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African Religions. YORUBA CULTURE. WHO ARE YORUBA PEOPLE?. There are over 10 million Yoruba-speaking people in Nigeria and over 10 million Yoruba and Yoruba-descended people who have migrated throughout the world—about 25 million Yoruba people in 2006.

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who are yoruba people
  • There are over 10 million Yoruba-speaking people in Nigeria and over 10 million Yoruba and Yoruba-descended people who have migrated throughout the world—about

25 million Yoruba people in 2006.

  • The term “Yoruba” refers to: 1) a language; 2) an ethnicity; and 3) a culture
  • Millions of Yoruba slaves were captured and held as slaves between 1400-1800 and thus have descendents throughout the Caribbean, South America, and North America.
yoruba creation story
  • OLODUMARE is the supreme deity
  • Before there was life on earth, Olodumare called OBATALA, one of 12 “arch” deities

Bronze Statue of Ooni of Ife

in full regalia at Ife Museum

Olodumare decided he wanted to create dry land on the waters of the Earth, Ile Aye
  • Olodumare gave Obatalaase (power) to make land:

1) snail filled with earth

2) 5-toed chicken

3) palm nuts


“How do I make the journey?”

  • “Gather all the gold in the sky and take it to OGUN.” Ogun forged a gold chain to link the sky with the earth.
Then Ogun flung the chain towards Earth and Obatala began to descend, BUT the last rung was still far from waters of earth!
  • Obatala removed the snail shell from pouch and sprinkled earth soil on waters
  • He dropped the 5-toed chicken on the land, and it started to scratch and spread the dirt across the surface of the waters

When Obatala saw firm ground, he dropped a palm nut on the land, which sprouted into a palm tree.

  • The palm tree grew to reach the last rung of the gold chain, so Obatala climbed into the palm tree.

Palm Trees in Abeokuta, NI

Then, Obatala started to mold humans from the earth clay, but he became tired and made palm wine from the fruit of the tree and got drunk! So, he accidentally created humans with some abnormalities—like blindness or skin conditions. But he kept drinking until he fell asleep!
  • Olodumare gave the task of finishing Creation to Oduduwa, who told Obatala that it was taboo to drink palm wine again. Obatala then agreed to protect all children and humans born with physical challenges.
Oduduwa then went on to finish creating the human species!
  • Or…(another version) When Obatala woke up, he was embarrassed and apologetic. Olodumare forgave him and then gave him the responsibility of molding the physical bodies of human beings.
african religions13
African Religions
  • “African Traditional Religions” = indigenous religions
  • Islam = introduced to sub-Saharan AF in 11th c.
  • Christianity = introduced to West AF in 15th c.
  • Syncretic = indigenous Christian

movements since early 1900’s

african religious cosmos
African religious cosmos
  • Variety of gods, goddesses, spirits
  • 3 domains:
    • Social world (human)
    • Natural world
    • Supernatural world
  • Supreme Being

Greatness, transcendence, superiority, all-knowing, omnipotence, father-like, BUT no temples, priests, annual festivals, images

african religious cosmos15
African religious cosmos
  • Pantheon of lesser deities

abilities of supreme being (creation), aspects of nature (water), historical humans (leaders), human activities (agriculture)

celebrate through myth, song, prayer, sacrifice, possession, gendered, character, food, color, altars, images, priests, rituals, daily relationships

african religious cosmos16
African religious cosmos
  • Ancestors

“living dead” influence the living

Senior community members (respect & gifts)

Maintain moral & social order

  • Humans

Body & “soul/s” (emi=spirit, ori=destiny)

Integral parts of religious cosmos

  • Organized group activity
  • Relationships among humans, super-humans & nature give meaning to ritual
  • Rites of passage: define social, religious, physical identity (birth, puberty, marriage, death)
rites of passage van gennep
Rites of Passage (van Gennep)
  • Separation: breaking ties w/old identity (i.e. cutting hair, fasting, purification)
  • Liminality: state of in-between transition, non-status, non-identity, radical potential, opportunity for rebirth, transformation
  • Incorporation: new mode of existence, cause for celebrations
important rituals
Important Rituals
  • Prayer = using power of speech to:
    • deliver messages, express concerns, ask questions, receive health, wealth, children, declare gratitude
    • Ritual technique to solve problems
  • Sacrifice = destroy something valuable for religious reason
    • Influence state of religious cosmos
    • Superhuman agent receives offering
    • Ritual means for humans to sustain network of meaningful relationships among humans, super-humans, and nature
traditional religious specialists
Traditional religious specialists
  • Spirit mediums/priests = speak for possessing super-human agents

--mediums are called, inspired, or forced to serve

--ability to tell future, divine, heal

  • Priests = ritual leaders with body of knowledge and skills

--learned profession, can be inherited

--represent humans

  • Sacred King = Ensure well-being of kingdom

Healers = posit cause of dis-ease; diagnose; prescribe treatment to remove cause of illness

  • Sorcerers = malicious humans who employ magic to harm enemies
  • Witches = cause physical harm
    • Inherited or acquired
  • Causes: natural & supernatural; human-human, human-divine, & human-natural relationships are messed up
  • Divination: ritual process, humans obtain inaccessible, obscure info. about a client’s place in religious cosmos
    • Priests handle neutral objects
    • Priests interpret meaning of results

(i.e. Yoruba Ifa diviners & Orunmila & Odu,

16 palm nuts, x8 times, 256 chapters)

what is life
What is life?

Creating, maintaining, modifying the

quality of your relationships

with 3 dimensions of the religious cosmos:

super-human, human, and natural forces

If these relationships are flawed,

you experience illness, suffering, misfortune