Yoruba people

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Yorùbá People
Àwọn ọmọ Yorùbá
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Total population
c. 40 million
Regions with significant populations
 Nigeria 36 million (2013)[1]
 Benin 1.2 million (2012)[2]
 Ghana 0.4 million[3]
 Togo 0.1 million[3]
 Ivory Coast 0.1 million[3]
 Europe 0.2 million[4]
North America 0.2 million[5]
Related ethnic groups
Bini, Nupe, Igala, Itsekiri, Ebira, Fon, Ewe, Esan

The Yoruba people (Yoruba: Àwọn ọmọ Yorùbá) are an ethnic group of Southwestern and North central Nigeria as well as Southern and Central Benin in West Africa. The Yorùbá constitute over 35 million people in total; the majority of this population is from Nigeria and make up 21% of its population, according to the CIA World Factbook,[1] making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language which is tonal, and is the Niger-Congo language with the largest number of native speakers.[6]

The Yorùbá share borders with the Borgu in Benin; the Nupe and Ebira in central Nigeria; and the Edo, the Ẹsan, and the Afemai in mid-western Nigeria. The Igala and other related groups are found in the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, Ewe and others in the southeast Benin. The Itsekiri who live in the north-west Niger delta are related to the Yoruba but maintain a distinct cultural identity. Significant Yoruba populations in other West African countries can be found in Ghana,[7][8] Togo,[8] Ivory Coast,[9]Liberia and Sierra Leone[10] (where they have blended in with the Saro and Sierra Leone Creole people).

The Yoruba diaspora consists of two main groupings, one of them includes relatively recent migrants, the majority of which moved to the United States and the United Kingdom after major economic changes in the 1970s; the other is a much older population dating back to the Atlantic slave trade. This older community has branches in such countries as Cuba, Brazil,[11] and Trinidad and Tobago.[12][13][14][15]


As an ethnic description, the word "Yoruba" was first recorded in reference to the Oyo Empire in a treatise written by the 16th-century Songhai scholar Ahmed Baba. It was popularized by Hausa usage[16] and ethnography written in Arabic and Ajami during the 19th century, in origin referring to the Oyo exclusively. The extension of the term to all speakers of dialects related to the language of the Oyo (in modern terminology North-West Yoruba) dates to the second half of the 19th century. It is due to the influence of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria. Crowther was himself a Yoruba and compiled the first Yoruba dictionary as well as introducing a standard for Yoruba orthography.

The alternative name Akú, apparently an exonym derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings (such as Ẹ kú àárọ? "good morning", Ẹ kú alẹ? "good evening") has survived in certain parts of their diaspora as a self-descriptive, especially in Sierra Leone[16][17][18]


Main article: Yoruba language

The Yoruba culture was originally an oral tradition, and the majority of Yoruba people are native speakers of the Yoruba language. The number of speakers is roughly estimated at about 30 million in 2010.[19] Yoruba is classified within the Edekiri languages, which together with the isolate Igala, form the Yoruboid group of languages within the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family. Igala and Yoruba have important historical and cultural relationships. The languages of the two ethnic groups bear such a close resemblance that researchers such as Forde (1951) and Westermann and Bryan (1952) regarded Igala as a dialect of Yoruba.

The Yoruboid languages are assumed to have developed out of an undifferentiated Volta-Niger group by the 1st millennium BCE. There are three major dialect areas: Northwest, Central, and Southeast.[20] As the North-West Yoruba dialects show more linguistic innovation, combined with the fact that Southeast and Central Yoruba areas generally have older settlements, suggests a later date of immigration for Northwest Yoruba.[21] The area where North-West Yoruba (NWY) is spoken corresponds to the historical Oyo Empire. South-East Yoruba (SEY) was probably associated with the expansion of the Benin Empire after c. 1450.[22] Central Yoruba forms a transitional area in that the lexicon has much in common with NWY, whereas it shares many ethnographical features with SEY.

Literary Yoruba, the standard variety learnt at school and spoken by newsreaders on the radio, has its origin in the Yoruba grammar compiled in the 1850s by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Though for a large part based on the Oyo and Ibadan dialects, it incorporates several features from other dialects.[23]


Further information: Ife
Further information: Yoruba mythology
Some Yoruba cities of the Middle Ages

As of the 7th century BCE the African peoples who lived in Yorubaland, were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group.

The historical Yoruba develop in situ, out of earlier Mesolithic Volta-Niger populations, by the 1st millennium BCE.Oral history recorded under the Oyo Empire derives the Yoruba as an ethnic group from the population of the older kingdom of Ile-Ife. Archaeologically, the settlement at Ife shows features of urbanism in the 12th - 14th century era. In the period around 1300 C.E. the artists at Ife developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta, stone and copper alloy - copper, brass, and bronze many of which appear to have been created under the patronage of King Obalufon II, the man who today is identified as the Yoruba patron deity of brass casting, weaving and regalia.[24] The dynasty of kings at Ife, which regarded the Yoruba as the place of origin of human civilization, remains intact to this day. The urban phase of Ife before the rise of Oyo, c. 1100–1600, a significant peak of political centralization in the 12th century)[25][26] is commonly described as a "golden age" of Ife. The oba or ruler of Ife is referred to as the Ooni of Ife.[27]

