concerning the limitation of the knowledge of Olodumare might seem to be the one most open to controversy among those too used to the erstwhile tradition originated by Idowu and enhanced by the cross-pollination of religion. Hence, it is pertinent to buttress it with concrete examples from extant materials in Yoruba tradition.
In Idowu's works one finds: (i) the account of how solid earth was created reported the commissioning of some divinities to perform the job, how someone failed and how ultimately the task was completed by others and the report had to be carried back to Olodumare (25). (ii) Olodumare once consulted the oracle to find out about His possible death and we hear this Ifa passage saying:
Korofo, the cult of the underground

Is the one which consulted the oracle about Olodumare

and declared that his death would never be heard of (26).
Another one says:
Olodumare has rubbed His head with bar-wood dust (Iyerosun)

He will never die

(His) whole head is become exceedingly hoary (27).
All these are recorded in Ogbe (O) yeku by Idowu. The English translations provided by him do not seem to be either the most appropriate or the most accurate and faithful. The second line of the first Ifa quoted speaks as if it was not Olodumare that Himself consulted Korofo, the Ifa Priest of the Underground, but Korofo who did the consultation, without any request, about Olodumare. Also, the second one speaks of the oracle as supporting the immortality of Olodumare. However, properly understood, it will be obvious that it was Olodumare who consulted His wise men. In the same vein Okanran Osa says,
The young never hear that cloth is dead

Cloth only wears old to shreds

The old never hear that cloth is dead

Cloth only wears old to shreds

The young never hear that Olodumare is dead

Cloth only wears old to shreds

The old never hear that Olodumare is dead

Cloth only wears old to shreds (28).
Apart from the picturesque and onomatopoeic presentation of the stanza, one must bear in mind a crucial elucidation made by Idowu himself which is of singular importance in the consideration of Olodumare's attributes. He says:
The myth connected with this verse also has it that it was Olodumare Himself who sought the means of immortality. In consequence, he was told to make some sacrifices to provide Himself with a large piece of white cloth. When the necessary rite had been performed, the white cloth was spread over Him so that He was completely covered. From that time He became immortal (29).
Contrary to the earlier misleading translation, one must observe that Idowu was being faithful to his sources in this passage. Here he was able to purge himself of the shackles of Christian ontological categories and theological demands. There are multiple instances relating to the omnipotence, omniscience, and creativeness of Olodumare, but only one more instance will be cited. Thus, Idowu says:
  • . . . there is a story which has it that Olodumare Himself was once perplexed over a very important matter. All the other divinities tried but failed to tell Him the reason for His perplexity; only Orunmila succeeded in putting his finger on the source of the trouble…(30).
This shows that although Olodumare has the supremacy of wisdom, yet He has endowed a divinity with the task of divining the causes of problems, pronouncing cures or remedies and advising. To mellow the full implications of this fact Idowu then states:
Obviously, this story was formulated to enhance the importance of Orunmila without any realization that it might detract from Olodumare's attributes of "all-wiseness" (31).
Obviously, contra Idowu, this fact is neither anathemic to the Yoruba, nor does it present any incongruity in their perception of Olodumare. Also, it does not in any way detract the least bit from the "all-wiseness" of Olodumare. This is because he mistakenly supposes that since Olodumare created Orunmila and his wisdom in the first place, so, tapping from the resources of a created being cannot amount to a reduction in the attribute of the creator. Supporting this point Wande Abimbola suggests:
  • According to the myths, there were occasions when there being no physical barrier between heaven and earth, Ifa was summoned by Olodumare to use his great wisdom to solve problems for Him (32).
The faithfulness of Abimbola results from the fact that he was concerned with the corpus of Ifa as the embodiment of the wisdom of Olodumare as bequeathed to Orunmila. He was not concerned with a definition of the attributes of Olodumare. Later, he recounts a story of a quarrel between an Ifa priest and Orunmila, and how Olodumare had to ask for both sides to the dispute (33). The Yoruba do not see anything incongruous in this type of arrangement because justice demands fairness to all concerned in any dispute. Apart from that, "the child is wise, the adult is wise, is the foundation of which Ile-Ife is built", as the Yoruba popular saying goes, and it indicates that nobody should pretend to have all knowledge. We shall return to this and related issues later. For now, let us consider one other attribute of Olodumare, the Supreme Being among the Yoruba people.
(d) Olodumare is the Good Judge:

In Yoruba traditional religion many attributes are coincident in the goodness of Olodumare. These include impartiality of judgement, where a case is brought before Him He listens attentively to both sides. Others are holiness and benevolence. God dispenses justice with compassionate fairness, but He does not brook crookedness or pretentious smartness. As the Supreme King, after His court there is no other court of appeal for redressing wrongs; for this reason He does not take arbitrary decisions that conflict with the dictates of justice (34).
Now, occasionally, because of the limitation of our understanding of God, man may impute judgmental defects or actions to Olodumare, whereas, to the Yoruba, this only underscores the fact that Olodumare is beyond human comprehension. If we had access to all antecedent factors and future events it would be possible to completely understand Olodumare's action. Here only Orunmila has access to this type of knowledge and he uses the knowledge to assist the universe. The inescapability of judgement in Yoruba belief is remarked by Idowu as follows:
  • Olodumare is the final disposer of all things. He is the Judge. He controls man's destiny and each will receive from Him as he deserves. But here on earth judgement has already begun for every man according to his character . . . it is Olodumare who judges character (35).
And Mbiti says:
  • In many societies, it is believed that God punishes individuals through illness, misfortune, barrenness or death. The Yoruba consider God to be judge over all, and when misfortune befalls a moral offender, people say, "He is under the lashes of God" (36).
In a discussion of related matters, I wrote:
  • There is no doubt that God is the most powerful Being and that He has all the superlative attributes one can consider, but the Yoruba do no think that such a being cannot do evil or cause evil. It is part of the attributes of the Supreme Being to be able to utilize all things (37).
The implications of these attributes of Olodumare are that He is the most Powerful Being, the Creator, the Wise and Impartial Judge who exercises inexorable control over all in the universe. The problem of evil fails to arise within the context of Yoruba belief in Olodumare because a being with all the attributes stated above is conceivable as capable of both good and bad. He uses both for the ultimate good governance of the universe (38). In fact, to say that God does not or cannot do evil is to unnecessarily circumscribe His power. In this regard I had earlier stated:
Equally, some of the attributes of Olodumare are diametrically at variance with those of the Christian God. Consequently, some theoretical and doctrinal problems that arise within Christianity do not arise for Africans . . . The sources of evil are God-devised and help to maintain high moral standards. The Christian God is ever-merciful, slow to anger but quick to forgive (in fact He does not desire the death of the sinner but that he repent and be saved), whereas, the Yoruba Olodumare is a morally upright God who metes out justice here on earth and not necessarily in the hereafter where we are not sure anybody will witness and learn from it (39).
All the scholars we have considered have agreed that evil, as such, is not understandable. Nothing is intrinsically evil. We call something evil because it does not favor us or because it causes us distress. We may not know or understand the reason for the event or action, but ultimately it forms part of the overall design of Olodumare. His attributes do not preclude the device and use of evil for the betterment of society. God is the creator. He created everything, both positive and negative. Why? We cannot know. His ways are incomprehensible. God is the most powerful Being, hence, He does and can do anything, including good and evil. It is only natural that the most powerful Being should not suffer any handicap or hindrance, especially in the execution of justice. God is all-wise (omniscient) and knows all things. Ifa aids Him in this regard as the agent He created as the repository of wisdom and knowledge. There is no conflict in saying this. He still remains the overall controller of this being to whom He has entrusted wisdom. This is unlike the Christian God, who after having endowed Satan with powers second only to His own loses control over Satan. Finally, God is Judge; He judges all according to their deserts; He rewards uprightness and punishes evil.
Thus, Olodumare is more akin to the Old Testament Yahweh in his requirement of honesty and uprightness. This ensured law and order in the societies involved. When the Christian God is introduced, it become easy to sin all morning and afternoon and repent in the evening and have all your sins forgiven through a special dispensation of grace. This introduction created room for a permissiveness that has never been witnessed in Yoruba society before. A chasm was created over which no bridge was erected. Hence people swear on the Holy Bible and Holy Q'uran without qualms, while they balk when called upon to do the same for Ogun, Sango, or some other divinity. They find a convenient, but dubious, excuse in the denigrating, culturally enslaving explanation that swearing by Sango or Ogun is idol worshiping. Making a similar point, about Igbo religion Onuoha says that:
The traditional religion makes no apology for exposing the law of retribution. Every act of immorality disrupts the balance of the ontological order and God has ordained that the law of reciprocal effect should restore this order automatically. This law operates blindly like a reflex or a boomerang. The suffering incurred by every sin must be undergone. God's justice cannot be compromised (40). This system of justice prevents crime and criminal tendencies in society.
Questions may arise regarding the purely philosophical issues of how we discern the law ordained by Olodumare and how such a law operates and whether such a divine law is not weaker than a man-made humanistic scheme. One must, however, acknowledge that these academic issues do not bear any direct relation to the problems of communal life. These questions are relevant on the purely academic plane for any theologically based morality, not just traditional moral systems alone. Anyway, what better justification does one need than that anarchism and criminality were rare phenomena in traditional African societies--problems now plaguing so-called civilized societies that embrace theistic religions. This is the fact that some scholars have celebrated in their reference to a good old African past. This is not saying that there were no dark spots in this African past; there were wars and criminal activities, but these were easily controlled. In fact, no one deliberately does evil and gets away with it. Rituals only appease acts of omission or mistakes, mellows the punishment, and is payment for a crime committed in error. If the old system of oath making, swearing, and contractual agreements can be reinstated into the legal system one may witness a better dispensation of justice and a reduction of crime.
Secondly, one finds that the belief in punishment in the world of man enhances good behavior more than one that defers it till a time no one knows. Yoruba believe that those who secretly commit crime suffer secretly in silence. Apart from this, efforts are made to expiate crimes as it blemishes the offender, his family, his age-group, his clan, and his society. Grievious offenses call for death and excommunication, and stigmatize future generations. As unrecorded conventions, they have been more effective than all the legal codes enacted and which operate on the ability of a smart lawyer to pick loop-holes in the system for exploitation.
Finally, when one considers this system and the understanding of Deity, evil, and justice, one finds it really has more rational justification and a more humanitarian basis than the permissiveness that has eroded all norms of decorous behavior in present society. To me it is more reasonable to use the putative existence of a just Deity whose punishment is here and now, or visited on direct offspring (up to the fourth generation, as the Old Testament says) than allow the sinner to go on sinning, hoping that he will (may) one day repent. Thus, the Yoruba attitude to the new dispensation is that before the evil doer is punished in the hereafter, many serious and good things would have been spoiled.
The usual understanding and interpretation of Esu is as one of the major divinities among the Yoruba people. According to Idowu:
  • . . . Esu is primarily a "special relations officer" between heaven and earth, the inspector general who reports regularly to Olodumare on the deeds of the divinities and men, and checks and makes sure reports on the correctness of worship in general and sacrifices in particular (41).
This clearly shows that as a divinity capable of doing his duties as charged by Olodumare, Esu occupies a prominent position among the divinities. He discharges these duties without fear or favor. Thus, Esu is a good minister of God. He is the enforcer who ensures that due reward and punishment ensues on any action. He is, therefore, courted and even bribed. When such overtures fail to mitigate punishment, Esu is then given a bad name.
This has even been more so with the advent of Christianity and Islam. The new religions sought for equivalence of the Devil and Satan and found Esu a convenient one, because all those who force people to do the right things are always unpopular. Idowu, in spite of the above statement, was still compelled to champion the ambivalent understanding of Esu, when he said:
  • There is an unmistakable element of evil in Esu, and for that reason he has been predominantly associated with evil things. There are those who say that the primary function of Esu in this world is to spoil things. But even so we cannot call him the Devil . . . what element of "evil" there is in Esu can be found also to some degree in most of the other divinities (42).
The indecision echoed in this, and in many other passages in Idowu's works, has provided material for much fanciful interpretation and reductionism. Misinterpreted, Dopamu, in his recent book, Esu: the Invisible Foe of Man, labored extensively, but, to my mind, unsuccessfully, in spite of the intellectual competence and erudition he displayed, to achieve the much desired Christian and Muslim equivalence of Esu with Satan (43). This tendency was also present to a lesser degree in an earlier work Dopamu co-authored with Awolalu, as they both echoed the Idowu ambivalence regarding Esu in Yoruba religion (44). The dissatisfaction which Dopamu had with the mere confusing indecision exhibited in this jointly written book gave way to the outright equivalence of Esu with Satan in his own work. Hence he says:
  • In Yoruba belief, Esu is often associated with the power of evil referred to by Idowu. And it is in this sense that we shall regard Esu as we go on with our exposition of his figure, nature and character (45).
Dopamu's project would have served a dual end if it had succeeded: First, it would have provided an intellectual justification for an initially gratuitous and malicious translation of Esu as the Devil or Satan and the attendant introduction of the problem of evil into an alien cultural and religious environment. Secondly, it would have provided the first accurate treatment of an issue of interest across many disciplinary investigations.
Let us examine his grounds for equating Satan with the Yoruba divinity called Esu. These are: (a) Esu is Satan, because the Christian and Muslim Scriptures say so; (b) the Yoruba people seem to have accepted the equivalence by Christians and Muslims; (c) the Yoruba hold that originally Esu was not intrinsically evil, but he was disobedient and proud and became the embodiment of evil, always opposing and destroying that which is good; (d) since the Yoruba put the responsibility for all evil and suffering elsewhere instead of with Olodumare, then Esu must be the cause, along with his agents; (e) that since Esu is overwhelmingly versatile and capricious, his evil nature over-shadows his good; (f) Awolalu believes with Idowu that there is an element of evil in Esu. Hence, Dopamu, concludes that Esu is Satan or the Devil of the New Testament--an out and out evil being.
These do not seem to me to be cogent arguments on which to anchor such a critical conclusion as the religious, metaphysical, moral, cultural, and linguistic one that Esu is Satan and, in effect, stand Yoruba tradition on its head. In the first place, that the scriptures translate Satan as Esu does not justify such translation. In the search by the foreign religionists for an appropriate equivalence of Satan, the nearest divinity was latched upon, regardless of differences, and without any advance warning that such a translation is totally arbitrary and one of mere convenience. Many Yoruba words have been similarly translated, leading to the continued commission of the error of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and confusion against which Sodipo and Hallen warned in the first chapter of their seminal book, Knowledge, Belief and Witchcraft (46). There, following Quine, they argued against unguarded word for word translation of one linguistic term into another because of indeterminacy of meaning between the first and second language.
Secondly, that the Yoruba have accepted the translation provided by these devotees of the new faith does not mean that the translation is accurate; a lie repeated often enough easily takes on a garb of truth. This is more often than not the case since daily the various religious teachers keep drumming it into the ears of the Yoruba that they were wrong ab initio in their conception of Esu whereas the scriptures were right. The fear of eternal damnation in hell-fire (also a new phenomenon in the religious terrain of the Yoruba people) ensures silence even in the face of blatant falsehood.
Thirdly, nowhere do we find Esu as being willfully and maliciously disobedient or proud to Olodumare, contrary to the imputation resulting from the Biblical fall from favour of Lucifer. He might have been boastful because he upholds justice without fear or favor, but neither Idowunor Awolalu, nor Dopamu himself, have been able to justify this. The passage to which Dopamu refers in the work of Lijadu shows that, unlike the intractable Satan of the Scriptures, both Olodumare and Orunmila can and have always been able to overpower Esu (47). Tradition shows that Esu is an indispensable friend of all the other divinities and an intermediary between Orun and Aye. Where then is the equivalence that the Yoruba Esu is Satan?
Fourthly, we come to a very crucial issue that deserves very careful attention. This concerns the belief ascribed to the Yoruba people by Dopamu that, since the Yoruba believe that God does no evil, it must mean that it is Satan or Esu that is responsible for all evil. As we have repeatedly said, the Yoruba believe that Olodumare can use both good and bad in the process of ensuring justice. In doing so, Esu is instrumental in a large measure. He carries out the will of Olodumare most of the time. He can favor or disfavor one, depending on the moral probity of the individual concerned. If Olodumare ordains a law, if the divinities, the ancestors, the society make laws and someone breaks them, what better officer can enforce the law than the legitimate custodian of the law? This is what Esu does. The absolute polarity of good and evil makes no sense in the understanding of either Esu or Olodumare.
Fifth, the overwhelming versatility of Esu results from the task entrusted to him, while the "capriciousness" attributed to him is based on the fact that one may never know whether one has broken the law or not. It is only when suffering or setback results that the person suspects the contravention of a law. Finally, the fact that someone believes that some element of evil exists in Esu as in other divinities, does not make those other divinities to be all evil, nor does it make Esu evil. It needs to be emphasized that the Yoruba believe that both good and bad always go hand in hand.
As this essay is primarily concerned with an exposition of Olodumare as believed by the Yoruba people traditionally, the phenomenon of Esu is only of secondary relevance. Because of its link with the problem of evil one may end this section with some cross-reference of materials. Of relevance here is Onuoha's discussion of Igbo religion in related matters. He says:
They do not think to assign a separate ultimate cause to evil since they realize that evil is an imperfection, a not-entity, the absence of good or being. Evil does not require a cause. It is the Christians who have elevated Ekwensu to the rank of anti-God or Satan. Igbo religion has no room for such an "evil incarnate" or devil who does nothing but evil.(48)
Similarly, Mugo Gatheru ssuggests:
  • When the missionaries brought the Bible to the Kikuyu, our people understood the Old Testament right away, for many of the customs of the ancient Jews were very much like ours. Like the Hebrew people of old, the Kikuyu are God-fearing people . . . They had no idea, of course, about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the devil . . . They had no Devil either (49).
These passages represent the situation among many traditional African societies. But the influence of faith and the need to explain a phenomenon in a new language has affected the understanding and interpretation of the religion and culture of the Yoruba people. The import of this socially, economically, politically, culturally, etc., as of other influences, has only begun to be felt as acutely as possible in the disintegration of the Nigerian and other African societies. Here, Babayemi's words are extremely relevant. He said:
  • It is also to be understood that while in Christianity and Islam, there is the structural opposition between God and the devil, that is, the forces of evil constantly confront God's work to destroy it. There is no such structural opposition in the African concept. In fact, the Yoruba Esu could not adequately represent the Christian Devil or the Islamic Satan; Esu in Yoruba is not opposed to God's work . . .(50).
In this essay, I have attempted to show that the imposition of foreign interpretations on Olodumare has created dilemmas which are unresolved, and apparently irresolvable, thereby generating atheism and agnosticism. I also argued that this has led to deleterious social, moral, economic, political, and cultural beliefs. Thus, there is the implicit call to a reappraisal of Yoruba and other African religious traditions and cultural background, but not with a view of going back into the "dark ages", but one of building a humane, law-abiding, responsible society. The discussion of some of the attributes of Olodumare only serves to accentuate the fact that the problem of evil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is alien to our Yoruba ancestors. The pioneering works of the first African theologians and scholars should be taken as pathfinders and not as the finale of all research and investigation, to be repeatedly parroted as the truth (50).

