YORUBA UNDERSTANDING OF SEXUALITY
Brief History of the Yoruba
WHO ARE THE YORUBA?
Professor Idowu wrote in identifying the Yoruba: “The Yoruba comprise several clans, which are bound together by language, traditions and religious belief and practices.”1 This is a very short but inclusive description of who the Yoruba people are. As put in the Human Relations Area Files,2 Yoruba is a dialect cluster of the KWA languages of West Africa and forms single unit within these languages. The main dialects, which correspond approximately to the tribal divisions and are closely related, are Òyó, Ìjèbú, Ègbá, Ifè, Ìjèshà, Èkìtì, Òndó, Òwò, and Àkókó, Yàgbà and Itshekri may be added, but the latter is less closely related to other members of the cluster. Others related the Yoruba to the Semitic people and to languages like Arabic and Hebrew3.
Eades put the population of the Yoruba at 15 million in 1977, in his statistical identification of the Yoruba. While the absolute reliability of Eades’ figure may be questioned, his statistical information proves that the Yoruba are large enough to deserve some detail study.4 The recent estimates put the Yoruba above 25 million by the end of the last century.
The attempt here is to say that who the Yoruba are as a nation is best identified in terms of their language, religion, tradition, practices and lifestyle. These are mentioned here as background because of the interlink of one aspect of life of the Yoruba with other aspects.
THE ORIGIN OF THE YORUBA
As to the origin of the Yoruba, there are many theories and stories. In recognition of these many theories and stories of origin, Idowu wrote: “The question of their origin is still a debatable subject since we do not yet possess adequate material out of which we can build up the history of their beginning”5 These stories are described in books6 as folk tales, mythologies of creation, fables, moral stories and many others. Also, these stories have been presented, interpreted, accepted or rejected by different authors depending on the writer’s goal, objectivity and position. Bascom called these origin stories ‘migration legends and the creation myth.’7 Biobaku’s ‘the origin of the Yourba’8 is definitely a comprehensive record of different origin stories.
Most supported story of origin of the Yoruba is that, the Yoruba originated in the Middle East (somewhere from Upper Egypt, Mecca or some other place around there). Then they migrated South (or Southwest) till they settled in their present site.9 Scholars are mostly cast for this view. Other stories of origin state that, creation started with the Yoruba by the God and gods. These God-gods include Obatala, Oduduwa and Orisha Nla. A prominent story of origin of the Yoruba is that Ile-Ife was where God, the creator, started the creation of the world, hence, Ile – land, and fe – expand as the etymological words. This is thus the start of sexuality.
LOCATION OF THE YORUBA
Geographically, the Yoruba do not just occupy any one political country. Over the years, the Yoruba have been found mainly on the West African Coasts, South of the desert. Later, with the slave trade movement, a section of the Yoruba were lost to the New World, particularly Brazil.10 The colonial partitioning of Africa for easy foreign rule by the grouping of many different tribes into a country, divided the Yoruba into many political countries. The Yoruba are now found largely in the south-western part of Nigeria, the southern part of Benin, the southern part of Togo, the south-western part of Ghana and some of the south-eastern part of the Ivory Coast. It could be said that the Yoruba are found in some West African countries like Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where there were concentrations of the Yoruba slaves, as well as in Brazil, Cuba, West Indies and in the United States of America.
Eades11 description of ‘Yoruba homeland’ is one of the modern site locations. Historical –place / time-settlements vary widely from period to period. Ayandele showed this variation in his trace of origin, route of migration and present habitat of the Yoruba.12 Johnson’s work, History of the Yoruba, is definitely the most comprehensive on this place/time settlement. This fact is acclaimed by Ayandele.13 The earliest dated place/time location of any part of the Yoruba is (probably) the king list of the Ijesha. This was dated 1425 A.D.14 All these dating are mostly within the 19th century.
This place-time location is important because it gives the possible time limit for the Yoruba understanding of sexuality.
CULTURE OF THE YORUBA
The Yoruba have a life pattern strongly tied around religion and the family. The family is usually large, polygamous15 and with a family trade. This life pattern is what forms the culture. Many books have been written either directly on the different aspects of the culture of the Yoruba or on issues related to the culture16 as a general whole. The concern here is not to represent the culture either as a whole or even in any of its component aspects. It is to reflect on how the Yoruba concept of sexuality fits the cultural practice. It is to see how a change, modification or remodelling of the concept of sexuality will leave a corresponding change, modification or remodelling of the culture, and to evaluate how interpretations of the Yoruba concept of sexuality have therefore become a partial interpretation of the culture as well. This subtle connection between concept of sexuality and culture explains why many nationalists see the rejection of Yoruba concept of sexuality as rejection of the Yoruba culture and Yoruba life style in general.
RELIGION OF THE YORUBA
The complexity of the Yoruba religion is glaringly reflected by the different areas on which different writers have focussed their attention while describing the Yoruba religion. The focuses could be summed up as including all aspects of life in a Yoruba community. To the Yoruba, religion is central to the whole of life and this is how comprehensive the religion is.
Parrinder in his early work wrote: ‘Religion is a fundamental perhaps the most important influence in the life of West Africa.’17 In a later work, Parrinder quoted on old African administrator as describing Africans by the phrase ‘This incurably religious people’.18 These are adequate descriptions of the zeal and dedication the Yoruba give to their religion.
