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The Return of the Yoruba Nation

“The Yoruba religion is the science of allowing God to flow through you, so that each breath becomes a prayer, and as God breathes, you breathe.” – John Mason

The Yoruba people of West Africa have a long and proud history, and according to their powerful ancient traditions, the Yoruba are the oldest people, or the first humans in the world. The Yoruba people saw themselves as the first people in the world and had no memory of any other or earlier humans before their Yoruba group. For example, early Yoruba people evolved patterns of behavior from the certainty of their belief that Yoruba people are the first humans in the world. Their hospitality and goodwill towards all human groups, including foreigners because during the 19th century, in some parts of Yorubaland (present-day Southwest Nigeria, a small part of Benin Republic and an smaller part of Togo Republic), especially the Ife Kingdom (“the source of the spreading” and “the place where all nations of the earth have sprung from”), some of the first European visitors were puzzled that the Yoruba received them as kinsmen who had been long gone and were returning to visit the original home of their ancestors.


According to Yoruba Ife traditions, King Oduduwa of the Ife Kingdom lived a great earthly life as a priest and warrior king and was elevated to the awesome pedestal of the “father of the Yoruba race.” His successors defied him, and subsequent generations transposed King Oduduwa all the way back to the very beginning of creation and crowned him as the first human to walk the earth, the progenitor of the Yoruba race.   


Modern scientists, researchers in human genetic history, are now saying that the earliest human genes in the world have been found in Yorubaland. According to all evidence from archaeological and allied research, the Yoruba, as one distinct cultural group, have been living in their homeland since as far back as 8,000 years ago. The dynasty of Ife is one of the three earliest founded surviving dynasties in the world, along with Japan (c.660 BCE) and Rajasthan (c.734 CE) of India.


From 8,000 years ago, the Yoruba have owned and held their homeland, and have developed on it from age to age the highest level of civilization in tropical Africa south of the Sahara. The Yoruba developed into an urbanized people, which means they were living in towns, and their country was the only urbanized part of tropical Africa below the Sahara for many centuries, even until the coming of European colonial rule and influence in the late 19th century. The first Yoruba towns were built in the 9th century AD (which was the Ife Kingdom), and they built many more in the following centuries throughout Yorubaland.


By the time the earliest European explorers came to the coast of West Africa in about 1470 AD, the Yoruba already had many walled towns and cities throughout their country. By this date, the Yoruba were one of the most urbanized peoples in the world. Modern researchers who have done research on the Yoruba Ijebu-Ode city wall have described it as one of the greatest man-made structures of the ancient world. According to researchers, in comparison, the amount of earth and rock that was moved in the construction of the Ijebu-Ode city wall and the Great Pyramid of Egypt, the Ijebu-Ode wall was larger than the Great Pyramid. They also add that surviving segments of the Ijebu-Ode city wall are visible from space.


The first European explorers in the interior of Yorubaland in 1825-1826, wrote that, throughout their journey, there were, on both sides of their path, extensive plantations of yam, corn, cotton, indigo, oil palm tress and coconut trees, and they concluded that Yoruba people were very industrious.

The Yoruba Diaspora and Consciousness  

The European Transatlantic slave trade was not the first agency that established elements of the Yoruba as settlers beyond their homeland. There were Yoruba settler colonies in many distant places on the African continent. For instance, before and during the centuries of the slave trade, there were Yoruba traders who lived in Nupe, Hausa and Kanuri in present-day Northern Nigeria, in Great Benin in present-day Southern Nigeria, in probably every sizeable Aja town in the west in present-day Benin Republic, and probably faraway places as the valley of the Senegal in the west and the valley of the Congo in the east. It must also be added those Yoruba people who ended up as enslaved persons in Dahomey (present-day Benin Republic) in the 19th century. Together, all these amounted to a very sizable Yoruba diaspora that was unrelated to the Transatlantic slave trade.


The Yoruba people were influential, because the impact of their culture was felt in at least some of these distant lands, due to the impact of the Yorubas political culture and language among the Edo people of Great Benin (Southern Nigeria) and the Aja people (Benin Republic). The widespread influence of Yoruba trading practices, and the influence of Yoruba religion was among various African ethnic groups or tribes in West Africa. 


The Yoruba people were latecomers to the enforced transportation of Black people as enslaved persons across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. The Transatlantic slave trade started in the 16th century, but hardly any Yoruba people were recorded in the trade until the 17th century, and these were very few. From about 1750, starting with the beginning of the troubles in the Yoruba Oyo Empire, the number of Yoruba slaves on the slave ships began to increase. It increased rapidly as the 19th century opened, reaching its peak in about 1826, and remaining at that peak until 1850. From about 1850, the number declined and continued to dwindle until about 1867 when the Transatlantic slave trade finally ended. The total number of Yoruba taken from their homeland to the Americas as enslaved people in about the late 16th century to the last ones in about 1867 has been estimated to be about 1.12 million, representing a little less than 9% of all Black people taken to the Americas as enslaved peoples. Of this number, nearly 80% were taken away in the century between 1750 and 1850.