Oyo Empire

Oyo Empire

before the fourteenth century CE–1905


Yoruba religion
Constitutional Monarchy
- legendary
- 1888-1905
Adeyemi I Alowolodu
Oyo Mesi and Ogboni
Historical era
Middle Ages
- Established
before the fourteenth century CE
- Disestablished
- 1680[1]
150,000 km2 (57,915 sq mi)
The Oyo Empire was a Yoruba empire of what is today southwestern Nigeria. The empire was established before the 14th century and grew to become one of the largest West African states encountered by European explorers. It rose to preeminence through its possession of a powerful cavalry and wealth gained from trade. The Oyo Empire was the most politically important state in the region from the mid-17th to the late 18th century, holding sway not only over most of the other kingdoms in Yorubaland, but also over neighbouring states, most notable being the Fon Kingdom of Dahomey in the contemporary Republic of Benin.

Legendary Origins

The legendary origins of the Oyo Empire lie with Oranyan (also known as Oranmiyan), the second prince of the Yoruba Kingdom of Ile-Ife (Ife). Oranyan made an agreement with his brother to launch a punitive raid on their northern neighbors for insulting their father Oba (King) Oduduwa, the first Ooni of Ife. On the way to the battle, the brothers quarreled and the army split up.[2] Oranyan's force was too small to make a successful attack, so he wandered the southern shore until reaching Bussa. There the local chief entertained him and provided a large snake with a magic charm attached to its throat. The chief instructed Oranyan to follow the snake until it stopped somewhere for seven days and disappeared into the ground. Oranyan followed the advice and founded Oyo where the serpent stopped. The site is remembered as Ajaka. Oranyan made Oyo his new kingdom and became the first "oba" (meaning 'king' or 'ruler' in the Yoruba language) with the title of "Alaafin of Oyo" (Alaafin means 'owner of the palace' in Yoruba), leaving all his treasures in Ife and allowing another king named Adimu to rule there.[3]

Early Period

Oranyan, the first oba (king) of Oyo, was succeeded by Oba Ajaka, Alaafin of Oyo. Ajaka was deposed, because he lacked Yoruba military virtue and allowed his sub-chiefs too much independence. Leadership was then conferred upon Ajaka's brother, Shango, who was later deified as the deity of thunder and lightning. Ajaka was restored after Shango's death. Ajaka returned to the throne thoroughly more warlike and oppressive. His successor, Kori, managed to conquer the rest of what later historians would refer to as metropolitan Oyo.[4] According to recent research, this account recorded by Johnson in Oyo at the end of the nineteenth century reflects events in the Ancient Near East which occurred in the ninth century BC.[5]


The heart of metropolitan Oyo was its capital at Oyo-Ile, (also known as Katunga or Old Oyo or Oyo-oro).[6] The two most important structures in Oyo-Ile was the 'afin' or palace of the Oba and his market. The palace was at the center of the city close to the Oba's market called 'Oja-oba'. Around the capital was a tall earthen wall for defense with 17 gates. The importance of the two large structures (the palace and the Oja Oba) signified the importance of the king in Oyo.

Nupe Occupation

Oyo had grown into a formidable inland power by the end of the 14th century. For over a century, the Yoruba state had expanded at the expense of its neighbors. Then, during the reign of Onigbogi, Oyo suffered military defeats at the hands of the Nupe led by Tsoede.[7] Sometime around 1535, the Nupe occupied Oyo and forced its ruling dynasty to take refuge in the kingdom of Borgu.[8] The Nupe went on to sack the capital, destroying Oyo as a regional power until the early 17th century.[9]

Imperial Period

Oyo went through an interrugnum of 80 years as an exiled dynasty after its defeat by the Nupe. Oyo then reemerged, more centralized and expansive than ever. It would not be satisfied with simply retaking Oyo but with the establishment of its power over a vast empire.[8] During the 17th century Oyo began a long stretch of growth, becoming a major empire.[9] Oyo never encompassed all Yoruba-speaking people but it was by far the most populous kingdom in Yoruba history.[10]

Reconquest and Expansion

The key to Yoruba reconquest of Oyo would be a stronger military and a more centralized government. Taking a cue from their Nupe enemies (whom they called "Tapa"), the Yoruba rearmed not only with armor but cavalry.[8] Oba Ofinran, Alaafin of Oyo, succeeded in regaining Oyo's original territory from the Nupe.[7] A new capital, Oyo-Igboho, was constructed, and the original became known as Old Oyo.[7] The next oba, Egunoju, conquered nearly all of Yorubaland.[7] After this, Oba Orompoto led attacks to obliterate the Nupe to ensure Oyo was never threatened by them again.[7] During the reign of Oba Ajiboyede was the first Bere festival, an event that would retain much significance among the Yoruba long after the fall of Oyo.[7] And it was under his successor, Abipa, that the Yoruba were finally compelled to repopulate Oyo-Ile and rebuild the original capital.[7] Despite a failed attempt to conquer the Benin Empire sometime between 1578 and 1608,[7] Oyo continued to expand. The Yoruba allowed autonomy to the southeast of metropolitan Oyo where the non-Yoruba areas could act as a buffer between Oyo and Imperial Benin.[11] By the end of the 16th century, the Ewe and Aja states of modern Benin were paying tribute to Oyo.[12]

The Dahomey Wars

The reinvigorated Oyo Empire began raiding southward at least as early as 1682.[13] By the end of its military expansion, Oyo's borders would reach to the coast some 200 miles southwest of its capital.[14] It met very little serious opposition after its failure against Benin until the early 18th century. In 1728, the Oyo Empire invaded the Kingdom of Dahomey in a major and bitter campaign.[13] The force that invaded Dahomey was entirely composed of cavalry.[15] Dahomey, on the other hand, possessed no cavalry but many firearms. These firearms proved effective in scaring the horses of Oyo's cavalry and preventing them charging.[16] Dahomey's army also built fortifications such as trenches, which forced the Oyo army to fight as infantry.[17] The battle lasted four days, but the Yoruba were eventually victorious after their reinforcements arrived.[17] Dahomey was forced to pay tribute to Oyo after the latter's hard-fought victory. This would not end the fighting, however, and the Yoruba would invade Dahomey a total of seven times before the little kingdom was fully subjugated in 1748.[18]

Later conquest

Oyo's cavalry enabled them to launch campaigns of conquest and suppression over great distances. The Oyo army also proved capable of surmounting fortifications but had to withdraw when supplies ran out to feed the army.[19] It is also notable that Oyo didn't use guns in its major conquest. Furthermore, guns were little use against Oyo's army, which is possibly why they waited until the 19th century to adopt them.[19] In 1764, a joint Oyo-Dahomey force crushed an Asante army.[13] The Oyo victory would define borders between the two states.[13] Oyo led a successful campaign into Mahi territory north of Dahomey in the late 18th century.[13] The Yoruba also used the forces of their tributaries. A striking example of this is the 1784 naval blockade by an Oyo-Dahomey-Lagos force of Badagri.[20]


The original incarnation of Oyo consisted of metropolitan Oyo and little more. But with the advent of its imperial expansion, Oyo was reorganized to better manage its vast holdings within and outside of Yorubaland. It was divided into four layers defined by relation to the core of the empire.[21] These layers were Metropolitan Oyo, southern Yorubaland, the Egbado Corridor and Ajaland.

Metropolitan Oyo

Metropolitan Oyo corresponded, more or less, to the Oyo state prior to the Nupe invasion.[21] This was the hub of the empire where the Yoruba spoke the Oyo dialect.[11] Metropolitan Oyo was divided into six provinces with three on the west side of the Ogun River and three to the river's east.[11] Each province was supervised by a governor appointed directly by the Alaafin of Oyo.[22]


The second layer of the empire was composed of the towns closest to Oyo-Ile, whom were recognized as brothers.[21] This area was south of metropolitan Oyo, and its Yoruba inhabitants spoke different dialects from that of Oyo.[11] These tributary states were led by their own rulers titled Obas.[22] These vassal courts were headed by their native leaders (according to local custom) but had to be confirmed by the Alaafin of Oyo.[22]

Egbado Corridor

The empire's third layer was the Egbado Corridor southwest of Yorubaland. This area was inhabited by the Egba and Egbado and was very valuable in respect to Oyo's trade with the coast. The Egba and Egbado tributaries were allowed, like their Yoruba counterparts, to rule themselves. They were, however, supervised by Ajele.[21] These were agents appointed by the Alaafin of Oyo to oversee his interest and monitor commerce. The lead representative of Oyo in the corridor was the Olu, ruler of the town of Ilaro.[14]


Ajaland was the last layer added to the empire and also the most restive since tribute could only be exacted by threat of far-flung expeditions.[21] This territory extended from the non-Yoruba areas west of the Egbado Corridor far into Ewe controlled territory in modern Togo.[11] This area, like all tributary states, was allowed a fair degree of autonomy as along as taxes were paid, the orders from Oyo were strictly followed and access to local markets was made available to Oyo merchants.[12] Tribute was often taken in slaves, and if that meant the tributary had to make war on someone to get them (as with Dahomey), so be it.[23] To disobey commands sent from Oyo meant wholesale slaughter of the community, as occurred in Allada in 1698.[12]

Political structure

The Oyo Empire developed a highly sophisticated political structure to govern its territorial domains. It is unknown precisely how much of this structure existed prior to the Nupe invasion. Some of Oyo's institutions are clearly derivative of early accomplishments in Ife. After reemerging from exile in the early 17th century, Oyo took on a noticeably more militant character. The influence of an aggressive Yoruba culture is exemplified in the standards placed on the oba (king) and the roles of his council.

The Alaafin of Oyo

The oba (meaning 'king' in the Yoruba language) at Oyo who was referred to as the Alaafin of Oyo, (Alaafin means 'owner of the palace' in Yoruba), was the head of the empire and supreme overlord of the people.[24] He was responsible for keeping tributaries safe from attack, settling internal quarrels between sub-rulers, and mediating between those sub-rulers and their people.[24] The Alaafin of Oyo was also expected to lavish his subordinates with honors and gifts.[24] In return, all sub-rulers had to pay homage to the Oba and renew their allegiance at annual ceremonies.[22] The most important of these was the Bere festival marking the acclimation of successful rule by the Alaffin.[22] After the Bere festival there was supposed to be peace in Yorubaland for three years.[22]
Selection of the Alaafin
The Oyo Empire was not a hereditary monarchy, nor an absolute one.[24] The Alaafin of Oyo was carefully selected by the Oyo Mesi and was not always directly related to his predecessor, though he did have to be descended from Oranyan (also known as Oranmiyan), a son of Oduduwa (also known as Odudua, Odua ) and to hail from the Ona Isokun ward (which is one of the three royal wards).[24] At the beginning of the Oyo Empire it was usually the Alaafin's oldest son that succeeded his father to the throne. However, this sometimes led to the oldest son i.e. the first born prince, the Aremo, hastening the death of his father. Independently of the possible succession to his father, the Aremo was quite powerful in his own right. For instance, by custom the Alaafin abstained from leaving the palace, except during the important festivals, which curtailed his power in practice. By contrast, the Aremo often left the palace. This led noted historian Johnson to observe: "The father is the king of the palace, and the son the King for the general public".[25] The two councils which checked the Alaafin had a tendency to select a weak Alaafin after the reign of a strong one to keep the office from becoming too powerful.[26]
The Ilari
Certain religious and government officials, usually eunuchs, were appointed by the Alaafin of Oyo.[27] These officials were known as the ilari or half-heads because of the custom of shaving half of their heads and applying what was believed to be a magical substance into it.[28] There were hundreds of Ilari divided evenly among the sexes.[28] Junior members of the Ilari did menial tasks while seniors acted as guards or sometimes messengers to the other world via sacrifice.[28] They had titles referencing the king such as oba l'olu ("the king is supreme") or madarikan ("do not oppose him").[28] They also carried fans of green or red as credentials.[28]
All sub-courts of Oyo had Ilari who acted as both spies and taxmen[22] Oyo appointed these to visit and sometimes reside in Dahomey and the Egbado Corridor to collect taxes and spy on Dahomey's military successes so that the Alaafin of Oyo could get his cut.[29] Similar, though far older, officials existed in Ife as attested by terracotta art depicting them.[29]

The Councils

While the Alaafin of Oyo was supreme overlord of the people, he was not without checks on his power. The Oyo Mesi and the Yoruba Earth cult known as Ogboni kept the Oba's power in check.[27] The Oyo Mesi spoke for the politicians while The Ogboni spoke for the people backed by the power of religion.[26] The power of the Alaafin of Oyo in relation to the Oyo Mesi and Ogboni depended on his personal character and political shrewdness.
The Oyo Mesi
The Oyo Mesi were seven principal councilors of the state. They constitute the Electoral Council and possess legislative powers close to that of today's United States Congress. The Bashorun, Agbaakin, Samu, Alapini, Laguna, Akiniku and a Ashipa are the seven members of this council. They represent the voice of the nation and on them rests the chief responsibility of protecting the interest of the empire. The Alafin must take counsil with them whenever any important matter affecting the state occurs. each of them has a state duty to perform at court every morning and afternoon and a special deputy, attached to them whom they send to the Alafin at the other times when their absence is unavoidable.
Their political power was tied to their control of the military. The head of the council, The Bashuron, consulted the Ifa oracle for approval from the gods. Thus, new alafins of Oyo were seen as appointed by the gods. They were regarded as "Ekeji Orisa" meaning "companion of the gods." The Bashuron was a sort of prime minister. He has the final say on the nomination of the new Alafin. The Oyo Mesi was organized in order to have a check on the Alafin's power. Before making a political decision, the Alafin was required to consult first with the Oyo Mesi. The control of the Oyo Mesi was so great that the Bashorun's powermrivaled that of the Alafin himself. For example, the Bashorun served as the commander in chief of the army and orchestrated many religious festivals, positions which granted him both militaristic and religious authority above the king.
The most important job of the Oyo Mesi was the selection of the Alafin.
The Ogboni
The Oyo Mesi does not enjoy an absolute power or influence, and while the Oyo Mesi may wield political influence, the Ogboni represented the popular opinion backed by the authority of religion, and therefore the view of the Oyo Mesi could be moderate by the Ogboni. And most interestingly, there are checks and balances on the power of the Alafin and the Oyo Mesi and thus no one is arrogated absolute power. The Ogboni was a very powerful secret society composed of freemen noted for their age, wisdom and importance in religious and political affairs.[27] Its members enjoyed immense power over the common people due to their religious station. A testament to how widespread the institution was is the fact that there were Ogboni councils at nearly all sub-courts within Yorubaland.[27] Aside from their duties in respect to the worship of the earth, they were responsible for judging any case dealing with the spilling of blood.[27] The leader of the Ogboni, the Oluwo, had the unqualified right of direct access to the Alaafin of Oyo on any matter.[27]

Removing an Alaafin of Oyo

Chief among the responsibilities of the Bashorun was the all important festival of Orun. This religious divination, held every year, was to determine if the members of the Mesi still held favor with the Alafin. If the council decided on the disapproval of the Alafin, the Bashorun presented the Alafin with an empty calabash, or parrot's egg as a sign that he must commit suicide. This was the only way to remove the Alafin because he could not be legally deposed. Once given the parrot's egg, the Bashorun would proclaim, "the gods reject you, the people reject you, the earth rejects you." The Alafin, his eldest son, and the Samu, his personal counselor and a member of the Oyo Mesi all had to commit suicide in order to renew the government all together. The process and suicide ceremony took place during the Orun festival.


There was a high degree of professionalism in the army of the Oyo Empire.[30] Its military success was due in large part to its cavalry as well as the leadership and courage of Oyo officers and warriors.[30] Because its main geographic focus was north of the forest, Oyo enjoyed easier farming and thus a steady growth in population.[30] This contributed to Oyo's ability to consistently field a large force. There was also an entrenched military culture in Oyo where victory was obligatory and defeat carried the duty of committing suicide.[26] This do-or-die policy no doubt contributed to the military aggressiveness of Oyo's generals.[26]


The Oyo Empire was the only Yoruba state to adopt cavalry; it did so because most of its territory was in the northern savannah.[15] The origin of the cavalry is disputed; however, the Nupe, Borgu and Hausa in neighboring territories also used cavalry and may have had the same historical source.[31] Oyo was able to purchase horses from the north and maintain them in metropolitan Oyo because of partial freedom from the tsetse fly.[32] Cavalry was the long arm of the Oyo Empire. Late 16th and 17th century expeditions were composed entirely of cavalry.[15] There were drawbacks to this. Oyo could not maintain its cavalry army in the south but could raid at will.[13]
Cavalry in highly developed societies such as Oyo was divided into light and heavy.[15] Heavy cavalry on larger imported horses was armed with heavy thrusting lances or spears and also with swords.[15] Light cavalry on smaller indigenous ponies was armed with throwing spears or bows.[33] Oyo's cavalry forces included not only nobles, the norm in West African warfare, but foreign slaves from the Hausa, Nupe and Bornu states.[34]


Infantry in the region around the Oyo Empire was uniform in both armor and armament. All infantry in the region carried shields, swords and lances of one type or another.[13] Shields were four feet tall and two feet wide and made of elephant or ox hide.[35] A 3-foot-long (0.91 m) heavy sword was the main armament for close combat.[35] The Yoruba and their neighbors used triple barbed javelins which could be thrown accurately from about 30 paces.[13]


The Oyo Empire, like many empires before it, used both local and tributary forces to expand its domains. The structure of the Oyo military prior to its imperial period was simple and closer aligned to the central government in metropolitan Oyo. This may have been fine in the 15th century when Oyo controlled only its heartland. But to make and maintain farther conquest, the structure underwent several changes.
[edit]The Eso
Oyo maintained a semi-standing army of specialist cavalry soldiers called the Eso or Esho.[36] These were 70 junior war chiefs who were nominated by the Oyo Mesi and confirmed by the Alaafin of Oyo.[36] The Eso were appointed for their military skill without regard to heritage and were led by the Are-Ona-Kakanfo.[26]
After Oyo's return from exile, the post of Are-Ona-Kakanfo was established as the supreme military commander.[37] He was required to live in a frontier province of great importance to keep an eye on the enemy and to keep him from usurping the government.[26] During Oyo's imperial period, the Are-Ona-Kakanfo personally commanded the army in the field on all campaigns.[26]
[edit]The Metropolitan Army
Since the Are-Ona-Kakanfo could not reside near the capital, arrangements had to be made for the latter's protection in case of emergency. Forces inside metropolitan Oyo were commanded by the Bashorun, leading member of the Oyo Mesi.[37] As stated earlier, Metropolitan Oyo was divided into six provinces divided evenly by a river. Provincial forces were thus grouped into two armies, under the Onikoyi and the Okere for the east and west side of the river respectively.[37] Lesser war chiefs were known as Balogun, a title carried on by the soldiers of Oyo's successor state, Ibadan.[38]
[edit]The Tributary Army
Tributary leaders and provincial governors were responsible for collecting tribute and contributing troops under local generalship to the imperial army in times of emergency.[11] Occasionally, tributary leaders would be ordered to attack neighbors even without the backing of the main imperial army.[11] These forces were often utilized in Oyo's more distant campaigns on the coast or against western states like Asanteman or the Mahi.


