Yoruba - Orientation

Identification. The name "Yoruba" appears to have been applied by neighbors to the Kingdom of Oyo and adopted by missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century to describe a wider, language-sharing family of peoples. These peoples have gradually accepted the term to designate their language and ethnicity in relation to other major ethnic groups, but among themselves they tend to use the subgroup ethnonyms listed above.

Location. The Yoruba peoples reside in West Africa between approximately 2° and 5° E and between the seacoast and 8° N. Today this area occupies most of southwestern Nigeria and spills into the People's Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo. Yoruba homelands, roughly the size of England, straddle a diverse terrain ranging from tropical rain forest to open savanna countryside. The climate is marked by wet and dry seasons.

Linguistic Affiliation. Yoruba belongs to the Kwa Group of the Niger-Congo Language Family. Linguists believe it separated from neighboring languages 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. Despite its divergent dialects, efforts are being made to standardize the language for use in the media and primary schools.

Demography. The Yoruba-speaking population of Nigeria was estimated to be 20 million in the early 1990s.

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