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What do we really know about our religion?

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We know we’re Yoruba. We Speak Yoruba,  we eat our Amala, Lafun, Gbegiri, Ewedu, Moin Moin etc etc. We know all about not using  left hand, making sure we curtsy/ ‘dobale’for elders, some of us even drank agbo once or twice before, but what do we know of the religion followed by millions of Traditionalists today, and which up until say 400 years ago was followed by practically everybody under the Ile Ife umbrella, give or take a few new Islam converts to the Hausa/Fulani Jihads of the time.

What do we know about the spirituality which formed the principles that founded all the Yoruba towns we currently know?  All of the historical achievements, significant archeological finds etc which Yorubas count with pride today were made by followers of our traditional religion.

Can we study our  Yoruba religion without missing Rapture? Would Jesus be annoyed if  we read about the Yoruba Creation story and enjoy it? Someone asked recently “Is Jehovah/Allah racist?”  We should study and understand our Religion without fear, you never know what hidden gems and discoveries are contained within. The ancient Egyptians didn’t practice any Abrahamic faith , and yet it didn’t stop the Christian faith from delving deeply into the Egyptian teachings and borrowing here and there…

Personally I feel it’s very naïve of a Yoruba to be blind to the any aspect  of  Ifa or Orisa worship because it is the foundation of everything we have become today. I used to be naïve too, but I am thoroughly enjoying my journey of rediscovery. The truth really does set you free. Today’s post is about the role of African Spirituality in developing a nation. We won’t bother talking about what 400 years of Abrahamic religion has done for Yoruba, don’t want to ruin people’s afternoon…

Egbelade Omitonade Ifawemimo is a mine of information about Yoruba religion, and she shared a paper on The Role and Acceptability of Indigenous Religion for National Development

We met Egbelade before. She’s the intriguing young lady who told us about the difference between Ifa and Orisa worship, and also gave us some insight into the Yoruba concept of Ori as destiny. Egbelade whom I fondly refer to as Iyalorisa (because she is one) presented the paper a while back at the University of Ibadan

Egbelade Omitonade Ifawemimo

The paper was short and sweet:

First, what is Indigenous Religion?
Indigenous Religion also known as African Traditional Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, mythologies, world views, literary corpus, ethical values, and societal organisation that relate Africans to the reality of their external environment. For example, the Yoruba Traditional Religion is Ifa/Orisa, which is the totality of Yoruba’s spiritual, moral and natural philosophies. It encompasses ancestral worship, the ontology of Yoruba godhead and deities and the belief in a central godhead (I.e. Olodumare), and its primordial earthy deities called the Orisas.

Photos from recently concluded Yoruba festivals, courtesy Iyalorisa, below:

And how did it help the pre 17th century Yoruba?
…. prior to the advent of Christianity and Islam, indigenous religions served as a conduit for propagating moral philosophy and customary laws in the traditional African societies. These moral philosophy and customary laws have been employed to create social order and stability in different African societies. For example, Ifa moral philosophy deals with Yoruba’s moral principles and ethical values such as the concepts of Iwa pele (i.e. gentle demeanor), Suru (i.e. patience), Omoluabi (i.e. good character), and Ebo ruru (i.e. sacrifice), all which have helped strengthened the social fabric in Yoruba society.

Photos from recently concluded Yoruba festivals, courtesy Iyalorisa, below:

A major part of the indigenous religion is herbalism, which involves the use of natural medicine, such as: herbs, plants and roots, for holistic healing. African herbalists often use the knowledge of herbalism that is embedded in their indigenous religion to cure various sicknesses and infectious diseases without any side effects such as those that we commonly see in Western medicine.


How can it help us now and in future?

It would be a welcoming step for the government to promote and develop traditional medicine; one that can lead to economic growth and national development. To engage in these promotion and development, the government should develop indigenous-medicine programs and promote them through the print and electronic media.

While there’s no question that the development of traditional medicine would lead to economic growth and national development, I should also add that the promotion of indigenous religion, in general, would have the same impact. For example, Saudi Arabia generates close to $15 – $20 billion, annually, from Hajj; a religious pilgrimage to Saudi’s religious sites. The same religious pilgrimage can be duplicated in Yorubaland, for example, where Ifa/Orisa Adherents and like minds in Nigeria and around the world would gather to partake in Osun Osogbo Festival, World Sango Festival, Egungun Festival and other cultural and religious events. This will generate positive externalities and economic growth in the Yoruba society and the nation at large where applicable.

Iyalorisa Egbelade Omitonade Ifawemimo


What can we do?
All in all, if religion is a cultural system, language is a medium through which this cultural system can be decoded. In other words, a people without an indigenous language cannot relate to the reality of their external environment and they surely cannot decode their cultural and religious systems. Consequently, the language of instruction in African societies must be the indigenous language of the land, for people learn and assimilate better when they are taught and instructed in their indigenous language. For example, the successful Yoruba Medium Primary Project (ISYPP) that was developed in Ile-Ife in the late 1960’s to teach scholarly subjects at our schools in Yoruba language should be revisited. There’s no doubt that, if revisited, the ISYPP program would lead to national development.



Clearly there’s more to the Yoruba religion than  “Aiye” and Nollywood, and a first step will be to  revive the language to pre colonial levels before all the secrets of Ifa are locked away from us completely and forever. We have our own sacred texts…




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5 thoughts on “What do we really know about our religion?

  1. Impressive and eloquently put. Worth every moment it took me to read it. With Minds such as hers figuring out and speaking out the truth of our faith the truth of our culture gives me hope that it will not disappear into the night. Asé, asé, asé o! Ire o!

      1. Hi Oriyoomi, that’s a good question. There are several books but I have realised that there are so many flavours of Ifa Orisa religion. I favour the West African strain, I will find a book to recommend Thanks for stopping by. Ire o!

      2. Hi Oriyoomi, I recommend Yoruba Theology and Tradition by Ayo Salami. It comes in a series. The Genealogy , The Worship, and The Man and The Society. Some are unavailable, but The Worship is available on kindle

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