Oyo and Ile-Ife[edit]

Ife continues to be seen as the "spiritual homeland" of the Yoruba. The city was surpassed by the Oyo Empire[28] as the dominant Yoruba military and political power in the 17th century.[29]

The Oyo Empire under its oba, known as the Alaafin of Oyo, was active in the African slave trade during the 18th century. The Yoruba often demanded slaves as a form of tribute of subject populations, who in turn sometimes made war on other peoples to capture the required slaves. Part of the slaves sold by the Oyo Empire entered the Atlantic slave trade.[30][31]

Most of the city states were controlled by Obas (or royal sovereigns with various individual titles) 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 kingships and the chiefs' councils. Some, such as Oyo, had powerful, autocratic monarchs with almost total control, while in others such as the Ijebu city-states, the senatorial councils held more influence and the power of the ruler or Ọba, referred to as the Awujale of Ijebuland, was more limited.

Yoruba settlements are often described as primarily one or more of the main social groupings called "generations":[citation needed]

  • The "first generation" includes towns and cities known as original capitals of founding Yoruba kingdoms or states.
  • The "second generation" consists of settlements created by conquest.
  • The "third generation" consists of villages and municipalities that emerged following the internecine wars of the 19th century.

Pre-colonial government of Yoruba society[edit]

Main article: Yorubaland


Oyo Empire and surrounding states.

Monarchies were a common form of government in Yorubaland, but they were not the only approach to government and social organization. The numerous Ijebu city-states to the west of Oyo and the Ẹgba communities, found in the forests below Ọyọ's savanna region, were notable exceptions. These independent polities often elected an Ọba, though real political, legislative, and judicial powers resided with the Ogboni, a council of notable elders. The notion of the divine king was so important to the Yoruba, however, that it has been part of their organization in its various forms from their antiquity to the contemporary era.

During the internecine wars of the 19th century, the Ijebu forced citizens of more than 150 Ẹgba and Owu communities to migrate to the fortified city of Abeokuta. Each quarter retained its own Ogboni council of civilian leaders, along with an Olorogun, or council of military leaders, and in some cases its own elected Obas or Baales. These independent councils elected their most capable members to join a federal civilian and military council that represented the city as a whole. Commander Frederick Forbes, a representative of the British Crown writing an account of his visit to the city in the Church Military Intelligencer (1853),[32] described Abẹokuta as having "four presidents", and the system of government as having "840 principal rulers or 'House of Lords,' 2800 secondary chiefs or 'House of Commons,' 140 principal military ones and 280 secondary ones."[citation needed] He described Abẹokuta and its system of government as "the most extraordinary republic in the world."[citation needed]


Gerontocratic leadership councils that guarded against the monopolization of power by a monarch were a trait of the Ẹgba, according to the eminent Ọyọ historian Reverend Samuel Johnson. Such councils were also well-developed among the northern Okun groups, the eastern Ekiti, and other groups falling under the Yoruba ethnic umbrella. In Ọyọ, the most centralized of the precolonial kingdoms, the Alaafin consulted on all political decisions with the prime elector or president of the House of Lords (the Basọrun) and the rest of the council of leading nobles known as the Ọyọ Mesi.

Traditionally kingship and chieftainship were not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. An electoral college of lineage heads was and still is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families from any given realm, and the selection is then confirmed by an Ifá oracular request. The Ọbas live in palaces that are usually in the center of the town. Opposite the king's palace is the Ọja Ọba, or the king's market. These markets form an inherent part of Yoruba life. Traditionally their traders are well organized, have various guilds, officers, and an elected speaker. They also often have at least one Iyaloja, or Lady of the Market, who is expected to represent their interests in the aristocratic council of oloyes at the palace.


Statue of Oduduwa adimula jigbini bi ate akun, first Emperor and Suzerain of the Yoruba at Ile-Ife

The monarchy of any city-state was usually limited to a number of royal lineages.[33] A family could be excluded from kingship and chieftaincy if any family member, servant, or slave belonging to the family committed a crime, such as theft, fraud, murder or rape. In other city-states, the monarchy was open to the election of any free-born male citizen. In Ilesa, Ondo, Akure and other Yoruba communities, there were several, but comparatively rare, traditions of female Ọbas. The kings were traditionally almost always polygamous and often married royal family members from other domains, thereby creating useful alliances with other rulers.[34] Ibadan, a city-state and proto-empire founded in the 18th century by a polyglot group of refugees, soldiers, and itinerant traders from Ọyọ and the other Yoruba sub-groups largely dispensed with the concept of monarchism, preferring to elect both military and civil councils from a pool of eminent citizens. The city became a military republic, with distinguished soldiers wielding political power through their election by popular acclaim and the respect of their peers. Similar practices were adopted by the Ijẹsa and other groups, which saw a corresponding rise in the social influence of military adventurers and successful entrepreneurs. The Ìgbómìnà were renowned for their agricultural and hunting prowess, as well as their woodcarving, leather art, and the famous Elewe masquerade.

