In the Beginning … The Yoruba Origin Revisited

Map of Yoruba landTHE Yoruba cover an area of about 70,000 sq. miles between the two rivers, Niger in the East and Mono in the West. They occupy land between latitude 6° and 9° North, and longitude 2° 3′ and 6° 30′ East. They constitute one of the largest homogenous groups in Africa. Popularly referred to as ‘Anago’ and ‘Olukumi’ in the extant past, the Yoruba speak language that is mutually intelligible with various dialects.

The geography of the area is characterised by variation of climate and topography. The weather of the area varies from raining season to dry season. The landscape of the Yorubaland is dotted with rivers which flow in the North-south direction, as well as forests and hills which serve as bulwark against the infiltration of the interior by the external aggressors. They were predominantly agriculturists and hunters. The Yoruba were also famous for their local industries and artistic work, particularly bronze and brass casting.

The origin of the Yoruba is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps no aspect of the Yoruba history is more controversial or ambiguous than their origin as there are many versions of oral traditions dedicated to this. Two versions are particularly popular. The first version collected by Captain Clapperton from Sultan Bello in the 1820s speaks of the migration of the Yoruba into their present habitat from outside. This version was later popularized by Rev. Samuel Johnson and the first crops of Nigerian historians.

According to this version, the Yoruba migrated from the north-eastern part of Africa which has been variously interpreted as Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Meroe. This group of immigrants was said to have been led by Oduduwa who utilized his superior force to overwhelm the autochthonous people that met in the area and consequently established a new dynasty.

The second version of the tradition was derived from the Yoruba mythology. This tradition speaks of the ‘the beginning of time’ probably the pluvial period when Eledumare (Supreme Being) sent messengers (immortals) to the surface of the earth to create the world. At the head of this party was Obatala. In their possession were pieces of iron, lump of sand and a chicken with which they were to create the world. While Obatala in his drunkenness (for he was alleged to have taken palm wine on the way) lost his paraphernalia of leadership, Oduduwa took the opportunity to lead the party on. Before their landing, the pieces of iron and lump of sand were set down, and, chicken was placed to spread the sand. Thus began the creation of the world from Ile-Ife where the immortals landed.

The reference to the name Oduduwa Afewonro that is “Oduduwa the man who descended through chain” which local historians hold tenaciously to even in contemporary times could not be divorced from the story of creation beginning from lle­-Ife. Some pertinent question arise here: where did the Oduduwa pmiy land when they arrived at a place later known as lle-Ife as everywhere was reportedly filled with water? From where did Obatala get the palm wine that he drank? Significantly however the triumph of the Oduduwa group over the Obatala group which is re-enacted in a mock battle during the celebration of Edi festival is an eloquent testimony to the conquering influence of the Oduduwa group, an influence that is still pervasive till the modern time.

It would appear that the first version of the oral tradition was invented. In the first instance, what has been variously called ‘East’ may not be farther than the Niger-Benue Confluence of Nigeria. This became evident from the comparison of the Archaeological remains of Ife and Nok culture. The style of the Nok terracotta of Jos-Plateau which belonged to the second half of two millennia ago is strikingly similar to that of lIe-lfe. Also, a number of large bronze figures (Tsoede’s bronzes) kept at Jebba, Tedda and Jinaga villages resemble those of lIe-Ife.

These Tsoede’s bronzes were probably the craft work of the Yoruba who probably occupied the region before they were displaced from the region presumably by the Nupe. It might also have been that these bronzes reached the area through long-distance trade. But the claim of Arabian or Egyptian origin is not more than an attempt to associate the Yoruba with a more popular civilization of the Near East as done by the Kanuri to Ibn Yazan or the Igbo to the Jews.

The second version of oral tradition represents an attempt to establish the divine origin of the Yoruba people. This is not peculiar to the Yoruba nation alone as other African nations have their own traditions of either falling from the sky or erupting from the ground. Nevertheless, the two versions of Oral Tradition are not irreconcilable. Put together therefore, the two oral traditions have identified the personality of Oduduwa as the father of the Yoruba nation.

The arrival of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife can be interpreted as the period of revolution in the Yoruba history. It would also appear that the advent of Oduduwa represented the emergence of a new dynasty in lIe-Ife and the unification of the autochthonous peoples who hithel10 were scattered and non-unified.
It can therefore be concluded that the coming of Oduduwa rather than being seen as the beginning of a race can be interpreted as epochal revolution which symbolized the beginning of the consciousness of the Yoruba as a people.

DR. A.O.ADESOJI, Department of History Obafemi Awolowo University, lIe-Ife,
Osun State.

5 thoughts on “In the Beginning … The Yoruba Origin Revisited”

  1. It has become a very sad situation that our so-called academics and educational curriculum especially in the areas of history and anthropology can not be seen as the type that measure up to a status required of a universal standard at least tenable enough to satisfy the logical reasoning of a critical mind. At least we can see those that are suppose to be refered to as our academic pillars in their respective field . I can never believe that a phd holder in the the fiel of humanities would be ignorant of a traceable fact that even foreigner had gone scientific about, in other to prove its factual fragments.

    A lot of writers had actually pointed to the fact that this Yoruba may not have been the original name of this group of peoples with very similar socio cultural elements but a sort of contemporaneaus appelation given them by their immediate neighbors. For example Yaroba which in a way may mean the child of kings/PRINCE might be a sort of a tag given to a race that has a common concept of Oba,Oloba Baba Baba Iba and many other words of similar pronounciation.
    In a nutshell our dear Dr. should research on the fact that the largest group in ethiopia is calledTHE OROMIYANS. They still refer to themselves as the OROMOS while the OYOS would appelate themselves as OROMOJOGBO and the name of their first king who was also the great fighter king from IFE was ORANMIYAN!
    The authochtonous people of the Nile valley were the NUBIANS , the anglicised or corrupt form of NOBA/OLOBA meaning ORNAMENTED HERITAGE which the Yorubas called OLOBA , or people that formed the bronze and gold! Many including our proffesors today dont know that Yorubas have names for SILVER,BRONZE, AND GOLD which are OJE, BABA, AND IDE
    Can anyone study the beaded statue of Odua in his glamor and all you get is the ornamented pharaoh! One can notice the crest of the star and the spine which have very symbolic meaning on the crown of ancient pharaoh too.
    The people of ancient Egypt started with the concept of a supreme beign called ATUM RE which their present descendants refer to as EDUMARE or EL EDUMARE today without a definite knowledge of its etymology
    We should study the AMHERE people of ethiopia and their pictures tell us a lot.. Let us study intensively the ESIE stones so as to visualize the ancient Egyptian sculptures, the Obelisks and our famous ORANYAN staff Then the designs of our groves temples and the roofs camparing to the Pyramids. Let us let our dear proffesros realize the first pharaohs or the most ancient Mummies are all Black people like him whose culture were fashioned around philosophy of theology and royalty. I have a thousand facts and figures already even far beyond Olumide Lucas and Johnsons put together. The shape of Yoruba crowns , The Hiroglyphics designs on our religious objects all point to ancient Egypt. Even modern scholar dont know the meaning of Egypt which was actually called AIGEPTUS by the first GREEK INVADERS. Yorubas too up till now has the name EJIGBOMEKUN as a legend!!

  2. those the origin of the yorubas that accounts that oduduwa fell from heaven has anything to do with the rebelous angels that rebel against God in heaven and were cast down to earth or is ile ife the place the fallen angel landed on earth ? .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *