Yoruba - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Social status was and still is determined according to sex, age, descent group, and wealth. These features determine seniority in social relationships and govern each actor's rights, obligations, and comportment vis-à-vis others. In the past, elder males ideally held most positions of civic authority, although senior women were known to do so. Emerging class distinctions are calculated according to wealth, education, and occupation. High prestige also goes to people who are generous, hospitable, and helpful to others.

Political Organization. The indigenous political system consisted of a ruler and an advisory council of chiefs who represented the significant sectors of a society: descent groups, the military, religious cults, age grades, markets, and secret societies. Such representatives advised, adjudicated, administered, and set rules. The ruler performed rituals, conducted external affairs, kept peace, and wielded general powers of life and death over his subjects. Palace officials acted as intermediaries between the king and chiefs of outlying towns and tributary holdings. The political structure of each village or town replicated, in smaller scale, the structure of the capital. Kingship and some chiefships were hereditary. Primogeniture was not practiced; rather, branches of a ruling house were allowed to choose, in turn, from among competitor-members. Other titles could be achieved or bestowed as an honor. Today the ancient political systems survive with new functions as arms of local government.

Social Control.

Depending on gravity and scale, disputes or crimes were judged by descent group leaders, chiefs, rulers, or secret societies. Order was maintained by these same authorities and their aides. Deterrents included fear of harsh punishment, supernatural retribution, curses, ostracism, and gossip.

Conflict. Internal struggles for power were strongest between the monarch and town or warrior chiefs. External conflict involved raiding for slaves and booty and large-scale warfare. From 1967 to 1970, a civil war pitted Yoruba and northern peoples against their eastern neighbors; the battle ravaged the nation and depleted its resources. Hostility, precipitated by the quest for power and national resources, persists along ethnic and subgroup lines.


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