What are their main traditional beliefs?


In the mythology of the Yoruba people of West Africa, Olorun (Eledumare) is the most powerful and wisest deity. The all-knowing god takes an active role in the affairs of both heaven and earth. Head of the Yoruba pantheon, Olorun is also known as Olofin-Orun (Lord of Heaven), Oba-Orun (King of the Sky), and Olodumare (Almighty). According to Yoruba legend, Olorun was one of two original creator gods. The other was the goddess Olokun. In the beginning, the universe consisted only of sky and a formless chaos of marshy water. The Yorubas knew about this before the Bible came to introduce that to the Christians. Olorun ruled the sky, while Olokun ruled the vast marshy waters below. There were thousands of other gods, but none had as much knowledge or power as Olorun. Ile-Ife, a holy city in Nigeria, appears in African mythology as the birthplace of creation and the location where the first humans took form. It is the home of the Oni, the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people. Ile-Ife is also known as Ife or Ife-Lodun. According to Yoruba mythology, the world was originally a marshy, watery wasteland. In the sky above lived many gods, including the supreme god Olorun, the Owner of the Sky. These gods sometimes descended from the sky on golden chains and played in the marshy waters, but there was yet no land or human being there. One day Olorun called Orisha Nla (Obatala), the Great God, and told him to create solid land in the marshy waters below. He gave Orisha a pigeon, a hen, and the shell of a snail containing some loose earth. Orisha descended to the waters and threw the loose earth into a small space. He then set loose the pigeon and hen, which began to scratch the earth and move it around. Soon the birds had covered a large area of the marshy waters and created solid ground. Orisha reported back to Olorun, who sent a chameleon (lizard that can change color) to see what had been accomplished. The chameleon found that the earth was wide but not very dry. After a while, Olorun sent the creature to inspect the work again. This time the chameleon discovered a wide, dry land, which was called Ife (meaning “wide”) and Ile (meaning “house”). All other earthly dwellings later sprang from Ile-Ife, and it was revered forever after as a sacred spot. It remains the home of the Oni, the spiritual leader of the Yoruba.


How do people that practice Yoruba express their beliefs?


Divine entities of Yoruba are composed of one God – the creator and approximately several hundred spirits of supernatural origin. These supernatural spirits are viewed as sub gods or spirits in a sense and they are linked to specific wonders of life and the spiritual aftermath. To name a few, there is” Olorun – the God of Heaven, Ogun – the Spirit of iron, Osanyin – the Spirit of healing and medicines, Sango – the spirit of thunder and lightning.” Many of these divine spirits were people who lived within the society who were revered as special in some characteristic of their lives. After death, these individuals were immortalized into a divine spirit from which people would attempt to attain their abilities. Both creatures and humans were thought to attain individual deity of destiny. This tradition was called Ori and was many times evidenced through a symbolic sculpture as honor of someone sacred. These sculptures were often decorated with precious stones and or sea shells. Another expression of belief by the Yoruba practitioners is evidenced by their unique methods of ancestral honor and remembrance. By tradition, the Yoruba people believed that ancestors had the power to protect their descendants and was expressed during community festivals. The festival of Egungun is one in which family members would honor their ancestors by representing them with “a colorful masquerade of costumed and masked men who represent the ancestral spirits.”


Naming ceremonies are a tradition of Yoruba founded on the notion that a name is a metaphor in the sense that the meaning of one’s name is what one should strive to live out and fulfill. Parents put a great deal of effort in finding names for their offspring that are reflective of family history and tradition. Within the Yoruba culture, the upbringing of a child is provided for by the extended family of the child. Typically, the child will assume the profession of the father if male, or the mother if female. Similarly, to western culture, the parents of a child assume the responsibility of leading the child into a means of providing for themselves upon adulthood, though the means may differ. Traditionally the young man will seek out a potential wife. He will attempt to attract her through various means, including pranks, sending her messages through third parties, etc. When and if mutual love is expressed between both the young man and young woman, the couple approaches their parents with notification of their relationship and desire to marry. The parents of the male then approach the parents of the female. After consent is provided by the parents, a wedding is arranged. The parents of the young couple arrange the wedding with the male parents responsible for providing dowry payment. The dowry payment, besides acting as “startup” money for the young couple to be, also serves as a notion of final and absolute consent by the female parents in regards to marriage. The typical wedding ceremony is similar to that of western society marriage ceremonial celebrations involving dancing, food, drinks, music, family and friends. The event is in celebration not only of the joining between the young man and woman but between the families of both parties involved.

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