Oduduwa people, commonly referred to as Yorubas, are one of the largest African ethnic groups south of the Sahara Desert. They are a collection of diverse people bound together by a common language, history, and culture. The largest congregation of the Yoruba people are centralized within Nigeria, the western part of the Country with others spread across different nations of the world due to migration, inter-marriage, and other factors.
According to Yoruba mythology, at a time before time, when the world was only darkness and primordial waters, Olodumare, the Supreme Being who controls everything and everyone, decided to create something new in the universe. He gave his eldest divine son, Obatala, a chain, a shell containing a small quantity of sand, and a five-toed guinea fowl, then instructed him to descend into the universe to perform the ritual of creation. On his way to carry out this important mission, Obatala was distracted by a group of other divinities who were having a party and he proceeded to join the. He got drunk and fell asleep.
Oduduwa, his younger brother and another of Olodumare’s sons, stole the items from his drunk brother and descended from the heavens into the watery world with the chain. He poured the sand from the shell onto the primordial waters and placed the guinea fowl on top. The mighty, mythical guinea fowl kicked, dug, and trampled the sand with its huge claws, scattering it over the water to create dry land. Where the earth-spreader’s claws dug deep, valleys were formed; hills and mountains were left in the untouched places between the bird’s claws.
The spot where Oduduwa poured the sand was named ‘Ile-Ife’, the place where earth spreads, and there he planted the first palm nut which grew to become the tree of life, the originator of all plant life. This place where the incident happened is a sacred grove today in Ile-ife, Osun state. The city of Ile-Ife, like many other Yoruba cities, is laid out in concentric circles radiating out from the king’s palace, the most sacred, most spiritually potent spot.
The King of Ile-ife is titled ‘Ooni’, the divine king and the Spiritual head for all descendant of Oduduwa. The legendary hero and deity, Oduduwa is regarded as the original founder of Ile-Ife and the first Ooni. His descendants have occupied the throne and palace since time immemorial, as successive Oonis.
Oduduwa also had sixteen other royal children, who left the city to carve out their own realms. The myth establishes Ile-Ife as the source for all the crowned Yoruba cities, as Oduduwa gave each of his children a sacred crown and sword representing their divine right to take possession and rule over the new territories. Although these new realms were independent from Ile-Ife, they nonetheless were bound by strong spiritual and political traditions and allegiances.
The Yoruba kingdoms formed by the Sons of Oduduwa included, Benin, Oyo, Owu, Ketu among others and all payed allegiance to the sacred city. After the death of their monarchs, they would send lavish delegations to Ile-Ife in order to procure both crown and sword, the symbols of spiritual authority, without which the late king’s successor would not be recognized by their subjects. In exchange for the Ooni’s validation of their reigns, the kings were to protect the sacred city against any invaders and not to form any allegiance with enemies of Ile-Ife.
The major preoccupation of the Yorubas are farming and trading of commodities. The men grow yams, corn, millet, plantains, groundnuts, beans and peas as subsidiary crops and cocoa is the major cash crop. Women control the more complex market system trading in commodities from agricultural produce to textiles, accessories and other necessaries. The Yorubas have traditionally been among the most skilled and productive craftsmen of Africa. They excel at trades as blacksmithing, weaving, leatherworking, glassmaking, and ivory and wood carving. In the 13th and 14th centuries Yoruba bronze casting using the lost-wax (cire perdue) method reached a peak of technical excellence never subsequently equalled in western Africa. Yoruba women engage in cotton spinning, basketry, and dyeing.
Yoruba has many dialects, but its speakers can all understand each other. Yoruba is a tonal language. The same combination of vowels and consonants has different meanings depending on the pitch of the vowels (whether they are pronounced with a high voice or a low voice). For example, the same word, ‘ara’ can mean wonder, body parts or be used to refer to people depending on the intonation and context of use.
They are spread across different cities, which includes, Oyo, Ile-Ife, Ilesha, Ibadan, Ilorin, Ijebu-Ode, Ikere-Ekiti, among others. Oyo developed in the 17th century into the largest of the Yoruba kingdoms while Ile-Ife remained a town of potent religious significance as the site of the earth’s creation according to Yoruba mythology. Oyo and the other kingdoms declined in the late 18th and 19th centuries owing to disputes among minor Yoruba rulers and invasions by the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin) and the Muslim Fulani.
Various war and inter-tribal disputes have taken place over the years among the Yorubas and other ethnic groups but the Yoruba remain unified in their reverence for the city of Ile-ife, the legendary birthplace of all of humankind, so much so that when the Osun state was carved out of the old Oyo state of southwestern Nigeria in 1991, Ile-Ife residents naturally expected their exalted city to be named the capital of the new state. To their chagrin, the state selected the troubled commercial city of Osogbo instead. One Yoruba elder, however, imparted his wisdom on the matter as follows: “When we introduce Ile-Ife City into the frailty of Nigerian politics and the filthy lure of its commerce, it will lose its sanctity and its tradition will diminish in importance. What it lost in politics, power, and wealth, the city gained in authority, status, and reverence.”