Idowu confirms this view by writing ‘The Keynote to their life is their religion. In all things they are religious. Religion forms the foundation and the all-governing principle of life for them.’19 Parrinder, Idowu and of course many other writers, showed that when talking of the Yoruba, it can be taken as an axiom that the Yoruba have a religion to which they (the Yoruba) are fully dedicated. This religion (or dedication to the religion) orders their (the Yoruba) life. This Yoruba sense of dedication and total ordering of everyday practical life is not found in most of other religions to such an intense degree and in the same practical sense.
The Yoruba religion has many ‘functional departments’20 to it. A fragmentation of Yoruba religion into functional departmental headings will have on such a list topics like: divination, vocational gods, legends and myths, objects of worship, principles and methods of moral communication, cultic hierarchy, places of worship, designs and structures. Many of these have been jumbled in most works.
In this chapter, Yoruba religion is used in a general sense, which includes all the functional departments. This usage, includes the religion’s comprehensive scope covering all aspects of life in a Yoruba community and as related to sexuality.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE YORUBA
For an in-depth contextual study on sexuality, the Yoruba people have been chosen because of their significance. Before the advent of colonisation, the Yoruba have their well-developed civilisation with all the needed social indexes of contest, relaxation and work. They had defined origin, religion, manners and customs, government, family, meaningful names, urban and sub-urban settlements and highly established principles of kingship and law. (Samuel Johnson 1976, pp. 1-140). All these are the loaded input in the background of the Yoruba that hence make them significant for an in-depth study as this.
That the Yoruba identity in terms of culture, religion, and custom still waxes strong in the face of past events like colonisation, war, slave trade etc, and in terms of present day westernisation, globalisation and technology still confirms the significance of the Yoruba in having stood the test of time. The Yoruba religious system in general, the presentation and the concept of sexuality is very interesting, thus, it is worthwhile to choose the Yoruba as a context in the study of sexuality. It must be said that the Yoruba are located in Africa hence currently much coloured by whatever it is that is affecting Africa. A brief look at what Africa is, therefore, becomes indirectly a foundational background to the Yoruba and to the understanding of Yoruba concepts.
(ii) Brief Geography of Africa
The word or term “Africa” has often been assumed in meaning, usage and connotation. The word could be as nebulous or as concrete as the speaker evoking the word. It is therefore very germane to give a brief definition of what African means for this chapter. The definition will be largely geographical but it will go beyond the geographical into sociological, economic, cultural, developmental, political and other ideological premises as may be very necessary.
Africa, is the world’s second largest continent21 with an area of over thirty million square kilometres and more than three times the size of Europe.22 Africa therefore contains many different types of physical feature, climate, soil and vegetation. To Paul Thatcher, the coastline of Africa is very regular with few natural harbours thus greatly limiting the use of the sea as a means of communication. There are relief of large areas of low land, series of plateaux, mountain ranges and individual mountains.23 There are many rivers, deserts, varied climate and diseases.24
People of Africa
Classification of people of Africa by anthropologists vary extensively. The universal library said,“the Negro and the khoisan (Bushman and Hottentot)
are the races peculiarly distinctive of Africa; they exhibit characters
indicative of a long and local evolution (pepper corn hairs, thick lips,
frequency of particular blood groups) some of which
appear obviously adaptative in nature (dark skin, breadth
of nose, linearity of physique). The other Africa group –
the Hamito-semitic … the Negro may be subdivided along
linguistic lines into sudan-speaking, Bantu-speaking, Nilotic
and Nilo-Hamitic groups.25
Paul Thatcher agrees that the majority of African belong to the division of mankind called Negro26 but he identifies other that include Caucasian group, Nilotic, the Pygmies, san an khoikhoi and the Bantu-speaking people.27
Seligman28 has a slightly different classification thus:4. Hamites
these above have a common origin
these above are sometimes known as khoisan
It will suffice here to say that the terms of the classification have been done by foreigners – often called missionary and often based on exposure to languages in Africa that are not clearly understood by the foreigners.
Languages in Africa
To Paul Thatcher, linguistically, Africa is the most complex part of the world containing almost a thousand distinct languages.29
These are often divided into;
f. Niger-Congo (the Bantu languages and most West African languages)
g. Afro-Asiatic (most languages of North and North-east Africa)
h. Macrosudanic (mostly around the upper Nile)
i. Central Saharan (for example Teda and Kanuri) and
j. Khoisan (the ‘click’ languages of the san and khoikhoi)30
Seligman however gave the language distribution as: Semitic, Hamitic, Hottentot, Bantu, Sudanic and Bushman with varying sub-division to each.31 All these divisions are based on some form of expressed, concealed or even confused ideologies.
In the ideological front, Africa has been described as the “Dark continent”32, developing (or under developed), critically ravaged by slavery, colonialism, westernisation, market economy and globalisation.
Eunice Kamaara captured the ideological scene when she wrote:Africans are an oppressed lot. Throughout history
from slavery through colonialism and now globalisation,
Africans have been exploited. Their natural resources;
both human and otherwise, have been looted either
forcefully or cunningly.33
Basil Davidson34 and Frantz Fanon35 equally defined Africa in very clear terms.
The focus of this chapter is the Yoruba understanding of sexuality. It is the view of this writing that Yoruba – grouped in the Negro-Sudanic context within African, can only be properly understood when the larger African milieu of the old and now are properly contextualized as it is within the larger African setting that the Yoruba exist.
II SEXUALITY DEFINED.
