The cultural region of the Yoruba people is commonly called Ìle-Yorùbá or Yorúbáland. It covers part of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. The total population of the Yoruba country is about 50 million people across West Africa, with the largest numbers in Nigeria and Benin. Yoruba people have a very deep sense of the importance of their culture and traditions, which unifies them and allows them to be identified.
According to Professor Machioudi Dissou, the Yoruba identity gravitates around three main assertions:
-Yoruba has its own origin
-Yoruba is a religion
-Yoruba is a langage
There are currently 16 established kingdoms that are said to have been descendants of Odùduwà. There are innumerable sub-kingdoms and territories that are vassals of the 16 original kingdoms.
According to Professor Machioudi Dissou, are designated anago, or nago, the Yoruba having immigrated to Africa even as the Egbà, Egbàdò, Ìjêbú, Ilàjê, etc. (see Adéoye). Nago communities are indeed Yoruba wherever they are in the world, whether in Benin, Togo or South America.
There are different groups and subgroups in Yoruba Country that speak distinct but understandable dialects. The governance of this diverse population is quite complex, with small variations in each group and subgroup. But in general, the authority starts at home within the immediate family. In the immediate family, the father is respectfully called Baba. The next level is the clan or extended family headed by Baálé, in their majority village chiefs. The Baálé are subject to their king, called Oba. An Oba may in turn be vassal to another Oba.
According to the Yoruba mythological tradition, the world was created in Ilé Ifè, when Odùduwà, the legendary ancestor of the Yoruba, arrived there to found the nation that has since developed to become the Yoruba Country. Archaeological research shows the presence of inhabitants in Ilé Ifè from the 6th century BC. Around the twelfth century Ilè Ifè had become a well-developed urban centre. This city-state gave birth between the twelfth and fifteenth century to one of the most original civilizations black Africa and undoubtedly the one with the strongest cultural identity. Nowadays Yoruba culture persists in a very strong and lively way in West Africa and the Americas, where Yoruba strongly influenced the local culture by spreading the elements of their religion, values, cuisine and language, including Brazil.
The Yoruba consider Ilé Ifè as the cradle of their civilization, although Oyó later became much more important and more powerful than Ilé Ifè, until the fall of the Oyó Empire in the 19th century. Ifè means expansion. Thus, Ilé Ifè means the expanding earth.
After becoming Oòni, the first sacred king of Ilé Ifè, Odùduwà encouraged his children to leave Ilé Ifè and establish new kingdoms. His children founded several kingdoms or subgroups such as: Oyó, Kétu, Shabé (Savé), Ijesa, Egbà, Égbadò, Ìjèbú, Èkìtì, Òwò, Igbóminà, Àwóri, Òndó, Àkókó. This is why all the royal families of the peoples of Yoruba Country claim to come down from Odùduwà. And it is also for this reason that the present Oòni of Ifè has the treatment of an Imperial Majesty and he is considered primus inter pares when he is reunited with the other Yoruba monarchs.
Various festivals are held in Ilé Ifè throughout the year, and many of them rely on the presence of the Oòni of Ifè. Among the most famous festivals are the Itapa festival in honour of the Orishá Obatalà and the Olojo festival in honour of the Ogun orishá.
Ilé Ifè was later overtaken by the Oyo Empire, which became the centre of Yoruba military and political power between 1700 and 1900 AD. With its capital at Ilé Oyó. The Oyo Empire has become one of the largest states in West Africa met by pre-colonial explorers. The empire gained power through his organizational skills (inherent to Yoruba), the wealth gained in trade and his powerful cavalry. The Oyo Empire was the most politically important state in the region from the mid-17th to the late 18th century. He controlled most of the other Yoruba kingdoms, and neighbouring African states, including the Fon kingdom of Dahomey (present in the present Republic of Benin). In 1826, Captain Clapperton counted fifty-five cities, several of them with more than 20,000 inhabitants.
A second Yoruba kingdom was also a powerful force between 1300 and 1850 AD. It was the Kingdom of Benin, a vassal kingdom of the Oyó Empire. Its territory corresponded to the south-west of present-day Nigeria, and its capital was Edo, now Benin City (capital of Edo State, southern Nigeria). Do not confuse the Kingdom of Benin with the current Benin, which corresponds to the former French colony of Dahomey.
