Who Are The Yoruba People?
The Yoruba have for centuries lived in what is now Nigeria and Benin, where they have founded great African empires and forged a cultural legacy.
Who Are The Yoruba People?
Yoruba drummers play traditional celebratory music in the Kwara State of Nigeria.
5. Yoruba Diaspora
The Yoruba have for centuries lived in what is now Nigeria and Benin, where they had even founded great African empires. The majority of their population, about 40 million strong today, is in the so called "Yorubaland" in Western Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. They are one of the largest groups of ethnic Africans on the continent. The Igala tribes in southeast Benin are related to the Yoruba, as are the Ewe, Fon, and Egun. The Yoruba has become scattered across the New World and the Mediterranean as well, particularly during the days of institutionalized slave trade. Those of Yoruba ancestry can be found in Santa Lucia, Brazil, Cuba, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago. The more recent generations have freely moved to the United Kingdom and the United States since the 1970s.
4. Early History and Kingdoms
In the 8th Century BCE, the Yoruba kingdom reigned in the Ile-Ife region located south of the Sub-Saharan Sahel. In the 11th Century, the Yoruba became a cultural entity in what is now Nigeria. At that time, the Yoruba people already lived in fortresses with high walls, and had a population of 100,000, surpassing many other populated areas, though still not comparable to the most populated city in Africa today, which is Lagos, Nigeria with 20 million people. The 12th Century Yoruba had advanced in art, and by the 14th Century had perfected their crafts in sculpture, weaving, and creating regalia. This age was the Golden Age of the Yoruba. Thus, the Oyo Yoruba empire was established from the 11th Century on, lasting into the 17th Century. In the 18th Century, the Egba people raised a covert resistance to the Oyo empire, and the 19th Century saw tribal alliances resisting the Oyo expansion.
3. Traditional Ways of Life
Traditional Yoruba life was dictated by elected priestly monarchs and a council of other minor noble leaders. Pomp and ceremony also dominated the Yoruba's way of life. Music also plays a significant role in all aspects of village life, and it even accompanied the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean into North America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Musicians were a central presence at celebrations, and the Yoruba always dressed in colorful costumes on these occasions. The Yoruba celebrate around 13 important festivals annually. Religious festivals are also popular events that attract thousands around the region, and drums are an essential part of the music during these religious celebrations.
2. Notable Yoruba
The Yoruba is a major cultural presence in Nigeria and Benin, as well as much of Africa as a whole. They have also migrated into many parts of the world, and continued on to become famous citizens of those diverse foreign countries. These people have in fact often become international stars in their chosen fields. The following are some of the most well-known Yorubas, and they arise from a number of different countries from around the world. Such notable people of Yoruba ancestry are Cassandra Wilson, Femi Emiola, Glenda Hatchett, Nas, Wale, Donald Faison, Angélique Kidjo, Rockmond Dunbar, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Hakeem Olajuwon, Safiya Songhai, and Adewale Ogunleye. Other talented Yoruba are Hope Adelaide Wilson, Adepero Oduye, David Oyelowo, Richard Ayoade, Adetomiwa Edun, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jacob Taio Cruz, and Hakeem Kae-Kazim. These talented Yoruba people include among them British actors, Hollywood stars, rappers, singers, and National Basketball Association players, among other professions.
Yoruba Creation Story
The Yoruba tribe of West Africa has a myth about how they where created:
In the beginning, there was only the sky above, water and marshland below.
The chief god Olorun ruled the sky, and the goddess Olokun ruled what was below.
Obatala, another god, reflected upon this situation, then went to Olorun for permission to create dry land for all kinds of living creatures to inhabit.
He was given permission, so he sought advice from Orunmila, oldest son of Olorun and the god of prophecy.
He was told he would need a gold chain long enough to reach below, a snail's shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut, all of which he was to carry in a bag.
All the gods contributed what gold they had, and Orunmila supplied the articles for the bag.
When all was ready, Obatala hung the chain from a corner of the sky, placed the bag over his shoulder, and started the downward climb. When he reached the end of the chain he saw he still had some distance to go.
From above, he heard Orunmila instruct him to pour the sand from the snail's shell, and also immediately release the white hen.
He did as he was told, whereupon the hen landing on the sand began scratching and scattering it about.
Wherever the sand landed it formed dry land, the bigger piles becoming hills and the smaller piles valleys. Obatala jumped to a hill and named the place Ife.
The dry land now extended as far as he could see.
He dug a hole, planted the palm nut, and saw it grow to maturity in a flash. The mature palm tree dropped more palm nuts on the ground, each of which grew immediately to maturity and repeated the process. Obatala settled down with the cat for company.
Many months passed, and he grew bored with his routine.
He decided to create beings like himself to keep him company.