Sexuality is the condition of having interpersonal behaviour or relationship between male and female which may be associated with, leading up to, substituting for or resulting to or from genital union. It is the phenomena of sexual instincts and their manifestations especially within the two human organic divisions called male and female. Sexuality is the sum of the morphological, physiological and behavioural peculiarities of living beings that sub-serves bi-parental reproduction with its concomitant genetic segregation. Sexuality is, to a large extent, behavioural compatibility, gratification and personality conflicts especially between male and female, be it as individuals or collectively.36 In other words, sexuality covers a spectrum of thoughts, actions, relational-behavioural – contacts in all areas of human endeavours between male and female.
i. Working Clarification
In this chapter, sexuality as defined above will be applied to the Yoruba community. This is to serve as an example of sexuality in an African perspective.
It must be noted that the Yoruba community, like all the remaining parts of Africa, was never static in the face of the world’s metamorphosizing into a global village through the collapse of time, space and borders. The flux in the dynamics is the reason why sexuality within the Yoruba community must be addressed in two stages: the intact early stage when the Yoruba community was at its full unadulterated strength – the period before 1960, the Nigerian independence, and at the present time – largely from 1960 but mainly from 1960s to the 2000s.
(i) Concept of Sexuality within the Yoruba Community at the intact stage.
The Yoruba existed decades before colonial interference, subjugation and the subsequent destruction of the Yoruba kingdom. It must be clearly stated that before the advent of the foreigners, the Yoruba people had all indexes of a great civilization. The Yoruba had kingship and ruling system, expanded family structures that included formal and informal education, games, trading systems, established military system and a strong religious awareness.
The Akodi37 is the nerve centre of the survival principle and structure. It is within the Akodi that the extended family structure and setting38 are entrenched. Sexuality is therefore first handled within the Yoruba family structure – mainly within the Akodi and then in a general sense, within the community. The survival of the Akodi is the survival of sexuality and therefore a continuous guarantee of sexuality in its perpetration and enforcement.
In the intact stage, the family – (nuclear and extended) is the primary exposure of any child or person to sexuality within the Yoruba. Sexuality is reflected in the home in language, cultural greetings, actions and regulations. In the home there are words that depict sexual relation. A wife in the home will not call the male children she met in the family names directly. She will coin out names that will show that the children, although younger in age than she is, are male (potential husbands!). This system is called orúko àdápè. So name like Ìbàdí àrán, (buttocks of velvet), Oko-ò-mi, (my husband), Olówó orí ì mi, Àlè elò mí ràn, (the payer of my dowry, concubine to someone else) will be used. Others include Ehín góólù (gold teeth), Omo jéjé (gentle child), Ìdí-ìlèkè (beaded buttocks), Akòwé (scribe), òpéléngé (slender) and Awéléwà beauty queen39.
Cultural greetings and actions also show much about sexuality. The boy is taught to lay flat on the floor – prostrate – Dòbálè – when greeting, while the girl is required to kneel down – kúnlè. The little children are taught to cover their sexual parts in a joking mood – E wo ìdí rè ní ìta (‘…look at her/his buttocks outside’) as a sign of inculcating a sense of decency and shame in the children. Little girls are told, ‘Pa tan mó, pa tan mó, oko ò re nbó’ (close your thighs, close your thighs, your husband is coming). Naughty children are always frightened by the use of the father figure in the home. Mà á fi ejó ò re sun bàbá à re tí wón bá dé (‘I will report you to your father when “they” come’). It should be noted that “won” is plural for a single person – the father. This is the use of majestic plural or honorific plural for single person. In this case it enhances the masculine authority figure of the family head, which again is in itself an extension of their concept of sexuality. All these show that sexuality is taught to the children at very tender ages within the family and in the Akodi in the intact Yoruba community.
Definition of Age Grade System and Rite of Passage
As children grow up within the Yoruba community, the first social setting that they find themselves is the Age Grade System. Children that are born within two to three years interval across the community are regarded as peers and are grouped into the same age grade. It is within this age grade that they will all grow through life. They pass, so to say, from birth to death as a group – age grade. They climb up on the rungs of the ladder of responsibility within the community and this includes in the sexuality orientation, understanding, exploits and judgements. It is this journey from birth to death that is called passage, and the expected rituals in the passage that is called rites.
Thus, sexual rites of passage are the sexual orientations, understanding, obligations, exploits and judgements that the age grade individuals are expected to experience within the Yoruba community before the death of such an individual.
Sexuality related rites of passage
In the growth of a child within the Yoruba community, one of the most significant of all rites is the rites of initiation of a young person from childhood to adulthood. It is called different names in different Yoruba dialectal communities. Regardless of the names, they all relate to puberty recognition and granting the individual the rights of full sexuality and responsibility.
The puberty initiation rite is done usually for the age grade collectively. It is often done in the community with the boys separated from the girls. In the intact time, the boys are circumcised and taught all about sexual intercourse and the entailing responsibilities of fatherhood. The period of the healing of the circumcision is often the determinant in terms of how long the initiation will take. For the girls, they are often “circumcised” as well. It is believed that the clitoris, if reduced, will make the girl less promiscuous. The tip of the clitoris is thus cut off in circumcision. Some tribes believe, as a taboo, that the clitoris should not touch the head of a newborn baby. Some others believe that the sight is ugly when fully developed almost looking as another penis. All these were adduced reasons in some communities why female circumcision was done in form of reduction or total removal of the clitoris. Thus, a circumcised woman is looked at with a greater honour and decency. Although modern science discourages women circumcision as mutilation – Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it remains that it was done in Yoruba community as a major part of their understanding of sexuality. Apart from circumcision, the ladies are taught all about womanhood, intercourse, conception, motherhood, house keeping, women role in the Akodi and community, and other sexuality related information that are acceptable within that particular Yoruba community.
