Monday 29 April 2024

Story of Walter Eugene King, founder of Oyotunji in America

Walter Eugene King, later known as Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, was born on October 5, 1928, in Detroit, Michigan, to a Baptist family deeply rooted in Black nationalism. His parents, Wilhelmina and Roy King, were followers of Marcus Garvey's Back to Africa movement, but Walter's curiosity led him on a different path.

Growing up in Detroit, Walter noticed the absence of African cultural celebrations in his community. At the age of 15, he asked his mother about African gods, but she had no answers. Determined to learn more about his heritage, Walter delved into books and discovered the Yoruba religion.

Through his research, Walter learned about the Yoruba people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, with roots in Nigeria. Despite the spread of Yoruba religion through the slave trade, it was believed to have ceased to exist in the United States until Walter, now known as Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, revived it.

In 1956, Adefunmi established three Yoruba temples in New York City, sparking a cultural revival. He founded the Orisa-Vodun branch of Yoruba religion and created Oyotunji Village in South Carolina in 1970. Oyotunji became a haven for African Americans searching for their spiritual and cultural identity.

The village, located in the Gullah Geechee Corridor, welcomed visitors with a sign that read: "You are leaving the United States. You are entering Yoruba Kingdom … Welcome to Our Land!" Oyotunji Village, with its life-size carvings, shrines, and Yoruba spoken, became a symbol of African cultural preservation.

He was ultimately crowned Oba, or King of the Yoruba in North America, by the ooni, the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

The Yoruba Temple in Harlem, which Adefunmi established in 1960, attracted Black activists, like the poet and playwright Amiri Baraka and Queen Mother Moore. The three served together in the Republic of New Africa, a Black nationalist organization formed on the idea that a self-governed Black nation should be created out of five Southern states. The group also sought reparations of $4 billion.

Adefunmi's son, Oba Adejuyigbe Adefunmi II, eventually became the village's king, continuing his father's legacy. Today, Oyotunji Village receives about 20,000 visitors annually, and Yoruba culture has gained popularity worldwide.

Adefunmi's efforts to revive Yoruba religion and culture have had a lasting impact, with Yoruba practices now recognized and celebrated globally. His dedication to preserving African heritage has left a profound legacy, inspiring pride and cultural appreciation among African Americans and others around the world.

Photos: 1-3

Adefunmi I in 1976. He described his village as “a place of rehabilitation for African Americans in search of their spiritual and cultural identity.”


Adefunmi I in 1997. One newspaper called him the “father of the Yoruban cultural restoration movement.” He died in 2005.


Adefunmi I in 1973 working on maintenance in the Yoruba village he created.

Sourced and reworked from The New York Times by Historical Africa Yoruba

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