The Yoruba

Carolyn Greely '92 (English 32, 1989)

The people of Nigeria belong to over two hundred different ethnic groups, each with its own language, customs and traditions. Of these groups ten constitute over ninety percent of the population. The Yoruba, the third largest, inhabit parts of south-western Nigeria. At one time of considerable power and importance, the Yoruba kingdom broke up through a series of internecine wars for which the slave trade was largely responsible. The Yoruba people divide into numerous independent kingdoms that share an origin myth, but probably have never belonged a single political unit. Despite their independence from each other, they remain somewhat unified by their common allegiance to their sovereign, the Alafin of Oyo.

Most Yoruba men farm as an occupation, raising yams and corn as staple crops, and in this century, cocoa has become an important cash crop. Cocoa is the largest cash crop from Nigeria, and the Yoruba produce over ninety percent of it. Other men work as traders or craftsmen, as their economy is structured around agriculture, trading, and handicrafts. Yoruba women do no farm work, but they control much of the complex market system--their status depends more on their own position in the market than on their husband's status.

The Yoruba, the most urbanized Africans in precolonial times, remain so today. Their densely populated towns, many of which have populations over one hundred thousand, traditionally centered on the elaborate palace (Afin) of the king (Oba).

Postcolonial OV Africa OV nigeria OV