The African people, who lived in the lower western Niger area, at least by the 4th century BC, were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. Both archeology and traditional Yoruba oral historians confirm the existence of people in this region for several millennia. Contemporary historians as well as Yoruba legend contend that the Yoruba are not indigenous to Yoruba land, but are descendants of immigrants to the region. It is believed that the forefather of all the Yoruba people was an important man called Oduduwa, (also known as Oodua or Eleduwa). It is also known that he was a Prince from the royal family in Mecca. At the time when he was a young prince in Mecca, the people of Mecca including the royal family were worshipers of different idols and deities. When the Islam religion was adopted by the royal family and introduced to the kingdom of Mecca, Oduduwa rebelled, refused to convert to Islam. This caused a split in the royal family and amongst the noblemen loyal to the prince. As a result, Oduduwa was expelled and forced into exile. According to legend, he gathered all the men and women loyal to him numbering thousands and began a journey. He headed southwest from Mecca and came to settle in Sub-Saharan Africa. He established his kingdom in a place called ‘Ile Ife’ (also known as Ife) and thus became the first ‘Oba’ (meaning ‘king’ or ‘ruler’ in the Yoruba language). This settlement flourished and developed into what is now Yoruba land in modern day Nigeria.
The Yoruba originally were known as the Oyo who arose and became quite popular by their trading with the Portuguese which gave them a large supply of guns. However, they were unable to push back the Fulani who invaded them and pushed much of the Yoruba further south. In the late 1800’s the Yoruba formed a treaty with the Fulani and in 1901 they were colonized by the British. Because of their enmity with the Fulani who are the great Islam evangelists, most of the Yoruba do not hold to Islam but instead worship many of the gods and spirits that the Yoruba hold to. Economically the Yoruba primarily engage in agriculture, with about 15% of the people employed as merchants or artists and craftsman. The Yoruba people live in Southwest Nigeria, Benin and Togo. They have developed a variety of different artistic forms including pottery, weaving, beadwork, metalwork, and mask making. Most artwork is made to honor the gods and ancestors and since there are more than 401 known gods to the Yoruba, there is much sculpture and artwork made.