Volume 2 : Number 2 : Spring 2018

ISSN 2473-4713


The Yorùbá Studies Review is a refereed biannual journal dedicated to the study of the experience of the Yorùbá peoples and their descendants globally. The journal covers all aspects of the Yorùbá transnational, national, and regional presence, both in their West Africa’s homeland and in diasporic spaces, past and present. The journal embraces all disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and the basic /applied sciences in as much as the focus is on the Yorùbá affairs and the intersections with other communities and practices worldwide. The journal will foster and encourage interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches dealing with a wide range of theoretical and applied topics including, but not limited to: cultural production, identities, religion, arts and aesthetics, history, language, knowledge system, philosophy, gender, media, popular culture, education and pedagogy, politics, business, economic issues, social policy, migration, geography and landscape, environment, health, technology, and sustainability.
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Oláwọlé Fámúlẹ̀
University of Wisconsin-Superior ofamule@uwsuper.edu
Kò séṇ í m’èdè Àyàn
B í e ṇ í m ú k ò ṇ̀ g ó ̣ è ̣ l ó ẉ ó ̣
No one understands the language of Àyàn
Better than the drummer who holds the gong in his hand

– Yorùbá maxim

From the Yorùbá oral historical, mythological, and ontological, abstract lines of reasoning, Àyàn is believed to be the rst Yorùbá drum maker and drummer, who, a er his death, was dei ed as the god of Drumming (Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn, or simply Àyàn). Hence, when an experienced Yorùbá drummer plays his drum masterfully, the elders with the drum speech discernable ears (òṃ òṛ àn) that hear the drumming, even from afar commend, “may Àyàn, the god of drumming prosper/ protect you!” (Àyàn ó gbè ó!̣)

As among other Yorùbá deities (òrìsạ̀ ) that live in the spiritual realm in certain but uncommon natural environments (forests, trees, rivers, streams, and mountains, among others),Òrìsạ̀ Àyànm is thought to reside in wood(Villepastour 2015, 3). For this reason, Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn is emblematized by the wood with which the body of the drum (ìlù) is carved. Similarly, this deity is eulogized as “the spirit who speaks out from inside his wooded abode” (Òrìsạ̀ gbé’nú igi fohùn), in reference to the log of wood with which the drums (ìlù) are carved. It is said that Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn particularly prefers that ìlù be carved with Cordia millenii (igi òṃ ò)̣ , a belief that gave birth to the Yorùbá saying, “out of the entire wood species of the forests is the preferred Cordia millenii, with which gbèḍ u drum is carved” (Igi gbogbo ní ńbe ̣ ní’gbó, k’átó ’gi òṃ ò ̣ gbé ̣ gbèḍ u). Because of his position as the patron deity of drumming, which by extension is used to accompanying sacred rites in honor of virtually all the Yorùbá òrìsạ̀ , Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn is thought to be their mouthpiece, as they all speak through the drums that he emblematizes. Another emblem of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn that is even worshipped is a shallow hemispherical drum with a single xed head, which is worn on the chest with a strap around the neck and beaten with leather straps held in each hand (gúdúgúdú ) (Bascom 1952, 4). The gúdúgúdú symbol of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn also goes by the praise name (oríkì) “gúdúgúdú with its distinctive uneven and undulated back shape” (Gúdúgúdú, ab’èỵ ìn jákanjàkan). The component parts that formed this uneven and surged-back shape [of gúdúgúdú] include kúseré and apìràn. Kúseré is a circular metal object af xed onto the drum’s wooded base, and apìràn is an array of wooden pegs that hold the kúseré securely onto the base of the instrument.

At the exoteric and practical level, Àyàn also refers to any Yorùbá traditional and professional drummer, who plays the drum (ìlù), o en with the use of a gong (kòṇ̀ gó)̣ . The Yorùbá professional drummers share the name àyàn with Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn since they are the human agents who play the drums (ìlù), emblem of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn, and through which the deity speaks. The Yorùbá incantation “the day that the drummer drums with his gong/drumstick is the very moment that the Àyàn god of drumming speaks out that which is in his mouth” (Òòjó ̣ tí kòṇ̀ gó ̣ Àyàn bá f’ojú ba ìlù ni Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn ńpo ̣ t’eṇ u rè ̣ sí’lè)̣ best illustrates the interconnection of the drummers (àyàn) with god of drumming, Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn. As succinctly corroborated by Amanda Villepastour, “the drummer in action becomes Àyàn.”

Another Yorùbá term for a drummer (àyàn) is onílù.1 With their drumming (or drum music) that mimic the human speech, the Àyàn or Onílù verbalize words/speeches (òṛ ò)̣ that is or are intelligible to the ears of their patrons, o en the dance performers (oníjó). For that reason, ìlù, to the Yorùbá, is an instrument that acts as a speech surrogate (i.e., substitute). at the Yorùbá refer to ìlù as “the talking drum” underscores this assertion. In fact, they strongly believed that if handled by a skillful drummer (àyàn/onílù), ìlù, just like humans, can speak words or communicate e ectively to those who understand the language of the drum. The Yorùbá phrase “a lifeless goat that speaks just like a human” (òkú-ewúré ̣ tíí fo’̣ hùn bí ènìyàn), a euphemism for the goatskin xed singleor double-headed hourglass drums that mimic human speech when drummed, is a testimony to ìlù as a true “talking drum.” Another Yorùbá saying that illustrates that ìlù is an instrument of language substitution is “that the gángan drum could speak in a human nasal tone of voice is not without the help of the drummer’s own tip of the ngernails” (àti rán’mú gángan kò s’̣èỵ ìn èékáná).

In Yorùbá traditional festivals, ritual performances, and religious practices in general, the role of àyàn––whose drumming or drum music imitate and code the natural language (Yorùbá), cannot be overemphasized. The Yorùbá aphorism “without drum music, there is no way to celebrate” (láì sí’lù, taní jé ̣ s’eré òkúrùgbe!̣ ) is a testimony to the indispensable role of ìlù in the context of traditional Yorùbá visual and performance arts. A clear example is the Yorùbá art and ritual of Egúngún, the theme of this study. Paradoxically, many Yorùbá art scholars o en make very little or no e ort to explore the relevance of ìlù in their studies on Yorùbá visual culture, such as Egúngún. is has continued to make it become virtually impossible for a deeper understanding of Yorùbá art in particular and African art as a whole. Ironically, the same scholars prefer to invest their energy, searching outside of the art’s cultural origin to fulfill their primary goal of “appreciating” the African art, rather than searching within African culture, language and values, the very driving forces that gave rise to this art, and thus a catalyst to understanding it.2 It is on that note that I believe the question that scholars of African art should begin to ask themselves is: when will African art scholarship––unlike Western art studies that o en demand intellectual rigor and professional thoroughness––rise above its present art “appreciating” status vis-à-vis African art? In my opinion, as this present study is aimed at confirming, the understanding of African art critically requires that scholars be fluent or at least con dent in the reading, writing, and speaking of the language of the people whose art they study.

Also heightening the problem of the lack of “understanding” of Yorùbá art is the very unique nature of it (as with other African art), in which an isolated work of art in context is a rarity. us, the present study examines the very indispensable roles of Àyàn drummers in the performance context of the annual Egúngún festival (oḍ ún Egúngún) in a Yorùbá community in Òkèigbó in Nigeria’s Ondo State. As a native speaker with access to Yorùbá philosophy, values and history, and who is fully aware of the fundamental importance of language in African art studies, I aim in this study to examine the mutual relationship existing between the Àyàn and Egúngún from the vantage point of the Yorùbá language, the medium through which the said Yorùbá philosophy, values and history are stored and expressed. It delves into the very root of Egúngún within the Yorùbá cultural context, where traditions and history are preserved and recorded not in the western-type of writing, but rather in the Yorùbá language, ritual performance and ceremonies. It is hoped that this study will facilitate a deeper understanding of Egúngún along with the àyàn within the art and ritual performance context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún. The study illustrates the interconnection of the àyàn and Egúngún by rst providing an overview of Yorùbá drums and their ritual contexts. is is followed by a close study of the Yorùbá ontological concept of Egúngún, one of the most valued patrons of Àyàn (the drummers), as an important form of Yorùbá religious beliefs and practices. Using the E g̣ bé ̣ Òj̣ è ̣ (Cult of Egúngún) of the ancient Yorùbá town of Òkèigbó as a case study, the study concludes with an in-depth analysis of the role of Àyàn (Drummers) in Yorùbá art and ritual of Egúngún.

An Overview of Yorùbá Drums and their Ritual Contexts

Of all the Yorùbá traditional musical instruments, Ìlù (with single or double hourglass leather heads) are esteemed as the principal and most commonly used. The reason being that the ìlù can be drummed with or without any other additional instruments to emitting or producing a given and distinctive piece of sacred or entertainment melody or rhythm. Appropriate examples include the àgbá and àgèṛ è ̣ (also àgèṛ è-̣ ògún), the sacred drum rhythms of the cult of Ògbóni––whose members worship Ile that is personi ed by the Earth goddess, and Ògún, their on and war patron deity. What is the meaning of ìlù and why is it so important particularly in the Yorùbá traditional religion’s context? e Yorùbá word ìlù is formed from two morphemes / ì+lù/, which is the short form of “the thing which is beaten?” (ohun tí a ń lù) . However, the term ìlù applies strictly to the log drums that have singleor double-hourglass goatskin/leather heads. Hence, there are several other Yorùbá musical instruments that are played but which do not bear the name ìlù. Thexamples include trumpets (fèrè/kàkàkí), several types of gongs (agogo), and gourd/calabash rattles (sẹ̀ ḳ èṛ è)̣ that are rather called by their individual names, not ìlù. Depending on the types, ìlù are typically played by the àyàn or onílù with sticks/gongs/drumsticks (igi/ kòṇ̀ gó)̣ , the palm or st (àtéḷeẉ ó/̣
oẉ ó)̣ , and twisted leather thongs (oṣ án).

Ìlù can be placed into two main categories. In the rst category are some
distinct types of Yorùbá drums that are associated with the worship of òrìsạ̀ , as they are used speci cally in religious or ritual contexts. Hence, the term “drums for the deities” (ìlù òrìsạ̀ ) is generally used to describe these drums’ category. They are played by the drummers to produce or emit some distinctive individual òrìsạ̀ ’s drumbeat (or drum music). Thexamples include the ìgbìn, ìpèsè, àgèṛ è,̣ àgbá, èḳ ù (also àgbé), and bàtá. Belonging to the second category are the drums that are used both for secular and religious music. These types of drums are played exclusively by professional drummers called àyàn. Dùndún drums are one such type. The following contains a discussion of these types of drums.


Comprising of a set of four drums, ìgbìn “are upright open-ended log drums with single leather heads fastened and tuned by wooden pegs” (Bascom 1953, 3). They are sacred to Oḅ àtálá, the arch, superior òrìsạ̀ . at Oḅ àtálá is also called the great/superior deity (Òrìsạ̀ -Ńlá) leaves no doubt as to why he is regarded as “second in command to the Supreme Being” (Igbákejì-Olódùmarè).AnothernamethatportraysOḅàtáláasthemostseniordeity in the Yorùbá pantheon is “the chief/leader of all the òrìsạ̀ ” (Oḅ àtárìsạ̀ ). As his name implies, Oḅ àtálá is the ruler/god that is associated with white, which is a testimony to his pure/virtuous nature, persona, and attributes. For that reason, the devotees (especially the priests and priestesses) of Oḅ àtálá are distinguished by their use of the white cloths and opaque white beads. They also paint their uncovered body parts (especially the head, face, and hands) with white pigment (made from ground kaolinite). The four-drum set of ìgbìn comprises of ìyá-ìgbìn (or ìyá-ńlá), the largest in the set, along with the second largest is ìyá-gan (or jagba), as well as the third and the fourth smallest, keke and aféré, respectively. While the rst two (ìyá-ìgbìn/ ìyá-ńlá and ìyá-gan/ jagba) are o en played with a single stick and the palm or st, the two smaller ones (keke and aféré) are usually played with two sticks known as ìkeke-ìlù. Theach of the four drums is usually thick and squat and has three legs that are roughly carved out of the bottom of the drum on which they stand on the ground. at makes the ìgbìn drum set an àgbé’lè-̣ lù, as each ìgbìn drum is drummed/played while secured on the ground with its three legs. The carvers of ìgbìn o en carved relief figures and other bas relief decorations on the sides. The ìgbìn drum ensemble is played at the annual Oḅ àtálá festival.3

Figure 1: Ìyá Ìgbìn


Ìpèsè (also ìpèsì) is the drum ensemble of the ifá priests (babaláwo), which they play during the ifá festival (Oḍ ún-Ifá). The drums are also used at the burial rites of any of their members. The ìpèsè drum ensemble comprises of three drums, namely, ìpèsè, the largest in the set, which can be up to six feet tall. Aféré, next to ìpèsè in size, is about three feet tall but is wider than ìpèsè, and nally àràn, the smallest in the set. Other musical instrument in the set used with the three drums is the iron gong/bell (agogo). Just like ìgbìn drums, ìpèsè are upright open-ended log drums with single leather heads fastened and tuned by wooden pegs. Ìpèsè, the largest drum in the ìpèsè ensemble, is played with a single unshaped stick and the palm, while the two smaller drums (aféré and àràn) are played with two unshaped sticks.


Also known as àgèṛ è-̣ ògún, the àgèṛ è ̣ drum ensemble is used by the hunter’s guild(eg̣bé-̣oḍe)̣ during important events, which include the hunter’s dirge (ìrèmòj̣é), which is sung/chanted at a second burial ceremony ìsị́pà (also ìsị́pà-oḍ e)̣ , traditionally performed for any deceased hunter or hunters (oḍ e ̣ or oḷóḍ e)̣ . Àgèṛ è ̣ can also be played at other times, especially to honor Ògún, the Yorùbá iron and war patron deity (Drewal 1997, 219). Relevant examples of such occasions include the annual festival of the hunter’s guild (Àjòḍ ún Eg̣ bé-̣ Oḍ e)̣ and the Ògún festival (Oḍ ún Ògún), when the àgèṛ è ̣ drum ensemble is played and all the members of the hunter’s guild display their dancing steps. The àgèṛ è ̣ dance style itself is also called àgèṛ è ̣ or ìtasè-̣ àgèṛ è.̣ e àgèṛ è ̣ (or àgèṛ è-̣ Ògún) ensemble comprises of three drums, namely, àgèṛ è ̣ (the largest), fééré (next in size to àgèṛ è)̣ , and aféré (the smallest in the set). Like ìpèsè and ìgbìn, each of the three àgẹr̀ ẹ̀ drums has a hollowed wooden body. The only di erence is that àgèṛ è ̣ drums have two equally-sized hourglass goatskin/ leather heads (contrast to ìgbìn and ìpèsè with single-hourglass leather heads). Because they are double-headed drums of an enormous size, each àgèṛ è ̣ drum is placed horizontally on the ground where it is being played.


Àgbá is the drum ensemble used in the cult of Ògbóni, a secret society that wielded strong political, judicial, and religious powers among the Yorùbá in the precolonial era, but now functions as a social and religious group. Called “Ògbónisociety/group”(Eg̣bẹ́Ògbóni,orsimplyÒgbóni),the members worship Ilè,̣ the Earth, which is personi ed by the Earth Goddess who is variously called “the Great Mother of the Earth” (Ìyá-Ayé, Àbèṇ í Àdè,̣ Eḍ an Òlóló, Poóyè, and Lánní Oḷoṃ o,̣ among others) (Famule 2003, 9). Like the ìgbìn and ìpèsè, each of the three-drum ensemble of àgbá is upright open-ended log drum with single goatskin/leather head. But unlike the ìgbìn and/or ìpèsè that are usually of moderate size, àgbá drums are generally large and heavy. is is the reason for which they are sometimes called a “large barrel” (àgbákeṛ eḅ éṭ é)̣ . J.R.O Ojo has also suggested that the term àgbá could be “a reference to the loud, cannon-like sound produced by some of the drums” (Ojo 1973, 50). I’m inclined to agree with Ojo’s suggestion based on the following Oríkì Ògbóni (the praise chant of the Ògbóni secrete society) that obviously validates his assertion: “children of Ògbóni, owner of the cannon-like drum that produced a roaring sound like that of a falling tree, just like the Àràn that is common in Ìjèsạ /Ilésạ ” (Ògbóni Modùlorè, Oṃ o ̣ Alágbàá dún gbò bí igi; Àgbá dún-mi-dún; Àràn tì’Jèsạ̀ wá lù).

Figure 2: Àgbá drum ensemble

Àgbá drums usually have carvings with bas relief figures on the sides, which o en include images of human face(s) with large eyes. The large eyes are a reference to the outsized eyes of Eḍ an (also Eḍ an Ògbóni), a pair of a male and female bronze figures joined at the top by an iron chain. Theḍ an is one of the two principal emblems of Ògbóni. The other being Onílé, the “owner of the house/land”, another pair of free-standing male and female bronze figures, but without the chain (Famule 2003, 26–29). The Onílé figures are always placed together on a special altar inside the Ògbóni lodge (ilédì) and treated as one unit and referred to as Ìyá-Ayé, a euphemism for the Ògbóni Earth goddess. More importantly, both the Eḍ an and Onílé bronze figures are depicted with a very large pair of eyes that o en appear on the sides of the àgbá drums. These large eyes are a reference to the “all-seeing” and spiritually powerful eyes of Ìyá-Ayé. at the large eyes of the Eḍ an and Onílé bronze figures that are also carved on the sides of the àgbá drums are an allusion to Ògbóni as a powerful goddess who uses her spiritual power to identify with accuracy people with antisocial behaviors and is always very hard on them, as evidenced in her praise song (oríkì):

L á n n í O l ̣ o ṃ o ̣
Ìyá mi Àbèṇ í tíí f’orí èké bù’kèlè À b è ṇ í , P o ó y è t í ń m ù ’ j è ̣ ò ḍ à l è ̣ Kanna-kánná abojú lágbárí Abí’mo ̣ sí’lè ̣ Obìnrin
Ó p ’ ò ḍ à l è ̣ p é ẹ̀ -̣ p é ẹ̀ ̣
Òṛ ò ̣ buniwò s’ojú konko mó’̣ni4
L á n n í O l ̣ o ṃ o ̣

My mother Àbèṇ í, who eats her food-morsels with the liar’s severed head Àbèṇ í is also Poóyè, who drinks the blood of perfidious person(s)
She is the very one whose large eyes cover the entire forehead
A born hard and fearless woman
She kills and utterly exterminates the treachery
The audacious Goddess that stares and stares menacingly at you.5

Ẹ̀kù (Àgbé)

Èḳ ù are the drums of ep̣ a, a masking ritual festival found predominantly in eastern and northeastern parts of Yorùbáland, among the Ìjèsạ̀ , Èkìtì, Ìgbómìnà, and Okun Yorùbá, respectively (Famule 2017, 397). The èḳ ù ensemble comprises of three drums. The largest is the “mother of èḳ ù” (Ìyá-èḳ ù), the lead drum that produces a deep and overpowering pitch. Ìyá-èḳ ù is a round pot-shaped clay drum with stretched goatskin hour glass head (Famule 2005, 171–172). Marsha Vander Heyden had observed this kind of clay drum also being played at the eḷé f̣ óṇ (ẹpa) festival at Ìlóṛ ò-̣ Èkìtì in 1970 (Heyden 1977, 19). Heyden indicated that the same type of clay drum, reported by Kenneth Crosthwaite Murray, who called it àgbé, was also played at the ep̣ a festival at Òmù Àrán in 1931 (Heyden 1977, 19). The other two drums in èḳ ù drum ensemble are omele-abo and omele-ako,̣ both upright open-ended hollow log drums with a single leather head.

Figure 3: Ẹ ̀kù drum ensemble


Bàtá drums are used only for religious music, especially in the cult of Sạ̀ngó, the god associated with thunder and lightning. It is said that when Sạ̀ngó was alive, he was believed to be a great magician who used the bàtá drum music as an important vehicle for his effective magic performance and acrobatic display. us, the Sạ̀ ngó priests (onísạ̀ ngó), who serve as the principal patrons of bàtá today, usually include displays of magic and acrobatic dance in their ritual performances. Bàtá drums are also used in the cult of Egúngún, especially in the magic and acrobatic dance performances by magic display/entertainer Egúngún (eégún onídán/aláré). For these reasons, Akin Euba has suggested that “bàtá is the preferred instrument in situations where magic is performed, and this can only be because its sounds are effective in magic making” (Euba 2011, 518).

Bàtá ensembles comprises of five to six drums, namely, “mother of the drum” (ìyáàlù), a “female subordinate drum” (omele-abo), a “male subordinate drum” (omele-ako)̣ , a “subordinate drum” (kudi), and “a pair of two subordinate drums” (omele-méjì), or “three subordinate drums tied together to function as a talking drum” (omele-méṭa). Theach bàtá drum has a hollowed wooden body with two unequal sized heads (one smaller than the other) covered with a stretched and fasten goatskin leather.

Figure 4: Ìyáàlù and Omele-méjì Bàtá


Dùndún drums are used both for secular and religious music. The dùndún ensemble comprises of ve drums, namely, ìyáàlù, keṛ íkeṛ ì, gángan, kànàngó, and gúdúgúdú. Thexcept for gúdúgúdú, which has only one hourglass head, each of the four drums in the dùndún ve-drum ensemble has a hollowed wooden body with two equal sized hourglass heads covered with stretched and fasten goatskin leathers. The ìyáàlù is so referred to as such because is the largest in the set. The ojúgbe Small brass bells (ojúgbe), cast using the cire perdue method, are attached around the two hourglass heads of ìyáàlù. The second largest drum in the dùndún ensemble is keṛ íkeṛ ì, literally, “enjoyable/satisfying”, an allusion to it as adding sweetness to dùndún drum music. The second smallest is gángan, while kànàngó is the smallest of the four drums.

Figure 5: Ìyáàlù Dùndún
Figure 6: Kẹríkẹrì Dùndún

Gúdúgúdú, the fifth drum in the dùndún ensemble, is distinct from the previously mentioned four drums in the set not only because is the only one that has a single head, but also because it is characterized by ìda and kúseré. Ìda is a dark or black dried sap that is glued onto the center of the goatskin-covered hourglass head of gúdúgúdú. The ìda component serves two important functions. The first pertains to its spiritual connection to Ògún and one of the òrìsạ̀ pantheons that the god of the drums (Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn) serves as their spokesperson. It is believed that the tree sap/latex (oje-igi) that comes out of a log of wood when it is either felled or carved with iron tools (the symbol of Ogun), is a form of ritual offering (ètùtù) to Ògún. us, one of the praise chants (oríkì) of Ògún is the following: “the Ògún deity that is being worshipped by wood carvers is fond of drinking the tree sap” (Ògún gbéṇ à-gbéṇ à oje igi ló ń mu). The second and last function of ìda, which is glued onto the center of the goatskin-covered hourglass head of gúdúgúdú, is acoustic––it allows the drum to produce two different musical tones when played, depending on where exactly the head of the drum is struck. Kúseré, the second distinctive and indispensable component by which gúdúgúdú is characterized, is a circular iron bar affixed beneath the base of the drum. Kúseré also alludes to Ògún , as it is said that without iron tools like adzes, chisels, or knives (the symbol of Ògún), the carvers of the drum’s wooden body (igi-ìlù), or any wood carvings for that matter, cannot perform their functions. Thus, the Yorùbá saying “any deities who disparage Ògún would roast their yam and find no knife to peel it” (Òrìsạ̀ t’ó bá ní t’Ògún kòsí, yóó sun’su kò ní r’óḅ e ̣ wo), an allusion to Ògún as indispensable to all the rest of the Yorùbá òrìsạ̀ . And from the practical point of view, the kúseré component of gúdúgúdú “also helps to hold in place a series of wooden peg that are placed between it and the base of the hollowed wood body, helping to facilitate greater resonance” (Omojola 2010, 34).

In order to provide the reader with the necessary background knowledge to understand the specific and more in-depth role of àyàn in the performance context of the Egúngún festival (Oḍ ún Egúngún), the theme of this study, I will now provide a discourse on the Yorùbá concept of Egúngún.

Egúngún: A Physical manifestation of the Yorùbá ancestor spirits

Egúngún is thought of as a physical manifestation of the ancestor spirit(s). For that reason, every senior egúngún (Egúngún Àgbà) is addressed as “father/ ancestor” (bàbá). is belief is rooted in the Yorùbá concept of ìwà, which has been succinctly described by Rowland Abiodun as “the essential nature of a person or thing.” (Abiodun 2014, 245). In this study, I broaden the concept of ìwà to covering the essence of human existence and including the ancestors, along with other spirit beings/deities. That makes ìwà not de ned solely in terms of physical life of an individual on Earth, but extends to the afterlife. The reason for this is that the Yorùbá strongly believe that the dead (òkú), via their spirits, still exist a er death. at also means that the human essence–– or core values––can still influence the living even a er death. Consequently, the Yorùbá recognize two ìwà realities, namely, a good ìwà (ìwà-rere) and a bad ìwà (ìwà-lásán). The former is a human existence with a positive essence/ core values, and the latter is a human existence without any positive essence or impact while alive. The Yorùbá term for a human continued existence and essence even a er death is èḥ ìn-ìwà, in which the dead continue to make “their presence [and essence] known to the living, whose well-being depends upon their relationship to the living dead” (Pemberton 1989, 175). us, at the demise of their parents, a common petition of the children would be “Our deceased parent, do not forget us as you rest peacefully in heaven; please continue to look back and watch over us” (Òkú oḷóṃ o ̣ má sùn lóṛ un; jòẉ ó ̣ bojú w’èḥ ìn kío wá wòwá o).

Figure 7: Ọṣ̀ ọpà Egúngún Àgbà

The relationship existing between the Yorùbá concepts of èḥ ìn-ìwà (as discussed above) and egúngún, the major theme for this study, cannot be overstressed. Because èḥ ìn-ìwà provides a new status of “ancestor spirit,” who is now enlisted in the realm of the òrìsạ̀ , when an accomplished old person (i.e. one having ìwà-rere) dies, his or her bereaved children eulogize him or her, saying “Our parent had transitioned to an òrìsạ̀ divinity, now to be worshipped on our knees” (Bàbá/ Ìyá wa ti d’Òrìsạ̀ àkúnlè ̣ bo)̣ , a euphemism for a befitting worship. Hence, it is this concept of èḥ ìn-ìwà on which the Yoruba religious practice of ancestor veneration is based (Oḍ ún Egúngún being the most popular of these).

Morphologically, the Yorùbá term egúngún is a compound word formed by the combination of the morphemes /e+gún+gún/, literally, “that which facilitates or bring about stability, unity, peace, and joy,” among others. Thus, in Yorùbá communities where the cult of egúngún is prevalent, the devotees perform Oḍ ún Egúngún annually, with one major expectation in mind––bringing about their wellbeing and promoting the community’s harmony and stability. Thegúngún devotees found this belief in the Odù Ifá, Òẉ òṛ ìn-Aséỵ ìn (also Òẉ òṛ ìn-Sẹ́ )̣ ,6 which describes egúngún as sayégún,7 an allusion to egúngún as the ancestor spirits who bring about societal stability and people’s wellbeing. The Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Asé ỵ ìn recalls that at a certain time when the Earth (ayé) was threatened with collapse, Ifá (also Òṛ únmìlà) prescribed that a propitiatory ritual sacri ce (eḅ o/̣ ètùtù) be o ered to the Supreme Being, Olódùmarè, whose abode is the spiritual world (Àjùlé-òṛ un), so that he might stabilize ayé. Soon after the prescribed eḅ o/̣ ètùtù was brought to Olódùmarè, he sent down the heavenly spirit beings known as sayégún, the first egúngún, to help stabilize ayé. The sayégún/egúngún barely got to the world of the living (ilé-ayé), where they had their initial stopover in a forest that would later be called the forest-grove of egúngún (igbó-ìgbàlè)̣ , when rain started to fall. It was the orchestra of àyàn who with their drumming nally brought the egúngún home from their initial igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ stopover. From that day on, many egúngún, especially the egúngún-àgbà, have continued to use igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ as the grove from where they appear to the public during the Oḍ ún Egúngún. It was also since that time that the pacts between the egúngún and àyàn (who led them home with their drum music) together with babaláwo, who prescribed the eḅ o/̣ ètùtù, become e ective. at pacts decree that, “it is forbidden for any egúngún to og the drummers or the ifá diviners/priests” (Egúngún kò gbóḍ ò ̣ na Àyàn; béẹ̀ ṇ i woṇ kò gbóḍ ò ̣ na Babaláwo).

Another Odù Ifá source that con rms egúngún as heavenly spirits (AráÒṛ un), who descended from their heavenly abode to stabilize ilé-ayé, is found in Ogbè-Ròsùn (also Ogbè Ìròsùn):
Apárí awo Èg̣ bá
Óṣ òṣ ò ̣ ni’run àgbòṇ awo Èṣ à
Abasósó orí rààrì-raari awo Òde-Ìjèḅ ú
A dá fún Òlòlò-lóhùn tí sẹ oḳ o ̣ oḅ untun… Níjọ́tíàwoṇ Irúnmoḷẹ̀àtiàwoṇ Egúngún Ńti òṛ un bò ̣ wá sí ayé.8
One with a baldhead, the secret of Èg̣ bá (Abéọ̀ kúta)
e one with a plentiful beard, the secret of Èṣ à
One with a large tu of hair on the head, the secret of Òde-Ìjèḅ ú
It casts Odù Ifá for the Stutter/Stammer, husband of Oḅ untun
On the day the 400 high ranking divinities together with Egúngún Are coming from heaven onto the earth.

However, the term egúngún is strictly used in two contexts. The rst exempli es those that are not perceived as “Ancestor.” us, this type of Egúngún, which Ulli Beier has referred to as the “unserious masquerades,” (Beier 1964, 191–2), is beyond the scope of this study. The egúngún in this category are interchangeably called “the masked player/entertainer” (egúngún aláré), “the masked performer of tricks/magic” (egúngún onídán); “we dance with the wood” (egúngún agbégijó), or “the itinerant masked dancer” (egúngún alárìnjó). Thegúngún alárìnjó accurately describes this first type of egúngún, since they characteristically travel from one Yorùbá community or region to the next, performing dances, tricks, and magic at all times of the year, and living predominantly on the incomes of their performances.

The second type of egúngún, the focus of this study, exempliflies those that are recognized as “real” egúngún, alluding to a physical manifestation of the “Ancestor spirits.” They are found among the Òỵ ó-̣Yorùbá and their descendants who migrated southwards to other Yorùbá towns like Ìgànná, Aáwé,̣ Ìséỵ ìn, Eḍ e,̣ Ìbàdàn, and Òkèigbó. Because of their Òỵ ó-̣Yorùbá origin, they are occasionally called Egúngún-Òỵ ó.̣ Unlike the rst type (egúngún aláré/onídán/agbéjijó/alárìnjó), the Egúngún-Òỵ ó ̣ type incorporates those that speci cally connect with Ancestor veneration. Hence, they are also called “the inhabitants of Heaven” (Ará-òṛ un), or “the Ancestors” (Bàbá). is type of egúngún emblematizes the spirit of the dead (aged) man, who is believed to have transformed into an ancestor in èḥ ìn-ìwà.

Through egúngún, the ancestor spirit manifests under a specially created shroud-costume assemblage called èḳ ú/agò ̣ that is worn to cover the head and the whole body of the arèḳ ú, the human agent that donned the èḳ ú/agò.̣ ere are different forms of èḳ ú/agò,̣ each depending on its component materials. Some are made entirely of traditionally hand-woven kíjìpá cloths and tightly crocheted netting (àwòṇ ) sewn around to the face, which veils the face of the arèḳ ú. The Eégún Alágò ̣ type from Òkèigbó exempli es this form of èḳ ú/agò.̣ Some are made of layers of clothes of different colors (especially red, yellow, and blue colors) and potentially with such attachments as animal skulls and horns and leather pouches of medicine-charms.

Figure 8: Eégún Alágọ̀

Some others are made of a variety of wild animals’ pelts, potentially with ère carved headpieces. An ideal example is the Aláwop̣ álà.

Figure 9: Ìtíàrán
Figure 10: Aláwọpálà

The primary purpose of èḳ ú/agò ̣ is to totally obliterate the identity of the human agent that dons it, in order to conceal the power that gave form to the “Ancestor spirit” through the wearer of the èḳ ú (arèḳ ú), the energizer of the èḳ ú /agò.̣ Hence, from the esoteric or mystic level, the real meaning of egúngún is “powers concealed.” at is, the voluminous èḳ ú/agò ̣ of egúngún, the manifested “Ancestor spirit,” has concealed the unknowable, that which is knowable only to the members of the egúngún cult (moṛ íwo/òj̣ è)̣ is arcane Implication is persuasive in the following èṣàoriw ìegúngún:“egúngún is not that which can be seen; the ancestral spirit is unknowable in the forest-grove of egúngún” (Egúngún kò s’ eṇ i àárí; Òòsạ̀ ò s’eṇ i àámò ̣ ní’gbàlè)̣ .9 And even among the moṛíwo/òj̣è,̣ who have access to igbó-ìgbàlè–̣ –where egúngún usually dress up before emerging to the public, and thus, know the “powers concealed” in egúngún––they are forbidden to reveal the secrets about the “powers concealed.” at the moṛ íwo are bound to adhering strictly to this pact is contained in their cult’s slogan, reminding them of the impending deadly consequence(s), should they divulge the cult secrets to any non-initiates: “the lips of the knowledgeable ones or cult’s initiated members must always remain gagged” (wíwo léṇ u awo ń wo), a euphemism and reminder that all the moṛ íwo must forever guard all the cult’s secrets from all who are not initiated into the cult.

As earlier explained that the Yorùbá thought about “ancestor spirits” is deeply rooted in their concept of ìwà with èḥ ìn-ìwà, that concept also informed their religious practice of ancestor veneration/worship, the most popular being the Oḍ ún Egúngún. Hence, the Yorùbá believe that their deceased ancestors never die; rather, they relocate to another world, which is the spiritual realm of spirit beings (òṛ un), from where their spirits can be invoked and appear in the form of egúngún. Upon the invocation of the spirits of the dead (o en by way of the Oḍ ún Egúngún), the ancestor(s) of the family-lineage of egúngún manifest physically in the appearance of egúngún that is addressed as Bàbá/Bàbá Àgbà, an allusion to the Ancestor or Ancestor spirit.

Figure 11: Ẹyẹ Abìdíàlè (Also see Figure 7)

Performance Context of Ọdún Egúngún

The author has analyzed the Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Asé ỵ ìn (also Òẉ òṛ ìn-Sẹ́ )̣ , which reveals that the rst egúngún, known as sayégún, were the spirit beings that Olódùmarè sent from their heavenly abode to come and bring soothe to the chaotic ilé-ayé; and which also tells that the àyàn were the ones who led the rst egúngún home from igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ with the drumming. However, it is important to also stress that since then, the unending role of the àyàn in the cult of egúngún has been unabated. Hence, the following is a narrative that points to the further indispensable role of àyàn in the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún, which were based on the author’s own eyewitness accounts for overthelasttwoandhalfdecadesthathehasbeenresearchingontheOḍún
Egúngún in Òkèigbó.10

Òkèigbó is a historic town located in Ilè-̣ Olújí/Òkèigbó Local Government, in the Oǹdó State of Nigeria. It is a major town (from which Ìféṭèḍ ó sister-town was formed in 1931) along the ancient cities of Ilé-Ifè ̣ and Oǹdó. Of all the major traditional festivals that are celebrated at Òkèigbó, which include Oḍ ún Ògún (also Oḷój̣ ó)̣ , Orò, Àlúkú, among others, Oḍ ún Egúngún, in which the role of Àyàn cannot be overemphasized, is the most popular and always best attended.

Like other Yorùbá communities where this form of Ancestor veneration is prevalent, the cult of egúngún Òkèigbó is known as òj̣ẹ̀ (or eg̣ bẹ́ òj̣è)̣. And the cult members are referred to as “those with the secret knowledge of the egúngún cult/ò j̣ è ̣ (moṛ íwo). They are all in charge of and the partakers of Oḍ ún Egúngún, which is celebrated every year in that community. The title holders among the ò j̣ è ̣ include the chief priest of egúngún (aláàgbáà). He is also eulogized as “the father of moṛ íwó” (Baba Moṛ íwó), an allusion to aláàgbáà being the spiritual head of the moṛ íwó. The current aláàgbáà of the egúngún cult in Òkèigbó is Chief Àwísẹ ̣ Adérèṃ í Fágbadé. Next in rank to the aláàgbáà is eésòṛ un òj̣ è,̣ which is held by Chief Ògúnníyì Ògúnkànmí. As well, there are three female òj̣ẹ̀ chie aincy titles, which include, in descending order of rank, ìyá-àgan, ìyá-moḍ è,̣ and ìyá-lájé.

Figure 12a: Etíyẹrí
Figure 12b: Etíyẹrí close view
Figure 13: Aláwọpálà
Figure 14: Arọ́ba
Figure 15: Owólẹwà
Figure 16: Adáradóhùn
Figure 17a-b: Badà front and back views
Figure 18a-b: Kúólé front and back views
Figure 19: Eégún Òkèàgbẹ̀
Figure 20: Awó
Figure 21: Mọ́lérí

There are various types of egúngún in Òkèigbó, which can be loosely identified or distinguished using two variables. The first variable is identification by the èḳ ú/agò ̣ type of egúngún. Hence, this identification variable is based principally on the physical appearance and formal-style attributes of an individual egúngún. Falling within this rst variable are egúngún with the carved mask/ gure headdresses (egúngún-elére), or egúngún with a load on their head (egungun-eḷ éṛ ù), a euphemism for the carved mask/ gure(s) and other assemblages of objects that adorn the headdresses of certain egúngún. ose “load” assemblages o en include deer antlers (iwo-àgbòṇ rín), sacred animal skulls (agbárí-eṛ anko abàmì), small gourds lled with magical or medicinal substances (àdó/ìrèṛ è)̣ , leather pouches of medicines (gbìnrín-oògùn), and carved masks/ figures (ère), among others. Thegúngún Etíyeṛ í, Aláwo p̣ álà, and Aróḅ atè ̣ are typical examples of the egúngún eḷéṛ ù/elére type. Also identi ed or distinguished by their èḳ ú/agò ̣ shroud-costume type are the egúngún with headdress made of an animal tail or hide and skin (egúngún-oníròṛ ò)̣ . Relevant examples are egúngún Owóleẉ à and Adáradóhùn. Some other egúngún that are identi ed by their costume types are egúngún with large and royally designed shroud-costumes, part of which o en trail behind the egúngún (egúngún-alágò ̣ gbáruru). The examples are egúngún badà and kúólé. Others located within this costume type variable are egúngún with a tray or cap-like design pattern headdress (eégún-aláte)̣ , egúngún with a tighttting shroud (egúngún-èdó), and egúngún without any particular headdress design/shape (egúngún-òkolombo)

Figure 22: Arọ́batẹ̀
Figure 23: Akíngbadé

The second and last variable used to determine a given egúngún Òkèigbó type is identification by the function, character, and/or performance traits of an individual egúngún. Thus, there are warrior egúngún (egúngún-ológun), examples of such being Aróḅatè,̣and Akíngbadé, that are distinguished by the weaponries or missiles (swords, axes/ mattocks, machetes, clubs, etc.), which they brandish in their hands. Others are the “children provider” (egúngúnoḷóṃ o)̣ , “provider/maker of herbal medicines and concoctions (administered to children free of charge to prevent various diseases)”(alágbo-òf̣é)̣,andEỵ é-̣ fodò, the powerful magician and controller of amulets and charms. All the three egúngún are an apparent example of egúngún-olóògùn, the controller/maker/provider of amulets, charms, or medicinal concoctions. There are also the àtòrì whipogger egúngún (egúngún-eḷég̣ ba/oḷóṛ é)̣ , distinguished by their unchecked aggressive and chaotic character, as they whip and terrorize the whole crowd of spectators. Thexamples of such belligerent egúngún are Awó, Òḅ o,̣ the Scorpion (Àkèèkèé), Bólódeòkú, and the “hooligan/ragmu n” (Jàǹdùkú), among others.

Figure 24: Ọlọḿ ọ
Figure 25: Alágbo-ọ̀fẹ́
Figure 26: Ẹyẹ́fodò

In the olden days when nearly all the streets of Òkèigbó were surrounded by thick forests, the preparation rite for the appearance of most egúngún (especially those distinguished by their large shroud costumes) in which the èḳ ú/ agò ̣ are donned by the arèḳ ú occurred inside the igbó-igbàlè.̣ It was from the igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ that the egúngún emerged to the waiting crowd of adherents and spectators outside of the forest-grove. Today, only one egúngún, by the name of Aláwop̣ álà, still uses the igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ as his site of his appearance, when all the rest now appear from their individual families’ “houses in heaven” (ilérun). Hence, the following oríkì speaks to, and reminds us how the most celebrated egúngún (like those from the Èṣ à Òg̣ bín––a leading egúngún lineage) characteristically appeared from igbó-ìgbàlè:̣

Pààká di méf̣ à ní’gbàlè ̣
Èḳ ú di méf̣ à mo lò wóṇ gbó
E ̣ wá w’asọ ̣ Egúngún bó se lu kámi lára bí ajere
Èỵ ìn’kùnlé Oḷóg̣ bìń nì’gbàlè ̣
Mo ní kílóse t’óbìnrin ò m’awo?
Ará Ògbojò, woṇ kìí f’oḳ ó ̣ kan’lè ̣ ní’gbàlè ̣
Èyí t’óbá f’oḳ ó ̣ kan’lè ̣ ní’gbàlè ̣
Ó t i s á b à b á è ̣ l ’ ó ḳ ó ̣
Èmi òní f’oḳ ó ̣ kan bàbáà mi
Èṣ à Òg̣ bín, ará òde Ògbólúké ̣
Tì’gboro sẹ́ ,̣ tì’gbàlè ̣ sẹ́ ̣
Eégún t’ óbá tì’gboro sẹ́ ̣ lasọ ̣ rè ̣ nj’ òpò oṃ o ̣ láńganran Èyí t’óbá tì’gbàlè ̣ sẹ́ ,̣ a jé ̣ kìkì asọ ̣ Èṣ à Òg̣ bín
Oṃ o ̣ Molúfóṇ -Adé, mo jè’̣ be ̣ bí eṇ í je’̣su

Here are now six egúngún in our family forest-grove of egúngún
erein we have six shroud-costumes of egúngún and I used all until they worn out
Come and look at how the egúngún shroud-costume has become tattered on my body
e forest-grove of egúngún is right there at the backyard of Oḷóg̣ bìń
I asked why then are females not allowed therein (at the forest-grove of egúngún)?
e natives of Ògbojò don’t plow the forest-grove of egúngún with the hoe
Whosever among them tilled the forest-grove of egúngún with the hoe at one has stroke his father with the hoe
I for one will not strike my own father with the hoe
My father Èṣ à Òg̣ bín, resident at the compound of Ògbólúké ̣
Emerging/ appearing from the house or the forest-grove of egúngún

Any egúngún who emerged from the house is the one with a tighttting shroud
e one who emerged from the forest-grove of egúngún always have the voluminous shroud-costumes, which typify the egúngún Èṣ à Òg̣ bín
Child of Molúfóṇ -Adé, who eats the yam porridge as if it were yam
e Òkèigbó community’s Oḍ ún Egúngún is an annual ritual festival that is permanently scheduled to commence on July 25th and last for seven days.

The exception is the Kúólé Oḷój̣ èẹ́ ̣ Egungun lineage, whose family members commence their own Oḍ ún Egúngún a day prior (on July 24th each year). is is becausetheKúóléOḷój̣èẹ̣́aredirectdescendantsofÈṣàÒg̣bínOlógbojò,popularly known as Baba Egúngún (the overall founding father of Egúngún-Òỵ ó,̣ from which the egúngún cult of Òkèigbó descended). us, the Kúólé Oḷój̣ èẹ́ ̣ lineage members are given the honor of starting their own Oḍ ún Egúngún a day before the general commencement date.

Principally to facilitate their smooth performances, the ritual performance context of oḍ ún egúngún in Òkèigbó is segmented into four phases, namely, Ikúnlè ̣ Egúngún; Ìta Egúngún; Ìje Egúngún, and Ìgbájà Egúngún, discussed as follows in that order. The discussion is followed by eyewitness accounts of an episode of the egúngún performance context, which was precipitated for the most part by the nature of the language of drum that was being drummed for the given egúngún.

Ìkúnlẹ̀ Egúngún

The First day of the oḍ ún egúngún is called Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún (literally,
the kneeling rite for Egúngún). It is so called because all the egúngún devotees must be on their knees in front of their individual family’s high altar of egúngún (ojúbo ̣ egúngún) as they invoke their ancestor spirits and petition them to banish death from their family, promote their wellbeing, and bring about the community’s peace, harmony, and stability. The symbol of egúngún that is displayed on every egúngún lineage-family’s ojúbo ̣ egúngún are whips (àtòrì), carved in a spiral design called isán. is is the reason ojúbo ̣ egúngún is also known as “the abode of spirally designed àtòrì/isán, symbol of egúngún” (awésàń). us, both ojúbo ̣ egúngún and awésàń are used interchangeably. From the esoteric level, the isán is called “Death’s whip” (òp̣ á-ikú), a short form of “the whip that we (devotees of egúngún) use to drive death away from the egúngún-lineage family compound” (òp̣ á tí a lé i k ú n í l é Ò j̣ è )̣ .

Figure 27: Ewésàán-Ojúbọ Egúngún
Figure 28: Ojúbọ Ọya

The following is the author’s eyewitness account of the performance context of Ìkúnlẹ̀ egúngún by the egúngún devotees from the egúngún-lineage family of Badà Èsụ́ bí (whose praise name is “the garment of amulets/ charms (àrán-oògùn). On Monday July 19, 2004 ( ve days prior to the Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún), a pigeon (eỵ eḷé) was ritually sacri ced to Oỵ a, the goddess of the river, by means of it being slaughtered and its blood being sprinkled on the high altar of Oỵ a (ojúbo ̣ Oỵ a). Next, early in the morning of Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún (on Sunday July 25, 2004), an o ering of wraps of puréed and cooked corn starch (èḳ o)̣ and pureed and steamed beans (móị́nmóị́n) and kola nut (obìàbàtà) is presented in front of the isán (or òp̣ á-ikú) located at the family’s ojúbo ̣ egúngún/awésàń. A votive sacri ce of a rooster was made by slaugh-tering and sprinkling its blood on the isán/òp̣ á-ikú. Describing the awésàń (ojúbo ̣ egúngún), Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé,the head of the Badà Èsụ́ bí egúngún-lineage family, has explained that, “awésàn is the altar place/spot where the spirit of the family ancestor that is personi ed by egúngún is receiving the invocation of o erings presented to him by his children” (Awésàń ni ibi ti Bàbá ti ńgba ìbo)̣ . A er the presentation of o erings, all the devotees prayed to the family’s egúngún ancestor spirit(s) and then concluded their prayers with the following petition-song:

Báni lé’kú lo ̣ l’árùn lo ̣ Báni lé’kú lo ̣ l’árùn lo ̣ o Báni l’ójòjò k’ó wo’g̣ bó lo ̣
Help us drive out death and disease
Help us drive death and disease away
Help us banish sickness into the forests for good

A er this song was sung, all the devotees emerged from the awésàń (ojúbo ̣ egúngún) into the front of the family hall (àkòdì badà), where they were received by the deafening drumbeats that were drummed by the orchestra of àyàn who played their dùndún drums to entertain the members of the Badà Èsúbí egúngún-lineage family. All interested family members then danced in turn to the drumming as they closed the Ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún, which centered principally on the invocation (with ritual o erings) of the family’s ancestor spirit(s), whose physicality is understood as egúngún. Generally speaking, it is a er the completion of Ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún part of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún that the public outings or appearances of the community egúngún, which last for seven days, would occur.

