Tuesday 4 January 2022



At the primordial time, there were about 20 Yoruba kingdoms with different kings ruling over each one. Ife was then known as the centre of cultural and religious life until the emergence of Oyo as the new political power centre.

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 this great kingdom.

In the 18th century, European countries were beginning to create colonies all over the world.  Europeans were taking villages from West Africa 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. Britain was granted right by the other European nations to colonize Yorubaland, and in 1893, Yorubaland became a part of s larger colony known officially as Nigeria.

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. 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 1,500years. They created a strong economy through farming, trading, and art production. Their outstanding and unique artistic traditions include woodcarving, sculpture, metal work, textiles and hardwork.

The Yorubas 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 matchetes, 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 vegetable oil 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 one another in large compounds. An elder was put in charge as the head of the compound. Towns became organized by the occupation the people did.

Portuguese explorer “discovered” the Yoruba cities and kingdoms in the fifteenth century, but cities such as Ife and Benin, among others, had been standing at their present sites for at least five hundred years before the European arrival. Archeological evidence indicates that a technologically and artistically advanced, proto-Yoruba (Nok) were living somewhat north of the Niger in the first millennium B.C., and they were then already working with iron.

The Ifa corpus states that the creation of humankind arose in the sacred city of Ile Ife where Oduduwa created dry land from water. Much later on, an unknown number of Africans migrated from Mecca. At this point the Eastern Africans and West Africans synergized.

Ife was the first of all Yoruba cities. Oyo and Benin came later and expanded as a consequence of their strategic locations at a time when trading became prosperous. Ife, unlike Oyo, never developed onto a true kingdom. But though it remained a city-state, it had paramount importance to Yorubas as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought.

Until recent times, the Yoruba did not consider themselves a single people, but rather as citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yagba and other cities, regions or kingdoms. These cities regarded Lagos and Owo, for example, as foreign neighbors. The name Yoruba was applied to all these linguistically and culturally related peoples by their northern neighbors, the Hausas.

The old Yoruba cities typically were urban centers with surrounding farmlands that extended outward as much as a dozen miles or more. A common Yoruba belief system dominated the region from the Niger, where it flows in an easterly direction, all the way to the Gulf of Guinea in the south.

It is no accident that the Yoruba cultural influence spread across the Atlantic to the Americas. European slave hunters violently captured and marched untold millions of Africans to their demise on over crowded slave ships bound for the Americas. Slave wars launched by the kingdom of Dahomey against some of the Yoruba kingdoms, and slave wars between the Yorubas themselves made war casualty Africans available for transportation to the Americas. Yoruba slaves were sent to British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the New World, and in a number of these places, Yoruba traditions survived strongly. In Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and Trinidad, Yoruba religious rites, beliefs, music and myths are evident even till date. In Haiti the Yorubas were generally called Anagos. Afro-Haitian religious activities give Yoruba rites and beliefs an honoured place, and the pantheon includes numerous deities of Yoruba origin. In Brazil, Yoruba religious activities are called Anago or Shango, and in Cuba they are designated Lucumi.

Slavery in the United States was quite different from other colonized regions. In the U.S chattel type slavery was the means where the language and culture was whipped and beat out of the African captives. In the U.S., throughout the Diaspora, the African generally received the death penalty for practicing his or her culture. Today, the religion has undergone a phenomenal surge in popularity and interest. Santeria, the adaptation of Yoruba and Ifa with Catholism, came to states first Puerto Ricans in the forties and fifties and then with the flood of Cuban refugees in the sixties. In all of these places mentioned above, the pantheon of major Yoruba deities has survived virtually intact, along with a complex rites, beliefs, music, dances and myths of Yoruba origin.

In recent years, availability of attainable air travel has enabled African Americans to go back to the essence from which this great culture derived (Africa) and gather the information needed to teach and assist others. Places like Oyotunji village in Beaufort, South Carolina, DOYA (Descendants of the Yoruba in America), foundation in Cleveland, OH, Ile Ori Ifa Temple in Atlanta, GA, and African Paridise in Griffin, GA where Yoruba culture and religion arte still practiced, are just a few of many locations that offer a place to reclaim the religion of self awareness, inner strength, inner peace and unlimited power for our evolution.

To be continued....

Source: Compass News, Friday, June 4, 2010, page 40.

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