The Yoruba – An observer’s perspective

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Adewale-Olasupo Bamgbala

The Ethnic group known as the Yoruba inhabits the South-Western and North Central part of Nigeria. Its origin predates the country that they presently inhabit today. The source of its origin is still unclear up till today but their forebears migrated from Northern Africa and settled at present day Ile-Ife, the spiritual homeland while Oyo-Ile in the Old Oyo Empire is the political and administrative capital.

The Yoruba are largely a peaceful, and a very warm and accommodating people whose economic activities was primarily agrarian based in its earlier history as it lies in the tropical region which makes Cocoa, Kola nut, Cashew, Shea butter and Palm oil the main-stay of her economy. They can also be found in many other places in West Africa. They are a minority group in such countries like Benin Republic, Sierra Leone, Republic of Togo, and can also be found in Brazil and Haiti. The Yoruba makes up more than 20% of the Nigerian population and are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa.

The Yoruba culture consists of folk/cultural philosophy, religion and folktales. They are embodied in Ifa-Ife Divination (Book of Enlightenment). Yoruba cultural thought is a witness of two epochs. The first epoch is a history of cosmogony and cosmology. This is also an epoch-making history in the oral culture during which time Oduduwa (its first king), the Bringer of Light, pioneer of Yoruba folk philosophy, and a prominent diviner. He pondered the visible and invisible worlds, reminiscing about cosmogony, cosmology, and the mythological creatures in the visible and invisible worlds.

The Yoruba are traditionally a very religious people, and are today pluralistic in their religious convictions. As such we have people of the Christian and Islamic faiths as well as the traditional religion faithful.

Today, commercial activities across all spheres of human endeavor have been embraced along with farming activities and of course we cannot divorce the influence of Westernization through technology impacting on its socioeconomic landscape.

Perhaps the biggest export of this race is the ‘Owanbe’ culture. ‘Owanbe’ (meaning ‘were you there’) is a form of party that involves an elaborate preparation and its execution is such that, if you missed attending such a party, you might as well consider yourself socially dead. There is no excuse to give for missing such an important function. It is an every weekend affair cutting across all levels of economic status. Being merry makers, there is hardly any form of event that does not call for a party; it is an integral part of its culture. Celebration of any kind, and they are in varied forms; house-warming, child’s naming ceremonies, burials, birthdays, weddings, marriage anniversaries, chieftaincy (title) ceremonies, graduations and inductions, whatever it is that can be celebrated, the Yoruba people would spend huge amounts of money to mark such an occasion.

An observer’s role at such parties gives one an illumination to the invaluable pictures of events of such great dimension that judging from whatever view one looks at it, would probably give you something to ruminate about, something to laugh about, something that is bound to wonder if there are poor people among these people?

One could say at this point that the perspective it has given this writer is to review his collection of observation from Owanbe parties. There are hundreds of these parties at a given weekend and it usually commences on a Friday, and the very elaborate ones can be staged on-a-daily-basis culminating in a grand affair on a Sunday with a Thanksgiving Service to wrap up such parties. People attending parties such as these always end up at various banks to withdraw monies in crispy and small denominations to prepare themselves for spraying and alms-giving and they usually don’t seem to mind spending on what to you might appear frivolous but the truth is that it is part of their culture.

What features do one start with? the women, who attends parties such as these make elaborate preparations to such an extent that it has been turned to a sport for competing who are the best dressed among them? They come in colors, mind –blowing colors that even Peacocks would be envious of. These women crave for such parties and ostensibly use the events to show off in new expensive clothes and jewelries. A most intriguing aspect of parties as these is that celebrants and friends’ changes at least thrice during the whole exercise and these clothes are no ordinary ones, expensive Swiss lace fabric, head-gears, shoes, make-up, jewelries and beads matched with embroideries.

There is this other side of having as much as three musicians on the band-stand. Of course a party that starts at midday can go on for hours seven hours with musicians of repute on the bandstand. An instance was the presence of American R & B singer ‘Joe’ on the bandstand singing at a wedding party some few years ago at a party in one of the cities. There are choice wines and spirits available that leaves a great many people drunk, ending up sleeping on the chairs, oblivious of the noise from the band-stand, the heat from the Sun and of course the mosquitoes feasting along on their blood in participation of the celebration.

The beauty of Owanbe parties is that It has become a veritable export commodity that other cultures within Nigeria are fast assimilating and have practically embraced all the features to make it part of theirs also. There are more than two hundred and fifty ethnic groups in Nigeria.

The federal Office of Statistics estimated that an average of Two billion dollars is spent annually on Owanbe parties. It has also thrown up businesses such as event services companies who gets the jobs of providing spaces for parties such as these, provides the meals and the drinks and security of the people and their vehicles for agreed amount and they themselves are employing people and taking unemployed out of the street into this new industry. I bet that you may want to throw a party-Owanbe style?

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