Ìta Egúngún
Ìta is the Yorùbá term for the “third day”. As it applies to the context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún, Ìta Egúngún translates to all the ritual activities that are performed on the third day following the ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún, the commencement of the oḍ ún egúngún, itself already examined. While ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún is speci cally for the invocation of the ancestor spirit(s) of the individual egúngún-lineage family, whose physical manifestation is celebrated as egúngún, ìta egúngún, on the other hand, is principally for the gathering of the individual Egúngún lineage-family members to have fun and party. Therefore, ìta egúngún caters to the spirit of togetherness of the family, when all members of the egúngún-lineage family, along with their invited friends and well-wishers, throw a big party in celebration and remembrance of their family ancestors.

Figure 29: Ilérun

Using the Badà Èsụ́ bí egúngún-lineage family’s ìta egúngún performance context as a case study, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of Ìta Egúngún that this family celebrated on Tuesday July 27, 2004. At about 7 a.m., the family began its ìta egúngún celebration, when all the family members converged at the Bada compound (Ìta Badà), where the family hall (àkòdì) is located. The àkòdì itself comprises a large hall (used for family meetings/ gatherings) and many hidden rooms dedicated to the family egúngún and other òrìsạ̀ related a airs/matters. First among the hidden rooms is the family awésàń/ojúbọ egúngún, which has been described and analyzed under Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún. (See Figure 27).

Another room that is much larger in size than the awésàń/ojúbo ̣ egúngún inside the àkòdì is the “house in Heaven” (ilérun or ilé-Òṛ un). From the functionalism approach, ilérun is a sacred room that has the function similar to that of a Christian sacristy (where the church’s vestments and sacred vessels, among others are stored). Hence, the ilérun inside the àkòdì badà is where all the family’s èḳ ú/agò ̣ are stored and donned by the arèḳ ú during the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún. Other egúngún paraphernalia that are kept inside the ilérun in general may include those that are peculiar to, and used by, an individual egúngún àgbá, for instance, the leather belt of medicine-charm (ìgbàdí), leather underwear of amulet (ìbàǹté-̣ oògùn), leather pouches of charm (àgádágodo), sword (idà), and axe/mattock (àáké), among others.

After all the Badà Èsụ́ bí family members have converged at the ìta/àkòdì badà, the young men of the house slaughtered a big goat (ewúré tíó t’éwúré) that they had bought the previous day and prepared the meat. Then, the females/wives of the house (obìnrin-ilé) cooked the meat, along with an array of assorted foods that included okra and meat soups (oḅ è-̣ ilá àti oḅ è-̣ eṛ an), pounded yam (iyán), and cassava starch meal (èḅ à). When all the food preparation was completed, everything was brought inside the àkòdì hall where all the members of the family and their invited friends and relatives, including the àyàn, had a big feast. A er everyone had eaten and drunk to their satisfaction, then came the service of the àyàn, who provided the drum music to which skillful dancers (among the family members) danced one a er the other. At the end of the dance performances that closed the ìta egúngún, I proceeded to thank Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, the head of the family, for having given me the privilege to partake in their family’s ìta egúngún ceremony. In his friendly remark, he responded, “learned person, you are the one that came at the right time. Do you also know that tomorrow is the appearance of Bàbá?” (Akòẉ é ìwo ̣ lo mòọ́ ̣ rìn. Sé o tún mò ̣ wípé òḷa ni Bàbá máa jáde?).11 What the informant meant when he said I “come at the right time” was that the Oḍ ún Egúngún of year 2004, of which I partook, had been scheduled for the “appearance” of Badà (the family’s most senior egúngún), since the appearance of this egúngún occurs once every other year. “Had it been that you were unlucky, you could have come last year without having the opportunity to see Bàbá” (ká ní oḍ ún èsí lo wá ni, o kò bátí ní àǹfàní àti rí Bàbá). My informant, Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, concluded his pleasantry with his peculiar sarcastic laughter.

Consequently, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of the appearance and performance context of egúngún Badà, which occurred on Wednesday July 28, 2004. Thearly in the morning, the young males of the family, just like they had done the day before, slaughtered another big goat in front of the family’s àkòdì hall and then prepared the goat meat, which they transferred to the obìnrin-ilé for cooking, along with other assorted foods. The meal was meant exclusively for the family ò j̣ è ̣ and also the àyàn, who provided the drumming for the egúngún. Next, the family ò j̣ è ̣ proceeded into the family’s ilérun to prepare for the appearance of Bàbá (i.e., egúngún Badà). (See Figure 29). Because of my birthright as an òj̣è/̣egúngún cult member (my maternal grandfather, the late Ògúnwálé Òḍ áná-Fojúràá, was of the Ìgbórí egúngún lineage), I had the privilege of being able to enter the ilérun with other moṛíwo (the male òj̣ẹ̀ members) to partake in the preparation for the appearance of egúngún Badà. Following the completion of the preparation, the egúngún emerged from inside the ilérun and stepped out of the front door of the àkòdì. The Egúngún then proceeded to move very slowly as he stepped on the blood of the goat that had been spilled in front of the àkòdì building, an allusion to the ancestor’s acceptance of the votive animal sacri ce. The egúngún then continued to walk very slowly, covering the entire Badà Compound (the distance of about one quarter-mile) as his royally designed long èḳ ú/agò ̣ trailed behind him like a bridal garment. As a sign of respect and also to keep the long sprawling robe moving freely, some minor egúngún entourage helped li and align the extending robe on the oor. (See Figure 17a/b). The entire appearance and performance context of Badà took about twenty minutes before the egúngún returned to the ilérun, the spiritual realm of spirit beings to which the ancestral egúngún belong.

According to Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, “Now that the spirit of our family ancestor had been invoked and the egúngún appeared and had used his trailing èḳ ú/ agò ̣ to ward o evil and all the imminent catastrophes, no death or diseases would come near any of our family members. Surely, Baba has ushered in a year of prosperity.”12 is a rmational statement validates the signi cance of òp̣ á-ikú (derived from ọp̀ á tí a lé ikú nílé Òj̣ è)̣ , the principal emblem of egúngún displayed on the ojúbo ̣ egúngún that translates and alludes to “the whips that we used to drive death away from the Egúngún lineage-family compound.” Accordingly, that this key symbol of egúngún is smeared with the blood of votive animals with the o ering of wraps of èḳ o ̣ leaves no doubt that Oḍ ún Egúngún is meant to drive death away or banish death from the homes of òj̣ è,̣ and family devotees at large. is signi cance is also noticeable in Bruce G. Trigger’s passing statement that “the egúngún society…was concerned with limiting the powers of death” (Trigger 2003, 500).

Ìje Egúngún

Ìje is the Yoruba term for the “seventh day.” As is used here within the context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún in Òkèigbó, Ìje Egúngún is the seventh day of activities following the commencement of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún. Thexcept for one exception (the compulsory Igbájà Egúngún), by tradition, Ìje Egúngún is the last day when all public appearances and performance activities of the entire community egúngún formally end for that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún. For that reason, Ìje Egúngún is characterized by the trouping out in a very large numbers, most if not all of the community’s egúngún that have not appeared since the commencement of that year’s festival. Hence, Ìje Egúngún is popularly described as “the day when all the egúngún have their last opportunity to ght to nish” (àjàlo-̣ àrùgbè egúngún), an allusion to the Egúngún making sure to complete all the activities that they needed or desired to perform, since that day is their last chance to do so.

Ìgbájà Egúngún

The Yoruba term Igbájà translates literally to the “market cleansing.” It is an allusion to the spiritual cleansing of the community, and by extension, the whole of ayé. Hence the Yorùbá philosophical saying “the Earth is a market” (ayé lo j̣ à). It is believed that the rite of Igbájà Egúngún is a form of an appeasement of all the community ancestors (manifested in egúngún) to ward o evil and protect all the townspeople against any imminent catastrophes like incessant death,especially of the community youths (ikú-òẉòẉó)̣, contagious or communicable diseases (àjàkálè ̣ àrùn), war (ogun), drought (òg̣belè), and famine (ìyàn), among others.

Figure 30: Onílù-Àyàn

This last phase of Oḍ ún Egúngún is performed on Ìje-kejì Egúngún, the 14th day following the commencement of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún; and is a ritual performance in which the impact of àyàn is mostly prominent. In fact, it is not an overstatement to declare that without the àyàn, who drum in their dùndún ensemble––which speaks the language of drum to which the egúngún dance performers display their dancing skills in turns––there is no Igbájà Egúngún. is grand nale rite of Oḍ ún Egúngún is when most (if not all) of the community’s egúngún converge in front of the oḅ a’s market/palace for the celebration of Igbájà Egúngún. The two groups of performers of Igbájà egúngún, whose performance contexts complement each other, are the àyàn and the community hosts of egúngún.

The author begins the Igbájà Egúngún’s narrative and analysis with the professional orchestra of onílù-àyàn, who drum dùndún, the preferred drum ensemble in the performance context of Igbájà Egúngún. The reason for the preference for dùndún over any other drums, especially the bàtá, is inconclusive. However, during my interview with Pa Adésop̣ é ̣ Ìgbáladé (the custodian of Egúngún Etíyeṛ í, one of the community’s most senior egúngún), I was told that the egúngún’s preference for a certain drum ensemble (dùndún or bàtá) is by choice and not because certain drum music or acoustic patterns are easier to dance or decode than another. He explained further that both the dùndún and bàtá are talking drums that produce an array of rhythmic patterns, which can easily be discerned and decoded by any skillful egúngún dance performer. However, I have found that there is usually only one talking drum in a dùndún drum ensemble, which is the lead drum (ìyáàlù). But, in a bàtá ensemble, there could be up to three talking drums, namely, ìyáàlù, omele-abo, and omele-méṭ a. Consequently, while a given dùndún music egúngún dancer has only one talking drum to discern and decode its language with the dance performance, on the other hand, his contemporary bàtá music egúngún dance performer must discern all the two to three talking drums’ surrogate speech produced in a bàtá ensemble, in order to decode them correctly. I corroborate this point with two examples, namely: the drum’s speech (the “drum language”) of dùndún, and that of bàtá, discussed as follows in that order.

Example 1: Language of ìyáàlù, the only talking drum (in the dùndún ensemble):
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni
Ǹbá f’apá jó, f’apá jó
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni
Ǹ b á f ’ e ṣ è ̣ j ó , f ’ e ṣ è ̣ j ó
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni, ǹbá gbogbo ara gbòṇ rì-rì-rì-rì
If I were you
I will dance with my hands unceasingly
If I were you
I will dance with my legs unabatedly
If I were you, I will shakeup my whole body continuously
Example 2: Language of ìyáàlù, omele-abo, and omele-méṭa talking drums (in bàtá ensemble):
Ìyáàlù: Oḷóḅ a-níkà (Oḷóḅ ańkà) Omele-abo: Oorí
Ìyáàlù: Fìǹkàn
Omele-abo: Oorí
Ìyáàlù: Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn
Omele-abo: Oorí
Omeleméṭ a: Èrúkó ̣ ro’ ko ro’ ko Èrúkó ̣ yè’̣nà yè’̣nà Èrúkó ̣ ko’̣ bè ko’̣ bè ko’̣be
The combination of all the speeches delivered by all the three bàtá talking drums:
Oḷ óḅ a-níkà/Oḷ óḅ ańkà (a given egúngún)
Your wooden mask headdress
Move it sideways
Your wooden mask headdress
Move it sideways continuously
Your wooden mask headdress
Like a hoe that clears the bush without end; it cleans the footpath ceaselessly, and then makes the ridges unendingly.


In Example 1, the given egúngún dance performer would discern and decode (with his dance performance) the language of ìyáàlù, the only talking drum in the dùndún ensemble. Whereas in Example 2, the given egúngún dance performer (Oḷóḅ ańkà) must discern and decode simultaneously (with his dance performance) all the three bàtá talking drum’s speeches (transcribed above). It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the language of the dùndún drum ensemble is more direct than that of bàtá, which may have accounted for its preference in the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún of Òkèigbó.

Figure 31: Photo of Chief Gbémibádé Akínròm̩ ádé

On Tuesday July 27, 2004 (eleven days before that year’s Ìgbájà Egúngún–– the grand nale of Oḍ ún Egúngún), I conducted an interview of Chief Gbémibádé Akínròṃ ádé, the head/highest chief (oḅ alásẹ̀ /̣ baálè)̣ of the onílù-àyàn of Òkèigbó and Ìféṭèḍ ó. The subject of that interview was on the role of àyàn within the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún. The following are the unedited words of the interviewee, which con rmed that the indispensable role of àyàn in connection with egúngún (as in the Oḍ ún Egúngún) has been dated back to the beginning of time/existence. He said:

“In the beginning of time/existence, the egúngún were the spirit beings who brought peace and stability into the earth. When the egúngún were coming from the heaven, they first descended into the forest-grove of egúngún. As they were emerging/ appearing to the public from the forest-grove of egúngún, they stopped when they got to the entrance. It was there (at the entrance of the forest-grove of egúngún) where they were being escorted home/ to the public by the orchestra of drummers with the drumming” (Láti ìgbà ìwásẹ̀ ,̣ Eégún lóm’áyégún.NígbàEégúnńbọ̀lát’òdeòṛun,wóṇ rọ̀ka’lẹ̀sí’gbóìgbàlè.̣Nígbà
Eégún ńbò ̣ láti Igbó-ìgbàlè,̣ Eégún ló dúró kí àwoṇ Onílù lo ̣ mu wá).

Figure 32: Purification Rite of the dancing arena-ground of Egúngún

The interviewee explained further that since that time/day, the Àyàn have forever been drumming for egúngún. He concluded that the type of dùndún drum music that the àyàn drum for the dance performance of egúngún, especially during Igbájà Egúngún, is called gèsé, which comprises seven distinctive acoustic patterns (or rhythms), namely, elékóto, láàńtòtò, ìranpá, ìlù Sạ̀ ngó, ìlù Oỵ a, ìlù Òrìsạ̀ -Oko, and ìlù Oḅ àtálá.

The following is the author’s eyewitness account of the performance context of the Igbájà Egúngún that was held on Saturday August 7, 2004 at ÌtaÀàre ̣ (one of the major open-space markets/streets at Òkèigbó that is ideal for such performances). The Igbájà Egúngún started with the dancing arena’s puri cation rite, when an o ering of consecrated water was presented (by way of sprinkling on the entire dancing oor) to Ilè,̣ the Earth goddess, invoking the deity to purify the ground on top of which the egúngún were scheduled to dance, one after the other.13 e puri cation rite was followed by the dance performance of Egúngún Alágò,̣ whose permanent duty is to open the oor of the dancing arena, dancing before the other egúngún. The reason this arrangement is so crucial is that Egúngún Alágò ̣ is by tradition the most senior egúngún of the sayégún, whom God sent from their heavenly abode to stabilize the chaotic ilé-ayé in the beginning of time/ existence.

Figure 33: Egúngún Alágọ̀ opening the floor

After Egúngún Alágò ̣ had completed his dance performance (i.e. he had danced to all the seven drum patterns/rhythms of gèsé), all the other egúngún who wished to dance moved out to the dancing arena from their seats and displayed their dancing skills in turns. Generally, the best known and most skillful egúngún dance performer is encouraged by the aláàgbáà to dance last; the reason being that the egúngún dance performer who dances best brings that year’s Igbájà Egúngún dance performance to an end. The spectators alike commend that egúngún with the accolade, “this egúngún dance performer had dismissed the crowd!” (Egúngún yìí ti fó’g̣ bo o!), an allusion that that year’s Igbájà Egúngún dance competition had come to an end. For that reason, the egúngún that danced last and dismissed the crowd at the Igbájà Egúngún that was held on Saturday August 7, 2004 was said to be Bíèso-kòkó “just like the cocoa pods”. The name of this egúngún is an allusion to his èḳ ú/agò ̣ costume assemblages, as they were made of carefully cut pieces of cloth of a variety of harmonious colors, each piece skillfully arranged and sewn in a symmetrical pattern. Overall, the physical appeal of Bíèso-kòkó clearly testi es to the abilities of his èḳ ú/agò ̣ shroud-costume designer as a creative artist with a high degree of mastery of all the principles and elements of design.

Figure 34: Bíèso-kòkó dancing at Igbájà Egúngún

As the egúngún dance performers danced one a er the other before Bíèso-kòkó, the best egúngún dancer dismissed the crowd and spectators, including the experienced critics among them who commented on and evaluated the performances of the àyàn, as well as the egúngún dance performers. The author begins with their evaluation of the performance context of the àyàn, who drummed the gèsé drum music with their dùndún drum ensemble. The critics used body gestures, like head nods and verbal praising, such as “may Àyàn, the god of drumming prosper/protect you!” (Àyàn ó gbè ó!̣), to reward the drummers each time they played all the seven drumming patterns/rhythms of gèsé correctly. On the other hand, if any of the seven gèsé drum music patterns/rhythms were not played correctly or when the one that was supposed to be drummed rst does not follow suit (note: this did not occur in 2004), the critics would make such negative body gestures, such as shaking their heads.

Figure 35: Mrs. Adéfúnké̩ Àdùnní Sàádùn chanting Oríkì Egúngún Abídogun

Because the èḳ ú/agò ̣ is the sole emblem of egúngún that conceals or “kills” the human identity of the arèḳ ú, and at the same time makes visible the invisible spirit of the ancestor, èḳ ú/agò ̣ is therefore understood as a sacred insignia of the ancestors. In fact, to the egúngún devotees, èḳ ú/agò ̣ by itself is egúngún that is o en referred to as “my father/ancestor” (Bàbá mi). us, usually during Ìta Egúngún in the o year in which a given egúngún will not appear in public, the elderly female children of the family ancestor egúngún known for being the best chanters of their family ancestor egúngún’s oríkì always go in front of their family èḳ ú/agò ̣ that are displayed inside the ilérun and chant the oríkì, which address the èḳ ú/agò ̣ as Bàbá mi. By tradition, that is the only one case in which any female ọ̀ jẹ/̀ egúngún cult members or devotees are allowed inside the ilérun, to chanting the family egúngún’s praise songs on the èḳ ú/agò ̣ of that egúngún. The following is an example in which the oríkì chanter Adéfúnké ̣ Àdùnní Sàádùn (one of the daughters of Òròlú Èḍ èṇ ímòḅ í Abídogun, the owner of Egúngún Abídogun), addresses the èḳ ú/ agò ̣ of Egúngún Abídogun as Bàbá mi.
Bàbáà mí kú oḍ ún òní ooo Abídolú òòò Okúoḍúnòníooo Abídolú òòò
Babaà mi, Aláàpé ̣ lóde, Aboḍ án reṛ e ̣
È d ̣ è ṃ ò b ̣ í , E n ̣ i t ’ á à á r ò ’ s é ̣ f ú n
Baba Adésoj̣ í, ta ń’ jé ̣ ro’re tí Baba tií sẹ Òròlú moò rojò
My father, happy celebration of today’s festival Abídolú (my father) greetings to you
Happy celebration to you for today’s festival Abídolú (my father) greetings to you
My father, who has an Àpé ̣ and Oḍ án trees in front of his courtyard
Èḍ èṃ òḅ í, you are the one to whom people always relate their poverties Father of Adésoj̣ í, has anybody ever recounted the supports that you, our father had rendered them?
Yet, father Òròlú, would never complain even when his bene ciaries don’t show gratitude.

As clearly shown in this oríkì, the èḳ ú/agò ̣ by itself is egúngún, and no spectators dare critique the aesthetic merits of any egúngún based on physical appearance. And also for the simple fact that egúngún is a spirit being (as is also the case among all the òrìsạ̀ ) whose divinity has elevated him above any mortals that could be judged, no one dares criticize any egúngún based on their physical appearance. The following egúngún-related “sacred words that must come to pass” (àfòṣ ẹ )̣ best illustrate this fact: “Whatsoever evil or immorality that the egúngún commit is forgiven them because of the very fact that their divinity inside the egúngún forest-grove has elevated them above all mortals; so also I must not get punished for every ‘evil’ that I will commit today” (B’éégún se’bi bó se’pa, Igbó-ìgbàlè la ńjì; béẹ̀ ̣ gég̣ ẹ́ ni ohun gbogbo tí mo bá sẹ lónìí kí ódi àsẹ gbé). Babátúndé Lawal has also found another reason the Yorùbá always accept the “freakishness” or whatever evils that any òrìsạ̀ (including Egúngún) do in the Yorùbá philosophical saying àdìtú layé: “ e popular belief is that the cosmos is an unfathomable mystery (àdìtú) and there may be much more behind the actions of the òrìsạ̀ than ordinary mortals can ever comprehend” (Lawal 2005, 166). In fact at Òkèigbó, as elsewhere in Yorùbáland, it is forbidden to even point one’s ngers at any Egúngún lest speak of passing judgement.

The only exception is that the spectators can praise or criticize the family members (o en called the children) of any given egúngún, whose èḳ ú/agò ̣ is beautiful, lthy, or raggedy, but they cannot criticize the egúngún to which the èḳ ú/agò ̣ gave form. For instance, if the physical appearance of a given egúngún is appealing, the spectators may commend his earthly children for honoring their ancestor with such an expensive cloth costume assemblage. But, on the other hand, if the physical appearance of a given egúngún is repulsive, critics may call the children of that given egúngún an array of derogatory names for their failure to show honor or respect to their ancestor, personi ed by the egúngún.

In contrast, because the egúngún dance performers, when honoring the ancestors (with their dance performances), also entertain the spectators at the same time, their dance performances can be critiqued. us, at this level (of the dance performance context), each egúngún is associated with the family owners to which he belongs. is necessitates the egúngún dance performer to display accomplished dance skills, so as not to bring shame on his family. is is re ected in the Yorùbá saying “if a given egúngún dance performer dances impressively, his lineage family-owners will feel overjoyed” (B’éégún eṇ i bá jóo re, orí á yá’ni). By contrast, if, on the other hand, a given egúngún dance performer dances poorly, which is a demonstration of mediocrity, his lineage-family owners will be disheartened.

What constitutes an embarrassing dance performance or an impressive one? Generally speaking, the acoustic patterns of Yorùbá drumming, as earlier explicated, operate as a verbal language or speech surrogate. They are messages that are expected to be discerned or decoded and acted upon or mimed (with dance performance) by any given egúngún dance performer. Hence the reason for referring to the ìlù as “talking drums.” An impressive dance steps are a derivative of the egúngún dance performer’s acquisition of the following aesthetic traits: patience and buoyancy (sùúrù), drumming discernible ear (etí-ìgbóḷù), wisdom (og̣ bóṇ ), insight (òye), and astuteness/cleverness (ìmò)̣ . All these attributes of a skillful egúngún dance performer are subsumed in the Yorùbá saying “the language of drum is conveyed in proverbs; only the knowledgeable dances impressively to its acoustic patterns; while the discerning or astute individual understands or decodes its coded messages” (Bí òwe bí òwe là ńlù’lù ògìdìgbó; oḷóg̣ bóṇ ní jo; òṃ òṛ àn nii mòọ́ )̣ .

For a better understanding of this, an illustration of an egúngún dance performer applying or neglecting the attributes is necessary. A given dùndún lead drummer may drum his ìyáàlù (lead talking drum) to “speak” the following drum’s language-speech directed to a given egúngún dance performer: “if I were you, I would dance with my hands unceasingly; If I were you I would dance with my legs unabatedly; If I were you, I would shake my whole body continuously” (B’ óbá ṣe pe mi nìwo ̣ ni, ǹbá f ’apá jó––f ’apá jó; B’ óbá ṣe pe mi nìwọ ni, ǹbá f’eṣẹ̀ jó––f’eṣẹ̀ jó; B’óbá ṣe pe mi nìwọ ni, ǹbá gbogbo ara gbòṇ rì-rì-rì-rì). But if the poor egúngún dance performer cannot decode the message of the drum’s language-speech (above), he may be doing something else, such as jumping sporadically. Whenever this happens, in order not to embarrass the egúngún dance performer or members of his family openly, the critics o en do not criticize him verbally. Rather, they use body gestures, such as covering their face with the le -hand palm, closing one eye (especially the le one), shaking their heads repeatedly (sideways), and so on. The drummers too, with their drumming (or drum language), may call the egúngún dance performer an array of derogatory names, such as ikún-kò-létí, a kind of squirrel noted for its deafness, an allusion to the egúngún dance performer being deaf or novice when it comes to understanding or decoding the language of the drum. On the contrary, a skillful and experienced egúngún dance performer would respond exactly (with his dance performance) to what the language of drum asked of him. Such a terri c egúngún dance performer is accorded a loud ovation by the spectators.

However, that the egúngún dance performer must do whatever it takes to impress the spectators and bring honor to their lineage family does not mean that they should overdo the dance performance. In fact, a skillful egúngún dance performer is the one who dances moderately (ìwòṇ tún-wòṇ sì) and knows when to stop his dance when the ovation is loudest. The reason for this is that excessive or immoderate dancing may cause the èḳ ú/agò ̣ to fall apart and expose the egúngún dance performer’s concealed human body and identity. us, the following Yorùbá saying speaks to such immoderation, “it is when a given egúngún dances excessively/immoderately that his waistband of charms along with his bare buttock become exposed to the public” (Ijó àjójù ní mú kí Olùwòran rí agba ìdí Egúngún). Generally speaking, the cults of egúngún all over the Yorùbáland discourage an excessive dance performance of egúngún, since it may lead to the falling apart of the èḳ ú/agò,̣ which conceal the unknowable as well as the human identity of the arèḳ ú. For that reason, a result of immoderate dance performance that leads to the exposure of a body part of any given egúngún dance performer is a grievous o ence, which warrants harsh punishment. At Òkèigbó, the cult of egúngún usually bans the erring egúngún from public performance for a period of ve years. In addition, certain undisclosed rituals, which would ward o the bad omens that may follow for exposing the secret (or mystery) of egúngún to the non-initiates, must be performed by the egúngún cult. Unfortunately for the blundering egúngún, he is decreed to bear the entire cost of the monetary expenses of such propitiatory ritual.

Figure 36: Adáradóhùn displaying his dancing steps at Igbájà Egúngún

The author has mentioned that the egúngún dance performer who dances best brings the Igbájà Egúngún dance performance context for that year to an end, and that such an egúngún will be commended with the accolade Egúngún
yìí ti fó’g̣ bo o! What happens after the best egúngún dance performer has dismissed the crowd? Using the Ìgbájà Egúngún dance competition that was held on Saturday August 13, 2016 as an illustration, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of what happened a er the dismissal of the crowd by Adáradóhùn (a popular egúngún that is also noted for his poetic songs), the best egúngún dance performer for that year, 2016. All the egúngún that participated in the Igbájà Egúngún (on Saturday August 13, 2016) along with their individual egúngún lineage family members held bunches of leaves in their hands, which they whisked continuously in the air, as if they were chasing away ies, as they paraded the streets. They started the parade from the oḅ a’s marketplace (the center of the town) and ended at the outskirts of the town facing the road leading to a nearby Ondo community, where they all discarded those bunches of leaves and then retired to their respective homes. I was informed that the participants whisking bunches of leaves everywhere on the streets and later discarding the leaves in the bushes on the outskirts of the town was an allusion to the spiritual cleansing of the town, which wards o evil and chases away all the imminent catastrophes from the community. In this way, the market/earth cleansing (Ìgbájà Egúngún) is a further con rmation of Oḍ ún Egúngún as a form of ancestor veneration, a spiritual device for driving death away from the individual egúngún-lineage family compounds and promoting the wellbeing of the devotees/townspeople. It also testi es to the origin and signi cance of egúngún found in Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Aséỵ ìn, which describes them as sayégún, the heavenly spirits sent by Olódùmarè to come and “stabilize the world of the living” when it was threatened with collapse.

Language of Drum for Egungun as an inciting and actionprompting vehicle
As already established in this study, the role of àyàn, who drum for the egúngún, especially during Igbájà Egúngún, and thereby provide an avenue for individual egúngún to display their dancing skills, is fundamental within the Oḍ ún Egúngún. However, it needs to be stressed that the signi cance of ìlù as a vital Yorùbá traditional musical instrument goes beyond this level. In actuality, the drumbeats of the dùndún drum ensemble––especially those of the talking drum ìyáàlù that functions as a speech surrogate, mimicking the human voice and which can therefore understood as having its own language, that of the drum––entail an action-prompting vehicle that is powerfully inciting and energizing. The author illustrates this point with the following episode of an eyewitness account, which was caused chie y by the nature of the given language of drum (i.e. the drum’s speech) that were drummed for Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà in the year 1912.

The episode occurred during that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún between Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà and Aaron Òbísèṣ an, a Christian resident of Òkèigbó, which resulted in his death. For a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this deadly episode, a knowledge of the background history of the religious landscape of Òkèigbó in the period (late 1800s–early 1900s) of which the episode was symptomatic, is necessary. In January 1899, when Christianity was newly brought to Òkèigbó, both the new converts and those that would not (under any circumstances) do away with their indigenous religious beliefs and practices lived together peacefully for at least a few days. However, things started to change when the town was greeted with incessant clashes between the new Christian converts and the adherents of the community’s traditional religion, for instance Egúngún, Orò, Àlúkú, Edì, Oḷój̣ ó ̣ (also known as Ògún), among others.

Many local historians in Òkèigbó believe that the mêlées between the newly converted Christians and the community’s òrìsạ̀ devotees were o en caused by some of the Christian converts, who habitually seized or looted their family’s religious carvings at night and then destroyed them, at their urging of their pastors. Actions such as these were rationalized and justi ed on grounds that images and idols of traditional religions needed to be destroyed so as to make sure that the “devilish beliefs and uncivilized traditions” were eradicated at once. For instance, on January 5, 1899, David Débóokú con scated some religious carvings from his family’s ojúbo,̣ where members of his family venerated their ancestor spirits, which he shamed and exhibited as idols in a nearby Ondo town. A few days later, on January 15, 1899, another new Christian convert––whose original Yorùbá name was Òjó Akínwándé but took the name David following his conversion to Christianity––cast into the nearby Òṇ i River the “Igbá Odù, which he inherited from his father…Christians broke taboos and traditions with de ance during festivals” (Babajide 2005, 64).
On that fateful day in 1912, during that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún, as Aláwop̣ álà was emerging from Egúngún’s forest grove (igbó-ìgbàlè)̣ , he was greeted/ hailed with the following drumbeats of the talking drum ìyáàlù (in the dùndún drum ensemble), which carried the following action prompting message (of the language of drum) to Aláwop̣ álà, inciting and calling the egúngún to skirmish:

Aláwop̣ álà, Gbángbálà, Olóyèdé Òj̣ è ̣
Rùgùdú koṇ rùgùdú!
Ìkòṭún Arí’dà d’ogò ní’lé Oḷóṭí
Òṭún Onílòḳ ó,̣ wóṇ ti mú’dà woṇ a lèle
Ò s ì O n í l ò ḳ ó , ̣ w ó ṇ t i m ú ’ d à w o ṇ a d è r ̣ ò ̣ Agbedegbédé Onílòḳ ó,̣ wóṇ ti mú’dà woṇ jèṛán lórí Aláwop̣ álà, oò kòṇ̀ kòṭì sạ ?
Eṇ i o pé oó pa, ìgbàwo lo pá?
Má mà pá sí kòṛ ò,̣ gbangba ni o pá sí Síò,̣ emi lò ńbá kiri!
Aláwop̣ álà, descendant of Gbángbálà and of Olóyèdé Òj̣ è ̣

What a brave personality!
Ìkòṭun who threatens/duns a debtor with his sword till the person settles his/her debt

The masculine-trait Ìlòḳ ó,̣ are brutal with the sword
But the feminine-trait Ìlòḳ ó ̣ are so with the sword
e brave Ìlòḳ ó ̣ that we know never hesitates to assault with the sword Aláwop̣ álà, why can’t you assault with your sword?
By the way, when did you kill the person you swore to kill?
Don’t kill him/her in secret, you should instead kill him/her in public
Shame on you that you have not ful lled your promise!
As this above calling into action praise chant (oríkì) that was being drummed with ìyáàlù (dùndún) intensi ed, all the bystanders/spectators started to run away from the egúngún for fear of the imminent unpleasant reaction by Aláwop̣ álà, to the language of the drum, as seen above. But there was someone by the name Aaron Òbísèṣ an, himself a former egúngún devotee before he converted to Christianity and who therefore knew the egúngún cult’s secrets, who remained unmoved. He stood in a confrontational stance in front of the egúngún (Aláwop̣ álà). Within a second, both had started to engage in a ght-tonish scenario that claimed the life of Mr. Aaron Òbísèṣ an. is led to a big street ght that ensued between the adherents of egúngún on one side, and the Christian converts on the other side. It took the effort of the district o cer at Ondo (Òkèigbó was at that time part of Ondo Province) to restore peace between the Christians and the followers of Egúngún and other forms of traditional religion in the community.14

Since then, a number of precautionary measures have been put in place, and they have proven successful many times. Among them is the designation of someone among the members of each of the egúngún lineages to serve as their family’s egúngún bodygaurd (atóḳ ùn egúngún), who follows the egúngún everywhere. In particular, every warrior egúngún (egúngún ológun)–– such as Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà, Akíngbadé, and Aróḅ atè–̣ –is obliged to have an atóḳ ùn egúngún. It is the responsibility of that atóḳ ùn egúngún to make sure the egúngún doesn’t have access to any dangerous emblems, such as weapons, belonging to that egúngún whenever being incited by the language (or surrogated speech-message) of the talking drum. An example excerpted from theearliercitedonewas“Aláwop̣álà,whycan’tyouassaultwithyoursword? By the way, when did you kill the person you swore to kill?” (Aláwop̣ álà, oò kòṇ̀ kòṭì sa? Eṇ i o pé oó pa, ìgbàwo lo pá?) For that reason, all the weapons owned by an individual egúngún ológun are kept only for display in the hands of the atóḳ ùn egúngún. Similarly, to be an atóḳ ùn egúngún required that one be very skillful when it comes to understanding and deciphering/decoding the language of the drum. So, for instance, when the talking drum says “whack or assault him/her with a weapon if he/she refuses to run away from you” (Ta làbìlàbì jo, b’óbá kò,̣ b’óbá kò ̣ tì kò sá, ta làbìlàbì jo), the atóḳ ùn egúngún will handle the egúngún with an àtòrì, instead of an assault weapon like a machete or a sword.

Figure 37a: Èk̩ ú-Agò̩ Egúngún Abídogun
Figure 37b: Egúngún Abídogun

Another precautionary measure that I found intriguing concerns Egúngún Abídogun. Bàbá Israel Olóyèdé (aka Folly), the wearer of the shroud-costumer (àwòrò-arèḳ ù) of Egúngún Abídogun did inform me that in the olden days, there had been no time that Egúngún Abídogun had not beheaded at least someone whenever he appeared in public every other year. at perpetual unpleasant scenario had led the family (of Egúngún Abídogun) to take drastic precautionary measures, and they redesigned the èḳ ú/agò ̣ of Egúngún Abídogun without the hand sleeves. us, now without the hand sleeves, Egúngún Abídogun was unable to handle anything, not even an àtòrì––and certainly not a sword or machete––during the egúngún’s public appearance every other year. It is said that the human skull, which today adorns the headdress of Egúngún Abídogun, belonged to the last victim that he beheaded before the hand sleeves of his èḳ ú/agò ̣ were detached as a precautionary measure.

The nal precautionary measure discussed in this study is that today (in which no one is above the law), the àyàn too are now legally (and morally) obligated to keep warning their clients (the egúngún) of the imminent danger as well as the consequences (in terms of a heavy punishment), should any egúngún carry out or put to action that which the drum’s language-speech (or message) has instructed. Such warning language that the drummers get across with their talking drumbeats to their egúngún clients includes the following:

B’óbá burú tán
Ìwo ̣ nìkan ní ó kù B ’ ó ṛ à n b á d é ’ l è ̣ t á n Ìwo ̣ nìkan ní ó kù
If you act foolishly and things get nasty a erwards
You are the only one that would face the full wrath of the law If things get ugly and become catastrophic
You are the only one who will face the full wrath of the law
Study Re ections

As has been elucidated in this study, African art, speci cally among the Yorùbá, and as Rowland Abiodun’s body of scholarly works have proved, is an oríkì that exists both in visual and verbal forms. is study has also added “performance,” speci cally the language of ìlù along with the egúngún performance actions, as the third form of Yorùbá art as oríkì. Consequently, the study has established that a critical study and understanding of Yorùbá art, in addition to its “appreciation,” requires the mastery of Yorùbá, the language of the people who gave the art its form and content. The study has suggested, as is also well put and illustrated in Rowland Abiodun’s groundbreaking 2014 work, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art, that Yorùbá art is oríkì, whose history, meaning, and cultural relevance are subsumed primarily in its verbal form. Hence the need for a command or near-mastery of the Yorùbá language at the levels of speaking, writing, and reading for any meticulous study and/or better knowledge of the art. Finally, the study has also established the relationship existing between the àyàn and egúngún, a form of ìwà that exists in the èḥ ìn-ìwà, and can always manifest in physical form through a religious device called Oḍ ún Egúngún, which is fundamental to the understanding of the art and ritual of egúngún.

Works Cited

Abiodun, Rowland. 2014. Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Asabioje, Afenapa (And Her Traditional Ifa/Orisạ Bata Musical Band). 2007. Album “Isese Lagba” (Tradition and Culture Is the Best). Duration: 54:42 minutes (the “Ogboni” track is 7:01 minutes).
Babajide, Olu L. 2005. Okeigbo: A Melting Pot of Notable Towns. Ile-Ife: S. O. Popoola Printers.
Bascom, William. 1952. Drums of the Yoruba of Nigeria. New York: Folkways Records & Service Corp.
Beier, Ulli. 1964. “The Agbegijo Masquerades,” Nigeria Magazine (82): 191–192.
Bascom, William. 1969. Ifa Divination: Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Daramola, Olu ati A. Jeje. 1967. Awon Asa ati Orisa Ile Yoruba. Ibadan: Onibon-Oje Press.
Drewal, Margaret ompson. 1997. “Dancing for Ogun in Yorubaland and in Brazil,” 199–234. In Africa’s Ogun: Old World and New (Second Expanded Edition), Edited by Sandra T. Barnes. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
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Famule, Olawole F. 2003. TheGBE OGBONI: e Yoruba Council of Elders, It’s Origins and Artistic Relevance. Master’s thesis. The University of Arizona, Tucson Arizona.
Famule, Olawole F. 2005. Art and Spirituality: e Ijumu Northeastern-Yoruba Egungun. Ph.D. dissertation, the University of Arizona. UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Famule, Olawole. 2017. “Masks, Masque, and Masquerades,” 389–406. In Culture and Customs of the Yoruba. Thedited by Toyin Falola and Akintunde Akinyemi. Austin, TX: Pan-African University Press.
Heyden, Marsha V. 1977. “ e Epa Mask and Ceremony,” African Arts X(2): 14–21.
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Ojo, J.R.O. 1973. “Ogboni Drums,” African Arts 6(3): 50–52.
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Culture,” e Journal of Pan African Studies 3(5): 29–49.
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147–187. New York: Center for African Art and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Trigger, Bruce G. 2003. Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative
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lantic Perspectives on the Wood at Talks. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Stephen Fọlárànmí
Ọbáfémi AwólỌ̀wọ̀ University, Nigeria
Babásẹhìndè Adémúlẹyá
Ọbáfémi AwólỌ̀wọ̀ University, Nigeria


The Yorùbá courtyard is an important architectural space in traditional Yorùbá architecture that has not received adequate scholarly attention. This paper examines the courtyards in the palace of certain chiefs and Ọwá Obòkun in Iléṣà, in southwest Nigeria. Fieldwork identified about ten courtyards in the palace of the Ọwá, four in the Rísàwè palace, and two in the palaces of the Léjọkà and Ọdọlé of Iléṣà. It uses these courtyards as models for courtyards in Yorùbá architecture. The study revealed that most of the courtyards in the Ọwá’s palace are generally not used for one specific function, though some are used mainly for religious purposes. The courtyards in the palaces of the chiefs are more functional, and better maintained than those of the Ọwá’s palace. The paper concludes that—considering their ancient and social function—the courtyards form a melting point within Yorùbá architecture. It suggests that efforts be made to ensure that the existing courtyards in these palaces are designated as landmark architecture and properly cared for to serve as tourist attractions.


This study focuses on the courtyards of Yorùbá palaces, using Iléṣà—a large town about twenty-five kilometers south of Ilé-Ifẹ—as an example. Previous studies on Yorùbá courtyards, especially by Ojo (1966) and Dmochowski (1990), have described and discussed the courtyards with respect to their structure and importance in Yorùbá architecture. Specific study of the courtyards in the palaces of the selected chiefs in Iléṣà by Umoru-Oke (2010) provided a better understanding of these spaces, shedding light on the functions of these important spaces in Yorùbá architecture. However, she limited her study to the certain chiefs, which left a gap with respect to study of the palace of the Ọwá of Obòkun, believed to be the oldest of the palaces in Ìjèsàland. The royal palaces of the Yorùbá are the most important and dominant landscape elements of traditional settlements, being the largest residential units and the focal and nodal centers. Everything revolves around the king (ọba), (or chiefs) who live in them.1 The outstanding architectural quality of these palaces reflects the political, social, and religious values attached to the traditional rulers. (Falade 1990). Building elaborate palaces for the ọba was a tradition transferred from Ilé-Ifẹ, the traditional home of the Yorùbá to other towns, the most accomplished ones like that of Old Ọỳ ọ́ became the set pattern for the later ones (Falade, 1990). For example, the first palace at Iléṣà was said to have been laid out on Old Ọỳ ọ́ palace model with the help of one of the princes sent from Old Ọỳ ọ2 The design and construction of porches is also traced back to Old Ọ̀yọ́ where Òlúàso, an Aláàfin constructed about 120 kọbì porches which later became the imposing porch entrances in all Yorùbá Palaces (Johnson 1976; Denyer 1978). Aside from the palace gardens, carved posts supporting the roof, and other decorative elements and works of art, the courtyard is central to the construction and social activities of the palaces. Generally, the courtyard is a common characteristic of traditional Yorùbá architecture.

Figure 1

The Yorùbá are known to be city dwellers, the makeup of their houses points to the fact that for thousands of years they have occupied large towns which are also different from their farm settlements (abà). The tropical region and partly rain forest savannah in which they are located is also highly suitable for various forms of agricultural practice and development, thus they cultivate food crops like maize, yam, cassava, beans, and vegetable materials, as well as tree crops like cocoa, palm trees, cola nuts, cashew, just to name a few. As a result, they are able to construct more permanent structures, both for private or public use, and also for religious purposes. The Yorùbá population— either for reasons of self-defense or sheer gregariousness or both—is predominantly urban (Peel 2002).

A typical Yorùbá village consists of a number of family compounds, along with structures that serve the larger community. Each family compound may have separate structures for cooking, eating, sleeping, storing food (a granary), and protecting animals at night. Structures may be round, rectangular, or semi-circular. Communal structures—used for holding meetings and teaching children—are located in prominent places within the village. Their houses are thus designed according to this pattern, as the compound is the focus of family life.3 The structure of the Yorùbá house is designed and built according to their social background. Apart from the living quarters within a compound, other forms of architecture—like the palace and shrines—are designed and built mindful of the social order. In particular, the palace is built in such a way as to accommodate the entire community. It is a symbol of wealth, affluence, beliefs, and cultural property. These palaces consist of a series of courtyards, with each courtyard flanked by four rectangular units. Yorùbá palaces usually stand against a background forest reserved for the king’s outdoor activities.

Yorùbá Courtyards

The courtyard in Yorùbá traditional architecture is central to the building in many aspects; of particular interest and significance are the courtyards in the palaces of kings and chiefs. From Ilé-Ifẹ to Ọỳ ọ,́ Ọẁ ọ,̀ Àkúrẹ, Abẹòkúta, and Iléṣà, the tradition is much the same with little variation with respect to size or decoration. Courtyards are also called local names in different locations. In Iléṣà they are known as àkòdì, káà in Ọỳ ọ,́ ọwá in Ọẁ ọ,̀ and so on. Many of these palaces—though a shadow of their old selves—still have some of the courtyards intact, with some palaces having as many as twenty to thirty- five courtyards. The palace at Ọ̀wọ̀ stands today as the largest palace with the highest number of courtyards and forest background; this would only have been dwarfed by the palace at Old Ọỳ ọ,́ which was recorded to have up to one hundred courtyards. The construction of so many courtyards is a testimony to their importance and relevance to the Yorùbá style of architecture, which is interwoven with Yorùbá cultural practices.

The courtyard is an important architectural space that expresses joint or communal usage. Even though it is a single enclosed place that may be bordered by the rooms of a particular individual family unit, it is still considered a space to be enjoyed and used by other members of the extended family. Unlike in single houses, two types of functional spaces are defined in the Yorùbá style of architecture: the bedroom for sleeping, and the courtyard space for individual and group activities. Among the Yorùbá and Bini—who live in urban conglomerations—the courtyard is a rectilinear space where leisure, work, food preparation and eating, serious conversation, and any other form of social activity could take place simultaneously.4 In some places the courtyard also provides a space for religious worship. Examples of this can be found in various palaces of the high chiefs and the palaces of Ọwá Obòkun in Iléṣà (see figure 2), Ọỳ ọ,́ Ọẁ ọ,̀ and Ilé-Ifẹ.

Within the courtyard is the impluvium, which were originally water gardens in the courtyards of the Yorùbá and Benin compounds. The best are preserved in the palaces of the kings, and in the compounds of the chiefs (Falade 1990). Mud bricks formed the outer walls of each unit, and an extended roof shaded a veranda on the courtyard side. It is usually a small area in the center of the compound purposely created to collect rainwater. Hence, it is sometimes referred to as the rain courtyard. The palace of ỌlỌ̀wọ̀ in Ọ̀wọ̀ had as many as one hundred courtyards, many of which are now gone, or that have been converted to another use. Each courtyard had a specific function, and was dedicated to a particular deity. The largest, said to have been twice the size of an American football field, was used for public assemblies and festivals. In the Ọ̀yọ́ palace, the Aganjù courtyard covers an expansive space of about three acres, and also serve many functions from religious to secular purposes. The àngó and Òrìṣà Funfun shrine are located in the Aganjù courtyard (Ojo 1967, 1968).