Oyo became the southern emporium of the Trans-Saharan trade. Exchanges were made in salt, leather, horses, kola nuts, ivory, cloth and slaves.[32] The Yoruba of metropolitan Oyo were also highly skilled in craft making and iron work.[32] Aside from taxes on trade products coming in and out of the empire, Oyo also became wealthy off the taxes imposed on its tributaries. Taxes on the kingdom of Dahomey alone brought in an amount estimated at 638 thousand dollars a year.[30]

Slave trade

Oyo's imperial success made Yoruba a lingua franca almost to the shores of the Volta.[32] Toward the end of the 18th century, the Oyo army was neglected as there was less need to conquer.[21] Instead, Oyo directed more effort towards trading and acted as middlemen for both the Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic slave trade.[21] Europeans bringing salt arrived in Oyo during the reign of King Obalokun.[7] Thanks to its domination of the coast, Oyo merchants were able to trade with Europeans at Porto Novo and Whydah.[12] Here the Oyo Empire's captives and criminals were sold to Dutch and Portuguese buyers.[39]


By 1680, the Oyo Empire spanned over 150,000 square kilometers.[1] It reached the height of its power in the 18th century.[12] And despite its violent creation, it was held together by mutual self-interest.[24] The government was able to provide unity for a vast area through a combination of local autonomy and imperial authority.[30]
Unlike the great savannah empires, of which Oyo may not be called a successor since it was a successor of Ife, there was little if any Muslim influence in the empire.[21] It is known that at least some Muslim officials were kept in Metropolitan Oyo,[40] and men capable of writing and calculating in Arabic were reported by French traders in 1787.[40]


The end of the 18th century marked the beginning of the Oyo Empire's downfall. In around 1789, Oba Abiodun is believed to have been killed by his son and successor, Awole.[32] A series of constitutional upheavals, dynastic intrigues and local particularism weakened the empire.[32] In 1796, Oba Awole was ousted by the government in an Illorin-centered revolt initiated by Afonja, the Are Ona Kakanfo. The revolt led to the secession of Ilorin, a Yoruba state that would play a crucial role in the destruction of Oyo. At his rejection by the council, he is said to have cursed the empire as he prepared to commit suicide.[41] After firing arrows in all directions he proclaimed:
"My curse be on you and your disloyalty and your disobedience, so let your children disobey you. If you send them on an errand, let them never return to bring you word again. To all points I shot my arrows, you will be carried as slaves. My curse will carry to the sea and beyond the seas. Slaves will rule over you, and you their masters will become slaves. Broken calabash can be mended but not a broken dish; so let my words be irrevocable."

Loss of the Egbado Corridor

As Oyo tore itself apart via political intrigue, its vassals began taking advantage of the situation to press for independence. The Egba, under the leadership of Lishabi, massacred the Ilari stationed in their area and drove off an Oyo punitive force.[11]

The Dahomey Revolt

When Dahomey's King Gezo ascended the throne in 1818, he offered only a tiny piece of cloth and 2 bags of cowries to the Oyo tax collector saying that anything else would be disproportionate to Dahomey's wealth.[42] When four more envoys were sent from Oyo, Gezo had them beheaded.[42] An Oyo army was deployed and decisively defeated, ending Oyo's hegemony over Dahomey.[42] After gaining its independence, Dahomey began raiding the corridor.[14]

The Fulani Jihad

After Awole's rejection, Afonja, now master of Illorin, invited an itinerant Fulani scholar of Islam called Alim al-Salih into his ranks. By doing this, he hoped to secure the support of Yoruba Muslims (mainly slaves taking care of the Empire's horses) and volunteers from the Hausa-Fulani north in keeping Ilorin independent. Torn by internal struggle, Oyo could not defend itself against the Fulani.[41] Oyo-Ile was razed by the Fulani Empire in 1835 and the Oyo Empire collapsed in 1836,[43] once Afonja had been killed by the Fulani. Up to this day, the Illorin traditional ruler is an emir, whereas in the rest of Yoruba towns the kings are called oba or baale (Baale or Baba Onile meaning "father of the land" or "lord of the land").

Ago d'Oyo

After the destruction of Oyo-Ile, the capital was moved further south, to Ago d'Oyo. Oba Atiba sought to preserve what remained of Oyo by placing on Ibadan the duty of protecting the capital from the Ilorin in the north and northeast.[44] He also attempted to get the Ijaye to protect Oyo from the west against the Dahomeans.[44] The center of Yoruba power moved further south to Ibadan, a Yoruba war camp settled by Oyo commanders in 1830.[15]

Final demise

Atiba's gambit failed, and Oyo never regained its prominence in the region. It became a protectorate of Great Britain in 1888 before further fragmenting into warring factions. The Oyo state ceased to exist as any sort of power 1896.[41] He died in died in 1905. (Oba Atiba otherwise called Atiba Atobatele did not die in 1905. He died in 1859; It was his son Adeyemi I and the 3rd Alaafin to rule in the present Oyo who died in 1905. See the colonial period, the Yoruba's were one of the most urbanized (living in city-like areas) group in Africa. About 22 % of the population lived in large areas with population exceeding 100,000 and over 50 % lived in cities of made up of 25,000 or more people. The index of urbanization in 1950 was close to that of the United States, excluding Ilorin. The Yoruba continue to be the most urbanised African ethnic group today. Old Oyo linked cities such as Ibadan, Osogbo, and Ogbomoso, which were some of the major cities that flourished after the collapse.[45]

List of rulers of the Yoruba state of Oyo

In the Yoruba language, the word 'oba' means king or ruler. It is also common for the rulers of the various Yoruba domains to have their own special titles. In Oyo, the Oba is referred to as the Alaafin.
Foundation of Oyo Empire
Invasion by Fulani Empire
British protectorate
1400 to ????
Oranyan, Alaafin

???? to ????
Ajaka, Alaafin

???? to ????
Shango, Alaafin

???? to ????
Ajaka (restored), Alaafin

???? to ????
Aganju, Alaafin

???? to ????
Kori, Alaafin

???? to ????
Oluaso, Alaafin

c. 1500 to ????
Onigbogi, Alaafin

???? to ????
Ofirin, Alaafin

???? to ????
Eguguojo, Alaafin

???? to ????
Orompoto, Alaafin

c. 1600 to ????
Abipa, Alaafin

???? to ????
Obalokun, Alaafin

???? to ????
Oluodo, Alaafin

???? to ????
Ajagbo, Alaafin

???? to ????
Odarawu, Alaafin

???? to ????
Kanran, Alaafin

???? to ????
Jayin, Alaafin

???? to ????
Ayibi, Alaafin

???? to ????
Osiyago, Alaafin

c. 1728 to 1730
Ojigi, Alaafin

c. 1730 to 1746
Gberu, Alaafin

Amuniwaiye, Alaafin

1746 to 1754
Onisile, Alaafin

Labisi, Alaafin

Awonbioju, Alaafin

Agboluaje, Alaafin

1754 to 1770
Majeogbe, Alaafin

c. 1770 to 1789
Abiodun, Alaafin

1789 to 1796
Awole Arogangan, Alaafin

1796 to 1797
Adebo, Alaafin

Makua, Alaafin

1797 to 1802
vacant, vacant

1802 to 1830
Majotu, Alaafin

1830 to 1833
Amodo, Alaafin

1833 to 1835
Oluewu, Alaafin

1837 to 1859
Atiba Atobatele (at new capital), Alaafin

1859 to 1875
Adelu, Alaafin

1876 to 1888
Adeyemi I Alowolodu, Alaafin

1888 to 1905
Adeyemi I Alowolodu (as British Vassal), Oba

1905 to 1911
Lawani Agogoja (as British Vassal), Oba

1911 to 1944
Siyanbola Onikepe Oladigbolu I (as British Vassal), Oba

1944 to 1945
Regent (as British Vassal), Oba

1945 to 1955
Adeyemi II Adeniran (as British Vassal), Oba

1955 to 1956
Regent (as British Vassal), Oba

1956 to 1960
Bello Gbadegesin Oladigbolu II (as British Vassal), Oba

1960 to 1970
Bello Gbadegesin Oladigbolu II (as Nigerian Traditional Monarch), Oba

19 November 1970 to Present
Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III (as Nigerian Traditional Monarch), Oba

The Yoruba

The Yoruba people live on the west coast of Africa in Nigeria and can also be found in the eastern Republic of Benin and Togo. Because the majority of the slaves brought to the Americas were from West Africa Yoruban descendants can also be found in Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean, and the United States. There are also many Yoruba currently living in Europe, particularly Britain, since Nigeria was once a British colony. The Yoruba are one of the largest cultural groups in Africa. Currently, there are about 40 million Yoruba world-wide. The Yoruba have been living in advanced urban kingdoms for more than 1,500 years. They created a strong economy through farming, trading, and art production. Their outstanding and unique artistic traditions include woodcarving, sculpture, metal work, textiles, and beadwork.

West Africans, such as the Yoruba, have lived in urban societies and have produced extraordinary art work since the 5th century BC. During this time, the Yoruba began to use iron to create metal tools and weapons such as machetes, axes, and hoes. These tools made it easier for the Yoruba to farm the land. They planted crops including yams, their staple food. They also harvested the seeds from the palm oil tree. The seeds from this tree produce a vegetable oil that is used for cooking. Kola nuts were also grown and harvested. Soon the Yoruba began trading with neighboring areas for rice and sorghum. Due to increased agriculture, the Yoruba community began to grow in size and large towns were created. They arranged their communities by clan lines, or extended families. Families who had the same ancestors lived next door to each other in large compounds. An elder was put in charge as the head of the compound. Towns became organized by the type of work that people did.

Royal palace compound, Oyo, Nigeria, 1960
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Royal palace door, (Detail) 1951
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Royal Place horse, Oyo, Nigeria 1960
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Yoruba Kingdoms

There were about 20 Yoruba kingdoms at one time with a different king ruling over each one. Ife was known as the center of cultural and religious life.

Oyo was the strongest kingdom with the largest military and political system. The kingdom of Oyo was close to the Niger River. The rich soil in Oyo allowed the people to grow more crops than they needed. This helped the kingdom of Oyo to easily trade with neighboring groups. They also created a strong military. Oyo was in control of 6,600 towns and villages by the end of the 18th century. Internal wars and fighting with neighboring groups, along with the beginning of the slave trade, eventually led to the decline of these great kingdoms.

In the 18th century, European countries were beginning to create colonies all over the world. Europeans were taking villagers from West Africa and bringing them to the New World to be slaves in the new colonies. The British came to Yorubaland in 1852. By 1884 European nations were meeting to discuss how they would break-up Africa into different colonies. The British were granted the right by the other European nations to colonize Yorubaland, and in 1893 Yorubaland became part of a larger colony known officially as Nigeria.
external image town.jpg
In 1960 Nigeria became an independent country. Ten million Yoruba were known to live in Nigeria at that time amongst many other ethnic groups. Today, the Yoruba still continue many of their traditional ways of life. Many Yoruba live in large towns and cities, and many towns are still based on the extended family dwellings in compounds. Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria and over ten million people live there, including a large Yoruba population. Many Yoruba today are still employed as carvers, blacksmiths, farmers, weavers, and leather workers. Today, the Yoruba still make some of the world's greatest works of art.

Food, Agriculture and Trade

Yams are the most important food for the Yoruba in their homeland of Nigeria. Grains, plantains, corn, beans, meat, and fish are also eaten. Poultry, goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle are raised as livestock. Large rivers, lagoons and the ocean provide fish and shrimp for the Yoruba. Fisherman sell fresh and dried fish through traders at the local markets. The Yoruba make stews out of yams, plantains, corn, cassava, and taro. Palm oil from the nuts of the palm oil tree is often used to cook with.

Every country has an economy. People create economies through employment, trade, and the buying and selling of goods. Around 1900 cacao became the most important crop that Nigeria sold to other countries in order to earn money. Cotton and indigo were also grown and sold. Today natural resources like crude oil, coal, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, wood, corn, rice, millet, cassava, and yams are exported. Many men are employed as farmers. Women are responsible for selling goods at the markets.

Potters, blacksmiths, carvers, and leather and bead workers are important to Yoruba society because they all contribute to the economy. The goods that they produce are made to be used and also have great artistic value.


The Yoruba began creating magnificent sculpture out of terra cotta clay in the 12th through 14th centuries. Bronze figures were made during the 14th and 15th centuries. To create bronze sculptures, artists first made models out of clay. When the clay dried they would put a thin layer of beeswax over the clay and engrave details in the wax. Next, they covered the wax with more layers of clay until they created a thick mold. The mold would then be heated over a fire until the middle layer of wax melted. The artist poured the bronze into the top of the mold through cubes. The bronze now took on the form of the wax that was once there. When the bronze cooled and hardened the outer layer of clay was broken off and the sculpture was completed. These life like sculptures may represent kings and gods.

The Yoruba began to create more abstract wooden sculpture as their major art form later on. Many African cultures choose to create sculptures of humans in an abstract form rather than a realistic one.


Women are the potters in Yoruba society. They make many different types of pottery including pots for cooking, eating, and storage. Palm oil lamps are also crafted. Unique pots are made in honor of Yoruba deities. Pottery is only made in towns where clay is available. It is sold to neighboring towns that do not have access to clay.

Leather and Beadwork

Men are responsible for leather and beadwork. Goat, sheep, and antelope skins are used to make things like bags, cushions, and sandals. Leather scraps in different colors are often pieced together to form designs. Beads are used to decorate crowns, hats, bags, and other items worn by kings and babalawo. Popular bead designs include, human faces, birds, and flowers.

Leather and beaded knife case
external image knife.jpg
external image couch.jpg
Royal leather cushion
Blacksmiths and Calabash Carvers

Blacksmiths are very important to local towns and are responsible for making tools that many other professions use, such as hoes, axes, knives, chains and hammers. Calabashes (dried gourds) are carved by men and are used to serve food or drink. Goods carried to markets are often carved from calabashes. They are also used as containers for storing medicines and food. Calabashes are also carved into musical rattles.
Calabash carver’s tools
external image tools.jpg

Men are responsible for woodcarving. Woodcarving is the most important art form in Yoruba culture. Men use knives and adzes to carve wood. Divination trays and many other sacred objects are carved out of wood.


Men and women both act as weavers and dyers. Weaving is done on different types of looms. Weavers create hundreds of different patterns on their looms. Wild silk and cotton are used to make cloth. Indigo, a native plant, is often used as a dye to color threads.

Religious Beliefs

Traditional Yoruba beliefs see the world made up of two connected realms. The visible world of the living is called Aye, and the spiritual world of the Orisas, the ancestors and spirits, 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, 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 shrines, like the other gods do.

The Yoruba people worship over four hundred different deities. These gods are called Orisas. Some of the Orisas are worshiped by all of the Yoruba. Other gods are only worshiped 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.

Stool. Made by Duga, Meko, Nigeria, 1950
This Stool is made to represent Iroko, a deity who makes peace when Esu, the trickster and divine messenger, causes a fight.
external image stool.jpg
Creation Myth

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 god having a party. He stopped to chat with the other gods for a bit and drank some of their palm wine. Orisanla became from the palm wine and fell asleep. Orisanla's younger brother Odua 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.

Odua dropped the chain and climbed down, throwing some of the soil onto the water.

He then released the chicken and 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. Odua 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, Odua demanded 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 Odua 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.

Sango dance wand, made in Meko, Nigeria, 1950
external image myth.jpg
Although every worshipper of Sango, the thunder god, owns a wand for is personal shrine, it is carried only by the group member who becomes possessed with Sango's spirit. The central figure represents such a devotee, carrying a Sango staff in his right hand. At his left is a female worshipper of Oya, the Goddess of the River Niger and Sango's most loyal wife; and on his right is a man beating Sango's drum. At the top left is a ram, Sango's favorite sacrificial animal, and at the right, the dog that is sacred to him.

There are many important Yoruba deities. Esu acts as a messenger for the other deities and he is also a great trickster. He assists Olorun and the other gods by causing trouble for people who offend them or fail to worship them. Everyone prays to Esu so that he will not harm them.

Ifa is the god of Divination, and no matter what other deities a person worships everyone asks Ifa for knowledge and guidance in times of trouble. Ifa is a great wiseman, and he acts as the interpreter between all gods and humans. Ogun is the God of Iron and War. He is a great blacksmith and a fearless hero. Woodworkers, leatherworkers, and blacksmiths worship him. Without Ogun particular god. There may also be taboos—foods or things that people cannot partake in because of the god that they worship. For example, Esu’s favorite foods are corn, beans, and palm wine. These things are often placed at his shrine. His followers often wear black beads around their neck. They never eat or use palm oil because this is said to make Esu angry.

Ifa Divination

Divination is a method of solving problems and foretelling the future. It has existed for thousands of years throughout the world in different forms. Ifa divination is a traditional way to solve problems among the Yoruba. Divination helps to explain why certain misfortunes are happening to someone. For example, if a farmer’s crops are not growing or if someone in the family is ill they would seek the help of a diviner. Ifa diviners are called babalawo (fathers of ancient wisdom). The function of the Ifa diviner is to determine the reasons that are causing a person’s misfortune. He does this by performing a ritual with the person which reveals the source of the problem.

