African Culture African Culture
Background:The Yoruba • The Yoruba peoples of West Africa have lived in the southwestern area of what are now Nigeria and the Republic of Benin • The earliest Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo (oh-YO) spread over vast territories. Divine kings, descendants of Oduduwa, ruled these kingdoms, advised by councils of elders and chiefs. • As part of their royal REGALIA, kings wore distinctive beaded veiled crowns.
adenla ("great crown") • The beaded veiled crown, called adenla ("great crown"), is more than a symbol of kingship. • embodies ideals of political and personal stability, refuge for the oppressed, salvation, and much more. • Worn only on ceremonial occasions, the crown gave the king the power to communicate with his spirit ancestors in order to benefit his people. • crowns hold so much power, they are among the most sacred Yoruba objects.
Elements of the African Art • Resemblance to a human being:African artists praise a carved figure by saying that it "looks like a human being” • Luminosity:The lustrously smooth surface of most African figural sculpture, often embellished with decorative scarification, indicates beautifully shining, healthy skin. • Self-composure:The person who is composed behaves in a measured and rational way • Youthfulness:A youthful appearance shows vigor, productiveness, fertility, and an ability to labor to work • Clarity of form and detail, complexity of composition, balance and symmetry, smoothness of finish:
SOWEI MASK • Mende, Sierre Leone and Liberia • This mask is worn over the head of a female elder who dances for the Sande women's society. • The mask displays and celebrates Mende ideals of female beauty and virtue: elaborately braided hair (cosmetic skills, sexuality); neck creases (full-bodied, good health); smooth, broad forehead (nobility, intelligence); lowered eyes (contemplativeness, restraint); well shaped ears; small nose; small mouth (not given to gossip); composed expression (inner serenity), smooth skin (youthfulness).
Bamana, Mali Republic • To the Bamana people, farming is the most important and noblest profession. • At planting time, men of the Chi-Wara association of farmers dance with headresses like these in the fields to honor Chi- Wara, the mythical "farming animal" that taught agriculture to the ancestors of the Bamana. The headdresses, always danced in male and female pairs, depict the antelope-like Chi-Wara and display the process of successful cultivation.
Bamana, Mali Republic • The "female" Chi-Wara headdress, representing the earth, always accompanies the male headdress during the harvest dances. • The baby carried by the female symbolizes baby human beings. • As in the male Chi-Wara headdress, the long horns stand for the desired growth of tall millet.
Asante, Ghana • The akua'ba figure is supposed to induce pregnancy and ensure safe delivery of a beautiful, healthy infant. • After being blessed by a priest, a woman carries the statuette around with her and treats it like a real child; she adorns it with beads and earrings, "nurses" it, and puts it to bed.
Yoruba, Nigeria • Among the Yoruba, twins (ibeji) are special children whose birth can bless their parents with good fortune. • The Yoruba have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. • If a twin dies, the mother commissions a memorial figure (two if both twins die), and the soul of the deceased twin is transferred to it. • The mother dresses the statuette in cloth and adorns it with jewelry, and keeps it near her bed. She also offers it food and prayers weekly and performs more elaborate rituals on the occasion of birthdays and annual festivals.
Baule, Ivory Coast • The Baule believe that before people are born into this world they have a spouse in the other world, and that these spouses occasionally become angry or jealous and disturb the lives of their living partners. • When this happens, a diviner recommends that an altar be established where the spirit may receive offerings and be appeased. The carved figure of the "spirit spouse" should be beautiful in order to please the spirit and attract it to the shrine..
Makonde, Tanzania • this piece depicts a "tree of life" motif: the members of an extended family, including past and present generations, gently supporting each other, generation after generation, around the family ancestor.
Yoruba Religion • The religion of the Yoruba people in West Africa, who live in Nigeria and Benin, is a thousands of years-old tradition of nature worship and ancestor reverance. • In addition to the worship of one God, named Olodumare, the Yoruba worship dozens of deities known as "Orishas" who are personified aspects of nature and spirit. The principal orishas include Eleggua, Oggun, Ochosi, Obatala, Yemaya, Oshun, Shango, Oya, Babalu Aiye, and Orula.
Central features of the religion are its drumming and dancing celebrations known as tambors. • At the tambors elaborate altars are created, and then food is offered to the Orishas. • Depending on the nature of the celebration, percussionists and drummers (often playing the sacred 3-piece bata drums) play precise rhythms directed to specific Orishas while those present sing call-and-response songs in archaic Yoruba, causing the Orishas to descend and possess initiated priests and priestesses of the religion.