Palace Courtyards in Iléṣà

According to (Johnson 1976), the Iléṣà palace is relatively large and situated at the center of the town (as is the case in many Yorùbá settlements), and the palace is set within its rectangular fifty-one acre ground, and is surrounded by a high mud-brick wall that towers above all the buildings in the town.5 Within the palace wall resides the judicial and political center of the kingdom, a place for royal ancestors, and the most potent shrines of the gods. Artistic representations abound in the palace: pillar posts in the form of equestrian figures, kneeling figures, some genre in relief panels (figures 3a and 3b), and most importantly the subject of the paper, the courtyards. All of these are featured in the architecture of most Yorùbá traditional palaces.
When the Ọwá walks (or rides) majestically into the òkè-ẹmẹsẹ courtyard amidst singing, dancing, drumming, and chants of oríkì by the courtiers, his subject and the people welcome him by shouting kááábíèsí… He is adorned in his full ceremonial regalia of flowing agbádá6 made of aṣo ẹtù,7 and a mixture of other similarly expensive fabric, embroidered on both his front and back. Strings of beads hang on his neck (and some on his wrists), and his shoes are made of the same fabric as the agbádá. On his head is a highly colored, fringed beaded crown towering at about fifty centimeters. He takes his position on the exalted throne of his forefathers elevated above the congregation, with a good view of his people, who have come to celebrate with him.

Festivals,8 such as those mentioned above, are part of the important events that make courtyards very relevant as an architectural space in Yorùbá dwellings. Most of these festivals were traditionally religious in nature, however, in recent years, there have been other ceremonies and events that have taken place in the courtyards (such as òkè-ẹmẹsẹ) and that do not have any religious inclination. It is for this reason that a look into these spaces in Iléṣà is important.

Òkè-Ẹmẹsẹ Courtyard

Òkè-ẹmẹsẹ,̀ the largest courtyard in the Ọwá’s palace is said to be the traditional town hall of Ìjèàland, where the ọwá addresses the entire kingdom, it is a place where great and important ceremonies and installation of chieftaincy titles as mentioned earlier takes place. Findings show that only seven of the several carved pillar post (figure 3a and b) still remain intact. These posts were said to have been carved by members of the Osunmiri family at Arárọmí quarters of Iléṣà. The courtyard consists of specific doors for religious and royal usages. There are also alcoves that are dedicated to some deities and a specific raised walkway reserved for the Déjì9 of Àkúrẹ, who is said to be a grandson of the Ọwá10.

An important characteristic of the courtyard is the court of the ẹmẹsẹ, a section of the recesses in the courtyard dedicated for use by the ẹmẹsẹ.11 The section is most conspicuous as one enters the courtyard. Overlooking the vast expanse of space is an old gabled covered pavilion held up by five square pillars, and four openings that serve as windows (figure 4). On the inner parts of this court are 4 massive round pillars of about 6 foot high which holds the beam of the entire structure (figure 5). Here the ẹmẹsẹ carry out their daily activities of adjudicating local issues before they ever get to attending to the owá.12 Sections like these are found in most Yorùbá palaces, with Ọỳ ọ ́ and Ilé- Ifẹ palace showing more prominence and relevance in modern times.

Along the wall overlooking the main entrances into the òkè ẹmẹsẹ courtyard (see figure 3b and extreme right side of figure 5) are triangular sunken reliefs of about a foot on each side. The reliefs were said to be a form of decoration on the wall, and were about 266 in number. There is a semblance of such decoration, within the palace ground, that serves as perforated opening rather than an ordinary wall relief (figure 6). A similar formwork is also found in the palace of the Aláàfin of Ọỳ ọ́ and is said to be holes in which oil lamps (fìtílà) were placed in ancient times. Aside from this courtyard, the old palace is made of eighteen courtyards, each of a different size, name, and function. However many of these no longer exist, while the existing ones are in a state of dilapidation. Only a few of the courtyards were accessible with evidence of broken-down doors, falling roof rafters and many parts of this historical edifice in a state of awe.

Figure 3a
Figure 3b

Odi koto is probably the third largest courtyard only after the òkè-ẹmẹsẹ
and Ògún courtyards. It is flanked by four rooms, whose windows open into
an unidentified courtyard that has almost disappeared. At the center of the
courtyard is the Ògún Ilé shrine and altar. Remains of sacrifices are still seen

figure 5
Figure 6

on this altar indicating constant usage despite the signs of neglect. As they are warriors, the Ìjèṣà people are known to be devotees of Ògún, the Yorùbá patron òrìsà to all who work with iron and other metals.13

Two major doors lead into this courtyard from the inner parts of the palace. An ancient logged door of two separate panels joined together with the aid of fabricated metals measuring 192 by 134 cm. This is usually referred to as the abógundé door14 (figure 7a). The doorway measures 124 cm on the lower part and 114 cm at the upper end, the measurements clearly show variation in the width of the upper and lower levels of the doors, a reference to the traditional manner in which the traditional Yorùbá mud houses are built. The second door, measuring 117 by 210 cm (figure 7b), is obviously a modern door with metal handles and locks, inlaid with glazed ceramics. This door may have been changed from one of the old abógundé doors, revealing some of the changes the palace has witnessed over the centuries. This entrance door is significant in the courtyard because it is used only once a year when the king passes through it to sacrifice a dog on the Ògún Ilé altar. Only one window opens into this courtyard, which is protected by a wooden burglary.

Figure 7a
Figure 7b
Figure 7c

Àkòdì Ẹyínrọpò

The importance of àkòdì ẹyínrọpò (figure 8a) is revealed in the performance of oracle of the Ọwá Obòkun, the ruler of Iléṣà. It consists of a small room called ilé Ọsanyìn, a room where a new ọba passes a vigil with other attendants. Judging by a date inscribed on the cement floor, it was probably resurfaced with concrete on January 5, 1968. Ẹyínrọpò has three rooms with doors similar to those of odi koto. While two of the doors indicate that they have been changed from the old traditional doors to modern ones with an approximate size of 168 by 97 cm, the third door remains intact after hundreds of years (figure 8b). The two windows that open into the courtyard are 76 by 76 cm, and 86 by 78 cm, respectively, while the roof height from the floor is about 152 cm.

Figure 8a
Figure 8b

Òde Odù

This courtyard (figure 9a) provides an in-house court for the occupants of the palace. For this reason, a raised platform cast in concrete served as a seat for the Ọwá when he passed judgment on any matter. A sword, similar to the Bini or Ọ̀wọ̀ royal sword (figure 9b), which is specifically used for oath-taking, is usually left on the platform a sword. The cases that eventually come to the Ọwá are those that may not have been resolved in the ẹmẹsẹ courtyard.

Figure 9a
Figure 9b

Àkòdì Òde Yanrìn.

The Òde Yanrìn courtyard serves as a meeting place in the inner parts of
the palace for the ẹmẹsẹ. Here they sit to discuss private issues of the palace,
and other matters especially during leisure. It consists of an alcove and
a small room where three royal beaded staves belonging to the ọwá are kept
(figure 10).

Òde Ajóbíijó

The courtyard next to the òde-yanrìn courtyard is the ajóbíijó (figure 11), which is easily accessed through a door overlooking the òde-yanrìn courtyard. The floor is paved with concrete and without carved pillar posts. Wooden planks support the lean-to roof structure at the four angles of the roof where the roof groin empties rainwater into the impluvium. This courtyard is also similar in size to the ode-odù courtyard. One interesting and significant characteristic of the roof structure is how it shields the courtyard from the sun, while still allowing for sufficient light and fresh air to enter.

Figure 10
Figure 11

From ajóbíijó courtyard to òde-lèrè courtyard one notices the difference in sizes of the courtyards as you move deep into the palace complex in that they are smaller. This is probably due to the private use of many of the inner courtyards, with the exception of another courtyard probably dedicated to Ògún. As with the other small courtyards within the palace, the embankment to the impluvium rises to a height of about 100 cm in the form of a concrete wall that controls the spilling of rainwater into the veranda and the rooms.
What distinguishes òde-lèrè from the previous courtyard is the position of its main door, which opens into another courtyard. Rather than following the placement to the right, this large two-paneled door is situated on the left side of the courtyard and leads to another large courtyard, perhaps dedicated to Ògún.

The courtyard of Ògún (figure 12a) has perhaps the largest concrete floor surface after òkè-ẹmẹsẹ and also presents a more modern approach in the structure of the courtyard, as expressed in the wooden extensions from the edge of the roof to the walls encasing the large impluvium. These were to serve as a screen-probably during the religious function in the courtyard. To the left of the courtyard is a barricaded window covered with palm fronds and iron implements which are symbolic of Ògún. Along the veranda to the left of the courtyard is an elevated platform forming another altar to Ògún. The altar (figure 12b) has on it an assemblage of adze, cutlass, a metal drill, and the sacrificial remains of a decayed animal skin and skull. To the right of the altar is another concrete platform similar to the one at Òde Odù. Central to this courtyard is a small shed covered with corrugated iron roof. Under it are seven neatly arranged metal gongs. There are two varieties of the gongs, themselves dedicated to two different deities, Ògún or Ọrúnmìlà. They may also double as an ensemble of musical display during Ògún festival and worship.

Figure 12a
Figure 12b

Other courtyards (which have not been identified by name) are in very bad condition and are characterized by dilapidated roofs and walls (figures 13, 14 and 15). None of these were paved with concrete, as such they are filled with overgrown weeds and shrubs, due to lack of use. There is evidence of the removal of the carved pillar posts, which have been replaced by crudely molded cylindrical mud pillars. The embankment of the impluvium, measuring about twelve inches, is made of mud. Among these is another very significant (but highly dilapidated) courtyard with an altar in the middle of the impluvium. This small circular concrete altar (see figure 2) is composed of what appears to be an upturned wooden mortar covered with leather and cowry shells.
As previously mentioned, there is a large courtyard next to odi koto that has totally disappeared and is sufficiently overgrown with weeds and large shrubs. However, there remains a collapsed roof over a veranda, forming an alcove into the courtyard. Worthy of note here is a screen wall similar in form to the triangular sunken relief of òkè-ẹmẹsẹ. This façade has a rather large doorway into the alcove that is elevated through a few flights of stairs into the courtyard. Judging by the size of this dilapidated courtyard, the alcove may have served as a platform for the ọba, probably during important occasions and events in the courtyard. The screen walls are constructed on both sides of the alcove using triangular mud bricks arranged alternately over

Figure 13
Figure 14
Figure 15

one another, creating space for ventilation and the stream of sunlight into the covered space. This type and style of screen wall (see figure 6) is very similar in form and construction of screen walls to the cloisters found in the Ọ̀yọ́ palace. The elaborate nature of the palace of the Ọwá and the high number of courtyards show their cultural, social, and artistic nature. The large sizes of the courtyards and the shrines found in them also points to their importance in the religious functions some of them perform in Yorùbá indigenous architecture. It is such importance and functional capabilities that were transferred to the palaces of other Ìjèsà chiefs.

Courtyards of Chiefs Palaces in Iléṣà

In ancient times, the houses of chiefs (baálẹ and ile ọlọjà) were not referred to as palaces (ààfin). However, the houses of high chiefs in Iléṣà are also referred to as palaces; they are in fact fashioned after the palace of the Ọwá, although smaller in scale. Most of them have entrance porches, burial chambers, shrines, altars to family deities, and–most importantly–courtyards. In this study, the palaces of the Rísàwè,15 Léjọkà, and Òdọlé have been considered because of their importance, relevance, and physical condition (at the time fieldwork was conducted). In addition, in Ìjèsàland, the political structure accords special status to ten important high chiefs, as such they are allowed to have palaces.16

Palace of the Rísàwè

Rísàwè is a hereditary title that designates the title holder as the traditional historian and custodian traditions of Ìjèsà people. The Rísàwè is one of the thirteen leading titleholders of Ìjèsàland, ten of whom live in and have their palaces in Iléṣà. The Rísàwè’s palace, the second largest palace17 in Iléṣà, is located on “A2 Isida” quarters overlooking the palace of the Ọwá, with the central market and a major road serving as major demarcation between them. It must be noted that most of the palaces of the high chiefs are not too far from the palace of the Ọwá; this is also the case in Ọỳ ọ,́ Ilé-Ifẹ, and many other Yorùbá towns. The front façade (figure 16) of the palace of the Rísàwè palace stretches about fifty meters, with an entrance porch overlooking the main road. The extension to the right of the palace is a building which doubles
as burial chamber for past Rísàwè, as well as an altar for the first three Ọwá of Iléṣà (figure 17).

Courtyards are used particularly by those who reside within the palace. While some courtyards serve social functions, others are utilized for both religious and social functions. The main entrance leads into òde ìsì, the largest and first of the four courtyards of the palace of the Rísàwè.

Òde ìsì Courtyard

The first of the courtyards in the palace of the Rísàwè is òde ìsì, (figure 18)
which also doubled as the reception hall. At the center is an impluvium, which
is characteristic of all Yorùbá courtyards and is specifically designed to collect
water for the usage of the occupants, and to control erosion. The beautifully
painted walls of this courtyard show a modern influence and a steep lean-to
roof runs down to the rectangular impluvium. One important function of
courtyards is their structural relevance in allowing ventilation and sunlight
into the inner parts of the palace. They are also the reception space for visitors
into the palace, and they double as places where family disputes are settled.

Figure 16
Figure 17

Òde Ìgbẹ́jọ́

Literally meaning “a place where cases are adjudicated”, the òde Ìgbẹ́jọ́ is where the Rísàwè considers matters that may not have been resolved in the òde ìsì. These matters are not only restricted to local family matters of the palace, but also include issues from districts where the Rísàwè is a lord. A permanent mud seat (now concrete) was created for this purpose. This is also similar to

Figure 18

a concrete seat in the òde odù courtyards of the palace of the Ọwá (see also figures 9a and b). The structure in òde Ìgbẹ́jọ́ is slightly different than that of òde ìsì. Here, the embankment at the center of the courtyard is circular and its concrete formwork is taller. This courtyard is central to the political office and status of the Rísàwè (figure 19a). The next two courtyards have both utilitarian and spiritual functions that are germane to the existence of the office of the Rísàwè. One important part of the palace that must be mentioned is ọnà idì, though not a courtyard. This is rather a passage that leads to the residence of the Rísàwè, access to which is denied for its ritual and spiritual significance. The entrance into the passage leads into the òde ìgbẹjọ, an entrance that is only used by the Rísàwè once, during his installation. He will only pass through it again at his demise (figure 19b). Therefore in order to prevent any event that will accidentally make him pass through the place, the passage is usually barricaded.

Figure 19a
figure 19b

Àkòdì Obìnrin

This narrow and long courtyard, like all the other courtyards, is devoid of a carved post, and has a raised mud wall measuring one meter (surfaced with cement) to prevent spillage of water onto the rooms (figure 20a). As the innermost courtyard, it is restricted and specifically used by the women, wives, and daughters of the Rísàwè for cooking and other domestic chores. There are doors leading to about six rooms. Two monochromatic murals by Adisa are painted on the walls of the narrow passage. One of the murals represents one of the family masquerades (egúngún) named Gbọgọrù (figures 20b). Within the murals, there are textual inscriptions, motifs, and images that are symbolic of the egúngún, the Rísàwè, and Ifá.18 At the time of fieldwork, the egúngún19 costumes (ẹ̀kú) of Eyegba––the eldest, Lagboje, and Gbọgọrù, representing three ancestral spirits of the Rísàwè were kept in a corner within the courtyard.

One special aspect and function of this courtyard is its religious relevance, not only to the Rísàwè, but moreover to all of the Ìjèsà people. There is a secret room without a door where the Rísàwè and the owá perform certain religious rites in the dead of night. This room can only be accessed (and only to perform this ritual) through a small, circular hole in the outer wall of the courtyard. All the members of the family of the Rísàwè are forbidden from looking into this hole.

Figure 20a
Figure 20b

Òde Àjànpàtì

The last of the courtyards lies between the ode ìgbẹjọ and òde obìnrin courtyards, and is also a relatively restricted one judging by the role it plays as an abode of the ancestors. The restrictions extend to all young women, especially those who have not gone past child bearing. It is a taboo with serious repercussions if violated, as any woman who enters the space will be barren for life. However, old women who have passed the age of menopause are allowed inside in order to perform certain ritual activities. What cannot be determined is whether the courtyard was created for the sole function as a burial place. It is also called ilé nlá (big house), an appellation that belies the physical size of the courtyard. It nonetheless reflects the significance that the space is accorded. The tradition of burying the forebears in courtyards, rooms, or parts of the compound is also seen in the palaces of the Léjọkà, and Ọdọle of Ìjèsàland. The appearances of the Rísàwè’s courtyards undoubtedly confer on them the most kept of all the “palaces” in Iléṣà. Neatly swept and in reasonable good condition. One reason why this is so, according to the Rísàwè,20 is that “every Rísàwè has lived in the palace with their family and relatives since the construction of the palace over seven centuries ago.” That points to the reason why the palace is still in relatively good condition, compared with the palace of the Ọwá, or that of the Ọdọlé palaces. The roof structures are much the same as those of traditional Yorùbá architecture. The traditional use of thatched roofs has given way to modern corrugated sheets. Remnants of the old wooden structure of coconut and palm tree logs are still evident. There presently exist no single pillar posts in any of the courtyards, and the carved doors that may have been in place several decades ago have disappeared.

The Léjọkà Courtyards

The Léjọkà––the warrior and the traditional head of warriors of the Ìjèsà people––also has his own palace, which is fairly distant from the palace of the Ọwá. The reason is not be so farfetched if one considers the distant abode of the generalissimo (Ààrẹ Ọnà Kakanfò) of the Yorùbá people. It is usually the tradition among the Yorùbá for the abode of the military leader to be very far from the palace of the king, and in some cases these residences were even situated in different towns altogether. This palace seems to be the smallest of all the palaces in Iléṣà. It has only one courtyard still in pretty good condition. An entrance porch, traditional to Yorùbá palaces, leads into the main (and only) courtyard (figure 21). It is flanked on three sides with rooms and alcoves, and has a small impluvium in the middle. Perhaps the only major function of the courtyard is a space for the worship of Ògún. One side of the wall is condoned off as an altar for Ògún (figure 22), who is the patron deity (òrìṣà) of the Ìjèsà people. Also among the devotees of Ògún are warriors, hunters, blacksmiths, and all those work with and fashion metal implements.

Unlike the Rísàwè, the Léjọkà does not live in this palace, which confirms the earlier mentioned tradition among the Yorùbá. The courtyards are thus limited to being spaces for the worship of Ògún and passages into the other parts of the palace, where another residential building and a burial chamber has been added.

Figure 21


Figure 22

The Palace of the Òdọlé of Iléṣà

The palace of the Òdọlé is the most dilapidated palace examined. There are only two sections of the palace that remain intact.21 These are the main entrance porch––which differentiates it from other surrounding buildings (figure 23), and the burial chamber, where the remains of past Òdọlé have

Figure 23
Figure 24

been buried. The entrance is still intact, perhaps because of the trading and shops along the walls. There are about six tombs in the enclosed chamber that feature various inscriptions and epitaphs (figure 24). Unlike the palace of the Léjọkà (as the Léjọkà does not have a hereditary title), the palace of the Òdọlé––who indeed possesses one of the hereditary titles in Iléṣà––has been left to crumble without any attention. It was certain that the sitting Òdọlé has not had any physical interaction with this residence for a long time, and may not do so until his death. It is evident that some of the traditional chiefs in recent times no longer consider the palaces suitable to their modern needs and tastes, hence the regrettable neglect of these historical buildings.
Judging by the present use of the accessible parts of these palaces, there is no doubt that––despite the overgrown weeds and lawns, the disappearance of sections, and dilapidated structures––they were, and in some cases still remain, gathering places in which occupants of rooms met for either social or religious activities. They also served as covers and links to the various rooms, verandas, and alcoves. Even when access to rooms and recesses is restricted to religious functions, the courtyard is still a general place for all. The courtyards also provide the occupants of the palace such natural elements as rainwater and the sunlight during the day. The moon at night presents the opportunity to tell tales and ààlọ with fresh air entering through the open-roof structure. It is thus also a meeting point of these natural gifts from Olódùmarè.


The construction and function of the courtyard in Yorùbá palaces are a constant reminder of the Yorùbá belief in the family compound system, which in itself is a form of security. Bourdier and Minh-ha further stressed the importance of family life among Africans, as expressed in these courtyards, by noting that, “the spatial configuration of a compound reinforces the all-inclusive character of the family.”<sup22 The compound here is seen as a manifestation of the family in its concrete form. This is seen in the joining of fences and walls and, which represents the joining of the households of several brothers, as well as of other immediate relatives and dependents. Thus, to be rich is to have a compound that continues to expand.

This is very true in the case of indigenous Yorùbá dwellings and environment, where houses are built to support social and religious life. This ensures the general well-being of children, family members, and all of their existence. The architecture of a people can thus be described as one of the artistic outward presentations of their belief system, sociology, and creative life. The courtyard gives the opportunity for a blend of function, and decorative and religious elements, all within one enclosure. This paper therefore suggests, considering the modern trends in architecture among the Yorùbá where the courtyards almost has no place, that public and government architecture could borrow from these designs by introducing similar courtyards into modern designs, so as to keep the ancient aesthetic and its many social benefits alive.
Furthermore, emphasis should be placed on proper preservation and documentation of these cultural properties. There is therefore a need to constantly remind the necessary agencies about the urgent work that is needed not only in the palaces of Iléṣà, but also in many Yorùbá palaces.

Perhaps palaces in Iléṣà and many Yorùbá palaces can benefit from the experience of a work of restoration and preservation by the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), which grew out of a belief in the critical importance of the bas-reliefs as a visual record of Fon culture.23 The work attracted international conservationists, who worked to rebuild palaces and replace copies of the bas-reliefs to the rebuilt palace, for the sole purpose of preserving history and promoting cultural tourism. This could be a step at stemming the tide of neglect and dilapidation that can be witnessed in the palaces of Iléṣà, and in many other historic Yorùbá sites.


The authors wish to acknowledge the permission and support received from the Ọwá Obòkun of Ìjèsàland, Ọba Adékúnlé Aromolaran. This paved way for access to most of the palaces and other locations in Iléṣà during the 2007 fieldwork. We also acknowledge the support of the ẹmẹsẹ in the palace, the chiefs and other informants in Iléṣà, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and SARChI Arts of Africa Research Team Rhodes University, South Africa.

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Foot Notes

1 See (Johnson 1976; Denyer 1978).
2 See (Fadipe 1970).
3 See (Osasona 2006).
4 See (Imokhuede 1991)
5 This cannot be said to be true today as there are many buildings, like churches and mosques, overshadowing the palace and its walls.
6 Agbádá is an elaborate flowing gown that is most popular everyday wear for Yorùbá men (at least in the nineteenth century) and is also common in many parts of Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria.
7 Asọ ẹtù is one of the most important Yorùbá woven fabrics, sewn into elaborate dress such as agbádá and dashiki. It is usually of very dark indigo blue. See (Oyeniyi 2012, p.77) and (Lyndersay 2011).
8 The event was the great annual festival of the Ìwúde Ògún.
9 Déjì is the title by which the king of Àkúrẹ is addressed, titles such as this are commonly used by all Yorùbá ọba.
10 Personal communication with the Rísàwè of Iléṣà, the traditional historian of Ìjèsàland. May, 2007.
11 The ẹmẹsẹ are the royal attendants, a form of higher ranked slaves who are constantly at the service of the Ọwá.
12 Personal communication with Pa Olanipekun Olowoyeye (69), Pa Oyeniran Laotun (72) and Pa Samuel Okere (81) at the court of the ẹmẹsẹ, Iléṣà palace, February and July, 2007.
13 See Idowu (1962).
14 Abógundé is the name of the Yorùbá lineage of the family responsible for the origin and creation of these ancient doors.
15 These are names or titles by which these chiefs are often called rather than their real names.
16 See Peel (1980), and Peel (2002).
17 Personal communication with sitting Rísàwè, 28 February, 2007.
18 On the upper left corner of the painting are markings which seems to represent one of the odù Ifá, however, the markings are yet to be understood. This may be the subject of another inquiry.
19 Masquerades are referred to as egúngún by the Yoruba, see (Aremu 1991) and (Kalilu 1991).
20 Personal communication with sitting Rísàwè, Chief Adefioye Adedeji, February 28, 2007.
21 Intact in this case does not in any way signify that the spaces are in good condition, they are not dilapidated, however, they have not also been properly maintained. If no attempt is made at restoring them, in a matter of years they will also totally fall into a state of disrepair like other parts of this palace.
22 See (Bourdier and Minh-ha 1996).
23 See (Pique and Rainer 1999).

Soladoye S. Asa
Department of Demography and Social Statistics,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
solaasa2000@yahoo.com; sasa@oauife.edu.ng
Matthew O. Ilori
African Institute for Science Policy and Innovation,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Lawrence A. Akinyoola
Department of Surgery and Orthopaedic,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria


This study covers three purposively chosen states; Ogun, Ondo, and Oyo, in southwestern Nigeria. Primary data were collected using three sets of questionnaires. The respondent-driven sampling (RDS) technique was employed in selecting the respondents for the study. A total of 69 traditional bonesetters (TBS), 130 TBS patients, and 15 orthopedic surgeons were interviewed. The study reveals that majority (91.2%) of the TBS in the study area claimed that they had received an average of 11 patients from orthodox hospitals in the year preceding the survey while about 9.0% of the respondents reported that they had on the average advised 6 patients per year to relocate to orthodox hospitals. The study also reveals the views of TBS areas of need from government to include recognition (93.7%) and integration into the country’s health system (63.5%). A majority (93.3%) of the orthopedic surgeons reported having received patients from TBS, and each surgeon had received, on average, 37 patients per year. All the orthopedic surgeons surveyed believed that TBS lacked knowledge in the management of bone injuries, apart from setting bones. Other issues considered critical by the doctors in the management of fractures by TBS included lack of training in the biology of bones (86.7%) and inability to refer cases to modern health facilities (73.3%). The proportion of orthopedic surgeons who had ever thought of a possible interaction between TBS and orthopedic surgeons was 80.0% while 86.7% would advise the establishment of such interaction. Furthermore, the study reveals that more than half (54.6%) of TBS patients made a TBS clinic their first choice for treatment. The paper concludes that integration will go a long way to improving the health of the population, thereby significantly reducing deaths or disability- adjusted life years (DALYs) lost.


The word orthopedics, which was coined in 1741 by Nicholas Andry, was derived from Greek words “orthos” for “correct” or “straight” and “paidon” for “child” (Ponseti 1991). This was developed from the knowledge of the process of traditional bone setting where a splint made of bamboo is tied round the particular limb in order to immobilize the fractured limb. The term “integration” in this essay means the incorporation of the knowledge of traditional medicine into modern healthcare and ensuring that it meets modern safety and efficacy standards (Shetty, 2010). The need for integration is also borne out by the fact that modern medicine is desperately short of new treatments due to the number of years it takes for a new drug to get through the research and development pipeline to manufacture, and also the growing resistance of illnesses to existing drugs (Shetty 2010).

Conventional practitioners’ arguments that traditional medicine is laden with problems of imprecise dosage, poor diagnosis, charlatanism, exaggerated claims of abilities, and inadequate knowledge of anatomy, hygiene, and disease transmission have created mistrust between the practitioners of traditional medicine and modern medicine (Hillenbrand 2006). Sofowora (1996, in Hillenbrand 2006) and Richter (2003) have also attributed resistance to integration of traditional medicine by the conventional medicine practitioners to primary philosophical distinctions. Conventional medicine is based on the results of experiments and views about illnesses as the result of how the pathological agents respond to various treatments, while traditional medicine accepts that disease can have supernatural causes.

Literature Review

The process of integrating traditional medicine into modern medicine is gradually gaining ground globally. According to a United Nations report, from 1970 to 2007 the number of National Institutes for Traditional Medicines increased from 12 to 62 (UN 2009). In Africa, initiatives such as the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics and Innovation are encouraging the mining of traditional medicine. Ghana and Nigeria are among African countries rolling out educational campaigns and launching anti-counterfeiting technologies to better monitor drug procurement (Shetty 2010). Shetty (2010) concluded that traditional medicine has much to offer global health. Hillenbrand (2006) opined that the fact that patients use conventional and traditional healthcare simultaneously calls for an improved dialogue between practitioners of both medicines in Cameroon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) presented the aims of collaboration between traditional and modern medicine. The aims include: to support and integrate traditional medicine into national healthcare systems in combination with national policy and regulation for products, practices, and providers to ensure safety and quality; to ensure the use of safe, effective, and quality products and practices, based on available evidence; to acknowledge traditional medicine as part of primary healthcare; to increase access to care and preserve knowledge and resources; and to ensure patient safety by upgrading the skills and knowledge of traditional medicine providers.

Puckree et al. (2002), in a study in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, reported that 70% of 300 patients surveyed would consult traditional healers as a first choice, while the most popular type of healers known as the Sangomas had as many as 20 patients per day. The authors also revealed that a large number of patients consulted traditional healers for potentially life-threatening conditions and hence concluded that traditional healing is an integral component of healthcare, although very little ground work has been done to integrate it into Western medicine.

Science and technology can help bring about a better understanding of the art of bonesetting. Scientific and technological equipment could be employed or used to examine the art of bonesetting processes. Folk bonesetters in China demonstrated in ancient times that people accomplished a scientific therapy that is applicable, relevant, and innovative to modern ways of thinking (Xu). Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) experts wrote over 2,000 years ago that Chinese healers had mastered a magical bonesetting therapy, called zhenggushu, through which the doctors could cure fractures with their bare hands.

Oguachuba (1986) in his comparative analysis of treatment outcomes from native and orthodox treatment of dislocation and fracture dislocation of hip joints in Jos, Nigeria suggested a careful assessment of TBS practice before advocating for interaction with an orthodox form of treatment. This was as a result of his findings, which revealed that certain types of fracture cases should not be managed by TBS. The implication of this is that there are certain types of fracture cases that can be adequately managed by TBS. A recognition and appreciation of this fact will or can lead to integration into at least the primary health care system. A workable system of integration can be put in place. Nwankwo and Katchy (2005), in a prospective study in Enugu, Nigeria, reported the need to avert unnecessary limb loss due to mismanagement of limb injury. The authors proposed not only the education of the public in general, but also the enlightenment of TBS as to which of their practices and procedures are harmful.

Ogunbodede (2000), in his preliminary exploration of the possible application of African traditional methods of bonesetting in orthodox dentistry in southwest Nigeria concluded that the use of splints by traditional bonesetters for the sole purpose of immobilization provided guided mobility of the fractured limb as opposed to fixed immobility of orthodox treatment. According to the author, and in agreement with Medicom (1979), this may significantly accelerate the healing process, as there is significant scientific evidence to suggest that mobile fractures (and even joints) heal faster than those that are completely immobilized. The author’s suggestion included the fact that a further investigation to this approach is necessary with a view to adopting it in the management of fractures should it be found to be more effective.

Ogunbodede (2000) further submitted that the early commencement of physiotherapeutic exercise as soon as a slight degree of union is achieved in traditional healing processes reduces pains. This is unlike the pains and discomfort experienced by patients who are made to postpone physiotherapeutic exercise until union has been achieved following several weeks of immobilization. This further shows the effectiveness of the use of guided immobility adopted by traditional bonesetters. The approach will also be useful in jaw fractures.

Nwachukwu et al. (2011) reported that inspite of the fact that contemporary orthopedic trauma care in Nigeria is at par with similar treatments in the United States, the majority of fracture victims initially visit traditional bonesetters before going to the hospital. The authors further reported that patients only present themselves to the hospital if and when serious complications arise. The orthodox medical practitioners’ antagonism towards and criticisms of the practice of traditional bonesetting have not diminished the high patronage of TBS in Nigeria. About 85% of Nigerian patients with fractures go first to the traditional bonesetters before coming to the hospital (Onuminya 2004; Omololu et al. 2008). These authors also revealed that the number of patients patronizing TBS as an alternative and/or final option for treatment is on the increase. This paper therefore assesses the justification for a possible integration of traditional bonesetting practices into orthodox orthopedic practices.


The study area for this paper is Southwest Nigeria, one of the six geopolitical zones (drawn up according to ethnic identity) in Nigeria and is comprised of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo States. The zone houses a major ethnic group known as the Yoruba. Other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, namely the Igbos and the Hausas, also reside here. The zone encompasses coastal lowlands with both rain and guinea savannah vegetation.
A multistage probability sampling procedure was employed for the study. Each of the states is made up three senatorial districts and each of the senatorial districts is comprised of local government areas. Three of the region’s six states were randomly selected using the ballot method. Two senatorial districts were randomly selected from each of the selected states by balloting. In each of the two senatorial districts selected, two local government areas (one urban and one rural) were purposively selected for the study.

The study employed Respondent-Driven Sampling technique (RDS), since the size and boundary for the target population is unknown (Heckathorn, 1997). RDS is a chain-referral, non-probability sampling technique which assumes that the best way to access members of a hidden population is through their peers (Heckathorn, 1997; Johnston and Sabin, 2010). RDS was basically employed in the identification of the target audience (TBS and TBS patients formerly or currently being treated by TBS). The first respondent was identified through a community leader resident in the areas. All orthopedic surgeons in public tertiary health facilities in the study area who were available and are willing to participate in the study were interviewed.

A mixed study approach was employed for this study. That is, the design included both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The quantitative approach involved the use of a structured questionnaire which contained both closed- and open-ended questions. The questionnaires were administered on the TBS, orthopedic surgeons, and TBS patients. Key in-depth interviews (KII) were employed for the qualitative approach. The KIIs were administered on the same set of respondents as for the quantitative approach. The KIIs centered mainly on the respondents’ views about possible collaboration between TBS and orthopedic surgeons. The data-collection instruments for the TBS and TBS patients were translated into the Yoruba language and interviewers were trained on the techniques of data collection. The data collection instruments for the orthopedic surgeons were self-administered.

The data instruments for the study were validated through a pre-test carried out in a local government area not selected for the study. The pre-tested instruments were examined to ensure that all variables of measurement were adequately captured, consistent, and reliable for the realization of the objectives of the study. The proposal for the study was submitted to the research and ethical committee for ethical clearance and approval. The informed consent of respondents was sought before the commencement of any of the interviews. In all, a total of 69 TBS, 130 TBS patients, and 15 orthopedic surgeons were interviewed. The quantitative data collected were analyzed using SPSS version 17. The descriptive statistical technique was employed to describe the variables of interest while content analysis was employed for the qualitative data.

Limitations of the Study

The study has some limitations, which include: (i) the challenge of sampling frame for TBS and TBS patients and hence the difficulty in determining their respective sample sizes before data collection. RDS was employed to identify the respondents; (ii) language barrier was also a challenge especially among the Hausas resident in the study area. The interviewers sought the services of an interpreter since the data collection instruments were designed in English and Yoruba (being the dominant languages in the region); (iii) a majority of TBS were not willing to divulge information especially about the products used and process involved in the treatment of their patients. They say such information is not meant for non-family members, and also feared that the interviewers were modern medical practitioners. Efforts were made to build a good rapport with them, assuring them that all information given would be treated in strict confidence; (iv) voice and video recording were not allowed by many of the TBS, as they were scared that the interviewers might be security agents in disguise. Interviewers resorted to note-taking verbatim for subsequent translation; and (v) the road network, especially in the rural areas of the region, posed a challenge. Interviewers made use of commercial motorcycles and also walked to some destinations.


Results and Discussions

Distribution of Respondents by Location

The distribution of the three groups of respondents by location is presented in Table 1. The table reveals that of the 69 TBS interviewed, 39.1% were resident in Ogun State while 30.4% each were resident in Ondo and Oyo States. Of the total number of TBS patients interviewed (130), Ogun State residents constituted 56.9% while 30.8% and 12.3% were resident in Oyo and Ondo States respectively at the time of the survey. A total of 15 orthopedic surgeons were interviewed, of which 26.7% were attached to tertiary health facilities in both Ogun and Ondo States, while 46.7% of them were from University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State.

Table 1

Distribution of respondents by location

Location(state) Respondents
TBS TBS Patients Orthopedic Surgeons
Ogun 27(39.1) 74(56.9) 4(26.7)
Ondo 21(30.4) 16(12.3) 4(26.7)
Oyo 21(30.4) 40(30.8) 7(46.7)
Total 69(100.0) 40(100.0) 7(100.0)

Source: Authors’ survey, 2014 (Note: Figures in brackets represent percentages)

Background Characteristics of TBS

The background characteristics of TBS who participated in the study are presented in Table 2. More than half (56.5%) of the respondents were urban residents while 43.5% of them were rural residents. The median age of respondents was 48 years with a standard deviation of 13.8 years. The youngest and oldest of the respondents was 20 years and 82 years old respectively. Respondents in the age range of 46–58 years constituted 41.2% of the total number of respondents interviewed. About 15.0% of the respondents were at least 59 years old, while 44.1% were at most 45 years of age.

The sex distribution of respondents shows that more than four-fifths (88.4%) were males while the remaining were females (11.6%). The median income of the respondents was N37,500 per month. A majority (93.9%) earned at most N100,000 while the rest, with a minimum of N101,000 per month, constituted 6.0% of the respondents. This income may also include earnings from other occupation engaged in by the TBS.

The marital status of the respondents showed that 84.1% were currently married while 11.6% were single. In addition to these were those either widowed (2.9%) or separated (1.4%). Among those who had ever been married, the mean age at marriage was 28 years with a standard deviation of 4.9 years. Those whose age at marriage fell between 20 and 29 constituted 68.9% of the respondents, while those who got married as teenagers constituted 3.3% and those whose age at marriage was after their 29th birthday constituted 27.8%. About 69.0% of the respondents had only one spouse, while about 30.0% had at least two spouses. However, the modal number of spouses was one. The median number of children ever born by the respondents who have ever been married was four. The proportion of respondents with 1–4 children was 59.0% while 31.2% of the respondents had 5–8 children and 9.8% of the respondents had at least nine children.
The data in Table 4 show that 39.1% had secondary education while 12.9% had post-secondary education. It is interesting to note that 83.9% of the respondents had Western education. This, however, contrasts with the findings of Addis et al. (2002), where about half of the respondents were illiterates. The proportion of TBS with at least a secondary education is lower than what was reported in the findings of Oboirien and Khalid (2013).

Bonesetting was not the only occupation of the respondents. More than half (57.5%) of them were into farming while others were involved in trading (20.0%), transportation (5.0%), and proprietorship of Quranic schools (5.0%). Table 4 reveals that the median household size of the respondents was six and about 45.0% of them had a household size of 6–10. Among respondents who were single, 66.7% of them had only one sexual partner, while 33.3% of them had two at the time of the survey. This may help determine the number of children who are likely to be trained in bonesetting as a family practice.

The religious affiliation of the respondents revealed that 54.4% were Muslims while 39.7% were of the Christian faith. This may be unexpected, since the Christian faith would seem naturally linked to orthodox medicine as a result of the large number of faith-based hospitals in the country. Traditional worshippers and others (no religion) constituted 4.4% and 1.5% respectively. It is expected that since traditional medicine is based on traditions, most practitioners would necessarily be traditional worshippers. Interviews, however, showed that the majority of the bonesetters did not see any conflicts between religious affiliation and bonesetting practice.

Table 2

Distribution of TBS by Background Characteristics

Backgroud Characteristics N Frequency Percentage
Place of Residence 69
Urban 39 56.5
Rural 30 43.5
Age(Completed Years) 68
20-32 14 20.6
33-45 16 23.5
46-58 28 41.2
59-71 7 10.3
>71 3 4.4
Sex 69
Male 61 88.4
Female 8 11.6
Income 66
<100,999.99 62 93.9
101,000–200,999 2 3.0
201,000–300,999 1 1.5
>300,999 1 1.5
Martial Status 69
Single 8 11.6
58 84.1
Seperated 1 1.4
Widowed 2 2.9
Age at Marriage (completed years) 61
<20 2 3.3
20-29 42 68.9
>29 17 27.8
Number of Spouses 61
None 1 1.6
1 42 68.9
>1 18 29.5
Number of Children Ever Born(CEB) 61
1-4 36 59.0
5-8 19 31.2
9-12 6 9.8
Level of Education 69
None 6 8.7
Primary 16 23.2
Arabic/Quranic 5 7.2
Modern III/JSS III 8.7
Secondary 27 39.1
NCE/OND 7 10.1
HND/BSc 1 1.4
MSc/PhD 1 1.4
Other Occupation 40
Farming 23 57.5
Trading 8 20.0
Artisan 4 10.0
Transport 2 5.0
Quaranic School 5.0
Others (Politics) 1 2.5
Household Size 65
6-10 29 44.6
>10 12 18.5
Number of Sexual Partners 3
1 2 66.7
2 1 33.3
Religion 68
Christianity 27 39.7
Islam 37 54.4
Traditional 3 4.4
Others 1 1.5

Source: Authors’ survey, 2014

Background Characteristics of TBS Patients

Table 3 reveals that male respondents constituted 72.3% of the number interviewed. Children aged 3–12 constituted 5.4% while young adults constituted 36.2%. The average age of the respondents was 33 years with a standard deviation of 14 years. More than half (58.5%) of the respondents were married while 38.2% were single. The respondents interviewed also consisted of those who were separated (1.6%), divorced (0.8%), or widowed/widower (0.8%).

A description of the respondents with regard to their ages at the last injury they had reveals that 40.7% reported their age as at last injury to be 20–34. This is followed by older adults (35–50 years) (30.1%) Those who had their last bone injury as teenagers constituted 13.0%, while 9.8% had their last bone injury when they were at least 51 years of age. The average age as at last injury, was 32 years.


Background Characteristics of Orthopedic Surgeons

Background Characteristics N Frequency Percentage
Sex 130
Male 94 72.3
Female 36 27.7
Age (in completed years) 130
3-12 7 5.4
13-19 18 13.8
20-34 47 36.2
35-50 41 31.5
>50 17 13.1
Marital Status 123
Single 47 38.2
Married 72 58.5
Separated 2 1.6
Divorced 1 0.8
Widow/Widower 1 0.8
Age (in completed years) at Last Injury 123
3-12 8 6.5
13-19 16 13.0
20-34 50 40.7
35-50 37 30.1
>50 12 9.8
Cause of LAst Injury 130
Motor Accident 48 36.9
Motorbike Accident 52 40.0
Bicycle Accident 4 3.1
Domestic Accident 23 17.7
Occupational Hazard 2 1.5
Others 1 0.8

The socio-demographic characteristics of orthopedic surgeons are presented in Table 4. A total of 15 orthopedic surgeons were available for interview in the study areas. The median age of the surgeons was 37 years with a standard deviation of about 6 years. Their ages ranged between 28 and 51 years with 40.0% of them falling in the 36–40 age group. All the respondents were males.

The table shows that their average monthly income was N267,785.70 with a standard deviation of N144,481.70. Half of the respondents earned between N200,000 and N250,000 monthly. Respondents who earned less than N200,000 constituted 28.6% while 20.0% of them earned more than N250,000. As for marital status, two of them were single and the rest had gotten married between 31 and 35 years of age, with the average age at marriage about 32 years with a standard deviation of about 2 years.

Half of the respondents had either one or two children while 41.7% had more than two children. Only one respondent had yet to have a child. The religious affiliation of the respondents revealed that 86.7% and 13.3% were Christians and Muslims respectively. The Yorubas constituted 60.0% of the respondents while Igbos and Others constituted 13.3% and 26.7% respectively. The surgeons had put in an average of 8 years working as orthopedic surgeons. A fifth (20.0%) of them had worked for more than 10 years while those who had worked for 5–10 years constituted 46.7%. About a third (33.3%) of the respondents had worked for less than five years.

The median number of bone injuries each surgeon had managed in the last one year was 105. Respondents who had managed at most 100 bone injuries in the last one year constituted 50.0% while 28.6% and 21.4% had managed 101– 300 and more than 300 bone injuries respectively. Of the nine respondents who had set bones in the one year preceding the survey, 66.7% of them had set at most 100 fractured bones, while 33.3% had set at least 101 fractured bones.

Table 4

Background Characteristics of Orthopedic Surgeons

Background Characteristics N Frequency Percentage
Age (in completed years) 15
<36 5 33.3
36-40 6 40.0
>40 4 26.7
Sex 15
Male 15 100.0
Monthly Income 14
<200,000 4 28.6
200,000-250,000 7 50.0
>250,000 3 20
Martial Status 15
Single 2 13.3
Married 13 86.7
Age at Marriage 13
<31 5 38.5
31-35 8 61.5
Number of Children Ever Born 12
0 1 8.3
1-2 6 50.0
3-4 5 41.7
Household Size 13
1-4 7 53.8
>4 6 46.2
Religion 15
Christianity 13 86.7
Islam 2 13.3
Tribe 15
Igbo 2 13.3
Yoruba 9 60.0
Others 4 26.7
Years of Experience 15
5-10 7 46.7
>10 3 20.0
Number of Bone Injuries Managed in the Previous Year 14
<101 5 50.0
101-300 4 28.6
>300 3 21.4
Number of Bones Set in the Previous Year 9
<101 6 66.7
101+ 3 33.3

TBS Views on Possible Interaction with Orthodox Orthopedic

Table 5 presents the experiences and practices which suggest possible benefits of interaction between TBS and orthodox medical services.

Table 5

TBS Experiences and Practices

Variables N Frequency Percentage
Have there been any cases of relocation from orthodox
Yes 62 91.2
No 6 8.8
Number of such relocation 61
<10 34 55.7
10-19 19 31.1
>19 8 13.2
Reason for relocation from orthodox hospital
(Multiple response)
Patient too difficult 54 88.5
Patient couldn’t afford bill 44 72.1
Patient’s case has spiritual undertone 29 47.5
Patient’s case not healing as fast as expected 52 85.2
Patient has disdain for environment 17 27.9
Non-union of bones 42 68.9
Have there been relocations to orthodox
Yes 6 8.8
No 62 91.2
Number of such relocation 6
<10 5 83.3
>19 1 16.7
Reason for relocation to orthodox hospitals
(multiple response)
Patient’s case was too difficult 1 25.0
Beacause of Wounds 4 66.7
Loss of too much blood 1 16.7
Have there been outright rejections of cases (by
Yes 7 10.6
No 59 89.4
Reasons for Rejection
Over bleeding from wounds which need proper
1 14.3
No remedy for the injury 1 14.3
Instructed divinely 1 14.3
Involvement of police 1 14.3
Can’t afford the bill 1 14.3
Case too much 1 14.3
Too late before presentation 1 14.3
Area in need of government assistance (multiple
59 93.7
Integration into country’s health system 40 36.5
Provision of grants/funds 48 76.2
Access to bank loans 23 36.5
Training facilities on biology of bones 22 35.5

Source: Authors’ survey, 2014

A majority (91.2%) of the TBS in the study area claimed that they had received patients from orthodox hospitals. The average number of such relocations was reported to be 11 in the year preceding the survey, with a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 55. More than half (55.7%) had at most nine of such cases while 13.2% had more than 19 such cases. About 89.0% of the respondents claimed that the reason why patients came to them was because the difficulty of the case was too much for the orthodox doctors to handle. This was closely followed by a second reason, lack of healing as quickly as expected (85.2%). Other reasons as claimed by the respondents include inability of patients to continue to pay the hospital bill (72.1%), non-union of bones (68.9%), and the belief that the case had a spiritual undertone (47.5%).

