Books, Art & Culture

 An online discussion group moderated by 

Oladele Olusanya, Writer, Physician and Artist, 

Author of ‘Gods and heroes’ & other books of the ‘Itan – legends of the golden age’ series.

December 10, 2019

The deities of Yorubaland are many and varied in their manifestations, physical descriptions and attributes. And it is not to be thought that since many of these gods like Ogun and Sango once walked the earth as ordinary men and women, they would not have the power of the older gods like Obatala. Our forefathers believed that all these ancient gods were endowed by Olorun, Owner of the Sky, with the knowledge and vision of all things past, present, and future. They were immortal and immutable. Possessed of vast powers, they could change the fortunes and tragedies in the lives of men by the imposition of their will.  Many are the stories that have come to us of these immortal beings, of which the story of Olokun and Shigidi offer a singular excursion into the myths and legends of the Yoruba people.

Olokun always held a special place in the devotion of our people. When he was an infant, Olokun’s  mother noticed that he had the genitals of both sexes. He was a hermaphrodite. As he grew olde...

October 1, 2019

Although Lisabi is generally regarded as the national father of the Egba people, it was the hero,  Sodeke who led them into exile from the ancestral homes around the site of present Ibadan and founded the city of Abeokuta in 1830. Sodeke called this new settlement ‘Abe-okuta’ under the rock, due to the protection afforded to the settlers by the Olumo rock.

One of the young warriors of the Egba Alake who followed the triumphant Sodeke to Abeokuta was a man named Sopitan.  Despite the hardship of the journey, he had brought along with him all the way from Orile-Itoko a young woman who was his betrothed. She was already pregnant by the time they got to Abeokuta. When the baby was born, his parents saw this as an omen of propitious times ahead in their new land. They named their first-born son Likoye. He was also called Kuti. When Likoye Kuti himself reached marriageable age, he asked for his father’s blessing and paid the bride price for a young maiden who had caught his eye. The girl’s na...

August 9, 2019

‘Ibadan mesi ogo

N’ile Oluyole

Omo a j’oro sun’

An empire falters

By the late eighteenth century AD, the once mighty Yoruba Empire ruled by the Alaafin of Oyo was beset by external threats and internal dissension. Its great tributary states from which money, goods and people had flowed for centuries, were now, one after their other, declaring their independence from the Alaafin. First the Nupe, known to the Yoruba people as Tapa, one of Oyo’s most important tributary states, stopped paying allegiance or sending yearly tributes to the palace at Oyo. Alaafin Aole sent an army against them, but it was defeated in 1791. Then Dahomey, with its famous female warrior caste, the Amazons, followed suit and declared its independence. A military force sent out against them was repelled in an ignominious defeat in 1823. The Oyo Empire, which at the height of its power had stretched its influence from the banks of the river Niger westwards to the Volta River in present day Mali and Burkina Faso, and wh...

June 1, 2019

The ancient Yorubas had a well-developed sense of justice, and honor. Children honored their parents.  The young honored the old.  And subjects honored their king. They developed an elaborate system of greeting, accompanied by curtsies, kneeling, and prostrating before elders that was absent among other people.

The code of honor of this ancient people was rigid, and it was scrupulously followed. It was death before dishonor. Especially was this so among the rulers, warriors, and the nobility. If a leader no longer felt that his chiefs and people respected or followed him, he committed suicide rather than suffer disgrace. A king who was deposed most often had to end his life. But while the king was alive and reigning, his word was law. The people could only hear and obey. But even though the Alafin of Oyo was the supreme overlord, he rarely acted as an absolute monarch. Next to the king was the council of chiefs, which acted as a check on his power. As our people became more sophist...

April 1, 2019

Ife is besieged by a ‘spirit’ army

Many years after the time of Oduduwa, when the story of Moremi began, Ile-Ife, the ancient capital of Yorubaland was besieged and tormented by a wild warlike tribe known as the igbo, or forest people. This tribe is believed by scholars to have no relation to the contemporary Igbos of Eastern Nigeria. They were the descendants of the aboriginal people who were there when Oduduwa conquered the land and founded the city of Ile-Ife centuries earlier. These igboshad now grown in strength and number. They were now so powerful that they now raided and vandalized the farms and villages that surrounded Ile-Ife, and even ventured into the sacred city itself. The modus operandi of the igboswas their otherworldly appearance. Dressed in multicolored raffia skirts and robes, with hideous masks, they resembled the ‘egungun,’ the sprits of the dead, which were feared and revered by the people of Ife. With their uncanny and fearsome appearance, the people of Ife though...

February 12, 2019

‘Gods and heroes’ Book 1 of the ‘Itan – legends of the golden age’ series was deliberately written to place the myths and legends of the Yoruba people on a pedestal that can be viewed alongside the notable stories of Greek heroes, Hebrew patriarchs and Norse gods that the world has become so familiar with. “Why can’t we Yorubas,” I asked myself, “have a written epic of our own that would be compared to the epics of Europe such as Mallory’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ which gave us the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

But since the very object of my book was to instill knowledge and pride in the ancient history of the Yoruba people, someone might ask, “What is the relevance or relationship between myth and actual history.”

History, as we all know, is the record of past events, or at least the remembrance of actual events. It does not matter if these records or remembrances are not always accurate. Myths on the other hand, are products of the imagination. In the crudest sens...

To promote ‘Gods and heroes’ I recently went on a Book Tour of Yorubaland. I visited the ancient and storied towns of Ijebu-Ode, Oyo, Ile-Ife and Ibadan, all of which are featured in stories from ‘Gods and heroes’ and other books of the ‘Itan – legends of the golden age’ series.' My book and I received an enthusiastic reception from the people and monarchs of all these towns. And for me in particular, it was gratifying to know that our old Yoruba traditions such as oral poetry, ewi and the playing of the ganganor talking drum, are still alive and well in the heartland.

When I came back to Texas, it was to receive accolades in recognition of my efforts to promote our ancient African culture and traditions. I was a recipient of the 2018 O’odua Image Awardgiven out by the Yoruba Youth Corporation of America. With this award, I was named a CULTURAL AMBASSADOR of the Yoruba people in North America.  I am greatly encouraged by this award which I consider not an honor just for myself...

The Yorubas are a great and ancient people. Today, the population of people claiming Yoruba origin or speaking a form of the Yoruba language number about 50 million around the globe. And in many of these countries, especially Cuba and Brazil, the ancient Yoruba religion of Ifa is accorded the status of a state religion. In these places, not just in the Yorubaland heartland of Western Nigeria, the old religious traditions of the Yorubas – of Ifa – are preserved.  And the ancient Yoruba gods whose stories are told in the book ‘Gods and heroes’ -  Olokun, Obatala and Orunmila – are revered and worshipped. There are also many adherents here in the United States of Ifa, in places like Louisiana where African-American ‘babalawos’ are still known to practice their art.

Yorubas represent the most vibrant and successful ethnic group to come out of Africa since the early 1900s’.  Enterprising and intelligent, they dominated the early political and public life of Nigeria on its foun...

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