Yoruba






PRONUNCIATION: YAWR-uh-buh

LOCATION: West Africa (primarily Nigeria; also Benin and Togo)

POPULATION: 5.3 million

LANGUAGE: Yoruba

RELIGION: Ancestral religion; Islam; Christianity

1 • INTRODUCTION

The Yoruba are one of the largest African ethnic groups south of the Sahara Desert. They are, in fact, not a single group, but rather a collection of diverse people bound together by a common language, history, and culture. Within Nigeria, the Yoruba dominate the western part of the country. Yoruba mythology holds that all Yoruba people descended from a hero called Odua or Oduduwa. Today there are over fifty individuals who claim kingship as descendants of Odua.

During the four centuries of the slave trade, Yoruba territory was known as the Slave Coast. Uncounted numbers of Yoruba were carried to the Americas. Their descendants preserved Yoruba traditions. In several parts of the Caribbean and South America, Yoruba religion has been combined with Christianity. In 1893, the Yoruba kingdoms in Nigeria became part of the Protectorate of Great Britain. Until 1960 Nigeria was a British colony and the Yoruba were British subjects. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation structured as a federation of states.

2 • LOCATION

The Yoruba homeland is located in west Africa. It stretches from a savanna (grassland) region in the north to a region of tropical rain forests in the south. Most Yoruba live in Nigeria. However there are also some scattered groups in Benin and Togo, small countries to the west of Nigeria. The occupations and living conditions of the Yoruba in the north and south differ sharply.

Current census figures are difficult to obtain. The Yoruba population is estimated to be 5.3 million.

3 • LANGUAGE

The Yoruba language belongs to the Congo-Kordofanian language family. Yoruba has many dialects, but its speakers can all understand each other.

Yoruba is a tonal language. The same combination of vowels and consonants has different meanings depending on the pitch of the vowels (whether they are pronounced with a high voice or a low voice). For example, the same word, aro , can mean cymbal, indigo dye, lamentation, and granary, depending on intonation. Pele o is "Hello"; Bawo ni? is "How are you?"; and Dada ni is "Fine, thank you."

4 • FOLKLORE

According to a Yoruba creation myth, the deities (gods) originally lived in the sky with only water below them. Olorun, the Sky God, gave to Orishala, the God of Whiteness, a chain, a bit of earth in a snail shell, and a five-toed chicken. He told Orishala to go down and create the earth. Orishala approached the gate of heaven. He saw some deities having a party and he stopped to greet them. They offered him palm wine and he drank too much and fell asleep. Odua, his younger brother, saw Orishala sleeping. He took the materials and went to the edge of heaven, accompanied by Chameleon. He let down the chain and they climbed down it. Odua threw the piece of earth on the water and placed the five-toed chicken upon it. The chicken began to scratch the earth, spreading it in all directions. After Chameleon had tested the firmness of the earth, Odua stepped down. A sacred grove is there today.

5 • RELIGION

As many as 20 percent of the Yoruba still practice the traditional religions of their ancestors.

The practice of traditional religion varies from community to community. For example, a deity (god) may be male in one village and female in another. Yoruba traditional religion holds that there is one supreme being and hundreds of orisha, or minor deities. The worshipers of a deity are referred to as his "children."

There are three gods who are available to all. Olorun (Sky God) is the high god, the Creator. One may call on him with prayers or by pouring water on kola nuts on the ground. Eshu (also called Legba by some) is the divine messenger who delivers sacrifices to Olorun after they are placed at his shrine. Everyone prays frequently to this deity. Ifa is the God of Divination, who interprets the wishes of Olorun to mankind. Believers in the Yoruba religion turn to Ifa in times of trouble. Another god, Ogun (god of war, the hunt, and metalworking), is considered one of the most important. In Yoruba courts, people who follow traditional beliefs swear to give truthful testimony by kissing a machete sacred to Ogun.