Groups, organizations and leagues in Yorubaland[edit]

Occupational guilds, social clubs, secret or initiatory societies, and religious units, commonly known as Ẹgbẹ in Yoruba, included the Parakoyi (or league of traders) and Ẹgbẹ Ọdẹ (hunter's guild), and maintained an important role in commerce, social control, and vocational education in Yoruba polities.There are also examples of other peer organizations in the region. When the Ẹgba resisted the imperial domination of the Ọyọ Empire, a figure named Lisabi is credited with either creating or reviving a covert traditional organization named Ẹgbẹ Aro. This group, originally a farmers' union, was converted to a network of secret militias throughout the Ẹgba forests, and each lodge plotted and successfully managed to overthrow Ọyọ's Ajeles (appointed administrators) in the late 18th century.

Similarly, covert military resistance leagues like the Ekiti Parapọ and the Ogidi alliance were organized during the 19th century wars by often-decentralized communities of the Ekiti, Ijẹsa, Ìgbómìnà and Okun Yoruba in order to resist various imperial expansionist plans of Ibadan, Nupe, and the Sokoto Caliphate.

Society and culture[edit]

An egungun masquerade dance garment in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Main article: Yoruba culture

In the city-states and many of their neighbors, a reserved way of life remains, with the school of thought of their people serving as a major influence in West Africa and elsewhere.

Today, most contemporary Yoruba are Christians and Muslims. Be that as it may, many of the principles of the traditional faith of their ancestors are either knowingly or unknowingly upheld by a significant proportion of the populations of Nigeria, Benin and Togo[citation needed].

Traditional religion and mythology[edit]

Main article: Yoruba religion
Further information: Yoruba medicine

The Yoruba faith, variously known as Aborisha, Orisha-Ifa or simply (and erroneously) Ifa, is commonly seen as one of the principal components of the African traditional religions.

fe bronze casting Orí Olókun (Head of Olokun), dated to around the 12th Century, currently in the British Museum.[35]

Orisa'nla, also known as Ọbatala,[36] was the arch-divinity chosen by Olodumare, the Supreme God, to create solid land out of the primordial water that then constituted the earth and populating the land with human beings.[37]

Traditional Yoruba religion[edit]

The Yorùbá religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practices of the Yoruba people.[38] Its homeland is in Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, a region that has come to be known as Yorubaland. Yorùbá religion is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder.[39] Yoruba religious beliefs are part of itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories and other cultural concepts which make up the Yorùbá society.[39]

Cockerel on Osun chalice. In the Yoruba creation story, Olodumare the supreme God sent Obatala to earth to create mankind. One of the things he took with him was a rooster, which spread soil over the earth by using its clawed feet

One of the most common Yoruba traditional religious concepts has been the concept of Orisha. Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) are various godly forms, that reflect one of the various manifestations / avatars of God in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system. Some widely known Orisha are Ogun, (God of metal), Shango or Jakuta (God of thunder, lightening and fire, who manifests as a king always wielding a double-edged axe which conveys his Ashe or divine authority & power), Esu/Eshu elegbara (The trickster and sole messenger to the pantheon, who conveys the wish of men to the gods. He understands every language / tongue spoken by humankind, and is also the guardian of the crossroads, Oríta méta in Yoruba). Eshu has two avatar forms which are both manifestations of his cunning nature; Eshu Laroye, a teacher instructor and leader, and Eshu Ebita, jesty, deceitful, suggestive and cunning ,[40] Orunmila, The god of Infinite Knowledge, divination, wisdom and fortune-telling, who reveals the past, solution to problems in the present, and the future, consulted through the Ifa divination system by oracles called Babalawos.

Olorun is one of the manifestations / avatars of the Supreme God of the Yoruba pantheon, the owner of the heavens, and is associated with the Sun known as Oòrùn in the Yoruba language. The other two avatar forms of the supreme God are; Olodumare, the supreme creator and Olofin, who is the conduit between Òrunn (Heaven) and Ayé (Earth), Oshumare a god that manifests in the form of a rainbow, also known as Òsùmàrè in Yorùbá Etc[41] This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in practices as varied as Candomblé, Lucumí/Santería, Shango in Trinidad (Trinidad Orisha), Anago and Oyotunji, as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and a host of others. These varieties, or spiritual lineages as they are called, are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela, among others. As interest in African indigenous religions grows, Orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well. While estimates may vary, some scholars believe that there could be more than 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide.[42]


Main article: Oduduwa
Beaded crown (Adé) of a Yoruba Oba, The Ogoga of Ikere, Ekiti state. According to Yoruba customs, only kings who are direct descendants of Oduduwa can wear a beaded crown

Oral history of the Oyo-Yoruba recounts Odùduwà to be the Progenitor of the Yoruba and the reigning ancestor of their crowned kings.

His coming from the east, sometimes understood by some sources as the "vicinity" true East on the Cardinal points, 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 groups like Igala, Igbo, and Edo.[43]

After the death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ife to found other kingdoms. Each child made his or her mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of the Yoruba confederacy of kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin due to them to Ile-Ife.

