Tap to Read ➤

Facts about Yoruba Culture

Sharmistha Sarkar
Yoruba are one of the largest groups that dominate the Southwestern parts of Nigeria. They are famous for their magnificent bead working, rich and creative sculpting and several other remarkable artistic forms. Their artworks are mostly made to honor the gods and ancestors. As there are many gods to the Yoruba, the number of sculpture and artwork made are numerous.


According to Yoruba mythology, Yoruba people are descendants of the deity Odua or Oduduwa, the son of a powerful god called, Olodumare.
The Yoruba people are primarily concentrated in the Southwestern regions of Nigeria. There are also some widely distributed groups in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are small countries to the West of Nigeria. Some others are distributed throughout the world.
People with Yoruba influence, but not familiar with the Yoruba language are found in Brazil, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago. Many Yoruba people were brought forcibly to America during the Atlantic slave trade period.
There are three important sociolinguistic groups of people in Nigeria and Yoruba are one of these groups. The other two groups are the Igbos and the Hausa-Fulani. Together, all three groups make up for about 70% of the Nigerian population. The Yoruba constitute about 21% of its population according to the CIA World Factbook.
Yoruba culture is the culture of the Yoruba people and the Yorubaland. Despite the modernization, the Yorubas still maintain their rich culture and traditions.

Yoruba Language

The Yorubas communicate with each other using a common language known as Yoruba. It is spoken by over 18,000,000 people in Nigeria. The language has various dialects depending upon the different Nigerian regions they are spoken in. Yoruba is spoken in Nigerian places like Oyo, Ogun, Ondo Osun, Kwara, Lagos and the Western part of Kogi State. It is also used in Benin, Togo, and by the Yorubas who were brought to America and United Kingdom.

Yoruba Food

The diet of the Yorubas include iyan (pounded yam), moinmoin (bean cake), akara, ẹba (made with cassava flour) and various kinds of fufu. These meals are taken with vegetable soups like ewedu, okra, egusi and efo riro.
They eat rice, beans stews, corn, taro, cassava, yam, plantain, eggs, chicken, beef and assorted forms of meats regularly. One of the popular foods is fufu, that is made of cassava (white yams).
The less common foods of the Yorubas are sweetmeats, fried batter containing fruit, meat or vegetables, coconut mixtures, yeast bread, rock buns and others.

Yoruba Attire

The Yoruba people wear a wide variety of garments.
The most basic among them is the Aṣo-Oke. It is available in many colors and prints. The well-known Aso-Oke are Alaari (a red-hued Aso-Oke), Sanyan (a brown and light brown Aso-Oke) and Etu (a dark blue Aso-Oke).
Some other materials are Ofi-pure white yarned cloths, Aran, which is a velvet cloth made into Danṣiki and Kẹmbẹ, Adirẹ, which is a indigo-colored cloth with many designs. The clothing that men wear are kẹmbẹ, dandogo, danṣiki, agbada, buba, and ṣokoto teamed with matching caps. Women dress up with iro (wrapper), buba (the top) and a head-gear (gele).

Yoruba Dwelling

Traditional residences in Yoruba constitute rectangular single-story buildings, with a central compound or a corridor. At the backyard, there are rooms for each adult. The rooms had no windows before the Europeans came to Nigeria. Currently, the old compounds are turning into modern bungalows made of cement blocks and iron roofs. Almost all Yoruba towns today, have the availability of basic services like electricity, water, and roads.

Yoruba Arts and Crafts

The Yoruba people have created various art forms like bead and leather working, embroidery, woodcarving, pottery, metalworking, weaving and mask-making. Beadwork is the most intricate and beautiful forms of Yoruba arts.
Beads are used to make decorative, ornamental and useful items like headpieces, necklaces, drum aprons, bags, bracelets and others. Beads are also used by priests and diviners for spiritual purposes. A majority of their artwork is created to respect the gods and ancestors.
Yoruba men and women weave cloth with many kinds of looms. They weave cloth from silk and cotton. Men do various embroidery on men's garments, bags and others. They also do wood carving of masks, figurines and bowls, tailoring and black-smithing.
Mask-making differs from region to region, and a variety of masks are used in various festivals and events. They work in bone, ivory, stone, iron and brass to create useful and beautiful objects. Women involve in pottery, weaving, embroidery and others.
Yoruba people are skilled sculptors. They began their sculpting work since the early 12th century and are still continuing with that at present. To respect and honor their gods and ancestors, the Yoruba people make beautiful sculptures of wood, brass terracotta and other materials.
The Yoruba people believe that the head of human, call ed ori is the most important part of the body. Hence, the head is the most distinguished area of Yoruba sculpture.