About 9.0% of the respondents reported that they had cause to relocate or to advise to relocate on the average six patients per year to orthodox hospitals. A quarter (25.0%) of them agreed that such action was taken when the case was too difficult for them to handle, while wounds (66.7%) and loss of blood (16.7%) were other reasons for such advice. Seven of the respondents had had cause to reject some cases outright due to over bleeding from wounds which needed suturing (14.3%), or due to divine instruction (14.3%), involvement of the police (14.3%), or late presentation of the case (14.3%).

The table further reveals the views of TBS regarding their areas of need from government. These include recognition (93.7%), integration into the country’s health system (63.5%), provision of grants/funds (76.2%), access to bank loans (36.5%), and training facilities on biology of bones (35.5%).

Orthopedic Surgeons’ Views on Possible Interaction with TBS

Table 6 reveals that 93.3% of the orthopedic surgeons interviewed reported
having received patients from TBS.

Table 6

Orthopedic surgeons’ experiences and practices

Variables N Frequency Percentage
Ever received patients from TBS 15
Yes 14 93.3
No 1 6.7
Number of patients received from TBS 10
<11 5 50.0
11-20 2 20.0
>20 3 30.0
Opinion about TBS (multiple response)
Lack of training in biology of bones 13 86.7
Inability to refer cases to modern health
11 73.3
Lack of knowledge in the management of
bone injuries apart from bone setting
15 100.0
Unhygienic environment 12 85.7
High cost of management 4 26.7
Lack of will to learn 10 66.7
Any improvement in the operations of
TBS over years
Yes 2 13.3
No 12 80.0
Can’t say 1 6.7
Ever thought of interaction between TBS
and orthopedic surgeons
Yes 12 80.0
No 3 20.0
Advise establishment of interaction between
TBS and orthopedic surgeons
Yes 13 86.7
No 2 13.3

Source: Authors’ survey, 2014

The average number of patients so received in the year preceding the survey was about 37. Half of the orthopedic surgeons had received between 1 and 10 such patients in the reference period. The minimum and maximum numbers of such cases were one and 250 respectively. All the orthopedic surgeons surveyed believed that TBS lack knowledge in the management of bone injuries apart from setting bones. Other issues considered critical by the surgeons in the management of fractures by TBS include lack of training in the biology of bones (86.7%), unhygienic environment (85.7%), inability to refer cases to modern health facilities (73.3%), and lack of will to learn (66.7%).

A majority (80.0%) of the orthopedic surgeons indicated that there had been no improvement in the management of bone injuries by traditional bonesetters over the years. The proportion of orthopedic surgeons who had ever thought of a possible interaction between TBS and orthopedic surgeons was 80.0% while 86.7% would advise the establishment of such interaction.

TBS Patients’ Views on Possible Interaction between TBS and
Orthopedic Surgeons

Table 7 reveals that more than half (54.6%) of the respondents made a TBS
clinic their first choice for treatment.


TBS Patients’ Experiences

Variables N Frequency Percentage
First place of visit for treatment 130
Public Hospital 36 27.7
Private Hospital 23 17.7
TBS 71 54.6
Last place visited for treatment 130
Public hospital
Private Hospital 2 1.5
TBS 128 98.5
Changed place of treatment
Yes 66 50.8
No 64 49.2
If Yes to where 66
Public Hospital
Private Hospital
TBS 66 100.0
Reasons for TBS preference (multiple
Prompt attention to treatment 51 78.5
Nearness to point of accident 3 4.6
Low cost of treatment 29 44.6
Use of natural remedies 48 73.8
Quick recovery 42 64.6
Duration of stay in TBS clinic
0-8 37 57.8
9-17 22 34.4
>17 5 7.8
Ever relocate from one TBS to another
Yes 13 19.7
No 53 80.3
Number of times visited TBS for
bone injury treatment
1 110 84.6
2 17 13.1
3 2 1.5
5 1 0.8
Any improvement in TBS treatment
over the years
Yes 20 100.0
Area(s) TBS have improved (multiple
Knowledge of biology of bones 9 45.0
Cleanliness 6 30.0
Preparation of treatment remedies 15 75.0
Would you suggest possible interaction
between TBS and orthodox
health practitioners?
Yes 105 82.7
No 22 17.3

For every patient surveyed that made a public hospital their first choice for treatment, two other respondents would choose a TBS clinic. Also, for every surveyed patient that made a private hospital their first choice for treatment, three other respondents would choose a TBS clinic. This further shows the rate at which victims patronize TBS. This is also evident from their response with regard to the last place visited for treatment, as only 1.5% of the respondents made a private hospital their last place visited for treatment. The rest visited TBS clinics.

In all, about 51.0% of the patients surveyed had cause to change place of treatment during the course of treatment, and all of them left for treatment at the TBS clinics. This partially corroborates the findings of Chowdhury et al. (2011), who reported that 30% of patients initially taken to a hospital shifted to TBS. Prompt treatment (78.5%) and use of natural remedies (73.8%) were the most cited reasons for preferring TBS clinics. Other identified reasons for TBS clinic preference included expected quick recovery (64.6%) and low cost of treatment. These findings agree with those of Idris et al. (2010), Aderibigbe et al. (2013), Oginni (1995), and Nwachukwu et al., (2011).

The duration of stay in a TBS clinic for patients surveyed ranged from days to weeks and months. The median duration of stay was eight weeks with a standard deviation of about six weeks. The minimum and maximum duration of stay were one day and 28 weeks respectively. Of those who changed place of treatment in favor of TBS, more than half (57.8%) spent eight weeks at the TBS clinic while 7.8% of the respondents spent more than 17 weeks at the TBS clinic. About a fifth (19.7%) of the respondents had to leave one TBS for another TBS. Reasons for this action included:

“The bone did not set when it was done by the first TBS. I had to go elsewhere where it was broken and reset.” (female, rural, Ondo State)
“The money the first TBS demanded was too much; also he did not allow one to use modern medicine. He did not allow x-rays, etc.” (male, rural, Ogun State)
“[Patient changed residence] from Lagos to Ibadan.” (male, urban, Oyo State) “. . . imperfect treatment and non-union of bones.” (female, rural, Oyo State) “Their work was not effective. I was advised to seek treatment elsewhere.” (male, urban, Ogun State)
“I did not get adequate treatment where I first went.” (male, urban, Ogun State)
“The environment was disgusting. I had disdain for the environment.” (female, urban, Oyo State)

With regard to the number of times patients ever had a bone injury that required a visit to a TBS, 84.6% had it only once, while 15.4% had it more than once, and all agreed that there had been improvement in the treatment procedures of TBS. Preparation of treatment remedies is one area of improvement identified by a majority (75.0%) of the respondents. Table 3 also reveals that 82.7% of the respondents interviewed alluded to the fact that there should be interaction between TBS and orthodox medicine practitioners.

Justification for Interaction

The orthopedic surgeons interviewed presented the following arguments/ reasons for advising the establishment of interaction between themselves and TBS.

“They obviously play a major role in patients’ outcomes and hence cannot be ignored.” (Owo, Ondo State)
“By interaction, learning and modification of practices will be enhanced, thereby reducing the number of casualties among their patients.” (Ijebu- Ode, Ogun State) “. . . could lead to exchange of knowledge.” (Ibadan, Oyo State)
“If they are taught the rudiments of medicine, they might become safe and useful, like the traditional birth attendants in obstetrics and gynecology.” (Ibadan, Oyo State) “. . . could enable them know the limitations of traditional techniques in managing fractures.” (Ibadan, Oyo State)

The reasons given by the TBS patients in support of interaction between TBS and Orthopedic surgeons include:
“Both parties can share from one another’s experience and our health system will move forward. Contribution from both ends would lead to improved work in the health sector.” (Female patient, urban, Ogun State)
“Doctors cannot do it all; also TBS cannot do it all. They should complement each other’s efforts.” (Male patient, rural, Oyo State)
“It will save many accident victims from having their legs/hands cut off in hospitals.” (Male patient, rural, Ondo State)
“The interaction is a welcome development. It will improve the TBS work, expose them to modern medicine while they will also use their spiritual experience to complement modern medicine.” (Female patient, rural, Ogun State)

Orthopedic surgeons’ responses as to the positive impact of TBS on the community include:
“[TBS are] able to offer some assistance to a few patients with minor musculoskeletal injuries.” (Abeokuta, Ogun State)
“[TBS is an] alternative in rural areas that cannot be covered by Primary Health Care (PHC).” (Owo, Ondo State)
“[TBS can] assist in management of uncomplicated fractures.” (Owo, Ondo State)
“[TBS treatment is] readily available and cheaper” (Abeokuta , Ogun State)
The negative impacts as highlighted by the orthopedic surgeons far outnumber the positive impacts. The negative impacts included:
“[TBS is] an important cause of loss of limbs. Destruction of limbs, gangrene.” (Abeokuta, Ogun State)
“Increase in bone structure abnormality” (Owo, Ondo State) “Increase in morbidity and mortality” (Owo, Ondo State)
“Many centers manage patients with low success rates and many others with complications.” (Ibadan, Oyo State)
“[TBS] plays on the intelligence of the populace and then denies them proper care.”(Ibadan, Oyo State)
“affect economy adversely” (Abeokuta, Ogun State) “increase cost of management” (Owo, Ondo State)
“non-union of bones, waste of patients’ time” (Abeokuta, Ogun State) “false information” (Owo, Ondo State)
“unnecessary, untimely death” (Ibadan, Oyo State, Ogun State)

The negative impacts of TBS on the community as reported by the patients included:
“I don’t like their dirty environment.” (Male, urban, Ogun State)
“They could complicate issues for patients because they do not have much knowledge of biology of bones.” (Female, rural, Oyo State)
“There are some who don’t know the work but they deceive people by collecting money from them.” (Male, rural, Ogun State; female, rural, Ogun State) “Some are not genuine; they only take advantage of people.” (Male, urban, Ogun State)


This study reveals that 93.7% of TBS want government recognition while 63.5% of TBS want to be integrated into the health system of the country; 86.7% of orthopedic surgeons would advise the establishment of an interaction between them and TBS; and 82.7% of TBS patients suggested an interaction between TBS and orthopedic surgeons. Also this study deduces that since TBS have had positive impacts on the community, they should be recognized, and that since they have had negative impacts on the community and yet still enjoy high patronage and preference, that they should be recognized and officially monitored by health authorities.

For interaction to be possible, both health sectors (traditional bonesetting and modern orthopedics) must be open to such interaction. This was supported by Ogunbodede (1991), who concluded in his study that the work of traditional healers is not integrated into orthodox dental practices because dentists are not open to the prospect of collaborating with traditional healers, let alone utilizing any of their methods. It was also reported by Nwachukwu et al. (2011) that there is tension between Western and indigenous musculoskeletal practices.

This study has revealed that patronage of TBS is still high in the study area and also that a sizeable proportion of TBS patients end up in modern health facilities for treatment. Therefore, integration will go a long way to improving the health of the population, thereby significantly reducing deaths or disability- adjusted life years lost. This integration can be achieved by employing or adapting the model of innovation known as DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom) developed by Gayle (n.d.) as well as by using the training algorithm developed by Omololu et al. (2008).


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Ilesanmi Akanmidu Paul
Department of History and International Studies
Adekunle Ajasin University
Akiungba-Akoko, Nigeria


This study investigates the philosophy and tradition of the Yorùbá healing system and the reasons for its survival into the modern age. The introduction of western-style healthcare by missionaries—which became consolidated under colonial rule, from any point of view was attempted to stiffen the survival of the former. Intentionally or inadvertently, the Yorùbá healing system was derogatorily deemed primitive and unscientific because of its ritualistic aspects, which were severely condemned. The activities of missionaries in the context of proselytism and colonial governmental policies entailed copious attempts to stifle and do away with the Yorùbá healing system. This study uses historical analysis to synchronize the factors that helped the Yorùbá healing system to survive in a threatening milieu, namely the pressures of western ideology. The study concludes that despite efforts by the propagators of western ideology, the Yorùbá healing system is still a highly favored form of healthcare in Yorùbáland.


The concept of healing systems in Yorùbáland has attracted the attention of several scholars. While this effort is highly commendable, it is also important to note that despite the large body of literature on the subject matter, there are still some contradictions in the postulations and arguments of several scholars on this aspect of Yorùbá history. There are aspects of Yorùbá healing system that have been veiled or obscured to many people up to the present that need to be unlocked intellectually. This study, therefore, clarifies some of the convoluted observations of some scholars who—per sheer lack of adequate information on this subject matter—have transmitted misconceptions, which were then passed from one generation to the next. While this may be considered a forgivable error for some extant scholars, who have arguably also committed such monumental errors because of their misguided informants, who themselves were unwilling to divulge the truth about their cultural heritage to those they perceived as alien to their historical heritage, this cannot be accepted in the case of local researchers who were not diligent enough to cross-check their findings before transmitting erroneous information. Thus, it is from this mindset that this study sheds light on Yorùbá healing systems, which several scholars have misconstrued. Effectively, this study portrays Yorùbá healing systems as an aspect of history that takes time and effort to grasp. Reasons for this are clear: first, most of the traditional information about the healing systems of Yorùbá is not readily available to the public, so as to preserve its sacredness. Secondly, the custodians of this information and their trainees are bound by an oath to keep certain tenets that are fundamental to observe in secrecy. Such information becomes inaccessible to those who are not directly connected to the vocation. Thirdly, most researchers are not patient enough when they conduct research on the fundamental aspects of Yorùbá healing systems. Partial information that is divulged to them by appendages of the main actors of this tradition is often not carefully examined, questioned, or explained.

The Philosophy and Theories of Yorùbá People on Health and

The Yorùbá people are one of the most researched ethno-linguistic groups in Africa. Their historical origin, sociology, religious, and economic lives have been extensively examined by varying scholars such as, Johnson (1921), Abimbola (1965), Fadipe (1970), Falola (1991), Asiwaju (1976), Akinjogbin (1967), and Akintoye (2010). The Yorùbá inhabit the southwestern part of Nigeria, as well as part of eastern Benin. Boundaries imposed by different colonial powers account for the division of Yorùbáland into what is presently two different countries, which themselves have endured distinct colonial experiences. They have been in existence long before colonialism. The philosophy of the Yorùbá on health and healing cannot be divorced from Yorùbá tradition and belief, in this case the philosophy of natural epistemology and the spiritual ontology of man. The former maintains that the man’s life is influenced by his environment. In other words, the environment where man lives has a way of influencing his health. In this case, the Yorùbá believe that people who live in dirty environments will have poor health. In this respect, the Yorùbá believe that consuming contaminated food and drinking bad water, to a large extent, affect man’s health. Other things that are also encompassed in this philosophy are that man is prone to accidents in his environment, which also have the ability to affect his health. For instance, a man could fall down in the farm during the rainy season and break his leg; likewise he could be bitten by a snake in the forest. The philosophy of the Yorùbá on these issues centers on the fact that all these affect man’s physical body. They also believe that physical ailments can be remedied through the application of physical elements found in his environment. They apply herbs, leaves, bird feathers, and other aquatic elements to bring about solutions to physical health challenges. With regards to spiritual ontology, the belief of the Yorùbá is complex. The cornerstone of this belief is that man exists in both the physical and spiritual worlds. The physical world entails all the physical things that are visible to the eyes. It includes his height, stature, outlook, and the ways in which he relates to his environment. On the other hand, they believe in the spiritual existence of man, which entails ontological dimensions of man. In this ontology, it is believed that man’s life consists of three elements: the spirit (èṃ í), the soul (ọkàn), and the body (ara). These three elements are necessary for a man to be whole. While the body is under the control and influence of man, the soul and the spirit are metaphysically controlled and are not within the realm of the mortal. This largely explains why the Yorùbá people believe that destinies are pre-determined in the realms of the spirit before transformation into life. Also, according to their belief, whatever a man becomes in life is a function of what he has chosen in the spiritual realm. An Ìjálá chant goes as follows:

Bí orí bá ń da rokoroko láà mú
Yóò dà bíi pé kò lè rook tég̣ bé ̣ rè ̣
Ìkà kì í fé ̣ ká rẹrù ká sò ̣
Bí orí bá ń da sọ̣ dẹsọ̣ dẹ láà mú
Yòó dà bíi pé kò leè pẹran tég̣ bé ̣ rè ̣
Àtàrí laláyànmó,̣ orí lẹléj̣ ó ̣
Kò sóò sạ̀ tí ń bánií jà léḥ ìn orí ẹni
Orí ẹni ní wí pé kó yẹ ni
Àkàndéọ mọ o sẹ é fìjàgbà1

If a farmer’s head is against him
It will appear as if he cannot work like his colleagues
The wicked don’t want one unburden his burden
If a hunter’s head is against him, it will appear as if he cannot hunt like his colleagues

A man’ head is his most intimate deity
There is no Òrìs̩à working against one except one’s head
It is a man’s head that decrees success for him
Àkàndé is a difficult child to earn by quarrel.

The Yorùbá worldview, each human being acquires a destiny prior to his birth, which entails crossing the threshold that divides existence in the “other world (òṛ un) and existence in this world (ayé). However, after acquiring this destiny in òṛ un, the individual is induced to forget the content of that destiny before crossing the threshold that transforms the individual into a corporeal being. Once in this world, the only way for an individual—ignorant of his or her fate—to gain knowledge of that destiny is through divination, in which it is believed that the witness of destiny (ẹléṛ ìi-ìpín) reveals aspects of the divine plan to the inquirer through a highly trained diviner (Payne 1992). This is captured in this epigram:

Àkúnlèỵ ànè ̣ dá
Òun làdáyébá
A dáyétán ojú ń kán gbogbo wa
Sụ̀ gbóṇ èḍ á náà kò leè padà lọ yan òmíràn
Àfi ètùtù ló kù2

What was chosen kneeling down
Is what we find on arrival in this world
On arrival in this world, we became too impatient
(too much in a hurry to achieve our potentials)
But it is impossible to go back and choose another,
To prevent the deterioration of things is the
only course of action left.

Yorùbá Perception of the Causes of Illnesses

Contrary to the European postulations of germ theory—that physiological and anatomical disorders are a result of the activities of germs and viruses in the body system, the Yorùbá people believe that illness can be caused by enemies (òṭá), which include witchcraft (àje̩), sorcery (osó̩ ), a god (òrìs̩à), or ancestors (ẹbo̩ra). There are also natural illnesses (àáre̩) and hereditary diseases (àìsàn ìdílé). There seems to be some overlapping content in the two philosophies, such as the belief in heredity. Both philosophies believe that illness could be hereditary. This forms a focal point in the classic studies by Erinoso (1978), and Oke (1982), who classified the causes of illness in the Yorùbá perspective into three categories, namely: supernatural, preternatural, or mystical and natural causes. It is also believed that when gods inflict a person with a disease, such disease can only be treated by traditional healers, who will consult an oracle (ifá) to know the cause and appropriate cure. Curing such an illness requires the appeasing of the gods, usually by a diviner (babaláwo). In some cases, certain diseases were attributed to the anger of the gods, especially when taboos had been broken.3 Some people also linked this with the high incidence of infant mortality (àbíkú). Some diseases were attributed to the evil machinations of certain people who seemed to bear certain grudges against some individuals.

Yorùbá people see the Universe as a single unit, which contains the unborn, the living, dead, ancestors and other deities (Erinoso and Oke 1994). Beings in the spiritual realms protect those who live according to the norms and values that regulate the society. They believe that transgression against the deities or gods result in illness sent directly by the spirit or through sorcerers and witches. This type of belief does not only exist among the Yorùbá people but other groups in Africa—for instance, the Luo in Kenya, the Amhara in Ethiopia, and the Zulu in South Africa—also share the same philosophy.45

Beside the above beliefs of the Yorùbá on the causes of illness, Odebiyi and Togonu-Bickersteth (1987) have discovered that diseases and misfortunes are sometimes associated with the actions of the parents, particularly illnesses that are congenital in nature. In this case, the infant suffers an illness that is not of his or her “doing.” Morakinyo (1988) asserts that the various beliefs of the Yorùbá people on causes of illness are complex. Their beliefs are encapsulated in sentiments, which vary considerably from one group to another within the Yorùbá ethnic group. Zewi (1989) also notes the activities of witchcraft, sorcery, spirit and poison were noted as part of the causes of illness among the people. Ebigbo (1989) has also found that Yorùbá people believe that breaking the rules of the deity can sometimes lead to illness. Prince (1975) explains that the Yorùbá believe that lives exist in two worlds: material, and immaterial spirit worlds. The latter, he argued, reflects the real world. Whatever the nature of the cause of illness or disease, there are those that specialize in healing and curing in Yorùbá land. These people are called different names, such as diviner (babaláwo), medicine man (onísẹ̀ gùn), and herbalist (elégbogi).

Babaláwo is a diviner who is knowledgeable in esoteric knowledge and secrets. 6 He pries into human problems, events, the future, and causes of sicknesses etc. through divination. He makes use of an oracle (ifá) to find out the cause of ailments and how it could be cured especially when it appears to be spiritual problems. He often relies on sacrifices as remedy to ailments. On the other hand, the olóò gùn or elégbogi an expert in herbal formulae.7 He is wellversed and knowledgeable in herbal combinations that have the properties to cure ailments. There are two categories of olòò gùn or elégbogi in Yorùbáland. The first group specializes in medicine for adults, while the other group (eléwé ọmọ) cares for children. However, there are some who combine the two functions, even though both are not often interested in ritual or incantations.8This is a major point that differentiates between babaláwo and olóò gùn or elégbogi. Commenting on this, Maclean wrote inter alia:
Although the latter are primarily concerned with treating bodily symptoms through the use of herbal remedies, while the former specialized in a form of psychotherapy for mental troubles and in disease due to supernatural influence or malevolence, in fact, they have much in common. Thus, a herbalist whose management of a case after prescribing several medicine has been unsuccessful, may resort to some simple divination procedures to clarify his diagnosis. On the other hand, a diviner is generally familiar with a large number of medicines of his own specialty.9

Another misconception that can be observed in the accounts of several scholars deals with the properties that are used in curing ailments and other diseases in the Yorùbá healing system. Many Eurocentric and some Afro-centric scholars have continued to use magic inclusively interchangeably with medicine. Field (1937) describes witchcraft as bad medicine directed destructively against other people, with no rites, ceremonies, incantation, or invocation that the witch has to perform connected to it. He defines a witch as a person who is the abode of an evil entity. At this juncture, we must distinguish between witchcraft and sorcery as duly applicable to the Yorùbá people. A sorcerer uses charms, incantation or invocations, spells and magic knowingly, and with premeditation. A witch performs no rite, utters no spell, and possesses no medicine.10 An act of witchcraft is a psychic act. In their own contribution to our understanding of the distinction between sorcery and witchcraft, Middleton and Winter inform:

Witchcraft is part of an individual’s being, a part of his innermost self, while sorcery is merely a technique which a person utilizes. Thus, in some societies, a person’s witchcraft can operate at times without his being consciously aware of the fact that it is doing so. This can never be the case with sorcery; recourse to it must always be on a deliberate, consensus and voluntary basis.11

The above suggests that the sorcerer makes magic to kill, but a witch has an inherent and intangible power to harming others. While a witch projects her evil imagination directly from the mind, invisibly, without cursing or invoking, a sorcerer manipulates some tangible materials to carry out his illicit deeds. In the mental and social attitude of the Yorùbá (and of Africans in general), there is no belief more profoundly ingrained than that of the existence of witches (àjé)̣ . All strange diseases, accidents, untimely death, inability to gain promotion in office, failure in examinations and business enterprise, disappointment in love, barrenness in women, impotency in men, failure of crops—along with many other misfortunes—can be attributed to witchcraft (Awolalu 1979).

It is true and we cannot deny the fact that magic and medicine are closely related but their goals are always different. However, Awolalu suggests that it is only in theory and in consequence of their being related to nature and the supernatural that magic and medicine are related.12Magic according to Yorùbá dictionary is a ritual performance or activity believed to influence human or natural events through accents to an external mystical force beyond the ordinary human sphere. The above definition suggests that magic is a practical affair. It is a human art which involves the manipulation of certain objects which are believed to have power to cause a supernatural being to produce or prevent a particular result considered not obtainable by natural means. It is regarded as a means of handling the forces of nature (subjecting them to man’s will), safeguarding his welfare, and shaping his destiny. It must be understood that magic in Yorùbáland is non-therapeutic in nature. It caters to concerns that are not associated with disease or illnesses.13 By nature, the Yorùbá people (and human beings in general), want victory, success, good luck, protection from dangers, good harvest, successful business, rain for better crop yields, protection against accidents, and protection against forces of evil, among others. These concerns are quite distinct from pathological or therapeutic conditions of human beings, and they are mainly dealt with by the use of magic. One can fully observe that the babaláwo knows that man as a creature knows he is limited in wisdom, understanding, and ability. He knows that he needs things that he cannot procure on his own. He is confronted with many problems in the world and he seeks aid to be able to cope with them. Man is thus convinced that there are supernatural resources in the universe for his benefit and that these resources can be obtained by two different means:

By appealing to the transcendental being to satisfy his needs and by devising a means of tapping the elemental forces which are already created in the universe by the Supreme Being, and which can be procured by those who have “know how.” Based on the above, we can suggest that magic—in nature, and in practice—involves the use of coercion on the transcendental Being to accomplish things. No one can exert force on the Supreme Being. What magic does is to tap the resources that are already provided by the transcendental being for the use of mankind, which resources are known only to those who have the esoteric knowledge.

Medicine, on the other hand, is both therapeutic (for the treatment or curing of diseases) and prophylactic (intended to prevent disease). It is rather a substance used for treating diseases. We can say, it is a science of treating and understanding diseases. This probably justifies the reason an olóò gùn—a practitioner of oògùn—in Yorùbáland does not concern himself only with the treatment of disease, but he also understands the nature and etiology of disease or illness before embarking on treatments. It is in view of this that Awolalu (1979) defines medicine as, “the traditional art and science of the prevention and cure of diseases. It is the use of natural substance to prevent, treat or cure diseases. It can also mean medicament used internally or externally.

Among the Yorùbá people, “magic” (idán) is used interchangeably among many people with “medicine” (oògùn, egbogi, or ìsẹ̀ gùn). But this is only in theory and a consequence of their being related to nature and the supernatural. There are recognizable similarities between magic and medicine, which must have informed this common misconception. For both magic and medicine, people use herbs, leaves, roots, bark, stems, seeds, flowers, fruits, binds, sap (or juices of trees and plants), as well as various birds and their feathers, beaks, lizards, heads, feet, toes, bones, and additionally, various animals and their skins, bones, skulls, heads, quills, excretions, various reptiles such as lizards, snakes, iguanas, monitors, geckos, and chameleon, various insects such as butterflies, flies, wasps, beetles, crickets, ants, and bees, as well as other inanimate objects like sand, water, stone, sulphur, iron, steel, gunpowder, and honey. One can also employ salt, whisky, palm oil, palm wine, and other types of liquid (Dopamu 1992).

Also, the practices of magic and medicine have similar methods of preparation. This may be by grinding or pounding materials, by burning into ash, by boiling or squeezing into a concoction, and by cooking the ingredients as a soup, all of which are done in specific places and at particular times (Dopamu 2000). In some preparations, it might be necessary to perform certain rituals, observe certain taboos, or sacrifice certain animals, including birds. At times—during the process of preparation—an herbalist may be required to refrain from eating certain foods, and abstain from having sexual intercourse. At times, it may be required that the process of preparation takes place at a particular time and the herbalist be naked. Another similarity is that magic and medicines are used almost in the same way. This could be by drinking, eating, wearing, burying, hanging, rubbing or exposing, by washing the body with infusion or by putting an object under one’s pillow or carrying in a pocket; by throwing it away after use; or by reciting incantations either after the preparation of the recipe or before using it.

More importantly, both magic and medicine are invariably related to religion in terms of rituals, taboos, divination, and the supernatural (Dopamu 2000). Divination, gods, and spiritual beings are connected with religion— as well as magic and medicine—in Yorùbá medicine. Names of divination feature prominently in traditional Yorùbá religion. Indeed, magic and medicine are similar to religion in practice, to such an extent that certain magical and medical preparations are not efficacious without religion. Some even depend on divine intervention for the achievement of their goals. This informed why Buckley noted that Yorùbá medicine is inextricably intertwined with religion.14
Besides, once magic or medicine has been prepared into powder, soup, liquid or any other form, it is difficult for an observer to tell which is which. The inability to distinguish between magic and medicine once they have been prepared lends credence to the assumption that both are the same. But all the similarities above do not obscure the fact that they are distinguishable in many respects.

Witchcraft, on the other hand, is derived from the word “witch,” which identifies a person who possesses supernatural powers in consequence of having formed a league with the devil or with evil spirits, and through this evil alliance and co-operation possess a craft which enables her to perform supernatural acts that, in most cases, are destructive in nature.15 Thus, in Yorùbáland, witches are seen as the personification of evil: innately wicked people who work to do harm against others. They are capable of their nefarious deeds through their possession of mysterious powers unknown and unavailable to ordinary people. Idowu describes it as, “human beings of very strong determined wills with diabolical bent; [they] are the veritably wicked ones who derive sadistic satisfaction from bringing misfortunes upon other people16

On the subject of incantation and its uses among the Yorùbá people, various scholars have done extensive studies. For instance, Dopamu (1977), Olabimtan (1971), Awolalu (1979), Ajayi (1997) agreed that incantations involve the chanting or uttering of words purported to have magical powers. Sometimes, the incantations accompany medicinal preparations that are carried in the form of a ring (òrùka), amulet (ìfúnpá), girdle (ìgbàdí), small gourd (àdó), or needle (abéṛ é)̣ . The chanting of these words, often esoteric, entails commands to the gods or transcendent forces to help solve problems that are beyond the imagination of mortals. Charms have mysterious powers that are not frequently used, but once they are uttered, could make one escape death, vanish in the face of an imminent danger, destroy enemies (or wild animals), stupefy thieves, or shorten a distance, etc. Men who know these incantations claim to be capable of escaping imminent danger and being transported to wherever they command the charm to take them.17

In the analyses above, effort has been made to explore the concepts of magic, medicine, witchcraft, sorcery, and incantation as applicable to the Yorùbá people. Western science has, however, scorned the ideas behind these phenomena as a means of bringing about good fortune, prosperity, or misfortune. Ordinarily, in the everyday experience of the Yorùbá people, there is nothing to suggest that these elements have the power to bring a person’s wealth or misfortune. But, the incantation that accompanies a prescription sets it out clearly as a theory and shows that the items are a medium for the transmission of other information.18 The incantation contains the knowledge that the items have specific powers when used in magic. Buckley seems to express this idea better in writing, “by exploring the etiology of the names of the ingredients, the incantations are able to bring to light knowledge about the power of ingredients which would otherwise remain hidden. The incantation shows the names of the ingredients as embodying facts about the properties of natural phenomena.”19

In the traditional Yorùbá healing system, no one individual possesses a monopoly on the knowledge of healing diseases. This explains why Paul argued that there are specialties in Yorùbá healing systems.20 There are those who specialize in handling diseases that are largely associated with children (eléwé-ọmọ). One could deem the eléwé-ọmọ, in modern terms, as “indigenous pediatricians.” They are versed in the application of therapeutics for diverse sicknesses that usually pose challenges to the health balance of children. Sicknesses such as measles, small pox, and chicken pox are cured through the use of therapeutics and concoctions prepared by the eléwé-ọmọ. Other medicine men, and medicine women, also specialize in female-specific diseases and childbirth. These individuals could be referred to as “indigenous gynecologists,” and midwives, respectively, as they manage female-specific sicknesses, issues related to pregnancy, and deliver babies. In addition, they also see to women’s healthcare before, during, and after the delivery of babies. They work in conjunction with herbalists who prescribe the herbs, leaves, and roots that are medicinally valuable to pregnant women. They give inoculation to pregnant mothers in the form of tattoos on their bodies, in order to prevent certain danger before, during, and after birth.21Other people specialize in setting broken bones. Those who are involved in any form of accident—either in the farm or at home—which results in the breaking of any part of the body, such as legs and hands, are handled by bonesetters, who employ a method commonly referred to as telepathy. In this case, an object is used to represent an injured person. For instance, the leg of a hen can be broken and treated instead of the leg of the injured person. As the leg of the hen heals, so too does the leg of the injured person.

Interaction of the Yorùbá Healing System with Western

The interaction of the Yorùbá healing with orthodox or biomedicine began in the middle of the nineteen century when missionaries first made contact with the Yorùbá people. Ajayi (1965) and Ayandele (1966) have given elaborate accounts of how the missionaries penetrated into Yorùbáland.

Attacks on the Yorùbá healing system began when the missionaries penetrated western Nigeria for missionary enterprises. As part of the efforts to consolidate their influence, schools were established, initially as an agent of evangelization. Schram corroborates the work of Ajayi and Ayandele in submitting that the missionaries laid the foundation for western healthcare services in Nigeria22 As part of the “proof” of genuine conversion and proselytism, converts were mandated to make an open declaration of their new faith. Missionaries condemned the use of traditional medicine in its entirety, due to its therapeutic processes. They also warned their converts against the use of divinations, which were a common means for the Yorùbá people of diagnosing diseases believed to have been caused by metaphysical forces. Similarly, missionaries frowned at sacrifices to the gods. They condemned traditional immunization against poison and evil forces, as well as any kind of magical invocation or incantation.23The wearing of traditional charms and amulets was also condemned. Pregnant women were discouraged from consulting traditional herbalists for care. Paul (2015) argues that part of the reason some missions originally established maternity hospitals and clinics was to reduce the use of traditional healers. Furthermore, missionary schools did not incorporate anything on the traditional healing system in their curricula. The implication of this development was that children were dislocated from their traditional heritage. Although western ideologies against certain inhumane practices in the Yorùbá healing system were commendable (such as the killing of twin babies, human rituals, etc.), the condemnation of the entire system was undoubtedly excessive.

In the same vein, the colonial administration that was eventually established disrupted the activities of the Yorùbá traditional healing system. Colonial policies were by no means favorable to the Yorùbá healing system. In the first instance, the government did not include the teaching of Yorùbá traditional healing system in the curricula of its schools. Washington-Weik (2009) reiterates that traditional healers who sought to practice were mandated to register with the colonial government. The requirements for registration were so stringent that only a few healers could fulfill them. The survival of traditional healing during this period was a result of the resiliency of healers to keep their profession alive. Oyebola affirms that traditional healers in Yorùbáland demonstrated unity of purpose by organizing themselves into various associations, which enabled them to resist the pressures against them from the colonial government.24 However, Olu (2016) demonstrates that the colonial government opposed the activities of the traditional healers to create a monopoly for itself. Because most of the drugs used in Nigeria were imported from the countries of colonial powers, it became obvious that the policy of discrediting the potency of the traditional healers was to avoid competition or threats to their lucrative industry. However, the outbreak of the First World War broke this barrier and created a level playing field for the Yorùbá traditional healers in competing against the Europeans (Prince 1962). During the war, shipments of consignments from the metropolitan state were largely halted or reduced because of the security challenges of shipping in the Atlantic Ocean, as Britain, an active participant in the war, presumed that her ships could become a target of enemy forces. This anecdote accounts for how traditional medicine became lucrative as a result of the scarcity of western medicine.

By the end of the Second World War, traditional healers in Asia had made great strides and were clamoring for global recognition. The World Health Organization (WHO) granted approval to their effort and rebranded it as “alternative medicine” in 1947. Hyma and Ramesh note that the successful recognition and integration of indigenous health care services with western medicine in India, Korea, China, Indonesia, and Singapore motivated the campaign in many developing countries, including Nigeria.25 What perhaps served as the greatest advantage in this struggle for survival of traditional healers was that the campaign was wholeheartedly supported, accepted, and promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO 1978).

The WHO began to canvass for legislation in support of the official recognition of traditional healers globally, with the aim of expanding the scope of healthcare services to all people, irrespective of their social status. In line with this development, traditional Yorùbá health practitioners made bold efforts to embark on structural re-organization and repackaging. First, they changed their identity from one of “traditional medicine” to “alternative medicine.” It is highly probable that the term “traditional,” as they were formerly called, seemed more primitive, hence the need for a new term. This strategy became necessary in the face of a global age of modernization of culture, as it had the aim of gaining acceptance, as well as making it more interesting and attractive to people who were gradually imbibing new trends in modernism (Maclean, 1976). Furthermore, the high rate of poverty in Nigeria, including within Yorùbáland, further accounted for the survival of traditional medicine. Health care services were not administered freely by missions, nor government or private hospitals. Acquiring drugs was expensive and beyond the means of a large portion of the population, leaving them outside the coverage of Western healthcare services. According to Oke, traditional medicines were relatively cheaper, thus affordable and closer to the people.26 Ogunlola (2014) argues that Western medicines do not have solutions to all health problems, especially in societies where people still believe in spiritual causes of diseases in the form of witchcraft and sorcery. The Yorùbá still believe that spiritual problems can only be cured with spiritual solutions. In this case, traditional healers, especially diviners (babaláwo) must be consulted on who applied the knowledge of divination, in order to offer solutions to such problems.27 This might require sacrificing specific animal to the gods. Considering the efforts of the indigenous practitioners and their possible successes in some Asiatic countries, such as India, China, and Singapore, the WHO, in 1976, canvassed and lobbied for the official recognition of traditional healthcare services, which entailed official recognition, acceptance, and integration of traditional medicines along with their Western counterparts. It also entailed incorporating the services provided by traditional medicines with those of Western medicine, without prejudice and for the benefit of all.28 The Nigerian government accepted this, while expressing its readiness for integration. As Tella remarked, “judging from close to a hundred years of promoting western medicine in Nigeria, its services are only available to between 25–30 percent of Nigerian population leaving 70–75 percent to the care of traditional medicine.”29 To address this, the Nigerian Government has sought to facilitate the integration of traditional and Western medicine in Nigeria, which has not yet yielded any appreciable results.

Reasons for the Survival of Yorùbá Healing Systems

Despite the challenges and pressure against the Yorùbá healing system over the years (by the missionaries and later the colonial government), it is remarkable that the Yorùbá healing system has survived various phases of historical development. Ogaga (2015) noted that Yorùbá healing system is the largest means of healthcare delivery among the Yorùbá people of western Nigeria, despite the popularity of Western medicine. The reason for the survival of Yorùbá healing system despite modernity rests largely on their culture. The worldview of Taylor (1994) on culture seems to capture and reinforce the argument here in that he posits that culture is the complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral laws, customs, and other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society. The attachment of the Yorùbá people to their culture explains why the introduction of Islam and Christianity have not been able to detach them from their traditional observances and customs, which Taylor counts as part of culture. It is within this attachment that Washington-Weik (2009) argues that the resiliency of the Yorùbá healers during the period of colonialism allowed them to survive several health policies put in place by the colonial administration, which was not favorably disposed to the survival of the Yorùbá healing system. The claim of Mbiti (1969) that Africans are attached to their religion is one suggestion as to the reason for the survival of Yorùbá healing system. This to some extent explains why, despite the expansion of Islam and Christian missions across Yorùbáland, herbalists are still being patronized. An average Yorùbá person is inquisitive about his or her destiny. The babaláwo or herbalists do not just prescribe therapeutics, moreover, they pry into why certain thing—like sickness— occur and what could account for them. Olaoye (2003) reiterates this in highlighting the belief of the Yoruba that is evidenced when they say, “there is more to what happens to man than what meets the eyes (ìsẹ̣ ́ kan kì í sẹ̣ ́ lásán). These are the further reasons the babaláwo usually pries into matters by consulting an oracle (ifá) to find out the cause of certain things.30This belief explains why people patronize the babaláwo.
Similarly, the Yorùbá healing system is ubiquitous, accessible, potable, flexible and inexpensive. As Paul (2012) explains, every family has its own herbalist— a father, mother, aunt, or uncle—who handles small illnesses. Every family head has a pot of concoction (àgé) in his bedroom, which he resorts to at the onset of any symptom of illness in any member of the family. This, to a large extent, serves as first aid in the modern age, as it is given to a sick person before the arrival of a medical doctor. Apart from this, medication is very cheap. Ojo (2016) emphasized that in the Yorùbá healing systems; emphasis has not been put on the benefits or gains accruable from medical prescriptions, as it has in western medicine. In this case, herbalists treat their patients irrespective of their social or financial status, administering medicines, and allowing sick people to use the medicine and return later to compensate the prescribe. Within this system, sick people are not obliged to pay for medicine, but rather to appreciate the prescriber with cash or in kind. In the Yorùbá healing system, treatment of disease or sicknesses must not be commercialized to the point of making financial gains of sick people, is believed that such scheme makes medicines lose their potency and power to heal. The reason behind this philosophy among the Yorùbá people is the fact that the God of wisdom and knowledge (Olódùmarè) has supreme power over everything in the universe and that he gives such wisdom and knowledge to whoever he wants (Idowu 1973). Misuse of such knowledge is believed to be punishable by God after earthly existence.

Moreover, the spirit of communalism—which envelops the social life of the Yorùbá people—has also contributed to the survival of the Yorùbá healing system. Yorùbá people believe that no one lives to himself alone, which accounts for the practice of an extended family system. The welfare of every member of the family is the responsibility of every member of the family. The chain of linear connection (filial bonds) makes it extremely difficult for patriarchal family unit to be indifferent to the plight of any of their kin. Based on this aspect of Yorùbá philosophy, herbalists are obliged to respect this bond to and lend help to whoever requires it at any point in time.
Poverty is another potent factor that has helped or assisted the survival of Yorùbá healing system, in that the high rate of poverty in Africa generally has made it absolutely impossible for a high percentage of Africa’s people to obtain Western medication when they are sick (Paul 2015). Western healthcare is indeed expensive, and its delivery is slow.

One cannot overlook the fact that the Yorùbá healing system has been dynamic, as it has acknowledged the impact and effects of modernism and globalization. This could have informed Oguntola-Laguda, who maintains that the Yorùbá healing system has witnessed many changes, as well as developments, in recent times.31 The years of interactions of Yorùbá healing system with Western medicine has influenced its practices and operation, to a large extent. In the first instance, traditional medicines are now produced and packaged in tablets, sachets, and bottles, which in form resemble Western medicines. In some places, there are resident doctors who are experts in diagnosing ailments with high-tech medical instruments. A good example of this experience can be seen in Yem-Kem, a traditional healing shop in Lagos that has many branches across Nigeria. This development can be appreciated better when one looks at the way in which traditional healers use modern equipment to expand their ventures. For instance, in gynecology, antenatal, and maternity practice, ultra-sound scanning machines are used to determine the sex, position, and well-being of a developing fetus. Complications that may require surgery are referred to specialist hospitals for treatment.

Other reasons for their survival is the existence of metaphysical ailments that are not known or clear to Western medicine. The last resort for those who suffer such ailments is typically quick intervention by the traditional healers, especially the babaláwo. Examples of such health problems is a terrible sickness commonly contacted from women who engage in sexual relations with men other than their husbands (mágùn) which can neither be detected nor diagnosed scientifically, nor can science give remedy to the sufferer. Other ailments are spiritual in nature. These types of ailments cannot be detected by Western-style machines or laboratory examinations (Lambo 1969). The person affected by this type of incurable ailment languishes and suffers great pains, though laboratory tests and other methods of diagnosis confirm his or her health and do not provide evidence of impairment. Such ailments require the attention of diviners who pry into the realm of the metaphysical—through the instrumentality of their esoteric knowledge of nature—to correct the person’s spiritual anomaly. People with these types of problems are advised by hospitals to try traditional methods. The activities of Western healthcare services are popular in urban centers. Until the present, many rural areas have had no Western healthcare center. In such places, healthcare delivery consists completely of traditional methods. Itayvyar (1992) and the recent study carried out by Paul (2016) show that only 40 percent of the Yorùbá population lives in cities and urban centers. 60 percent of the Yorùbá population dwells in rural areas, such as plantation farms, hamlets, and villages, where there are no hospitals, maternity hospitals, or clinics. Healthcare is delivered in these places by means of traditional methods. Apart from the above, the materials and the ingredients for medicines are simple, accessible, and most are easily prepared. Exceptions to this are in cases of complicated matters such as mental illness, barrenness, and sickle cell anemia, which require sacrifices and invocation of spirits.32Common ailments such as fever, cold, cough, malaria, jaundice, and body pains are cured through the elemental part of the medicine. Dopamu (2000) enumerated the various items used as common ingredients in Yorùbá healing system, and they are mentioned in the first part of this article.

Most of these items are obtained easily, as they are available in the environment. Others can be acquired easily in the markets. Sellers usually display the items conspicuously for buyers to see them from a distance. Some of the items are grounded or mixed together for drinking, licking, or eating. Through this simple mechanism, within the family unit, healing is achieved. However, complicated matters are referred to the Yorùbá traditional herbalists: babaláwo, elégbogi, and olóò gùn, among others, as the case may require intensive examination and prescriptions.


The Yorùbá healing system is blessed by the weight of history or practice over the ages. This traditional healing system affects every aspect of human healthcare, just like in the Western worldview. The Yorùbá are a religious people who also cannot be separated from their philosophy, beliefs, and tradition. It is this interconnectedness of their philosophy, tradition, and beliefs that pitted them against the ideological perceptions of Western philosophy (Payne1992). Western healthcare ideologies frown at the principles that surround and govern the operation of the Yorùbá healing system. For instance, contrary to germ theory of disease in Western medicine, the Yorùbá believe in circular and spiritual theories. The latter aspect emphasizes sorcery (osọ́ ), witches (àjé)̣ , ancestors, and transcendent forces among others, as possible causes of sicknesses and ailments. Similarly, in the Yorùbá healing system, sicknesses and ailments that are associated with spirituality are also handled spiritually. This sometimes involves sacrifices to the gods or invocation of spiritual forces through incantations that appeal to the gods for a cure. The obscurantism of the practices perhaps underscores the various epithets employed by the proponents of Western healthcare against the ancient system of the Yorùbá, such as the missionaries and exponents of colonial government who opposed the use of the Yorùbá healing system and deemed it as primitive and unhygienic. The missionaries condemned the whole process as idolatry and persuaded many converts to abandon the system. The consolidation of the British government and its policies favored the ideology of these missionaries. This development further aggravated the survival and challenges of the Yorùbá healing system. The government enacted several policies that were indisposed to the continued existence of the Yorùbá healing system. Despite the opposition of missionaries and the colonial government, the Yorùbá healing system has survived into the present. In the first instance, the Yorùbá traditional medical practitioners proved indefatigable, resilient, and focused. The inseparability of Yorùbá tradition and religion continues to make their healing system inevitable to even those that have been won over by Western philosophy. Yorùbá philosophy—which forbids profiteering from traditional healthcare delivery—makes these services affordable to everyone, irrespective of social status. The principles of accessibility, flexibility, and affordability have been major factors in its survival. This is coupled with the monopoly it still enjoys over certain spiritual problems, which are alien to and outside of the purview of Western medicine. The commonality of the Yorùbá healing system makes it universal in such a way that every family unit, household, and community has a basic knowledge of how to use the elements around them should health challenges arise. Despite the campaigns for Western-style healthcare and medicine in the modern times, the Yorùbá healing system remains the most patronized and largest medium of healthcare delivery in Yorùbáland.