Shango (also spelled Sango and Sagoe) is the deity that creates thunder. The Yoruba believe that when thunder and lightning strike, Shango has thrown a thunderstone to earth. After a thunderstorm, Yoruba religious leaders search the ground for the thunderstone, which is believed to have special powers. The stones are housed in shrines dedicated to Shango. Shango has four wives, each representing a river in Nigeria.

The Yoruba who practice other religious are divided about evenly between Muslims (followers of Islam) and Christians. Nearly all Yoruba still observe annual festivals and other traditional religious practices.

6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Local festivals are usually dedicated to individual deities. Yoruba may also celebrate the following holidays, depending on whether they are Christians or Muslims: New Year's Day, January; Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), June or July; Easter, March or April; Maulid an-Nabi (Muhammad's birthday); Ramadan, followed by a three-day feast; Nigerian Independence Day (October); Eid al-Fitr ; Christmas (December).

7 • RITES OF PASSAGE

A newborn infant is sprinkled with water to make it cry. No word may be spoken until the infant cries. Also, no one younger than the mother should be present at the birth. The infant then is taken to the backyard. The umbilical cord is bound tightly with thread and then cut. The placenta is buried in the backyard. On the placenta burial spot, the child is bathed with a loofah sponge and rubbed with palm oil. The child is held by the feet and given three shakes to make it strong and brave. After a specified number of days, a naming ceremony is held. Relatives attend and bring small amounts of money. Male and female circumcision are usually performed in the first month.

Marriages are arranged. A man must negotiate with the girl's father. If he is approved he must bring the family a payment called a bride wealth, paid in three installments. Wedding ceremonies begin at the bride's house after dark. There is a feast to which the groom contributes yams. The bride then is taken to the groom's house. There she is washed from foot to knee with an herbal mixture meant to bring her many children. For the first eight days after marriage she divides her time between her husband's and in her parents' compounds. On the ninth day she moves to her husband's home.

Burials are performed by the adult men who are not close relatives but belong to the clan of the deceased. The grave is dug in the floor of the room where the deceased lived. After the burial there is a period of feasting. Many of the rituals associated with burial are intended to insure that the deceased will be reborn again.

8 • RELATIONSHIPS

Kinship is the most important relationship for the Yorubas. Best friends are very important as well. A best friend is referred to as "friend not-see-not-sleep." This means that one does not go to sleep without having seen his best friend. When approaching death, a Yoruba shares his last wishes with his best friend.

Also important are clubs that grow out of childhood associations. When a group of young friends starts spending time together, they form a club. They choose a name and invite an older man and woman to serve as advisors. The clubs continue through adulthood. They hold monthly meetings, with the members serving as hosts in turn.

9 • LIVING CONDITIONS

Traditional compounds (which house clans) in Yoruba villages are made up of rectangular courtyards, each with a single entrance. Around each courtyard is an open or a partly enclosed porch. Here the women sit, weave, and cook. Behind this are the rooms of each adult. Today the old compounds are rapidly being replaced by modern bungalows made of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Most Yoruba towns, even small ones, have adequate basic services, including electricity, running water, and paved roads.

10 • FAMILY LIFE

Every Yoruba is born into a clan whose members are descended from a common ancestor. Descent is patrilineal—both sons and daughters are born into the clan of their father. Clan members live in a large residential area called a compound. The males are born, married, and buried in it. Females live in the compound of their birth until they marry. Then they go to live with their husbands. The eldest male, or Bale, is the head of the compound. A husband is responsible for settling quarrels within his own family. However, if he is unsuccessful or if an argument involves members of two different families, it is referred to the Bale.

Within the compound, the immediate family consists of a man, his wives, and their children. The Yoruba practice polygyny (having more than one wife). Each wife and her children are considered a sub-family. They have a separate room within the husband's and they share possessions. Each mother cooks for her own children only. A man is expected to treat each wife equally. However, wives compete to gain additional favors for their own children. The father is strict and distant. Often, he sees little of his children. When they are young, children of co-wives play together. However, as they grow older, they usually grow apart because of quarrels over possessions.