After the dispersal, the aborigines became difficult, and constituted a serious threat to the survival of Ife. Thought to be survivors of the old occupants of the land before the arrival of Oduduwa, these people now 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. Then came Moremi on the scene; she was said to have played a significant role in the quelling of the marauders advancements. But this was at a great price; having to give up her only son Oluorogbo. The reward for her patriotism and selflessness was not to be reaped in one life time as she later passed on and was thereafter immortalized. The Edi festival celebrates this feat amongst her Yoruba descendants.[44]


See also: Yoruba religion
Statue of Shango, God of thunder, lightening, and fire in front of a Power Holding Company of Nigeria local office, Lagos. The siting of the statue in front of the national power company is meant to be symbolic

Yoruba culture consists of folk/cultural philosophy, religion and folktales. They are embodied in Ifa-Ife Divination, known as the tripartite Book of Enlightenment in Yorubaland and in its diaspora.

Yoruba cultural thought is a witness of two epochs. The first epoch is a history of cosmogony and cosmology. This is also an epoch-making history in the oral culture during which time Oduduwa was the head, the Bringer of Light, and a prominent diviner. He pondered the visible and invisible worlds, reminiscing about cosmogony, cosmology, and the mythological creatures in the visible and invisible worlds. The second epoch is the epoch of metaphysical discourse. This commenced in the 19th century in terms of the academic prowess of Bishop Dr. Ajayi Crowther. Although religion is often first in Yoruba culture, nonetheless, it is the thought of man that actually leads spiritual consciousness (ori) to the creation and the practice of religion. Thus, it is believed that thought is an antecedent to religion. Today, the academic and nonacademic communities are becoming more interested in Yoruba culture. More research is being carried out on Yoruba cultural thought as more books are being written on the subject.


Kneeling female figure The Arugba Osun, Brooklyn Museum collection

One of the first observations of first time visitors to Yorubaland is the rich, pomp and ceremonial nature of their culture, which is made even more visible by the urbanized structures of Yoruba settlements. These occasions are avenues to experience the richness of the Yoruba culture. Traditional musicians are always on hand to grace the occasions with heavy rhythms and extremely advanced percussion which the Yorubas are well known for world over.[45] Praise singers and Griots are there to add their historical insight to the meaning and significance of the ceremony, and of course the varieties of colorful dresses and attires worn by the people, attest to the aesthetic sense of the average Yoruba.

The Yoruba are a very expressive people who celebrate major events with colorful festivals and celebrations (Ayeye). Some of these festivals (about thirteen principal ones)[46] are secular and only mark achievements and milestones in the achievement of mankind, these include wedding ceremonies (Ìgbéyàwó), Naming ceremonies (Ìsomolórúko), Funerals (Ìsìnkú), Housewarming (Ìsílé), New-Yam festival (Ìjesu), Harvest ceremonies (Ìkórè), Chieftaincy (Ìjòyè) and so forth.[47] Others have a more spiritual connotation, such as the various days and celebrations dedicated to Specific Orisha like the Ogun day (Ojó Ògún), The Osun festival, which is usually done at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove located on the banks of the Osun river and around the ancient town of Osogbo. The festival is dedicated to the river goddess Osun, which is usually celebrated in the month of August (Osù Ògùn) yearly. The festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers from all over Yorubaland and The Yoruba diaspora in the Americas , spectators and tourists from all walks of life. The Osun-Osogbo Festival is a two-week-long programme. It starts with the traditional cleansing of the town called 'Iwopopo', which is then followed in three days by the lighting of the 500-year-old sixteen-point lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun, which literally means The sixteen eyed fire, the lighting of this sacred lamp, heralds the beginning of the Osun festival. Then comes the 'Ibroriade', an assemblage of the crowns of the past ruler, Ataojas of Osogbo, for blessings. This event is led by the sitting Ataoja of Osogbo and the Arugba Yeye Osun (who is usually a young maiden dressed in white, who carries a sacred white calabash that contains propitiation materials meant for the goddess Osun, she is also accompanied by a committee of priestesses.[48][49]

Eyo Figure in lagos

Another very popular festival with spiritual connotations is the Eyo Olokun festival or Orisha play, celebrated by the people of Lagos. The Eyo festival is a dedication to the God of the Sea Olokun, who is an Orisha, and whose name literally mean Owner of the Seas.[46] Generally, there is no customarily defined time for the staging the Eyo Festival, this leads to a building anticipation as to what date would be decided upon. Once a date for its performance is selected and announced, the festival preparations begin. It encompasses a week-long series of activities, and culminates in a striking procession of Thousands of men clothed in white and wearing a variety of coloured hats, called Aga. The procession moves through Lagos Island Isale Eko, which is the historical centre of the Lagos metropolis. On the streets, they moves through various crucial locations and landmarks in the city, including the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos, the Oba, known as the Iga Idunganran. The festival starts from dusk to dawn, and has been held on Saturdays (Ojó Àbáméta) from time immemorial. A full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ eyo group, the Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. When this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other ‘important’ groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday.

