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Belief Systems

The most obvious trend in Yoruba religion is the decline of the traditional cults in the face of Islam and Christianity. This process started early. By the start of the l9th century, Islam had spread widely in areas under Oyo control, and in the 1840s Christianity arrived, brought by the Saro and the missions. The process accelerated with the imposition of colonial rule, and by the 1952 census more than four-fifths of the population of the Yoruba provinces were said to be either Christian or Muslim (Peel, 1967: 294รณ5).

Two main aspects of religion will be explored in this chapter: its role as a basis for the formation of social groups, and its role as an ideology and guide to individual action. It is in the first of these that the most obvious changes have taken place. The majority of men and women in many Yoruba towns are now members of Christian or Muslim egbe. At the level of the individual, however, traditional beliefs are more tenacious. For many people, there is nothing inconsistent about combining traditional rites at home with church or mosque attendance, though Christian and Muslim leaders preach against it. The Ifa diviner or babalawo is still an important source of help and advice, though he now shares his clientele with Muslim diviners and Christian Aladura prophets. The dividing line between ‘traditional’ and Christian or Muslim beliefs and practices is often difficult to draw.

In the process of diffusion in Yoruba society, Christianity and Islam have themselves been modified. The new religions share organisational similarities with the old cults, and Yoruba rites of passage have been adapted to fit the new beliefs. At the level of doctrine, both Christianity and Islam emphasise elements which are also important in traditional religion, and there are similarities in the ways in which members of all three religious groups view the supernatural and their relations with it.



ODUDUWAOduduwa vary greatly. This Web page depicts several of the Stories.

Several legends concerning the origin and ancestry of Oduduwa abound in Yoruba and Benin mythology. The Yorubas believe he is the father of the Yorubas and progenitor of all Yoruba Oba’s and the Oba of Benin. The Bini believe that he is a Benin prince called EKALADERHAN who was banished by his father, the Ogiso of Benin. His name, the Binis claim, is derived from ‘Idoduwa”, a Bini word meaning fortune’s path, symbolizing the painful exile from his ancestral home. In support of this, they claim, Oduduwa’s son Oranmiyan later returned to Benin to rule the Empire around 1,000 AD. Oduduwa is believed to have had several sons (16 in number) who later became powerful traditional rulers of Yoruba land, most notably Alafin of Oyo, Oni of Ife, Oragun of Ila, Owa of Ilesha, Alake of Abeokuta and Osemawe of Ondo. Yoruba tradition holds that Oduduwa fled from Mecca to Ile-Ife, bringing with him the Ifa religion which was under persecution in Mecca. He established it firmly in Ile-Ife and founded the Ogboni cult to protect the ancient customs and institutions of his people. The Oduduwa shrine is still worshipped today in Ile-Ife as the cradle of Yoruba culture.
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Hero of the Yoruba People and common Ancestor

Obatala is sometimes known as Oduduwa (in Ife)

Oduduwa the first Oni if Ife, fathered sixteen sons who founded the sixteen original kingdoms of the Yoruba

Regarded in Ife as the Orisa who created dry land and performed feats elsewhere attributed to Obatala

The oral history of the Yoruba describes an origin myth, which tells of God lowering a chain at Ile-Ife, down which came Oduduwa, the ancestor of all people, bringing with him a cock, some earth, and a palm kernel. The earth was thrown into the water, the cock scratched it to become land, and the kernel grew into a tree with sixteen limbs, representing the original sixteen kingdoms. The empire of Oyo arose at the end of the 15th century aided by Portuguese guns. Expansion of the kingdom is associated with the acquisition of the horse. At the end of the 18th century civil war broke out at Oyo, the rebels called for assistance to the Fulani, but the latter ended up conquering all of Oyo by the 1830s. The Fulani invasion pushed many Yoruba to the south where the towns of Ibadan and Abeokuta were founded. In the late 1880s, with the help of a British mediator, a treaty was signed between the various warring factions. Yorubaland was officially colonized by the British in 1901, but a system of indirect rule was established that mimicked the structure of Yoruba governance.

Yoruba Anthem

E je ka fi’imo sokan
‘Tori ile baba wa
Lati tun se
Lati gbe ga
Fun ‘losiwau rere

Ija irepo lo ye wa
Ka ja fun ‘le baba wa
Nitori wa
‘Tori omo wa
Nitori ojo ola

Omo Oduduwa ni wa
Nibikibi ta ba wa
Ka si ma ranti
Pe a o pada sile.

English Translation

In unity let’s stand
On behalf of our fatherland
To rebuild it
To reform it
For the betterment of all

Let all of us unite
To defend our motherland
For our progress
And for our children’s
And for all posterity

Oduduwa is our spring
Wherever we may be
Let’s be kinfolks
And remember
That home is home for us