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who are the yoruba?

Trying to answer this question “So who are the Yoruba?” throws up as many questions as answers.

What makes a person identify themselves as Yoruba? And are there gradations of being Yoruba? Are you more Yoruba because you and your ancestors have never veered away from Ifa? Or because you and your ancestors have always spoken Yoruba? Or because you and your ancestors were born or have always lived on ancestral Yorubaland? Or because your ancestors were taken from ancestral Yorubaland?

Do Yorubas make any distinctions between these various groups of Yoruba identity? Events in history like the homecoming of many freed slaves to ancestral Yorubaland in the 18th century, the more recent  establishment of Oyo Tunji villages in the U.S. ; of Abeokuta in Jamaica; Yoruba communities in Bahia etc bear evidence to an irrepressible Yoruba spirit of belonging. Is there a spirit of Yoruba? If there is, what are its characteristics? Is it Omoluabi?

Abeokuta , Negril, Jamaica
Abeokuta , Negril, Jamaica
View of Abeokuta from the Olumo Rock
View of Abeokuta, Ogun State Nigeria from the Olumo Rock

What determines a person to be Yoruba?

Is one Yoruba because they speak the language? Yoruba heartland in SW Nigeria has a quantifiable number of Nigerian migrants who speak the Yoruba language but do not identify as yoruba , though many were born on Yoruba land they are not Yoruba in heart or spirit. Inevitably, this has begun to lead to clash of cultures and conflicts of interest in Yorubaland where for example a man from another culture seeks to set up as an Eze (king) for his people who migrated into Yorubaland from Ndigbo . Despite being born in,  raising families in Yorubaland, and speaking the language, there are those who would never consider themselves as Yoruba.

The Deji of Akure who authority is being challenged
The Deji of Akure whose authority is being challenged

And then at the other end of the scale there are people who may not speak the language and live thousands of miles away from the birthplace of Yoruba , but are proud to be called Yoruba

Are you Yoruba if you follow the Ifa Religion? Majority of native Yoruba who determine their Yoruba roots through bloodline do not practice the ancestral Yoruba religion believing it to be inferior to the Abrahamic religions. While significant numbers of Yoruba people bearing the twin legacies of slavery being of mixed race, and born/living outside the birth place of Yoruba race , do practice the ancestral religion Ifa/Orisa with much reverence.

What about Bloodlines? A recent study found that ‘The majority of African Americans have ancestry similar to the Yoruba people in West Africa, confirming that most African slaves came from this region.’ According to this study practically all of African America, and the Caribbean Islands may be Yoruba! However, I bet a good proportion of  African Americans even given DNA evidence see Africa , let alone Yoruba as a faraway place in their history and not a big part if any of their identity.

Looking around on the Internet, there is an abundance of books on Yoruba language, History, culture, fashion and lifestyle. A sort of Yoruba Renaissance. A bit curious as its a surging interest in a West African identity that did not exist as one nation/empire in its origins. Yoruba of the Middle Ages had no unified Kingdom. Instead they had sub groups to which they identified- Egba, Ijebu, Ibadan, Ekiti, Ijesa, Ilorin, etc etc and were only collectively identified as one people by outsiders eg Yariba; and Aku , from the repetitive mode of greeting “Aku oro aje” etc ) . Even ancestry is split among the groups now called Yoruba. While most of the Yoruba people are descended from Oduduwa, some like the Ijebu and Ekiti are not.

Legend has it that the people called Yoruba now, were driven away from the Middle East at that event in history where the Muslim prophet Mohammed banished the worshipping of idols from Mecca. The olden day Yorubas appear to have been groups of people with a common need for resettlement away from the threat of aggression be it religious conflict and/or slave raiding. There was enslavement of black Africans as a way of life at that time so those people who later became the Yorubas would have been in double jeopardy as pagan black Africans. It’s no wonder they were on the move…..

So with  all the W questions ( who what where) asked.. Begins a search for answers . I believe I will find many and varied answers. Some will have no credible claim whatsoever, some will parrot European statements, some will be ridiculous! But all will be interesting I’m sure… O d’igba!

Olumo Rock, the great Egba refuge
Olumo Rock, the great Egba refuge

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