11 • CLOTHING

Western-style dress is worn in urban areas. Traditional clothing is still worn on important occasions and in rural areas. It is very colorful and elaborate. Traditional fabrics were block printed with geometric designs. Women wear a head tie made of a rectangular piece of fabric. They carry babies or young children on their backs by tying another rectangular cloth around their the waists. A third cloth may be worn over the shoulder as a shawl over a loose-fitting, short-sleeved blouse. A larger cloth serves as a wrap-around skirt.

Recipe

Fufu (Pounded Yam)

Ingredients

Choose one of these:

  • 3 or 4 white yams, preferably round and fat
  • 3 or 4 orange yams
  • 1 bunch plaintains
  • 1 bunch green (unripe) bananas

Directions

  1. Peel the vegetable or fruit of choice and cut into chunks or slices. Place the pieces into a pot and cover with water.
  2. Cover the pot and heat until the water boils. Cook until the yams (plaintains or green bananas) can be pierced easily with a fork.
  3. Drain well and place one or two pieces into a large mortar and pestle. Pound the pieces until a mass is formed that pulls away from the sides of the mortar. (This cannot be done with an electric mixer, because the pounded yams will be very stiff.)

Fufu is served with soups and stews at main meals. Diners pinch off a piece of fufu, make an indentation in it, and use it as a spoon to scoop up a mouthful of the main dish.

Chicken and Okra Soup

Ingredients

  • 6 to 10 chicken legs or wings
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 18 large okra, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground red pepper
  • 1½ ounces (40 grams) dry crayfish, ground
  • 2 medium fresh tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon potash

Directions

  1. Place the chicken in a pot with salt and pepper, cover with water and boil until tender. Drain, reserving broth for next step. Remove meat from bones and cut into bite-sized chunks.
  2. Combine okra with reserved broth and remaining ingredients. Boil for 5 minutes. Add chicken and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Serve with fufu.

Men wear tailored cloth hats, gowns, and trousers. One popular type of gown is shaped like a poncho. It reaches to the fingertips, but is worn folded back on the shoulders. Trousers are usually very loose and baggy. All the cloth for traditional clothing is hand woven. Often it is elaborately embroidered.

12 • FOOD

The Yoruba diet consists of starchy tubers, grains, and plantains. These are supplemented by vegetable oils, wild and cultivated fruits and vegetables, meat, and fish. The daily family diet relies on cassava, taro, maize, beans, and plantains. One of the most popular foods is fufu (or foo-foo ), similar to a dumpling, but made of cassava (white yams). Rice and yams are eaten on special occasions.

The recipes are very popular and are usually served together.

13 • EDUCATION

Since attaining independence (1960), Nigeria has set a high priority on education. Universal primary education has become the norm in southern Nigeria, where the Yoruba live. Secondary school (high school) education also became common. The first university in Nigeria was located in a Yoruba city. Originally called University College, it is now known as the University of Ibadan. The majority of students at Ibadan are Yoruba.

14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE

The Yoruba oral tradition includes praise poems, tongue twisters, hundreds of prose narratives and riddles, and thousands of proverbs.

Yoruba music includes songs of ridicule and praise, as well as lullabies, religious songs, war songs, and work songs. These usually follow a "call and response" pattern between a leader and chorus. Rhythm is provided by drums, iron gongs, cymbals, rattles, and hand clapping. Other instruments include long brass trumpets, ivory trumpets, whistles, stringed instruments, and metallophones. Perhaps the most interesting musical instrument is the "talking drum." The "talking drum" features an hourglass shape with laces that can be squeezed to tighten the goatskin head, altering the drum's pitch.

15 • EMPLOYMENT

About 75 percent of the Yoruba men are farmers, producing food crops for their domestic needs. Farming is considered men's work. Clearing or hoeing fields is done only by men. Wives help their husbands plant yams and harvest corn, beans, and cotton. They also help at the market, selling farm produce. Some Yoruba have large cocoa farms worked by hired labor.

The Yoruba enjoy trading. Huge markets with over a thousand sellers are common. Trade in foodstuffs and cloth is confined to women. Meat selling and produce buying are the province of men.