He dug into the sand and soon found clay with which to mould figures like himself and started on his task, but he soon grew tired and decided to take a break.
He made wine from a nearby palm tree, and drank bowl after bowl. Not realizing he was drunk, Obatala returned to his task of fashioning the new beings; because of his condition he fashioned many imperfect figures.
Without realizing this, he called out to Olorun to breathe life into his creatures.
The next day he realized what he had done, and swore never to drink again, and to take care of those who were deformed, thus becoming Protector of the Deformed.
The new people built huts as Obatala had done, and soon Ife prospered and became a city.
All the other gods were happy with what Obatala had done, and visited the land often, except for Olokun, the ruler of all below the sky.
She had not been consulted by Obatala, and grew angry that he had usurped so much of her kingdom.
When Obatala returned to his home in the sky for a visit, Olokun summoned the great waves of her vast oceans and sent them surging across the land.
Wave after wave she unleashed, until much of the land was underwater and many of the people were drowned.
Those that had fled to the highest land beseeched the god Eshu who had been visiting, to return to the sky and report what was happening to them.
Eshu demanded sacrifice be made to Obatala and himself before he would deliver the message.
The people sacrificed some goats, and Eshu returned to the sky.
When Orunmila heard the news he climbed down the golden chain to the earth, and cast many spells which caused the flood waters to retreat and the dry African land reappear.
So ended the great flood.
Yoruba Warrior Culture
OWU PEOPLE: ANCIENT WARRIORS AND YORUBA SUB-ETHNIC GROUP
Owu people (Orile-Owu or Owu-Ipole) are agriculturalist, ancient warriors and Yoruboid-speaking people that forms a sub-set of the larger Yoruba ethnic group of West Africa, particularly Nigeria. Owu people are particularly residents of Abeokuta in Ogun state.
Among the various Yoruba sub-ethnic groups such as Oyo, Egba, Ife, Ijebu, Ijesha, Awori, Remo, Igbomina, Ondo, Ekiti and others, Owu people are very popular especially when one count the war years of the larger Oyo Kingdom. Within the said region of old Oyo, Owu was very prominent and even ruled the waves. Owu collected tribute from the Bariba, the Borgu and had ruled over old Oyo until the reign of Sango. All this happened because they (Owu) also settled within that very region. (See Johnson’s “History of the Yorubas” p.149). Their presence in that region was indisputably powerful. Owu fought side by side with Egba in the Makun and other wars against Ado Odo and Dahomey in 1842-45. Owu contingents fought and routed Awori at Itori, Yobo, Ifo, Atan, Ota and also occupied those places till today. In his address to Owu people during the 8th Owu Day celebrations in 2007, the Olowu, Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu maintained that "Owu people had fought wars, won battles and settled in very many places between the Niger river and the sea (Owus in Lagos State; Epe, etc.), yet their main stream had settled among the Egbas in Abeokuta BUT, THEY ARE NOT EGBAS, neither are they lJEBUS. (See Johnson’s “History of the Yorubas, p.18). Owu settlements in Ijebu and Abeokuta were not as a result of direct battles or victory over them, but mostly on friendly terms."
One of the distinctive socio-political difference between Owus and other Yoruba sub-tribes is that the Owus do not have an Oluwo (Ogboni Head Chief) and do not hold Ogboni assemblies. On the contrary, the Owu palace has its own culture of open deliberation where any Owu person can participate. That is why people refer to the Owus as “Owu a gbooro gbimo” meaning "Owu the deliberative group".
Owu Tribal Mark
The larger Yoruba ethnic group are historically known to have used and still use facial tribal marks to distinguish one member of one sub-Yoruba tribe from other. It is said that Owus used a unique traditional facial mark called "Keke Olowu" to distinguish them from other tribal groups, especially when on war expeditions. The Keke or Gombo consists of four or five perpendicular and horizontal lines placed angularly on each cheek ; they occupy the whole space between the auricle and the cheek bone ; three small perpendiculars are also placed on the horizontal lines on both cheeks The Keke-Olowu, an Owu variation of these is like the Keke or Gombo with the lines discrete or interrupted and links each ear with the side of the cheeks. It was common prior to the later adoption of the agbaja-olowu. Abaja Olowu: The Abaja are sets of three or four parallel and horizontal lines on each cheek ; they may be single or double, each line being from half-an-inch to one inch long. The Abaja-Olowu in distinction from other abajas has 3 perpendicular etchings fitting neatly above 3 horizontal ones and are very thin and narrow in contradistinction from the very bold ones worn by other tribes. This is further accentuated with an additional 3 small horizontal etchings on the forehead called ‘keeta’.
Furthermore, members of the royal families would have an additional 6 markings on the forearm with a further 3 below the navel.
The Owu War
The kingdom being now in a disorganized condition each tribal unit constituted itself an independent state. The Ifes in the east, and the Ijebus in the south formed an alliance against the Owus to the south-west of the former and north west of the latter.