The Divination Ceremony

Divination depends on interpreting marks made on the divination tray. Divining powder is used to make these marks. Sixteen palm nuts from the African palm tree are the most important of all the objects used in divination. Palm nuts are a symbol of Ifa, the God of Divination. The diviner tries to pick up all sixteen palm nuts in his right hand. If one nut remains in his left hand he makes a double mark in wood dust on his tray; if two remain, he makes a single mark. The diviner recites a verse based on the marks made. These verses act as the advice to help solve the person’s problem.

Divination tray
The carved face represents Esu, the messenger of Ifa and the other deities.
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Yoruba beaded diviner’s bag
As diviners travel often in the pursuit of their profession, they frequently carry a portable set of Ifa paraphernalia in bags. The divining chain is kept and carried in a shoulder bag, It is made of locally woven cloth, or sometimes of leather, and it may be decorated with cowry shells or beads. Beaded bags are often smaller. A diviner is one of the very few nonroyal persons permitted to use solidly beaded materials; these are usually reserved for the Yoruba kings, who had beaded cushions, slippers, and gowns, and who alone may wear beaded caps and crowns.

Beaded bags, knife handles, hangings for the shrine, and other objects may be made by the diviners themselves, or by the beadworkers who work for the kings. Palm nuts, divining tray, and bell may be carried in this bag if it is large enough, but for palm nuts other types of containers are usually provided, which remain at the shrine for Ifa most of the time.

Music and Dance

Music and dance have always been an important part of Yoruba culture for those living in Nigeria as well as in the diaspora. Yoruba music and dance are used for many different occasions in life such as religious festivals, royal occasions, and entertainment.

Yoruba traditional music focuses on Yoruba deities. Drums and singing are the main elements of Yoruba music. Instruments such as metal bells and wind instruments are sometimes used. Yoruba is a tonal language. Words must be pronounced in the appropriate tone (pitch) in order to understand speech in its correct meaning. There are three major tones: high, mid, and low. Most of Yoruba music is based on these tonal patterns of speech.

Juju emerged in the 1920’s and is the most well known form of Yoruba popular music in Nigeria. Juju has its roots in traditional Yoruba drumbased music. Juju is dance music played by large ensembles centered around guitars and drumming. Singing is a major part of Juju music and is inspired by Yoruba poetry, proverbs, praise songs, and the musical character of the language.

Drumming, Oro, Nigeria, 1960
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IfeIfe (Yoruba: Ifè, also Ilé-Ifẹ̀) is an ancient Yoruba city in south-western Nigeria. Evidence of inhabitation at the site has been discovered to date back to roughly 350 BC.[1] It is located in the present day Osun State.

HistoryAccording to the Yoruba people, Ife is where the founding deities Oduduwa and Obatala began the creation of the world, as directed by the paramount Deity Olodumare. Odùduwà is thought to have created the earth before he became the first divine king of the Yoruba, while Obàtálá is believed to have created the first humans out of clay. The Oòni (or king) of Ife claims direct descent from the undergod Oduduwa, and is counted first among Yoruba kings. He is traditionally considered to be the 401st deity (òrìshà), the only one that speaks. According to historians, the town's habitation can be traced as far back as 350 BCE.[1] The meaning of the word "ife" in the Yoruba language is "expansion"; "Ile-Ife" is therefore a reference to the myth of origin "The Land of Expansion". In fact, the city is commonly regarded as the origin of the Yoruba culture.
Mythic origin of IfeThe Yoruba claim to have originated in Ife. According to their mythology, Olorun, the Supreme God, ordered Obatala to create the earth but on his way he found palm wine, drank it and became intoxicated. Therefore the younger brother of the latter, Oduduwa, took the three items of creation from him, climbed down from the heavens on a chain and threw a handful of earth on the primordial ocean, then put a cockerel on it so that it would scatter the earth, thus creating the land on which Ile Ife would be built.[2] Oduduwa planted a palm nut in a hole in the newly formed land and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches, a symbolic representation of the clans of the early Ife city-state. The usurpation of creation by Oduduwa gave rise to the ever lasting conflict between him and his brother Obatala, which is still re-enacted in the modern era by the cult groups of the two clans during the Itapa New Year festival.[3]
Migratory origin of IfeAnother origin story from the Yoruba is that they were the product of intermarriage between a small band of invaders from the savanna slightly to the North East and the indigenous inhabitants of the forest. According to this version, Oduduwa was the son of Lamurudu, a prince from the east , possibly related to the ancient Nok culture of the savanna. Oduduwa and the natives left their homeland at some point between the first and the seventh centuries A.D.[4] After wandering for some time, they found and settled the state of Ife.[5]
Oduduwa thereafter had sons, daughters and a grandson who went on to found their own kingdoms and empires, namely Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo, Oyo and Benin. Oranmiyan, Oduduwa's last born, was one of his father's principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo empire after Oduduwa granted the plea of the Edo people for his governance. When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a child named Eweka that he had had in the interim with an indigenous princess. The young boy went on to become the first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty that has ruled what is now Benin from that day to this. Oranmiyan later went on to found the Oyo empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the river Niger to the Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would serve as one of the most powerful of Africa's medieval states prior to its collapse in the 19th century.
Art history
Between 700 and 900 A.D., Ife began to develop as a major artistic center. Important people were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase was held in the head, the Ase being the inner power and energy of a person. Their rulers were also often depicted with their mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. They did not idealize individual people, but they tended rather to idealize the office of the king.
The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries, with houses featuring potsherd pavements. Ilé-Ifè is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, which reached their peak of artistic expression between 1200 and 1400 A.D. After this period, production declined as political and economic power shifted to the nearby kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, developed into a major empire.
Bronze and terracotta art created by this civilization are significant examples of realism in pre-colonial African art.
In his book, "The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife," Yemi D. Prince referred to the terracotta artists of 900 A.D. as the founders of Art Guilds, cultural schools of philosophy, which today can be likened to many of Europe's old institutions of learning which were originally established as religious bodies. These guilds may well be some of the oldest non-Abrahamic African centres of learning to remain as viable entities in the contemporary world.
Traditional cultsIfe is well-known as the city of 401 or 201 deities. It is said that every day of the year the traditional worshippers celebrate a festival of one of these deities. Often the festivals extend over more than one day and they involve both priestly activities in the palace and theatrical dramatisations in the rest of the kingdom. The most spectacular festivals are those, which demand the participation of the King. They include the Itapa festival for Obatala and Obameri, the Edi festival for Moremi and the Igare masqueraders, and the Olojo festival for Ogun.[6] During the festivals and at other occasions the traditional priests offer prayers for the blessing of their own cult-group, the city of Ile Ife, the Nigerian nation and the whole world.
The OoniThe royal dynasty of Ife is over 800 years old. The present ruler is Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, styled His Imperial Majesty by his subjects due to the fact that he is one of the two pretenders to the defunct title of High King of the Yoruba, the other being the Alaafin of Oyo. The Ooni ascended his throne in 1980.[7]
The modern townToday a mid-sized city, Ife is home to both the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Natural History Museum of Nigeria. Its people are of the Yoruba ethnic group, one of the largest ethno-linguistic groupings in Africa and its Diaspora (The population of the Yoruba outside of their homeland is said to be more than the population of Yoruba, about 35 million, in Nigeria.). Ife has a local television station called NTA Ife, and is home to various businesses. It is also the trade center for a farming region where Yams, cassava, grain, cacao, and tobacco are grown. Cotton is also produced, and is used to weave cloth. Hotels in Ilé-Ife include Hotel Diganga Ife-Ibadan road, Mayfair Hotel, Obafemi Awolowo University Guest House etc. Ilé-Ife has a stadium with a capacity of 9,000 and a second division professional league football team.
PhilosophyAlthough religion is often considered first in Yoruba culture, nonetheless it is the philosophy, the thought of man and the reasoning of the mind that actually dictates to the faculty (ori)leads the faculty to the creation and the practice of any religion. Both the philosophy and the traditional religion, therefore, as well as the folklore of the land can be said to have emanated from Ile-Ife, inasmuch as the holy city is the said to be the birthplace of the Yoruba people.

List of rulers of Ife

The Ooni of Ife is the traditional ruler, whose dynasty goes back hundreds of years. Ifè is an ancient Yoruba city in south-western Nigeria.
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Ife bronze casting of a King, dated around 12th Century
  1. Oduduwa
  2. Osangangan Obamakin
  3. Ogun
  4. Obalufon Ogbogbodirin
  5. Obalufon Alayemore
  6. Oranmiyan
  7. Ayetise
  8. Lajamisan
  9. Lajodoogun
  10. Lafogido
  11. Odidimode Rogbeesin
  12. Aworokolokin
  13. Ekun
  14. Ajimuda
  15. GboonijioO
  16. Okanlajosin
  17. Adegbalu
  18. Osinkola
  19. Ogboruu
  20. Giesi
  21. Luwoo
  22. Lumobi
  23. Agbedegbede
  24. Ojelokunbirin
  25. Lagunja
  26. Larunnka
  27. Ademilu
  28. Omogbogbo
  29. Ajila-Oorun
  30. Adejinle
  31. Olojo
  32. Okiti
  33. Lugbade
  34. Aribiwoso
  35. Osinlade
  36. Adagba
  37. Ojigidiri
  38. Akinmoyero (1770–1800)
  39. Gbanlare (1800–1823)
  40. Gbegbaaje (1823–1835)
  41. Wunmonije (1835–1839)
  42. Adegunle Adewela (1839–1849)
  43. Degbinsokun (1849–1878)
  44. Orarigba (1878–1880)
  45. Derin Ologbenla (1880–1894)
  46. Adelekan Olobuse I (1894–1910)
  47. Adekola (1910-1910)
  48. Ademiluyi Ajagun (1910–1930)
  49. Adesoji Aderemi (1930–1980)
  50. Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II (1980-)


Oduduwa Omoluabi, Olofin Adimula, Emperor of the Yoruba, phonetically written by his people as Odùduwà, and sometimes contracted as Odudua or Oòdua, is generally held among the Yoruba to be the reigning ancestor of the crowned Yoruba kings.[1]
Emperor Odùduwà
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Odùduwà Atewonron "Jingbinni bi Ate'kun"


About Oduduwa


Oòdua first appears as one of the divinities of the Yoruba theogony; The narrative indicates that Oduduwa denotes “the essence of behaviour” (Odu-ti-o-da-Iwa).[2]


Oral history of the Oyo-Yoruba recounts the coming of Oduduwa from the east, sometimes understood by some sources as the "vicinity" of Mecca, but more likely signifying the region of Ekiti and Okun sub-communities in northeastern Yorubaland/central Nigeria. Ekiti is near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, and is where the Yoruba language is presumed to have separated from related ethno-linguistic groupings like Igala, Igbo, and Edo.[3]
When Oduduwa arrived ancient Ife, he and his group are believed to have conquered the component communities and to have evolved the palace structure with its effective centralized power and dynasty. Going by the tribal records, he is commonly referred to as the first Ooni of Ife and progenitor of the Yoruba people.
Some oral traditions claim that Oduduwa was Olodumare's favourite orisha, and as such was sent from heaven to create the earth. This is generally seen as the Ife-Yoruba version of events, and is described in detail below.


Alternatively, the Benin believe that he was a prince that was banished by his father, the "Ogiso" of Benin. His name, they claim, is derived from "Idoduwa", meaning "fortune's path", symbolizing the painful exile from his ancestral home. In support of this view, they claim, Oduduwa's grandson Oranmiyan later returned to Benin to rule the Empire around 1,100 AD.[3]

Oduduwa and His role in Creation

There is much controversy concerning him and his place in the Yoruba pantheon, and consensus on the subject is as elusive as it is with any other "creation myth". However, the Ife are known for telling the following story:
A certain number of divinities were to accomplish the task of helping earth develop its crust. On one of these visits Obatala, the Great Spirit, took to the stage equipped with a mollusk that held in its shell some form of soil; two winged beasts and some cloth like material. Having made palm wine from the palm trees he caused to grow after shaping the planet, he began to drink ; soon falling into a drunken stupor, he was unable to accomplish the task he was originally given. Olodumare then sent Oduduwa to save what was left of the mission. When Oduduwa found the Obatala in a "tipsy" state, he simply took over and completed the tasks. The place which he leaped onto from the heavens and which he redeemed from the water to become land was named Ile-Ife and is now considered the sacred and spiritual heart of Yorubaland. Due to this experience, Obatala is said to have subsequently made it a taboo for any of his devotees to drink palm wine. Forgiven by Olodumare, he was later given the responsibility of molding the physical bodies of human beings; the making of land in this story is said to be a symbolic reference to the founding of the Yoruba kingdoms, and this is why Oduduwa is credited with the achievement.[4]

Embodiment of the Royal Dynasty

Oduduwa is considered as the first of the contemporary dynasty of kings of Ife, a figure who sent his sons and daughters out with crowns to rule over all of the other Yoruba kingdoms, which is why all royal Yoruba lineages claim ambilineal descent from its line of kings and, through it, from Oduduwa. This is also why the Ooni of Ife is regarded as first among equals (popularly rendered in the Latin phrase primus inter pares) when amongst his fellow Yoruba monarchs.[5]

Later years

Upon the ending of Oduduwa's time on Earth, there was a dispersal of his children from Ife to the outposts that they had previously founded inorder for them to establish effective control over these places. Each is said to have made his or her mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of the Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each child or grandchild fashioning his or her state after Ile-Ife.

Oduduwa and the line of Olowu

Main article: Owu kingdom
  • A princess marries a priest and later gives birth to the future crowned king of Owu.

Oduduwa and the line of Alaketu

Main article: Ketu (Benin)
  • A princess gives birth to the future crowned king of Ketu.

Oduduwa and the line of Omo N'Oba

  • A prince is crowned king of Benin.

Oduduwa and the line of Òràngún

Main article: Orangun
  • A prince is crowned king of Ila.

Oduduwa and the line of Onisabe

Main article: Rulers of the Yoruba state of Sabe
  • A prince is crowned king of Sabe.

Oduduwa and the line of Olupopo

  • A prince is crowned king of Popo.

Oduduwa and the line of Alaafin

Main article: Alaafin
  • A prince is crowned king of Oyo.


Main article: Oranmiyan
Oranmiyan was the grandson and the most adventurous of the members of Oduduwa's household; taking the title of Alafin, he succeeded in raising a very strong army and expanding his kingdom to an empire. Regarded as being founder of the Oyo Kingdom, some accounts state he was also the third ruler of Ife.


After the dispersal of the family of kings and queens, the aborigines became ungovernable, and constituted themselves into a serious threat to the survival of Ife. Thought to be survivors of the old occupants of the land that had been before the arrival of Oduduwa, these people turned themselves into marauders. They would come to town in costumes made of raffia with terrible and fearsome appearances, and burn down houses and loot the markets. It is at this point that Moremi, a princess of the Ooduan dynasty by marriage, is said to have come onto the scene; she subsequently played a significant role in restoring normalcy back to the situation through a now fabled spying mission.[6]

Alternative views


Among the critics of Yoruba traditions about Oduduwa is the London-based Yoruba Muslim scholar, Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu, a PhD graduate from Damascus whose followers run several publications. In an interview with a Nigerian media house Sheikh Adelabu, the founder and spiritual leader of Awqaf Africa Society in London, dismissed the common myth that all Yorubas are descendants of Oduduwa as a false representation by Orisha worshippers to gain an unjust advantage over the spread of Islam and the recruitment of Christianity".[7] The Muslim scholar advised his followers at his Awqaf Africa College London against using phrases such as Omo Oduduwa i.e. Children of Oduduwa and Ile-Oduduwa i.e Land of Oduduwa. He argued that the story that all the Yorubas are children of Odua was based only on word of mouth, and that it does not conform with the science and the reality of logic conducted on objective principles which usually consists of systematized experimentation with phenomena, especially when examining materials and functions of the physical and spiritual worlds of the African people.[7]"

OgboniOgboni (also known as Osugbo in Ijèbú) is a fraternal institution indigenous to the Yoruba language-speaking polities of Nigeria, Republic of Bénin and Togo. The society performs a range of political and religious functions, including exercising a profound influence on regents and serving as high courts of jurisprudence in capital offenses.
InfluenceThough versions or lodges of this fraternal group are found among the various types of Yoruba polities——from highly-centralized kingdoms and empires like Oyo, to the independent towns and villages of the Ègbá and the Èkiti——the Ogboni are recognizable for their veneration of the personified earth (Ilè or Odua) and their emphasis on gerontocratic authority and benevolent service to the town. While membership in the Ogboni generally signified a high level of power and prestige, the society held pre-eminent political authority among decentralized groups like the Ègbá, where they were intimately involved in the selection of regents. To date, Ogboni members still command great power and influence in the affairs of their nations, though this is largely due to the history of their titles and not their official power.
Ogboni lodges were one of the main commissioners of brass jewelry and sculpture in pre-colonial Yorubaland, using the metal's rust-resistant qualities as an apt metaphor for the immortal functions and beliefs of Ogboni adepts. The most recognizable of these symbols was a pair of Ogboni initiates, one male and one female, attached by a chain and worn around the neck. The pair are thought to symbolize the attachment of the sexes in procreation and balanced society. Generally, one or both figures will hold a thumb in the grip of the opposite hand, demonstrating the paramount Ogboni handsign denoting initiation and membership.
LegacyVarious fraternities in Nigeria have incorporated references and insignia from the original Ogboni, including the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, the Indigenous Ogboni, and various others. Many of these contemporary societies combine elements of Ogboni’s historical functions with superficially similar institutions like Freemasonry and the Rotary Club.
Similar traditional institutions combining political, judicial, and sacred duties exist among the various ethnic nationalities of southern Nigeria, including Okonko in Igbo-speaking southeast Nigeria and Ekpe/Ngbe/Ugbe in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Initatory secret societies are a common feature of pre-colonial government across much of West Africa and Central Africa.[citation needed]

6 Belief systems and religious organisation

The most obvious trend in Yoruba religion is the decline of the traditional cults in the face of Islam and Christianity. This process started early. By the start of the l9th century, Islam had spread widely in areas under Oyo control, and in the 1840s Christianity arrived, brought by the Saro and the missions. The process accelerated with the imposition of colonial rule, and by the 1952 census more than four-fifths of the population of the Yoruba provinces were said to be either Christian or Muslim (Peel, 1967: 294ó5).

