Cultural Legacy of Yoruba: People Who Stick to Their Traditions Despite the Hardships

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The people of Yoruba are an ethnic African group that lives in western Africa.These people have a rich history and many traditions that highlight the beautiful culture of West Africa.

The Yoruba people are a group in Africa Mostly made of settlers in Nigeria and Benin. There is roughly a hundred and five million people that make up the population of the Yoruba people. Although most of them are in Nigeria or Benin there is also a population throughout Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo. The conditions and climates vary throughout these regions.

The living conditions in Africa vary by the region a people group is in. The countries that the Yoruba live in are mostly impoverished and their is a lack of natural resources and clean drinking water. In Nigeria, for example, only about thirty percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. In Benin, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) score was at twenty-four point three, which on the spectrum is in the category of “serious”. The GHI calculates their score with: Child wasting, child mortality, child stunting and all around undernourishment. They use this information to form a number on a one through fifty scale. Most countries are in the high twenties and thirties means that there is a serious problem with hunger and resources in West Africa.

Although food and resources are scarce the Yoruba people have a fascinating cuisine. The most common food would be something like pounded yams or Iyan. It is made by boiling the yams then pounding them. Bean cakes are also very popular among the Yoruba people. These bean cakes are made by soaking the beans then grinded with spices and oils then deep fried. One of the favorites is Jollof rice or Benachin, it is a rice that is cooked with spices and vegetables and sometimes meat. This is usually a dish served at parties or celebrations because of the lack of resources. The celebrations are usually when people come together and share what they have with their community.

The traditions of the Yoruba are very intricate and complex. The traditional religion of the Yoruba people is practiced by about twenty percent of the population and the rest is split between Islam and Christianity. The practices of the traditional religion vary from each region because the religion gets passed down by ancestors and is not written down. For example, a deity from one village may be a woman but in another village it could be a man. But the outline of the religion remains the same throughout.

Essentially, there is one main God or Sky God named Olorun, he is the creator and is the highest praised god. One would call unto him by pouring water over Kola nuts on the ground and prayer. He is one of the three gods that are available to all. The other two are Eshu or Legba, the divine messenger who delivers sacrifices from the shrine to Olorun, and Ogun the god of war, the hunt, and metalworking. Ogun is important because in traditional courts, one would kiss a machete sacred to Ogun as a way to swear that they are telling the truth. An interesting part of the traditional religion is the belief in Ayanmo (fate or destiny). Each individual's actions or thoughts in the physical realm communicate with other living things, and each attempt to attain and seek destiny in the spiritual realm. “Life and death in the Yoruba religion belief system is a continuous cycle of existence in different forms of physical bodies while an individual's spirit evolves towards transcendence.”The body is just seen as a vessel for the spirit. The spirit is carried through multiple bodies until it has reach transcendence or enlightenment. This is the goal for afterlife. Both religions also worship multiple deities. The traditions of the Yoruba people are dying because less and less of the modern people has converted to Islam or Christianity.

The most common type of art among the Youruba people are sculptures and masks of deities made out of wood, brass, and sometimes terracotta. The masks vary from region because of various masking rituals done in specific regions. Another very important part of the art traditions are pottery, metalsmithing, weaving, and beadworking. Most of the art is devoted to religion or religious figures. Some of their arts are used in various traditional dances. The masks are used for dances,rituals and ceremonies. The duality of the art can be noted because not only are they for decoration but they also have a place in both household and religious life.

Dancing and music (like in many other cultures) is a very sacred and community. For the Yoruba people the most traditional dance is called ijo-ibile’ which is translated as ‘local/ traditional dance’. Many of these dances are accompanied by drums like the, bata, gangan (talking drum), and gongs. The rhythmically beat the drums to let the dancers know which steps they should be on. Male dancers usually wear aso-oke with which the male adorn buba and Sokoto. They also usually have a cap on their heads too. Females are dressed in wrappers tied to the chest with coral beads adorning the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. In some dances and communities they hold horse tails while dancing which flows with their movements. The steps of the dancers are always in sync with the beats of the drum. The best dancers are known as ‘arapa-re-gangan’ or ‘arese-ja-bata’. The lead drum is usually the gangan or the talking drum. The talking drum is especially interesting because the pitch that comes out of the drum is based on the tension of the cords that connect the two drum heads.. The pitches can mimic human speech, that is why it is called the talking drum. The change in pitch of these drums help the dancers and other drum players know when the beat is going to change.

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The traditions of the Yoruba people are held sacred when it comes to the milestones of life. For example, new born babies are sprinkled with water when they come out to make them cry. Nobody is allowed to speak until the baby cries either. After the baby cries,the umbilical cord is cut after being tightly bound with thread. Then it is taken to the backyard to be bathed in palm oil and then shaken three times to make it strong and courageous. Marriages are just as intricate.The man must negotiate with the father of the bride for her hand in marriage. The man must contribute in three installments of wealth. After the father agrees to marry his daughter off, the wedding ceremony is held.