Eyo Olokun

The Eyo masquerade essentially admits tall people, which is why it is described as Agogoro Eyo (literally meaning the tall Eyo masquerade). In the manner of a spirit (An Orisha) visiting the earth on a purpose, the Eyo masquerade speaks in a ventriloquial voice, suggestive of its otherworldliness; and when greeted, it replies: Mo yo fun e, mo yo fun ara mi which in Yoruba means: (I rejoice for you, and I rejoice for myself). This response connotes the masquerades as rejoicing with the person greeting it for the witnessing of the day, and its own joy at taking the hallowed responsibility of cleansing. During the festival, Sandals and foot wears, as well as Suku: A hairstyle that is popular among the Yorubas, one that has the hair converge at the middle, then shoot upward, before tipping downward, are prohibited. The festival has also taken a more touristic dimension in recent times, which like the Osun Osogbo festival, attracts visitors from all accross Nigeria, as well as Yoruba diaspora populations. In-fact, it is widely believed that the play is one of the manifestations of the customary African revelry that serves as the forerunner of the modern carnival in Brazil and other parts of the New World, which may have been started by the Yoruba slaves transplanted in that part of the world due to the Atlantic slave trade.[50][51][52][53]


See also: Yoruba music and Batá drum
The Batá drum – From left: Okónkolo, Iyá, Itótele.

The music of the Yoruba people is perhaps best known for an extremely advanced drumming tradition,[54] especially using the dundun[55] hourglass tension drums. Yoruba folk music became perhaps the most prominent kind of West African music in Afro-Latin and Caribbean musical styles. Yorùbá music left an especially important influence on the music used in Lukumi[56] practice and the music of Cuba[57]

Royal Gbèdu drums
Some Yoruba musical Instruments. From the left, Shekere, Dundun/Gangan drums, Sakara drums (right)

Yoruba drums typically belong to four major families, which are used depending on the context or genre where they are played. The Dùndún / Gángan family, is the class of hourglass shaped talking drums, which imitate the sound of Yoruba speech. This is possible because the Yoruba language is tonal in nature. It is the most common and is present in many Yoruba traditions, such as Apala, Jùjú, Sekere and Afrobeat. The second is the Sakara family. Typically, they played a ceremonial role in royal settings, weddings and Oríkì recitation; it is predominantly found in traditions such as Sakara music, Were and Fuji music. The Gbedu family (literally, "large drum") is used by secret fraternities such as the Ogboni and royal courts. Historically, only the Oba might dance to the music of the drum. If anyone else used the drum they were arrested for sedition of royal authority. The Gbèdu are conga shaped drums played while they sit on the ground. Akuba drums (a trio of smaller conga-like drums related to the gbèdu) are typically used in afrobeat. The Ogido is a cousin of the gbedu. It is also shaped like a conga but with a wider array of sounds and a bigger body. It also has a much deeper sound than the conga. It is sometimes referred to as the "bass drum". Both hands play directly on the Ogido drum.[58]

Today, the word ' Gbedu ' has also come to be used to describe forms of Nigerian Afrobeat and Hip Hop music. The fourth major family of Yoruba drums is the Bàtá family which was historically played in sacred rituals. They are believed to have been introduced by Shango, an Orisha, during his earthly incarnations as a warrior king. Traditional Yoruba drummers are known as Àyán. The Yoruba believe that Àyángalú was the first drummer. He is also believed to be the spirit or muse that inspires drummers during renditions. This is why some Yoruba family names contain the prefix 'Ayan-' such as Ayangbade, Ayantunde, Ayanwande.[59] Ensembles using the dundun play a type of music that is also called dundun.[55] The Ashiko, Gudugudu (Dundun family), Agidigbo and Bèmbé are other drums of importance. The leader of a dundun ensemble is the oniyalu meaning; ' Owner of the mother drum ', who uses the drum to "talk" by imitating the tonality of Yoruba. Much of this music is spiritual in nature, and is often devoted to the Orisas.

Agogo metal gongs

Within each drum family there are different sizes and roles; the lead drum in each family is called Ìyá or Ìyá Ìlù, which means "Mother drum', while the supporting drums are termed Omele. Yoruba drumming exemplifies West-African cross-rhythms and is considered to be one of the most advanced drumming traditions in the world. Generally, improvisation is restricted to master drummers. Some other instruments found in Yoruba music include, but are not limited to; The Gòjé (violin), Shèkèrè (rattle), Agidigbo (thumb piano that takes the shape of a plucked Lamellophone), Saworo (metal rattles for the arm and ankles, also used on the rim of the bata drum) and The Agogô (bell).

Yorùbá music is regarded as one of the more important components of the modern Nigerian popular music scene. Although traditional Yoruba music was not influenced by foreign music, the same cannot be said of modern day Yoruba music which has evolved and adapted itself through contact with foreign instruments, talent and creativity.

Christianity and Islam[edit]

The Yoruba are traditionally a very religious people and can be found in many types of Christian denominations. There are also a large number of them engaged in Islam and the traditional Yoruba religion. Yoruba religious practices such as the Eyo and Osun-Osogbo festivals are witnessing a resurgence in popularity in contemporary Yorubaland. They are largely seen by the adherents of the modern faiths, especially the Christians and Muslims, as cultural rather than religious events. They participate in them as a means to celebrate their people's history, and boost tourist industries in their local economies. There are a number of Yoruba Pastors and Church founders with large congregations, e.g. Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church World Wide also known as Winners Chapel, Pastor Tunde Bakare of Latter rain Assembly, Prophet T. B. Joshua of Synagogue of All Nations, William Folorunso Kumuyi of Deeper Christian Life Ministry and Dr Daniel Olukoya of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries.