It must be noted that around the age grade system and with the puberty initiation into adulthood, the authority system of the community is taught and subsequently passed down to successive generation as time calls for same. This authority system includes the sexuality of the community. In the Yoruba community, the sexual authority is patriarchal with everything revolving round the man. The mother is recognised as a force to reckon with but the eldest male is the commander of the community.40 The family is around him. He could marry more than one wife at a time, he could inherit a senior’s wife at the senior’s death, and the community has all the children from such coupling. While polygamy is often used today for the pattern of permissive marriage in the Yoruba community, the correct designation is polygyny. Within marriage, sexual intercourse is meant primarily for child procreation and not as much for enjoyment, especially for the woman. It is more for fulfilment of womanhood. For the man however, it is a bit different. Sexual intercourse is for his fulfilment and enjoyment as a man. He is allowed to rotate within a harem of declared women who are obliged to accept his butterfly-like closeness to the many women. It must be understood that men see the number of wives they have as a sign of great achievement – the bigger the number, the greater the recognition of responsibility! This is definitely an imbalance on the sexuality rights and privileges enjoyed by male and female in the Yoruba community. In reality, the balance tilts in favour of the man.
Sexuality and Professional sex Roles and Trades within the Yoruba Community
Sexuality has much to do with professional roles expected of individuals. Within the community some jobs are done by both male and female sexes in varying degrees while some other professions are largely restricted to either the male or female sexes.
Farming (Àgbè), the most practised profession is done by both sexes. The male often do the more difficult form like cash crop cultivation – cocoa, rubber, cotton and sometime yam, while the women cultivate the less rigorous side like tomatoes, vegetables, okro and pepper. Women will not be palm wine tapper ‘Adá òpe’, black smith ‘Àgbède’, carpenters ‘gbénàgbénà’ or hunter ‘ode’ traditionally. Women are often, beauticians ‘onídìrí’, petty traders ‘aláàte’, travelling – roaming – sellers or trader ‘Alájàpá’ and cloth – loom weaving workers ‘aláso ní híhun’, dyeing ‘pípa láro’ and selling ‘títà’. Thus, in professional environments sexuality of dominance is that of the sex that controls the particular trade. It should be noted that a man will not normally be a beautician – onídìrí – as it is a woman’s world. The nearest to it in modern day is barber which could be a male or female.
This is simply an issue of sexuality. For a woman’s hair to be plaited by a man will not be acceptable within the sexuality context of the Yoruba. The spectacular case of Sangó – a male king of Oyo – is a case of a woman plaiting a man’s hair. It is allowed, as again, it is a case of a woman caressing or arousing an affluent – really an unquestionable ‘kábíyèsí’ – man.
It must be scored that while adultery is known and condemned within the Yoruba community, commercial sex work or prostitution is unknown in the Old Yoruba intact community. That a man can have many wives or women officially removes the room for adultery. Extra marital sexual relation called ‘Àlè’ do exist and are often pretended at in most communities. In some, the practice is called ‘oní tìjú mi’ (translated my shy person) hence ignored or silenced about as ‘bójú rí enu a dá ké’ (what the eye see but the mouth does not talk) but not necessarily canonized. Women, as men do engage in the ‘Àlè’ relationship. It is the Yoruba position that obìrin tó bímo fún ni ti kúrò ní àlè eni – Any woman that gives birth to a child for a man is not to be regarded as Àlè. In other words, the relationship is no more an extra marital relationship –any more.
One is intrigued to ask, but how were all these sexual positions transmitted from generation to generation? The solution is found in the general educational system of the Yoruba and particularly in the sexual educational system some of which have been mentioned above. Within the Yoruba intact community, there are two main types of general education. There is the formal education system that includes the home, the Age-group meetings, the learning on the job by life-long apprenticeship and by the many initiation rites of passage.
The second is the informal education system. On the informal, this will include the story telling, gossips, tell tales, riverside conversation, folk songs and others. Sexuality education falls into both groups. Sexuality education is carried out through cultural practises in plays, dances and arts, in cultural beliefs, in taboos, in religious practices and in various performative involvements. Even the Yoruba God-gods have much to do with the issue of sexuality.41 Let the following few examples be examined rather very briefly. Ekún ìyàwó (bride’s praise song/chant) and the concomitant elaborate ìdána (engagement) celebrations are both formal and informal sexuality educational systems. Ekún ìyàwó has no equivalent translation in English language. ìdána at best, is some form of engagement in western marriage. Literarily, Ekún ìyàwó means the “weeping of the Bride”. This is a collection of activities, including learning and singing in absolute perfection – some poems, lyrics and sentimental vocal inflections – that teach sexuality education to the bride in particular and to the community in general.42
Another example, in the area of the God-gods and sexuality is the religious prohibitions around marriage, incest and promiscuity with the entailing rewards, gifts and punishments. Sexual offences are often viewed as offences against the God-gods and the land. Such offences require purification of the land as to protect fertility and the offenders punished as to serve as deterrent to others.43
Hitherto, the periscopic focus of the writing had been on what the Yoruba community, and specifically sexuality, looks like at its intact period, mostly before 1960. The gear will now be changed to what has been called “the present time”. The time focus is 1980 to the 2000s. The period is not only one of the great uncertainties across the world but one of ethical plurality in sexuality. It is the time called the global village sexuality.
