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The Yorùbá are the largest single ethnic group in Nigeria. The Yorùbá constitute approximately 21% percent of Nigeria's total population, and number upwards of 30 million individuals throughout the region of West Africa. They share borders with the Nupe and Borgu peoples in the northwest, the Esan and Edo to the southeast, the Igala and other related groups to the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, and other Gbe-speaking peoples in the southwest. While the majority of the Yorùbá live in the south-west of Nigeria, there are also substantial Yorùbá communities in Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone, Cuba and Brazil.
The Yorùbá are the main ethnic group in the states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo; they also constitute a sizable proportion of the citizens of the Republic of Benin.
There are several versions of Odùduwà's appearance in Ile-Ife, with some recognizing Odùduwà the first human being, and others that recall him as a semi-historical figure who was the leader of a group of outsiders that intermingled with autochthonous people at Ile-Ife. Odudua is also the name of an important Earth goddess, the wife of Obatala, and some scholars postulate a connection between this mythical founder of the Ife and Benin monarchic traditions and the ancient female deity.
Ancient Yoruba religion
Statue of the orisha Eshu, Oyo, Nigeria, c1920.Yoruba mythology is sometimes claimed to be one of the world's oldest widely practised religions. It is a major religion in Africa, chiefly in Nigeria, and it has given origin to several New World religions such as Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil.
Itan is the term for the sum total of all Yorùbá myths, songs, histories, and other cultural components.
Many ethnic Yorùbá were enslaved and taken to Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th century, after the Oyo empire collapsed and the region plunged into civil war), and carried their religious beliefs with them. These concepts were combined with preexisting African-based cults, Christianity, Native American mythology, and Kardecist Spiritism into various New World lineages:
Yorùbá deities include "Oya" (wind goddess), "Ifa" (divination or fate), "Eleda" (destiny), "Ibeji" (twins), "Osanyin" (medicines and healing) and "Osun" (goddess of fertility, protector of children and mothers).
Human beings and other sentient creatures are also assumed to have their own individual deity of destiny, called "Ori", who is venerated through a sculpture symbolically decorated with cowrie shells. The majority of contemporary Yorubas are Christians and Muslims, with indigenous congregations having the largest memberships among Christians. A substantial portion of the population either follows the traditional religion called Ifa or consult with the clergy of traditional diviners known as babalawo, or "Father of secrets."
The chief Yorùbá cities are Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Akure, Ilorin, Ijebu Ode, Ogbomoso, Ondo, Ota,Ado-Ekiti, Shagamu, Iseyin, Osogbo, Ilesha, Oyo, Ilé-Ifè.
Traditionally the Yorùbá organized themselves into networks of related villages, towns, and kingdoms, with most of them headed by an Oba [King] or Baale [a nobleman or mayor]. Kingship is not determined by simple primogeniture, as in most monarchic systems of government. An electoral college of lineage heads is usually charged with selecting a member of one of the royal families, and the selection is usually confirmed by an Ifa divination request. The Obas live in palaces usually in the center of the town. Opposite to the king's palace is the Oja Oba, the king's market. These markets form an inherent part of Yorùbá life. Traditionally the market traders are well organized, have various guilds, and an elected speaker.
The Yorùbá were one of the most urbanized sub-saharan Africans in the pre-colonial era, and have a history of town-dwelling that goes back to 500 A.D. The wealth of the Yorùbá came from controlling the important trade routes between the coast and the hinterland. Trade caravans exchanged the agricultural products of the forest economies, including kolanuts and yam with textiles, metalwork, leatherwork and other goods imported through the Saharan trade. The pre-colonial Yorùbá living in the savannah region between the forest and the Niger river were pressed further south by conflicts with the Sokoto Caliphate, a militant Muslim empire founded by the Fulani Quranic scholar Uthman Dan Fodio. After usurping power in the Hausa city-states of northern Nigeria, the Sokoto Caliphate also seized power in Ilorin, one of the northernmost Yoruba towns, and ravaged Oyo-Ile, the capital city of the Oyo Empire. After losing the northern portion of their region to the cavalry-dependant Sokoto Caliphate, the Ọyọ for the most part retreated to the latitudes where tsetse flies made horses unable to survive. The Caliphate attempted to expand further into the southern region of modern-day Nigeria, but was decisively defeated by the armies of Ibadan, a newly-founded Yorùbá city, in 1840.
The Yorùbá were a loose confederacy that often saw wars between the city states. In theory, all Yorùbá acknowledge the leadership of the ancient city of Ife in religious matters and the primacy of the recently risen rulers of Ọyọ as political leaders. The Alaafin of Ọyọ held the power to confirm or reject the leaders of the other cities, but this power could not always be executed. The southeastern Benin Empire, ruled by a dynasty that traced its ancestry to Ife and Oduduwa but largely populated by the Edo-speaking peoples, also held considerable sway in the selection of nobles and kings in eastern Yorùbáland.
Most of the city states were controlled by monarchs and councils made up of nobles, guild leaders, and merchants. Different states saw differing ratios of power between the two. Some had powerful, semi-autocratic monarchs with almost total control, while in others the councils were supreme and the Oba served as a figurehead. In all cases, Yorùbá monarchs were subject to the continuing approval of their constituents, and could be easily compelled to abdicate for demonstrating dictatorial tendencies or incompetence. The order to vacate the throne was usually delivered as a symbolic message of parrots' eggs by the council of elder nobles.
