Wednesday 5 September 2007

Who are the Yoruba?

Dinner with new friends

I have questions, many questions and wonder where this would lead to. On the day of our arrival, there was a couple on the table beside ours who appeared very friendly that we had a few pleasant exchanges.

Then, the second night at dinner we were invited to a themed evening featuring Brazilian cuisine and we all obliged at which point I asked if we could share a table and they found that quite agreeable.

We met up just at the appointed time after I had a slight bathroom mishap which had just under 1 centimetre squared of skin scraped off my scalp in the process of balding my head.

Blood but no guts, a bit of alcohol and I was close to cresting a banshee octave, well, not really, but it was quite a burning sensation and then it clotted and I was fine.

Dancing with anthropology

So, both professors, one in anthropology and the other with a speciality in dance and interpretation covering classical, contemporary and Spanish dance. However, the most important part of this was the Cuban heritage which had obvious affiliation to the great dance diva Alicia Alonso.

The incredible linkage between dance and anthropology comes down to a more intriguing history of the Cubans and the dominance of Yoruba types and traditions which apparently are more advanced in Cuba than in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. However, a good deal of Yoruba culture is expressed in dance and music, but there is a whole area of academic study of crucial importance we native Yorubas need to explore.

These two men were quite versed in Yoruba history and mythology and more so exposed certain aspects of my ignorance of the culture of my forebears because of the way re-education and Western religious diktat have subsumed what essentially is our identity.

The dominance of the Yoruba

It would appear whilst lots of slaves were taken from the Slave Coast which was once the name of Southern Nigeria, that was not the only place where slaves were acquired, but when they arrived in the lands of bondage, the Yoruba culture and norms became the dominant expression for most slaves where in Cuba it was the least adulterated as opposed to the amalgam in Salvador de Bahia because of the suppression of cultures and traditions of the slaves in Brazil and the American South.

The Yoruba dialect spoken in Cuba is known as Lukumi which derives of Oluku mi, which finds equivalent meaning from the Ijebu dialect of Yoruba meaning “My friend” – See Church of the Lukumi.

The Yoruba identity

Now, there is no way we can talk of the Greek civilisation without strong allusions to their mythology, similarly, it would appear the whole essence of the Yoruba beyond just the language is expressed in our mythologies which feature more strongly in the Yoruba Diaspora which descends from the slaves than in the indigenous tribes back home, this is commonly known as Santeria (Cuba), Oyotunji (USA) or Candomblé (Brazil).

The Yoruba are essentially a very religious if not very spiritual people but the unrelenting encroachment of a brand of Christianity and modernism that subsumes our core identity into a non-descript amalgam of Judeo-Western interpretations which leaves us with just the language but no representative tradition and compellingly vibrant history is worrisome.

All probably is not lost because simplistically we do use Olorun (Ruler of heaven) or Olodumare in synonymy with the Supreme God, but we need to relate more of our understanding of our culture to our adopted religions, we cannot become a listless people or all that defines us would be lost.

Giving up ours for others?

Now, I am not saying Christianity is to blame for this, but if our culture by certain Christian or other religious teachings is supposedly inherently evil because the underpinning mythologies relate to gods called orishas what have we left of our customs after we leave the church, the mosque or some religious place of worship?

I am no expert in these matters, but I worry about these generalisations - the American brand of Christianity that promotes materialism, the African brand that expands on this materialism with an enemy round every corner and the European brand which is too liberal for the comfort of many.

It is time to go back to the things that make us a people who have a history that predates when slave traders came to take our ancestors away to lands so far away but after hundreds of years, that self-same ideal of what is Yoruba has survived the onslaught of slavery, racism, modernisation and religion.

I think the core of what is Yoruba is worth fighting for regardless of any other foreign religious beliefs we might have acquired.

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