The Owus (although now domiciled with the Egbas) are a family quite distinct from. Egbas or Oyos. Hardihood, stubbornness, immorality, and haughtiness are marked traits in their character, so much so that it has passed into a proverb " A bi omg I'owu, o ni ako tabi abo ni, ewo ni jdo se omg nibe ? " (a child is born at Owu, and you ask male or female : which will be a proper child ?) Either sex when roused by passion would sooner die than not take dire revenge. Their manners were totally different from those of the Oyos, but from the days of Sango they have been very loyal to the Alafin of Oyo.
As warriors, the Owus were hardy, brave, and courageous, they had no guns, their weapons consisting of the Agedengbe (a long heavy cutlass) with bows and arrows. Coming to close quarters with cutlass in hand was the mode of fighting characteristic of these brave people.
The cause of the war between these three families was this : —
We have already stated above that during the reign of King Abiodun, express orders were sent from Oyo to the Ooni of Ife, and the Olowu to prevent Oyos being kidnapped and sold at Apomu, the great market town where the interior and the coast people met for trade. Now, since the commencement of the revolution, and the disorganized state of the kingdom, the practice was revived. The rebellion has rendered the Central Authority powerless, but there were still some men of considerable power and influence in the land, such as Adegun the Onikoyi who was the premier provincial king, Toyejg theBal§ of Ogbomoso the Kakanfo, and Edun of Gbogun.
A message similar to that sent by King Abiodun was now sent by the Onikoyi and the Kakanfo conjointly to the Olowu, and he in carrying out his orders had to chastise several towns ; hence Ikoyi Igbo, Apomu, Ikire, Irkn, He Olup^mi, Itahakun, Iseyin Odo, Iwata, Akinboto, Gbkngan, Isope, Iwara, and Jagun, were
destroyed by war, all in Ife territory.
The Ooni of Ife was highly incensed at this and declared war against Owu. The command of the war was entrusted into the hands of his commander-in-chief Singunsin. Other war-chiefs associated with him were : — Okansk, Gbogbo Olu, Wasin, Alodeloko, etc. Their first encampment was at a place called Dariagbon a farm village of one O1upona, next at Sifirin at the confluence of the Osun and Ohk rivers.
The Ifes thought they would make an easy conquest of Owu for they themselves are a brave people, and hence this war song in their peculiar dialect : —
E maha ja (a) gba, Let us cut ropes,
Igbekun la mu a di Our captives to bind.
If a Olowu The Olowu's If a (god of palm nut)
Ewa la mu a se With our corn we'll cook.
The Owns received the news that war was declared against them with great indignation. They considered themselves the power in these southern regions, and what infatuation has led the Ifes to this presumption ? With one consent they immediately marched out to meet them at this great distance. The engagement was a
hand to hand fight in which the Ifes were completely routed ; their army was all but totally annihilated, only about 200 escaped to tell the tale of their dire misfortune !
The King of Iwo, in whose territory this disaster took place did not admit the survivors into his town for fear of incurring the displeasure of his formidable neighbours the Owus, whom he dreaded ar;d of whom he was jealous, but he so far sympathized with them that he advised that they should not undergo the humiliation of returning home, and he allowed them to rendezvous in a place called Adunbieiye for the purpose of recruiting their army and to try another chance, secretly hoping that fortune may favour them next time, and being ill at ease with such a formidable neighbour as the Owus.
This small army remained in this place for about 5 years, unable to return home from shame, and yet could not obtain re-inforcement adequate for the great enterprise.
Just as this crisis the Owus and the Ijebu traders had a serious complication at the Apomu market. The dispute arose from the sale of alligator pepper, and it resulted in the rash expedition against Apomu by the haughty Owus ; the town was destroyed, and many Ijebu traders and residents lost their lives or their all.
The king of Iwo thereupon advised the Ifes to form an alliance with the Ijebus, who, like them, have now a grievance against Owu. When this was done, the lies at home were now willing to re-inforce their wrecked army for a conjoint attack upon Owu. The Ijebus now declared war against Owu, and crossing the Osun river, encamped at the farm of one Oso. The Ijebus were better armed than either their allies or their foes, and indeed, than any of the interior tribes, for, being nearest to the coast, they had the advantage of obtaining guns and gun- powder from Europeans in exchange for slaves. They were remarkable marksmen. The older men with their cloths tied round their waists, and the ends left flowing behind, constituted the regular fighting column : being too old pr too heavy to run away, they were obliged to be courageous.