Yoruba Music

Music and dance have been an essential aspect of the life of the Yoruba people. The occasion is decided by the type of music being played. The Yoruba are very popular for their drumming (dundun) using the hourglass tension drums.

Yoruba Religion

Yoruba religion has a collection of the gods known as the Orisha. Many varieties of Yoruba religion exists. Additionally, it has been believed that there are more than 400 Yoruba gods existing.
It is believed that some of the deities existed even before the earth was formed, while some of them are heroes or heroines of the ancient times that turned gods after their demise. Other deities, they believe are the mountains, hills, trees, lakes and rivers that have influenced the lives and history of people.
Storytelling is an essential part of their religion, which are connected to many holy rites and rituals.
The Yoruba people are very religious by nature. They are also practical and liberal about their religious differences. Some people follow the Yoruba religion while most others follow Christianity, Islam and others.
The reason that some Yoruba adopted to Christianity is that in the mid 19th century, Christian missionaries entered Nigeria and started to influence the Yoruba people. Later, in the early 20th century, when Europeans started ruling, many limitations were put on Yoruba religious practices by banning several Yoruba practices and religious groups.
So, due to their dominance, Christianity has become an important religion in the area.

Yoruba Calendar and Time

In Yoruba culture, time is calculated in iseju (minutes), wakati (hours), ojo (days), ose (weeks), osu (months) and odun (years). Their calendar year begins from the 3 June of the present year to 2 June of the following year.

Yoruba Society and Politics

For many years, the Yoruba people have been leading their lives in city and rural areas. Some Yoruba men take up farming to earn their daily living. Some others work as tradesmen or craftsmen. Most of them take up farm jobs and city jobs, and travel to other countries for sometime of the year. Yoruba women do not do farming. They mostly control the trade in foodstuffs and cloth. A woman is not known by the husband's status in society, but by her own work.
The Yoruba people are strongly united politically and socially. Their political and social system, however, differs largely depending upon their region. A leader called Oba is known to rule each town. He is selected by an Oba who is already in power, by inheritance or by participating in title associations. An assembly of people also exists, which helps the Oba with making decisions. Title associations are exercised when assigning of power within different cities are considered.

Yoruba Education

Yoruba people believe that the building up of a nation is directly linked with higher education of each individual. Education is the only way to bring upon change and advancement in society. For this reason, they have been capable of influencing the public and private sectors of Nigeria. Most of the Yoruba are judges, businessmen, politicians and others. Writing is also becoming an essential part of their tradition. There are many Yoruba people who have won awards for writing.

Yoruba Marriage

The Yoruba marriage culture is a tradition that has been carried on for several generations now. When a man attains the proper age for marriage and is capable of serving the family, he finds a woman he wishes to marry. Remaining single for a man or a woman single is against the conventions of the Yoruba people if they have reached the age of marriage.
They believe that marriage builds the foundation of the family. Family is the most important institution in the Yoruba culture. So, marriage is a union of the two people getting married and also the families to which they belong. Marriage is an evidence that the spouses are good ambassadors of their families.
The character and etiquette of the families are reflected by the spouses when they obediently follow the rules of the Yoruba marriage.
The important steps for Yoruba marriage are the time for finding a potential spouse (Igba ifojusode), the acceptance of the oracle-divinity (Ifa f'ore), the bringing out of the voice of the woman (Isihun), the expression of the need for the woman's hand in marriage (Itoro), the creation of the marriage bond (Idana), and giving of the wife to the husband's family (Igbeyawo).
Polygamy has been a part of the Yoruba culture, mostly in the ancient times. Each wife and her children are thought to be a sub-family. They have a separate living space. Each wife is to be given respect and treated fairly by the husband.

Yoruba Childbirth

Traditionally, during childbirth, anyone younger than the mother is not allowed to be present there. Following the birth of a child, the baby is taken to the backyard. The placenta is buried and the baby is given a sponge bath and rubbed with palm oil. The baby is then held by the feet and shaken thrice in the belief that it will make him/her courageous and strong. A naming ceremony is held a few days which close relatives attend to.