The new, educated generation is moving away from farming, and its members are looking for white-collar jobs.

16 • SPORTS

Although there are few organized sports, Yoruba (like other Nigerians) in some areas participate in wrestling and soccer.

17 • RECREATION

Traditional entertainment includes rituals, dancing, and music making. Modern forms of entertainment include watching television and going to movies and discos. Most households own televisions sets. The more religious households prohibit family members, especially women, from going to see films. Among urban teenagers, American youth culture is popular. Most young people listen to rap and rock music from the U.S. Ayo, a board game, is popular among people of all ages. It is a mancala game—a type of game popular in west Africa, that is played on a board with two rows of indentations or wells that are filled with small seeds or stones.

18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Crafts include weaving, embroidering, pottery making, woodcarving, leather and bead working, and metalworking.

Both men and women weave, using different types of looms. Cloth is woven from wild silk and from locally grown cotton.

Men also do embroidery, particularly on men's gowns and caps, and work as tailors and dressmakers. Floor mats and mat storage bags are also made by men.

Women are the potters. In addition to palm oil lamps, they make over twenty kinds of pots and dishes for cooking, eating, and carrying and storing liquids.

Woodcarvers, all of whom are men, carve masks and figurines as well as mortars, pestles, and bowls. Some Yoruba woodcarvers also work in bone, ivory, and stone. Blacksmiths work both in iron and brass to create both useful and decorative objects.

19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS

There are vast differences in wealth among Yoruba of different social classes. Many urban occupations do not provide adequate wages to support a family.

Nigeria's human rights record is poor. A Yoruba, Olisa Agbakobe, led a group of lawyers that founded the human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO).

The crime rate in Nigeria is high, particularly in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, and other urban areas. More than half the offenses are property crimes. Drug-related crime is a major problem. Young people are using both marijuana and cocaine in increasing numbers.

20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bascom, William. The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria . Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1984.

Hetfield, Jamie. The Yoruba of West Africa. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1996.

Koslow, Philip. Yorubaland: The Flowering of Genius. Kingdoms of Africa. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

WEBSITES

World Travel Guide. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/ng/gen.html , 1998.



User Contributions:

skye
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Apr 3, 2007 @ 5:17 pm
I thought it was verry discriptive and interesting and I liked it alot. Thanks alot for the info !!!!!!!
quazim
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Sep 14, 2007 @ 9:09 am
Prohibited of FUNERAL ceremonies from the 1st day of December to the 2nd day of January:
Any person who dies before the 1st day of December of the year shall be buried and his or her funeral rites performed before the said date.

No funeral rites shall be performed between the 1st day of December and 2nd day of January of the succeeding year, except in respect of death occuring within the said period.

ANy bereaved family which infringes the provisions of this sub-head shall upon proof thereof pay the sum of #500.00 (Five hundred Naira) as penalty to the Oraifite Improvement Union.


Limitation of Time for Funeral Rites:
Funeral rites of a deceased shall, subject to the foregoing provisions, be performed within two weeks of deaths.

An infringement of this provision attracts a penalty of #500.00 (Five hundred Naire) from the bereaved family to the Oraifite Improvement Union.


Firing of Canon Shots and Guns:
The number of canon shots to be allowed for any funeral ceremony except where an exemption is granted shall not exceed, in the aggregate, twenty-one shots, all inclusive.

Save as hereinabove provided the firing of shot gun or any portable hand gun at a funeral ceremony is hereby prohibited.

Any violation of theprovisions hereby stipulated shall upon proof thereof attract a penalty of #300.00 (Three hundred Naira) from the bereaved family to the Oraifite Improvement Union.

The provisons and penalty hereunder shall not apply to the Igwe,the four Obis, Ichies and holders of honorary Chiftancy titles in the Oraifite Community and the eldest person in Oraifite Community.


Use Of Microphones:
The use of microphonesor any other public address system for announcing the entry of individuals or groups or for the personal description and praise of individuals or groups during funeral ceremony is hereby prohibited.