Twins in Yoruba society[edit]

Main article: Ibeji
A pair of female ere ibeji twin figures (early 20th-century) in the permanent collection of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.Yoruba people have the highest twinning rate in the world.

The Yoruba present the highest dizygotic twinning rate in the world (4.4% of all maternities).[8][60] They manifest at 45–50 twin sets (or 90–100 twins) per 1,000 live births, possibly because of high consumption of a specific type of yam containing a natural phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to release an egg from each side. Twins are very important for the Yoruba and they usually tend to give special names to each twin.[61] The first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Taiyewo or Tayewo, which means 'the first to taste the world', or the 'slave to the second twin', this is often shortened to Taiwo, Taiye or Taye. Kehinde is the name of the last born twin. Kehinde is sometimes also referred to as Kehindegbegbon which is short for Omokehindegbegbon and means, 'the child that came last gets the rights of the eldest'.


Main article: Yoruba calendar

Time is measured in ìṣẹ́jú (minutes), wákàtí (hours), ọjọ́ (days), ọ̀sẹ̀ (weeks), oṣù (months) and ọdún (years). There are 60 ìṣẹ́jú in 1 wákàtí ; 24 wákàtí in 1 ọjọ́; 7 ọjọ́ in 1 ọ̀sẹ̀; 4 ọ̀sẹ̀ in 1 oṣù and 52 ọ̀sẹ̀ in 1 ọdún. There are 12 oṣù in 1 ọdún.[62]

Months in Yoruba calendar: Months in Gregorian calendar:[63]
Ṣẹrẹ January
Erélé February
Erénà March
Igbe April
Èbìbí May
Okúdù June
Agẹmọ July
Ògún August
Owérè (Owéwè) September
Ọwàrà (Owawa) October
Belu November
Ọ̀pẹ December
Yoruba calendar traditional days
Ojo-Obatala[citation needed]

The Yoruba calendar (Kojoda) year starts from 3 June to 2 June of the following year.[64] According to this calendar, the Gregorian year 2008 CE is the 10,050th year of Yoruba culture.[65] To reconcile with the Gregorian calendar, Yoruba people also often measure time in seven days a week and four weeks a month:

Modified days in Yoruba calendar Days in Gregorian calendar
Ọjọ́-Àìkú Sunday
Ọjọ́-Ajé Monday
Ọjọ́-Ìṣẹ́gun Tuesday
Ọjọ́-'Rú Wednesday
Ọjọ́-Bọ̀ Thursday
Ọjọ́-Ẹtì Friday
Ọjọ́-Àbámẹ́ta Saturday[66]


Yams are one of the staple foods of the Yoruba. Plantain, corn, beans, meat, and fish are also chief choices.[67]

Some common Yoruba foods are iyan (pounded yam), Amala, eba, semo, fufu, Moin moin (bean cake) and akara. Soups include egusi, ewedu, okra, vegetables are also very common as part of diet. Items like rice and beans (locally called ewa) are part of the regular diet. Some dishes are also prepared for festivities and ceremonies such as Jollof rice and Fried rice. Other popular dishes are Ekuru, stews, corn, cassava and flours – e.g. maize, yam, plantain and beans, eggs, chicken, beef and assorted forms of meat (pumo is made from cow skin). Some less well known meals and many miscellaneous staples are arrowroot gruel, sweetmeats, fritters and coconut concoctions; and some breads – yeast bread, rock buns, and palm wine bread to name a few.[67]

Yoruba cultural dishes
Àmàlà is a brown doughy dish made from Cassava flour usually eaten with stews, soups and other recipes. 
Akara is a recipe by the Yoruba, which has been adopted by the rest of Nigeria. It is present in the Americas as Acarajé 
Eba, is a doughy dish made by processing Garri in hot water, and turning till it becomes a consistent dough (shown combined with other dishes). 
Iyan or pounded yam with mixed vegetables and fish stew 
Cut Moin Moin;"Ewe eran" leaves (Thaumatococcus daniellii) are traditionally used to improve flavoring. 

Dressing and Clothing[edit]

Yoruba drummers: They are wearing very basic traditional clothing.

The Yoruba have peculiar types of clothes that make them distinct from other cultures around them. They take immense pride in their attire, for which they are well known for. Clothing materials traditionally come from processed cotton by traditional weavers. They believe that the type of clothes worn by a man depicts his personality and social status, and that different occasions require different clothing outfits.

Typically, The Yoruba have a very wide range of materials used to make clothing, the most basic being the Aṣo-Oke, which is a hand loomed cloth of different patterns and colors sewn into various styles.[68] and which comes in very many different colors and patterns. Aso Oke comes in three major styles based on pattern and coloration;

  • Alaari – a rich red Aṣọ-Oke,
  • Sanyan- a brown and usual light brown Aṣọ-Oke, and
  • Ẹtu- a dark blue Aṣọ-Oke.