ii. The Global Village Sexuality
Within the 1980s and the 2000s, the old vast world collapsed into a global village in terms of time, space, and borders. The information technology highway has divided the world not only into “haves” and “have-nots” but now into the “knows” and the “know-nots”. Africans are not just “have-nots” but also “know-nots”. Available statistics show that only about 0.1% of the sub-Saharan African population use the internet, cellular (mobile) phones and personal computers.44 Most unfortunate is the sad fact, rightly said by Kamara, that many people (and I say most people) especially in Africa (including the Yoruba) are not citizens of the global village as an invisible barrier – a worldwide web, webs most of the African (including vast majority of Yoruba) out.45
The global village structure created a global village sexuality consciousness that traumatized the Yoruba sexuality in great measures. The global village sexuality consciousness was largely a product of the western “white” world with its highly individualistic – existentialist – based philosophy of life. The individualistic approach created pluralistic sexuality variations. Liberation became a sexuality theme. Global activism claiming liberation for the “oppressed” female world became major sexuality issues. Heterosexuality unimaginably gave way for homosexuality in form of Gays, lesbianism and other forms of sexual perversions. The once enviable title “Mrs” transformed to “Ms” in the global village sexuality. Playboy pornographic magazines and blue films are regarded normal dividend from the war of liberation fought for the global village sexuality. Dressings became unisex fashion, and the barrier of identification between the sexes collapsed. In the global village, the slogan “what a man can do, a woman can do – and do better” which disregarded all natural biological peculiarities – God given potentials, breast milk, testicles, strength, emotions – produced the impetus for the global sexuality milieu. It will suffice here to say that the global village sexuality is not in any way similar or near what the Yoruba understanding of sexuality is.
iii. Yoruba Sexuality in the 1980 to the 2000s.
The Yoruba community is still a major factor in discussing sexuality at this time. The family – a really peaceful, settled heterosexual relationship – is thus the norm – be it polygyny or monogamy. Sex position affects roles in a large dimension. A Yoruba woman and her family – her parents and siblings – will prefer being a happily married woman, to a highly professionalized woman married only to her job, regardless of the economic and social status such a job will give her.
The Yoruba community is now an involuntary part of the global village. There are now families that are Yoruba only by their surnames. They are westernised Yoruba. There are State Governors of second generation and schooled elites, and church pastors of the third generation. All these have Western Sexuality. Although their number is very low – may be less than .1% (as earlier quoted), they form the showy class, the icing that is often seen by all.
It is not uncommon to find prominent Yoruba elites – males – that are properly married in the western way – be it church or court, still go through an elaborate traditional marriage ceremony called ìdána – engagement. They profess monogamy but they have one legal plus x wives where x depends on the man’s affluence and level of secrecy. The very local Yoruba people are still very much in the same trend as they were before – at the intact stage.
It is evident however, that the general Yoruba sexuality in the 1980 to the 2000s have changed from what they were in the intact time. The factors that influenced the changes in Yoruba sexuality is what is here called the 1960 – 1983 doldrums.
III. Factors that Influenced Changes in Yoruba Sexuality: The 1960 – 1983 Doldrums
The 1950s and 1960s saw a great wind of change in form of political independence sweeps across Africa in general and West Africa in particular.46 With the independence came a new awareness of Nationalism and re-application of Western ethics, culture and values to that which is African that also included all of Yoruba sexuality. The Yoruba that occupy largely the West African coastal area were therefore highly affected by the political on-goings.
1960 – 1983 are significant years in Nigeria as they mark specific political turns. 1960 was independence, a change in political governance, and 1983 another change in governance – military interruption into civilian governance. This period form the doldrums years in sexuality awareness of the Yoruba. As in many other issues, factors that influenced the growth of nationalism affected sexuality as well. The factors include external factors and internal factors.
i. Western Education
Prominent within the factor is Western Education and its concomitant effects. Yoruba Africans studying abroad imported a sexuality of monogamy and of over-prized womanhood in terms of position of women in community affairs which are at variance with the cultural practice hither to among the Yoruba. The Akodi community acceptance and family unity was destroyed and replaced with the “Liberated Woman” consciousness. Polygyny went underground as unfashionable, and unacceptable to the Western Educated, and to the Western foreign, religious churches. Yoruba sexuality then became a confused panorama. The ethics of what a man can do, a woman can do or do better is often heard and with no challenges, but every Yoruba woman knows that it is a choice between a home and isolation in reality at the end of the day. While in the Western world, career woman is acceptable, single parenthood by choice is nothing to raise eye-brow about and unisex sexuality is often the order of the day in many matters – Like dress, drinking, smoking, freedom to leisure, freedom to friendship – especially of opposite sex – such only brings a compound sexuality confusion in Yoruba community today.
