Philosophies of the Oduduwa People

Let me…re-affirm my faith in the capacity of the Yoruba culture to solve essentially existential problems and advance the cause of human civilization.
—Ọba Lamidi Adeyẹmi, III. The Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́1

—Ọba Lamidi Adeyẹmi, III. The Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́1

Oduduwa people, the Yorubas, are deeply philosophical and wise people who consider life and its other components from that point of view. Yorùbá philosophy, is the “philosophical discourse—traditional and contemporary— regarding assumptions, principles, worldviews, and attitudes that have been developed, interrogated, and refined over millennia” (Afolayan 2016, 265). Yoruba philosophy, has been described as ‘a folk philosophy’, a set of narratives and cultural practices that attempt to explain the causes and the nature of things affecting the corporeal and the spiritual universe handed down from generations to generations through oral traditions. They have several myths, allegories, poetry, and the love and wisdom of the Ifa divination system, which serve to remind them of a past that has survived through oral tradition.

We have prominent Yoruba scholars, intellectuals, leaders, which includes; Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Obafemi Awolowo, Wole Soyinka, Toyin Falola, Stephen Adebanji Akintoye and so on.

Popular Concepts and Proverbs of Oduduwa People

Olodumare; refers to God in Yoruba Belief

The Yorubas believe in the existence of the Supreme being who they refer to as Olodumare. The Omnipotent one and the Source of all. He is in heaven and leaves earthly matters to other Orisha (lesser gods) who are his offsprings and whom men seek through divination, possession, sacrifice and more. Similar to the Christian belief of a God that is self-causing, self-existing and without end, Yorubas believe Olodumare is a divine entity that created all but was not created, is not bound by space, time and dimension. Yoruba believe Olodumare created all other forces of the universe to sustain the evolution of the universe. Men have been known to pray to Olodumare when other avenues have failed them.

This underscores that Yoruba philosophy is a folk philosophy that valorizes the Yoruba people’s cardinal virtues-namely, love, morality, temperance, honesty, honour, bravery, justice, prudence and fortitude. The Yorubas are deeply spiritual and carry the consciousness of Olodumare who oversees the affairs of men in their dealings with one another. They believe Olodumare is responsible for blessings and punishments and one may be visited with either based on the person’s deeds. Olodumare is often called Oba a seyi o wu (The Grand King who sits in heaven and does whatsoever pleases Him).

Ori; refers to human destiny

It carries physical and spiritual connotations that cannot be separated. Ori is first among other body parts, other parts are answerable to it. For the Yoruba, it is more than a skull housing the brain, it is the custodian of knowledge and its destiny. Yoruba philosophy cannot exist without an ori. Ori and its essence appear in every spoken and unspoken word of the Yoruba people; it is the foundation, the fulcrum, the taproot. According to Hallen and Sodipo (1986: 105), the Yorubas consider a person to be made up of three important elements:

Ara (body),

Emi (life giving element) and

Ori (Spiritual head, which is thought to be responsible for human destiny).

In the Yoruba concept of person, ara (body) refers to all the tangible elements that make a person both externally and internally such as the brain, kindly, intestine, heart etc. and not just the body frame which houses other constituents of a person. (Balogun 1997: 333). Emi (the life-giving entity), the seat of consciousness and the essence of a person, it is an intangible element that provides the ‘animating force’ or energy without which a person cannot be said to be living at all, talk less of being conscious (Oladipo 1992: 19). In other words, emi (the life-giving entity) is regarded by the Yoruba as the lifeforce of a person; its presence or absence in a person makes the difference between life and death . The third element, Ori represents the individuality element in a person and is closely linked with human destiny. Ori, an immaterial entity, otherwise called ‘inner-head’ is intractably connected with human destiny. For the Yoruba, ori is believed to be not only the bearer of destiny but also to be the essence of human personality which rules, control and guides the life and activities of the person (Idowu 1962: 170).

It is said to be the ancestral guardian soul, having its physical symbolization as the physical head. Ori also refers to what the Yoruba call ipin or oke-ipori. Ipin, that is the individual’s lot or portion, and it is believed that every individual has the moral responsibility to carry out such actions intendem with his ori, in order for one’s destiny to come into easy fruition. As oke-ipori, ori is considered as an orisa (lesser gods) in its own right by the Yoruba. Ori is regarded as an individual personal god who caters for individual and personal interest.

The Yorubas believe in destiny or predestination. Destiny or predestination is the believe that whatever happens or that will happen in the future has been preordained and happened according to an earlier master plan. It is the belief that every person already has his biography written which predates his/her coming to the world and consequently implies that, anything one does is not something done out of free will but something done in fulfillment of preordained history (Oladipo op.cit: 36). And this belief is usually accredited to Olodumare, the Supreme Being, who is said to have pre-existentially fixed all the events that, could possibly and would take place in a man’s earthly existence.

Worthy of note is the fact that while the Yorubas believe in Ori, human destiny, they also understand that this can be altered for good or bad. Instances of this abound with in the Yoruba cultural milieu and is illustrated by wise sayings. One of such saying is; ‘mura sise ore mi, ise la fin deni giga’ (be diligent in thy work for it is through hard work and consistency that one rises to success).

Another influencing factor is Ese meaning ‘leg’ literally, but within the context of human personality, it means “strife”, “hard work” or “struggle”. According to Abimbola (2006), ese introduces the principle of individual effort, strife or struggle before the potentialities encapsulated in one’s ori can be actualized. As a symbol of power, mobility and activity, ese is a vital part of human personality both in the physical and spiritual senses. It signifies that choosing a good Ori is not sufficient without having to struggle and strive for success in life. Ese acts like a catalyst to the realization or otherwise of one’s destiny. In addition to factors influencing an alteration in the status of destiny is one’s own character. One’s act of rashness or impulse behaviour can affect one’s destiny for the worse. While an impatient person will run at a faster pace than his ori, thereby losing its support, an idle mind will spoil an otherwise prosperous destiny. In all these practical instances, the Yoruba believe that Ori (destiny) can be altered.

ami naa omo mi, ko denu olomo – Literally, help me beat my child is not from the sincere heart of the parent. This proverb is born from the settings of Yoruba communities, they live in communal settings and bringing up a child is seen as a duty for the entire community not the parents alone. However, in the exercise of this duty, the person correcting the child needs to exercise discretion and not do it to the point where the Parents are offended or it brings their parenting to question.

Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi - The King’s palace that got burnt down, when the palace is rebuilt, it becomes more beautiful. It admonishes one not to dwell on any misfortune or bad occurrence but take it as an opportunity for reinvention to achieve greater feats.

Ile la ti n ko eso re ode – Charity begins from home. The word ‘charity’ refers to good manners, character and behaviours are developed from the home because it is the most important and smallest unit of the society. So, when someone misbehaves, it is most likely they were not taught good virtues from their home.

A pe ko to jeun, ki je ibaje – He who eats late, will not eat spoilt or rotten food. This preaches patience and admonishes one not to make hasty decisions or ill-conceived plans.

Bi Esin ba dani gule, a tun gun ni – If a horse fell someone, what we do is to re-climb it and not give up. This preaches resilience in the face of life’s various detours.