Most law and justice systems are derived on moral principles related to religious origins. That being said, many of the founding principles of the Yoruba law and justice system can be traced back to Ile-IFE (origin of Yoruba) and the basic principles upon which the moral fabric of the Yoruba people was derived. “The Yoruba word for religion is Esìn or Isìn. Both words describe on one hand and embraces on the other concepts of ‘duty’ and ‘service’” (Nordic Journal of African Studies, 2005, p.181). The idea of duty and service can be related back to the good of the society in both political and moral senses while also tying into religious principles enlightens us to the powerful common links between these three forces. In fact, the religious structure of a society acts as a reference for the political, moral and legal structures that act to bind a society together as one. The Yoruba religious beliefs are collection of stories and beliefs that have been handed down from generation to generation through folklore. Yoruba law may best be understood by understanding the traditions pertaining to Yoruba culture, language religion and traditions. It has been said that Yoruba “culture is the unwritten constitution of the society. It is a guide to morality, a determiner of ethics and a paradigm of inter-personal relationships. Yoruba tradition is essentially oral-driven.
Folklore bellies the knowledge production process of the people.” Much of the Yoruba history and culture is taught within the family and village structure. From these oral teachings also bring knowledge of culture. Within these oral teachings resides the knowledge of moral content. The rights, wrongs and what is expected, what is acceptable in terms of behavior and what is not acceptable. It is by this means that social order is structured and enhanced and the Yoruba worldview is painted within the minds of the very young during childhood and adolescence. One can say that the moral teachings are embedded within the Yoruba children at a very young age and serve to drive the moral ethos upon which much of the Yoruba legal system is based upon. Much of the teachings and practices are simplistic and equate into an efficient system of legal execution, more so than compared to more modern style systems of law that is being practiced within the Nigerian state legal system of today; A system where great technical legal details result in great expense and sometimes substandard results. In summary, Yoruba religion, Mores, culture, worldview and Yoruba law & justice can be viewed as woven from the same fabric, all communicated to children and adolescence orally. The “indigenous legal and justice system among the Yorubas, fall within the confines of folklore. In acknowledging the primacy of orality, it is contended that law and order are better enhanced by harnessing the folklore of the people. It has been proposed that, “folk law” as a concept, embodies law within Yoruba folklore. The overall impression, from textual exemplification is that, there is perhaps, no better way of passing law across to the folks, except through their lore, hence “folk law.”
In a document published in The Journal of Pan African Studies, the author Yunusa Kehinde Salami, Ph.D. discusses similarities of the “pre-colonial epoch in Yoruba political and cultural history.” to glimmers of a democratic society. The following excerpt from this publication defines this concept further: “In this context we can now turn to the evolutionary nature of democracy (leadership, choice, checks and balances, Kingdom structure, and cultural heritage) via the constant changes and development in its conceptualization, and the key topic on the demonstration of democratic values in traditional Yoruba social and political society established on what can be called a participatory democracy as it employed different models of involving citizens in governance which allows for representation of diverse interests. Hence creating governance through representative and participatory democracy featured in all the facets of the traditional Yoruba social, cultural and political organization.” Salami goes on to explain the structure of Pre-Colonial Yoruba government that encompassed many checks and balances. These checks and balances extended all the way up to the monarch allowing for removal of the King under extenuating circumstances. Salami explains a well-defined hierarchal structure that includes these checks and balances throughout.
In Ile-Ife, the spiritual center of the Yoruba, a position called the Ooni was chosen from amid members of the ruling parties. Another group called the “king makers” in coordination with the Ifa oracle, chose the person who should arise as Ooni. In terms of the succession and ascension of the King, the Ifa oracle would serve to aid the king makers on what person within the society would become the next King of the Yoruba (The Journal of Pan African Studies, Dec. 2006, p.69). The concept that the author was trying to convey was that within most villages or kingdoms there were royal lines from which king makers would deliberate on in a balanced and equal process to find the right choice for the next leader. Society officials, who is in charge of such society duties, under the guidance of Ifa oracle through mediation by the Ifa Priest. Ultimately, the Yoruba Law and justice system, as passed on by way of folklore, was structured such that it heavily considered fairness and adherence to law as the Yoruba interpreted it to apply to all, even the King. The hierarchal structure of the socio-political system set forth remedies for any political leader to be potentially extracted in the event of serious violation of Yoruba law.
Practitioners and believers of the Yoruba tradition come from all socio-economic backgrounds and communities. There are teachers, students and staff at any particular college or staff at social service agencies who practice this craft. In an average neighborhood in N.Y.C. one may observe a Botanical store where it is possible to get services from or learn to become a priest or priestess. An example of one of the larger institutions that preserves and promotes this faith is The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) of N.Y. The CCCADI is a not-for-profit cultural organization based in New York City dedicated to promoting and promulgating the cultures of people of African Descent brought before and after the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Through concerts, gallery tours, workshops, performances, conferences, professional development sessions, spiritual gatherings, and teaching artist residencies, they support teachers and students across New York to learn and grow through the arts.