Although they share a common history and language, the various Yorùbá sub-groups created a common united ethnic identity comparatively recently. Before the abolition of the slave trade, some Yorùbá groups were known among Europeans as Akú, a name derived from the first words of Yorùbá greetings such as Ẹ kú àárọÌ ‘good morning’ and Ẹ kú alẹì ‘good evening’. The terms "Nago", "Anago", and "Ana", derived from the name of a coastal Yorùbá sub-group in the present-day Republic of Benin, were also widely used in Spanish and Portuguese documents to describe all speakers of the language. Yorùbás in Francophone West Africa are still sometimes known by this ethnonym today. In Cuba and Spanish America, the Yorùbá were called "Lucumi", after the phrase "O luku mi", meaning "my friend" in some archaic dialects. During the 19th century, the term Yariba or Yorùbá came into wider use, first confined to the Ọyọ. Under the influence of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Yorùbá clergyman, subsequent missionaries, and also due to the development of a written version of the language, the term Yorùbá was extended to include all speakers of related dialects.
Precolonial Social Organization
Though monarchies were fairly common throughout the Yorùbá-speaking region, they were not the only approach to government and social organization. The numerous Egba communities, found in the forests below Ọyọ's savannah region, were a notable example. These independent polities often had elected Obas, though the Ogboni, a legislative and judicial council of notable elders, wielded the actual political power.
When citizens of more than 150 Egba and Owu communities migrated to the fortified city-state of Abeokuta during the wars of the 19th century, 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. The various independent councils then 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 an 1853 edition of the Church Military Intelligencer, described Abeokuta 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." He described Abeokuta and its system of government as "the most extraordinary republic in the world."
Gerontocratic leadership councils that guarded against the monopolization of power by a monarch were a proverbial trait of the Egba, according to the eminent Yorùbá historian Reverend Samuel Johnson, but such councils were also well-developed by other groups like the northern Okun Yoruba groups and some of the eastern Ekiti groups. Even in Oyo, the most centralized of the precolonial kingdoms, the Alaafin consulted on all political decisions with a prime minister (the Basorun) and the council of leading nobles known as the Oyo Mesi.
Ibadan, a city-state and proto-empire founded in the 19th century by a polyglot group of refugees, soldiers, and itinerant traders from Oyo and the other Yorùbá 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 powers through their election by popular acclaim and the respect of their peers.
Occupational guilds, social clubs, secret or initatory societies, and religious units, commonly known as Egbe in Yorùbá, included the Parakoyi (or league of traders) and Egbe Ode (hunter's guild), and maintained an important role in commerce, social control, and vocational education in Yorùbá polities.
There are also examples of other peer organizations in the region. When the Egba resisted the imperial domination of the Ọyọ Empire, a man named Lisabi is recorded to have either created or revived a covert organization named Egbe Aro. This group, originally a farmers' union, was converted to a network of secret militias throughout the Egba country and finally rose to defeat Ọyọ's Ajeles (administrators) in the late 18th century.
Similarly, covert military resistance leagues like the Ekitiparapo and the Ogidi alliance were organized during the 19th century wars by often-decentralized communities of the Ekiti, Ijesa, and Okun Yorùbá in order to resist various imperial expansionist plans of Ibadan, Nupe, and the Sokoto Caliphate.
The monarchy of any city state was usually limited to a number of royal lineages. A family could be excluded from kingship and chieftancy 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. There are also, in Ilesa, Ondo, and other Yorùbá communities, several traditions of female Obas, though these were comparatively rare.
The kings were almost always polygamous and many had as many as 20 wives and often married royal family members from other towns/city states.
The Yorùbás are one of the ethnic groups in Africa whose cultural heritage and legacy are recognizable in the Americas, despite the delibitating effects of slavery. Orisha religion, often called "Shango" worship and various musical artforms popularized in Latin America, especially Cuba, are rooted in Yoruba music. Perhaps their best known material artist is Olowe of Ise. Their religious beliefs are complex, and recognize a wide variety of deities. Olorun or Olodumare is venerated as the creator, with the other Orisas serving as emissaries or intermediaries that help with human concerns. As previously mentioned, the Yorùbá have converted to Christianity and to a lesser extent Islam in large numbers since the 19th century. In the United States, they are recognizeable, along with other Nigerian immigrants, as very strict Christians, observing many of the conservative Biblical views. They are also prominent in some urban Muslim congregations and continue to participate in various forms of Ifa/Orisa religious worship.
The Yorùbá performance repertoire includes various masquerade plays, folk operas, and a vibrant video cinema. One Yorùbá masquerade, Gelede from the Ketu region of the modern Republic of Benin, has been recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Countless scholarly articles have also examined the performances of Egungun (representative of ancestral spirits visiting the living); Epa (symbolic performances variously promoting valor and fertility); and Eyo, a procession of masked dancers.
The Yoruba are known in many Western countries for their strong appreciation for education. In the United States and Britain, they have a disproportionally high success rate in the professional fields.
Yorùbáland stadia include the National Stadium, Lagos (55,000 capacity), Teslim Balogun stadium (35,000 capacity), Liberty Stadium, Ibadan (40,000 capacity). Lekan Salami stadium, Ibadan (25,000)