Noir’s Spiritual Round-Up: The History of the Yorubas
I will be trying something new with my segment on Daughter’s of Eve by sharing interesting articles that I’ve stumbled upon along my journey of a constant thirst for new perceptive. So, far the only title for these roundups I can come up with is “Noir’s Round-Up” I will be looking for a possible new name for these informative articles roundup: any suggestion would be greatly appreciated. Till then, “Noir’s Roundup” it is.
This week Modern Ghana essay writer, Femi Fani-Kayode, wrote an insightful piece on The History of The Yorubas [link: http://www.modernghana.com/news/322660/1/the-history-of-the-yorubas.html]. Explaining who the Yorubas “exact” is, their history, and culture prior to branching out in various parts of the world: most recognizably their numerous Yoruba based religion practices in Africa Diasporas: and still, to this day, in Africa herself. Most well known Yoruba based practices in the Diasporas consist of and not limited to; Lucumi or Santeria [Cuba], Candomble, Batuque and Umbanda [Brazil], and Oyotunji [United States].
My personally belief is to understand the ancestors in order to know their descendents. The essay by Mr. Fani-Kayode succeeded in the overall understanding of the Yorubas pre-historic existence and their blending of “monotheistic” religion to preserve their culture and faith for future generations. The Yorubas, as defined by Mr. Fani-Kayode words are in the following excerpts:
“The pre-historic era of the Yoruba (before the coming of Oduduwa to Ile-Ife and before the establishment of the great kingdoms and princely states), their origins as a people and their migratorary patterns. The ”Yoruba” are the ancestors of the black Cushite migrants and settlers that did not go to Africa with the other descendants of Cush but that rather chose to settle in the areas and environs that were to later become the ancient cities of Mecca and Medina in what is presently known as Saudi Arabia.
They were not Arabs but they were there as settlers for thousands of years and they constituted an industrious, prosperous, powerful, large and respected minority within the larger Middle Eastern, Jewish and Arab community. However they were eventually driven out of those Arab towns and communities and forced to leave them for refusing to give up their religious faith, their deep mysticism and paganism and their idol worship after Islam was introduced to those places by the Prophet Mohammed in 600 AD. They then migrated to the banks of the great River Nile in Egypt where they intermingled with the Egyptian Arabs, the black Nubians and the Sudanese of the Nile. Many remained there but the bulk of them eventually migrated to what is now known as the north-eastern zone of Nigeria and once again mingled and bred with the Shuwa Arabs and the Kanuris of the Borno people. From there they eventually migrated down south to the forests and farm lands of what is now known as south-western Nigeria making their primary place and location of settlement and pagan worship Ile-Ife. Ile-Ife is to the Yoruba gods what Mecca is to the Muslims and what Jerusalem is to the Jews and the Christians. And the establishment of Ile-Ife as the centre and source of all that is Yoruba was confirmed by Oduduwa himself when he sent his sons out from Ile-Ife to other parts of Yorubaland to establish their own independent kingdoms. It was after that that we broke up into various kingdoms and communities within what is now known as south-western Nigeria. Some of those kingdoms and empires were sophisticated, powerful, large and great (like the Oyo Empire which was one of the greatest empires that ever existed on the African continent and indeed the world and which was responsible for halting the ”jihad” of Usman Dan Fodio from coming any further south by defeating the Fulanis and their allies in battle and confining them to Ilorin) and some were not so great and large.”
Mr. Fani-Kayode eloquently went on to explain, possibly in theory, why individual Yoruba based practitioners rather use identification of “Ife” “Ile-Ife” or other words to “classify” themselves as instead of “Yoruba” This is found in the following excerpt:
“….This group of different kingdom states with a common ancient root were collectively known as the ”Yoruba” and the fact of the matter is that the word ”Yoruba” has NO meaning in our language or any other language that is known to man. No-one has been able to tell us with certainty the meaning of the word ”Yoruba” or indeed where it really came from. This really is very strange and is indeed a deep and unsettling mystery. For all we know it could even be an ancient insult. That is why I have always preferred to be referred to as an ”ife” rather than a ”Yoruba”.
The Yoruba faith is quiet similar to that of my paternal side of the family Haitian Vodou spirituality. In fact, Vodou and Santeria are times known as the “cousin” religion/family religion. The difference is our ancestry ethnic group; the Vodou based religion is considered direct lineage to the Fon people and/or Gba people. That is not to say that individual Yoruba and Fon/Gba descendents don’t share an “either/or” lineage. I must confess that there is both Yoruba and Fon ancestry circulating within my blood [amongst many, many more]. I simply personally feel that my guardian ancestor “head”, that protects and guides me, tends to be more of Fon/Gba than Yoruba. On my first post on Patheos [regarding Henotheism] I had mentioned that my father’s spirituality is mixed with some Muslim system. It is due to the ancestor who speaks to him is of Yoruba: Father and daughter same blood but different “head” guardian [similar to family members having different god[s] as matrons and patrons]. Mr. Fani-Kayode explains semi-in-depth of difference in monotheistic blend based on migration of the Yorubas:
“Another question that is often asked is why did our forefathers indulge in all the mass migrations from first Mecca and Medina, then to Egypt, then to Borno and then finally to the plains and forests of what was to become, thousands of years later, the western region of modern-day Nigeria? Well my own personal theory is that the reason that our forefathers kept having to emigrate until we found somewhere of our own was because we refused to give up our pagan beliefs and practices and when Islam was eventually introduced or took full root in all the areas that we once settled our forefathers were no longer comfortable there and they must have suffered all manner of persecution for their tenacity to their ancient pagan and ”ifa” faith and practices. Whatever the reasons for the mass migrations may have been it is clear that the influences of paganism, their traditional faith of ”ifa” worship, the Egyptians, the Nubians, the Sudanese, the Middle Easterners and the Kanuris is very strong amongst the Yoruba, their music, their language and their culture till today.
The religious faiths of Islam and Christianity both came much later and were both established primarily through the strong trade links that existed between the Yoruba and the north-western Hausa/Fulani caliphate from the north, the Turkish traders of the Ottoman empire of the southern Atlantic coast from the south, the primarily Portuguese and European sailors and traders who plied that same southern Atlantic coast from the south and finally with the strong efforts of the Christian missionaries of both the Anglican and Catholic churches respectively. Both of these two great monotheic faiths of Christianity and Islam eventually took full root in the land and in the hearts and minds of the Yoruba people whilst paganism, the worship of ”ifa” and the practice of our original and more traditional faith was eventually pushed to the back seat even though initially, and for hundreds of years, they were both fiercely resisted. That is why, till today, it is very rare to find a Yoruba family that does not have Christians, Muslims and adherents of the more traditional and ancient tribal faiths in their ranks.”
If you have the time and interested in learning the “base” of the Yorubas I recommend the following article by Femi Fani-Kayode on Modern Ghana News [again, the direct link for the article: http://www.modernghana.com/news/322660/1/the-history-of-the-yorubas.html ]
Till then, Brightest Blessings!