Patricia Bowman

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TheYoruba ethnic group is believed to have migrated from Ile-Ife, anancient town in southwestern Nigeria. This group conquered manykingdoms such as the Fulani and stretched further southwest to becomeone of the largest ethnic group not only in Nigeria, but also inAfrica.1The latest census shows that the Yoruba ethnic group is made up ofabout 20 subgroups that share similar beliefs, customs and culture.The total group is estimated to be composed of 20 million peoplewhose livelihood revolves around agricultural activities. Since timeimmemorial, the Yoruba people have been at the center stage of anumber of key trades across the Sahel region. The chief cash cropgrown by this community is cocoa which generates income for Yorubapeople thereby raising their standards of living. The surplus producefrom the agricultural activities is traded in the market whereby theYoruba farmers engage mostly in barter trade with other communities.Prior to the arrival of foreigners in West Africa, the Yoruba peoplepracticed traditional religion and believed in a deity calledOlodumare. During the colonial era, the Yoruba ethnic group lost manymembers to slavery some members were relocated to foreign lands towork as slaves. Many African slaves residing in the Caribbean andSouth America were of the Yoruba descent. The foreigners impacted onthe traditional religion of Yoruba and transmitted other religiousdoctrines such as Islam and Christianity. Currently, only 20% of theYoruba population practices the traditional religion, 80% practiceIslam and Christianity. Among the Yoruba, the Christian populationis almost equal to the Islam population and this has contributedgreatly to frequent conflicts between members of the two religions.Foreign culture has had profound impact on the socio-economic andreligious aspects of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

Analysisof current Yoruba people religion

Themodern Yoruba people practice traditional beliefs alongsideChristianity and Islamic beliefs. Yoruba people call their GodOlodumare or Olorun who they believe is responsible for creation ofuniverse and its maintenance. 2With the coming of Christianity through colonialism, there was asynthesis of religions. Most Yoruba people follow Christian beliefsand practices based on African spirituality without acknowledgingTraditional gods. As a result, most people practice what is referredas integrated Christianity simultaneously being a Christian whilestill being devoted to traditional beliefs. For instance, in modernNigeria, there is a significant growth of churches both mainstreamchurches and Protestants churches. Catholic is the most populouschurch in areas that are highly dominated by Yoruba people whopractice Christianity.3The churches are located majorly in the Southern and middle belt ofNigeria where Christianity is dominant.

Yorubapeople also practice Islam with a majority of the Muslims beingSunni, and a significant number belonging to Shafi madhhab. InNorthern Nigeria for instance, majority of states have incorporatedsharia law into their administrative constitutions. Islam as areligion, includes daily and annual obligations and rituals whichinclude pilgrimage to Mecca which is a common practice in modernareas inhabited by Yoruba people. Family life, establishment ofinstitutions, personal conduct of individuals and general communalorder revolves around religious beliefs among the Yoruba people.Generally, the Yoruba people are divided among Islam, Christianityand traditional local religions.4The main limitation of this analysis is that the researcher is likelyto encounter hostility since there exist tension between Christiansand Muslims in Yoruba.


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1 Peel, J. D. Y. Religious encounter and the making of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003

2 Samson Fatokun, “Christian Missions in South-Western Nigeria, and the Response of African Traditional Religion,” International Review of Mission 96, no. 380 (2007): 106.

3 Olupona, Jacob K., and Terry Rey. Òrìşà devotion as world religion: the globalization of Yorùbá religious culture. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

4 Omojola, Bode. Yorùbá music in the twentieth century: identity, agency, and performance practice. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012.

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