Other clothing materials include but are not limited to:

  • Ofi- pure white yarned cloths, used as cover cloth, it can be sewn and worn.
  • Aran- a velvet clothing material of silky texture sewn into Danṣiki and Kẹmbẹ, worn by the rich.
  • Adirẹ- cloth with various patterns and designs, dye in indigo ink (Ẹlu or Aro).
Agbada clothing historically worn by the Yoruba
Man in basic Yoruba traditional regalia

Clothing in Yoruba culture is gender sensitive. For men's' wear, they have Bùbá, Esiki and Sapara, which are regarded as Èwù Àwòtélè or under wear, while they also have Dandogo, Agbádá, Gbariye, Sulia and Oyala, which are also known as Èwù Àwòlékè / Àwòsókè or over wears. Some fashionable men may add an accessory to the Agbádá outfit in the form of a wraparound (Ìbora).[69][70]

Ìrùkèrè made from horse or cow tail

They also have various types of Sòkòtò or native trousers that are sown alongside the above-mentioned dresses. Some of these are Kèmbè (Three-Quarter baggy pants), Gbáanu, Sóóró (Long slim / streamlined pants), Káamu & Sòkòtò Elemu. A man’s dressing is considered incomplete without a cap (Fìlà). Some of these caps include, but are not limited to; Gobi (Cylindrical, which when worn may be compressed and shaped forward, sideways, or backward), Tinko, Abetí-ajá (Crest-like shape which derives its name from its hanging flaps that resembles a dog's hanging ears. The flaps can be lowered to cover the ears in cold weather, otherwise, they are upwardly turned in normal weather), Alagbaa, Oribi, Bentigoo, Onide, and Labankada (A bigger version of the Abetí-ajá, and is worn in such a way as to reveal the contrasting color of the cloth used as underlay for the flaps).

Women also have different types of dresses. The most commonly worn are Ìró (wrapper) and Bùbá (blouse–like loose top). Women also have matching Gèlè (head gear) that must be put on whenever the Ìró and Bùbá is on. Just as the cap (Fìlà) is important to men, women’s dressing is considered incomplete without Gèlè. It may be of plain cloth or costly as the women can afford. Apart from this, they also have ìborùn (Shawl) and Ìpèlé (which are long pieces of fabric that usually hang on the left shoulder and stretch from the hind of the body to the fore). At times, it is tied round their waists over the original one piece wrapper. Unlike men, women have two types of under wears (Èwù Àwòtélè), called; Tòbi and Sinmí. Tòbi is like the modern day apron with strings and spaces in which women can keep their valuables. They tie the tòbi around the waists before putting on the Ìró (wrapper). Sinmí is like a sleeveless T-shirt that is worn under before wearing any other dress on the upper body.

There are many types of beads (Ìlèkè), hand laces, necklaces (Egba orùn), anklets (Egba esè) and bangles (Egba owó) that are abound in Yoruba land, that both males and females put on for bodily adornment. Chiefs, Priests, kings or people of royal descent, especially use some of these beads, often. Some of these beads include Iyun, Lagidigba, Àkún etc. An accessory especially popular among royalty and titled Babalawos / Babalorishas is the Ìrùkèrè, which is an artistically processed animal tail, a type of Fly-whisk. The horsetail whiskers are symbols of authority and stateliness. It can be used in a shrine for decoration but most often is used by chief priests and priestess as a symbol of their authority or Ashe.[71] As men go about with their hair lowly cut or neatly shaven every time, the reverse is the case with women. Hair is considered the ' Glory of the woman '. They take care of their hair in two major ways; They plait and they weave. There are many types of plaiting styles, and women readily pick any type they want. Some of these include kòlésè, Ìpàkó-elédè, Sùkú, Kojúsóko, Alágogo, Konkoso, Etc. Traditionally, The Yoruba consider tribal marks ways of adding beauty to the face of individuals. This is apart from the fact that they show clearly from which part of Yorubaland an individual comes from, since different areas are associated with different marks. Different types of tribal marks are made with local blades or knives on the cheeks. These are usually done at infancy, when children are not pain conscious. Some of these tribal marks include Pélé, Abàjà-Ègbá, Abàjà-Òwu, Abàjà-mérin, Kéké, Gòmbò, Ture, Pélé Ifè, Kéké Òwu, Pélé Ìjèbú etc. This practice has almost faded into oblivion.[72]

The Yoruba believe that development of a nation is akin to the development of a man or woman. Therefore, the personality of an individual has to be developed in order to fulfill his or her responsibilities. Clothing among the Yoruba people is a crucial factor upon which the personality of an individual is anchored. This belief is anchored in Yoruba proverbs. Different occasions also require different outfits among the Yoruba. [73]

Gallery of some Yoruba clothing
Agbádá àti Fìlà from Iseyin, Oyo State 
Iro & Bùbá, with Gele & Ipele blouse, wrapper & headgear 
Bùbá àti Kèmbè shirt and short baggy pants for men 
Embroidered Aso Òkè fabric for women 
Agbádá àti Sóró Agbada and long slim pants for men 
Ìró & Bùbá made from African lace material 



The Yoruba are the main group in the Benin department of Ouémé, all Subprefectures including Port Novo (Ajase), Adjara; Collines Province, all subprefectures including Save, Idasa-Zoume, Bante, Tchetti; Plateau Province, all Subprefectures including Ketou, Sakete, Ipobe; Borgou Province, Tchaourou Subprefecture including Tchaourou; Zou Province, Ouihni and Zogbodome Subprefecture; Donga Province, Bassila Subprefecture and Alibori, Kandi Subprefecture.