The Fall Of the Oyó Empire
Following a jihad organized by the Fulani (nomadic herders of the Sahel-Saharan region known in English as Fulani) between 1804 and 1808, a very rapid consolidation of the Hausa kingdoms took place in the region that today corresponds to northern Nigeria. In the north, Islam was at the origin of a major political-religious revolution. The nomadic Fulani, who had been advancing eastwards for several centuries, made alliance with the Fulani scholars against the Hausa. The uprising won its first successes in 1804 in the state of Gobir and won the Nupe, under the leadership of the reformer Ousman dan Fodio, and thence the Yoruba septentrional country. The area, where Islam became a state religion, was divided into emirates contingent of Sokoto. The capture of the Yoruba city of Illorin (1832) led to the disintegration of the Oyo Empire, when the Fulani began to move south. Shortly after, they sacked Oyó-Ilé, the capital of the Oyo Empire, and almost completely destroyed the city in 1835.
After the destruction of Oyó-Ilé by the Fulani in 1835, the Yoruba capital was moved further south to Ago in Oyó. Oba Atiba, Alaafin (King) of Oyó, tried to preserve what was left of Oyó by giving to Ibadan (another Yoruba city further south) the duty to protect the capital.
The barrier put in place by the Fulani striped access to the main source of slaves, and the intestine razzias completed to plunge the country into total confusion. The population, forced to emigrate massively, moved to the immediate zone of the forest at New-Oyo (around 1837). In the south, the situation was no less critical. The Egba began to shake off Oyó territory. The Ijebu developed, like Lagos, an intensive trade with the European slavers. Allied with the people of Ifé and the refugees of Oyo, they triumphed from the state of Ówu until then dominant (1818-1825). The Egba were pushed back south-west and they settled at Ibadan, which in a few years would become the largest urban centre in precolonial Africa. Some of them continued to move south, where they created Abeokuta (1830). The two cities that were fighting over the traffic with the coast had become very hostile to each other, while the English, partisans of Ibadan, ensured control of Lagos (1861). The hegemony of the Empire of Oyó had received its death blow and Oyó never regained its importance in the region. Then, several Yoruba city-states freed themselves from Oyó’s domination, through a series of internal wars. This era was marked by an increase in the number of raids organized to fuel the slave trade where millions of people, mostly Yoruba, were captured and sold as slaves in Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other parts of the world.
These wars have terribly weakened the Yoruba in their opposition to what was to follow: British military invasions. The military defeat of the Ijebu forces at Imagbon by the British colonial army made possible the establishment of a British administration in Lagos which was gradually enlarged by several “treaties” according to which the Yoruba kingdoms were forced to agree to under the protectorate of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. These treaties proved decisive in annexing the rest of the Yoruba country under British rule. Then all of southern Nigeria and Cameroon were annexed.
Oyo became a protectorate of Britain in 1888 before further fragmenting into several small belligerent kingdoms. The kingdom of Oyo ceased to exist in 1896. The King Oba Atiba otherwise called Atiba Atobatele disappeared in 1859, his son King Oba Adeyemi I disappeared in 1905. Some historians claim that the British arrived and began to colonize and enslave the Yoruba Country at a time when the Yoruba were recovering from what may be considered Yoruba civil war. The Fulani people took advantage of the civil wars between the Yoruba people to impose their Islamic domination, including the establishment of sultans in Oyó-Ile and the current Ilorin. The most visible consequence of this dominance was the annexation of nearly a fifth of the Yoruba Country (from Offa to Oyó-Ile) to Kabba in northern Nigeria (at that time under Sir Frederick Lugard) and the subsequent submission of this part of the Yoruba Country to a feudalism under the suzerainty of the Fulani. The British initiative of merging the protectorates of northern Nigeria and southern Nigeria into a single colony also contributed to the weakening of the Yoruba country’s identity. Sir Frederick Lugard, a British knight (and later baron), then high commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, received instructions from King George V in 1912 to merge the protectorates of northern Nigeria and southern Nigeria into a colony. Having succeeded with the merger, Sir Frederick Lugard was appointed in 1913 to the new position of 1st Governor General of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.