Professions and jobs that were in the intact stage designated by sexuality roles are now free for any sex. It is now possible to see woman carpenter and foresters but these are still exception to the norm! In other words, Western Education of equality in sexuality in terms of rights, jobs – and many other things – run counter or contrary to the generally acceptable sexuality norm of the Yoruba. It must be clearly stated that the Yoruba reality is not a case of oppression, subjugation or inferior – superior relationship. It is simply a different phenomenon or parameter of relationship from the Western – rather individualistic – connotation. The Yoruba do not see the existence hence, duty of male or female in terms of subjugation, rather, it is in terms of complementary role functionality – each one doing what it is best fitted for!47
Another effect created by the Western education on the Yoruba community sexuality is the economic and social platform created for the male and female sexuality. The flat level ground created by education hence economic equality in wages made marriage sexuality a more difficulty reality for the people. It is no news now that university graduate women find marriage a difficult crisis, growing worse day by day in Yoruba community! Even the male graduate does not want to marry the graduate female! Marriage age has moved up dramatically for both male and female – mainly those with university education – as a result of the now educated male and female who do not know or belong to the age grade community system, as they are isolated from the community and its sexuality so to say! Before two people are married, the community will do extensive investigation into the in-laws to be as to illness running in the families, experiences in the past of marriages and such like. Now, it is not uncommon for two people to marry without any reference to the homes. A Yoruba lady can now marry from any part of the globe! This is of course, a total turn round of the Yoruba sexuality ethics.
The Yoruba community hence sexuality, by the western education that produced a new social restructuring that equally produced great urbanisation of a sea of unrelated individual was not only eternally battered but was fatally wounded to a point of no recognition or at best, to a point of great confusion as to what it now is – in this days of computer literate “knows” and “know-nots” of the global village. It would therefore be summed up that western education has dealt a mortal blow to the intact Yoruba sexuality and what is now on ground is an amalgamated product on sexuality of the global village with the collapse of all its boundaries in time, space and distance.
ii. Political Trends
Another major factor that influenced changes in the Yoruba sexuality is the political trend in the doldrums period, 1960 – 1983 especially within Nigeria. Within the period of the doldrums, Nigeria passed from colonial rule to independence, to a strong nationalistic period, then to military rules – that saw the country through a civil war, ideological wars, (war against indiscipline, war on corruption, etc.) – and finally to civilian rule (of money politics, military General turned civilian rulers). All the stages brought great impacts on the Yoruba sexuality.
The early independence days brought economic boom and the Nigeria currency was very strong.48 Sexuality was tailored towards prosperity and abundance. Polygyny flourished unabated, the political trend during the oil boom around the period made a decent life style for woman and man possible. A sexuality guarded by decency, self respect, self worth and life of confidence prevailed. The military rule and the civil war not only changed the modest sexuality but replaced it with a war – death – sexuality ethics!49
During the wartime, the only sexuality that existed was “survival sexuality”. Decency was lost for survival. Life lost is sacred dignity. Sexuality became another instrument – like a gun or grenade – to be used for life or death, as the time may call for. Sadly, many women in the war affected areas survived by sheer use of sexuality to their advantage. After the war the experiences could not be erased and the experiences – bitterness or whatever – became the unsolicited foundations of the sexuality of later years. Today, one can therefore understand why one will not be able to talk of prevalent and particular Yoruba sexuality. What is now in the urban cities in Yoruba communities are fashionable remnants of the old Yoruba sexuality – like hair plaits, few dress designs and amalgamated marriages – that now lack cohesion and understanding.
It must be said that, with the money and materialistic tendencies – the wish for acquisition of all possible – sexuality lost its old traditional sex role division. In the old time Yoruba sexuality, crime will be something that would be unimaginable to involve a woman. Now crime, in whatever form, has gone beyond sexuality. Now, male and female are great partners in the good as in the bad, without any effect as a consideration from sexuality.50 These are all parts of the influence of the political trend that changed the Yoruba sexuality of the intact stage.
iii. Mass Media
With the collapse of world frontiers in the global village, the mass media has contributed immensely to the change in sexuality in the Yoruba areas of the world. Many traditional attires have been thrown over-board for near-nudity-foreign sexuality practices unknown to the intact Yoruba community. Kissing could now be seen in the public, in any Yoruba place, an imported practice that was completely unknown to Yoruba sexuality.
One should thank the mass media for all sex perversions, found anywhere in the world, that can now be found in any Yoruba area in the space ship earth of the global village.
iv. Family Structure Alterations
Another factor that greatly influenced changes in Yoruba sexuality is the alterations in the family structure within the Yoruba community and the Akodi in particular.
Within the Akodi, materialism was not a problem. The whole community will listen to a “bush radio” or one “redifusion”. There was no need for two in one Akodi. For the modern nucleus family, of a man, a woman – wife and say two or more children, the home is designed as “self-contained”. So all rooms must have its own full electronic sets – mention it!
The traditional mother’s role model of love and homeliness, and the father’s provider and authority role model of sexuality are now lost. The traditional family patterns have not been adequately replaced till date any-how.51 The choice in the available alternatives is the confusion the Yoruba sexuality is faced with today. Unfortunately, this is true of all sexuality in the global village. The Yoruba – like – others – are faced with the problem of what sexuality family role model should therefore be advocated as at now? The answer is still in the wind.
v. Materialism and Travel
The last factor here treated in relation to sexuality in the modern Yoruba setting is materialism and travel that have influenced changes in Yoruba sexuality. Effect of materialism has been mentioned briefly above. The issue of materialism cannot be over flogged anyway as it is a main root of corruption that now colours sexuality the world over.
Travel brings about exchange and mixing up of culture of which sexuality is a major aspect. Different Yoruba people have travelled to many parts of the world bringing back bits of sexuality from the various places. This singular influence of travel has provided a multiplicity of positions on sexuality. The positions can now be seen in varying degrees across the Yoruba land.