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Foot Notes

1 Babalola (1966).
2 Dosumu(1949), cited in Morakinyo(1983).
3 Odebiyi (1980,111–115).
4 Pearce (1989); Raharjo and Corner (1990).
5 Several scholars have done extensive studies in this regard, whose efforts are worthy of mention, including: Simpson (1980); Odebiyi (1980, 1989); Odebiyi and Young (1983); Ekong (1982); Odebiyi and Togonu-Bickesteth (1987); Foster and Anderson (1978); Morley (1978); Seijas (1973); Foster (1976); Hallgren (1992); Last (1993); Jahoda (1966); and Valabrega (1962), among others.
6 Awolalu (1979, 86–98).
7 Dopamu (1977, 276).
8 Dopamu (1979, 2001).
9 Maclean (1971, 32).
10 Evans-Pritchard (1937, 9).
11 Middleton and Winter (1942, 96–116).
12 Awolalu (1979, 74–76).
13 Dopamu (2003, 44).
14 Buckley (1981, 1).
15 Awolalu (1979, 79–91).
16 Idowu (1973, 63).
17 Dopamu (1977, 451).
18 Awolalu (1979, 43).
19 Buckley (1985, 1).
20 Paul (2014 136–142)
21 Odebiyi and Ekong (1982); Omorodion (1993); Jegede (1994).
22 Schram (1971, 19–21).
23 Paul (2014, 136).
24 Oyebola (1980, 23–34).
25 Hyma and Ramesh (1991, 42–43).
26 Oke (1995, 23–25).
27 Maclean (1979); Os̩unwole (1978).
28 Cais (1988, 521–522).
29 Tella (1992, 3).
30 Abimbola (1965); Evans-Pritchard (1937).
31 Oguntola-Laguda (2015, 118).
32 Oshadare and Paul (2009, 228–229).

Kọ́lá Abímbọ́lá
Department of Philosophy
Howard University
Washington, DC


Are there universal principles, categories, or forms of reasoning that apply to all aspects of human experience—irrespective of culture and epoch? Numerous scholars have explored this very question from Africana perspectives: Kwasi Wiredu (1996) explored the philosophical issue of whether there are culturally defined values and concepts; Hallen and Sodipo (1986) examined the question of whether there are unique African indigenous systems of knowledge; Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1994) evaluated the role of colonialism in the language of African literature; Oyer̀ oń kẹ́ Oyěwumi (1997) argued that “gender” is a Western cultural invention that is foreign to Yorùbá systems of sociation; and Helen Veran (2001) argued that even though science, mathematics, and logic are not culturally relative, “certainty” is nonetheless derived from cultural practices and associations. Building on these and other works, this essay argues that: (i) incommensurability of “worldviews,” “perspectives,” “paradigms,” or “conceptual schemes” springs from deeper, more fundamental cognitive categories of logic that are coded into natural languages; and that (ii) consequently, as long as African reflective reasoning is expressed solely (or predominantly) in European languages, the authenticity of the “African” in African philosophy is questionable.

Introduction: Logic and African Philosophy

I propose to consider the African philosophical traditions via an examination of the soundness of Syllogism A. The use of abductive generalization as a method of proof will be crucial to demonstrating the truth of premise 1.

Syllogism A

All philosophy is cultural
Yorùbá thought is philosophy
∴ Yorùbá thought is cultural
all P* is C
y is P
∴ y is C*

I will proceed in this manner:
Following Harry J. Gensler’s well-formed formulas (wffs) and his rules for syllogistic logic, I will very quickly show that Syllogism A is valid; then, Devote the body of this article to establishing the soundness of Syllogism A; and then,
Conclude by drawing out the implication of premise 1 as follows: any type of African thought that is “philosophy” must also of necessity be “cultural philosophy.”

I will then further draw the disturbing and paradoxical grand conclusion that the growth of philosophy in Africa is leading to the demise of African philosophy! For as long as we continue to conduct philosophy in Africa solely (or mainly) in European languages, the concepts, categories, and worldviews embedded within our philosophical products will predominantly be European and not African.

Proof and Culture

I define the terms well-formed formula, distribution, validity, the-truth-insoundness, culture, and deductive generalization as follows: Well-formed formula: A well-formed formula (wff) is a sentence in syllogistic language having any of these eight forms:

all A is B some A is B x is A x is y
no A is B some A is not B x is not A x is not y

Distribution: Each instance of a letter in a wff is distributed if and only if it occurs just after “all” or anywhere after “no” or “not.” Hence, only the underlined letters in the wffs above are distributed.

Validity: A syllogism is valid if and only if it passes Gensler’s two-step “star test”:

i. “Star premise letters that are distributed and conclusion letters that are not;
ii. The syllogism is valid if and only if every capital letter is starred exactly once and there is exactly one star on the right-hand side.” (Gensler 2010, 10)

Syllogism A passes the star test and I will henceforth take it as unquestionably valid. (For proof of the star test, see Gensler 1973.)

The-Truth-in-Soundness: Soundness is validity plus true premises (yielding, therefore, a true conclusion). But what is truth? Following Kwasi Wiredu’s analysis of the Akan conception of truth, I accept that truth is opinion; that any item of information that is labeled “true” is always someone’s truth—that is, an item of information must have been identified by, discovered by, and defended by some person at a specific point in time before “truth” can be ascribed to it.

This has some implications:
i. Truth is not objectivist. That is, truth is not timeless or eternal because any item of information that is defended as true by someone may be shown to be a falsehood by someone; ii. Truth requires cognitive agency; it is an activity that requires language, reason, perception, and inference.

Culture: Culture is the manifestation of human intellectual achievements collectively and universally as a “grouping.” Culture has three dimensions or layers:
i. Communal culture (CC) is at the level of group psychology, which I here define as the shared set of beliefs, doings, and practices that makes up the communal bank of a group’s achievements. Communal culture is observable. For example, the use of the English language and the Spanish language in the United States are manifestations at the level of communal groupings. Other examples would include modes of dress, types of food, etc.
ii. Internal culture (IC) is individual psychology, which I here define as the mental characteristics or elements of grouping psychology as imbibed, absorbed or assimilated in a person. E.g., Kọ́lá’s use of the English language in writing this article; or John’s conception of the professional attire as a business suit in dark colors and of a conservative cut; or Mary’s claim that 2 + 2 ≠ 10 because she only counts in base 10 (and not in base 4 where 2 + 2 = 10); are all elements of “grouping psychology” as imbibed by Kọ́lá, John, and Mary respectively.
iii. Nomological culture (NC) is sociobiological psychology, which I here define as habits or customs of the human mind that have resulted from evolutionary groupings that now function as prerequisites for human cognition and inference. E.g., the capacity to form generalizations and their usages as inferential warrants in thinking (Abiḿ bọ́la ́ 2013b and 2005); or the indispensability of a conception of space/time to human cognition; or the innate capacity of humans to communicate with spoken languages.

Therefore: Any product of thought designated as “philosophy” is cultural philosophy if and only if it is impossible to convey that thought without reliance on collective manifestations of human groupings of the CC, IC, and NC types.

I should add that communal, internal, and nomological cultures are distinguishable but not distinct. They come in a package deal as the three sides (obverse, reverse, and edge) of the same coin.
Abductive Generalization: The principle of abductive generalization can be stated as follows:

Suppose that something is true in the first case, and assume that if it is true in any n case, then it is also true for the n+1 case. Then that something is true in all cases.

This has two properties:
Base case: Show that something is true for the first case. I.e.: P(1) is true, and Abduction step: Assume that if any one n is true, then it is also true for n+1. I.e.: P(n) → P(n+1) for all cases of n.
This method of proof can be stated formerly as follows: [P(1) ∧∀n (P(n) → P(n + 1 ))] →∀nP(n)
What I have called abductive generalization is more commonly known as mathematical induction; but since it operates more like abduction (or inference to the best explanation) than induction, I refer to it as abductive generalization.

Abductive generalization can be defined as the converse of inductive generalization. Q → P is the converse of P → Q; All P is S is the converse of All S is P. In inductive generalizations, we find a generalization such that all examples can be derived from it; whereas in abductive generalizations, we find a generalization that can be deduced from all examples.

It could be objected that the specificity of my definitions is unnatural; that the meanings of these terms ought to be established by examining their semantic expressions in ordinary language. But that would be absurd. Philosophy, as I shall argue, cannot run solely on monadic semantic expressions that are devoid of a meaning-use duality. Understanding the statement “she took out her key and opened the door” implies that she opened the door with the key she took out; and that is an understanding that does not just inhere in the meanings of the words; but also in their usage; and therefore also in cultures CC, IC, and NC. Simply put, understanding is not just about the semantics of sentences; it also includes the pragmatic process of meaningful usage that Grice calls “conversational implicature” (Grice 1989); a process within which the philosopher and her cultures cooperate in concert to produce second-order thought.

History and the Nature of African Philosophy

At least three ways of doing history can be identified: history I, history II, and rational reconstructions. History I is about the constellations of facts. It is about recording factual events that have occurred in time. The “facts” are often conceived of as “observable” and “real” things that are (or were) in existence, and have (or had) independent positivity in some sense. History II is concerned with the development or evolution of ideas and their roles in human understanding. Just as we can have chronological accounts of observable facts in history I, we can also have chronological accounts of history II concepts. I could give a chronological account of schools of thought such as: ethnophilosophy, sagacity, Afrocentricity, the phenomenological approach to African philosophy, and the socialist/Marxist approach to African philosophy. Moreover, a chronological account of these ideas, concepts, or schools of thought could also be interpretative. (See, for example, Oruka 1981.) For instance, in the chronological ordering of ideas, Africentrics could reflect on the similarities between the Egyptian ethical principles of Maat, the Yorùbá concept of ìwàpẹ̀lẹ,́ and Aristotelian virtue ethics; and they could assert the international dominance of Egyptian culture by maintaining that ìwàpẹ̀lẹ́ and Aristotelian ethics originated from Egyptian culture.

Rational reconstruction is historiography. In this context, it is the study of the history and methods for doing the history of African philosophy. It involves a dialectical interaction between histories I and II, an epistemological thesis about the sources of historical knowledge, the methods of historical knowledge, and an axiology. Rational reconstruction in this context is a meta- epistemological stance on the nature of African philosophy. In doing rational reconstructions, the historian generates her own methods (or relies on a specific method) for the study of historical material as well the specific body of works to focus on.

How then should we write the history of African philosophy? On the basis of history I, history II, or rational reconstructions? As Collingwood rightly pointed out, “the historian’s picture of the past is [. . .] in every detail an imaginary picture, and its necessity at every point is the necessity of the a priori” (Collingwood 1978, 244). One way of interpreting Collingwood’s claim is that it is the historian’s engagement with the past that makes or creates the events as “historical facts.” Every knowledge claim about the past is of necessity constrained by various factors: the fact that the events are no longer there for us to observe, the fact that we now have only a selective section of the sequence of events that transpired, and above all the fact that interpretation plays an indispensable role in everything the historian records as historical fact. There would be no historical fact without the historian. And consequently, it would seem to be the case that we can never genuinely have a history I account of the history of African philosophy, for each “constellation of facts” about the past requires the grouping or clustering of things that are related in a particular way, and this must of necessity go beyond the “observable,” the “real,” and beyond constituents of human existence that have (or had) independent positivity. Any so-called history I account of African philosophy will ipso facto be a constellation on the basis of a history II construct such as Afrocentricity, sagacity, analytic philosophy, or Marxist philosophy. Any history

I account of African philosophy will of necessity be a priori because it will constellate facts on the basis of an imagined picture. We cannot have history I without the constituents of history II, mutatis mutandis, a rational reconstruction.

Consider, for instance, the following claims by Lefkowitz:
I use the term philosophy in the more specialized, modern sense, to mean the study of causes and laws underlying reality or a system of inquiry designed specifically to study those laws and causes. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were learned and had what we would now call advanced civilizations; they could have developed an abstract terminology for discovering causes and principles had they chosen to do so. But they did not study and analyze the nature of reality in abstract, nontheological language. This specialized notion of philosophy was invented, so far as anyone knows, by the ancient Greeks. (Lefkowitz 1996, 188–89; my italics.)

First, based on the accounts of many other accepted super-rational reconstructions (i.e., other accounts of what philosophy is), Lefkowitz’s account of philosophy as “the study of causes and laws underlying reality” jettisons from philosophy sub-fields of knowledge such as ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics, which are not in the business of doing metaphysics and ontology. Hence her definition of philosophy is too restrictive.

Moreover, even if we accept Lefkowitz’s own criteria of philosophy as “the study of causes and laws underlying reality,” or “a system [. . .] to study [. . .] laws and causes,” or analysis of “the nature of reality in abstract,” there are numerous examples of African thought systems that meet these specific criteria. Theophile Obenga makes this point poignantly as follows:
Egyptian thinking was graphic and abstract at the same time. Pictures were used as symbols of thought. [. . .] The Egyptians did develop a kind of semiology by studying the relationship between signs and pictures, using material objects to represent something invisible or abstract. This is not to say that the Egyptian philosophers thought in graphic and concrete terms. They made use of graphic and concrete forms to think abstractions. This may seem quaint for the modern mind, because of the alphabetical system of writing. In fact, semiotic structures in hieroglyphic signs were a fine equipment for precise abstract thinking. (2004, 34)

Lefkowitz’s account is based on a rational reconstruction that is the product of a self-created constellation of historical patterns. But so too is Obenga’s! The judgment that Obenga’s rational reconstructions are better than Lefkowitz’s requires: (i) assessing them on Thomas Kuhn’s fuzzy criteria of simplicity, accuracy, consistency, and fruitfulness (Kuhn 1977; Kuhn 1962); and (ii) searching for a super-rational reconstruction on the basis of which both of these options can be judged.

I submit that Afrocentricity, sagacity, Bantu philosophy, the Lefkowitz account and its Obenga critique, or any other rational reconstruction, will never succeed in capturing the essential nature of African philosophy because each rational reconstruction in part creates its own scheme of fact, methods, and values. Rather, in varying degrees of success or failure, they rationally reconstruct the different and changing patterns of the intellectual circumstances and possibilities that originate from Africa. We are still none the wiser on the essential nature of African philosophy.

In summary:
Doing history I requires a prior knowledge of elements and concepts of history II;
The elements and concepts of history II are of necessity biased because they contain within themselves their own yardstick for what should count as fact, the methods for conducting historical research, and their own axiology of values; and, As such, a mere constellation of history IIs (Afrocentricism, sagacity, analytic philosophy, etc.) will never yield a full picture of what African philosophy is. We need to engage with the essential nature of philosophy in itself and African philosophy’s share of it.

Premise 1: All Philosophy is Cultural Philosophy

I want to prove that the first premise of Syllogism A is true. Let us label this premise as: abductive generalization I (AGI).

AGI: All philosophy is cultural philosophy. It is impossible to prove this statement by induction for there will be an inference gap in the reasoning since the premises of an inductive argument will never entail its conclusion. We also cannot prove this statement by deduction because deductive reasoning is non-ampliative, and unless AGI is already covertly (or explicitly) contained in the premises of that deductive argument, the truth of those premises will never guarantee the truth of AGI.

Hence, I will advance a proof by abductive generalization. AGI asserts that the property “cultural philosophy” holds for all philosophical systems 1, 2, 3, 4, ad infinitum. The proof will proceed as follows:

Base case: P(1) is true (where P(1) is the following): Suppose that “philosophy is cultural philosophy” is true with respect to thoughts expressed in the English language (i.e., the first case); and, Abduction step: P(n) → P(n+1) for all cases of n Assume that if “philosophy is cultural philosophy” is true in philosophy expressed in any unspecified language (i.e., the nth case), then it is also true for any language we choose after that nth case (i.e., the n+1th case). Then that something is true in all cases.

Such a proof would amount to establishing:
[P(1) ∧∀n (P(n) → P(n + 1 ))] →∀nP(n) which is a proof that shows that:
if it is possible to show that philosophical thoughts expressed in the English language are cultural philosophy, and that for any unspecified language n, if you can show that philosophy expressed in that language is cultural philosophy, then you can also show that the n + 1th philosophy you reach will also be cultural philosophy.

Is P(1), the base case, true? Is it the case that philosophizing in the English language will always be about the “collective” and “universal” manifestations of human intellectual achievements of the “grouping” of people called the English— that nation and ethnic group native to England? (Note, of course, that the base case need not be the English language. The beauty of abductive generalization here is that any natural language can be taken to be the base case. Note further that the cultural identity of the base need not be the English of England. If the language chosen were “American English,” then the ethnic/ cultural group in question would be the English-speaking Americans of the United States.)

Talking about the world in any language relies upon “sortals.” Sortals provide the criteria of individuation (“how many?”) and the principles of identity (“is it the same?”) in a language. If I ask the question “how many?” there is no intelligible way to answer that question until I specify how many of what should be counted. Hence, the answer to the question “how many?” can only be answered if a language has principles and criteria for the individuation of the sorts of “countable things” in that natural language. Criteria of individuation and the principles of identity are embedded into each language as sortals. Differently put, sortals code individuation and identity in natural languages.

In the English language, the criteria (and principles) of individuation and identity are spatiotemporal in the sense that particulars have identities because they are individuated sections of matter that are located in particular spaces, and that exist across time with designated identities. Sortals, in the English language, must have spatiotemporal location; they have to be space-filling and enduring over time.

It is “natural,” but erroneous, to assume that spatiotemporality is the only correct way of individuation and identity. This method of doing sortals seems natural only to speakers of European languages such as English. Moreover, it is certainly possible for speakers of non-European languages to falsely assume spatiotemporality as the only valid means of doing sortals because of the hegemony of European languages in philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and other such disciplines.

Contrast Yorùba,́ for example, with the English language. If I point at three different items and ask of each one in English “what is this,” the answers “It is water,” or “It is money,” or “It is a head” rely on criteria of individuation and identity that are spatiotemporal. A somewhat equivalent question in the Yorùba ́ language would be the question: “ki ́ niỳ i ?́ ” Helen Verran (2001, 2007) provides novel analysis of questions of this type. Verran’s analysis demonstrates that if I point at “water,” “money,” or “a head” and ask a monolingual or a competent bilingual speaker of the Yorùbá language “ki ́ nìyí´?”, the answers to these questions in Yorùba ́ would be: “Omi ni ó jẹ,́ ” “owo ́ ni ó jẹ,́ ” and “orí ni ó jẹ.́” It would however, be misleading to translate:

a. “Omi ni ó jẹ́” as “It is water”
b. “Owó ni ó jẹ́” as “It is money,” and
c. “Orí ni ó jẹ́” as “It is a head.”

This is because a competent Yorùbá speaker does not primarily identify and individuate on the basis of spatiotemporality. Rather, they identify and individuate on the sorts, categories or types of features that exist in common in a conceptualized, non-spatiotemporal metaphysical unity. Hence, the better translations would be:

d. “Omi ni ó jẹ́” as “watermatter manifests”
e. “Owó ni ó jẹ́” as “moneymatter manifests,” and
f. “Orí ni ó jẹ́” as “headmatter manifests.”

These may sound totally unintelligible to an English speaker. In her analysis, Helen Verran focused on the answers to these questions. I will approach them from the point of the question “kí ni ỳ i ́i?” (“what is this?”) itself.

First, we need to be clear on two syntactical and semantic methods of the Yorùbá language.

a. In its arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences, Yorùbá language adopts the method of assimilation and elision.
b. In its logic of meanings, the Yorùbá language adopts the method of layering.

Here is an example of these two methods at work. Consider for instance the name Kọ́laṕ ọ̀ Abiḿ bọ́la.́ The sentence ki ́ ọlá pọ,̀ which means: “may honor be plentiful,” now becomes the name “Kọ́laṕ ọ.̀” The sentence a bi ́ mi bá ọla,́ which means: “in a setting where we were born with lots of honor” now becomes the name “Abiḿ bọ́la.́” (Note that it is “we” were born, not “you” were born. This is because Abiḿ bọ́lá in this context refers to the extended Abiḿ – bọ́la ́ family, and not just the individual named Kọ́laṕ ọ ̀ Abiḿ bọ́la.́ Hence, the mi in a bi ́ mi bá ọlá refers to an extended family of about 2,500 people, and not just to the individual named Kọ́laṕ ọ.̀)

The first layer of meaning for the name Kọ́lápọ̀ Abi ́mbọ́lá would be the following: “here is another contribution to honor in a lineage where honor is already plentiful.” This first layer of meaning is, however, too superficial; and, in fact, the English translation above is woefully misleading. To be sure, the word ọlá in my names is somewhat equivalent to the word “honor” in English; but in actuality ọlá in Yorùbá is an appearance (a particular or an instance) of a manifestation (or a universal) whose primordial real form is the metaphysical entity/power/force/logic that the Yorùbá call Eṣ̀ u.̀ This supernatural entity/power/force functions as the neutral “universal law” that cosmically wields the balance of good and evil. In Yorùbá metaphysics and logic, there is good, there is evil, and there is a third middle of perfect “neutrality” in-between them. What we have is a Yorùbá metaphysics and a corresponding intuitionistic/ fuzzy logic that violates classical logic’s law of excluded middle.
In Yorủbá logic, the statement “a proposition is true or its negation is true” is not necessarily a true statement. For, there is a third truth-value encoded into the language.

The true meanings of my names can only be deciphered by paying attention to the fact that Eṣ̀ u,̀ that third truth-status (neutral?) metaphysical entity/ power/force/logic is always present with Ifá priests and priestesses (watching, accompanying, supporting, testing, judging, and rewarding them) because they are the physicians, philosophers, counselors, doctors and historians of Yorùbá societies. In short, my name is as much an affirmation as a warning: it affirms that I am from a lineage of Ifá diviners and that if I follow the ethical virtues of iẁ ap̀ ẹ̀lẹ́ (as those before me in this lineage did), my path in life will be filled with ire (i.e., blessing); but if I deviate from a path of iẁ ap̀ ẹ̀lẹ ́ and good conduct, Èṣù is always there watching everything I do, and will surely act as required by cosmic law.

Assimilations, elisions, and layered meanings of the type illustrated with my names are all embedded in the question: “kí ni ỳ i ́i,” which is in fact the condensed version of the question: “kín ni ti iru ́ oni ́ eỳ i ?́ ” The word-for-word equivalents for this longer question are:

Kín ni ti irú oni ́ eỳi?
What manifesting or appearing is type belongs to
(or, “is

With a series of Yorủbá assimilations, elisions and layering of meanings:
kín ni ti irú oni ́ eỳ i ́ becomes shortened to
kín ni ti irú eỳ i,́ which becomes shortened to
kín ni ti e ̀leý i ̀i,́ which becomes shortened to
kín ni e ̀leý i ̀i,́ which becomes shortened to
kín léyii ́ (or its equivalent shortened versions of kín niyii ́ or kí niyii ́).

(Note that any version of these alternatives can be validly used in Yorùbá

To convey the exact metaphysical and epistemological ideas intended by a competent speaker of Yorùbá into English, the honest translation of the question kí niyi ̀i ?́ should be: To what type of manifestation does this type of appearing belong? Or better still: To what type of universal does this type of particular belong?

To be clear: the manner in which individuation and identification work in the Yorùbá language is radically different from that of the English language.
When a native speaker of Yorùbá sees the object that an English speaker would regard as a spatiotemporal sortal, the Yorùbá speaker sees more; the Yorùbá speaker in fact sees the appearing of a manifestation! This explains why, in conversing with a native Yorùbá speaker, the question: “kí ni ỳ i ́i ”́ with respect to “water,” “money,” and “orí” elicits the following responses:

a. “Omi ni ó jẹ́” (watermatter manifests);
b. “Owó ni ó jẹ́” (moneymatter manifests); and
c. “Orí ni ó jẹ́” (headmatter manifests).

Translation from Yorùbá into English and vice versa is fun! You see and understand things differently by code-switching in and out of the two languages. But at the same time, it is perilous! From Kindergarten through the doctoral level, I was schooled in two radically different educational systems: the formal Western educational system and the apprenticeship-based Yorùbá indigenous knowledge system in which I was studying to be an Ifá diviner. The Ifá Corpus has 256 books, each of which has 800 poems, making a total of 204,800 poems. The shortest poem is four lines, and there are some that run into 30 pages when written down.

Even though we are dealing with two languages, there are in fact five main classes of linguistic competence to engage with: Native-level Yorùbá speakers who are monolingual;

Native-level speakers of English who are monolingual;
Native-level Yorùbá speakers who have native-level fluency in the English language;
Competent-level Yorùbá speakers who also have competent-level status in the English language; and
Native-level Yorùbá speakers who had rudimentary-level understanding of the English language.

(Note: there are other classes of linguistic competency. For instance: competent- level speakers of Yorùbá who have native-level status in English; Ifá diviners from Cuba who speak Cuban Yorùbá and Spanish; or Candomblé practitioners from Brazil who speak Brazilian Yorùbá and Portuguese.)

Imagine that I am functioning as a translator for two monolinguals—a native- level Yorùbá speaker and a native-level English speaker. If the Yorùbá speaker were to ask the question: ki ́ niỳ ii?́ (given that I understand his worldviews and the presuppositions of his question) the honest translation I should render to the English speaker should be: “to what type of manifestation does this appearing belong?” The English speaker would be bewildered at my translation. If the English speaker were to ask what is this? My honest translation (given her worldview and the presuppositions of her question) should be a Yorùbá statement approximating something like “what is the identity of the spatiotemporal matter located here?” No doubt the Yorùbá speaker would think that the English speaker (or the translator) has lost some marbles!

The implication of the foregoing is clear: doing philosophy in the English language will yield a completely different set of rules, principles and standards from doing philosophy in the Yorùbá language because these languages individuate and identify in radically different ways. The law of identity which states that “each thing is the same with itself and different from another” only appears to be intuitively valid in the English language because spatiotemporality is coded into English—a language that is the collective cultural manifestation of the intellectual achievements of the English people as exhibited in communal, individual, and nomological psychology. The primary logic of Yorùbá language is not classical; it is intuitionistic or sortal at base, with a secondary or supplementary layer of classical logic.

Effective communication in the places where I grew up (the campus of Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀ University, the city of Ilé-Ifẹ,̀ and the city of Ọỳ ọ)́ required complex but seamless code-switching in engaging with peoples with the five different Yoruba/English language-competency mixes.

Every truly bilingual speaker of the Yorùbá and English languages learns to code-switch seamlessly. The codes switched between depend on the language competency level of those one is conversing with. Many concepts, principles, actions, processes, rules, and methods simply do not make sense if one thinks in Yorùbá on the basis of the spatiotemporal classical logic that is encoded into the English language. Many concepts, principles, actions, processes, rules and methods simply do not make sense if one thinks in English on the basis of the intuitionistic, fuzzy or sortal logic that are encoded into the Yorùbá language.

I am now in a position to assert that the Base case P(1) is true with respect to the English language. The forgoing discussion on sortals and the spatiotemporal criteria of individuation and identity in the English language demonstrably shows that philosophizing in English requires reliance on the principles of classical logic that are culturally codified in the language of the English people.

I am now also in a position to assert that the abduction step P(n) → P(n+1) for all cases of n is proven. In proving the base case with respect to the English language, I have shown that the sortals of individuation and identity are essential and cultural. But if we take any other language n, sortals will also be required in that language and they will also be cultural. (And this I have also shown with another n that is not the English language; namely, the Yorùbá language.) Hence:
[P(1) ∧∀n (P(n) → P(n + 1 ))] →∀nP(n)

Less formally, this proof states that:
Suppose that the claim that “philosophy has the property of cultural philosophy” holds for the first n cases (in this article the first nth case has been shown to be the English language); then the property of philosophy as cultural philosophy holds in the n+1th case (i.e., any other language we choose after establishing that this property holds for the English language as the first nth case). Then the property of philosophy as cultural philosophy holds in all cases.
The only condition under which this abductive generalization would fail is that in which we philosophize without communicating in a natural human language.

Premise 2: Yorùbá Thought is Philosophy

Clearly, this premise is not a universal generalization! It does not claim that all Yorùbá thought ipso facto classifies as philosophy; rather, it claims that at least some does. I will illustrate this claim with examples.

Classical Yorùbá Thought as Philosophy

In the preface to Yorùbá Culture: A Philosophical Account, I make the following claims:

This is a book about Yorùbá thought and practices. It expounds a view about the nature, roles and functions of Yorùbá beliefs in contemporary societies. My position is that philosophical ideas implicit in the Òrìṣà religion form the basis of Yorùbá culture in West Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world. The book is, therefore, not a catalogue of various cultural practices of Yorùbá peoples around the world. It is not an exposition of tastes in art, dance, etiquette, and other mores that are adopted by this particular social group. It is simply a theoretical account of the philosophical ideas that underlie the world-view of traditional Yorùbá societies.” (Abiḿ bọ́la,́ K. 2006, xv.)

Works of this type are “classical” because they seek to identify the underlying concepts, categories, and viewpoints that are embedded within, and have persisted in the exegesis of, Yorùbá thought and culture. Other examples of works of the classical type, would include Gbadegesin (1984), Makinde (1983), and Sodipo (1973).

Modern Yorùbá Thought as Philosophy

In his foreword to the American edition of Hallen and Sodipo’s Knowledge, Belief, and Witchcraft: Analytic Experiments in African Philosophy, W. V. O Quine writes:

This book is philosophical and linguistic, serving both interests. On the philosophical side it embodies the spirit of the philosophy of ordinary language, which flourished in England in the middle decades of this century; but the language concerned, Yoruba, is far from ordinary from an English point of view. The central epistemological themes of truth, belief, knowledge and evidence are explored through analytic study of the usage and connotation of the key terms: not these four words to be sure, but the accepted dictionary counterparts in Yoruba. [. . .] Hints of an alien philosophical orientation emerge [. . .] This could enrich one’s own attitude with a new perspective [. . .]. (Hallen and Sodipo 1997, xiii)

Works of this type I describe as “modern” because their primary focus is on intercultural analysis of the compare-and-contrast type. They are intercommunicative dialogues between Yorùbá and other cultures. Other works within this genre would include Gbadegesin (1991, 1987), Taiwo (2004), and Verran (2001).

Non-Philosophical Sources of Yorùbá Thought as Philosophy

A wealth of writings from the fields of religion, literature, sociology, anthropology, etc. have also produced Yorùbá philosophical materials. In fact, in the 1970s and early 1980s when many academic philosophers were still bogged down with the question of whether there is an African philosophy (perhaps because they were thinking about African thought in European languages), scholars in these other fields just went on with the business of doing African philosophy in general, and Yorùbá philosophy in particular. Works within this genre include W. Abiḿ bọ́lá (1977, 1973, 1968), Abiọ́ ́duń (2014), Oyewumi (1997), and Soyinka (1976).

Conclusion: Yoruba thought is Cultural Philosophy

Given the truth of premises 1 and 2, we can conclude that Yorùbá thought
is cultural philosophy.

Implications of the Syllogism for African Philosophy

Ian Hacking rightly observed that “language matters to philosophy in the way it matters to all extended thought: we express and communicate our ideas in language” (Hacking 1975, 4). Hacking continued: “We shall avoid confusion if only we attend closely enough to distinctions actually present in common speech” (Hacking 1975, 6).

Prior to the hegemony of philosophy in academia, the primary source of philosophy in African societies were those specialists (so-called “illiterates” and “uneducated”) of second-order thinking who thought, critiqued, and conversed in their indigenous African languages (see W. Abiḿ bọ́la ́ [1975], Oruka [1983], Hallen and Sodipo [1997], and Griaule [1965] for analysis and illustrations of non-professional, non-academic-based African philosophy).
Philosophy is now burgeoning across Africa as an academic discipline. Yet, notwithstanding the contemporary growth and success of philosophy on the African continent, not one single academic program across the continent is conducted in an indigenous language. The languages of professional academic philosophical training, philosophical education, and philosophical writing in Africa are all European and Arabic.

To be sure, many African scholars have very poignantly argued that the language of education does matter. June 2015 marks 35 years since the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu called for the decolonization of African philosophy from “the conceptual frameworks embedded in the foreign philosophical traditions that have had an impact on African life and thought” (Wiredu 1996, 136). Scholars of the so-called “illiterate” type (listed above) have also written extensively on why the language of education, philosophizing, politics, art, and culture matter in Africa. Notable amongst these writings are Abiodun (2014), Oyewumi (1997), Wiredu (1996), and Wa Thiong’o (1994).

Many concepts, such as truth, reality, being, matter, existence, personhood, democracy, citizenship, soul, minds, etc., are still being conceptualized in colonized European languages in the doing of philosophy in Africa. Indeed, there are some African universities where indigenous languages are being taught in European languages!

To be sure, comparative analysis, second-order presentations of African thought systems in non-African languages, and the learning of more than one language are of immense value. However, these should not be at the demise of the logics, metaphysics and epistemologies that are embedded within the indigenous languages that are used routinely on a daily basis across the African continent.

Wiredu’s call for the conceptual decolonization of African philosophy has not yet been heeded, and as such professional academic philosophy in Africahas found itself in a precarious and paradoxical position: the development of philosophy in Africa is leading to the demise of African philosophy!


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Mackenzie Finley
Department of History
University of Texas at Austin


With Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola as primary subject, this paper attempts to understand the construction of sociocultural identities in Nigeria in the wake of independence. Despite the international success of his literary publications, Tutuola was denied access to the most intimate discourses on the development of African literature by his Nigerian elite contemporaries, who emerged from University College, Ibadan, in the 1950s and early 1960s. Having completed only a few years of colonial schooling, Tutuola was differentiated from his elite literary contemporaries in terms of education. Yet if education represented a rather concrete, institutionalized divide between the elite and the everyday Nigerian, this paper will suggest that the resulting epistemological difference served as a more fluid, ideological divide. Both Western epistemology, rooted in Western academic spaces, and African epistemology, preserved from African traditions like proverbs and storytelling, informed the elite and Tutuola’s worldviews. The varying degrees to which one epistemology was privileged over the other reinforced the boundary between Tutuola and the elite. Furthermore, educational experiences and sociocultural identities informed the ways in which independent Nigeria was envisioned by both Tutuola and the elite writers. While the elites’ discourse on independence reflected their proximity to Nigeria’s political elite, Tutuola positioned himself as a distinctly Yoruba writer in the new Nigeria. He envisioned a state in which traditional knowledge remained central to the African identity. Ultimately, his life and work attest to the endurance of indigenous epistemology through years of European colonialism and into independence.

During a lecture series at the University of Palermo, Italy, Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola presented himself, his work, and his Yoruba heritage to an audience of Italian students and professors of English and Anglophone literatures. During his first lecture, the Yoruba elder asked his audience, “Why are we people afraid to go to the burial ground at night?” An audience member ventured a guess: “Perhaps we are afraid to know what we cannot know.” Tutuola replied, “But, you remember, we Africans believe that death is not the end of life. We know that when one dies, that is not the end of his life [. . .] So why are all people afraid to go to the burial ground at night? They’re afraid to meet the ghosts from the dead” (emphasis in original).1 Amos Tutuola (1920–1997) was recognized globally for his perpetuation of Yoruba folklore tradition via novels and short stories written in unconventional English. His works, especially The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), were translated into numerous European languages, including Italian. Given the chance to speak directly with an Italian audience at Palermo, Tutuola elaborated on the elements of Yoruba culture that saturated his fiction. His lectures reflected the same sense of purpose that drove his writing. Tutuola explained, “As much as I could [in my novels], I tried my best to bring out for the people to see the secrets of my tribe—I mean, the Yoruba people—and of Nigerian people, and African people as a whole. I’m trying my best to bring out our traditional things for the people to know a little about us, about our beliefs, our character, and so on.”2 Tutuola’s didactics during the lecture at Palermo reflect his distinct intellectual and cultural commitment to a Yoruba cosmology, one that was not so much learned in his short years of schooling in the colonial education system as it was absorbed from his life of engagement with Yoruba oral tradition. With Tutuola as primary subject, this paper attempts to understand the construction of sociocultural identities in Nigeria in the wake of independence. The educated elite writers, such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, who emerged from University College, Ibadan, during the same time period, will serve as a point of comparison. On October 1, 1960, when Nigeria gained independence from Britain, Tutuola occupied an unusual place relative to the university-educated elite, the semi-literate “average man,” the international position helped shape his sense of identity. Despite the success of his literary publications, Tutuola was not allowed to participate in the most intimate discourses on the development of African literature by his elite contemporaries. In addition to his lack of access to higher education, Tutuola was differentiated from his elite literary contemporaries on epistemological grounds. If education represented a rather concrete, institutionalized divide between the elite and the everyday Nigerian, an epistemological difference served as a more fluid, ideological divide. Both Western epistemology, rooted in Western academic spaces, and African epistemology, preserved from African traditions like proverbs and storytelling, informed the elite and Tutuola’s worldviews. The varying degrees to which one epistemology was privileged over the other reinforced the boundary between the elite and Tutuola. This paper draws largely on correspondence, conference reports, and the personal papers of Tutuola and his elite contemporaries housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as on interviews transcribed by the Transcription Centre in London, the periodical Africa Report (1960–1970), and Robert M. Wren and Claudio Gorlier, concentrating on primary sources produced during the years immediately prior to and shortly after Nigerian independence in 1960. Tutuola’s ideas generally did not fit into the sociocultural objectives of his elite counterparts. Though they would come in contact with one another via the world of English-language literature, Tutuola usually remained absent from or relegated to the margins of elite discussions on African creative writing. Accordingly, the historical record has less to say about his intellectual ruminations than about those of his elite contemporaries. Nonetheless, his hand-written drafts, interviews, and correspondences with European agents offer a glimpse at the epistemology and sense of identity of an “average” Nigerian in the aftermath of colonialism and independence.

Constructing identities

Within the context of decolonization and early independence, Tutuola negotiated his identity and position as a Yoruba novelist in the new Nigeria. The first internationally-recognized English-language author from Nigeria, he also represented the “average man” with limited colonial-style education, basic literacy, a menial job in the government sector, and an attachment to his ancestral village and traditions. When asked about himself, Tutuola would often include information similar to that found in a correspondence with one Michele Dussutour-Hammer (1973): I am the native of Abeokuta, one of the biggest town [sic] in the Western State [. . .] I am a Yoruba man once Abeokuta is a Yoruba town. But now I live together with my family in Ibadan and I work in the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, as a storekeeper. I write at my leisure hours. Each of my books had been written out Yoruba folk-lores, tales, etc.3 Tutuola consistently identified himself as a “Yoruba man,” a Yoruba writer, a businessman, a husband, and a father. He also grew up in a Christian household and was baptized in 1975.4 For the purposes of this paper, however, Tutuola’s conception of himself as a Yoruba man and Yoruba writer will be privileged. As a writer, Tutuola can be positioned alongside his elite literary contemporaries, whose novels and short stories also reached a wide, international audience. The question arises: if both sets of writers achieved national and international literary success, then what distinguished Tutuola from the elite writers to the extent that he remained at the fringes of their discourse on African literature? This paper suggests that the constructed distinction between Tutuola and his elite contemporaries arose from differences in access to education and was reinforced by differences in epistemology. Differences in epistemology ultimately led to differences in the articulated visions for the new Nigeria, which added to the rift between the two groups. Because of his limited education, Tutuola’s sense of identity helps us to uncover the ideas and experiences of the “average,” semi-literate Nigerian in the immediate aftermath of October 1, 1960. Yet because of his literary success, Tutuola is uniquely positioned to simultaneously blur and define the cleavage between elite and average. Aside from his novels and short stories, much of what has been preserved of Tutuola’s sense of identity exists in the form of recorded interviews with his elite counterparts. Thus, the ways in which Tutuola understood himself were often articulated within the framework of African literary development and progress on both local and global stages. In interviews, especially during his early career, Tutuola limited his commentary to those ideas specifically prompted by the interviewers’ questions. For instance, when Nkosi asked Tutuola if he liked “supernatural stories,” Tutuola responded without elaboration, “Ah! Well, well, well, of course.”5 Tutuola did not seem compelled to articulate why he liked such stories. In the same interview, Nkosi asked Tutuola a question that had been directed regularly toward his fellow writers in the early 1960s: “[W]hat made you write?” Tutuola explained, “Well, of course, when I was in the school I always telled school children folklores and from that, having left school, I got the idea to write my own books.6 Tutuola’s identity was further articulated through his correspondence with foreign literary critics, academics, and publishers. In a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Donald Allen of Grove Press (1953), Tutuola wrote of himself: “I have much aptitude for writing stories and I hope to prove my talent to you in due course.”7 Tutuola also received feedback from correspondents, which undoubtedly helped shape his sense of self. Early in Tutuola’s career, a European professor at Ibadan, Eric Larrabee, wrote a letter to Tutuola in which he expressed: “Unfortunately he [an unnamed acquaintance of Larrabee] had the idea that ‘I discovered you’ [. . .] Of course, you discovered yourself.8 Correspondence with foreign personalities situated Tutuola in a global context. In a letter from one Klaus-Otto Rond from West Germany (1969), Tutuola was identified as one of the “prominent personalities of our age.”9 In a note from Claude S. Phillips, Jr., Director of the Institute of Regional Studies at Western Michigan University, Tutuola was asked permission for his writing to be included in a new course, titled, “Introduction to the Non-Western World” (emphasis added).10 Tutuola’s elite contemporaries also commented on his identity and position in the developing sphere of African English-language literature. Tutuola was painted as man who either spearheaded, existed on the periphery of, or reflected badly on Nigerian literary development. Black Orpheus, which was co-edited by Ulli Beier, Wole Soyinka, and Ezekiel Mphahlele, published a review of Tutuola written by Gerald Moore, calling Tutuola a “Nigerian Visionary,” though the review ultimately suggested that “Tutuola’s value to the rising generation of young African writers is probably that of an example rather than of a model.”11 At the Mbari writers’ conference held at Makerere College, Uganda (1962), Tutuola became a topic of brief discussion. Mphahlele reported, “At one stage it was suggested that Amos Tutuola would never have been published if the rejection or acceptance of his manuscripts depended on the views of an African reader. Although Palm Wine Drunkard [sic] was considered interesting, it was felt that the rest of Tutuola was repetitive.”12 In a letter to West Africa (1954), I. Adeagbo Akinjogbin wrote, “From the ‘portrait’ it is clear that the author [Tutuola] is not an academic man and therefore I submit that it is not a high literary standard that has attracted so many European and American readers.”13 A comparison with Tutuola’s elite contemporaries helps to locate the impulses behind such commentary, as well as the ideologies underlying the constructed barrier between Tutuola and the educated elite. The Nigerian literary elite—Christopher Okigbo, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, J. P. Clark, and others hailing from University College, Ibadan (UCI)—negotiated their identities in exclusive academic spaces. Spaces like the Mbari Writers’ and Artists’ Club of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Black Orpheus, a literary journal, gave rise to existential questions: “How important is the African novel? [. . .] How does an African writer face up to the problem of translating into a foreign language thoughts and feelings that ordinarily operate in his mother tongue? [. . .] Does the fact that an African writer has to be published overseas not demand from him a false tone?”14 The questions themselves and the responses they generated demonstrated the struggle among the Ibadan writers to formulate an understanding of “Africanness” in relation to their creative work and their elite position within the newly independent Nigerian context. The boundaries of the university space provided a material separation between Tutuola and the elite. As students, the elite writers viewed themselves as being a part of the intellectual heart of Nigeria. The university’s setting at Ibadan was significant. In 1962 South African novelist Lewis Nkosi describes Ibadan as “truly an African city with no counterpart anywhere in Europe [. . .] the very spirit which motivates city life is uniquely African”15 From within the Ibadan setting, the literary elite negotiated definitions of “African nation” and “African culture.” Novelist Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike recalls: “We had a Society for the Study and Promotion of African Culture. The phrase ‘African bias’ was a strong phrase then. We were emerging as a young nation; we ought to demonstrate Africanness. We were trying to project our personality [. . .] You have to assert your identity.”16 In addition to setting themselves apart locally, the elite sought to establish themselves as distinctly African writers globally. The ways in which the elite distinguished themselves as “Africans” from the rest of the world becomes apparent in their discourse on Pan-Africanism. When comparing “African” literature with the literature produced by black Americans, for instance, elite writers often distinguished between a culture that was lived and one that was meant to be retrieved from an imagined past and retained. Okigbo, one of the most outspoken of the Ibadan literary elite against the concept of Pan-Africanism at the time, was not convinced that there was an identifiable link between Africans and black Americans aside from skin color. In an interview with Dennis Deurden (1963), Okigbo suggested, “[T]here might not in fact be any cultural meeting points between the various black peoples of the world [. . .] I have seen so far no affinity between African literature and negro American literature.”17 Similarly, in an interview with his Jamaican contemporary Andrew Salkey (1964), J. P. Clark articulated the importance of lived experience in shaping both literature and identity. Referring to his dual experience at University College, Ibadan, and in his home village during the holidays (where “things are pretty much intact [. . .] as they have always been”), Clark distinguishes between the continental African’s and the black West Indian’s cultural and epistemological experience: “I suppose this double stream is what you haven’t got in the West Indies [. . .] All you really have is the English stream.”18