The Owns were mad with rage at the receipt of the news that anyone, such as the Ijebus, had presumed to declare war against them who (as they considered themselves) were the first power in these parts (southern Yoruba). They rushed out to check the progress of the Ijebus as they did that of the Ifes, and attacked them furiously cutlass in hand. But they were compelled to fall back from the steady fire of the Ijebus which did great havoc amongst them. Summoning courage, the Owns offered another obstinate battle, but they were again repulsed with a heavy slaughter, having lost in the first and second engagements about 40 of their leaders. This was the first check to their pride.
They rallied, however, and retreated to a short distance, and then again ventured upon another attack, the Ijebus advancing as they were retreating : they finally met, and once more fortune was against the Owus, and they fled precipitately to fortify their city against the expected siege.
The Ijebus with their allies the Ifes encamped to the west of the city of Owu, under a large tree called the Ogilngun, east of the town of Oje. We may here remark that although the Egba towns of Of a and Oje were about a mile and two miles respectively from Owu, yet so bitter was the animosity between them that not only did these towns refuse their aid to Owu, but rather rejoiced at its misfortunes !
The Owus fought with their accustomed bravery, and in one furious assault, routed the allies, and pursued them to Oje, Ofa, and Ibadan. The first two places were deserted in the general confusion and panic, and all sought refuge at Ibadan. Here the allies received reinforcements from the Egbas, and from the Oyo refugees from the north whose homes had been devastated by the Fulanis and who were now scattered about the provinces homeless, and without occupation. Glad to find some occupation in arms, these refugees flocked to the standard of the allies in numbers ; and thus strengthened, the war was renewed. The siege lasted about 5 years (usually reckoned as 7). The city was obstinately defended by the brave inhabitants from the walls, and from the forts built on the walls of the city. One Skkulk was an expert sharp shooter who was never known to miss his aim ; he contributed much to the defence of the town. But he was at the same time a good-natured man, kind and merciful to his enemies. Whenever he saw a young man hazarding his life too close to the forts in order to show valour, pitying his youth, he used to hail at him from the fort, and warn him as follows : — " I give you your life for to-day, but do not venture here to-morrow or you shall die." And he was alw^ays as good as his word. Thus Sakulk defended the city heroically and killed many a valiant warrior.
At last, the allies held a council of war, and were determined to get rid of S^kulk on the next day. The Ijebus, who had guns were the foremost, and the whole army directed their fire and showers of darts at the fort where S^kiila was fighting, all kept shooting at that one spot, until they saw Skkiilk fall, suspending
from the fort !
Owu was now deprived of her bravest defender, and famine also began its fatal work within its walls. It was at this time the Owns began for the first time to eat those large beans called popondo (or awuje) hitherto considered unfit for food ; hence the taunting songs of the allies : —
Popondo I'ara Owu nje. The Owus now live on propondo,
Aje f'ajaga bo 'run. That done, their necks for the yoke.
Unto this day, whoever would hum this ditty within the hearing of an Owu man, must look out for an accident to his own person. For all the famine within, the besiegers could neither scale the walls, nor force the gates open, until Akinjobi the Olowu opened a gate, and escaped to Erunmu, one of the principal towns in his
territory. The chief of this place was one Oluroko who was nearly related to the Ow6ni of Ife. Oluroko protected his over- lord. The allies pursued the Olowu to this place, but Oluroko when called upon to answer for his conduct, submitted himself, and asked for pardon, showing that he could not have acted
otherwise and be blameless. ^ The allies saw with him, and pardon was accordingly granted him.
Ikija was the only Egba town which befriended the city of Owu in her straits hence after the fall of the latter town, the combined armies went to punish her for supplying Owu with provisions during the siege. Being a much smaller town, they soon made short work of it. After the destruction of Ikija,^ the allies returned to their former camp at Idi Ogungun (under the Ogiingun tree) .
"Owu was thenceforth placed under an interdict, never to be rebuilt ; and it was resolved that in future, however great might be the population of Oje — the nearest town to it — the town walls should not extend as far as the Ogungun tree, where the camp was pitched. Consequently to this day, although the land may be cultivated yet no one is allowed to build a house on it.
[In the year 1873 Akinyemi one of the sons of one Bolade of Ibadan happened to build a substantial farm house at Owu. Latosisk then the Kakanfo at Ibadan ordered it to be pulled down immediately, and Akinyemi was fined besides].
After the fall of Owu and Ikija, the army was not disbanded, but the commanders of the Ife and of the Ijebu armies returned home to give an account of the war to their respective masters, but the remnants still in the camp were continually swelled by recruits from Oyo refugees whom the Fulanis had rendered homeless.
After a time the Ijebus in the camp invited the allies home to their country as friends ; then they broke up the camp at " Idi Ogungun " and withdrew to Ipara in the south.
It should be noted that the Owu war marked a definite period in Yoruba history. It was here for the first time gunpowder was used in war in this country, and it was followed by the devastation of the Egba townships and the foundation of modern Abeokuta and Ibadan, to be related in due course.