The rhythms and forms of Yoruba religion are said to be fundamental to the development of many forms of African American music from gospel to blues and jazz, and to musical forms such as Salsa and Latin Jazz. • Carlos Santana, for example, has incorporated Orisha-themes and rhythms into several songs, including "Hannibal," which includes a Yoruba chant to Shango.
Yemaya • The Orisha of the Oceans and Motherhood. • Yemaya is the great mother goddess of Santeria; the maternal force of life and creation. • She is said to be the mother of many other Orishas, and is believed to live in the ocean. • She has many aspects, one of them being Yemaya Okute, a fierce warrior. • In Brazil her devotees set up elaborate beach front altars each New Year's Eve, setting out food and candles to be washed away by Yemaya (there called Iemanja) with the morning tides.
Obatala • The Orisha of the Mountains and Creativity. • Obatala, which means "King of the White Cloth" represents the spiritual unity and interrelationship of all things. He is said to have many aspects, many of them androgynous or female. • He is credited with creating humanity, and while becoming drunk on palm wine, is said to have accidentally created the crippled and deformed.
Yoruba Divination • Divination is a process that allows the Yoruba people to communicate with the deity, Ifa. • Ifa, who was given "the power to speak for the gods and communicate with human beings " by Olorun, the sky God, is consulted by all Yoruba people regardless of their faith. • The intermediaries between Ifa and the Yoruba are known as the babalawo. • Through these rituals, or divination, the parents take information divined by Ositola and use it to create a pathway of spiritual guidance on which their children will travel as they grow. • The parents, with the help of the diviner, are able to provide their children with medicinal elements as well as worldly advice.
There are three different rituals important for children • The first ritual, stepping into the world usually takes place the week after the child is born. • This divination not only provides parents with guidelines by which to raise their child, but it is both a literal and metaphorical representation of the child's first step into the world. • To form this representation, the diviner takes the feet of the child, who is only seven days old, and places them on the divination tray in order to symbolize his introduction into the physical world. • This action allows the persona of the child to be revealed and facilitates the successful rearing of the child by his parents.
At three months of age, the child will undergo a second ritual entitled knowing the head, "This time the objective is to learn the nature of the inner head (ori inu)--or personality--that the animating spirit or soul (emi) brought to the world, so the parents can help the child coordinate the two" • The information the diviner acquires allows for the integration of the child's personality and soul, and provides him with a foundation in the world of the living. • In this ritual, the child's second steps into the physical world are taken as the diviner touches the child's head to the to the ground and then to the divination tray. These symbolic steps build upon those taken by the child when he was only days old.
From this second ritual, the path of the child's life will become more definitive. • There are ten paths indicative of Yoruba morals and expectations which, when ritualistically split in half, assume either negative or positive connotations. • The diviners job is to relate the significance of the path on which the child travels and to determine the necessary sacrifices that will allow the child to stay on the correct course throughout his life. • The third ritual through which the child will pass is the culmination of his initiation into Yoruba adulthood. Known as Itefa or the establishment of the self, this fourteen day ritual is complex due to the child's heightened self-consciousness. • The Itefa ritual focuses on developing the child's personal identity and consequent social interaction.
Instead of relying on parental guidance, the child is equipped with vital texts and introspective tools so that he may undergo self-examination. • The steps taken by the child as he walks from the village to the sacred grove, which again hold both literal and metaphorical significance, are reflective of the child's inner journey from a state of dependence on his elders to a state of self-sufficiency • The role of the diviner permeates numerous integral segments of Yoruba life, as exemplified by the three rituals of Yoruba childhood. • Most importantly, diviners are responsible for the progression of life and facilitate this progression through the guidance they provide for children and their parents.
African Women • Women are extremely valuable in the sight of society. • Not only do they bear life, but they nurse, they cherish, they give warmth, they care for life since all human life passes through their own bodies. • For that reason the primary African proverb says "A woman must not be killed, she is the mother of life, and to kill the woman is to kill children, to kill humanity itself.” • The woman should be handled with respect and not be treated as if she were a slave.
African Women • In traditional African life women play a significant role in the religious activities of society. • One of the areas where this role is prominent, is in offering prayers for their families in particular and their communities in general. • In many areas there were (and still are) women priests (priestesses); almost everywhere in Africa the mediums (who are so important in traditional medical practice) are nearly always women; those who experience spirit possession are in most cases also women.
African Women • Traditional healing is a profession of both men and women and it is more often the women practitioners who handle children's and other women medical needs.