Yoruba Kingdom | Culture and Tradition

The Yoruba people occupies the Western region of Nigeria, the predominant language spoken among them is Yoruba language with dialectical differences. A good number of Yoruba neighbors in western Nigeria like the Itsekiri, Ishan, Isoko and Edo speak Yoruba language because of long period of interaction.

The Edo royal dynasty and itsekiri kingdom claims affinity with the Yoruba kingdom. The people in this culture area share similar socio-cultural and economic ways of life. It is an acceptable cultural belief among the Yoruba that Ile Ife is their ancestral home with the Ooni of Ife as their spiritual head.

The Yoruba people practice African traditional religion i.e. worshiping of idols, which involves the veneration of gods and goddess through objects like carved image. The Yoruba popular gods and goddess is sango and ogun. Sango is the god of thunder and lightning while Ogun is the god of iron.

Sango was one of the most important Yoruba gods; it was represented in the form of a ram. The dispatch of the symbol of sango was sufficient to impose peace on quarreling Yoruba states. This Yoruba religion and practices has been affected so much by Christianity and Islam.

The Yoruba culture is rich in greeting, there is virtually compliment for every action of men whether right or wrong. It usually begins with Eku- which means well done for something. For instance, “Eku-joko” is greeting for sitting down or relaxing. Elders are highly revered and greeted by prostration i.e. the person paying the compliment lies down flat on his stomach to show sign of respect.

Marriage, birth, naming and burial ceremonies and rituals are the same among Yoruba groups. Tribal marks were engraved early enough on the chicks of children of different Yoruba groups as means of identification whether they are Oyo, Osun, Egba, Ekiti etc.

This practice is gradually dying because it dents the face of the bearer of mark with terrible scars. The major traditional dresses are long flowing Agbada with cap mostly sown with asoke materials for men and asoke buba and blouse with head tie for women.

The Yoruba organized themselves into kingdom ruled by kings who are addressed as Oba, Alafin, Awijale, Ooni, Alake etc depending on the Yoruba group. The kings are seen as god’s representatives on earth and are highly respected by their subjects. They are usually referred as Alase ekeji orisa- meaning king the ruler and companion of the gods, or as Kabiyesi- meaning your authority cannot be questioned.

It is customary for the Yoruba to believe that the well being of their community is dependent on the favour of the supernatural i.e. the deities and the ancestors. Misfortune and crisis such as famine, epidemic etc were taken to be the manifestation of the wrath’s of the supernatural being.

The deities and ancestors were usually appeased by means of sacrifices and festivals. The Yoruba cherish their traditional music usually played with the popular talking drums. Bata dance is of cultural relevance to the area.

Like most Nigeria communities in the southern part of the country, the Yoruba people are mostly farmers and are blessed with good soil and fertile lands, the climate condition is favorable.

The Yoruba people are creative in carving, weaving and dyeing; their craftsmanship attracts traders from far and wide. Trading is part of economic activities in Yoruba land.

The Yoruba Kingdom of Western Nigeria

Legends said that the Yoruba’s migrated from North East of Africa in about more than 8,000 years ago and Ile Ife is said to be the traditional home of the Yoruba culture and centre of traditional religion of the Yoruba’s.

The Yoruba’s are mainly found in Lagos, Ibadan and Ilorin. Some of them inhabit the land of Dahomey. Such tribes likes Urhobo, Edo and Igbos inhabit the eastern and western Nigeria.

According to 1953 census about 40% of the Yoruba were Christians and about 33% Muslims while the remaining ones were animist. It is worthy of note that the influence and the traditional prestige of Ile Ife was later taken by Oyo. This accounts for the reason why the Alafin of Oyo is much talk about in the Obaship of the Yorubas.

Even in this modern time, Ibadan has remain the administrative centre of the entire western Nigeria but still, respect and recognition are reserved for Ile Ife as the traditional cultural house of the Yoruba people.

The Yoruba claim to be the descendant of Oduduwa and principal dynasty has been found by sons of Oduduwa. The Oni of Ife claims to be the direct descendant of Oduduwa.  For anybody to become an Oba, he must trace his origin to Oduduwa in particular and to Ile Ife, and must be given to him by the Oni of Ife. In the case of Oyo, the Alafin was the spiritual and leader of Oyo, he receives advice from the council chiefs and he is not expected to be autocratic.

The Yoruba was a loose federation of many kingdoms, each of which had its own government and was as a matter of fact independent of outside control. It is worthy of note that the Alafin of Oyo must get his staff of Office from Ile Ife before he becomes an acceptable Oba.

The Legislative and the Judicial Role of the Oba

  • The Oba was the legislature and the judge with powers to inflict capital punishment.
  • One of the major roles of the Oba is to carry out a legislative functions i.e. law making and interpretation of the laws by carrying out sentences on those who disobey the laws of the land.
  • He was the chief executive and responsible for the administration of the town and subordinate villages and kindred.
  • The Oba performs religious ceremonies for the preservation of peace, progress and order in the kingdom.
  • Despite these roles, an Oba was not autocratic. He could not rule without the full cooperation of his chiefs. If he ruled autocratically the chiefs could decide to depose him or ask him to commit suicide.
  • A gift of parrot egg is symbolic for his death; it signifies that the Oba is no longer holding the office for the benefit of his people i.e. votes of no confidence.
  • Unlike the Northern Emirate, the Obaship of Yoruba kingdom is regulated by customs.
  • Chieftaincy titles are conferred to people who have made significant contributions to the development of the society.

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