Burkina Faso[edit]

The Yoruba in Burkina Faso are numbered around 70,000 people.


Yoruba area in Nigeria.

The Yoruba are the main ethnic group in the Nigerian federal states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Kwara and Oyo; they also constitute a sizable proportion of Kogi and Edo[74] In addition, sizable communities of the Yoruba can be found in other cities like Abuja, Gusau, Kano, Enugu, Onitsha, and Port Harcourt among others.


There are both immigrant Yoruba communities from Nigeria, and indigenous ancestral Yoruba communities living in Togo. Tottenham Hotspur player, Emmanuel Adebayor, is an example of a Togolese from an immigrant Yoruba background. Indigenous Yoruba communities in Togo , however can be found in the Togolese departments of Plateaux Region, Ogou and Est-Mono prefectures; Centrale Region and Tchamba Prefecture.


The chief Yoruba cities or towns are Aiyetoro Yewa, Ilesa, Ibadan, Ilorin, Oyo-Igboho, Fiditi, Orile Igbon, Eko (Lagos), Oto-Awori, Ejigbo, Ibokun Ijẹbu Ode, Abẹokuta, Akurẹ, Ilọrin, Ijẹbu-Igbo, Ijebu-Oru, Ijebu-Awa, Ijebu-ife, Odogbolu, Ogbomọṣọ, Ondo, Ọta, Ado-Ekiti, Porto-Novo, Ido-Ekiti, Ikare, Ayere, Kabba, Ogidi-Ijumu, Omuo, Omu-Aran, Egbe, Isanlu, Mopa, Aiyetoro - Gbedde, Sagamu, Iperu,Ode Remo, Illah Bunu, Ikẹnnẹ, Ogere, Ilisan, Osogbo, Offa, Iwo, Ilesa, Ilaje, Esa-Oke, Ọyọ, Ilé-Ifẹ, Iree, Owo, Ede, Badagry, (Owu, Oyo), (Owu, Egba) (ife-olukotun), Ilaro, Oko, Esie, Ago-Iwoye, Iragbiji, Share, Aagba, Ororuwo, Aada, Akungba and Akoko,Iyara-Ijumu,Ikoyi-Ijumu.

The Yoruba diaspora[edit]

Yoruba people or descendants can be found all over the world especially in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Cuba, Brazil, Latin America, and the Caribbean.[11][15][75][76] Significant Yoruba communities can be found in South America and Australia. The migration of Yoruba people all over the world has led to a spread of the Yoruba culture across the globe. Yoruba people have historically been spread around the globe by the combined forces of the Atlantic slave trade and voluntary self migration. Their exact population outside Africa is unknown, but researchers have established that most African Americans are of Yoruba descent.[12][13][14][77][78][79]

The Yoruba left an important presence in Cuba and Brazil, particularly in Bahia. According to a 19th-century report, "the Yoruba are, still today, the most numerous and influential in this state of Bahia.[80] The most numerous are those from Oyo, capital of the Yoruba kingdom". [81][82]

The language spread of Kru, Igbo and Yoruba in the United States according to US Census 2000[83]


Genetic studies have shown the Yoruba to cluster most closely with other West African Niger-Congo-speaking peoples, especially the Igbo.[84]

Notable people of Yoruba origin[edit]

See also[edit]

Portal icon Yoruba portal


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  2. ^ Benin at CIA World Factbook: "Yorùbá and related 12.3%" out of a population of 9.6 million (2012 estimate)
  3. ^ a b c Joshuaproject.net "The exactness of numbers presented here can be misleading. Numbers can vary by several percentage points or more."
  4. ^ Mostly in the UK ( Joshuaproject.net estimates 94,000), about 6,000 in Greece.
  5. ^ mostly in the United States; Joshuaproject.net estimates 186,000 in the US. About 3,000 in Canada: "Ethnic origins, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories". bottom: Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2010-04-04. . In Canada, 19,520 identified as Nigerian and 61,430 as Canadians.
  6. ^ http://www.britannica.com/topic/Benue-Congo-languages
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  • Akintoye, Stephen (2010). A History of the Yoruba People. Amalion. ISBN 978-2-35926-005-2. 
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  • Law, Robin (1977). The Oyo Empire, c. 1600 – c. 1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19822-709-0. 
  • Ogunyemi, Yemi D. The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife. Academica Press. ISBN 978-1-93314-665-2. 
  • Smith, Robert (1988). Kingdoms of the Yoruba. Paperpack. ISBN 978-0-29911-604-0. 
  • Falola, Toyin; Childs, Matt D (2005). The Yoruba Diaspora In The Atlantic World. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-25321-716-5. 
  • Olumola, Isola; et al. Prominent Traditional Rulers of Yorubaland, Ibadan 2003.

External links[edit]

The Yoruba City