Two main aspects of religion will be explored in this chapter: its role as a basis for the formation of social groups, and its role as an ideology and guide to individual action. It is in the first of these that the most obvious changes have taken place. The majority of men and women in many Yoruba towns are now members of Christian or Muslim egbe. At the level of the individual, however, traditional beliefs are more tenacious. For many people, there is nothing inconsistent about combining traditional rites at home with church or mosque attendance, though Christian and Muslim leaders preach against it. The Ifa diviner or babalawo is still an important source of help and advice, though he now shares his clientele with Muslim diviners and Christian Aladura prophets. The dividing line between 'traditional' and Christian or Muslim beliefs and practices is often difficult to draw.

In the process of diffusion in Yoruba society, Christianity and Islam have themselves been modified. The new religions share organisational similarities with the old cults, and Yoruba rites of passage have been adapted to fit the new beliefs. At the level of doctrine, both Christianity and Islam emphasise elements which are also important in traditional religion, and there are similarities in the ways in which members of all three religious groups view the supernatural and their relations with it.

The Yoruba cosmos: Olorun and the orisa

Two problems commonly arise with general accounts of Yoruba religion. Firstly, they often fail to indicate just how extensive are the variations from town to town. Some idea of this can be gained from comparing the detailed accounts of specific communities, such as Bascom's study of Ife, (1944), Morton-Williams' studies of Oyo and Egbado (1964a,1967a), or Ogunba's study of Ijebu (1967). Secondly, some of the accounts, particularly by theologians, tend to make Yoruba religious thought appear far more systematic and coherent than it in fact is. Articulate informants like the babalawo may be able to describe the system as it appears to them, though even here there may be problems (Bascom, 1960: 405). But their accounts remain individual constructions rather than generally accepted bodies of dogma. Most actors are concerned with a body of folklore and ritual technique which will help them in everyday life, and both may vary from place to place. A body of folklore like the Ifa verses (Bascom, 1969b) may present a number of apparently inconsistent versions of the Yoruba world-view. It is not necessary to attempt to reconcile them, and there are obvious difficulties in doing so.

The Yoruba cosmos contains Olorun or Olodumare, the supreme deity; the orisa or lesser divinities; ancestral spirits, and a number of other categories of spiritual beings. Man is made up of both corporeal and spiritual elements, the latter having a variety of functions. These are related to Yoruba beliefs about destiny and reincarnation. Fulfilment of one's destiny is achieved through avoiding the wrath of the orisa and the attacks of witches and sorcerers. This is done with the help of the orisa and the ancestors, and through piety, divination and sacrifice.

Olorun is to the Yoruba a rather distant figure, apparently playing little part in the day-to-day affairs of men. Idowu uses the analogy of the Yoruba oba who is responsible for the affairs of his kingdom, but who has little contact with his subjects, as most of his dealings with them are through the orisa. He argues that the orisa are, nevertheless, only the ministers of the deity, whose supremacy is clearly recognised. He is the creator, the final arbiter of heavenly and worldly affairs, omniscient, immortal and pure, and the source of all benefits to mankind (Idowu, 1962: 38-56).

The number of orisa worshipped by the Yoruba is very large, though they range in importance from those worshipped by only a single descent group in a single town to those whose cult is found throughout the area. Their nature and origins are varied. Some are personifications of natural features, such as hills or rivers, or of natural forces. Others are divinised heroes given cosmic attributes, such as Sango, the Oyo divinity of thunder and, by tradition, an early Alafin.[1] The important divinities lead hierarchies of minor ones with similar characteristics, symbols and functions. The 'hard' orisa are led by Ogun, the divinity of iron, hunting and war, while the benign 'white' orisa, particularly important to women, are led by Orisanla, the Yoruba creator. The parallels between these hierarchies and the Yoruba political system are obvious.

The major orisa in a Yoruba town have their shrines and priests with their distinctive dress and insignia. Each orisa has its favourite sacrificial offerings, and its followers observe a distinctive set of food taboos. The same basic symbolism often permeates all aspects of ritual. The followers of Orisanla wear white cloth, and the usual offerings are also white, such as boiled yams or snails cooked in shea butter. Each cult has its own rituals, music, oral literature, dances and divination techniques. To their followers, the orisa bring the benefits of health, wealth and children, but they punish neglect, impiety and the breaking of taboos.

Before the spread of the world religions, there was a close relationship between cult membership and descent (Bascom, 1944: 1ó8; 1969a: 77ó 8). A person normally attended the rituals of the orisa which his own parents had followed, and contributed to their cost, but would only be initiated into a cult if 'called', through dreams, sickness, possession or divination. If a woman prayed to an orisa for a child and her request was granted, the child would probably worship the orisa throughout its life. In some areas, the father asked a diviner at birth which orisa his child should follow.

Initiation into a cult involves lengthy training, and can be a period of intense emotional crisis. The cults of some orisa, particularly the 'hot' or 'strong' ones, involve spirit possession (Verger, 1963; Prince, 1964: 105-9). This usually affects women, though the Sango cult is an exception. The Sango possession priest, or elegun, is a man, but he is dressed in the clothes and hairstyle of a woman. During the Sango festival, he dances in a trance state and gives displays of power. In Ogbomoso in 1971 these included fire-eating, apparently piercing the lips with an iron needle, and turning leaves into cigarettes. During the initiation process, a lengthy torpor is produced, during which behaviour patterns appropriate to the orisa are learned. During the festivals, certain clues, like a particular type of drumming, are enough to send the initiate into a trance state.

Orisa worship involves three types of ritual. Firstly, there are private individual rites, carried out in the house, usually early in the morning. The worshipper greets his orisa, and divines with a kola nut what the prospects are for the day (Awolalu, 1970). Secondly, there are the regular rituals at the orisa's shrine, and the cycle of these is based on the four-day Yoruba week.[2] Thirdly, there are the annual festivals, much more elaborate affairs involving a large proportion of the population of the town as well as cult members from elsewhere.

The ruler plays an important unifying role in religious life in the town, and the major festivals involve a procession to the palace to greet him and bestow on him the blessing of the orisa. Rulers are expected to participate in the annual festivals on behalf of their community, whatever their own religious beliefs. There are other links between religious and political organisation. In Oyo, many of the chiefs are also cult officials, and some of the most important cults have representatives in the palace (MortonWilliams, 1964a). The Sango cult was important in the administration of the provinces. It was controlled from the capital, and some of the ilari were initiates who could threaten supernatural sanctions, as could the Alafin himself. Elegun from other parts of the kingdom had to come to the capital for the final stages of initiation and to collect their ritual paraphernalia (Westcott and MortonWilliams,1962). Cult officials had to be called in when certain types of misfortune occurred. Sango priests were responsible for purificatory rites when a house was struck by lightning, and the victims had to pay heavy fees for their services. Albinos, hunchbacks, dwarfs and pregnant women were sacred to Orisanla, and had to be buried by his priests, while the clothes and bodies of smallpox victims were disposed of by the priests of Sopona. In the early colonial period, the Sopona cult was banned by the British when the cult members were suspected of spreading the disease deliberately.

Personality and the ancestors

Yoruba views of the world make an important distinction between orun or heaven on the one hand, and aiye or the world on the other.[3] Orun contains Olorun, the orisa and lesser spirits and ancestors, while aiye contains men, animals, sorcerers and witches. Sorcerers and witches are sometimes referred to as omaraiye, 'children of the world'. Mediating between orun and aiye are Orunmila, the orisa of divination, and Esu, the Yoruba trickster. Ifa divination provides man with knowledge of the supernatural, while Esu is responsible for carrying sacrifices to other divinities. He is unpredictable and needs constant appeasement (cf. Westcott, 1962). Often Ifa will simply prescribe an offering to Esu, but a portion of the sacrifice is still set aside for him, even when the offering is to another orisa.

The orun/aiye distinction is important in understanding Yoruba concepts of life, death, destiny, reincarnation and the soul. This is one of the most complex areas of Yoruba thought, and generalisation is particularly difficult in view of differences in terminology between areas (e.g. Bascom, 1960a). However a relatively consistent picture does emerge.

Firstly, Yoruba thought makes a distinction between the physical body (ara) and the spiritual elements which inhabit it and give it life and individuality. The published accounts differ about the number, names and characteristics of these spiritual elements, but generally the two which appear as the most important are the 'breath', emi, and the 'head', ori.[4]

Emi is generally thought of as the vital force, without which the body dies. In some accounts it is also thought of as the conscious self. It not only provides locomotion for the body, but can think independently of it, and can travel abroad on its own in dreams (cf. Bascom, 1960: 401).

Ori is more complex. In some accounts, it, rather than emi, is the seat of the intellect. It is also related to a person's destiny, as the element which predetermines his success or failure in the world. The relationship between ara, emi and ori is illustrated by an Ifa verse (Dos Santos, 1973; Abimbola, 1973) in which the body is moulded by Orisanla, the emi is provided by Olorun, and the ori is provided by Ajala. Ajala the potter is said to be a careless and corrupt orisa. Those who pay him get a good ori and those who do not have to take their chance, as many of the ori in his store are faulty. A man with a good ori is able to achieve success in the world, provided he can ward off the dangers of witchcraft, sorcery and other attacks by pmparaiye. Ori is thus given to, or chosen by, an individual before his birth, creating limits within which success in the world can be expected, and within which the emi is able to act.

In contrast to this rather fatalistic model, ori is also said to be the 'ancestral guardian soul', a spiritual entity which can be influenced by man in his efforts to improve his life on earth. In his account of Egbado, Morton-Williams describes it as the 'indwelling spirit of the head, presiding over success or failure in day-today affairs' (1967a: 222). A man should worship his own ori, together with those of his children until they are adults. The ori is represented by a container made out of cowrie shells. Inside are the smaller models of the ori of the children, which are exchanged for larger ones when they marry. A similar model is implied by beliefs in the existence of a spirit double in heaven. Bascom was told that each individual has two ancestral guardians, one in his head, and one in heaven which is doing exactly the same things as the individual himself is doing on earth (1960a: 406). With the support of the ancestral guardian in heaven, a man will live out his allotted span of life. It is at times necessary to make offerings to the heavenly ori which is sometimes described as an orisa.

These varied conceptualisations of the spiritual components of the person have parallels with those of other West African peoples, and represent similar attempts to deal with the same underlying reality: the structure of the personality. In his discussion of the Tallensi and Kalabari material, Horton (1961) draws a parallel between 'the Freudian ideal of an Unconscious Self ó a purposive agency whose desires are unknown to consciousness and are frequently in conflict with it', and the Tallensi notion of destiny, which is 'a life course chosen by a part of the personality before birth, a course both hidden from the post-natal consciousness and frequently opposed to the latter's aims'. The Yoruba concept of ori in some accounts has rather similar characteristics, though it is unclear whether an individual can confront and exorcise an unsatisfactory destiny as is the case with the Tallensi and Kalabari.

Related to beliefs in emi and ori are beliefs in reincarnation. Many Yoruba are identified through resemblance, dreams or divination as being reincarnations of particular ancestors, and are given names such as Babatunde ('father returns') or Yetunde ('mother returns'). However, even after this 'reincarnation', these ancestors may still be invoked to help their descendants. Bascom's informants in Meko told him that the emi remains in heaven as the ancestral spirit, while the ancestral guardian soul is reborn, with a new body, breath and destiny (1960a: 404-5). It also appears to be possible for several individuals to be simultaneous reincarnations of the same ancestor, and in some areas resemblance between members of the same descent group is explained in this way (ibid: 404; cf. Idowu, 1962: 194ó5).

Also related to the orun/aiye distinction are beliefs in abiku spirits (Verger, 1968; Morton-Williams, 1960a). An abiku may be born in a child on earth, but it soon leaves for heaven again, and the child dies. The abiku spirits have their own egbe in heaven, and when one of them leaves for earth, he promises to return quickly to his companions. If a woman gives birth to a succession of children who die in infancy, it may be divined that it is an abiku at work, and the next child is given special treatment. Abiku children are given special names ó examples are Aiyedun, 'life is good', implying that the child should stay to enjoy it, or Durosinmi, 'stay and bury me', implying that the child should outlive its parents. The appearance of these children is often neglected, and they might even be disfigured to make them less attractive to their companions in heaven. It is normal to postpone the circumcision or scarification of an abiku child until it appears likely that it will survive.

Finally, the orun/aiye distinction is relevant to Yoruba beliefs about death and the ancestors. Death marks the transition to the afterlife, and much of the symbolism of Yoruba burial ritual is that of a journey. The dead go to one of two orun, depending on how they are judged by Olorun: orun rere, or 'good heaven', for the virtuous, and orun apadi, 'potsherd heaven', for the wicked, where they are tormented and from which they cannot be reborn (Idowu, 1962: 197ó201; Bascom, 1960a: 403ó4).

Death also involves a transformation of the personality of the dead person into an ancestral spirit. The ancestors take an active interest in members of their descent groups, and can give them advice through dreams and trances. Anyone can pray and make offerings to a dead parent for spiritual protection, and the bale makes an annual offering on behalf of the descent-group members, usually on the grave of its founder. According to Abimbola (1973: 75), each adult who dies becomes an orisa to his own family. These beliefs are related to the concept of ori. According to Bascom, these annual sacrifices are made on the day on which the founder used to make offerings to his own ori (1969a: 72); and according to Morton-Williams, an adult can make prayers and offerings to the ancestors or the ori of a living parent for spiritual protection (1967a: 223).

Representing the ancestors, but assuming a role which cuts across descent-group boundaries, are the egungun masqueraders (Morton-Williams, 1956a; 1967a: 340ó7; Bascom, 1969a: 93-4; cf. Olajubu and Ojo, 1977). They are dressed from head to foot in elaborate costumes, and their faces are obscured by nets through which they can see. There are several types of egungun. The omo egungun, 'children of egungun' or 'junior egungun', have costumes made out of brightly coloured strips of cloth and leather which swirl out as their wearers dance round. The agba egungun, 'senior egungun', have costumes made out of dirty rags and masses of clay with animal skulls and charms embedded in them. Egungun masks are inherited within the descent group, and the agba masks can only be worn by men who have learned the necessary rites to counteract their power. The Egungun cult, like Oro, emphasises the separation between men and women.[5] The masks are only worn by men, and apart from a woman official called the Iya Agan and her deputies who help the men dress, women are not supposed to know the identity of the wearers. It is dangerous for women to touch the masks, and some of the agba egungun are believed to be able to identify witches, who in Yoruba culture are almost always women.

Egungun appear in two contexts during funeral ceremonies. In some areas it is customary for an egungun to emerge from the room of the dead man some time after the burial, and to imitate him while he brings greetings from the dead to the other members of the compound. Secondly, during the celebrations which follow the death of an elderly person, the relatives may pay the members of the cult to come and dance for them.

The dual significance of the Egungun cult as a commemoration of individual ancestors and as a representation of the collective dead acting on behalf of the community as a whole comes out clearly in Morton-Williams' account of the festival in Egbado (1956a). After the vigil with which the festival starts, there is a procession of agba egungun together with the members of their descent group and drummers, demonstrating the solidarity of the groups that own the masks. On subsequent days of the festival there is less emphasis on kinship, and the other types of egungun join in.

Witcheraft, divination and healing

Even if a person has a 'good' destiny, there are still dangers to be avoided if he is to achieve success in life. This is measured in terms of wealth, peace, prosperity, longevity and children (Awolalu, 1970; Leighton et al., 1963: 35ff). Full happiness only comes with the birth of children who will be responsible for one's burial.

While good relations have to be maintained with the orisa and the ancestors, the greatest dangers probably lie in the activities of the witches. Witchcraft beliefs are still almost universal among the Yoruba, despite the growth of education and the spread of the world religions. They can easily be reconciled with Islamic or Christian belief, and a major attraction of the Aladura churches is their explicit attention to the problem. Witches in Yoruba belief are almost always women, and particularly old women. Their powers pass from mother to daughter, but can also be given to non-relatives, or even purchased. Yoruba magic on the other hand uses physical objects with known properties to achieve its results, and either men or women can be sorcerers. The Yoruba word for witch is aje, but normally euphemisms are used like awon iya wa, 'our mothers', or agbalagba, 'the elders'. The stereotypes held about witches by the Yoruba are similar to those in many other parts of Africa: they are believed to be active at night and to have an insatiable appetite for sex. They are supposedly organised into egbe, initiation into which is thought to involve eating human flesh (Prince, 1961).

A number of measures can be taken to deal with the power of witches. Firstly, there are 'medicines' prescribed by a diviner. Secondly, there is membership of one of the cults explicitly opposed to witches such as Oro, Egungun or, in south-western Yorubaland, Gelede (Beier,1958). Thirdly, there is membership of the newer witchfinding cults or the Aladura churches. The Babalola revival in the 1930s which led to the rapid spread of Christianity in eastern Yorubaland also led to witch hunts in a number of areas (Mitchell, 1970a: 193; cf. Omoyajowo,1971: 715). The Tigari cult spread rapidly through Ghana, Dahomey and Togo into Egbado in 1951, before it was suppressed by the government (Morton-Williams, 1956b). In this case, most of the witches identified were old women. Witchcraft 'confessions' by old women are a common symptom of senile dementia. In Ogbomoso children started to stone an old woman who was wandering about outside our house claiming to have bewitched a number of people, and informants said they had seen similar incidents before.

Nevertheless, open witchcraft accusations against specific individuals are infrequent and people are more likely to take preventive action against witches in general, through ritual, charms and amulets. Where accusations occur, they are likely to be made against co-wives or wives of other men in the compound. These are clearly related to the tensions arising from polygyny and the wife's subordination to more senior wives in the husband's compound.

Though there are many systems of divination used by the Yoruba, the most important is Ifa (Bascom,1941; 1969b; Morton-Williams, 1966). The babalawo undergoes a long training, lasting several years. He divines either with sixteen palm nuts (ikin) or with a divining chain (opele). The opele is much quicker to use, but considered less reliable. If he is using palm nuts, the diviner passes them from one hand to the other, leaving one or two behind. Depending on the result, he makes a single or double mark in a tray of powder. He repeats the process eight times, leaving eight sets of marks in the tray in two columns of four. Each of the marks may be single or double, and there are 256 possible permutations or odu. The opele is made out of eight seeds or cowries joined together on a chain so that, when the chain is cast on the ground, each can fall face up or face down, corresponding to the single or double marks.

Each of the odu has its own name, rank and ese or verses associated with it. The diviners know at least four verses for each of the odu, and many more for the higher-ranking ones, those in which the two columns of four marks are identical. The verses consist of an assortment of folk tales, myths and historical narratives. They usually describe why on a particular occasion If a was consulted, the advice it gave, the sacrifice it prescribed, and a general moral. The verses are transmitted orally, and the diviner is constantly learning new ones throughout his career.