Education and Epistemology

The elites’ discourse on Pan-Africanism introduces two significant points of discussion related to education and the development of identities in mid-twentieth-century Nigeria. First, when studying the divide between elite and average in terms of education, various forms of education, including lived experiences, should be considered. Just as lived experiences set the elite apart from writers in the African diaspora, they also contributed to the cleavage between the elite and Tutuola. Secondly, the confluence of African and Western epistemologies in colonized African spaces created a syncretic intellectual culture with which Tutuola and the elite engaged. The particular spaces in which the epistemologies were negotiated impacted the degree to which one form of knowledge was privileged over the other. Because of his limited time spent in the colonial education system, Tutuola adopted less of the new and retained more of the old. Meanwhile, the academic spaces of the elite produced new language with which to understand themselves, their work, and their position in the new Nigeria. This section will elaborate on the educational experiences of Tutuola compared to the elite and seek to understand the resulting epistemological divide between elite and average. Tutuola’s view of himself and his position in society was informed by the multifarious forms of education he received. On the one hand, Tutuola spent relatively little time in the colonial education system. While in the classroom, however, he encountered Nigerian folklore. For instance, in a letter to Bernth Lindfors (1968), Tutuola informed Lindfors that he had read Chief Fagunwa’s first novel, Ogboju-Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, while in school.19 Tutuola’s daily life must have been saturated with Yoruba oral tradition. In fact, Tutuola explained in an interview with Nkosi (1964), “[F]rom the beginning I always liked to listen to the old people in my village when they were telling short stories in the night.”20 Yet its presence in the colonial schoolhouse and in printed literature undoubtedly reinforced its cultural and epistemological validity, at least at an unconscious level. Later in his life, Tutuola endeavored to enhance his education through additional reading. He received books, including Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, William Faulkner’s The Old Man, and a pocket thesaurus, from foreign publishers and critics with whom he was in contact.21 Tutuola actively sought career-related education, both for business and for writing. While employed at the Nigerian Broadcasting Company, for instance, he completed a course on “Management of Stores and Stock Control,” in which he learned (among other practical lessons) that “climate and geopolitical conditions may affect production transportation.”22 He was also reported to have enrolled in evening classes prior to Nigerian independence in order to “‘improve’ himself, so that he may develop into what he describes as a ‘real writer’.”23 In some of his earliest correspondence with European publishers, Tutuola articulated his desire for education. In a letter to Faber and Faber on March 21, 1952, Tutuola requested financial assistance to further his education “in a Private Institution overseas,” in order to “lay hand on any avenue which may open its way to making me a better man in life.”24 Tutuola received both invited and uninvited educative feedback via correspondence with foreign publishers and critics.25 In a letter (unsigned) from Grove Press (1953), Tutuola was acquainted with a style of criticism akin to that which he may have received had he spent more time in elite academic spaces: Sometimes I think that the endings of your stories are rather weak. They might be more definite. We should know that the story is finished. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Also they (your stories) are sometimes too complicated. You start one story and then bring in another story, and the reader gets confused about what happened to the first story. Other than that they are very good. Your language is wonderful.26 In a letter from a Dutch critic, Tutuola encountered Western conflicts of religious opinion in a review of his work: “The only thing I regret [about Ajaiyi and His Inherited Poverty (1967)] is the beginning [. . .] and the end about Christianity being the only religion with the only God and the building of the churches. This will be cheered by the conservative Europeans.”27 Outside of the formal workplace and apart from his endeavors in the world of literature, Tutuola engaged with the epistemology of Yoruba proverbs and folktales. Nigerian literary scholar Emmanuel Obiechina explains the didactic intentions of proverbs in Yoruba society: “Proverbs are the kernels that contain the wisdom of a people. They are usually philosophical or moral expositions reduced to a few words, and form a mnemonic device in societies in which everything worth knowing and relevant to day-to-day life of the people has to be committed to memory.”28 In a 1962 interview, Nkosi and Tutuola discussed the inspiration behind Tutuola’s writing. Nkosi inquired of the content of Tutuola’s work: “[A]re they the stories that have been told to you by the old people, or are they the stories you invent yourself?” Tutuola responded, “No, they are the stories we are told by the old people” (emphasis added).29 Tutuola’s education within the framework of Yoruba storytelling had taught him that he was part of a collective who exchanged folktales and proverbs as part of everyday life. Meanwhile, the colonial university, the academic journals, publishing houses, and the conference spaces in which the elite negotiated their identity were in many ways anchored in Western Europe. In an interview with Wren (1983), Ben Obumselu recalls his experience at University College, Ibadan: “[Eric Robinson] was my first English teacher, and he made me see the world in an entirely different way [. . .] I saw him as a person dedicated to knowledge and to nothing else.”30 Obumselu’s statement conveys the sense that “knowledge” came from the ivory tower, rather than from indigenous oral tradition. Among the literary elite, questions of identity were often reframed in academic literary terms. Conceptions of African identity were informed by investigations into the nature and definition of African literature. “What is African literature?” often led to “What is African?”, when the question was raised at academic conferences like the Mbari writers’ and artists’ club in 1962. Summarizing the collective agenda of African elite writers, the narrator of an “Africa Abroad” radio segment described the literati as “ferociously literate young men, burning with a desire to articulate some of the fundamental concepts underlying the structures of African societies, the principles upon which the art and literature of Africa are founded.”31
The Nigerian literary elite also raised and confronted questions of identity in foreign education spaces. Travel opportunities, available only to those who could afford to go, sent the African literati to Europe and the United States, and across Africa more broadly, thus elaborating their self-consciousness. Soyinka, for example, supplemented his time at Ibadan by earning a degree from Leeds University and participating with the Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria in 1960. While at Leeds, Soyinka undoubtedly encountered moments of positive reception. However, it was the aversion of a female peer that warranted inclusion in a letter to his friends at Ibadan. Obumselu recalled the letter two decades later during an interview with Robert M. Wren: [The letter] was about how he went to a dance and he found a girl staring at him all the time. He was mulling over in his mind how he’d made this conquest and how he was going to play his cards so that he would not miss. So in the end he went up and spoke to the girl. And the girl says, she must have said, “I wasn’t looking at you; I was looking at your nose. I’ve never seen any nose so big and hideous.”32 Long stays abroad altered not only self-awareness but perceptions of African literature, as well. South African writer Lewis Nkosi articulated the changes in perspective brought about by extended stays abroad: “[Living in Europe] forces one to acquire some perspective on Africa’s achievements [. . .] The claims which often seem credible enough when heard in Cotonou or at the Mbari Club in Ibadan can strike one as vastly comic when re-read in the intensely competitive atmosphere of Charing Cross Road in London or St.- Germain-des-Prés in Paris.”33 Though Tutuola and his elite contemporaries did not share the same educational experiences, they both lived at the intersection of African and Western knowledge. In Tutuola’s case, this confluence of epistemology manifested itself most obviously in his writing. His work was steeped in Yoruba oral tradition, yet he produced his stories in book form written in the English language. In 1963, Soyinka sought to articulate Tutuola’s syncretic epistemology. He explained, “The deistic approach of the Yoruba is to absorb every new experience, departmentalize it and carry on with life.”34 Accordingly, Soyinka described, “This book [The Palm-Wine Drinkard], apart from the work of D. O. Fagunwa who writes in Yoruba, is the earliest instance of the new Nigerian writer gathering multifarious experiences under, if you like, the two cultures and exploiting them in one extravagant, confident whole.”35 He interrogated Tutuola’s writing in this way: “[H]as Tutuola’s inspiration in this instance come from folklore? It is likely. Or else from the Sunday Sermon? Death or the Devil winds up the road behind the sinner and he cannot turn back.”36 Not every elite writer acknowledged what Soyinka called the “imaginative duality” of Tutuola’s work. To some, Tutuola personified a distinctly Yoruba worldview. Irele has suggested that Tutuola so interiorized elements of Yoruba storytelling as to relive them in his individual consciousness as he organized them on paper.37 Nkosi wrote, “The vitality afforded West African writing by a conscious borrowing from fables, traditional myths, and folklore, is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in stories by Amos Tutuola, the only Nigerian writer who can be described as a traditional storyteller upon whom European influences are minimal, if not entirely absent.”38 Meanwhile, as Tutuola repeatedly expressed in interviews, two of his primary intentions in writing were to preserve Yoruba storytelling among a local audience and to introduce Yoruba people to a global audience. Whether Tutuola was a purely Yoruba man as Nkosi suggested or a product of intersecting influences, the degree to which Tutuola retained indigenous epistemology differentiated him from the elite. The elite also developed a syncretic body of knowledge, which was framed by the language of Western academia. From Tutuola’s perspective, the elite all but shed their indigenous knowledges. During the lecture at Palermo, Tutuola explained: But juju is not so popular these days anymore. For example, well educated young people like you—who go to the university, obtain your degree, and face your learning first, and then your profession—you will not be interested in these things. You have no time for them. Yet, where we can get these things in Nigeria these days is from illiterate people—in other words those who are not educated.39 For all their absorption of European epistemology, however, the elite never departed entirely from what Achebe described as the old ways of life. In an interview with Nkosi (1964), Achebe asserted: “I regard myself as very much an African writer. I think I’m basically an ancestor worshipper, if you like.”40 Illustrating the tension between Western and indigenous epistemologies, Christopher Okigbo explained in an interview with Robert Segumaga (1965): “I think that it is a lot of nonsense talk, all this we hear nowadays of men of two worlds. I belong integrally to my own society just as I believe I belong also integrally to some other societies other than my own. The truth, of course, is that the modern African is no longer product of an entirely indigenous culture. 41Tutuola and the elite did not merely recognize their differences in epistemology, but they also distinguished themselves from one another along epistemological lines. Thus the cleavage between elite and average widened, especially as elite education became the new standard and Tutuola felt the limitations of his truncated classroom experience. In a report titled “A Brief Explanation of My Journey to America and London,” which Tutuola wrote in 1983 following his visits abroad, the Yoruba writer lamented: “[M]ost of our well educated men, especially young men and women hide in them the truth of our customs, etc. They know that all are true but being they are ashamed of them or to disclose them to other people that they are true, they simply call them ‘superstitions’.”42 Again, in his lecture series at Palermo, Tutuola distinguished between himself and his elite counterparts by referring to the epistemological effects of Westernized education: “I don’t know whether those people who were well educated were ashamed of their own heritage. I wonder why they did not want to write anything concerning their tradition.”42 The elite likewise set themselves apart. In the early years of independence, some of the literary elite began to defend the value of Tutuola’s writing for its uniquely African qualities. Yet, as a whole they continued to point out the insufficiency of his education in relation to their own. In a radio segment about Tutuola (1967), narrator Alex La Guma summarized the views of many educated elite: To many educated West Africans and potential writers it came as a surprise, even a shock that the first West African novel to be published in English and to make an impact on the European scene should be The Palm Wine Drinkard. For the writer of this landmark in Nigerian literature was a man who had had a minimum of formal education [. . .] Indeed, Tutuola’s books are clearly those of a man never trained with models of English style, and many who recognised his ability still felt that his work would never amount to much until he had been better educated in the art of writing.44 Similarly, five years earlier Nkosi had reported that the “younger West African writers remain skeptical of Mr. Tutuola’s talents [. . .] [T]hey suspect that his lack of inhibitions in the use of language is largely attributable to an inadequate education.”45 Clearly a new kind of knowledge and accompanying skill set had usurped the position of older knowledges among the elite. Despite their different educations, Tutuola and the elite shared the idea that the term “education” meant classroom learning in a Western sense. For the elite, the idea was accompanied by assumptions of the objectivity of Western scientific knowledge. The influence of such epistemology can be found in the articulated dichotomy between that which is “academic” and that which is “sensitive” or “full of feeling.” In an interview with Dennis Deurden (1963), Christopher Okigbo offers a critique of his contemporary poet, Michael Echeruo: “I found Michael Echeruo’s poetry a bit academic. I didn’t find sufficient feeling in it” (emphasis added).46 Meanwhile, regardless of the pedagogical intentions of Yoruba oral tradition, Tutuola also conceived of education in terms of Westernized academic spaces. He generally employed the term only when referring to academic learning. In a letter to one Mrs. Harding, dated December 22, 1954, Tutuola wrote: “Having failed to help myself to further my education then I came back to Lagos in 1939 [. . .] I started to learn the black’s work” (emphasis added).47 In tension, therefore, were Tutuola’s deep commitment to Yoruba epistemology and his efforts to gain access to a distinctly Western form of education. Was he impacted by the elite idea of education, which was often manifested in condescending reviews of Tutuola’s work? On at least one occasion Tutuola is recorded to have read a condescending review of his work. In his report, “A Brief Explanation,” Tutuola wrote: “One man called BABALOLA JOHNSON, read the book [The Palm-Wine Drinkard]. Immediately, he wrote a letter to protest to my publishers blamed them that they should have not published my story [. . .] since the writer wrote the story in bad English.” 48 On the other hand, could the significance of the classroom have been reinforced by his own social immobility? Upon requesting a promotion at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation where he worked in 1958, for example, Tutuola received this reply from the Director of Programmes: “It was a great pleasure and privilege for me to meet you the other day. As you know, I have long been an admirer of your work”; and yet, “The question of whether any promotion can be found for you within the service is a more complicated one, since, as you very frankly said, your educational qualifications were not such as to fit you for rapid advancement.”49 Tutuola’s social immobility also took the form of geographic immobility. Unlike many of the elite, Tutuola was not afforded the opportunity to travel abroad early in his career. This limitation was a catch-22; it was at once a consequence of limited finances and colonial education and a condition that prevented access to additional education and opportunity in a global context. Thus Tutuola’s lack of travel reinforced the division between elite and average. Nevertheless, Tutuola desired geographic mobility. He purposed (time and money permitting) “to go round to other villages, eastern region, northern, and western regions [of Nigeria] to collect more folklores and then form them into books.”50 Additionally, in 1962, Tutuola was invited by the German African Society to visit Germany for up to nine months on scholarship—an offer Tutuola had fully intended to accept.51 However, his repeated requests for leave from his position at the Nigerian Broadcasting Company were denied by his superiors because “this course of study has no immediate bearing on your present duties. Therefore it cannot be said to be designed to increase your efficiency as such.”52 Why was travel a factor in the modification of epistemologies and the distinction between Tutuola and the elite? As seen above, travel greatly impacted the perspective of the Ibadan writers. Until later in his career, Tutuola’s geographic mobility was confined to his region of origin. Any additional travel would have been imagined through his correspondence with international agents and audience, any global news featured in Nigerian newspapers and radio broadcasts, and photographs and maps. One of Tutuola’s notebooks from 1954, which he titled itan Yoruba (“Yoruba stories”), featured a map on its cover of Nigeria situated in the center of a broader West African context.53 Though he must have encountered maps elsewhere, what did it mean to Tutuola to visualize the space each time he opened the notebook to draft itan Yoruba? Additionally, around 1983 Tutuola received a postcard from London with an image of St. Paul’s Cathedral at night.54 Such snapshots of foreign places undoubtedly contributed to Tutuola’s self-awareness and epistemology, though not to the degree that elite identities and knowledges were impacted by time spent abroad. The difference between material and imagined travel is perhaps most clearly exhibited in Tutuola’s report, “A Brief Explanation of My Journey to America and London.” In the opening lines, Tutuola remarks, “In 1983, when I was invited to America and London, all I met there were entirely different from what I thought before I left Nigeria. To my surprise all that I met in every state that I visited were the honour, fame and dignity, the kind of which I had not received since when I was born on earth.”55 Tutuola was also shocked to discover Yoruba artifacts in museums and shops in New Orleans and New York City.56 It is uncertain what Tutuola expected to find during his travels abroad, though likely his expectations would have been informed by his regular correspondence with American and British agents and audience. At least one opinion to which he had been previously exposed was that “American people were barbarous.”57 Tutuola wrote to a Japanese acquaintance, “Many thanks for the complimentary copy of CRIES FOR PEACE [. . .] I should have written to you about this book before this time but I passed it from one person to another just to read it and see what American people had done to Japanese people during the World War II [. . .] I did this so that our people here might know that the American people had destroyed uncountable innocent people in Japan.”58

Imagining Independent Nigeria

On the eve of independence, Nigerian cities fluttered with enthusiasm, excitement, and euphoria. Elation was coupled with a sense of gravity, as African elites grappled with the future of their independent state. One of the young writers emerging from University College, Ibadan, Abiola Irele, recalls, “there were two contrary feelings at the time. We looked forward to independence, so there was this optimism, a more tremendous sense of the future [. . .] And there was this foreboding then of the future. All of a sudden, we realized that we had to reckon with certain factors—shall we say certain differences which we hadn’t very seriously considered before then.”59 Reflecting a similar sentiment sweeping across the continent more broadly, Tanganyikan political elite Julius Nyerere explained: “We are not so naïve that we do not realize the problems which new countries must face, and the anxious times through which such countries must pass.”60 Yet, the sense of gravity adjoining independence in Africa was not presumed to be experienced among the general African population. William Arthur Lewis noted that “Politics touches the lives of very few [. . .] at present its dangers are confined to the relatively few who choose to play this game.”61 Rather than being ignorant of the weight of independence, however, the average Nigerian merely imagined and articulated the new state differently than did the elite.

Furthermore, the ways in which the future was envisioned by both elite and average was intimately linked to their educational experiences and their sociocultural identities. The language of politicians, for instance, reflected their unique situation at the top of a new hierarchy. In his aforementioned article, Nyerere defended the possibility of unity coexisting with democracy in Africa as African peoples struggled against European colonial authority. He believed: “It would surely be ridiculous to expect that a country should voluntarily divide itself for the sake of conforming to a particular expression of ‘democracy’ [. . .] during a struggle which calls for the complete unity of all its people.”62 An important question arises from Nyerere’s statement: who are all its people? And where were they in the nation-building project? What did unity mean to the general population, whose lives were lived farther away from “the game”? Or, how did the everyday African perceive the nation-state project in his own terms? In effort to answer these questions and recover an alternate vision for independent Africa, this section will analyze elements of Tutuola’s imagined independence in comparison to that of the elite. Educational and epistemological experiences informed the writers’ visions for independent Nigeria. Related to his experience with and commitment to Yoruba storytelling, Tutuola sought a Nigeria in which African cultural traditions inherited from ancestors could still claim validity rather than being relegated to the status of superstition in favor of Western scientific knowledge. Along a different genealogy of thought, the Ibadan writers in the immediate aftermath of independence envisioned a new nation in which African cultural production could redeem the dignity of the African image globally and in which national loyalties overcame tribal loyalties. Their vision was informed by their privileged position as elite writers and cultural producers in Nigeria, their proximity to their nation’s political leaders, and their interactions and regular discourse across ethnic lines at University College, Ibadan. It was also informed in response to Tutuola’s life and work. Tutuola and the elite promoted their different visions in different ways. One course of action taken by both sets of writers was to attempt to teach their nation the value of their respective visions, something Dipesh Chakrabarty has termed the “pedagogical mode” of decolonizing politics.63 Chakrabarty suggests that formerly colonized political elites identified themselves as “teachers to their nations.”64 In the decolonizing moment, their particular brand of pedagogy was oriented toward a vision of modernity that would allow their new nations to “‘catch up’ with the West.”65 Specifically related to the African context, Toyin Falola elaborates on the modernizing intentions of the educated elite. Falola asserts that African intellectuals sought “to retain an African identity and an Africa for Africans while reappropriating the West for the goal of progress.”66 Such pedagogical impulses were exhibited among the literary elite in Nigeria. The Ibadan writers formed Western-style journals, publishing houses, and artist conferences in hopes of raising the standard of African cultural production and spearheading the development of the next generation of artists. Meanwhile, they debated what it meant to be African and write African literature. Tutuola also positioned himself as a sort of teacher to the new Nigeria. Rather than privileging the West as a standard, however, his pedagogical approach privileged his inherited Yoruba culture and the indigenous knowledge it produced. Tutuola sought to teach Yoruba tradition, and he also sought to teach through Yoruba tradition. In a letter to one Elena Borelli, Tutuola wrote (1978): “Although I write my stories for the people to read but every Yoruba tale tells morals—or some sort of reasons: cautions—advantages and disadvantages— what is good and what is bad.”67 Differences in vision and pedagogy refined the separation between elite and average. As Chakrabarty states: “This emphasis [by the political elite] on development as a catching-up-withthe- West produced a particular split that marked both the relationship between elite nations and their subaltern counterparts as well as that between elites and subalterns within national boundaries.”68 Given his minimal education and limited upward mobility, Tutuola in relation to the educated elite represents the subaltern within the new nation’s borders. Thus the vision and pedagogy of Tutuola on behalf of his new state begin to uncover a subaltern method of development. As a writer, Tutuola identified himself as being in a position to preserve Yoruba culture and knowledge for the sake of posterity. He imagined the writer’s role as one who “write[s] useful books for the people of these present days and for those who are yet to be born.”69 His work was meant to honor the potential of indigenous epistemology: Thus the Yoruba folktales, beliefs, customs, proverbs, behaviors, etc., etc., which are belonged to us and which we don’t take serious in our own land, are materials which I mixed up in my stories [. . .] [W]e have forgotten that those things which the ancient people had left for us are still in use [. . .] Therefore, I don’t take all these things ‘superstitions’.70 His efforts were applauded, at least by some. In a letter to Tutuola signed K. A. Sey, “a teacher” from Aggrey College, Cape Coast, the teacher wrote: “I quite appreciate the excellent effort you are making to perpetuate our good old folk tales which at the present, seem to be fading away.”71

As part of his commitment to traditional storytelling practices, Tutuola confronted the tension between individual significance and communal culture in the new Nigeria. He maintained that Yoruba folklore “belonged to us [the Yoruba community].”72 Nonetheless, Tutuola fought for his individual claim to authorship, ownership, and financial compensation. For instance, when Kola Ogunmola translated The Palm-Wine Drinkard into Yoruba and began performing the play on West African stages, Tutuola wrote to the Head of Drama at Ibadan requesting “[his] own share in the proceeds realised from the play since it has been in the market.” 73 Five years later, when the play was supposed to be performed at the Algiers Festival of the Arts, a warning was circulated: “The Author of the Book, Palm Wine Drinkard, Mr. Amos Tutuola, has objected to the play adapted from his book [. . .] Mr. Tutuola has declared that no permission has been sought [. . .].”74 Tutuola thus demonstrated what Obiechina has described as a flourishing democratic spirit among another group of subaltern writers: the pamphleteers at Onitsha. Their writing, Obiechina suggests, reflected “a highly developed sense of human awareness and the acute insistence of individuals on their human relevance.”75 In January 1972, Tutuola was asked by Ken Iwai, Editor of Peace, Happiness and Prosperity for All magazine, to write on the theme, “What Is Freedom?”76 The result was a short essay that elaborates Tutuola’s belief in the significance of individual Africans. Tutuola discussed the ideal freedom for individuals in this way: “[A] Freedom Man must have inherent capacity to make free choices [. . .] A Freedom Man is a man free to cater for himself in all aspects of living. He must be ready to shoulder all his responsibilities, and ready to encounter any adversity.”77 In terms of individual freedom within national borders, Tutuola wrote: “In an Independent Country without Freedom of speech and Freedom of movement, Country is liable to run into a series of difficulties, there will be unrest and chaos [. . .].”78 Individual freedom for Tutuola also found expression in collective freedom after independence. Tutuola believed: “It will be a National day for the Country, a day for merry making for the entire people of the Country, the government of the Country will be run by her people and not by her former masters.”79 In comparison, the elite vision for independent Nigeria attests to the constructed distance between Tutuola and his educated contemporaries. The Ibadan writers were influenced by elite political discourse, which sought an African-derived form of democracy. Nyerere labeled such African democracy communitary: “The traditional African community was a small one, and the African could not think of himself apart from his community [. . .] he saw no struggle between his own interests and those of his community.”80 Appropriating the historical memory of African community, the new African leaders envisioned independent states in which national loyalties overcame tribal loyalties. The literary elite, like their political counterparts, took on the vision of a unified Nigeria. Martin Banham, a European professor at Ibadan at the time, explained: “[The students] would have debates, they would behave as if they were above the petty grind of day-to-day politics. And I think they genuinely attempted to be.”81 The elite writers’ hope for a unified Nigeria is reflected in Achebe’s lecture, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation” (1964). Regarding the question of language in Nigerian literature, Achebe argued “[S]ince I am considering the whole of the writer in building a new nation I wish to concentrate on those who write for the whole nation whose audience cuts across tribe or clan. And these, for good or ill, are the writers in English” (emphasis in original).82 The Ibadan writers envisioned independent Nigeria from their position within elite circles. Banham described the Ibadan student body at the time as “politically conscious and politically involved with local and national politics.” 83 In his article “Nigeria’s Youth Speaks Its Mind” (1961), Paul Conklin recaptured his encounter with a group of politically active Ibadan students. The students had protested together in early 1961 against the signing of the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact. They explained: “Africans are very weary of being pushed around like pawns on your Cold War chessboard [. . .] Russia and America haven’t yet realized that Africa does not need to decide between capitalism and Communism. There are alternatives and we can find them.”84 The elite writers also came face to face with the game of politics outside of the university. Abiole Irele often encountered Michael Imodu, a close friend of his father’s and a leading political figure at the eve of independence, at his home. Imodu’s presence made Irele aware of and excited by national politics.85 John Pepper Clark recalled how “at the political level, we were very aware of what was happening in the country at large. It was people we knew who were in the seat of government [. . .].”86 According to their vision for independent Nigeria and their position as privileged elites, the Ibadan writers intended to raise standards of cultural production. Achebe, for instance, wanted to address through his writing what he believed to be the fundamental challenge facing a new African nation like Nigeria: “what you might call a ‘crisis in the soul’ [. . .] [T]he writer has the responsibility to teach his audience that there is nothing shameful about [elements of their traditional culture], that it is not only daffodils that can make a fit subject for poetry, but the palm tree and so on [. . .].”87 J. P. Clark along with European professor Martin Banham ran a university publication, The Horn, to develop budding Ibadan writers. Soyinka started one of the earliest indigenous publishing houses of creative fiction, Orísun, and created a theater company to write and produce plays. As part of their development efforts, the Ibadan writers sought to develop a new standard of “good” African literature, one that would challenge an ongoing history of European prejudices. Soyinka explained, “European foreign critics are not helping by applying a different standard for writing literature, I think they’re always astonished that anything can come out of Africa at all.”88 The elite vision for independent Nigeria was also shaped in response to the life and work of Tutuola. As mentioned above, Tutuola became a talking point at elite literary meetings and conferences, where his unconventional English reinforced beliefs that higher education should be a prerequisite for the nation’s leaders. In his aforementioned lecture, “The Role of the Writer,” Achebe emphasized the importance of a writer’s proficiency in English. On English being adapted by writers to better suit African experiences and modes of thought, he stated: But it [the adaptation of English] can also get out of hand. It can lead to simply bad English being accepted and defended as African or Nigerian. I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence. Of course, there is the obvious exception of Amos Tutuola. But even there it is possible that he has said something unique and interesting in a way that is not susceptible to further development. (emphasis in original)89 In this way, the elite writers set themselves apart from Tutuola, imagined themselves as literary teachers, and established new standards for African literary production according to their vision of their independent state. Tutuola remained a marginal comment in their discourse.


Tutuola’s literary success blurred the line between elite and average, giving the subaltern writer access to national and international notoriety. At the same time, however, his work brought into focus the constructed division between the two groups. Despite his position as the first internationally published, English-language Nigerian author, Tutuola was differentiated from the Ibadan writers on the basis of education and epistemology. His work was relegated to the margins of elite literary discourse. Meanwhile, the elite were able to reinforce their distance from Tutuola via the language and perspective of Western academia. From their vision of a modern independent Nigeria came efforts to develop a new African literature after their own image. For his part, Tutuola positioned himself as a distinctly Yoruba writer in the new Nigeria. He envisioned a state in which traditional knowledge remained central to the African identity. On behalf of his vision, Tutuola committed his writing to the perpetuation of a Yoruba worldview. Far from being ignorant of the gravity of independence, his hand-drafted folktales became a space through which he wrestled with Africa’s transition. To Obiechina, Tutuola exemplified the capability of the average African. In his article, “Amos Tutuola and the Oral Tradition” (1968), Obiechina argued: “[T]he popular image of the traditional African as the helpless victim of his hostile environment is contrary to that held by the African of himself, as reflected in traditional folktales. The African is aware of the problems, physical and otherwise, which surround him and threaten his survival, but is immensely confident in his ability to face up to these problems by his courage and mental resourcefulness.” 90 Ultimately, Tutuola engaged with ideas of independence through his actions, by recording and reappropriating Yoruba folklore, rather than in academic discourse. His life and work attest to the endurance of indigenous epistemology through years of European colonialism and into independence.


Archive Collections

Amos Tutuola Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.
The Transcription Centre Records, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.

Digital Archive Collections

“Africa, Black African writers and playwrights, 1962-1968.” Digitized transcripts of sound recordings by The Transcription Center (London) in various locations, ca. 1962–1969. http://www.crl.edu/.
“Africa, Black writers and poets 1962–1966.” Digitized transcripts of sound
recordings by The Transcription Center (London) in various locations, ca.
1962–1969. http://www.crl.edu/.
“Africa, interviews with Black African writers and artists, ca. 1962–1969.”
Digitized transcripts of sound recordings by The Transcription Center
(London) in various locations, ca. 1962–1969. http://www.crl.edu/.
“Africa, Lectures with Black African writers and artists, 1962–1966.” Digitized
transcripts of sound recordings by The Transcription Center (London) in
various locations, ca. 1962–1969. http://www.crl.edu/.
“African writers: Alex La Guma on Amos Tutuola, Jan 1967.”
“African writers: Ali Mazrui, Nov 1962, ‘The Mind of Africa’ by W. Abraham.”
Africa Abroad, no. 15. November 15, 1962.
Amos Tutuola, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa.
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, April 1968. Interviewed by Jack Ludwig, Canada.
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa.
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, February 1967. Interviewed by Robert Serumaga, Uganda.
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, September 1964. Interviewed by Donatus Nwoga,
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, September 1965. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden,
United Kingdom.
Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi,
South Africa.
Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, August 1963. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden,
United Kingdom.
Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, July 1965. Interviewed by Robert Serumaga,
Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, July 1965. Interviewed by Robert Serumaga,
Cyprian Ekwensi, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South
Cyprian Ekwensi, Nigeria, November 1964. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden,
United Kingdom.
“Discussion: ‘The African Image’.” Lewis Nkosi (chair), Ezekiel Mphahlele,
David Rubadiri, Donatus Nwoga, and Joseph Kariuki, April 11, 1962.
“Discussion: African Literature.” Lewis Nkosi, Donatus Nwoga, Barry Reckord,
June 1962.
“Discussion: West African Writing.” Ezekiel Mphalele (chair), George Awoonor-
Williams, John Pepper Clark, Summer 1962.
“Discussion: What is African Literature, at African Writers Conference, Makerere,
1962.” Lewis Nkosi, Langston Hughes, Barry Reckord, Bernard Fonlon,
Christopher Okigbo, June 1962.
Donatus Nwoga, Nigeria, June 1964. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden, United
Gabriel Okara, Nigeria, September 1964. Interviewed by Andrew Salkey,
John Pepper Clark, Nigeria, January 1964. Interviewed by Andrew Salkey,
John Pepper Clark, Nigeria, September 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi,
South Africa.
John Pepper Clark, Nigeria, September 1964. Interviewed by Andrew Salkey,
S. Okechukwu Mezu, Nigeria, October 1969. Interviewed by Maxine Lautre,
South Africa.
“Three Nigerian Novelists.” Written by Donatus Nwoga, narrated by Nelson
Ipaye, April 1962.
Wale Ogunyemi, Nigeria, May 1968. Interviewed by Maxine Lautre, South
Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, August 1965. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden, United
Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, May 1962. Interviewed by Ezekiel Mphahlele, South
Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, September 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South
Zulu Sofola, Nigera, May 1968. Interviewed by Maxine Lautre, South Africa.

Published Interviews

Di Maio, Alessandra. Tutuola at the University: The Italian Voice of a Yoruba
Ancestor, with an Interview with the Author and an Afterword by Claudio
Gorlier. Rome: Bulzoni, 2000.
Wren, Robert M. Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature at
Ibadan, 1948–1966. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1990.

Other Primary Sources

“African Fiction: Part I.” Africa Report 7, no. 9 (Oct 01, 1962): 3.
“African Literature, Part II: English-Speaking West Africa.” Africa Report 7,
no. 11 (Dec. 1, 1962): 15.
Achebe, Chinua. “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation.” Nigeria Magazine
81 (1964): 157–160. Africa Report, 1960–1970.
Armstrong, Robert P. “Book Publishing in Nigeria: Industry with a Future.”
Africa Report 11, no. 4 (April 1, 1966): 56.
Collings, Rex. “Publishing in Africa.” Africa Report 15, no. 8 (Nov. 1, 1970): 31.
“Conversation with Amos Tutuola.” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964): 7.
“Conversation with Chinua Achebe.” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964): 7.
“Conversation with Ezekiel Mphahlele.” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964): 7.
“Conversation with Ulli Beier.” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964): 7.
Gérard, Albert, S. “The Neo-African Novel.” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964):3.
Lindfors, Bernth. “Nigerian Novels of 1965.” Africa Report 11, no. 6 (June 1,
1966): 68.
“The Makerere Writers’ Conference.” Africa Report 7, no. 7 (July 1, 1962): 7.
Nkosi, Lewis. “Where Does African Literature Go from Here?” Africa Report
11, no. 9 (Dec. 1, 1966): 7.
Nyerere, Julius. “Will Democracy Work in Africa?” Africa Report 5, (Jan. 1,
1960): 2.
Schmidt, Nancy J. “Nigeria: Fiction for the Average Man.” Africa Report 10,
no. 8 (Aug. 1, 1965): 39.
Williams, Babatunde A. “Where does Nigeria Go from here?” Africa Report
5, (Jan. 1, 1960): 5.
Wonodi, Okogbule. “The Role of Folk Tales in African Society.” Africa Report
10, no. 11 (Dec. 1, 1965): 17.

Reviews of Tutuola

“Portrait: A Life in the Bush of Ghosts.” West Africa (May 1, 1954). In Critical
Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 35–38. Washington,
D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Agbebiyi, Gladys. Letter to Nigeria Magazine (March/May 1968). In Critical
Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 103. Washington,
D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Akinjogbin, I. Adeagbo. Letter to West Africa (June 5, 1954). In Critical Perspectives
on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 41. Washington,
D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Anozie, Sunday O. “Amos Tutuola: Literature and Folklore, or the Problem of
Synthesis.” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 10, 38 (1970): 335–51, translated by
Judith H. McDowell. In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by
Bernth Lindfors, 237–253. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Beier, Ulli (as “Akanji”). “The Brave African Huntress by Amos Tutuola.”
Black Orpheus 4 (October 1958): 51–53. In Critical Perspectives on Amos
Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 83–85. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents
Press, 1975.
Collins, Harold R. Amos Tutuola. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1969.
———. “Founding a New National Literature: The Ghost Novels of Amos
Tutuola.” Critique 4, 1 (1961): 17–28. In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola,
edited by Bernth Lindfors, 59–70. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents
Press, 1975.
Jones, Eldred. “The Palm Wine Drinkard: Fourteen Years On.” The Bulletin of
the Association for African Literature in English 4 (1966): 24–30. In Critical
Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 109–113. Washington,
D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Lindfors, Bernth. “Amos Tutuola: Debts and Assets.” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 10, no. 38 (1970): 306–334.
Liyong, Taban lo. “Tutuola, Son of Zinjanthropus.” Busura 1, no. 1 (1968): 308.
In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 115–
122. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Mackay, Mercedes. Letter to West Africa (May 8, 1954). In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by Bernth Lindfors, 43–44. Washington, D.C.:
Three Continents Press, 1975.
Moore, Gerald. “Amos Tutuola: A Nigerian Visionary.” Black Orpheus 1 (September
1957): 27–35. In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited by
Bernth Lindfors, 49–57. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975.
Neumarkt, Paul. “Amos Tutuola: Emerging African Literature.” American
Imago 28 (1971): 129–45. In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited
by Bernth Lindfors, 183–192. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press,
Obiechina, Emmanuel N. “Amos Tutuola and the Oral Tradition.” Présence
Africaine 65 (1968): 85–106 In Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, edited
by Bernth Lindfors, 123–144. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press,
1975. Revised and republished in Language and Theme: Essays on African
Literature. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1990, 21–52.

Secondary Sources

Boateng, Boatema. The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here: Adinkra and
Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Legacies of Bandung: Decolonization and the Politics of Culture.” In Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment
and Its Political Afterlives, edited by Christopher J. Lee, 45–68. Athens:
Ohio University Press, 2010.
Falola, Toyin. Nationalism and African Intellectuals. Rochester, NY: University
of Rochester Press, 2004.
Feierman, Steven. Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
Obiechina, Emmanuel N. “Amos Tutuola and the Oral Tradition.” Présence
Africaine 65 (1968): 85–106; revised in Language and Theme: Essays on African Literature. Washington D.C.: Howard University Press, 1990, 21–52.
———. Literature for the Masses: An Analytical Study of Popular Pamphleteering in Nigeria. Enugu, Nigeria: Nwankwo-Ifejika, 1971


1 Alassandra di Maio, Tutuola at the University: The Italian Voice of a Yoruba Ancestor, with an Interview with the Author and an Afterword by Claudio Gorlier (Rome: Bulzoni, 2000), 38. The lecture’s transcriber utilized graphic devices (italicized and bolded words, brackets denoting pauses and movements) to preserve the dynamic oral experience of the lecture. However, so that the dialogue reads more easily in the context of this paper, I have removed the graphic devices but maintained what the transcriber presented as Tutuola’s emphasized words, simply italicizing what was originally in bold.
2 Di Maio, Tutuola at the University, 148.
3 Tutuola, letter to Madame Michele Dussutour-Hammer, September 1, 1973, Box 6, Folder 3, Amos Tutuola Collection, The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas (hereafter cited as ATC-HRC).
4 Baptism card, July 20, 1975, Box 10, Folder 9 (ATC-HRC).
5 Tutuola, quoted in “Amos Tutuola, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa,” August 1962, http://www.crl.edu/ (hereafter CRL).
6 Ibid.
7 Tutuola, letter to Mr. and Mrs. Donald Allen, March 24, 1953, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
8 Eric Larrabee, letter to Tutuola, December 23, 1953, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
9 Klaus-Otto Rond, letter to Tutuola, September 12, 1969, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
10 Claude S. Phillips, Jr., letter to Tutuola, January 27, 1961, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
11 Gerald Moore, “Amos Tutuola: A Nigerian Visionary,” Black Orpheus 1 (Sept. 1957): 27–35; reprinted in Lindfors, Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, 57.
12 Ezekiel Mphahlele, copy of a report on the writers’ conference held at Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda, June 8–17, originally published in Africa Report, July 1962; Box 1, Folder 3, Transcription Centre Papers (HRC).
13 I. Adeagbo Akinjogbin, in West Africa, June 5, 1954; reprinted in Lindfors, Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, 41. “Portrait” refers not to a photograph but to a short biography of Tutuola printed in the journal.
14 Ezekiel Mphahlele, “The Makerere Writers’ Conference,” Africa Report, 7, no. 7 (Jul 1, 1962), 7.
15 Lewis Nkosi, “African Literature, Part II: English-Speaking West Africa,” Africa Report (Dec 1, 1962), 15.
16 Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 72.
17 Okigbo, quoted in “Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, August 1963. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden, United Kingdom” (CRL).
18 Clark, quoted in “John Pepper Clark, Nigeria, January 1964. Interviewed by Andrew Salkey, Trinidad,” (CRL).
19 Letter to Bernth Lindfors from Tutuola, May 16, 1968, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
20 Tutuola, quoted in “Conversation with Amos Tutuola,” Africa Report 9, no. 7 (July 1, 1964): 11.
21 Donald Allen, letter to Tutuola, April 3, 1953, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC); Tutuola, letter to Donald Allen, March 24, 1953, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
22 “Management of Stores and Stock Control” course handbook, 1967, Box 10, Folder 8 (ATC-HRC).
23 “Portrait: A Life in the Bush of Ghosts,,” West Africa (May 1, 1954), in Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, ed. Bernth Lindfors (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975), 35–38.
24 Tutuola, letter to Faber and Faber, March 21, 1952, Box 7, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
25 We learn through a letter from Donald Allen at Grove Press that Tutuola at least once invited feedback. In a letter dated May 13, 1953, Allen wrote, “You ask me to tell you what we think of the short stories—I feel that your writing in THE PALM-WINE DRINKARD is somewhat more interesting to American readers. They like, as do we, particularly what we call fantasy . . .” Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
26 Unsigned letter to Tutuola, June 13, 1953, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
27 Letter to Tutuola (sender address includes “Holland”), November 26, 1967, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
28 Emmanuel Obiechina, “Amos Tutuola and the Oral Tradition,” in Language and Theme: Essays on African Literature (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1990), 22–23.
29 “Amos Tutuola, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa,” August 1962 (CRL).
30 Ben Obumselu, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 91.
31 Narrator quoted in “African writers: Ali Mazrui, Nov 1962, ‘The Mind of Africa’ by W. Abraham,” Africa Abroad 15 (November 15, 1962) (CRL).
32 Ben Obumselu, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 94–95.
33 Lewis Nkosi, “Where Does African Literature Go from Here?” Africa Report 11, no. 9 (Dec 1, 1966): 7.
34 Wole Soyinka, “From a Common Backcloth: A Reassessment of the African Literary Image,” The American Scholar 32, no. 3 (Summer 1963): 390.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid., 391.
37 Irele, “Tradition and the Yoruba Writer: D. O. Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola, and Wole Soyinka,” Odu 11 (Jan. 1975): 87.
38 Nkosi, “African Literature, Part II,” 15.
39 Tutuola, quoted in di Maio, Tutuola at the University, 55.
40 Achebe, “Conversation with Chinua Achebe,” 20.
41 Okigbo, quoted in “Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, July 1965. Interviewed by Robert Serumaga, Uganda” (CRL).
42 Tutuola, “A Brief Explanation of My Journey to America and London (1983),” Box 1, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
43 Tutuola, quoted in di Maio, Tutuola at the University, 53.
44 “African writers: Alex La Guma on Amos Tutuola, Jan 1967” (CRL).
45 Nkosi, “African Literature: Part II, English-Speaking West Africa,” Africa Review 7, no. 11 (December 1, 1962): 15.
46 Christopher Okigbo, quoted in “Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria, August 1963. Interviewed by Dennis Duerden, United Kingdom” (CRL).
47 Tutuola, letter to Mrs. Harding, December 22, 1954, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
48 Tutuola, “A Brief Explanation.”
49 E. M. Evans, letter to Tutuola, October 13, 1958, Box 10, Folder 7 (ATC-HRC).
50 Tutuola, quoted in “Amos Tutuola, Nigeria, August 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa” (CRL).
51 Correspondence between Dr. Oskar Splett, Secretary General of the German African Society, and Tutuola, 1962, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
52 E. M. Osakwe, letter to Tutuola, undated (but in response to Tutuola’s request for leave in 1962), Box 10, Folder 7 (ATC-HRC).
53 Tutuola Holograph Manuscript, Box 3, Folder 5 (ATC-HRC).
54 Postcard from London, Box 6, Folder 1 (ATC-HRC).
55 Tutuola, “A Brief Explanation.”
56 Ibid.
57 Tutuola, letter to Mr. Tomiya Akiyama, July 4, 1979, Box 6, Folder 4 (ATC-HRC).
58 Tutuola, letter to Mr. Tomiya Akiyama, July 4, 1979, Box 6, Folder 4 (ATC-HRC).
59 Abiola Irele, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 116.
60 Julius Nyerere, “Will Democracy Work in Africa?” Africa Report 5 (Jan. 1, 1960): 3.
61 William Arthur Lewis, “Sources of Tension in West Africa,” Africa Report 5 (Jan. 1, 1960): 5.
62 Nyerere, “Will Democracy Work in Africa?” 3.
63 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Legacies of Bandung: Decolonization and the Politics of Culture,” in Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives, ed. Christopher Lee (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 46.
64 Chakrabarty, “The Legacies of Bandung,” 54.
65 Ibid., 53.
66 Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2004), xviii.
67 Tutuola, letter to Miss Elena Borelli, August 21, 1978, Box 6, Folder 4 (ATC-HRC).
68 Chakrabarty, “The Legacies of Bandung,” 53.
69 Tutuola, “A Brief Explanation.”
70 Ibid.
71 K. A. Sey, letter to Tutuola, undated (but sometime after his first two books had been published and before Cape Coast became Ghana), Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
72 Tutuola, “A Brief Explanation.”
73 Tutuola, letter to The Head of Drama, June 24, 1964, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
74 Tutuola, “Warning,” June 20, 1969, Box 6, Folder 2 (ATC-HRC).
75 Obiechina, Literature for the Masses, 2.
76 Ken Iwai, letter to Tutuola, December 6, 1971, Box 6, Folder 3 (ATC-HRC).
77 Tutuola, “What Is Freedom?” Box 6, Folder 3 (ATC-HRC).
78 Ibid.
79 Ibid.
80 Nyerere, “Will Democracy Work in Africa?” 4.
81 Martin Banham, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 32.
82 Achebe, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation,” Nigeria Magazine 81 (1964): 160. Originally a lecture delivered to the Nigerian Library Association.
83 Banham, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 32.
84 Student, quoted in Paul Conklin, “Nigeria’s Youth Speaks Its Mind,” Africa Report 6, no. 3 (March 1, 1961): 2.
85 Irele, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 116.
86 John Pepper Clark, interview by Wren, Those Magical Years, 111.
87 Achebe, quoted in “Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, September 1964. Interviewed by Donatus Nwoga, Nigeria,” (CRL).
88 Soyinka, quoted in “Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, September 1962. Interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, South Africa,” (CRL).
89 Achebe, “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation,” 160.
90 Emmanuel Obiechina, “Amos Tutuola and the Oral Tradition,” Présence Africaine 65 (1968): 85–106, in Bernth Lindfors, ed., Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975), 94.

Stephen Toyin Ogundipe
Department of English
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
st.ogundipe@gmail.com; stogundipe@oauife.edu.ng


This paper explores the poetry of Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù, a major contemporary Yorùbá poet, based in Ibadan, southwestern Nigeria. Much of the scholarship on the poet focuses purely on his sociopolitical interest, but the development of his craft has been largely ignored. This paper examines peculiar features of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry based on its fusion of Yorùbá cultural and Islamic religious values with the view to theoretically characterizing his practice. It draws on purposefully selected, recorded audio poetic compositions of Adépọ̀jù produced between 1974 and 2012 in order to yield a comprehensive view of his poetics. It employs hybridity, an aspect of postcolonial theory advanced by Homi Bhabha, as a theoretical framework to analyze the texts. The essay reveals that Adépọ̀jù’s poetry grows from the simple narration of the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òri ̀ṣà pantheon to become an instrument of radical Islamic ideology. It concludes that the integration of the indigenous and the Islamic cultural values in the work of Adépọ̀jù results in a unique poetic idiom in Yorùbá poetry.


Adépọ̀jù’s work represents an important phase in the development of modern Yorùbá poetry because of his pioneering role in the dissemination of Yorùbá poetry through audio recordings. He is one of the most prolific and influential practitioners of modern Yorùbá poetry. Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is also unique because of the complexity of his immersion in Yorùbá artistic conventions and Islamic values. This confluence has resulted in a variant of Yorùbá poetry that is uniquely his. His corpus includes a published Yorùbá poetry collection, two dramatic texts, and eighty-nine recorded performances on phonograph records, cassettes, and compact discs. Although Adépọ̀jù is best known to the Yorùbá-speaking public as a radio poet and one who circulates modern Yorùbá poetry on discs, the impact of his poetry spreads to the larger Nigerian context on account of its social relevance. He creatively adapts his practice to changing modes in media usage and technological innovations.