Use of microphones and other public address system is restricted to special announcements, funeral songs, music and oratons.

An infringement of the provisions hereunder by a bereaved family shall upon proof thereof render it liable to a penalty of #300.00 (Three hundred Naira) payable to the Oraifite Improvement Union.


Trading at FUNERALS:
All forms of trading at funerals are hereby abolished and prohibited.

Any person who sells and/or buys at a funeral ceremony shall upon proof thereof be liable to a penalty of #100.00 (One hundred Naira) to be paid to the Oraifite Improvement Union.


Presentation of Cow and Goat:
Only one cow may be presented by the bereaved family during the funeral of a man.

For the Imena Ozu Nwaokpu ceremony only one native goat may be presented by the husband's family to the relatives of the deceased woman during the funeral a woman.

A contravention of any of the provisions hereunder attracts on proof thereof a penalty of #500.00 (Five hundred Naira) from the bereaved family to the Oraifite Improvement Union.


Ikwechi-ite or Ibuna-ngega Ceremony
The ceremony of Ikwuchi-ite or Ubuna-ngega is hereby abolished and prohibited.

Any person or bereaved family who or which performs the said ceremoney shall pay a penalty of #500.00 (Five hundred Naira) to Oraifite Improvement Union.


Wine and Gifts Carrying Processions:
All wine and gift carrying processions at funeral ceremonies are abolished and henceforth prohibited.
victoria
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Mar 25, 2008 @ 1:13 pm
THIS WEBSITE IS SO COOL BECAUSE IT HELPED ME IN MY SOCIAL STUDIES PROJECT.
itsmeh1234
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Feb 13, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
fufu is not punded yam....pounded yam is iyan