Ifa consultations vary in length. The client need not tell the diviner the nature of the problem, but may simply whisper it to a coin which is then placed in front of the diviner. In short consultations the diviner simply casts the chain, recites the ese of the odu which comes up, and leaves it to the client to make what he can of them as regards his own problems. In other cases, the diviner may make the initial cast, and then work through a long series of secondary questions, to find out whether good or evil is in store for the client, what sort of good or evil it is, and what he can do about it. If Ifa suggests a sacrifice, he can ask whether an offering to Esu is sufficient, or whether one to another orisa is necessary. Finally, the ese are recited. The logic of the method of answering questions is simple. Each of the odu is ranked, and the possible answers are each represented by a different symbol. A cast is made for each of the symbols, and the one which receives the highest-ranking cast is the one selected (Bascom, 1969b). Many of the odu are associated with particular orisa, or even with Islam, and this may give a clue to the solution of the client's problem.

The criteria by which offerings to the orisa are chosen make an interesting subject of study in themselves (Awolalu,1973; 1978). Each of the orisa has its own tastes and taboos: the preference of Orisanla for white offerings and of Ogun for dogs are obvious examples. Some offerings are chosen for their qualities: palm oil and the liquid from snail shells are both associated with smoothness, peace and tranquillity. Others are linked with the effects they are supposed to produce through verbal association or myth (Verger, 1972). Most edible sacrifices are eaten by the worshippers themselves, with a small portion being left for Esu, but sometimes If a may specify that the whole offering is to be given to the orisa, and it will be burnt, buried, or exposed.

The objects chosen also depend on the importance of the occasion. The more urgent the need for maintaining or restoring relations with the supernatural, the higher the quality of the offering. Before the colonial period, the major communal sacrifices in many towns involved human victims, including major annual festivals, offerings at the start of a war, offerings to ward off a disaster, or on the foundation of a new town. Human victims were also used in some Ogboni rituals (Morton-Williams, 1960b). For the public rites, sheep and cows have been substituted long since.

Yoruba magical techniques and rites prescribed by the babalawo shade off into Yoruba medical practice, and the two are often combined (cf. Prince, 1960; 1964; Maclean,1971; Leighton et al., 1963). The Yoruba word ogun refers to either magic or medicine, and the babalawo is usually known for his medical skill as well as for his skill in divination.

Government medical facilities are unevenly distributed in Yorubaland, and where they are found they can have a dramatic effect on local mortality rates (Orubuloye and Caldwell, 1976). Whereas many villages have dispensaries which can deal with minor complaints, there are few hospitals outside the towns. In any case, queues in hospital out-patient departments are often long, and illiterate patients cannot always be sure that they will get the correct drugs from the dispenser at the end of the day, even if they are prepared to bribe him. The first reaction of most people to their own or their children's sickness is to try and do something about it themselves. Older members of the compound usually know some herbal remedies which may work, and for those who can afford them there is a lively trade in patent medicines and prescription drugs in the markets. There are also a lot of quack remedies around. If these measures fail, the patient will have to look elsewhere. In the rural areas, the usual alternative is a babalawo or other expert. Even in the towns, traditional healers still have a flourishing clientele, along with the Muslim diviners and the Aladura prophets. The choice of healer often depends on the nature of the disease. While a patient with a chest or stomach complaint is likely to be taken to the hospital, those suffering >from barrenness, impotence or psychiatric complaints are more likely to be taken to other healers. The treatment given by a healer may include both a herbal potion with pharmaceutical properties to deal with the symptoms, and a sacrifice to appease the orisa. Yoruba healers make use of an enormous variety of items, ranging from plants and herbs to pieces of dried birds and animals. There are stalls selling these exotic ingredients in most markets of any size. Verger has shown (1972) how many of these items have names or attributes related verbally to the effects which they are required to produce, and he suggests that the same is true of many of the spells and incantations (ofo) which are used along with them. Buckland (1976) suggests that underlying Yoruba medicinal practice, as well as other aspects of Yoruba belief, is a paradigm derived from a theory of conception, bringing together the colours red (menstrual blood) and white (sperm) within the black skin of the mother, and he relates folk theories of diseases like leprosy, which lead to red or white patches on the skin, and their treatments, to this paradigm.

In this abbreviated survey of traditional religion, a number of general characteristics emerge which find parallels in the world religions as they have developed among the Yoruba. Firstly, Yoruba religion deals largely with the problems of the individual in this world. It is not concerned with a systematic and logically coherent set of beliefs, but with ritual techniques which are believed to work. God is distant: ritual centres on a variety of intermediaries, especially the orisa. Witchcraft and sorcery are seen as major causes of suffering, but the diviners can provide information on the nature of the problem and help on both the physical and spiritual levels, as well as providing knowledge of the future.

Secondly, religion and the social structure are closely linked. The ancestor cult is an extension of the kinship system, and the descent group is in some contexts a religious congregation in which the elders have ritual authority. However, the correlation between kinship and religious affiliation is not perfect, and cult groups cross-cut descent groups. The oba as the symbol of the community is also involved in the festivals of its major cults. How far these characteristics are also found in the Yoruba versions of the world religions will be considered in the following sections.

Changing religious affliation

At present the two world religions are approximately equal in their strength among the Yoruba. Islam predominates in Ibadan and Oyo, but there is also a large Christian minority. In Egba, Ijebu, Ife, and Igbomina the religions are more equally balanced, while in Ondo, Ekiti, Ijesa and Kabba there are large Christian majorities.

The western areas where Islam is now strongest are those with which it had made contact before 1800. In eastern kingdoms like Ondo, on the other hand, the missions arrived before Islam had made much of an impression. When the missions started work in Ekiti, there was already a nucleus of Christians who had been converted elsewhere. Ijebu is unusual in that, during the 19th century, it remain aloof from both religions. After 1892, conversion was rapid. One of the attractions of Christianity was the mission monopoly of education, but the proximity of Lagos and Epe, both Muslim strongholds, meant contact with Islam as well. Almost alone of Nigerian ethnic groups, the Ijebu have succeeded in combining Islam with high rates of western education.


The history of Islam among the Yoruba probably goes back to the 17th century, when it was introduced, probably from Nupe. Slaves passing into Oyo from the north included Muslims, and a number of itinerant Muslim preachers were travelling in Yorubaland in the late 18th and early l9th centuries: the most important of these was Mallam Alimi. The Fulani coup in Ilorin created difficulties for Muslims in the other towns. Many were killed and others fled to Ilorin for safety. Some of the towns with large Muslim communities such as Oyo-Ile, Ikoyi and Igboho were destroyed, but Islam started to revive with the foundation of the successor states and the reabsorption of many of the refugees (Gbadamosi, 1978).

A number of Owu Muslims found their way to Abeokuta and they were joined there by Muslim Saro. In Lagos, Islam was established in the early l9th century, and there were a number of Muslim traders in the town. It was strengthened during the reign of Kosoko: after his expulsion from Lagos, he founded an important Muslim settlement at Epe in the east. The proportion of Muslims in Lagos itself rose from 17 per cent in 1871 to 44 per cent in 1891, and the indigenous Lagosians have been predominantly Muslim ever since.

In the interior, Muslims and Muslim sympathisers began to have more political influence. Alafin Atiba had stayed at Ilorin himself and was well disposed to Muslims, and Iwo had a Muslim oba by 1860. Towns like Iseyin, lwo, Epe, Ibadan and Abeokuta developed reputations as centres of Islamic learning, and under the influence of itinerant teachers a standard form of Islamic leadership started to develop (Gbadamosi, 1972; 1978). During the wars, the teachers were also in demand for their skill in preparing amulets for protection in battle.

The expansion of Islam was most rapid in the period around the turn of the century. With the end of the wars, the return of Muslims to other parts of Yorubaland helped the religion to spread, even in the eastern areas where it had previously made little impact. Resistance was strongest in Ekiti, and the most rapid progress was made in Ijebu, partly thanks to the conversion of Seriki Kuku, the leading military chief after the British invasion (Abdul, 1967: 27ó38).

The two religions differed in their attractions. Islam was better adapted to Yoruba social structure because it permitted polygyny. Christianity had a monopoly of western education. In 1894 there were 32 schools in Lagos, all run by the missions. Muslims constituted 44 per cent of the Lagos population, but only 13 per cent of the schoolchildren. Muslim antipathy to western education was widespread. School attendance left little time for learning the Koran, and there was a (justified) fear that Muslim children sent to mission schools might be converted. After 1896 the Lagos government founded Muslim schools in Lagos, Epe, and Badagry, but the further development of Muslim education had to wait another twenty years (Gbadamosi, 1967). The educational imbalance between the two religions still remains.

Islamic life in the Yoruba town centres around prayer: the five daily prayers, the weekly prayers in the Friday mosque, and the two great annual festivals. Some Yoruba Muslims perform the daily prayers in private, but many pray at small mosques attached to their own or to a neighbouring compound. These range from a simple concrete slab covered with grass mats at the side of the house, to a separate building with a courtyard and a supply of water for the congregation to wash.

Near the centre of most towns is the large central mosque where the Friday prayers are held. This is often the largest building in the town and has often been financed by migrants living abroad. In Igbeti in 1970 the Friday mosque was a small temporary structure: the old mosque has been demolished to allow an extension of the market, and the new mosque was only partly completed. Igboho had been more successful: there had been rivalry for many years between two areas of the town, and by 1970 they had both completed imposing mosques. Attendance at Friday prayers has political implications and a dispute over other issues will often result in one group of Muslims withdrawing to pray on its own. The prayers for the annual festivals at the end of the Ramadan fast and at the climax of the pilgrimage season are held in a separate praying-ground, usually a large open space outside the town.

In most towns, a standard hierarchy of Islamic officials has developed, headed by the Imam of the Friday mosque, and his deputies, led by the Naibi. Other leading Muslims may be given quasi-military titles like Balogun Imale (Balogun of the Muslims) though these are often given on the basis of seniority rather than knowledge of Islam. The appointment of a new Imam in the large towns can also become a political issue. In some, there has been controversy over whether the title should remain within a single descent group, or whether it should go to the most qualified candidate in terms of learning (Gbadamosi, 1972). In the larger towns, there are Imams for each quarter under the authority of the chief Imam.

Most towns have koranic schools, run by local scholars known as alufa or mallams. Children attend these either before or instead of primary school, and the main instruction consists of learning by heart passages of the Koran. Some of the students may later carry on to learn Arabic, but most stop after the elementary training.

The income of the alufa comes from three main sources: gifts from the parents of his koranic pupils, offerings made for prayers at rites of passage which he attends, and income from divination and the preparation of charms and amulets. Islamic divination among the Yoruba has many similarities with Ifa (Abdul, 1970). The alufa makes a series of double or single marks in a tray of sand and then interprets them. Amulets consist of appropriate passages of the Koran written out many times and wrapped in cloth or leather. In other cases, the verses are written on a writing-board in ink, which is then washed off and drunk by the client. The dividing line between Islamic ritual and Yoruba magic may be narrow. In Ogbomoso I met a young alufa who had been to secondary school in Ghana. He was preparing a charm to send to one of his clients, a Ghanaian army officer. It consisted of an egg, covered in Arabic writing, and set in black Yoruba soap in a calabash.

Even though an alufa's income is irregular, many are wealthy men. An important investment for an alufa, or for any Muslim wanting to improve his standing in the Muslim community, is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Influential men who can afford it may pay for their relatives or political followers to go as well. The pilgrim gains the title of Alhafi and is recognisable by his distinctive style of hat. Many Yoruba women also make the trip. With the advent of charter flights in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Nigerians making the pilgrimage has steadily increased. In 1970ó1 it stood at around 40,000 annually.

Despite the apparent unity of the Muslim community during the Friday prayers and the annual festivals, there are sectarian divisions. In Ijebu Ode, for instance, neither the members of the Ahmadiyya movement nor the followers of a local prophet attend the central mosque (Abdul,1967). The Ahmadiyya movement originated in India in the l9th century, and has become well established along the West African coast (Fisher, 1963). Though regarded as unorthodox by other Muslim groups, it has taken a lead in the development of Muslim education and in raising the status of Muslim women. There are similar divisions in Ibadan (Mitchell, 1970a: 263ó4; El-Masri, 1967: 254). As well as the central mosque at Oja Iba, there are two Friday mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya, a Friday mosque belonging to a local reformer, and the Tijaniyya mosque in the Hausa quarter at Sabo which has a few Yoruba in its congregation.

The two main Islamic brotherhoods in Nigeria are the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya (Fisher, 1963: 22ó3; Trimingham, 1959). The Qadiriyya is the longer established, but the Tijanis have grown more rapidly in recent years. Tijani Muslims are rather stricter in their attitude towards women. Yoruba women are generally extremely independent, and few Yoruba Muslims seclude their wives: in the Hausa areas of Nigeria this is extremely common. In Igbeti, the only secluded wives belonged to two Tijani alufa. The most distinctive Tijani ritual is the dhikr in which the members of the brotherhood sit around a white cloth in the mosque each Friday, chanting the name of Allah several hundred times (Cohen, 1969: 10). In Igbeti the Tijanis celebrated Friday prayers in their own neighbourhood mosque. The separation of the Hausa Tijanis in Ibadan was due to complex political reasons, but normally the members of the order worship in the central mosque along with the other Muslims. So do members of Muslim associations like the Ansar-Ud-Din, though in Ibadan even the AUD has its own Friday mosque. It was founded after a dispute with the rest of the Muslim community, and was kept going after the dispute was solved because it was useful in fund-raising (Mitchell, 1970a: 263ó4).

Islam among the Yoruba has had little effect on the social structure. In inheritance, it is Yoruba customary law rather than Islamic law which is followed, and the same is true in other areas of law. While many descent groups are now almost entirely Christian or Muslim, the rapid spread of the two religions has meant that often pairs of full siblings belong to different religions, and yet they are able to live together amicably. In public affairs, some care is taken to accommodate both religions. In meetings, if the opening prayers are made by a Muslim, the closing prayers will be made by a Christian. A Christian organising a funeral or a naming to which Muslims are invited will often have the animals slaughtered by a Muslim. It is difficult to predict how far religion will create a major cleavage in Yoruba society in the future. In the towns where we worked, the groups had become virtually endogamous. As residential units become smaller, it will probably become less common for people of different religions to live together, at least in their home compounds, though rented accommodation will remain heterogeneous. Egbe are now formed mainly along religious lines, restricting friendship networks to members of the same religion. On the other hand, schools cut across religious boundaries, and the growth of a literate subsulture has tended to obscure religious differences. Given the Yoruba's instrumental attitude to religion and their tolerance of religious pluralism and innovation, it is not surprising that members of both religions are quite prepared to use the services of other religious specialists when need arises: prominent alufa often have a number of Christian clients.


Yoruba Christians fall into three main groups. Firstly, there are the members of the mission churches. The four oldest and largest denominations are the Anglicans, represented by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the Methodists, the American Southern Baptists and the Catholics. Some smaller, mainly American, missions have arrived more recently: the Jehovah's Witnesses are perhaps the most successful of these. The Catholics are less numerous in the west of Nigeria than they are in the east. Of the protestant missions, the Anglicans and Methodists are strongest in the south and east of Yorubaland, while the Baptists are strongest to the north and west (cf. Grimley and Robinson,1966).

In the early stages of mission work in the interior, the CMS relied mainly on Saro clergy. However, in the 1880s they abandoned the policy of developing a self-governing native pastorate, and British control was gradually consolidated (Ajayi,1965; Ayandele, 1966). Discontent at European paternalism was one of the factors leading to the foundation of the African churches from 1891 onwards. The other major issue was polygyny to which the missions were firmly opposed.

Despite the schisms, the mission churches held on to most of their members. They had a status and respectability which the African churches initially lacked, and they were in firm control of education. The African church movement was founded by the laity: with few exceptions, the Saro clergy stayed loyal to the missions. It is still broadly true that the educated elite belong to the main mission congregations.

The protestant missions had a broad agreement not to compete in each other's main spheres of influence. This means that in most towns there is one church which is by far the largest, and it usually belongs to one of the main protestant denominations. Besides this, there are usually other, much smaller, congregations belonging to the other missions, or to the African and Aladura churches. In Igbeti the largest congregation belongs to the United Missionary Society. The smaller Baptist church was started by former members of the UMS but now includes a number of Baptist migrants from Igboho and Ogbomoso. The Igbeti CMS church is smaller still. It was founded by the previous Onigbeti before his exile, and in 1970 its congregation consisted of a few of his supporters, together with Anglican migrants from other towns. In both Ogbomoso and Igboho, on the other hand, the great majority of Christians were Baptists, and there were separate Baptist churches in different areas of the towns.

The first thing which strikes the outside observer of Yoruba Christianity is the sheer amount of activity. The larger churches are crowded on Sundays, and the more active church members attend prayer meetings, choir practices, Bible-study groups, committee meetings, and rites of passage on other days as well. Many Yoruba Christian families hold early-morning prayers in their compound. On Sundays, the timetable includes the two main services, egbe meetings and Sunday School, which is attended by both children and adults. Much of the ritual is familiar. The services and most of the hymns are direct translations from the English, and the hymns are sung to the same tunes. Yoruba music plays a much more important part in the African and Aladura churches.

The fundamental unit of organisation within the church in this area is the egbe. The number of egbe varies from church to church, and new members usually join the one belonging to their own age-group. In the larger churches, some age-groups have more than one egbe, and membership is based on level of education. The women have their own associations. Egbe meet weekly, to raise funds, discuss church affairs, and to settle disputes among the members. But their significance extends beyond the church. Normally a person's closest friends are members of the same egbe, and much of his leisure time is spent with them. The members attend each other's rites of passage and celebrate Christmas and Easter together. The Muslims are increasingly organised in a similar way.

The African church denominations evolved out of the main mission churches in a series of schisms between 1890 and 1920 (Webster, 1964). The first schism was in fact in the Baptist Church in 1888, resulting in the formation of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, but this was reunited with the parent church in 1914. Permanent splits within the CMS took place in 1891 with the formation of the United Native African Church, and in 1901 with the formation of the African Church (Bethel). The split within the Methodist Church came in 1917. There were also a number of schisms within the African denominations themselves: by 1922 twenty-two separate African denominations had 33,000 members between them.

Amalgamations followed, many of them the result of financial difficulties. By the 1940s, four large African denominations had emerged: the African Church, the United Native African Church, the United African Methodist Church, and the West African Evangelical Church.