During the 19th century, when slavery was finally abolished, Black people were returning home to Africa from the Americas and other places, in gradually increasing numbers, of person of Yoruba origin had won their freedom from slavery abroad. From the early 19th century, some of these Black people came from Cuba and Brazil and took the step of returning home to their home country in Africa. When the slave trade ended, the number of returnees, better known as emigrants, increased. Much of these Black people resettled in Sierra Leone in West Africa, and many of them were Yoruba people, representing the Yoruba subgroups like Oyo, Egba, Ijebu, Ife, Ijesa, Ekiti, etc. and these Yoruba people desired to return to Yorubaland.


Some of the ex-slaves had obtained a Western (European) education, and a very important outcome of growing literacy in Yorubaland during the 19th century was the marked emphasis it brought upon Yoruba national consciousness and unity. The Yoruba people, since ancient times, intensely conscious of their identity and cultural unity as a people. The strong commonalities in Yoruba culture, the powerful myths of common origin, the widespread and very influential myths and traditions around the Ife Kingdom and the name of King Oduduwa, the common pantheon of gods and spirits, the common political culture and practices and universal belief in the common ancestry of Yoruba ruling dynasties, were all components of a strong consciousness of national identity and unity.   


As the influence of the literate emigrants and other Western educated Yoruba grew during the 19th century, and as Western education expanded in Yorubaland, the fundamental common ethnic consciousness in Yoruba people became powerfully stimulated and, during the second half of the 19th century, the name Yoruba became universally embraced as the common name for the whole Yoruba nation. The belief in common descent from King Oduduwa, a belief that had for many centuries been a strong factor in Yoruba consciousness and life, served as a readily available rallying symbol for this national movement. 


During the 1950s, Nigeria was structured as a federation of three regions, and each vested with limited self-government because Black people of Nigeria had not yet shaken off the yoke of British colonial rule.


The three regions of Nigeria:

Map 5. Nigeria’s regional structure, 1955


Each of these regions was dominated by one of the three largest nationalities of Nigeria. The Hausa-Fulani in the Northern region, the Yoruba in the Western region, and the Igbo in the Eastern region.

The Yoruba people immediately took the Western Region of Nigeria far above and beyond the other two Regions in all aspects of development, like the building of new roads and highways, provision of urban water supply, advancement in agriculture and agricultural exports, establishment of skills development institutions for Yoruba youths, first industrial estates and residential estate in Africa, first television station in Africa, first Free Education program in Africa, first modern sports stadium in Nigeria, etc. The free Education proved very revolutionary, because it raised the Yoruba people above the rest of Nigeria. Unofficial statistics in the 1970s had it that the Yoruba people were about 24% of Nigeria’s population, and they were 52% of all Nigerian holders of university degrees and 70% of all Nigerian holders of higher degrees such as Masters and Doctoral degrees. 


Also, in the late 1950s, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the first Premier and first National leader in modern times for the Yoruba people in what was then the Western Region of Nigeria. The Western Region of Nigeria evolved the most democratic political society in Africa, the government most responsive and most dedicated to the needs, the desires and the expectations of the people, the leadership honorably respectful of the voices of the people and their votes, the government and leadership most capable of competing with the best developed countries of the world. Under Chief Awolowo’s successor, the high quality of leadership, politics and governance continued for some time, and the Yoruba people established their modern political tradition based on their ancient political culture.

“God Almighty made us Yoruba people a great people of talent, intellect and skills, and large numbers of us are now pouring out those gifts into the ideas that will make our country one of the greatest and most famous countries in the history of the world – and that will make us Yoruba people a loving, laughing, illuminated family of happy and contented men, women and children.” – Prof. Banji Akintoye

Image I (Left): The Good News: Paths to Prosperity in Orileede Yoruba, by Prof. Banji Akintoye


Image II (Right): 29. Obafemi Awolowo (1909-87), Premier of Western Region, Nigeria (1952-59). Photo: E. Elisofon, c. 1960, Getty Images.


Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of the Action Group (AG) of Nigeria from 1951-1966, and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) from 1978-1983. From 1954 – 1959, Chief Awolowo was the Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the most important person in Yorubaland since King Oduduwa, and he is a builder and champion of Democratic Socialism.


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Akintoye, S. A History of the Yoruba People. Amalion Publishing. (Jan 1, 2010). April 6, 2024. p. 16-17, 98, 509, 524-525, 534-535, 564, 582, 591, 593. 

Blier, S. Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c. 1300. Cambridge University Press; reprint edition. (November 2, 2017). April 6, 2024. p. 36.

Correal, T. Finding Soul on the Path of Orisha: A West African Spiritual Tradition. Crossing Press. (May 16, 2012). April 6, 2024. Location: 52.

Jackson, J. Huggins, W. Introduction to African Civilizations. Black Classic Books. (Aug. 16, 2013). April 6, 2024. p. 154.

Oramfe. File:Oduduwa Flag.jpg. Wikimedia Commons. March 15, 2021. April 6, 2024.


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