Yoruba spirituality believes in reincarnation. Thats why we have names like Yewande ( Mother finds me), Yetunde ( Mother Returns), Babatunde ( Father returns)  etc.  This concept is known as Atunwaye. 

” The Yorùbá strongly believe that the souls of the departed good ancestors were reincarnated and reborn as grandchildren in the family for them to continue their existence in the family. The ancestors do this as a result of the love they have for their family members or for the world (Awolalu & Dopamu 2005). Children born into the family shortly after the death of an aged person are believed to be reincarnated, especially if they share the same gender with the departed. Children believed to be reincarnated by ancestors are given such names as Yetunde [mother has returned], Iyabo [mother has come], Babatide [father has come] and Babatunde [father has come again]. Others are Ayedun [life is sweet] ‘Dehinbo [come back] ‘Sehinde [come again]. When a child is born, the oracle is consulted to know which ancestor or ancestress has reincarnated in the child. Some are obvious if certain marks that appeared on the dead also appear on the child (Awolalu & Dopamu 2005)”

The belief that after someone dies; his immortal soul separates from the body and lives again in another physical body is the doctrine of reincarnation. This is a belief that is well established in the traditional Yorùbá African culture. The traditional Yorùbá culture holds the belief in reincarnation (atunwaye). Atunwaye is believed to be possible in three different forms which are: ipadawaye (ancestor’s rebirth), akudaaya (die and reappear) and abiku (born to die).” –The Impact of the Yorùbá Traditional Belief in Reincarnation among Yorùbá Christians in Akurẹ 

The proliferation of Yejide/Babjide/etc names  shows that Yoruba of the previous generation continued to hold on to their belief of reincarnation, however Pentecostal fervour appears to have put paid to that for the latest sets of Yoruba mums and dads in the Yoruba homeland  

Here are 6 facts about Yoruba reincarnation 

  • Yorùbá belief in ancestors is that they are family members who have died and are deified.
  •  Dead family members come back to life, usually as a new child into family where they previously lived.
  • Sometimes a newborn resembles their dead ancestors with some physical and mental features identical with their forebears. Things like gun shots, scars, tattoos  of the dead do also reappear in the child that is born.
  • Another version of reincarnation  is the Abiku syndrome .The ritual marks out on the bodies on the dead babies out of desperation to stop them from coming back, have been said to reappear on the children when they are reborn.
  • Yoruba reincarnation believes in memory transfer. This is attested to by the stories of children who could recount real life experiences of their ancestors with astonishing details, yet had no first hand access to the stories of such ancestors. 
  • The Latin word for this concept is atavism – Atavism definition, the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations – dictionary.com

Now look at these photographs below in the right hand column. They were set up and taken by Tosin Ogunsanya of Voult Photography. I’ve put them next to photos of the Obalufon mask and head. The photo shoot was entitled King Obalufon, and I agree.

Surely an ancestor has been reborn in the model, who is unsurprisingly Yoruba as well. The resemblance to Obalufon is stunning. From time to time, I come across Yoruba people whose features bear a marked resemblance to one of the Ife heads either the metal ones or terracotta and I’m always impressed by how the physical features held through the ages. It was a thrill to find these photos and realise I’m not the only one who sees these things.

The gentleman in the photos is definitely an Obalufon reborn, though he may not be recognised as being from the lineage of Ife princes, his features tell a story of their own….





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