*and for some reason my message is too short*
Sweetie
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Dec 15, 2009 @ 7:19 pm
I thought this was very informative- and also legitimate! I find too many sources online that are so inaccurate, it's ridiculous! Great site.
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Apr 24, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
I am a Yoruba man,I live and work in Ibadan but now on studies in America.The information provided on this web site are very interesting but there are some inadequacies and misrepresentations.I can say without fear of contadiction that cocaine is not as available in the south west of Nigeria as stated.95 percent of Yoruba youngsters have never seen it let alone use it.Marijuana is produced by few farmers in the area but less than 30 percent of the youths have ever seen it let alone smoke it.There are only seven sons of Oduduwa who lay claim to descent from him as far as their crowns are concerned namely Alafin of Oyo,Oni of Ife,Olowo,Olowu,etc others are simply pretenders to historical relevance.
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Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:00 am
A point of correction; Olisa Agbakoba is not a Yoruba. He is an Igbo another tribe from the Eastern part of Nigeria. Beyond this the narrative is near accurate.
Dee
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Mar 5, 2011 @ 9:09 am
Great info! Thanks for sharing it! I enjoy reading it a lot!
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Mar 8, 2011 @ 10:10 am
YOU NEED TO INCLUDE JOBS! I AM SO INTERESTED! i have to do a project and this is a great source to use. I found everything i need except jobs, it ca-razy good info
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Oct 20, 2011 @ 11:11 am
Thank you for the valuable information!! I hope I get an A+ on my project!!I love the Yoruba
Jensen
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Oct 28, 2011 @ 5:17 pm
I just wanted to make sure everyone is clear that Yoruba is NOT pronounced "YAWR-uh-buh," that's the white people way to say the name. It is definitely "YOH-ru-bah." I think any other inconsistencies have already been corrected. Still, it's pretty informative.
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Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:00 am
Fufu is different from pounded yam. Fufu is produced from cassava while pounded yam(iyan) is from yam
Rafael Febus
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Dec 12, 2011 @ 6:06 am
I was wondering if you are able to help me find the nearest school where i could learn the yoruba language i live in Trumbull, Connecticut. I will greatly appreciated, thank you in advance for your help.
janine
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Jul 12, 2012 @ 5:05 am
please do anyone know the poem three friends of yoruba..please help me the interpretation..please email me jhanine_345@yahoo.com or msg me at facebook same email
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Oct 6, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
This is very important and i realy need information. I met someone from Nigeria and he has been sweet talking me wanting money from me. Are there some money scams from Nigeria i need to be made aware of? Sincerly i need to know Thanks...
Tunji Timi Tola
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Nov 28, 2012 @ 12:12 pm
That Yoruba population is 5.3 million is totally inaccurate. Yoruba population is currently estimated to be around 50 million. They are very industrious, well educated and can be very kind to a fault.
But good attempt at writing about a people that secured independence for Nigeria on a platter of gold.
makanjuola adigun muhammed
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Dec 11, 2012 @ 3:03 am
i love the information supply on this medium.I employ the source to further update the information concerning the people of the Yoruba Nation on contemporary issues in nigeria.This would further enhance the significance the purpose of those would may require this information to make salient policy direction on the face of daunting national challenges in neo-colonial nigeria.
Abdulkareem Adebiyi
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Dec 20, 2012 @ 3:03 am
It is a good attempt. Ile-Ife is the source and spiritual head of the Yoruba nation, Oodua children spread across Oyo kingdom (including Benin and Togo). Today, Yoruba nation has spread across the West Coadt of Africa including Ghana and Ivory Coast)apart those in the Caribbean region. Oranyan who was Oodua's last child reigned in Ife, Benin City and Oyo (established Oyo kingdom, and served as the first Alaafin) and came back to Ife, reigned and died there. The staff of Oranyan in Ife symbolised his spot of burial. However, while Ife served as the source, Alaafin Oranyan was enthroned with the power of reign over the land by his father, Oodua.
Zowy N
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Mar 13, 2013 @ 7:07 am
Hi. I would like to know more about the Yorubas and polygamy. I`d realy appreciate a speedy reply because it`s for my assignment which is due sooner.Thank you
Linda
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Jun 7, 2013 @ 12:00 am
This was very informative. I was studying slaves from the Caribbean and Shango was mentioned as a deity that was (still is) worshipped by many Caribbean slaves. While finding out about Shango, I discovered that he was a Yoruba deity. Could the Caribbean slaves have come from the Yoruba people group? I wish they had continued speaking their mother tongue so we could know for sure. My Caribbean friends would be really interested in this.
shyina
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Jan 22, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
where do u get info for yoruba weaving and who was the famous weavers
dare
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Jan 30, 2014 @ 7:07 am
please i need to know the difference in the wedding ceremony of yoruba tribe of the south and bura tribe of the north Nigeria.
also the responsibility of the brides and grooms family respectively
Nichole
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Mar 16, 2014 @ 6:06 am
Hello,

we would like to use this article at our next project in Europe. As there is a copyright on it, we please ask for the permission to use it during our lessons. Hope to get ans answer soon.
Harbydeymy Rahjih
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Mar 24, 2014 @ 9:09 am
This is so interesting I love it. Am a yoruba lady base in south africa. I love it when reading this about my culture kudos go for this website
Kimmi
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Mar 27, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
very helpful for my project. Detailed and precise. I found many things to add to my ideas. Thank You!
Jasanya Ademola R
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Apr 15, 2014 @ 2:14 pm
This is no doubt a very good work . Its so helpful to me and friends that we had no choice than to keep reading and talking about the yoruba culture,most especially as discussed here, all time. Kudos to the writer and scholar.
Ayeesha
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May 19, 2014 @ 12:00 am
Great job to the writer of this piece it was really helpful. Please i need information about the problem in western nigeria under the topic:- socio cultural environment, man made and natural environment. And some harmful traditional practice carried out by the yorubas. Once again great job!!!
Akinmoladun Folasayo Benedict
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Jul 12, 2014 @ 2:14 pm
this is a very informative page and write up, and its speaks a lot about yoruba extension in Africa. please i will like to know countries that yoruba extends to and the festival they do as yoruba people. thanks a lot.
i will appreciate your quick response.

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