Despite being the most articulate promoter of modern Yorùbá poetry, Adépọ̀ju has been largely marginalized by scholars. A holistic and comprehensive engagement of Ọlánŕ ewájú Adeṕ ọ̀ju’̀ s poetry, emphasizing the hybrid nature, has not been done. Paying attention to this unexplored area enhances the understanding of the complex dynamics in Adépọ̀jù’s poetry and broadens its recognition within the context of the larger Yorùbá poetic tradition. This paper, therefore, pays attention to what he has produced, how his poetry has evolved, and his idea of a poet.

The first effort that brought attention to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is a study of another Yorùbá poet, Adébaý ọ̀ Fálet́ i:́ A Study of His Poems, by Olatunde Olatunji. He identifies Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù as an example of a commercial poet and also portrays him as lacking originality in his compositions. Adéyínká Fọ́lọŕ unsọ́ adopts a similar outlook, degrading the significance of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry and assailing his adherence to sociopolitical engagements and praise-singing. A considerable amount of literature has also investigated Adépọ̀jù’s contribution alongside other Yorùbá cultural producers regarding the popular struggle against military rule in Nigeria (Williams 1996, Haynes 2001, Olúkọt̀ uń 2002, Adaǵ uń odo ̀ 2003, and Òjo ́ 2007). More recent studies demonstrate that there is more to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry than many critical studies have recognized (Nnodim 2002, Okunoye 2010). The present essay provides a distinctive approach from previous attempts through its reading of Adépọ-̀jù’s poetry based on its hybrid constitution. This perspective explains why the notion of hybridity, emanating from a postcolonial theoretical perspective associated with Homi Bhabha, is appropriate for the engagement of Adépọ̀jù’s work. The concept of hybridity in the context of the essay is a modification of the original conception in Bhabha’s thought in the sense that its conventional insertion within postcolonial theory did not necessarily anticipate its application beyond the colonial context. The collision of Islam and the Yorùbá tradition in shaping Adépọ̀jù’s unique poetic idiom lends itself to this reading and only reveals how the idea of hybridity operates beyond the spheres of conventional postcolonial studies.

The notion of hybridity has been broadened from its manifestation in relation to object, plant, or person of mixed origins to include ‘anything of heterogeneous origins or incongruous parts.’1 Postcolonial hybridity as proposed by Homi Bhabha explores the collision and fusion of two hitherto relatively distinct cultures, identities, forms, styles, or ideas. The location of the representation of identity in Bhabha’s work is the ‘threshold of the border,’ an ‘in-between,’ ‘beyond,’ and a newly constructed space.2 Bhabha’s conceptualization of hybridity as “the borderline work of culture” suggests the possibility of utilizing available resources for double perspectives, juxtaposition, and integration. The cultural interactions may not necessarily be smooth, as hybridity is a cold war, involving intricate processes of cultural contact, intrusion, fusion, and disjunction. The question of the identity of the artist/poet/ intellectual frequently arises as one negotiates the intersection of an art that speaks from ‘two places at once’ in a rapidly changing society.

Apart from Bhabha’s theory of hybridity, this essay also finds relevant Ali Mazrui’s attribution of the nature of African cultural influence to a ‘triple heritage’—the traditional, the Islamic, and the Western.3 Mazrui’s perspective exposes the theoretical apprehension of the postcolonial identity and creates a basis for our discussion in the sense of admitting that the influence of foreign culture significantly defines identities in a postcolonial context. Mazrui’s work on the triple heritage is complemented by Edward Said’s argument that, because of imperialism, ‘all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid.’4 Hybridity, therefore, constitutes an essential aspect of postcolonial context, as it rejects cultural confinement and reaches out to forms of expression and experiences beyond established boundaries.

Adépọ̀jù is a complex and multifaceted personality. He is an author, poet, Islamic preacher, and founder of an Islamic sect. He is the most self-conscious propagator of ewì (modern Yorùbá poetry), a vibrant and dynamic form that he enlists for the articulation of Yorùbá values, cultural nationalism, and identity. In recognition of his contribution to Yorùbá culture, he has been conferred with the traditional title of Ààrẹ Aláṣà (custodian of culture) of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria in 1984 by the 37th Olubadan of Ibadan, the late Oba Yesufu Asanike.

Studying the many different shades of Adépọ̀jù’s artistic influence is vital for understanding the development of his identity. A proper comprehension of his art must recognize the influences of the Yorùbá socio-culture, his interaction with Western literacy and media, and the interaction with Wahhabi- inspired Islam. His birth and early life in the very traditional and cultural environment of the Yorùbá has become a feature that resonates in his works.He frequently declares, self-assuredly, ‘I grew up independently of any one as a poet.’5 His parents did not send him to school because they were illiterates and did not value Western education. But he learned to read and write in both Yorùbá and English through self-effort. His participation in communal celebrations and traditional festivals contributed to his mastery of the verses of Yorùbá divinities, including Ifá Ọr̀ únmìlà (divination deity), Ògún (deity of Iron), Ṣàngó (deity of thunder), and the ancestral cult at an early stage. This traditional link is evident in his only poetry collection, Ìrònú Akéwì, which is framed in the idiom of an accomplished oral poet.

Although Adépọ̀jù is a ‘local intellectual,’ his contact with Western literacy is highly significant to his identity formation. His successful attempt at overcoming the limitation of illiteracy and the attainment of the position of an accomplished modern Yorùbá poet, testify to a life of resilience and sheer determination. The acquisition of Western literacy enables him to strengthen his self-conscious identity as a ‘modern’ Yorùbá poet. The interaction of the oral and the written makes ewì ‘modern’ because only those poets who can read and write in Yorùbá practice it.6 Adépọ̀jù’s exposure to functional literacy granted him the opportunity to interact with the first generation of modern Yorùbá poets and the first elite cluster of university-educated people in Yorùbáland. The poetry group Ẹgbẹ́ Ìkéwì Yorùbá, which was established in Ibadan in 1958, and which later became Ẹgbẹ́ Ìjìnlẹ̀ Yorùbá (Yorùbá Renaissance Society), fostered creative efflorescence through reading sessions, discussions, and the publication of a literary magazine, Olókun, which defined the character of modern Yorùbá poetry. It was this environment that nourished Adépọ̀jù to early maturity as a poet, after he had worked with Adéagbo Akínjògbìn, one of the co-founders of the Yorùbá poetry society, as a houseboy.

New opportunities for creative development emerged through Adépọ̀jù’s position as a freelance presenter at the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service/ Television (WNBS/TV) in 1964. His interaction with Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, an ‘elder poet,’ provided Adépọ̀jù the best opportunity to exhibit his talent. The poet dexterously appropriated the broadcasting media outlets of radio and television to strengthen his art and to gain public recognition. Adépọ̀jù left broadcasting in 1974 and established a recording studio and a record label, Lanrad Records. The decision enabled him to appropriate the technology of broadcasting media to the practice of reading ewì on cassettes and discs, which represented a quick adeptness in knowledge transfer by the poet. He effectively employed a peculiar form of address and creatively adapted a commercial model for his practice of ewì as testimonies of his link with modernity. He also created a wider scope of sociopolitical engagement for his poetry, which was impossible at the government-controlled media establishment. In addition, the relatively inexpensive technology of records, cassettes, and CDs made his poetry to be more accessible to many people, and this action inevitably popularized Yorùbá poetry. The dissemination of commercially produced ewì on LPs provided an alternative channel to the audience, who could intersperse ewì and music in their listening enjoyment.
The most distinct expression of the character of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry came through the change of religion from Christianity to Islam in 1985. Following his acceptance of Islam, there has been a considerable change in his religious perspective. His exposure to Islamic fundamentalism resulted in changes in religious values, attitudes, and expressive modes, and in his understanding of the function of poetry. This outlook is reflected in the transformation of his poetry from mostly Yorùbá myths and spirituality (lyrics of the Ifa oracle) to Islamic sermon (nàsíà). His establishment of an Islamic sect, the Universal Muslim Brotherhood (Jam’iyyatil-Ukwatil-Islamitil Aalamiyah), was inspired by the religious fundamentalist precepts and teachings of the Wahhabis, the official religious group of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis are a movement of Islamic thought that was inaugurated by Ibn Hanbal (780–855) with the aim of establishing a new social movement in which Islam holds a prominent place.7 The Wahhabis also operate under the rubric of the Salafis, 8 in view of their call for a ‘return of Islam to the standard of the Prophet.’9

The conventional understanding of Islam among Muslims often invokes the religion as a timeless, unchanging, and universal faith. The common identity as Muslims is fostered through the Arabic language, the Holy Quran, the Hadith, and the five pillars of Islam. In spite of this transnational identity as Muslims, several scholars agree that the assumption of roots in a uniform, singularly orthodox form of Islam is incapable of accounting for the wide range of conflicting cultural practices and viewpoints (see Gellner 1981, Asad 1986, Starrett 1997, Soares and Otayele 2007, and Loimeier 2013). An alternative proposition is the paradigm of multiple cultures and societies in which elements of Islamic religion and cultures are integrated into a plurality of local contexts, suggesting local adaptation of Islam (Geertz 1968, El-Zein 1977, Harrow 1991, and Loimeier 2013). According to Loimeier, Islam is too diverse to support the idea of a single expression.10 He, therefore argues for the localization of Islam within specific communities such as ‘Hausa Islam’ or ‘Yoruba Islam,’ suggesting multiple faces of Islam. While the ‘localized’ Islam is assimilative in character, the ‘orthodox’ Islam assumes a pure form canvassed through the ideology of various Islamic reformist movements, including the Wahhabis, the Salafis, and other Islamic fundamentalists. The tension between the two sets of polarities is central to the understanding of Adépọ̀jù’s ambiguous relationship between Yorùbá culture and Islam.
Adépọ̀jù considers himself as a professional Yorùbá poet and claims the self-conscious title of ‘king of Yorùbá poets.’ His contemporaries and critics refer to him either as a commercial poet or a scavenger poet. Adépọ̀jù has been left out of serious consideration of Yorùbá creative practice because of his commercialization of Yorùbá poetry. His being a ‘professional’ poet is contrary to the dispositions of the first generation of modern Yorùbá poets, who are scholar-poets, including Adéagbo Akínjògbìn, Adébóyè Babalọlá, Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, Láwuyì Ogúnníran, Afọlábí Ọlábímtán, and Olatúnbọs̀ ún Ọládàpọ.̀ The first generation of modern Yorùbá poets was the first elite cluster of university-educated people, who stirred up a wave of creative activity through the Yorùbá poetry group Ẹgbẹ́ Ìkéwì Yorùbá. The poetry group fostered and developed a new guild of Yorùbá poets through reading sessions, discussions, and the publishing of a literary magazine, Olókun and Ewì Ìwòyí, the Yorùbá anthology of poetry.

The ambivalent relationship of Adépọ̀jù’s vocation of a professional Yorùbá poet with his Islamic fundamentalist identity constitutes another source of pressure on the development of his practice. Several forceful Islamic theologians, including Hajar al-Haythami and Al Qaradawi consider poetry as haram (prohibited). These scholars completely reject the acceptability of poetry in Islam, warning of its hidden dangers. Al Qaradawi, for example, expresses a strong disapproval of poetry, describing it as ‘an effeminate occupation, not fitting to virile characters; a game and a diversion unbecoming of religious and serious men.’11 Haythami similarly connects practicing poetry to moral and social vices, suggesting that composing panegyrics with poetic figures of speech and living as a professional poet are unacceptable in Islam. 12
Considering the fact that Adépọ̀jù earns his living from poetry and composes panegyrics with poetic figures of speech, there is a contradiction between his engagement of Yorùbá poetry and Islamic fundamentalism. Muslims generally believe that faith and work are inseparable; being a Muslim is part of daily life. Adépọ̀jù’s self-definition, therefore, constantly navigates between the Yorùbá and Islamic frames of reference. Moreover, his claim of being a ‘Yorùbá’ poet has been largely questioned by his admirers because of his extremist Islamic ideology. This reservation has been reflected in his poor album sales recently. His upbraiding of Yorùbá Muslim clerics for commoditizing religion equally alienates him from the mainstream Muslims. He is, therefore, too deep in Islam to be a Yorùbá poet. His experience vividly illustrates the interstices of a postcolonial identity.

Adépọ̀jù, however, justifies his practice as a Yorùbá poet, declaring, ‘as long as ewì is not against God, there is nothing wrong with it’.13 He envisions Yorùbá poetry as an instrument of preaching in such a way to impart understanding of religion. His position is informed by the dynamics of Yorùbá society, which is remarkably tolerant and liberal in religious matters. Yorùbá society encourages the co-existence of traditional beliefs and other religions. And this prospect invariably makes Islam in Yorùbáland to be unique, compared to other places. Perhaps, this is why it is frequently said that bó ti wu ni làá se ìmàle ẹni (people are free to practice Islam the way they want).

Although Adépọ̀jù’s engagement of the very medium of poetry is problematic, his decision to communicate his Islamic spirituality in expressive terms through what he calls ‘jihad poetry’ is another vexatious matter. This genre suggests his double identity as a Yorùbá poet and Islamic preacher. ‘Jihad poetry,’ according to the poet, is ‘making poetry in line with the wishes of Almighty Allah.’14 The poet vividly demonstrates the outlook of a poet-preacher through the rendering of several poems promoting many aspects of the Islamic faith such as Sharia law, equity, humility, submission to authority, and social justice. He also speaks on Muslims beliefs, the oneness of God, names and attributes of God, last days, destiny, predestination, and the revelation of the Quran.

The intercultural tension is reflected further in the poet’s advocacy for the destruction of artworks and sculptures erected in Nigerian cities. There are numerous statues of legendary warriors erected in several Yorùbá cities. The call for the destruction of these artworks contradicts the cultural rights of a people. The video footage demonstrating the continuous destruction of heritage sites in Iraq by Islamists provides a remarkable insight into the possibilities inherent in the anti-arts and crafts disposition of Ọlánŕ ewájú Adépọ̀jù. Although what is regarded as an artwork could be a result of a dominant discourse establishing its values; artefacts, creative works, festivals, and expressive arts constitute important aspects of a people’s cultural heritage, of which oral poetry is also a vital part. Adépọ̀ju apparently fails to recognize the link between creativity/culture and religion.

Ọlań ŕ ewáju ́ Adeṕ ọ̀ju takes very seriously the sociopolitical complexities of contemporary Nigerian society. He claims to be a public intellectual as a poet, ‘speaking the truth to those in power,’15 and exhibiting an uncanny passion for the well-being of the poor and the less-privileged. His poetry transcends any private emotion as he consciously addresses his works to trend within his immediate Yorùbá society and at the national level, providing a national character to his artistic imagination. Adépọ̀jù appears to recognize ewì as a vehicle to propagate a creed. According to him, ‘constructive and stout defense of social good form [is] the primary mandate of my poetry.’16 But this altruism is hardly the case at all time.

Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is also characterized by ambivalences, inconsistencies in sociopolitical and human rights commentaries. He reinforces a narrow, minimal perspective on human rights that derives ultimately from his fundamentalist Islamic ideas. The poet also supports the restriction of women from the public sphere and of the freedom of religion of òrìsà worshippers. In Òfin Ọlórun (God’s Commandment) Adépọ̀jù declares:

Òfin tí Olúwa mí ṣe lórí àwọn obìnrin
Níńlá ni, ó tóbi yéye
Èèwọ̀ ńlá ni
Kí obìnrin máa bá wa sọr̀ ọ̀ laẃ ùjọ
Ẹni tó bá fẹ́
Kó gbọ,́ kó ṣe oríire

God’s law regarding women
It is unusual and very firm
It is a forbidden thing
For a woman to address men in public
If you like
Do listen and be blessed

His call for the enforcement of Sharia as a legal alternative similarly negates freedom of religion and human rights that he eloquently promotes. His public display of Islamic piety and fundamentalist ethos considerably affects his vision of the poet as public spokesperson with respect to social justice and good governance. His initial aversion to religious extremism in Má Gba wèrè Mẹś ìn (Do Not Be a Religious Extremist) has been replaced with religious intolerance through his condemnation of other religions. The interaction of indigenous poetic conventions and received religious ideology has resulted in split identities and contradictions in his artistic engagement. The effect of such a decision has continued to affect the criticism of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry. The emergence of the foregoing trends in the artistic development of Adépọ̀jù is vividly illustrated in the subsequent paragraphs as we engage the two phases of his practice.

Early Poetry: Yorùbá Metaphysics

The early poetry of Adépọ̀jù encompasses the period 1972–1985. The period saw the publication of the poetry collection Ir̀ oǹ ú Akeẃ i ̀ in 1972 and the first decade of his production of audio recordings of his poetry. It was a time of experimentation with traditional oral forms and musical instruments. The experimentation largely derived from the adaptation of Yorùbá oral poetic forms such as Ifá (divination poetry), raŕ à (chanting), ọfọ̀ (incantation), and ṣàngó piṕ e ̀ (praise chants to Ṣango) to his poetry. These oral forms were largely mixed with ideas drawn from the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òris̀ ̩à pantheon.

The 1972 collection Ìrònú Akéwì reveals how the values that drive Adépọ-̀ jù’s poetry are closely tied to Yorùbá religion. The poet demonstrates the value of identifying with the Yorùbá pantheon in several ways. The various forms include panegyric performed for Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning, in the collection. In Mo Fẹs̀ ùn Kàn Ọ́ (I Accuse You), the poet addresses the manner of rendering his poetry as ‘expelling fire’ like Ṣàngó, declaring (I am desirous of expelling fire like Ọya’s husband). The reference to Ṣàngó’s attributes is probably meant to appropriate the power of the òrìsà through the expression of its authority (àṣẹ). The interaction of the poet with Yorùbá religion and philosophy is also evident in the frequent allusions to the Ifá corpus in several poems, including Má Mọ́bùn S̩aya (Never Marry a Dirty Woman), Àgbà Ọr̀ ọ ̀ (Mature Counsel), and Tèmi Yé Mi (I Have My Reasons). In Tèmi Yé Mi, for example, Adépọ̀jù claims ‘mo forin dífá / Ifá ṣẹ’ (I rendered my song as an Ifa oracle, it came to pass). The idea of connecting his poetry with Ifá metaphysics suggests that he lays claim to esoteric knowledge. There is also an enthusiastic appeal to children to practice the traditional religion in Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change). He publicly acknowledges the society of women mediums (witches), Ìyà mi Òsò̩ ròng̀ à, in the poem Tèmi Ń Bẹ Lára Mi (I Am Not Infallible). The following verse taken from Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change) illustrates the Yorùbá religious outlook:

Ìgbà ló dé, ìgbà ló dé.
Ọmọ́ burú títí,
Ọmọ kò níran iṣẹ́ tí baba wọn ń ṣe.
Ọmọ gọ̀, gọ̀, gọ̀,
Ọmọ kò mòrìs̩à tí baba rẹ̀ ń sìn.
Ọmọ ń bọ egúngún elégúngún,
Ọmọ pa tilé wọn run.
Ọmọ ń pabì fórìs̩à àjèjì.
Òrìs̩à onílé kìí sìí gbobì lọ́wọ́ àrè.
Egúngún ilé baba ẹni ní í gbe ni.
Òrìs̩à ìdílé ẹni là á sìn.

Times change, times change
A child is so perverse,
He does not recall his father’s vocation.
A child is so stupid,
He fails to recognize the deity of his father.
A child is worshipping another person’s masquerade,
The child destroys the lineage’s masquerade.
A child is consulting for a strange deity.
The divinity of a native does not demand for a sacrifice from a stranger.
Worshipping one’s ancestral masquerade only attracts blessing.
You worship only your family divinity.

The appeal to the younger generation to worship the òrìṣà and masquerades of their forebears is characteristic of the poet’s disposition in his early poetry. The commentary on the people’s attitude to traditional culture raises the ageold conflict between the old and the new, between tradition and modernity. The Yorùbá religious outlook additionally finds expression in the invocation of several deities, culture heroes/heroines or ancestors in Yorùbáland in the poem Òtítọ́ Korò (Truth Is Bitter):

Ẹ̀yin alágbára nílẹ̀ Yorùbá!
Tíẹ ti débùgbé òótọ́
Ẹ má sùn lọ́run
Ẹni pé ki n kú
Gbogbo wọn pátá
Kó fọwọ́ ara wọn ṣera wọn
Oòduà Ọlọ́fin,Ọbàtálá
Bas̩ọ̀run Àjàká Ajẹ̀ǹgẹ̀-tí-ẹ̀ lẹ̀-
Efúùfù kò fẹ́rì
Ẹ wá gbé mi lékè
Gbogbo àwọn abínúẹni
Òkè Ibadan, Às̩àkẹ́ ọlọ́mú orù
Má sùn
Ọ̀rányàn, Olúorogbo,
S̩àngó, Lákáayé
Ẹ jẹ́ kásákòkó
Kó máa bá kòkóẹ̀ gbẹ
Bí a ti rọ́jú pe orí ako̩ni
Gààràgà la fidà lalẹ̀.
Ẹ̀yin Ọba aládé mẹ́rẹ̀ẹ̀rìndínlogún
Ilẹ̀ Èkìtì
Ẹ wá gbè mí níjà
Agẹmọ kìí kú ni màjèsín
O dijọ́ tó bá fọ̀pá rìn.

All renowned ancestors in Yorùbáland!
Those who have reached the habitation of truth
Do not be asleep in heaven
Anyone who says I should die
Let everyone
Face the backlash of their actions
Oòduà, Ọlọfí n, Ọbàtálá
Basọ̩ r̀ un Àjàká a man of peaceful disposition17
The wind does not befriend a drizzle
Come and deliver me
from the plot of the envious.
Ibadan Hill, As̀ à̩ kẹ,́ the o with large breasts
Do not sleep.
Ọr̀ ányàn, Olúorogbo,
S̩àngó, Lákáayé
Let the one drying cocoa seed
Dry in the sun with it
As we invoke the names of heroes
We drag the sword on the floor
You sixteen kings
of Ekiti land
Come and fight for me
Age̩mo̩ does not die young18
Until he uses a walking stick.

The early poetry of Adépọ̀jù encompasses the period 1972–1985. The period saw the publication of the poetry collection Ir̀ oǹ ú Akeẃ i ̀ in 1972 and the first decade of his production of audio recordings of his poetry. It was a time of experimentation with traditional oral forms and musical instruments. The experimentation largely derived from the adaptation of Yorùbá oral poetic forms such as Ifá (divination poetry), raŕ à (chanting), ọfọ̀ (incantation), and ṣàngó piṕ e ̀ (praise chants to Ṣango) to his poetry. These oral forms were largely mixed with ideas drawn from the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òris̀ ̩à pantheon.

The 1972 collection Ìrònú Akéwì reveals how the values that drive Adépọ-̀ jù’s poetry are closely tied to Yorùbá religion. The poet demonstrates the value of identifying with the Yorùbá pantheon in several ways. The various forms include panegyric performed for Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning, in the collection. In Mo Fẹs̀ ùn Kàn Ọ́ (I Accuse You), the poet addresses the manner of rendering his poetry as ‘expelling fire’ like Ṣàngó, declaring (I am desirous of expelling fire like Ọya’s husband). The reference to Ṣàngó’s attributes is probably meant to appropriate the power of the òrìsà through the expression of its authority (àṣẹ). The interaction of the poet with Yorùbá religion and philosophy is also evident in the frequent allusions to the Ifá corpus in several poems, including Má Mọ́bùn S̩aya (Never Marry a Dirty Woman), Àgbà Ọr̀ ọ ̀ (Mature Counsel), and Tèmi Yé Mi (I Have My Reasons). In Tèmi Yé Mi, for example, Adépọ̀jù claims ‘mo forin dífá / Ifá ṣẹ’ (I rendered my song as an Ifa oracle, it came to pass). The idea of connecting his poetry with Ifá metaphysics suggests that he lays claim to esoteric knowledge. There is also an enthusiastic appeal to children to practice the traditional religion in Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change). He publicly acknowledges the society of women mediums (witches), Ìyà mi Òsò̩ ròng̀ à, in the poem Tèmi Ń Bẹ Lára Mi (I Am Not Infallible). The following verse taken from Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change) illustrates the Yorùbá religious outlook:

Ọ̀kan ṣoṣo tí Èdùmàrè bí
Tó ju ẹgbẹẹ̀ ́dọǵ bọǹ ọmọ lọ
A -gbénú -ṣọlá
Omọ Ọg̀ a àgbà
Ọmọ lójú Olúwa
Ọmo aládé àlàáfíà
Àpẹẹrẹ Òjíṣẹ́

The only begotten of Edumare
Greater than five thousand sons
The one who richly dwells within
Son of the Most High
Beloved of the Lord
Prince of peace
An example of the Prophet

The construction of a mingled religious persona similarly finds expression in the poet’s composition for Olódùmarè (The Praise of Olódùmarè). The poem aggregates creeds and oríkì of several divinities in the Yorùbá pantheon, and of Islamic and Christian beliefs. Adépọ̀jù ascribes the attributes of Ọr̀ únmìlà, the custodian of oracular knowledge, to his idea of the Supreme Being. Specific examples include allusions such as Ẹlẹŕ i í̀ Ìpín (the witness of creation) and Òpìtàn tó mọ̀dí ayé, mọ̀dí ọr̀ un (the custodian of knowledge that knows the origin/history of heaven and earth). The poem ‘The Praise of Olódùmarè’ similarly contains attributes of Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning. A number of allusions eulogizing the thunder-deity includes Ò-képàrá sọlọŕ ọ̀ di jìnnìjìnnì (the one that exclaims and the person concerned is terrified), sángiri, làgiri, òlàgiri (the one that breaks the wall, one that splits the wall, splitter of walls), and Ọba à so (the king did not hang). The breaking and ripping of walls is an allusion to thunder strikes and the spirit of fire linked with the Yorùbá thunder divinity.21

In addition to the cognomens of Yorùbá divinities in ‘The Praise of Olódùmarè,’ the poem contains allusions to the Islamic Shahada (the Oneness of God) such as Ọ̀kan soso péré ni Ọlọŕ un (God is one) and Ọba Yáárábì (the King who occupies heaven and earth), which portray an Islamic theistic vision. Adépọ̀jù also alludes to the Christian idea of God, calling the Supreme Being Olúwa (Lord), Ọlọŕ un (God) and Ọba tíí pe ra rẹ ̀ ní àwa (The King, who calls himself we), which gives an impression of the Christian idea of the Trinity. It then becomes clear that behind Adépọ̀jù’s praises of Olódùmarè is an ambivalent theistic vision in his early poetry.

The fusion is also reflected in the manner of musical accompaniment to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry. Musical accompaniment features prominently in much of Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù’s early poetry. He employed traditional instruments such as the hunter’s flute, dùndún drum, and s̩ẹ̀kẹr̀ ẹ ̀ (rattles). He started with a solo dùndún drum accompaniment and subsequently added the hunters’ flute regularly used in the performance of ìjálá chanters. He later introduced guitars to his work, providing a sense of visionary response to the popular musical trend and the patronage system of the 1970s. The combination of Western and traditional musical instruments was a demonstration of his embrace of old and new forms.

He stopped using guitars and jùjú beat in 1981 but retained the traditional instruments. He removed the hunter’s flute after his return from Mecca in 1995 and experimented with bẹm̀ ̀bẹ́ (similar to the largest of the European drum set) drum used by the Muslim Ajísààrì groups to wake Muslims for the early morning meal during the month of Ramadan. The introduction of the instrument at the critical point in Adépọ̀jù’s career probably signifies an awakening, having just returned from the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. He completely stopped drumming in Ta ní ń Bínú (Who Is Angry?), declaring that his new vision of ewì was irreconcilable with drumming:

Ìwọ tóo mòwe,
Àti àsàyàn ọ̀rọ̀ó gbọ́,
Jẹ́ ki ń kéwì fún ọ.
Fífetí sí
Lewìàsìkò yìíń fẹẹ́
O kọjá à ń lùlù sí
Mo fẹ́ síná ọgbọ́n bolẹ̀
Bí ọ̀wààwàrà òjò ni
N ò ti ẹ̀ lùlù séwì mọ́
O tọ́ ko yé wa
Etí ò gbéjì
Ilu maa gbelẹ̀
N ò ní ijó ó jo
Ká rétí gbọ́ nàsíà.

You that have an understanding of proverbs,
And other carefully chosen words,
Let me render my poems to you.
Careful listening,
Being attentive,
These are the requirements for ewì of the moment.
It does not permit drumming
I want to throttle with words of wisdom
Like the showers of rain
I no longer drum to my poetry
It is fitting for you to know.
There is need for absolute concentration
Let drums be taken away
I am not willing to dance
So as to listen attentively to sermons.

The foregoing marks a turning point in Adépọ̀jù’s poetry, representing the transition of his poetry from Ifá orin (lyric of Ifá oracle) to nàsíà (sermon). There is a sense of movement from the overtly Yorùbá-myth-informed poetry to that of Islamic aesthetics, a transition from indigenous aesthetics to a foreign one. In doing so, musical accompaniment, which signifies entertainment, was a serious impediment to the new perception and direction of ewì as an Islamic message.

Later Poetry and the Transition to Jihad Poetry

The values that Adépọ̀jù propagates after his embrace of Islam are strictly driven by Islamic fundamentalism. He introduces Islamic preaching to Yorùbá poetry, suggesting an art that is concerned with the spiritual well-being of humankind, and individuals’ usefulness in the service of their creator. The manner in which he voices disapproval of religious innovations and what he calls ‘syncretic’ practices and innovative worship (ẹs̀ ìn àdádáálẹ)̀ of some Yorùbá Muslims attests to an outlook of religious extremism.

The fundamental Islamic vision becomes apparent through the poet’s conception of a new identity for his poetry known as ‘new jihad poetry’ (jìáàdì orin ewi ̀ tuntun), suggesting ‘a vision of implementing God’s new society on earth’ (Zeidan, 15). The outlook of a ‘jihadist poet’ effectively transforms him into an ‘Islamist warlord.’ His new self-conscious identity of Ajagun N ́lá Mus̀ ù lum̀ i ́ (Commander of Muslims) could be interpreted as an alignment of his ewì with propagators of militant Islam. This identity is a striking departure from the earlier religious ecumenism and endorsement of traditional religion. The coming of the ‘war commander’ suggests a vision of a rampaging religious conqueror, whose task is to enforce perfection in the perceived imperfect Islamic practices in his society.

The foregoing outlook probably informs his calls for a reversal of the Sufi- inspired Islamic practices in Yorùbáland as declared in Òfin Ọlọrun (God’s Commandments):

Aránnilétí dé!
Olùkìlọ̀ tó hàn gbangba ni mo jẹ́ fáráyé
Láńrewájú dé!
Ajagun ńlá de!
Irọ́ pin.
Àgò yà lọ́nà fún gbogbo alábòòsí ẹ̀sìn

The prompter is here!
I am a sure Messenger to the world.
Lanrewaju is here!
The war commander is here!
Deceit has ended.
Let religious charlatans give way.

The poet clarifies the nature of the warfare in Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):
Ogun kùmọ̀
Ogun àdá kọ́ ni mòń wí
Ogun wáàsíìgbàlà làń wí
Irọ́ la fẹ́ gbógun tì
Ìránńsẹ́ ès̩ù la fẹ́ bá jagun
Èmi Àkànmú ti gbé wáàsí
Ajagun ńlá kálẹ̀ lórílẹ̀-èdè Nàìjíríà.

It is not a war of the cudgel
Nor a war of cutlass that I am talking about
It is a spiritual war for salvation
We want to confront deception
We want to confront servants of Satan
I, Akanmu, have come with a mission
To propagate a militant message in Nigeria.

Unlike the militant Islamists such as Al Shabab or Boko Haram that frequently take to armed struggle in order to enforce their religious convictions, the poet interprets his Islamic mandate from a spiritual perspective. A similar call is made in the same poem, Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):

Ẹ̀yin ọmọ ogun ìgbàlà
Isẹ́ mi ti bẹ̀rẹ̀
Isẹ́ tóó ṣe Jànmáà
Ibo lẹ ti rísẹ́ ààfáà
Àsé jìbìtì lóń bẹ
Kò síhun tí ń jẹ́sẹààfáà.
Inúń bí mi sí gbogbo èke,
Sí gbogbo alábòòsí pátá poo.

All you soldiers of salvation
My work has started
It is time to work Jànmáà.22
Where did you get the work of a cleric?
It is all deception
There is nothing like the work of a cleric.
I am angry with all liars.
I am angry with all deceivers.

The diatribe is towards professional Islamic clerics, whom he refers to as ‘deceivers’ and ‘liars.’ The poet rejects the idea of having professional clerics like Christian clergy, describing it as an Islamic aberration. He also challenges some practices of the Islamic clerics, like making talismans for people and preparing Quranic writings as medicine and divination, in Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):

Mo fẹ́ rọra ṣe ìbèèrè kan sii:
Ibo ni kùráánì gbé wí pé
Kẹ e̩ máa hàǹtú ta.
Èsì ọ̀rọ̀ la fẹ́ gbọ lẹ́nu yín o
Àáfáà kí ló dé?
Tẹ ẹ fi ń tajà òkùnkùn.
Tẹ e̩ fi ń wí pé
Kí wọn kó mówóàdúà wa
Sé Oluwa ń gba rìbá?
Lóríìbéèrèàwa wa ọmọ aráyé ni
Ká han hàǹtú
Ká di tírà fún ni
Ọjàòkùnkùn ló já sí
Ààfáà onífá ló máa ń tẹ yerùpẹ̀
Òdodo Mùsùlùmí kòníi se bẹ́ẹ̀
Ẹbọ ni
Ílànà Èsù ló jẹ́
Fún ẹni tí kò bá mọ̀

I want to ask you another question:
Where do you have it in the Quran
That you should be selling hantu?23
We want to have a response from you
Alfa, what is it?
Why do you engage in shady deals?
Why did you demand for money?
Why charge a fee for prayers?
Does the Lord demand for a bribe from human beings
For their prayer requests?
Drinking Koranic writings
Preparing talisman for people
These are unwholesome practices.
It is a cleric-diviner who practices sand divination
A true Muslim does not do so
It is a ritual practice
It is a pathway of Satan
For those who do not know.

Prayers for the departed (fidau), the drinking of Quranic writings (hantu), sand divination, the use of talismans and granting public voice to women, among other practices, are very common among many Yorùbá Muslims. The aforementioned practices are considered acceptable in Yorùbá society, where Islam is indigenized. However, this verse categorically decries such practices as unacceptable to Islam, and a journey through the pathway of Shaytan (Satan). The debate regarding the lawful (halal) and the unlawful (haram) is a continual one in Islamic societies and cultures.

Along with this interest in condemning unwholesome Islamic practices, there are concurrent lawful practices he endorses and promotes through the life history of Prophet Muhammad in As̀ eyọri ́ Aǹ ábi ̀ (Achievement of the Prophet), Ẹm̀ i ́ Òkuǹ kuǹ (Evil Spirit), I ̀dájọ́ Òdodo (Righteous Judgement), It̀ aǹ Aǹ ábi ̀ (Life History of the Prophet), and Is̀ iṕ ayá (Revelation). The representation of Islamic practices in Adépọ̀jù’s later poems reflects the tension between syncretism (Islamic innovations) and accepted (orthodox/tradition) practices. It is also a pointer to the dynamics of Islam within the Yorùbá society. The advocacy of Islamic principles as a means of moral and societal reconstruction has serious consequences. It suggests Islamic reform as the only solution to socioeconomic problems in the society. This possibility of a fundamentalist ethos is unattractive to several Yorùbá Muslims. This divergence probably explains why religious extremism, which the poet’s outlook seems to represent, is unattractive to many Yorùbá Muslims.

The tendency towards fundamentalism finds vivid expressions in Ìdájọ́ Òdodo (Righteous Judgement), which evokes issues pertaining to the introduction of Sharia in Nigeria:

Kò sẹ́ni tó fẹ́ fi ṣàríà da ìlú rú o
Ẹ̀tọ́ wa la bèèrè fún
Tí aráyé ń se gbérùmí sọ̀ mí sí
Iléẹjọ́ṣàríà la fẹ́ ní
Só dáa kó dariwo?
Àwa Mùsùlùmí ni a fẹ́ ṣàríà
Kí ló wá kan ti kírísítẹ́nì ní bẹ̀

Demanding for Sharia is not for social unrest
We are demanding for our rights
Everyone is contesting our demand
The request for a Sharia court
Should it generate any controversy?
We, the Muslims, desire the practice of Sharia
What is the concern of Christians?

A call for the implementation of Sharia should be of interest to non-Muslims because it represents a visible character of an Islamic state and a possible threat to the secular state policy. The introduction of Sharia in a mostly non-Muslim dominated southern part of Nigeria has the tendency to aggravate the tense religious atmosphere. This position explains why the idea of a separate legal system for Muslims may be perceived as promoting religious identity in a secular society:

Ohun tó rẹwà tó yẹ
Tó kan ti Kírísítẹ́nì ní ti wọn?
Ẹ̀tọ́ ti wọn pàtó ló yẹ́
Ki Kírísítẹ́nì kó bèèrè fún
Bí wọ́n bá fẹ́ ká pín ilé ẹjọ́ sí méjì
Ká kúkú pín in.

What is pleasurable and proper
That should concern Christians
Is for Christians to demand
for their rights
If they desire a separate legal system
Let it be so.

A people have the right to demand that they be governed in accordance with the moral-cum-legal precepts of their religion. However, the modern nation-state must be recognized as a secular construct to prevent a situation in which several judicial systems struggle for dominance in the country. Although the justice system inherited from the colonial authorities was based on the Western-Christian legal system, associating the prevailing system with conspiracy against the Muslims is an expression of the fundamentalist’s potential for over-generalization. Such resentments have dangerous consequences, as they often lead to unprovoked attacks on innocent people. The call for the implementation of Sharia probably arises out of such resentment. Such prospect has its danger, as there is the probability of subverting diversity and individual rights, which may lead to sociopolitical tyranny.


Much as the driving idiom of Adépọ̀jù’s early years largely remained Yorùbá traditional religion, his interaction with the Islamic religion provided additional stimulation for his artistic imagination. The interaction with Islam resulted in the displacement of the Yorùbá traditional outlook. The collision of the Islamic and Yorùbá knowledge systems resulted in a fusion, which is characterized by what Bhabha calls the ‘beyond.’ The ‘beyond,’ therefore, functions as a bridge of nexus between Islam and Yorùbá traditions in his poetry.


The research on which this paper is based enjoyed the generous support of Carnegie funded American Council of Learned Society African Humanities Program.


Primary Texts

Adépọ̀jù, Lánŕ ewájú. Oríkì Jésù /Muhammad. Ewì 6, LALPS 39. Lanrad Records,
1978. LP.
———. Ọbáfẹḿ i Awólọẃ ọ.̀ Ewì 9, LALPS 47, Lanrad Records, 1979. LP.
———. Òtítọ́ Korò /Ọjọ́ Ìdájọ.́ Ewì 10, LALPS 55, Lanrad Records, 1979 LP.
———. Òdodo Ọr̀ ọ.̀ Ewì 22, LALPS 127, Lanrad Records, 1983. LP.
———. Tèmi YéMi. Ewì 23 LALPS 128, Lanrad Records, 1984. LP.
———. Ìtàn Ànábì. Ewì 39, LALPS 139, Lanrad Records, 1988. LP.
———. Ìsípayá. Ewì 43, LALPS 143, Lanrad Records, 1991. LP.
———. Òfin Ọlọŕ un. Ewì 47, LALPS 148, Lanrad Records, 1992. LP.
———. Ìdájọ́ Òdodo. Ewì 57, LALPS 159, Lanrad Records, 2000. CD.
———. Oríkì Olódùmarè. Ewì 58, LALPS 160, Lanrad Records, 2000. CD.

Secondary Texts

Akinjogbin, Adeagbo. Ewi Iwoyi. Glasgow: Collins, 1969.
Akinyemi, Akintunde. “Myths, Legends and the Poetics of Heroism in Two
Yoruba Historical Plays.” Ife Journal of Languages and Literature 1, no. 1
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Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf. The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. Plainfield: American
Trust, 1994.
Asad, Talal. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Washington D.C.: Occasional
Paper Series, Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University,
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
El-Zein, AbdulHamid. “Beyond Ideology and Theology: The Search for the
Anthropology of Islam.” Annual Review of Anthropology 6, (1977). 227-54.
Falola, Toyin. ‘Yoruba Writers and the Construction of Heroes.’ History in Africa
vol. 24 (1997): 157-175.
Folorunso, Adeyinka. “The Development and Trends in Yoruba Written Poetry.”
Opanbata: LASU Journal of Yoruba Studies vol. 1, (1993): 96-113.
———. “The Effect of Praise Singing on Adepoju’s Popular Poetry.” In Aesthetics
and Utilitarianism in Languages and Literatures, edited by A. I. Eruvebetine,
257-266. Lagos: LASU Press, 1990.
———. The Famished Artist in a Famished Society. Lagos: Lagos State University,
———. “Oselu Akewi, Akewi Oselu: Ewi Lanrewaju Adepoju.” Inquiry in African
Languages and Literature vol. 2, Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti
(1997): 92-114.
———. “The Written Yoruba Poetry 1949–1989. A Study of the Sociology of
Literature.” PhD diss., University of Ibadan, 1998.
Geertz, Clifford. Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.
Gellner, Ernest. Muslim Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Harrow, Kenneth. Faces of Islam in African Literature. Portsmouth: Heinemann,
Haynes, Jonathan. “Mobilizing Yoruba Popular Culture: Babangida Must Go.”
Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 73, no. 1 (2001): 77–87.
Loimeier, Roman. Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Perspective. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2013.
Mazrui, Ali. The Africans: A Triple Heritage. New York: Little, Brown and
Co., 1986.
Mphalele, Ezekiel. “African Writers and Commitment.” In Introduction to African
Literature, edited by Ulli Beier, v–ix. Lagos: Longman, 1979.
Nnodim, Rita. “Yoruba Neo-Traditional Media Poetry: A Poetics of Interface.”
PhD diss., University of Birmingham, 2002.
Ogundipe, Stephen. “Hybridity and the Construction of Olanrewaju Adepoju’s
Poetry.” PhD diss., Obafemi Awolowo University, 2015.
Ojo, Tokunbọ. “The Nigerian Media and the Process of Democratization.”
Journalism 8 (2007): 545–550.
Okunoye, Oyeniyi. “Ewì, Yorùbá Modernity, and the Public Space.” Research
in African Literatures 41, no. 4 (2010): 43–64.
———. “Lanrewaju Adepoju and the Making of Modern Yoruba Poetry.” Africa
81, no. 2 (2011): 175–203.
Olukotun, Ayo. “Traditional Protest Media and the Anti-Military Struggle
1988–1999.” African Affairs 101 (2002): 193–211.
Olatunji, Olatunde. Adebayo Faleti: A Study of His Poems 1954–1964. Ibadan:
Heinemann, 1982.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993.
———. Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Random House, 1994.
Soares, Benjamin & Rene Otayele. Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Starret, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics and Religious
Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Williams, Adebayo. “Literature in the Time of Tyranny: African Writers
and the Crisis of Governance.” Third World Quarterly vol.17, no. 2 (1996):
Zeidan, David. “The Islamic Fundamentalist View of Life as a Perennial Battle.”
Middle East Review of International Affairs 5, no. 4 (2001): 31–59.


1 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.
2 Ibid., 217.
3 Ali Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage (New York: Little Brown and Co, 1986), 13.
4 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993).
5 Stephen Ogundipe, Interview with Chief Olanrewaju Adepoju, in “Hybridity and
the Construction of Olanrewaju Adepoju’s Poetry,” PhD diss., Obafemi Awolowo University,
Ile-Ife, 2015), 270–75.
6 Adeagbo Akinjogbin, Ewi Iwoyi. Glasgow: Collins, 1969.
7 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Plainfield: American
Trust, 1994).
8 The Salafis were the first three generations that represented the golden age of Islam.
They were often referred to as Islamic ‘predecessors,’ ‘pious ancestors,’ ‘pious successors’
of the Holy Prophet.
9 This is the idiom of those who venerate the Salafis. It derives from the idea of weaving
a future out of a distant past.
10 Roman Loimeier, Muslim Societies in Africa; A Historical Perspective (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2013).
11 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Plainfield: American
Trust, 1994), 2.
12 Islamic fundamentalism is generally averse to music, poetry, and artistic works.
13 Ogundipe, 279.
14 Ogundipe, 280.
15 Edward Said, Representation of the Public Intellectual (New York: Random House,
1994), 85.
16 Ogundipe, 277.
17 Odùduwà, Ọr̀ ànmíyàn, Àjàká, and Ṣàngó were the first four Yorùbá rulers who
were deified.
18 Agẹmo is an ancestral deity commonly celebrated in Ijebu land.
19 Experts on Ifẹ̀ religious traditions claim that Olúorogbo predates Mọrèmí.
20 Toyin Falola, “Yoruba Writers and the Construction of Heroes,” History in Africa
24 (1997), 2.
21 See Akintunde Akinyemi, “Myths, Legends and the Poetics of Heroism in Two
Yoruba Historical Plays.” Ife Journal of Languages and Literature, 1, 1(2013): 1–15.
22 Muslim faithful.
23 Qur’an verses written in ink, washed and stored in a bottle like a syrup, taken as

Babatunde Olanrewaju Adebua
Babcock University, Nigeria
Mobolanle Ebunoluwa Sotunsa
Babcock University, Nigeria


There is growing interest in the study of festivals by literary scholars in African orature. In Nigeria, the festival resources of the Ìjèḅ ú in southwestern Nigeria, specifically the Èḅ ìbì festival, has been given cursory multi-disciplinary attention in areas such as anthropology, sociology, religions and history. However, scant attention has been paid to the literariness of this corpus of festivals. Moreover, the variety of the festival celebrated by the Èp̣ é ̣ people in the coastal area of the I ̀jẹ̀bú people appears to have been neglected in previous studies of I ̀jẹ̀bú festivals. Using salient aspects of literary semiotics, this paper explores the Èḅ ìbì festival of the Èp̣ é ̣ people by undertaking a literary evaluation of the structural organization, dialetics and interconnectedness of the performances. Observations revealed that levels of structural organization are interconnected to various degrees. Narrative and textual structures are maintained in spite of translations into other languages. Èḅ ìbì is structured beginning with formulaic exchanges, invocation by the Oluwo and the beating of the sacred Gbẹ̀du drums. Performers sometimes use the formula within a performance to develop oral text. Actions include flogging, as well as acrobatic and gymnastic displays by the performers. The costumes and masks have motifs of riverine animals and fishing accessories. Color codes are symbolically white for cleansing, green for fertility, brown for earth and red for positive energy. The Èḅ ìbì festival celebrated in Èp̣ é ̣ is indeed rich in oral aesthetic forms such as narration, wording, texture and dramatization which enhance its performance aesthetics to a large degree.


