In Any Village, Yorubaland

I know that  I will find

sparkly eyed  boys and girls with brilliant white teeth

Yoruba children Photo credits : Eliot Elisofon SI website

I know  that

they will be happy to see me

I will be greeted and

be   expected to greet

yoruba greeting
Yoruba woman greeting Photo credit: Eliot Elisofon, SI Website

I know that I will

hear the sounds of omo odo against odo

smell the  inviting aroma of delicious soup

smell  firewood off in the distance

smell sour organic smells

hope not  to see anyone defecating

notice adults and children  with disabilities living defiantly  with their disability

yoruba women cooking
Yoruba women preparing food photo credits Eliot Elisofon,SI website

I also know that I will see


birds you don’t see in the city


children bathing out in the open unabashedly

people eating one oka or the other

someone chewing stick

people carrying loads on their heads

yoruba carrying wood
Yoruba woman and children carrying wood Photo credit Eliot Elisofon, SI Website

children  backing babies

babies backing  dolls

red earth

vigorous green vegetation

yoruba hunter vegetaition
Yoruba hunter Photo credits : Eliot Elisofon, SI Website

huge clouds very very far off in the sky

write off cars being used as passenger cars or cargo vans

people plaiting hair


yoruba women on way to market ibadan
Yoruba women carrying gourds on way to market near Ibadan Photo Credits: Eliot Elisofon, SI Website


small black goats

small brown goats

basenji dogs


young girls hawking organic snacks, boiled corn, asala, eyin awo and all kinds of nutty, avocado-ish or  bitter snacks

Yoruba family compound Osogbo Photo Credit : Eliot Elisofon
Yoruba family compound Osogbo
Photo Credit : Eliot Elisofon, SI Website
yoruba woman
Yoruba woman with Shuku hair style Photo credits: Eliot Elisofon, SI website

i know,

even if I have only been to one before…

Yoruba sculpture tools Photo Credits: Eliot Elisofon
Yoruba sculpture tools
Photo Credits: Eliot Elisofon, SI website
Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C. Byzantine Collection BZ. Tiff Resolution: 600 dpi; Jpg Resolution: 72 dpi Tiff Compression: LZW; Jpg Compression: Level 7 Tiff version: 6.0 256 level Grayscale
Yoruba Family scooping out cocoa pods. Photo credits: Eliot Elisofon. SI Website

These photos were taken in the 1970s.  The 100  or so years  since  the 1896  fall of the  Oyo Empire,  and the end of  the 1877 Kiriji Wars , both notable for the  massive loss and destruction of human lives and the shipping of many Yoruba across the Atlantic Ocean, hadn’t brought that much change to the Yoruba villages then.

Today, half a century of  Nigerian independence hasn’t either.

Oppressors have changed race and back,  ancestors have swapped places with newborns, Heads of States and Presidents have presided instead of Obas,   Obas have been reduced into competing for a living with their subjects, traditional workers unions replaced by government ministries ,  and borders created out of European merchant companies’ territories. But the villages and village life have remained the same.

Yes, once we were kings, but we were also ordinary.  Yorubas were and are hunters, farmers, potters, iron smelters, weavers, poets, hairdressers, tanners, basket weavers, gourd carvers,  fishermen, barbers, farm hands,  etc etc and can be found in villages today pretty much as they lived in the 17th and 18th centuries . Maybe even living worse now  ( bar the tragedy and chaos of war and slave raiding ) as many crafts, native science, farming skills are eroded due to economic migration to the towns and cities, and nothing modern fills the void.

Wiping away the sleepy nostalgia  from the eyes , visitors would be right to wonder – How fair is it that some Yoruba…. this fine race that produced the first African Nobel Laureate, the enigma called Fela , the awesome Ife Bronzes and terracotta heads, and some of the most valiant military officers Nigeria and West Africa ever depended upon…… still  live as they did under the Oyo Empire, while the outside world juggernauts through the Information Age?

Ife_Bronze_head (1)

Perhaps they choose to live in the village this way? The whole world shouldn’t have to work 9 till 5 , pay 25 – 40% tax for electricity, potable water and road infrastructure, buy plastic home wares, eat noodles and learn about America on TV?  If security was assured, reliable  transport links created, education and adequate free health care were provided, traditional cooperative schemes updated and re-activated, it would be a perfectly understandable choice.

Some of the world’s most precious scenery can be viewed from mountains on Yoruba soil. The best air I ever breathed was at the top of an Efon Alaye hill one crisp  Harmattan morning many years ago. I dream of returning. By train. A romantic green and gold locomotive train to go with the rustic charm of Yoruba countryside….

yoruba hair breastfeed
Yoruba hairdresser Photo credits: Eliot Elisofon, SI website
palace staff sitting outside ooni palace
Palace staff sitting outside the Ooni’s palace. Photo credits Eliot Elisofon, SI website

However, I would settle for the newly approved  light rail link too.  Completion time is 7 years, roll on 2022. And this time the Yoruba governments must ensure that no one is left behind. Plans should be put  in place to  extend rail travel into all Yoruba states.




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