The doctrines of the African churches are very similar to those of the protestant missions. The innovations were in church leadership patterns and in attitudes to polygyny (Webster, 1968). Their formation reflected the discontent of the laity at the growing racialism and paternalism of the missions and the shabby treatment of particular African ministers. The 1901 split, for instance, was sparked off by the replacement of James Johnson as the minister of St Paul's (Breadfruit) against the wishes of the congregation. In the event, Johnson remained loyal to the CMS, but part of his congregation, led by J.K. Coker, formed its own church. Coker represented the evangelical wing of the African church movement. After 1905 he became established as a planter at Agege. The new churches had considerable success in evangelising some of the more remote Yoruba areas where the missions were not yet established. Coker's cocoa labourers spread the church to Ikirun and other towns, and he himself toured the interior, preaching and encouraging cocoa cultivation (Webster, 1961; Berry, 1975: 40ó53). His main rival for church leadership was Z.W. Thomas, who represented a more conservative 'church' approach, based on consolidating the movement rather than extending it (Webster,1964: 136-90).

The struggle for power between them led to a schism in 1907, but the removal of Thomas from church leadership in 1921 allowed a reunion. Whereas Coker was a planter, Thomas was the Deputy Registrar of the Lagos Supreme Court, and one of the few members of the professional elite attracted into the movement. The struggle between them gives a good insight into Yoruba church politics. The main protagonists were supported by large followings, built up from among their employees, kin and friends by means of their wealth. The church, in short, had become another arena in which the big men in the community could display their wealth and influence, and gain prestige.

While the African churches developed out of discontent with European mission organisation, the Aladura churches developed to meet some of the perceived needs of Yoruba Christians which were not being met within the missions. The name Aladura itself is derived from adura, prayer, and 'praying churches' is an apt description of these organisations. The founders of the Aladura churches formed 'praying bands' within the mission churches, and they only separated when their activities were seen as unorthodox by the mission authorities.

The major difference lies in their approach to the problems of everyday life, as seen by the members. Whereas the traditional cults and Islam were able to offer healing techniques, protection against witches and knowledge of the future, mission Christianity did not. The mission churches were seen as being more concerned with salvation in the next world rather than solving their members' problems in this. The Aladura prophet, on the other hand, by interpreting dreams and visions, performs a role similar to that of the alufa and babalawo. Not surprisingly, most converts to the Aladura churches come from the mission churches: Muslims seldom join (Peel, 1968a).

While the Aladura still regard the Bible as the ultimate source of spiritual authority, and their basic theology and liturgy are close to those of the mission churches, worship tends to be a more enthusiastic affair, especially during the healing sessions which supplement the regular services. The key figure is the prophet, a charismatic preacher and healer. A problem of the mission churches in the period when Christianity was expanding most quickly was the shortage of trained staff. There is still little contact between clergy and laity in some of the larger congregations. In the Aladura churches, as in the African churches, the distinction between church and laity is less sharp. The Cherubim and Seraphim churches, for instance, have an elaborate hierarchy of patriarchs, prophets, evangelists and other officials, and it is open to anyone to be promoted on the basis of his (or her) spiritual gifts (Omoyajowo, 1971: 590ó5). Disgruntled would-be leaders may move away and found their own churches, and the Aladura churches have experienced continual schisms since their original foundation. But this growth through fission has meant that congregations remain small and that contact between the prophet and the members is maintained.

Mitchell divides the Aladura churches into two broad groups: apostolic and spiritual (1970a: 14). The largest of the apostolic churches is the Christ Apostolic, which by 1958 had become the third-largest church in Western Nigeria. In general, the apostolic churches are more tightly organised than their spiritual counterparts. The role of pastor, as opposed to that of prophet, is more important, and worship is more restrained. The Christ Apostolic Church itself bans polygyny and the use of all forms of medicine, whether traditional or western. Like the mission churches, it has become involved in education (Mitchell,1970b; Peel, 1968a).

The largest group of spiritual churches are the various offshoots of the Cherubim and Seraphim movement (Omoyajowo, 1971). It is here that the tendency towards fragmentation has been greatest. The Church of the Lord (Aladura) (Turner, 1967) also falls into this category. The prophet is all-important in these churches. They are less opposed to the use of medicine, and polygyny is allowed. The long-haired prophets of the spiritual churches wearing colourful robes, the congregational processions through the streets, and the 'Houses of Prayer' with their singing and dancing are among the most distinctive features of present-day Yoruba religious life.

The origins of the three major Aladura denominations are similar. The church which later became the Christ Apostolic developed from a prayer band which was formed after an Ijebu girl had seen visions during the influenza epidemic in 1918. Its members were influenced by a small American sect, the Faith Tabernacle, and this was the name that the new church took. It separated from the CMS in 1922 over the questions of faith-healing and infant baptism. In the 1920s its membership consisted largely of educated migrants in clerical jobs in the larger towns, and it took an early interest in education.

The church grew rapidly as a result of the Babalola revival of 1930ó2, which started in Ilesa (Mitchell, 1970a: 143ó238). Babalola was the most important of a number of itinerant preachers at work during this period. He was a road worker with the government until a vision in 1928. He started preaching and joined forces with the Faith Tabernacle. It was from a Tabernacle meeting at Ilesa that a spontaneous revival developed which continued for two years, and which led to mass conversions in Ijesa, Ekiti and Akoko. At first the movement was tolerated by the colonial authorities and the mission churches, whose membership increased rapidly as a result. In 1932 official attitudes hardened. Babalola was arrested and imprisoned for making witchcraft accusations. To gain greater legitimacy, the Faith Tabernacle formed a link with the Apostolic Church in Britain and changed its name. The final break with the British church, over the issue of the use of malaria prophylactics by the British missionaries, came in 1939.

The Cherubim and Seraphim movement also developed out of a praying band within the CMS, after a young girl, Abiodun Akinsowon, had seen visions in Lagos in 1925. Abiodun and an itinerant prophet from Akoko, Moses Orimolade, were the founders of the band which separated from the CMS in 1926. There was a rift between them in 1928, and their two factions never came together again. Offshoots have proliferated ever since. There are now well over 100 independent Cherubim and Seraphim churches, and the largest of these, the direct descendant of Orimolade's faction, has over 400 congregations of its own.

In the remote Ilaje areas of southern Ondo State, the Cherubim and Seraphim have become the largest Christian denomination. An unusual feature here has been the development of fifty or so utopian communities, the best-known of which is Aiyetoro (McClelland, 1966; cf. Barett,1977). This extraordinary community was founded by a group of persecuted Aladura in 1947. Through its unique social organisation, it achieved a rapid degree of modernisation, and operated a fishing fleet. The key to its success appeared to lie in the communal organisation of labour, though this has since been abandoned.

The third major Aladura church is the Church of the Lord (Aladura) founded by J.O. Oshitelu at Ogaere in Ijebu in 1930 (Turner, 1967). He was a CMS catechist, but was dismissed in 1925, again over the issue of visions. In 1930ó1 he became involved with Faith Tabernacle and with offshoots of the Babalola revival in Ibadan and Abeokuta. He founded his own church in 1939. The Church of the Lord has spread rather more slowly than the other two, but has well-established branches in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana.

The dividing line between spiritual and apostolic churches is not rigid, and there are also broad differences between the older and younger congregations (Mitchell, 1970a: 306). In the more recently established apostolic congregations, forms of worship are more emotional and they are less involved with educational work. Peel has pointed to the extreme rationality of Christ Apostolic doctrine, with its ban on all medicine and its reliance on faith and prayer alone. From Mitchell's data, it seems that the younger apostolic congregations fit this description less well (Peel,1968a; Mitchell, 1970a: 327).

What then are the main points of similarity between Aladura practice and traditional religion? Firstly, words are thought to have an inherent power of their own, and the recitation of 'holy names' or passages from the psalms as magical formulae is common. Some prophets prepare charms using written verses from the Bible in the same way as the alufa uses the Koran. Secondly, there is the use of categories similar to those of traditional beliefs in explaining misfortune. The emphasis given to combating witchcraft is an obvious example. Aladura prophets also have a reputation for being able to deal with abiku spirits (Mitchell, 1970a: 344), and the extensive use of holy water and the exclusion of menstruating women from ritual are both reminiscent of traditional practices.

The forms of service used by the Aladura are largely based on Anglican models (Turner, 1967: Vol. 2; Omoyajowo, 1971: 369ó72), but they have been supplemented by special forms for founder's day services, the feasts of the archangels, and annual pilgrimages to sacred hills. (Hill festivals are common in Yoruba traditional religion: the best-known are the annual festivals in Ibadan and Abeokuta.) Generally, the Aladura have emphasised ritual rather than a developed theology. Fasting and prayer to achieve visions and holiness are more important than doctrinal disputes. All of them emphasise the importance of spiritual power (agbara), and the role of the Holy Spirit. The importance of the archangels in the Cherubim and Seraphim churches is especially interesting. Each of them guards one of the gates of heaven, and is associated with one of the four elements. Each has a clearly defined role in mediating between man and God, and their feasts are among the most important church occasions (Omoyajowo, 1971: 426). The parallels with the orisa are very striking.

Religion and society

One of the most striking features of Yoruba religion is its tolerance of pluralism. This was already a feature of traditional religious organisation. The choice of cult group was left largely to the individual, and the following of a particular orisa cut across descent-group boundaries. Membership of the various denominations and sects of the world religions has been dealt with with the same tolerance. The rapid spread of Christianity and Islam means that young members of the same household often belong to different world religions, while the older people alone keep the traditional cults alive.

It may be that the cleavages between Christians and Muslims, and between members of individual sects or denominations, are widening. This is predictable, given that wives normally follow their husband's religion, and children follow that of their parents. Christians and Muslims are becoming endogamous groups, a trend which is reinforced by the importance of religious egbe in social life in many towns.

Nevertheless, Yoruba of all religions have much in common. There is a body of customary law which all groups follow in matters of marriage, succession and inheritance. In other ways, the world religions have themselves had to adapt to Yoruba social organisation, and this produces other similarities and a degree of ritual and institutional convergence in the world religions.

A good example of this is in the organisation of rites of passage. Naming or 'outdooring' ceremonies, ikomojade, are the simplest of these. They take place early in the morning, a week after the birth of the child. The main ritual element is a short Muslim or Christian service, attended by the members of the compound and other friends and relatives of the parents. This may take place in the room of the bale if it is large enough, in a courtyard or in front of the house. In the Muslim case it is attended only by men, and it is conducted by the Imam for the town or quarter, or one of his deputies. Verses of the Koran are recited, and the Imam announces the Muslim name of the child. A series of prayers follow: for the child itself the parents, relatives, friends, or for anyone else. The person requesting the prayers places a sum of money before the Imam, and he and his followers divide it between themselves after the ceremony.

The Christian service is also very simple. Both men and women attend, and the local minister or pastor officiates. It consists of a Bible-reading, the blessing and naming of the child, prayers and a hymn.

In some cases, as with Muslim namings during the fast of Ramadan, the religious service is all that happens. But usually food and drinks are provided for the guests and these may be lavish. In the Muslim case, a goat of the same sex as the child is slaughtered to mark the occasion. Part of the meat is reserved for the Imam and his followers, and part is sent to senior relatives. But a well-to-do father of either religion might decide to slaughter a cow, provide beer, palm wine and soft drinks for the guests, and call in drummers. The food is prepared by the women in the compound. If either of the parents is an egbe member, the whole egbe will be invited and will receive special treatment, with a room, food and drinks reserved for them. The members make a contribution towards the parents' expenses.

The egbe are also involved in wedding celebrations. A relatively uniform pattern had developed in the towns where we worked. Formal invitations are circulated well in advance, printed in English and Yoruba, and they provide a major item of trade for the local printers. They set out in great detail the programme of events: entertainment at the house of the bride, the religious ceremony, a reception at the house of the groom, and possibly an all-night dance, with an imported band. A large proportion of the marriages take place, one after the other, at Christmas, after the harvest and when many salaried workers make their annual visits home. Members of the younger egbe are involved in several marriages in succession, so they are arranged consecutively where possible.

Many elements of traditional Yoruba marriage ritual (cf. Bascom, 1969a: 59ó64) have survived, with the addition of the Christian or Muslim service, though each town, and sometimes each compound, has its own variants. The festivities usually start in the house of the bride, where the guests are distributed in rooms throughout the compound according to age, sex and status, and are served with food and drink by members of the bride's egbe. This is followed by a blend of old and new elements. To give an Igbeti example, after the feasting the bride and her two closest friends were driven to the church for a service, complete with ring and presentation of a marriage certificate. A short reception at the church was followed by the traditional procession with drummers to the husband's house, accompanied by relatives and egbe members in their uniform (aso egbe). These processions usually take a roundabout route, and it may be hours before they reach their destination, with frequent pauses to greet relatives and dance en route. The celebrations had already started at the groom's house, and they continued for several days. Two cows were slaughtered, and drummers appeared each day, singing the praises of the guests and their descent groups, and collecting money. The following day the bride returned to her own compound to greet her parents in another procession, and there was an all-night dance at the husband's house with a band brought in from Ilorin.

Islamic marriages among the Yoruba follow a similar pattern of feasting and involvement of the egbe, though the bride usually leaves for her husband's house at night. The difference lies in the religious service. Marriage in Islam is a secular contract, requiring the presence of representatives from both compounds, not necessarily the bridegroom or bride. Usually, the father of the girl invites the Imam and his followers to the house, and the Imam satisfies himself that both parties agree to the match. He then recites from the Koran and declares them man and wife. This is followed by the usual round of prayers and contributions by those assembled. This rite, isoyigi, is only performed for four wives at any one time. In some cases, the ritual is modified, and the Imam insists on the presence of the couple so that he can deliver an address on marriage.

A second way in which the world religions have been adapted to Yoruba society is religious leadership, especially where the boundaries of religious groups and descent groups coincide. In traditional Yoruba religion, the bale was usually responsible for rituals in honour both of the ancestors and of the main orisa worshipped by the descent group. The principle of seniority operates in the world religions as well. Lay leadership in many congregations is based on age, wealth, seniority and a large following of descentgroup members. The pattern of leadership means that a congregation may divide into factions, reflecting other major disputes and cleavages in the community, or it may break up completely, in a series of schisms.

Another common form of dispute reflects disagreement over the criteria for leadership. In both Christianity and Islam, this can be based either on seniority within a descent group, or on religious expertise. In northern Ghana, trouble arose in a Yoruba Baptist Church when a group of literate evangelical Christians, supported by the junior egbe in the church, came into conflict with a group of wealthy elders over church policy (Eades, 1977). The evangelical group saw the main role of the church as the conversion of other ethnic groups. The elders regarded it as a means of establishing their own leadership in the migrant community. There are parallels with the struggles in the African churches in the early part of the century. A similar conflict has developed among Muslims over the selection of the Imam: should he be chosen on the basis of scholarship alone, or should the office, like other Yoruba titles, become hereditary in a single descent group (Gbadamosi, 1972)?

Given the importance of the elders in the large congregations in many towns, it is not surprising that much innovation has taken place among smaller, more marginal groups, such as groups of immigrants. In Ibadan, the first Aladura congregations to be established were mainly in the immigrant areas: only more recently have they spread to the indigenous quarters.

One result is that there is some correlation between church membership and social status. The most influential men in a community are usually staunch members of either the largest mission church or the central mosque. Oba Akinyele of Ibadan was unusual in that he was both a member of the Christian establishment in the town and an Aladura leader. In the same way, a generation before. Z.W. Thomas was unusual in that he was an African church leader and a member of the Lagos elite. The African churches have gradually acquired more of an 'establishment' image, but the Aladura churches are still viewed with suspicion by many of the mission Christians. Certainly the level of education among Aladura leaders is probably lower than that in the missions. They also make extensive use of drumming and dancing, and accept many aspects of the Yoruba worldview. But the Christ Apostolic Church in particular has tried hard to improve its image through its involvement in education, and as the number of second generation members of the Aladura churches grows, the stereotypes held by other Christians will gradually be modified.

The status hierarchy within Islam is more complex. There are two routes to high status: the first is through adopting a more distinctively 'Islamic' lifestyle, often based on Hausa Islamic models. This may involve Tijani membership, the intensification of ritual activity, knowledge of Arabic and the Koran, and the seclusion of women. The second is through membership of the AUD, the Ahmadiyya or similar groups, the encouragement of western education, the modernisation of ritual, and a more liberal attitude to the role of women. It is members of these groups who have the most in common with the Yoruba Christians.

But at the level of individual belief, how have the traditional Yoruba world-view and those of the world religions been reconciled? For many this has been little problem. Yoruba religion is instrumental in its emphasis. If imported elements appear to work, they are retained. There is no coherent and systematic theology with which to measure of reject them. Before the colonial period, the If a system had come to terms with Islam, treating it rather like another orisa cult. If a remains a body of lore which many Christians and Muslims still consult.

There are two main ways in which Yoruba belief and the world religions have interacted. The first is syncretism ó the blending of the new beliefs with the old. There have been syncretist religious movements among the Yorubaó reconciling the Bible with Ifa, or fitting Christ into the Yoruba pantheon ó but these are of minor importance. The second, and more usual, pattern is for those aspects of the world religions to be emphasised which are most in line with traditional beliefs. Olorun becomes God or Allah, while Esu can be identified with Satan. Christians can see witchcraft as the work of the devil, and continue to accept its reality, while the archangels take over the roles of the orisa as messengers of Olorun. The parallels extend to ritual. Passages of the Bible or the Koran can be used instead of Yoruba incantations, while Aladura prophecy and Islamic divination provide alternatives to Ifa. The Yoruba have succeeded in adapting the world religions to meet their needs, while at the same time retaining their own cultural identity to a remarkable extent. The traditional cults may have lost their power, their adherents and much of their vitality, but religious institutions and beliefs among the Yoruba still show many continuities with the past.

Aja (Yoruba mythology)

In Yoruba mythology, Aja is an Orisha, patron of the forest, the animals within it and herbal healers, whom she taught their art.
Among the Yoruba, aja also refer to a "wild wind". It's believed that if someone is carried away by aja, and then returns, he becomes a powerful "jujuman" (or babalawo). The journey supposedly will have a duration of between 7 days to 3 months, and the person so carried is thought to have gone to the land of the dead or heaven (Orun).