The traditional Yoruba kingships still survive, but with less power as the Country has now come under a democratic Federal government with States having control within the territorial boundaries of the State.
The Oduduwa people religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practices of the people. Oduduwa religion is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. The foundation of this religion is an interaction between human being and a group of spirits called "orishas".
Each orisa is associated with ideas, objects, or natural phenomena. For instance, the orisha Shango is associated with thunder and fertility. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of itan (stories), the total complex of songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts that make up the Oduduwa people’s society.
One of the most common Oduduwa people traditional religious concepts has been the concept of Orisa. Orisa (also spelt Orisha or Orixa) are various godly forms that reflect one of the various manifestations or avatars of God in the Yoruba religious system.
Olorun is one of the principal manifestations 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 two other principal forms of the supreme God are Olodumare—the supreme creator—and Olofin, who is the conduit between Òrunn (Heaven) and Ayé (Earth). Oshumare is a god that manifests in the form of a rainbow, also known as Òsùmàrè in Yoruba, while Obatala is the god of clarity and creativity as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and a host of others.
Oduduwa people traditional religion holds that there is one supreme being and hundreds of orisha, or minor deities. The worshipers of a deity are referred to as his "children." As many as 20% of Yoruba people still practice the traditional religions of their ancestors.
The practice of traditional religion varies from community to community. For example, a deity (god) may be male in one village and female in another.
Oduduwa People in Diaspora
Diaspora is a word used to describe the migration of people from their original homeland. Slavery meant the migration of millions of people from Africa to the Americas, including large numbers of the Yoruba population. When coming to the Americas the Yoruba held onto many of their important cultural traditions such as religion, music, myths, and divination.
Oduduwa 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. 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 of the African component in the ancestry of African Americans is of Yoruba and/or Yoruba-like extraction.
The Oduduwa people reportedly constitutes around 105 million people worldwide.
Facts About Oduduwa People
They have more twins than any other ethnic group in the world. Due to their genetics, the Oduduwa people have the highest rate of twins in the world at around 4.4% for all maternities.
Oduduwa people are one of the largest ethnic groups in all of Africa and one of the three major ethnic group in Nigeria. They spread across the Africa, America, and Europe majorly in Benin Republic, Cameroun, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, Cuba, United States, United Kingdom.
The Oduduwa people are happy and entertaining people. They love parties and ceremonies and are reputed to throw the best parties in the country. The weekends are mostly used for these occasions and the word ‘owambe’ which is now popularly used to described every event is of Yoruba origin meaning ‘it (the party) is happening here.’ Hardly a weekend passes without a Yoruba party happening in various parts of the country.
Yoruba traditional dressing is synonymous with colours and elegance. Their traditional outfits include aso-oke (woven clothes made by traditional weavers in different colours to make apparels, filas and geles), agbada (a form of drapped garment with colourful embroidery worn by men) and iro and buba (a loose-form top with wrapper worn by the women). These items have been modified over the years to become trendier and has become the acceptable way of dressing to parties among vast majority. Yorubas can be said to be social influencers as they have influenced the social scene in Nigeria with their dressing, traditions and so on.
The Oduduwa people have their own traditional cuisine, which includes amala, ewedu, gbegiri with goat meat, moin-moin, akara, ekuru and so on. These dishes could be found in restaurant around the country as they have become widely accepted.
Names are extremely important to the Yorubas and they believe a person’s life takes shape after his name and so they put a lot of thought and intentionality in naming their children. Names are given to children by their parents, grandparents (paternal and maternal) and some other close relatives based on events surrounding the birth, family heritage and background. For instance, a male child born after the demise of his grandfather is called Babatunde – meaning ‘father has come again’. Twins have natural names from birth (oruko amutorunwa), the one who comes out first is called ‘Taiwo’, meaning the first to taste (experience) earth and Kehinde meaning the one who came after. A child who was given birth during a festive season will be named ‘Abiodun’ meaning he/she was birthed during the festive season.
Marriage for the Yorubas is a big deal. It goes beyond the union of two people but a merger of both families and extended families. The families need to accept each other. When a young man and woman meet and agree to spend the rest of their lives together, they inform their parents. The groom’s parents then proceed to meet with the bride’s parents for an Introduction ceremony with fruits and drinks because you don’t go to your in-laws empty-handed. When the families meet, they then agree on a date for traditional wedding where the bride price and dowry will be brought by the groom’s family. The traditional wedding is often an elaborate event that involves drinking, dancing, eating and presentation of gifts to the couple. After the event, the bride is led to her husband’s house in a rite called ‘Ekun Iyawo’; she is escorted by family and friends with prayers and dancing. Before she enters the husband’s house, they wash her legs with water as a symbolism to wash off the past and step into a new future.