Though there has been research into various aspects of I ̀jẹ̀bú traditions, orature and customs, including those by Ogunba (1967), Disu (1987), and Oluyomi (1989). It appears, however, that not much attention has been paid to the structural organization of the festival events. This paper attempts to open new vistas in research into African festivals, by exploring the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi,̀ a major traditional festival of Ẹp̀ ẹ,́ 1 which is in the coastal area of I ̀jẹ̀búland2 in Lagos State in southwestern Nigeria, from the ambit of structural organization and interconnectedness of the festival performances.

Festivals are public celebrations that are usually staged by local communities to commemorate unique aspects of their lives and mutual existence. They are also used to meet specific socio-cultural needs of the people, as well as provide entertainment. In Africa in particular, festival occasions offer a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups. These festivals are mainly religious in nature and usually have historical connotations, as the origin of most festivals is based on the historical development of the community involved. Such festivals are rallying points; occasions for re-affirming the sense of belonging and togetherness of the people. Most modern festivals focus on cultural, ethical and spiritual ideals to inform, educate, and entertain members of the community in which they are held. Many festivals in Yorùbáland are celebrated to ensure the health, unity and the general wellbeing of the people. Festivals such as Ọs̀ un Oṣ̀ ogbo festival, Og̀ uń festival, Ẹỳ ọ ̀ festival belong in this category.3 Therefore, these festivals serve as a way of preserving the traditions of the people and reminding them of their responsibilities to the society to which they belong.

Among the I ̀jẹ̀bú who can be found in Og̀ uǹ and Lagos States in the South-western part of Nigeria, there are many traditional festivals celebrated annually. The I ̀jẹ̀bú celebrate Oro,̀ 4 Agẹmọ5 and Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ as major festivals annually. Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ is celebrated annually by the Akilẹ-̀ I ̀jẹ̀bú to the exclusion of I ̀jẹ̀bu-́ Rẹḿ ọ.6 However, the Rẹḿ ọ people celebrate Orò and Agẹmọ.7 The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival, which takes place between January and May of every year, features spectacular performances, drama, music, and dance, all accentuated by a rich display of musical ensembles, costumes, and make-up. However, rich as these festival events are, it appears only general and superficial attempts have been made to study and document them. In fact, there is a dearth of research on the dialectics of the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival corpus, which this study seeks to redress, by examining the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival with particular focus on the structural patterns and interconnectedness discoverable in the festival performances.

Theoretical Orientation

This study adopts salient aspects of literary semiotics to achieve its objectives. Literary semiotics is an approach to literary criticism informed by the theory of signs or semiotics which is closely related to structuralism pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure. In the view of Barthes (1970), semiology, which is used interchangeably with semiotics, is the systematic study of signs. Hawkes (1977) and Elam (1980, 21) agree with this definition; they define semiology as the systematic study of signs which function in diverse kinds of signifying systems. Eagleton (1983, 100) also defines semiotics as patterned human communication behavior including auditory/vocal and facial expression, body talk (kinetics), touch (proxemics) signs and symbols (semiology). Nwabueze (1996) claims that semiotics (or semiology), the science that studies the production of meaning in society, has been variously applied to the study and criticism of festival performances, especially with regard to signification and communication. Since it deals with the methods through which meanings are both generated and exchanged, the sign-systems and codes rampant in society, as well as actual messages and texts produced through those means, semiotics has been found to be a veritable academic tool in the interpretation of oral performances.

The choice of literary semiotics for this study is informed largely by the fact that festival performances are literary and replete with signs and codes. According to Sotunsa (2009:69), “literary semiotics concentrates on texts, which are literary in nature in contrast to general semiotics which studies texts, which may be non-literary.” Within the context of this current study, text here refers to the various Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ performances.

A study of structural forms in the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival readily lends itself to aspects of literary semiotics as stated above. A study of the structure of the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival examines the use of vocal and auditory elements as well as the other aspects of kinetics and proxemics, as they relate to the ritual festival performance. Most of these afore-mentioned elements manifest through a study of the oral aesthetics of the ritual festival performances of both the linguistic and non-linguistic aspects.

Background of the People

The people of Ẹp̀ ẹ́ in Lagos State are of the I ̀jèbú stock, both culturally and linguistically. Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ is a small town on the back of the Lagos lagoon, about thirty-two kilometres southwest of I ̀jè bu-́ Òde in southwestern Nigeria. Ẹp̀ é ̣ is predominantly a fishing community (Disu 1987, 3). The Ẹp̀ ẹ́ people have a belief system that derives mainly from Yorùbá cosmology, and they believe in most of the deities of the Yorùbá pantheon. A riverine people, the Ẹp̀ ẹ́ people also celebrate water-related Yorùbá deities such as Ékiń e, Or̀ is̀ a-̀ ńla,́ Ọmọ-Oko and Yemoja. The Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ people, like most African communities (and by inference the Yorùba)́ , practice ancestral worship. Ẹp̀ ẹ́ ancestral figures like Huŕ aka,̀ Alaŕ o,́ and Oguń múdè are prominent in the worship matrix of the people.

The Èp̣ é ̣ people revel in festivities. Oguń toḿ iś iǹ (1999, 13) mentions I ̀ki-́ Baále,́ Ileý a,́ Ọmọ-Oko, Ékiń e, Obaluá ye,́ Og̀ un and Ẹ b̀ i b̀ i ̀ as the most prominent festivals celebrated annually by the people of Ẹp̀ ẹ.́ The festivals serve as occasions for bonding and the wellbeing of the people. In this study, the paramount concern is the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival, which is the major and most important event in the life of the people.

The Ẹ̀bìbì Festival

Among the I ̀jẹ̀bú people of Ẹp̀ ẹ́ in Lagos State, the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival is central in the corpus of festivals celebrated annually. The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival falls into the category of festivals meant for the cleansing and purification of the town, towards the achievement of good health and prosperity for the people. The festival consists of a wide array of festival events, ranging from rituals and re-enactments to pure entertainment. Sometimes, it involves a mixture of all of these elements. The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival is celebrated among the Akilẹ-̀ I ̀jẹ̀bú as previously stated, and it involves plenty of symbolic action, song, dance, and pantomimic dramatization of short archetypal incidents from the experience of the people in the outgoing year. The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ takes place between January and May every year.

Structure in Oral Performance

Barber and de’Farias (1989) opine that to understand oral narratives and performances, scholars must be grounded, literally and metaphorically, in the structure, idioms, and conventions created by the people themselves and their own understanding of the meaning of these narratives. This view is corroborated by Brown (1999). Barthes (1970) also espouses the principle of universality of structural forms in myths, jokes and riddles. Barthes suggests that the logicality of simple structural forms is responsible for the nature and interrelationships in the various oral events. He regards the structure of oral performances as a principle of human thoughts which are then concretized in language. Jolles (1972) agreeing with this, posits, “Barthes’ simple form refers to verbal objects in the mind of the composer or performer who tries to inject meaning into his world.” This disposition by the critic is universal and emerges from the belief that these structural forms in the mind of the composer are born out of concrete linguistic and formal structures.

In an attempt to give a clearer perspective on the concept of structure in oral performances, Jason (1977, 15) offers the following categorization:

i. Wording––the language material with which linguistics deals.

ii. Texture––the organization of wording. This includes the poetics: prosodic features of prose and verse of any order, the style of a genre, a culture or a school of narrators and singers, and the individual idiosyncratic style of the performer.

iii. Narration––the organization of the narrative’s plot.

iv. Dramatization––the organization of the performance: acoustic, visual, and kinetic aspects which are constituent elements of every performance of a work of oral literature, no matter its length.

Jason further asserts that these levels of structural organization are interconnected to various degrees. Narrative and textual structures keep their structure in spite of translations into other languages. These parameters also apply to the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival corpus.

The Structure of Ẹ̀bìbì Festival Performances

A large part of the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ́ festival performances has a high level of structural organization and interconnectedness. Within the concepts of the structure of oral performances, the following categorization was identified: wording, texture, narration, and dramatization.


The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival is an I ̀jẹ̀bú festival in Yorùbáland. The language material is the I ̀jẹ̀bú variety of the Yorùbá language. The use of language and choice of words is the prerogative of the creator/composer of an event, who has versatility in the performance of that oral event. The performer utilizes keys to oral performance such as special codes in the form of dialects and attire. Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ is not a generalized Yorùbá festival. Therefore the I ̀jẹ̀bú who have given it prominence basically use the Ìjẹ̀bú variety of the Yorùbá language in an artistic manner.

In the opening sequences of the declaration of Ẹ b̀ i b̀ i ̀ in Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ after the I ̀de-́ munu festival in I ̀lese-̀ I ̀jẹ̀bu,́ 8 there are some ritual sacrificial rites to Eṣ̀ u,̀ Ogunta, Ọbáluaye,́ and Ig̀ bẹŕ uǹ . Once these are done, the king, Ọba Kam̀ ọŕ u ̀ Is̀ họ̀lá Aniḿ aś haun (Ẹlẹṕ ẹ́ I), the oḷọ́jà of Ẹp̀ ẹ,́ declares the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ open by stating: “the festival is here, the people gather! Even the rainbows proclaim the festival!” (Ọduń jọ! Iwosu! Es̀ um̀ ar̀ e ̀ Keú ǹ Ọduń !) This statement signifies that the festival cycle has begun. This is symbolic of the goodwill that the deities and ancestral spirits have towards the community. Once the declaration has been made, the festival proper begins.

Ig̀ bes̀ i-̀ Oṣ̀ u9 is the next event in the line-up of activities for the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival. This event involves a lot of stylized language use as well as codification, due to the fact that the Oṣ̀ ug̀ bo,́ which is a secret society, is involved. In this segment, the sacred gbẹ̀du drums are beaten and the king with his chiefs and the Oṣ̀ ug̀ bó dance to the music.

The chants and exchanges are formulaic. To Finnegan (1973, 380), formulae are “a group of words which are regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea.” A formula is made up of the opening and closing formula. Scholars also acknowledge that there are formulas in the body of oral performance. Performers sometimes use the formula within a performance to develop an oral text. This, according to Finnegan (1970, 381), is called internal formula. The opening formula is used at the beginning of an oral performance to win, retain, and ensure that his audience is ready for the performance. In the Oṣ̀ ug̀ bó interplay during the Ig̀ bes̀ i-̀ Oṣ̀ ù the public aspects consists of the following opening formula:

Call: Eri ́ wo, yà
Eri ́ wo, yà
Eri ́ wo, yà
Response: Aỳ à gbo,́
aỳ à tọ,́
aỳ à jẹ

Call: Lord of secrets, descend
Lord of secrets, descend
Lord of secrets, descend
Response: Descend for longevity
Descend for honor
Descend for prosperity

After this sequence has been repeated severally, the invocation of the divinities and ancestors is carried out by the oluẃ o, leader of the Oṣ̀ ug̀ bo ́ fraternity, after which the gbẹ̀du drums are beaten. Gbẹ̀du drums are traditional royal drums played with straight sticks and hand producing strong deep tones. They are used in traditional or religious settings, or for kings and dignitaries. They are played in pairs, trios, or septets. Gbẹ̀du drums are sometimes adorned with elaborate carvings. The drums are also used during the Oṣ̀ ug̀ bo ́ and Og̀ boń i ceremonies. It is worthy to note that in Yorùbáland, there are four main drum families. These are the gbẹ̀du family, the duǹ duń family, the bat̀ a ́ family and the sákaŕ a ̀ family (Sotunsa 2009). While the other drum families are largely used for social events, the gbẹ̀du drum family is used exclusively for sacred and ritual events. Events such as the coronation of a new king, the birth of a crown prince, and major spiritual events are heralded with the beating of said drums. The gbẹ̀du drums of the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ are also regarded as sacred and the drums are played only on the specific occasions mentioned above.

For the masquerade aspects of the festival such as: Ji g̀ bo,̀ Aleǵ bagba, Òkoó r̀ o,̀ Ẹp̀ a,̀ Ẹỳ ọ,̀ Ki ́lájolu,́ Ig̀ òdo,̀ Agbo, Agira, Àjòji-̀ Imalẹ ̀ and Àkàlag̀ ulẹ,̀ 10 the I ̀jẹ̀bú variety of the Yorùbá language is used during performances. The only masquerade which uses a language different from Ìjẹ̀bu ́ is the Ẹỳ ọ ̀ masquerade which communicates in Èko ́ variety of Yorùba ́ and Ig̀ unnuko,́ which communicates in the Nupé language, which is popularly referred to as Taṕ a.̀

Structurally, bright colors are peculiar to all masquerades within the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival corpus. From the green and red color of Aleǵ bagba to the multi-colored costume of Ẹp̀ a,̀ the aura and spectacle of a community in celebration is evident. All the acolytes of these masquerades are usually in uniform to symbolize their membership within these masquerade cults. Worthy of specific mention with regard to the colorful appearance is the Ki ́lájolú masquerade.

From his mask to stockings is an array of apparel in beautiful colors and symbols. The mask is designed as a boat with frills and decorations. The body gear is made of beautifully colored woven raffia, with mirrors, eye-slits, and cowries. Ki ́lájolú wears a skirt around his waist, beneath which are leotards. This is why Ki ́lájolú is taunted by spectators in this manner: “Kilajolu, thief, who has stolen his wife’s skirt!” (Ki ́lájolú Ole,̀ a ji ́ si ́kẹẹ́ t́ i ̀ i ỳ aẁ ó ẹ!̀ ) Once Ki ́la-́ jolú is taunted in this way, it pursues the spectators and flogs whoever it can catch with the cane it wields. For those desiring to praise Ki ́lájolu,́ another song which elicits rapturous and frenzied dancing is rendered in this manner:

Solo: Ki ́lájolú Oro!̀
Chorus: Oń ́ gboń á jọin jọin!
Solo: Oni ́koỳ i ́ Oro!̀
Chorus: Oń ́ gboń á jọin jọin!
(Repeated several times)
Solo: Kílájolú the deity!
Chorus: As hot as ever!!
Solo: Oni ́koỳ i ́ the deity!
Chorus: As hot as ever!

This reaction is symbolic of the actual power and prowess of the legendary Àkàlàjolu,́ the I ̀làjẹ marauder. Ki ́lájolú has a grotesque appearance with a long cane, which he uses to beat daring spectators. This serves as part of the re-enactment of the attacks of Àkàlàjolú on the Ẹp̀ ẹ́ people before the intervention of Alaú s̀ a,́ a prominent Ẹp̀ ẹ́ warrior.

Another aspect of wording is the frequent use of the Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ incantatory praise chant. This praise chant forms part of most of the supplicatory events of the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival performances. It is apparent that the indigenes of Ẹ ̀pẹ́ are proud of this incantatory praise chant as follows:

Ẹp̀ ẹ́ Alaŕ ò ọmọ Og̀ uń mọ́dede
Ẹp̀ ẹ́ Olúku àbat̀ à
Kúkuŕ u lọś aǹ -ań
Gbọrọ gbọrọ l’oŕ u
Ẹp̀ ẹ́ Alaŕ ò the child of Og̀ uń mọ́dedé
Ẹp̀ ẹ́ enamored of mud

Unassuming in the daytime
Unpredictable at night time

This short incantatory praise is replete with poetic metaphors and symbols that signify the riverine nature of Ẹp̀ ẹ.́ Evidently the area is surrounded by water and mangrove swamps and Ẹp̀ ẹ́ people are predominantly fishermen. The Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ people live a sedentary lifestyle during the daytime and burst into life at night when most of the fishing is done. This is observed in the metaphors used in lines three and four.


The issue of texture in the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ oral performances is contextual. It depends on the features which give the performances and traditions their plasticity and malleability. Okepewho (1992, 72) highlights such features to include:

i. Elements of setting

ii. Mention of specific iconic areas of the community

iii. Comparison between a character in the performance and an ancestral or local personality

iv. The use of period-specific items––paper money as opposed to cowries or coins.

v. The regrouping of traditional elements

vi. Intertextuality––characters and stories (in the Proppian sense).

vii. Rules of composition which include repetition and interjection of songs within the performance.

viii. Onomatopoeic expressions, the use of body movements, and facial expressions/gestures.

In this study, texture is taken broadly to mean the non-verbal aspects that are audible and visible to the audience, including the contextual––the social aspects situated within the performance. An attempt was made to capture the ephemeral, the evanescence, and the uniqueness of the performances of each sub-genre within the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ corpus. These include a perusal of non-verbal, paralinguistic, gestural, facial, and kinetic features. The use of space by the performer and the audience, the costumes and objects carried during the performances––the aesthetic and general stylistics of the performances, were found to be germane and critically observed.

For instance, during the Ki ́lájolú event, the masquerade traverses the entire town, while he avoids the Ig̀ òdo ̀ masquerades that are out to capture him. In this process, the mask and costumes have to change hands on several occasions before sunset. The masquerade appears to crisscross the community in a rather haphazard manner. However, it was observed that tradition had delineated where the masquerade would enter, such as the king’s palace, the Balógun’s house, Obutu compound, Jagun-Ọba’s compound, Agbálájọbi ́’s house, Ẹlẹ́ku’́ s compound, Ag̀ bọn’s house, among others. During these stops, the personality beneath the costume and the mask changes.

In one instance, the personality changed and the researcher and most of the people in the audience were able to discern the person beneath the mask. This was possible because the bard who accompanied the masquerade immediately composed a verse on the spot, which elicited great laughter and recognition. The verse was as follows:

Ki ́lájolú Àjaś o
Ḱilájolú Kań ś i ́lọ̀
Àjas̀ ó ọmọ Iỳ á E ̀but́ é
Ki ́lájolú Àjaś o
Ki ́lájolu,́ Àjaś o
Ki ́lájolu,́ the Councilor
Ki ́lájolú son of Iỳ á Èbut́ é
Ki ́lájolú Àjaś o

Presumably, the character beneath the mask was one Si ́ki ŕ ù Ag̀ bom̀ éji,̀ who was a serving councilor at the Ẹp̀ ẹ́ Local Government Secretariat at the time. His mother was popularly called Iỳ a ́ E b̀ ut́ e,́ and she lived at the Lagoon side called E ̀but́ é Afuye.̀ The councilor, Si ́ki ŕ ù Ag̀ bom̀ éji,̀ was also popularly called Àjaś o. He got this moniker because he was dropped for the position of councilor and was reinstated at the last minute. Àjaś o literally means “cut and joined.”

The I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá component also has a semblance of this textual feature, as there is a night invocation of Àgan (I ̀jag̀ an-Or̀ u), the I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá nomenclature for the I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá deity. During this I ̀jag̀ an-Or̀ u, only members of the society are allowed to be outdoors. However, during It̀ a-Ẹ b̀ i,̀ when the king, resplendent in his royal paraphernalia, presides at the Ip̀ èbi ́ stage, members of the I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá fraternity come into the open in their all-white attire, with swords, knives, charms and amulets and symbols of authority of the I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá fraternity. At this juncture, people perceive those with whom they fraternize on a daily basis as members of the cult. This is awesome and fearsome. The I ̀ji-̀ Ńla ́ fraternity members are known for their secrecy and brutality and are greatly respected in the community.

The kinetics of the Ẹp̀ à masquerades also fit into the discussion in this segment. The Ẹp̀ à masqueraders are usually small and nimble-footed. Their sole function is to dance and do multiple summersaults, to the admiration of the audience. Members of the audience can identify the individual Ẹp̀ à masqueraders through the costume and the technique adopted in accomplishing the summersaults. Faces of members of the audience are filled with awe and excitement when these specific masquerades appear.


According to Scheub (1977), in oral narratives, certain repeated spatial relationships are established, which, when the words dissolve, reveal the pure form of the work. A performer of oral narratives utilizes materials of his or her culture just as a painter uses color. The narrative tradition mirrors culture in an intricate and aesthetically contrived manner or form, which has the same effect on an audience as art or music.

In oral narratives, Scheub expatiates, the message of the oral production is generated by the movement of words, evoking the action of characters developed within formal patterns, which guide the artists’ arrangement of images. In the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival performances, narrative techniques vary from one performance in the festival corpus to another. Many of the acolytes of the various cults, sects, or traditional groups have developed secret codes and esoteric expression in their communication such that it becomes awesome to the non-members of these groups.

Generally, the I ̀jẹ̀bú dialect is employed by most of the performers, albeit with some attempt at poetry, play on words, puns and witticisms. These are done to outwit other groups or performers and oral artists of the previous year, whose performances and dexterity are still very fresh in the memories of the audience.

The I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá fraternity, Oṣ̀ ug̀ bó fraternity, Ẹỳ ọ̀ Masquerade, and Ig̀ uń nukó masquerades are those that have special narrative systems which can be learned only through membership in the specific groups. The I ̀ji-̀ Ńlá fraternity, for instance, has a song that is a narration of the experiences of a new member of the group at initiation. Below is the text and translation of the song:

Solo: Ojó ro mi ́ jó (2ce)
Chorus: Oń ́ jó oó (́ repeated after each line)
Solo: Omi dúdú (2ce)
Omi dúdu,́ fo’ jú j’aró
Ó fo’ jú j’aró kò le ̀ rẹ sọ
Kò le ̀ rẹ’sọ kò le ̀ ra’gọ̀
Kò le ̀ rẹ ki ́jip̀ á aẁ a
Ó mú mi rań ti ́ Òjo,́ òjó
Wọń ni ́ ki ́ n duŕ ó
Mo duŕ ó
Wọń ni ́ ki ́ n bẹr̀ ẹ̀ mo bẹr̀ ẹ̀
Mo dé lé mi ́ ò rẹń u sọ

Solo: Is he not dancing (2ce)
Chorus: He is dancing (repeated after each line)
The dark waters (2ce)
The dark waters that look like dye
The waters look like dye but cannot dye cloths
They cannot even dye the shroud
Neither can they dye our insignia
It reminds me of that fateful day
I was asked to stand and I stood
I was asked to bend, and I bent
got home and could not narrate my ordeal.

The song is loaded with innuendos about the rigor of belonging to the I-̀ ji-̀ Ńla ́ fraternity. It also showcases the rigors of attaining membership, which entails great physical exertion, which cannot really be made public because an oath of secrecy that has been sworn by the initiates. Plays on words, puns, and clichés are also used to add aesthetic quality to the performance discourse, which excludes non-initiates across the various groups. These features are demonstrated in the following statements, exclamations and questions:
“Why does the mud act as if it has no relationship with the river?” (Ki ́ ló ṣe àbat̀ à bi ́ ẹni ti ́ ò bódò tan?) This proverbial question implies that the character is acting unconcerned with events going on around him or her.
“The palm kernel in the footpaths cannot be cracked by the feet” (Ẹnu lẹsẹ̀ fi ń pa e ̀kur̀ ọ́ Ojú ọǹ a)̀ . This negative idiomatic assertion implies that the issue is too knotty and needs wisdom to resolve.
“The leaves and the bark of the orange tree, serve the same purpose as the orange itself.” (Ewé ọsaǹ , ọsaǹ ni. Ep̀ o igi ọsaǹ , ọsaǹ naá ̀ ni!) The aphoristic statement is used to justify inclusion of friends and families of cult members in some aspects of the secret rites of these groups.
“It is in the home of the woodpecker that mortars are carved.” (Ni ́ ilé àkókó ni wọń ti n gbẹ’́ do)́ . The proverb is used to control public speaking among cult members so that non– initiates will be unable to hear the secrets of the group.
“Splits the grass with the stealth of a cat, the Lion does not joke with its offspring.” (Ó pa ko bi ́ Oloǵ iǹ i,́ Kiǹ iù ń ò f’ọmọ ẹ̀ ṣere!́ ) This is used to express ideas of unity, protection, and solidarity that exist in each performance group. In all of these, the audience is awed by this linguistic dexterity and the manner and panache with which the words are arranged and delivered. It leaves the audience with an esoteric and metaphysical experience from participating in the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival events.


In oral narration techniques, kinetics (body language, gestures, movement, mimetic songs, and devices) are prevalent. This is usually particularly evident in masquerade performances. Scholars like Adedeji (1969), Ogunbiyi (1981), and Horn (1981) have opined that they form the origin of theatre and drama in Africa. Some of these scholars see the interpretation of literature in terms of myths and archetypes from the ambit of the knowledge of African dramatic forms.

In the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival corpus, several dramatizations and reenactments occur. In the Ki ́lájolú opening sequences at the Ẹ ̀kú shrine and at the king’s palace, the linguistic aspect is virtually subsumed in the imitative actions of the oral performers. Ki ́lájolú moves with the swagger of a conqueror and actually mimics the earlier conquests of Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ by Àkàlàjolu,́ the aforementioned I ̀làjẹ warrior who pillaged Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ incessantly over a long period of time. In this sequence, the king stretches out his two hands, while Ki ́lájolú symbolically flogs the king three times. This is done gently, to show the capitulation of the community. Subsequently, the Ki ́lájolú masquerade swerves-off and goes into the town with a horde of cane-wielding youth who flog one another as a show of strength and flog others who could not run away.

The Ọkọs̀ i ́ boat regatta skirmishes, the capture of Ki ́lájolú by Ig̀ òdo,̀ and Aleǵ bagba reenactment all fall within the category of activities where the oral performers create dramatic sequences to highlight the symbolism of the clients. The costumes and masks of several of the masquerades, such as Òkoó r̀ o,̀ Ig̀ òdo,̀ Ki ́lá jolu,́ Aleǵ bagba, and Ag̀ i ŕ a,́ all have motifs of riverine animals like rhinoceroses, crocodiles, alligators, and fish. All of these are in grotesque shapes and vivid colors, which adds to the overall aesthetic quality of the performances and enhances the plot and actions in the performances.


This paper has observed the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival performances of the people of Ẹp̀ ẹ ́ in Lagos State, in southwestern Nigeria. The study discovered a high level of structural organization, interconnectedness, and intertextuality in the various performances within the festival corpus. Narrative and textual structures were maintained in spite of translations into other languages; formulaic exchanges were observed to be prevalent. Invocations, incantations, spectacular dances, songs and acrobatic displays were also observed. The Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival celebrated in Ẹp̀ ẹ́ is rich in oral aesthetic forms such as narration, wording, texture, and dramatization, which enhance its performance aesthetics to a large degree.


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Barber, K, and P. F. de’Farias, eds. Discourse and its Disguises: The Interpretation of African Oral Texts. Birmingham: Birmingham UP, 1989.
Barthes, R. S. IZ. Paris: Seoul, 1970. Brown, Duncan. Oral Literature and Performance in Southern Africa. Oxford: James Curry, 1999.
Disu, O.A. “The History of Epe.” B.A. Project Essay, University of Lagos, 1987. Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. London: Blackwell Ltd, 1983.
Elam, Keir. The Semiotics of the Theatre and Drama. London: Methuen, 1980. Finnegan, Ruth. Oral Literature in Africa. London: Oxford UP, 1970.
Hawkes, T. Structuralism and Semiotics. London: Methuen, 1977.
Horn, A. “Ritual Drama and the Theatrical: The case of Bori Spirit Mediumship’’, Nigeria Magazine 136 (1981): 3–16.
Jason, H. “A Model for Narrative Structure in Oral literatures.” Patterns in Oral Literature. Eds. H. Jason and D. Seagal. Paris: Mouton, 1977.
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Nwabueze, P. “In the Spirit of Thespis: Theatre Arts and National Integration.” 14th Inaugural Lecture, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 14th April, 1996. Ogunba, O. ‘’Ritual Drama of the Ijebu People: A Study of Indigenous Festivals’’, PhD Thesis, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1967.
Ogunbiyi, Yemi. “Nigerian Theatre and Drama.” Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book. Ed. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine. (1981): 1–15.
Oguntomisin, G.O. The Transformation of a Nigerian Lagoon Town: Epe (1852–1942). Ibadan: John Archer, 1999.
Okpewho,Isidore. African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character and Continuity. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.
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Sotunsa, M.E. Yoruba Drum Poetry. London: Stillwater Studios, 2009.


1 A small town on the back of the Lagos lagoon about thirty-two kilometers southwest of I ̀jẹ̀bu-́ Òde in southwestern Nigeria. Ẹp̀ ẹ́ is predominantly a fishing community.
2 Refers to all Ijebu communities in Ogun and Lagos States, in southwestern Nigeria.
3 These are festivals related to deities who are commonly revered by the Yorùbá speaking people in Nigeria.
4 A cult manipulated by the Og̀ boń i secret society to cleanse, appease and act in a correct manner in the society. Orò is represented by an effigy on a string whirled around like a bull-roarer. Women are not to witness Orò activities.
5 This is a festival peculiar to the I ̀jẹ̀bu.́ Agemọ has sixteen priests, who offer prayers and sacrifices to the deities on behalf of the community.
6 Refers to the majority of the Ijebu excluding the I ̀jẹ̀bu-́ Rẹḿ ọ, under the authority of the paramount ruler of I ̀jẹ̀bu-́ Ode. The Ijẹ̀bu-́ Rẹḿ ọ derive traditional authority from the Akarigbo of Rẹ́mọ.
7 This festival is held between October and November. It is after this event that the date for Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ is fixed.
8 This aspect of the pre- Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ rites heralds the announcement of the date for the festival proper.
9 Masquerades in the Ẹ ̀bi ̀bi ̀ festival corpus.

Olagoke Alamu
Ekiti State University, Nigeria.
Email: gatanfeani62@gmail.com


The thrust of this paper is the critical evaluation of the level of acceptance of social media marketing in the Yorùbá film industry. In this age of globalization, many film marketers across the world have abandoned traditional media in favor of online forms of communication, which enable them to share information and get feedback from their audience. Based on this premise, it is necessary to investigate the level of acceptance of social media as a channel for film marketing in the fledgling Yorùbá video film industry. Questionnaires were administered to fifty randomly selected marketers in Ibadan and the Lagos metropolis, where there is a high concentration of these video film personnel. The study reveals that due to technology deficiency and lack of interest many marketers have not adopted social media for marketing their film products. The ineffective implementation of the copyright law in Nigeria, which is the major bane of this industry, has also prevented the marketers from adopting the new media. The loose market structure in the industry also deters marketers from maximally utilizing the great potentials social media marketing offers. Recommendations are made for improvement.


Existing works on Yorùbá video films have only investigated trends in the development of the industry, narrative techniques and its aesthetics. No work has been done on social media marketing. The aim of this work, therefore, is to fill this gap. As Corrigan observes, “recent decades in film history have been most significantly defined by the reorganization of the film industry in the hands of multimedia conglomerates and the technological expansion of the way movies are exhibited” (1995:67). Social media is categorized as new media and one of the more recent technological innovations, which employs the Internet for digital broadcasting and communication. These new media are means of mass communication that employ digital technologies which are available on-demand through the Internet and are accessible on any digital device containing interactive user feedback and creative participation. Examples of new media include blogs, online newspapers and the social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, among others, from which users obtain materials (films, music, news) online via desktop or laptop computers, tablets, or smartphones.

Smartphones are the most frequently used device for social media functions due to their portability and convenience. Just as with other digital devices, there is a kind of digital convergence within smartphones. The features of smartphones include software programs that aid in internet searches, web browsing, downloading and uploading of film and music, camera, camcorder, voice recorder, games, and so on. There are also countless free and paid applications available on smartphones.

With the introduction of social media, online marketing channels have been employed by marketers to market their products, and these marketing channels have consequently eclipsed the older, more traditional forms of marketing. One of the advantages of social media over the old media is the immediacy it offers people to actively follow someone posting content and immediately respond to issues raised.

Over the years, the number of Internet users has increased significantly. This numerical improvement has paved the way for the viability of promoting and marketing films online. Below is the statistics of Internet users between 2005 and 2014:

(18- 29)
(30- 49)
(50- 64)
2005 8% 9% 7% 6% 1%
2006 16% 49% 8% 4% 1%
2007 26% 65% 22% 10% 5%
2008 29% 67% 25% 11% 7%
2009 46% 76% 48% 24% 13%
2010 61% 86% 61% 47% 26%
2011 64% 87% 68% 49% 29%
2012 66% 86% 72% 50% 34%
2013 72% 89% 78% 60% 43%
2014 74% 89% 82% 65% 49%

Table 1: Demographics of Internet users as of January 2014 (Pew Research

Presently, film marketers and distributors also use social media to reach several types of audiences with their films, uploaded on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Afrinolly, among others. Referring to an earlier survey by Razorfish, Qalman noted that seventy-six percent of one thousand people surveyed agreed that they did not mind seeing advertisements on social media websites they accessed, and forty percent of them acted on the advertisement (2009). This figure shows the potentiality of social media in terms of advertisement and promotion of goods and services.

The primary aim of this work is to determine the level of acceptance and deployment of social media for film marketing among the Yorùbá film marketers and promoters since its introduction at the turn of this century. To achieve our objective, a number of research questions were raised to determine: which media Yorùbá marketers employ for marketing and distribution of their films, what knowledge they have of the operations of social media and copyright or anti-piracy laws, and their level of competence on the use of social media. The questions contained in our questionnaire were based on these research questions.

The Yorùbá Video Film Industry: An Overview

The production of Yorùbá video films started in the early 1990s, when the production of celluloid came to an abrupt halt as a result of the economic recession in Nigeria at the time. The history of the development of filmmaking in Nigeria is not complete without reference to the pioneering efforts of Yorùbá theatre practitioners such as Duro Ladipo, Ishola Ogunshola, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, and Ade Afolayan among others, who had abandoned the stage for celluloid film production in the latter part of the 1970s.

Viewing the Yorùbá video industry as an arm of Nollywood, the generic name for Nigerian movies, is a misconception. The Yorùbá video industry according to Alamu is a distinct regional variation of the film industry in Nigeria with its own personnel and audience (2010, 4). It is an ethno-cultural video industry within a national frame. Though we have Yorùbá actors who at times cross-over to act in Nollywood films (especially the films in English), they still belong to either the Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners (ANTP) or Theatre and Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), the two bodies that regulate the Yorùbá video industry.

The Yorùbá video film industry rarely enjoys government sponsorship. Its development is through the accretion of its personnel and shareholders. The industry has a loose market that gives room for even non-professionals to operate. For instance, one only needs to join one of the two Yorùbá marketers associations to become a qualified marketer.1

Many Yorùbá video films are made with low-budgets and haphazard processes of pre-production, production and post-production. Films are shot in a period of two weeks and released immediately into the market.2 But with this sub-standard practice, producers and marketers still make marginal profits from production and marketing. The reason for this is not far-fetched. The population of the Yorùbá located in six states of Nigeria, which was put at about thirty million as of the 2006 census has been a strong factor for the commercial viability of Yorùbá video production. The fact that the Yorùbá audience also loyally follows the film producers from the theatre to film, makes the film venture profitable. Moreover, film producers have always exploited the fact that most of their audiences are lay audience and artisans, who have little knowledge of film appreciation and content quality and would therefore buy any film released into the market so far their idolized star(s) act(s) in the film and such film reflects what is happening (sociopolitical issues) in the society in which they live.3 Propaganda is also a tool employed by producers and marketers to convince the audience and lure them into buying their films.

In the Yorùbá video industry, marketers dictate the pace and are in complete control of its operations for the simple reason that they produce the funds for production. Producers run to marketers for funds and this encourages the marketers to meddle in the production process, and most times dictate to the producer the kind of film to be produced and their choice of the crew. This corrupt practice has not helped the quality of production.

Issues in the New Media and Propaganda Theories

As McQuail noted, the main thrust of media theory is the analysis of how a society is altered by the technical characteristics of the various media it encompasses (1979,5). Media theory examines popular culture as well as the arts, philosophy, journalism, mass media, and individualized media.

New media have traditionally been grouped together under the heading “mass media” and their study developed as a part of the sociology of mass communication. Questions about the effects of the mass media cannot be answered in broad generalities. Scholars have discussed how various types of effects impact various types of people and institutions, at various levels of society, and under various conditions. Mass media vary greatly in content and forms and have wide ranges of activity, which could have effects on society. Furthermore, McQuail distinguishes between effects and effectiveness of the mass media (1979, 8). While the former is the consequences of mass media operations, the latter, according to him, is the capacity to achieve given objectives, including attracting large audience and influencing opinions and behavior. The effects of mass media occur at different levels: that of the individual, the group, the institution, and society. A further set of distinctions was made by McQuail with reference to the effects of mass media at the aforementioned levels. This relates to the direction of effects and poses the following questions: are the media changing something, preventing something, facilitating something, or reinforcing something? The power of new media as a channel for persuasion and mobilization cannot be overemphasized. With its mass appeal, film also shares some of the properties of new media and is also a propaganda tool.

Propaganda has always been employed to reinforce, influence, and facilitate the emotions of a target audience for a purpose which may be ideological, political or commercial. Garth and O’Donnel perceive it as a deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist (2005, 2). Ellul’s submission further reinforces those of Garth and O’Donnel, as he defines propaganda as a manipulation for the purpose of changing ideas or opinions of people to make them believe some ideas or facts, and finally make them adhere to some doctrines.

Ellul identifies four categories of propaganda (1973, 61). He distinguishes the types of propaganda by the various “political regimes that employ them” and by “their certain internal traits”. The categories are: political and sociological, agitation and integration, vertical and horizontal, and rational and irrational. Ellul further tries to make a distinction between each classification in the same group, for instance between political and sociological, between agitation and integration and so on. While political propaganda, according to him, involves strategic or tactical techniques of influence employed by a government, a party, an administration, or a special interest group with an aim to change the behavior of the public, sociological propaganda is basically the penetration of an ideology by means of its sociological context.

It can be noted that the functions of all Ellul’s classes of propaganda are almost the same. For instance, while they can all be employed for persuasion, their secondary functions are their use to instruct, inform, and mobilize. According to Adú, the primary function of propaganda that involves psychological manipulations to achieve predetermined ends lays the foundation for the effectiveness of other functions (2009, 41). Propaganda is employed to shape opinions and attitudes of people and induce people to change their actions. Thus, in persuasion, the mind, emotion and behavior of the target are influenced.

Mass media are effective tools for the transmission of propaganda. The simultaneity of film and audio-visual properties makes it a more effective tool of propaganda than other media. Movies and human contacts are the best media for sociological propaganda. Film as a medium has been utilized as an instrument of distortion to promote a cause or to tell a story. The documentary films exhibited by the colonial government in Nigeria before independence were used to promote the “values and ideals” of the British government. The resentment of the contents of the films by individuals and concerned organizations later paved the way for indigenous film production around 1945. Advertisement of film on social media is a form of propaganda as it does not only promotes the film but also tries to convince the viewers to purchase the film product.


Data was gathered through qualitative interviews with fifty marketers in the Yorùbá video film industry. These film personnel were randomly selected from Ibadan and Lagos metropolis, the two major cities where they are highly concentrated. The main research tool used to elicit information from the respondents was a questionnaire.

The questionnaire is divided into two sections. The first section has five questions that elicit demographic information and the background of respondents. The second part, which has eight questions, focuses on production and the mode or channel of marketing and distributing films. The questionnaire, with its varied question types, both short-answer and open-ended, gave respondents an ample opportunity to bear their minds on the nature of production and marketing in the Yorùbá video film industry. The questionnaire was conducted in English or Yorùbá, according to the comfort and preference of the respondent. The simple percentage procedure was employed for analysis. The percentages represent the number of respondents who gave each answer as a proportion of the number of respondents who answered the question.

Results and Discussion

The results of the respondents’ demographic characteristics which include their age, sex, marital status, profession, and level of education showed that there are more male film marketers than females. While the males constitute eighty-four percent, that is forty-two out of fifty, the females constitute just sixteen percent of the group surveyed. The age distribution shows that the middle-age group, within the age bracket of thirty-five to fifty-five years is the highest represented in the business of film marketing, as ninety-two percent of our respondents fall within this age bracket. The marriage variable shows that there are more married respondents than single ones, as seventy-four percent respondents are married, whereas twenty-six percent are single.
As for the level of education variable, we assumed that the educational level or respondents would show some correlation with their knowledge and use of social media for marketing. The results of the questionnaire reinforced our assumption, as those who had formal education, up to the secondary and tertiary levels, had more knowledge of social media than those who had primary education or no formal education at all. Of the respondents, thirty-eight percent can comfortably use social media, eighteen percent have little knowledge of it and forty-four percent have no knowledge of it all. This is represented in Table 2 below:


Do you have any knowledge of Social Media Marketing?
Answer Choices Percentage No of respondents
Yes 38% 19
No 44% 22
Little Knowledge 18% 9
Total 100% 50


The question on profession of respondents was intended to establish if all
the respondents were Yorùbá film marketers. All of the respondents claim to
be marketers. But, when we came to the question of who provides the funds
for the production of the films they market, the result reinforces our earlier
discussion on the control being exercised by the marketers over the producers.

Buttressing this point, Mr. Gbadebo Lamidi, a marketer with Great Lukad
Investment Ltd. claims that:

At times, producers run to us (marketers) to finance the production of
their films and since we are marketers we feel obliged to also market such
films after production for the reasons that marketing is our primary business,
and we believe we can market such films better especially the ones
with good stories. Since we provide the funds also we feel we can contribute
by suggesting the kind of stories that will sell and the kind of actors
that the audience are familiar with and will buy such films once they see
their idolized actor (s) in them. We have to protect our investment.

While seventy-six percent of respondents declare that they provide funds
for production and also market the finished products, only twenty-four percent concentrate on marketing and are not involved in film production.

Marketing and Distribution

Our survey on the media of marketing and distributing of films revealed
that thirty-eight percent of respondents make use of social media for marketing their products. Of the respondents, sixty-two percent have not adopted the use of social media and they still rely on the old media.

Respondents gave two reasons for this. First, the majority of those who have not used social media are technologically deficient and have little or no knowledge of the functions of the social media (see Table 2 above). Secondly, this group lacks interest in the use of social media and has refused to change from old media, which they claim to be comfortable with. Only 16.1 percent of the non-users have strong reasons for not using social media. This group observes that since Nigeria has no strong laws against copyright infringement, it would pose a great risk to embrace social media given the large scale of difficulties faced by rights-owners on the Internet. However, 41 percent of the respondents who have not embraced social media for marketing agree to make use of it once the government creates the necessary awareness and effectively regulates the industry.

Concerning the fact that some of their films were uploaded to social media
despite their claims of having no knowledge of its functions, 62 percent of respondents claim the films were illegally uploaded without their consent and no compensation was provided. Akeem Balógun, director of Olasco Films Nigeria Limited, a marketing outfit, reacted this way when asked who uploads
his films to social media:

Uploading some of the films my company produce and market are illegally
done by people we cannot identify. You just wake up to see that a film you
have just pushed to the market has been uploaded on social media. This
affects our business and limits recouping our investment.

Of the nineteen respondents who claim to use social media for marketing,
six fail to list social media outlets they use. The assumption here is that
the marketers may not really have the basic knowledge of social media and
its functions, despite claiming otherwise. The outlets used by the remaining
respondents include YouTube, Snapchat, Afrinolly, Facebook, Instagram, and
Iroko TV. The graph below represents the outlets from most to least used.

Chart 1: Social Media outlets used by participants from the mostly used to
the least used.

From our observations, we also discovered that the most common social
media employed for marketing is Iroko TV.4. All marketers who have
embraced social media advertise their films on Iroko TV. Nine 9 use Afrinolly,
six employ YouTube, five use Facebook and two employ Instagram.
None of the marketers makes use of Twitter or Snapchat for advertising. The result shows there is gradual awareness of social media marketing among the Yorùbá film marketers.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This work has been able to identify social media as a potential platform
for showcasing and projecting Yorùbá movies globally to the yearning African
audience both in the diaspora and at home. With its growing influence,
social media has opened up enormous space for Yorùbá film producers and
marketers to showcase their creative expressions.

Our survey reveals that majority of the video marketers are yet to embrace
social media marketing for their products. This is based on the premise that
they are technology deficient and have no knowledge of how social media
functions. As well, the minority, which has embraced social media is not adequately remunerated. This is reflected in their observation that subscription to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) among Yorùbá audiences is relatively low since the majority of viewers, prefer to use free sites to download films.

The ineffectiveness of Nigerian copyright laws is another factor for the disinterest shown by the marketers for social media marketing. Large scale piracy in Nigeria’s entertainment industry, which has not seen serious intervention from the government, not even within traditional media has greatly discouraged many marketers from embracing social media. They feel that if the government cannot curb piracy with the use of traditional media for marketing, then a lot of their investment will be lost through social media given the large scale of the Internet and the speed of reproduction of materials it offers.


In the light of the foregoing, here are a few suggestions for further

a. Given the diffusion advantage social media offers, which is more than
that of traditional media, Yorùbá film marketers are encouraged to accept
new media to market and distribute their products.

b. The Nigerian government should introduce stronger laws against copyright
infringements and compel ISPs and social media sites to embrace
these laws. With this, copyright-controlled ISPs and social media sites
will be able to compel audiences to subscribe to watch and download

c. Government should organize a workshop for film producers, marketers
and other stakeholders to sensitize them on the intricacies and
functions of social media. The workshop should also focus on digital rights management systems such as subscription-based delivery and
the video-on-demand, to inform them on the essentials of the operations
of social media, the Internet, and how to recoup investments.

d. Marketers in the Yorùbá film industry should operate under one umbrella
and professionalize their activities according to the global standard
service. When legally formed, this body will be able to map out
strategies to legally fight against piracy. Our observation is that the
existing free market structure in the Yorùbá film industry is not resourceful
enough to enable marketers to maximally utilize the great
potentials which social media marketing offers.

e. The Nigerian government should assume its responsibility of addressing
the difficulties faced by rights-holders, just as other countries do.
For instance, in June 2007, the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled
that a Belgian ISP called Scarlet was under an obligation to both block
the accounts of offending users and implement a mechanism to filter
out infringing content. Also in France, in November 2007, President
Sarkozy announced a pioneering entente between French ISPs
and content owners, based on a system of warnings leading to disconnection
of persistently infringing users. These are the kind of interventions
the Nigerian government could embark upon to sanitize the use
of social media and encourage content owners.

Based on the above recommendations, we strongly believe Yorùbá films
would surpass their local relevance and realize the possibility of attaining
global competitiveness and acceptance if our recommendations are


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1 The two market bodies under which the Yoruba marketers operate are: Independent
Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria and the Yoruba
Film Video Marketers. Members of these bodies are located at Gate and Ogunpa areas of
Ibadan metropolis and Idumota market in Lagos.
2 I personally observed this at the shooting location of Moberu (2011), and Dukia
(2012), produced and marketed by Albarka, and Tonymax, respectively.
3 The commercial success of most Yoruba video films is as a result of the ability of
their producers in employing local themes that appeal especially their lay-audience. Such
video resonates with the audience’s value system, worldview, and perceptions.
4 From the Iroko Tv media package, we gather that it is perhaps the most successfully
patronized online film outlet with an on-demand online streaming service for Nigerian
movies. It has a library of about five thousand licensed movies and a global audience of
over four million users from one hundred and seventy-eight countries. It is YouTube’s biggest
partner in Africa and it is copyright-controlled. From subscriptions, the company
generates funds for sharing between the company and producers.