The 1960 – 1983 doldrums could therefore be referred to as a major period of great change in Yoruba sexuality in almost all its ramifications. What then can one regard as a final word on Yoruba sexuality?
There can be no final word on Yoruba sexuality until the end of time. Some observations could be made however as conclusion to this chapter.
v. Death of (for) some old practises.
In the old intact Yoruba sexuality, a person may never be alone for a second from birth to death and in all matters of sexuality. The community betrothal and participation in sexuality issues related to marriage is an example of old practises on the threshold of death. Others include determining what should be sexually permissible. It will suffice here to say that many things that were once permissive in the old intact Yoruba community have died natural or acquired death with time. However, there are some other issues about Yoruba sexuality that may be restructured.
vi. Restructuring of some practises
There are good practises within the Yoruba sexuality that should be restructured and reformed. Example is the spirit of acceptance and community within the Akodi. The community survival principle should be restructured and kept.
vii. Injection of some new practises
As part of the global village constantly in motion, Yoruba sexuality must be willing to inject and really has been injecting some new practises into her sexuality context. Where such are good, the injection should be encouraged and retained. An example of such will be the consideration of world possibilities on the family.52
viii. Options in the Future
Any work should serve as bases of study for a reasonable projection for the future. In matters of Yoruba sexuality, “to be” will be continuity and “not to be” will be discontinuity. There are only three options that can be considered for the future.
First is to remain stagnant. Since time waits for no one but keeps ticking away, this position therefore becomes unrealistic. Life will never remain stagnant therefore a position from the other two must be taken.
The second position is that of discontinuity – to make a break with the past. This is often propagated by some over-zealous but ignorant religionistic (especially by some Christian and Muslim fanatics) when it comes to cultural issues like sexuality. It must be said that such claims are a betrayal of arrogant attitudes and one of claim of superiority! This is often a holier than thou attitude that has been constantly against Yoruba culture, including its sexuality. It is however unacceptable to the Yoruba as in reality no culture can be totally discarded. The Yoruba being is entrenched in the culture with its sexuality hence advocating total discontinuity is practically unreal.
The last option is that Yoruba sexuality should continue regardless of all odds. This position is the only dynamic proposition that can meet the global village challenges. It is therefore the recommended position of this chapter that detailed cultural position on a culture should be studied – Yoruba sexuality in this case – and the good things found be made to continue for the greater improvement of all of mankind.
ENDNOTES / REFERENCES1. B. Idowu, Olodumare, God in Yoruba Belief, (London, Longmans, 1962), p. 5.
2. Human Relations Area Files, (New Haven Connecticut, 1976) Yoruba Language p. 197 Forde Cyril Daryll, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of South Western Nigeria (London, International African Institute, 1951) p. 102.
3. Modupe Oduyoye, The Vocabulary of Yoruba Religious Discourse, (Ibadan, Daystar Press, 1971) p. 2-3.
4. J. S. Eades, The Yoruba Today, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980) p. 25.
5. B. Idowu, Op. cit. p. 5.
6. The lists of books include S. O. Biobaku, The Origin of the Yoruba, (Lagos, University of Lagos, 1971), S. Johnson, The History of the Yorubas (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. 1996, First Published 1921), J.O. Awolalu Yoruba Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites (London, Longman, 1979) and E.B. Idowu African Traditional Religion: A Definition (London, SCM, 1973).
7. W. R. Bascom, The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria, (New York, Holi, Rinehart and Winston, 1969(.
8. S. O. Biobaku Op. cit
9. This is the final conclusion of Biobaku’s lectures on the origin of Yoruba. Biobaku, The Origin of the Yoruba, p. 8, 9, 20. Some other scholars that accept this position include Samuel Johnson, Olumide Lucas, Bolaji Idowu, and Modupe Oduyoye. It must be added that the precise location in the Middle East remains a debate among scholars in this field.
10. Serge Bramly, Macumba, The Teachings of Maria-Jose, Mother of the Gods, (New York, Avon Books, 1975), W. Bascom, Loc-Cit, R. Bastide, The African Religions of Brazil, Trans. Helen Sebba, (London, The John Hopkins University Press, 1978).
11. Eades, Loc. Cit.
12. E. A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 1843-1914, (London, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd. 1966) p. 260.
15. Ibid The word ‘polygamous’ is used in a colloquial sense to designate the popular Nigerian usage. The practice will actually be called in Western term-polygny.
16. The list of books dealing with the Yoruba culture will include: N.A. Fadipe, The Sociology of the Yoruba (Ibadan, University Press, 1970); G.T. A. Ojo, Yoruba Culture, (London, University of London Press, 1966); and Lucas I. O. The Religion of the Yorubas (Lagos, CMS Bookshop, 1948).
17. G. Parrinder, West African Religion, (London, The Epworth Press, 1949) p. 5.
18. G. Parrinder, African Traditional Religion , (London, Sheldon Press, 1974) p. 9.
19. Idowu, Op. cit, p. 5.
20. ‘Functional Departments’ is used to mean arms within the religion that carry out specific functions on behalf of the whole religion.
21. The New Universal Library, International Learning Systems Corporation Limited, London, 1969, vol. 1 p. 99.
22. Paul Thatcher Student’s Notes on the History of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, (Longman 1981) p.o9 3.