The ceremony must be held after dark at the bride's house. They feast on yams that the groom provides. After they eat they go to the groom's house where the bride is bathed from the knees down in an herbal mixture. This mixture is believed to bring the bride many children. Following this, the women splits her time between her compound and her grooms compound and on the ninth day of this she officially moves into the man's house and becomes his wife. The typical traditional Yoruba compound usually has most of the family of the husbands side. The head of the family is usually the most elderly male member of the household. Men are also usually polyamourous, their wives would all have seperate rooms in the compound. Most of the time the female children will sleep in the bed of their mother when the husband is not sharing the room. When they are not in their mother’s room children will sleep in the parlour.

The relationships between a husband and wife is a very fascinating one because women are both equal to the man but also inferior to men. Women are valued for their independence from men. Women expect men to provide money for the family for her to use to spend whichever way will support her family. Women are their own boss during the day when men are at work, they have a list of things they must complete and they do it on their own time. In addition to the chores they must do, women also sell the crops that the man will cultivate during their work day. When women sell crops at the market, she is allowed to take whatever she sees fit from the profits to provide food, clothing, and supplies to her family and the husband is allowed to accept whatever his wife will give him.

The relationship between co-wives is usually based on seniority, the older wife will usually dictate the younger wives. Physical abuse could play a role in this, when a younger wife disobeys the older one must punish her. The relationship between children and their parents is also interesting because the children are almost seen as a way to financially benefit. Many children are put to work as soon as they can to help the mother around the house or help the father in the field. When at home children are disciplined with physical abuse to teach obedience and responsibility.

Education is also poor, higher education is only seen for people of an upcoming upper class. Many children will not make it through grade school and will leave school to help their mother at home with chores and other household duties. The lack of education affects villages because their ends up being a lack of jobs that men can perform. Most jobs include physical labour which pays very little. Agriculture is important because many jobs are made from it and the crops from the farm are sold at markets.

According to UNICEF, “Only one in four children in the region has access to early childhood learning, care, and stimulation. This means that they start first grade at a disadvantage, not ready to tackle the demands of primary education.” This means from an early start children are placed in a disadvantage in life. Another issue with the education system among the children in western africa is that even the children who make it all the way through school probably don’t have a high quality of education.

The lack of education makes improvement among society harder for these villages. Children don’t obtain the knowledge and skills needed in the twenty-first century. Although within families there is patriarchy, their is also leaders within a city or village. The leader is called an Oba. Many times having the position of Oba is passed down through blood lineage, many times it is a descendant of someone who founded the village or city. Other times a reigning Oba will pick a worthy male to take his place. Eah Oba will usually have a council of chief to help him make choices that will affect his people( An Oba’s job is to help the people within the village or city and also to have communication with leaders from other communities that surround them. He must join associations and councils within nearby villages to help the economy among his people.

The economy amongst the Yoruba people is mostly based on selling crops that farmers grow. Up to seventy percent of Yoruba people participate in agriculture. Primarily they grow, yams, maize (corn), peanuts, cotton, and beans. All of the crops are either used in the family's household or sold at a market. Some economies where Yoruba people inhabit, like Nigeria, are growing. In some of the larger cities financial stability is more common. Most of the population of Yoruba people in major cities in Nigeria are middle class. Economy varies through cities and villages. Villages tend to lack capital which contributes to poor living conditions.

Living conditions vary also throughout villages and even the countries. Most of the villages are poor and lack resources. Finding a clean water supply can be difficult, some women will travel miles to get to a well. According to, the water supply in West Africa as a whole, is substandard. It continues to have an affect on their health and well being. The water is one of the leading causes of deaths in children under the age of five. Many diseases could be preventable by a source of clean water. That’s why women and children go long distances to retrieve a safer water( Medical attention is also hard to find in the villages. In life threatening cases, it may take up to eight hours to reach possibly insufficient care.

There is usually some sort of witch doctor or medicine man within the villages, They are called Awon 'leku-leja or a traditional pharmacist.. They will use traditional herbs and spices amongst other natural mixture to help a person heal. Traditional healing is very important to the people of Yoruba and most of the Awon 'leku-leja will be praised and seen in a very honorable light. Many of them are also seen as clergymen in a sense. They use the herbs given to them by Osain, the god associated with wild herbs. He is known to be the greatest traditional pharmacist to have ever lived. They are called witch doctors because some of the herbs they use can also have a “mystical” power. Some of the medicines will bring good luck, money, or love. These healing “ceremonies” could include eating bitter plants, being rubbed on palm oil, or being sang over by the doctor. The Awon 'leku-leja will have the knowledge and spirituality to give someone the proper. medicine and when to give it to them. Some spices and herbs need to be collected at certain times of the day or night or else they may not work as potently. A big focus of Yoruba medicine is to expel the “tiny bodies” or germs that will infect a person. To sum it all up the Yoruba people are a group with extremely fascinating beliefs and traditions. The Yoruba people have a rich and sacred culture that makes the people of yoruba continue to practice and honor the traditions. We can see within the villages that every aspect of life is outlined a certain way and is followed for the improvement of one's community. Although living conditions are poor and sometimes the moral of the people can be low, the traditions of the Yoruba people remain strong and unscathed.

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