Because of its popularity, because of its depth and because of its uniqueness, D.O. Fagunwa’s writing is often regarded by many[1] as the pioneer of Yoruba literature – especially the novel.
As demonstrated elsewhere[2], there had been a sizeable literary work before Fagunwa. And even while he held sway, he had contemporaries. Because we have dealt fairly extensively on how written literature began in Yorubaland in Yoruba Literature: Post Fagunwa,[3] we are not going to regurgitate that here. It is however important to give a brief background to what is now generally (if bombastically) called the Yoruba Literature. This is with a view to be in a position to do a proper appraisal and more importantly to appreciate the current trend and what the future portends.

Yoruba writings: Before the Beginning
What is now known as Literature or Writing in Yoruba has its roots in the creation of Yoruba orthography and translation of the Bible into Yoruba by Bishop Ajayi Crowder. To facilitate the conversion of the people into Christianity, the missionaries and the then incipient colonial masters encouraged the local people to learn how to read and write albeit at elementary level. By so doing, they were gradually able to read Bible passages that were being translated into their local language – Yoruba. Over time, those of them who are becoming literate began to get jobs with the missionaries and with the colonial government just putting its foot on the ground here.

The first works in Yoruba language were those published by Henry Townsend and Samuel Ajayi Crowder respectively in 1848 and 1849. But the said works by the two writers were Christian songs and Biblical stories translated into Yoruba language. (Ogunsina: 2001).
To enhance his missionary work and widening the literacy environment, a Missionary, Bishop Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society, CMS, Abeokuta (now capital of Ogun State) established a printing press from which he was publishing the first newspaper in Nigeria. The newspaper was called Iwe Iroyin fun awon Egba ati Yoruba and was established in 1859. The emergence of this medium sort of democratized written words among the people for whom such was, up till then, unknown. The following year, in 1860, the newspaper published a poem in Yoruba titled ‘Igba Aro ati Igba Ayo’ (Morning Period and Period of Joy). It was, in a manner of speaking, the first ‘original’ creative work in Yoruba language to be published. ‘Igba Aro ati Igba Ayo’ was the translation of an elegy for one late Arthur Frances Allen whose life created so much impression on the anonymous author of the poem.
The practice established by Iwe Iroyin was followed by Yoruba newspapers that came thereafter. This was the practice of publishing Christian poems - Biblical songs or lyrics in praise of Christian/western ideas. Among the papers were Iwe Iroyin Eko by A.M. Thomas in 1888; Iwe Eko by Rev. J. Vernal in 1891; In Leisure Hours/Nigba ti owo ba dile by the Church Missionary Society in 1910; Eko Akete by Adeoye Deniga in 1922; Eleti Ofe by E.A. Akintan in 1923; The Yoruba News by D.A. Obasa in 1924; Eko Osoose by T.H. Jackson in 1925; Eko Igbehin by E.M. Awobiyi in 1926; Akede Eko by Isaac B. Thomas in 1928; Ijebu Weekly News by J. A. Olusola in 1934 and The Ijebu Weekly Echo by J.A. Odufuwa in 1947.
Let us now focus on the ‘Turning Points’.

1. Establishment of D.A. Obasa’s The Yoruba News in 1924
The first major turning point for Yoruba writing came in 1924 when D.A. Obasa established The Yoruba News at Ibadan. A literary artist and exponent, Obasa, from the onset, dedicated a whole page of his newspaper to the publication of poems in and of Yoruba people. He called it Awon Akewi (The Poets) or Yoruba Philosophy. Works in Awon Akewi, very much unlike their predecessors that were essentially on Biblical and Christian ideas, those published in Obasa’s The Yoruba News were original works of the authors, written purely in Yoruba and consisting of majorly Yoruba ideas. In 1927, he gathered those together and brought them out as an anthology under the title ‘Yoruba Philosophy’.

2. Publication of the first Yoruba novel Itan Emi Segilola
The second milestone for Yoruba literature came in July 1930 with the publication by Isaac Babalola Thomas of a prose called Itan Emi Segilola Eleyinjuege. Before the publication of this novel, I.B. Thomas (as the author was popularly known) had been publishing the story that made up the book in series in his newspaper, Akede Eko established in 1928. Going by the instant success of the book, it is safe to conjecture that Thomas was actually encouraged to publish the story in book form as a result of how people were favourably reacting to the it when it was serialized in the newspaper.
One of the reasons that could account for the instant success could be the author’s shift from earlier writings which were based on Bible stories and classical tales that were then popular in the western world. Among such classics was Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves which, in its Yoruba translation was titled Ali Baba ati Awon Ogoji Olosa.
Adegboyega Sobande followed Thomas’ footstep when in 1949 he started the serialization of what later became Rigimo Obinrin Ko Se Tu (Women’s Contrivances are Difficult to Unravel) in a Yoruba language newspaper appropriately named Irohin Yoruba. This latter newspaper was in the stable of the Nigerian Tribune, an Ibadan-based newspaper established in 1949 by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
We need to do a quick flashback here.

3. The Fagunwa Phenomenon
In 1938, a school teacher, David O. Fagunwa came out with a book entitled Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale. In part because of its novelty, in part because of the richness of language, in part because it treated familiar themes and because it relied heavily on folklores with which people were familiar, Ogboju Ode was an instant success.
Also because of their classical nature, richness and because of the prolificity of its author, Fagunwa’s books (he wrote four others after Ogboju Ode) became so prodigious that they, for a long time, seemed to overshadow other writings in the same genre. Indeed, it is only recently that many, outside the circle of the educated Yorubas, are beginning to realize that there were indeed some other literary works of note before and during Fagunwa’s ‘reign’. Such was the intensity of leverage the Fagunwa’s works wielded.
The books, in order of publication are:
1. 1938, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, Nelson, Edinghburg,.
2. 1940, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje, Nelson, Lagos .
3. 1946, Igbo Eledumare, Nelson, Lagos .
4. 1949, Ireke Onibudo, Nelson, Lagos .
5. 1963, Adiitu Olodumare, Nelson, Lagos.

Besides assembling Yoruba folklores and weaving them together to form a composite narrative, Fagunwa, in each of his works, preaches ‘high morals’ from Yoruba cultural perspective as well as Christian ethos. The five works (written between 1936 and 1961) essentially deal with Yoruba traditional society. The first two works centre on how life was lived in pre-colonial Yoruba society. His latter works also consider the traditional society. But this time taking cognizance of the fact that real social and political power has shifted from Obas or traditional chiefs to the colonialists. The Fagunwa phenomenon thus represented the third landmark in the evolution of Yoruba literature.

4. Literary competition organized by the Ministry of Education
One other point needs to be stressed before we leave Fagunwa. And it has to do with the impact it created. Many writers were trying to imitate his style of writing but without the same measure of success. So prodigious was this impact that those in charge of education in Yorubaland felt that something has to be done not to create the impression that all that is to Yoruba literature is mysticism, the bizarre and the grotesque with which Fagunwa’s writings are suffused. Thus, the Ministry of Education, Western Region, in 1963, organized a literary competition to encourage established and budding writers. One curious thing about the advertisement announcing the competition was a clause which warned those who wanted to take part to submit only works that deal with contemporary issues of Nigeria ‘of today’. We have this from, among others, the work of one of those who took part, Oluwafemi Jeboda who, in the Foreword to his work, Olowolaiyemo (1964), states that the organizers insist that:
“… iru itan ti awon n fe ni itan ti o n so nipa iru awon ohun ti a le fi oju ri ni ile Naijiria ni ode oni”
(…the type of story they want is the one that deals with contemporary things we can see – and experience - in Nigeria today).
Incidentally, Jeboda’s entry, Olowolaiyemo, won the first prize in the competition.
Naturally, the effect of such a demand from the Ministry of Education and that of the result of the competition was to sway writers away from the type of writing popularized by Fagunwa.
Among the works that came most probably as a result were Isaac Delano’s L’Ojo Ojo Un (1963); J.F. Odunjo’s Kuye (1964); J.F. Odunjo’s Omo Oku Orun (1964) and Afolabi Olabimtan’s Kekere Ekun (1967). Other sequels included Adebayo Faleti’s Omo Olokun Esin (1969); Oladejo Okediji’s Aja Lo L’eru (1969); Kola Akinlade’s Owo Te Amookunsika (1970); Kola Akinlade’s Ta Lo Pa Omo Oba? (1970); Adekanmi Oyedele’s Iwo Ni (1970). In the same category can be counted T.A.A. Ladele’s Je N Logba Temi (1971); Oladejo Okediji’s Agbalagba Akan (1971); Oladipupo Yemiitan’s Gbobaniyi (1972); Olawuyi Ogunniran’s Eegun Alare (1972); Kola Akinlade’s Asenibanidaro (1973); Kola Akinlade’s Ta L’Ole Ajomogbe? (1973); Afolabi Olabimtan’s Ayanmo (1973); Kola Akinlade’s Alosi Ologo (1974); Akin Isola’s O Le Ku (1974) and Kola Akinlade’s Owo Eje to mention just some.

5. Emergence of Yoruba (Language) Studies organizations
Emergence of non-governmental organizations promoting the studying of Yoruba language and literature such as Egbe Akomolede Yoruba also has an effect on the evolution, course and growth of Yoruba literature. The major impact being in the encouragement it gave for writers to write in modern Yoruba orthography and the pride it induces in Yoruba writers and readers.
6. Nigeria’s Economic Dysfunction
The skewness brought to indigenous values forced on the people partly by globalization and mainly by economic breakdown in Nigeria beginning from 1985, have some (deleterious) effects on Yoruba literature (as, I daresay, they have on Nigerian literature generally). One of these effects is the slant it brought to thematic thrusts and language usage in these literatures.
The devaluation of the naira, the increase in costs of items and services without a corresponding increase in people’s general income meant that people had less money to devote to non-essential matters.
Thus, the economic strait that berthed the land adversely affected people’s values. This was largely reflected in how those who, under normal circumstance, would not have anything to do with anyone with any iota of deficient integrity began to revere characters that they knew deserve nothing but contempt. They do this because of the favour they expect from the said characters who are, for the moment, materially better. Such used not be the case in the past when the refrain was ‘Oruko rere san ju wura ati fadaka lo.’ (Good name i.e. integrity, is far better than gold and silver!) Pitiably, the economic dislocation behind the desecration of the indigenous values that used to keep people in check made many to place survival – at all cost – above any other considerations.
As it were, the period starting from circa 1985 also marked the beginning of increase in the cost of education. Thus, parents and youths who were in the best position to buy books for leisure and recreation were greatly disadvantaged. Beginning from that time also were three other factors that have been having undesirable effects on writing and reading in Nigeria – irrespective of the language of writing. These were:
a.the declining attention government was paying to education as well as the inconsistencies in the country’s educational policies; avalanche of private schools that began to spring up, and
c.emphasis on science subjects at the expense of arts subjects in schools.

Collectively, these issues led to a waning interest in writing and where people write, they are inclined to write what schools are likely to adopt as school texts because that is the only way they could be guaranteed of sales. In part because such writings must be such that appeals to youths of school age, the language and themes must be such that will appeal to people of that age. Such constraints do not encourage the writing of profound works of art. Being market driven, works issuing out of such premises will be profane, banal, superficial while the language has always tends to be meta-language, i.e. a sub-language that is only a little better than a mimickry of the original.

7. Onslaught on Yoruba language
Yoruba literature also suffered one other important assault, again from around the second coming of the military into the Nigerian political scene at the end of 1983.
As a result of the influence of foreign culture and as a result of increasing economic difficulties resulting in the erosion of self fulfillment and self confidence, many people began to seek mostly unorthodox ways out. One of these includes the temptation to ape others with a view to impressing them. The most significant impact of this on Yoruba literature is the preference of parents and guardians for English at the costly expense of the indigenous language. They not only force these children to ‘speak in English’, they sanction any of them who speaks ‘vernacular’. It was a kind of resuscitating what the colonialists practiced and later jettisoned when they were ruling us!
Thus, those who discouraged the speaking of Yoruba can not, at the same time read, let alone encourage their children to read Yoruba literature. And one who does not read in a given language can not, other things being equal, write in that language. This is one other predicament Yoruba literature is suffering from. The development sort of ‘forced’ some young people who would have written in Yoruba to veer into writing in English mainly – if they must write at all!
In one sentence therefore, we can say that the situation has led to a phenomenon called ‘writing for survival’ rather than writing for elucidation, edification and entertainment.

From the foregoing, it should not be too difficult to speculate on what direction Yoruba literature – nay Nigerian literature – is heading.
On the surface, one would just have thrown his hands up and say, the end is near. But three major factors are, happily, making us to be hopeful. The first is the efforts of Egbe Akomolede and Yoruba Studies Association including new organizations springing up to promote and propagate the Yoruba idylls.
The second is the practice started recently by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) to promote indigenous literature. One of such efforts is this particular symposium being done under the auspices of the River State Arts Festival.
The third source of hope is the renaissance being brought into Yoruba ideas, culture, language and worldview. Young people are being made to be proud of their Yorubaness. Three other helpful items that must be mentioned in this respect are publication of newspapers and magazines in Yoruba language, audio visual and musicals in Yoruba language and government’s educational policy which makes it mandatory for school students to study at least one Nigerian language apart from his or her own.
With the above being intensified, it is safe to predict that a new dawn is very much in the making for Yoruba literature.

Ajayi, Jare: Yoruba Literature: Post Fagunwa; a paper presented at the Conference on Indigenous Nigerian Literature, Kaduna State University, August, 2008.
Akinlade, Kola: Asenibanidaro (1973); Macmillan, Lagos
-Ta L’Ole Ajomogbe? (1973); Macmillan, Lagos.
-Alosi Ologo (1974); Macmillan, Lagos.
-Owo Eje; (1976), Onibonoje, Ibadan.

Yoruba literature

Yoruba literature is the spoken and written literature of the Yoruba people, the largest ethno-linguistic group in Nigeria, and in Africa. The Yorùbá language is spoken in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, as well as in dispersed Yoruba communities throughout the world.


Yoruba did not have a common written form before the nineteenth century. Many of the early contributions to Yoruba writing and formal study were made by English-educated Anglican priests. The first Yoruba grammar was published in 1843 by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. He himself was of Yoruba origin. The written form of the Yoruba language comes from a Conference on Orthography from the Church Missionary Society in Lagos, in 1875. The first history of the Yoruba people was compiled by Reverend Samuel Johnson in 1897 who was also of Yoruba origin. Thus, it must be noted that the formation of written Yoruba was facilitated by Yoruba people themselves despite the use of the Roman alphabet.


Yoruba religion is intertwined with history, with Yoruba claiming to descend from divinities, and some kings becoming deified after their deaths. Itan is the word for the sum of Yoruba religion, poetry, song, and history. Yoruba divinities are called Orishas, and make up one of the most complex pantheons in oral history.
Ifá, a complex system of divination, involves recital of Yoruba poetry containing stories and proverbs bearing on the divination. A divination recital can take a whole night. The body of this poetry is vast, and passed on between Ifa oracles.


The first novel in the Yorùbá language was Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale (The Forest of A Thousand Demons), written in 1938 by Chief Daniel O. Fagunwa (1903–1963). It contains the picaresque tales of a Yoruba hunter encountering folklore elements, such as magic, monsters, spirits, and gods. It was one of the first novels to be written in any African language. Fagunwa wrote other works based on similar themes, and remains the most widely-read Yorùbá-language author.
Amos Tutuola (1920–1997) was greatly inspired by Fagunwa, but wrote in an intentionally rambling, broken English, reflecting the oral tradition. Tutuola gained fame for The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1946, pub 1952), and other works based on Yoruba folklore.
Senator Afolabi Olabimtan (1932–1992) was a writer, along with professor, and politician. He wrote Yoruba language novels about modern Nigerian life and love, such as Kekere Ekun (1967; [Lad Nicknamed] Leopard Cub), and Ayanmo (1973; Predestination).


In his pioneering study of Yoruba theatre, Joel Adedeji traced its origins to the masquerade of the Egungun (the "cult of the ancestor").[1] The traditional rite is controlled exclusively by men and culminates in a masquerade in which ancestors return to the world of the living to visit their descendants.[2] In addition to its origin in ritual, Yoruba theatre can be "traced to the 'theatrogenic' nature of a number of the deities in the Yoruba pantheon, such as Obatala the god of creation, Ogun the god of creativeness and Sango the god of lightning", whose worship is imbricated "with drama and theatre and their symbolic and psychological uses."[3]
The Aláàrìnjó theatrical tradition sprang from the Egungun masquerade. The Aláàrìnjó were a troupe of traveling performers who were masked (as were the participants in the Egungun rite). They created short, satirical scenes that drew on a number of established stereotypical characters. Their performances used mime, music and acrobatics. The Aláàrìnjó tradition influenced the Yoruba traveling theatre, which was the most prevalent and highly developed form of theatre in Nigeria from the 1950s to the 1980s. In the 1990s, the Yoruba traveling theatre moved into television and film and now gives live performances only rarely.[4]
"Total theatre" also developed in Nigeria in the 1950s. It used non-Naturalistic techniques, surrealistic physical imagery, and exercised a flexibile use of language. Playwrights writing in the mid 1970s made use of some of these techniques, but articulated them with "a radical appreciation of the problems of society."[5]
Traditional performance modes have strongly influenced the major figures in contemporary Nigerian theatre. The work of Hubert Ogunde (sometimes referred to as the "father of contemporary Yoruban theatre") was informed by the Aláàrìnjó tradition and Egungun masquerades.[6] He founded the first professional Nigerian theatre company in 1945 and served in many roles, including playwright, in both English and Yoruba.
Wole Soyinka is "generally recognized as Africa’s greatest living playwright" and was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.[7] He writes in English, sometimes a Nigerian pidgin English, and his subjects (in both plays and novels) include a mixture of Western, traditional, and modern African elements. He gives the god Ogun a complex metaphysical significance in his work.[7] In his essay "The Fourth Stage" (1973), Soyinka argues that "no matter how strongly African authors call for an indigenous tragic art form, they smuggle into their dramas, through the back door of formalistic and ideological predilections, typically conventional Western notions and practices of rendering historical events into tragedy."[8] He contrasts Yoruban drama with classical Athenian drama, relating both to the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's analysis of the latter in The Birth of Tragedy (1879). Ogun, he argues, is "a totality of the Dionysian, Apollonian and Promethean virtues."[9] He develops an aesthetic of Yoruban tragedy based, in part, on the Yoruban religious pantheon (including Ogun and Obatala).[10]
Akinwunmi Isola is a popular novelist (beginning with O Le Ku, Heart-Rending Incidents, in 1974), playwright, screenwriter, film producer, and professor of Yoruba language. His works include historical dramas and analyses of modern Yoruba novels.

Compiled by : Wole Adedoyin (08072673852)