24. Ibid p. 5.
25. The New Universal Library. Ibid p. 104
26. Paul Thatcher Op. cit. p. 6.
28. G. G. Seligman Races of Africa (Fourth solution, Oxford University Press, London) p. 5.
29. Paul Thatcher, Loc. cit. p. 6
31. G. G. Seligman, Loc. cit. p. 5-8.
32. The New Universal Library, Ibid. p. 103.
33. Eunice Kamaara in a research paper titled “Africa beyond Ignorance: The Challenge of Globalisation to Christian Theology and Higher Education in Africa,” presented at the International Conference on Internationalisation of Education, MOI University, Eldoret, Kenya, August, 2002. p. 2.
34. Basil Davidson, Can Africa Survive, Arguments Against Growth without Development (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1974), is an economic – in terms of real development – definition of present day Africa.
35. Frantz Fanon books – Towards the African Revolution; The Wretched of the Earth and A Dying Colonialism are all very strong political definitions of Africa.
36. Philip Babcock Gove, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (Springfield, G & C Merriam Company, 1971 Volume Two) Sexuality, p. 2082.
37. Akodi is a Yoruba concept that depicts a people’s practical living of total acceptance. It has etymological definition, physical and architectural configuration and deep philosophical interpersonal relationship in terms of the people’s living and acceptance one for the community and the community for the one.
38. The family structure and setting is, by far, beyond sexuality. Much has been written by sociologist and others in this area, N. A. Fadipe, The Sociology of the Yoruba, (Ibadan, Ibadan University Press, 1920) and J. O. Lucas, The Religion of the Yorubas, (Lagos, C.M.S. Bookshop, 1948) have many related sections to the issues here mentioned.
39. P. O. Ogunwale, Asa Ibile Yoruba, (Ibadan, Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 6.
40. It is known in the history of Yoruba community that there are heroines like Oya Oba, Moremi Osun and others but these often work in collaboration with some men. They functioned mostly under acceptable aberration in a primarily men’s world. It must be said however that the modern “women liberation hang up” is not the same as the sex-role position and responsibility in the Yoruba community.
41. All of the issues here mentioned can be substantiated with examples, stories and historical-time-place reports. The desired permissive length of this work will not allow for a great detail here.
42. Details on Ekun Iyawo could be found in relevant Yoruba books that include the following: Dejo Faniyi on Ekun Iyawo; A Yoruba Traditional Nuptial Chant in Wande Abimbola (Ed.), Yoruba Oral Tradition Poetry in Music, Dance and Drama, Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ife, Ibadan University Press, 1975, p. 677-699, Afolabi Olabimtan, Akojopo Ewi Abalaye ati Ewi ApilekoAkojopo Ewi Abalaye ati Ewi Apileko; Ibadan, Paper Publishers Limited, 1988, p. 91-94 and C. C. Adeoye, Asa ati Ise Yoruba, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 227-231.
43. Much cannot be written here not because of lack of materials but because the scope here is some what deliberately limited.
44. Eunice Kamaara in a paper titled African Beyond Ignorance: The Challenge of Globalisation to Christian Theology and Higher Education in Africa, delivered at the International Conference on Internationalisation of Education, in August 2002, at Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya, P. abstract and p. 4.
46. In the 50s before 1960, countries that had independence include Libya 51, Sudan 56, Morocco 56, Ghana 57 and Guinea 58. 1960 alone blew Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Togo, Dahomey (Benin Republic), Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Somalia, Malagasy Republic (about 17 countries in all) into independence. After 1960, Sierra Leone 61, Tanzania 61, Rwanda 62, Burundi 62, Algeria 62, Uganda 62, Kenya 63, Malawi 64, Zambia 64, Gambia 65, Botswana 66, Lesotho 66, Equitoria Guinea 68, Swaziland 68, and after 1970, Guinea Bissau 74, Angola 75, Mozambique 75, Eritrea 77 and Zimbabwe 1980, gained independence. Others hitherto unmentioned will be South Africa 1910, Egypt 1922 and Ethiopia with Liberia that had always existed as independent African States. Thus it could be safely claimed that the 1950s and 1960s were when the strong wind blew across Africa.
47. Child rearing could jolly well be the duty of a husband and in a western home while the woman – wife – goes to work for money! This will be ridiculous – really unimaginable, and hence unacceptable to the Yoruba sexuality.
48. The Naira (Nigeria money) rubbed shoulder with the pound and the dollar.
49. Paul Thatcher Loc cit. p. 133-135. There, problems around military rule are discussed. Most of them would be related to sexuality.
50. The many popular home video films now available in the open market stalls are not only sickening, but showing the full sad taste and confusion in Yoruba sexuality in all ramifications as at today’s world.
51. If I can borrow from a cartoon I saw many years ago. A family was depicted by four toys – A male, a female, gun and baby. Four options were given. In the first, the male carried the gun and the female carried the baby. This was the old traditional family role-model. In the second, the roles were reversed, the male carried the baby and the female carried the gun. This is a liberation (male or female?) role model. The question is how natural are their physical bodies suitable for the weapons carried? Has the male the breast milk or the female the physical strength for the gun at all occasions? In the third, both the male and the female carried a gun each. There was no one carrying any baby. In the fourth, both the male and the female carried a baby each. There was no one carrying a gun. Second, third or the fourth models must be the choice when the old role model , the first one, is rejected.
52. End note 51 becomes relevant in the case. Global considerations on sexuality should always be considered within the Yoruba sexuality and progressive world positions on sexuality injected into the Yoruba sexuality for a better future.
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