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Gelede Mask Dancer
Total population
Over 30 million (est.)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Nigeria 29,039,480 [2]
 Trinidad and Tobago90,000+[3]
 Canada3,315+ (2006)[7][8]
Yoruba, Yoruboid languages
Christianity, Islam, Orisha veneration and Ifá .
Related ethnic groups
Bini, Nupe, Igala, Itsekiri, Ebira,

The Yoruba are among the largest ethnolinguistic groups in West Afrika, numbering between 25 million and 40 million. The Yoruba are a nationality. Today, they are to be found mainly in southwestern Nigeria, West Afrika. They constitute the majority ethnic group in about a third of Nigeria’s federal republic of 36 states. Their current homeland is also known among the Yoruba people as Ile Yooba, or Yorubaland. The Yoruba at home share borders and are culturally contiguous with other Nigerian ethnic groups such as the Nupe, Ibariba, Igbirra, and Igala in Kwara State (northeast of Ile Yooba); and the Itsekiri, Esan, and Edo in the Niger Delta area. To the northwest of Yorubaland are related groups such as the Egun, Fon, Mahi (Benin Republic), and Ewe, as well as other Gbe-speaking people in Togo and Benin, and the Ga in Ghana.


The origins of the Yoruba people are shrouded in mystery. However, three clear narratives are discernible from several contending versions. The first is from the Yoruba oral tradition and creation myth.

Oral History

God (Olorun, or Sky God) let down a chain at Ilé- Ifè, by which Oduduwa the progenitor of the Yoruba people, and indeed, of all men, descended, carrying a rooster, some earth, and a palm kernel. Oduduwa threw the earth into the waters and the rooster scratched it to become land, out of which grew the palm tree with 16 branches, representing the 16 original kingdoms. There are several versions of this myth. Also, every Yoruba town, lineage, and deity has its own myth of origin. Yet in all of them, Ilé-Ifè is regarded as the spiritual center from which all Yoruba dispersed to their present abodes.

Biblical Origin

The second narrative of origin has it that the Yoruba are descended from the offspring of Lamurudu, or Nimrod of Biblical and Near Eastern legend, who had been banished and finally settled in present-day Yorubaland. Thus, some trace the origins of the Yoruba all the way back to ancient Mesopotamian Uruk or Babylon (modern-day Iraq).

Archaeological Origin

A final narrative of origin has the Yoruba present in their modern homeland from as early as 10,000 BC. According to Robert S. Smith in his Kingdoms of the Yoruba, archaeological digs have confirmed the existence of a human population in the Idanre area of Yorubaland since prehistoric times.

Yoruba Diaspora

Outside of Yorubaland, there are sizable communities that collectively form a Yoruba diaspora. Historically, the european slave trade has been the main contributor to the emergence of that diaspora because a great percentage of Afrikans taken into slavery from the western coast of Afrika were of Yoruba stock. It is estimated by scholars that more than 50% of captured Afrikans came from or through southwestern Nigeria, home of the Yoruba. This area formed part of the region known as the “Slave Coast,” from the early 16th century to the 19th century. It used to be and still is one of the most densely populated parts of the Afrikan continent. It became a major export center of Afrikan men, women, and children. For example, a third of Afrikans enslaved in Cuba were reported to be Yoruba. Also, in the precolonial period, towns such as Porto Novo, Badagry, and Lagos were important ports for this infamous trade, and control of the trade routes into the interior was a major issue in Yoruba kingdoms’ politics. Today, Brazil has the largest number of Yoruba and Yoruba-descended people outside of Afrika (with an estimated population of about 5 million), Cuba has about 1 million, and Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the rest of the Caribbean have about half a million. In the united states and canada, there are an estimated 3 million Yoruba, while there are equal numbers in the united kingdom and the rest of europe. In Asia, it is estimated that there are several hundreds of thousands of Yoruba residing in various parts of the region. The Yoruba are reputed travelers: There is virtually no country in the world without a Yoruba community, no matter how small.

Yoruba Culture

In the Afrikan diaspora, Yoruba culture seems to have been better preserved than other Afrikan traditions. Almost all the Afrikan Caribbean and Afrikan Brazilian religions derive their essential features, rituals, and practices from the Yoruba religious tradition, which is centered on orisha worship and ancestral veneration. The Yoruba, like all Afrikans, are deeply religious people. For them, everything is imbued with the sacred. Their pantheon of deities rivals any of the world’s great civilizations. Indeed, comparisons have been made between Yoruba traditional religion and that of pharaonic Egypt. Two parts are discernible in Yoruba traditional religion, both rooted in Ifa sacred poetry—which is available in a tran-scription of 256 odus, or chapters. The first is right action through ritual and sacrifice as sanctioned by the Ifa oracular and divinatory corpus. The Yoruba are encouraged to consult Ifa before any of life’s major undertakings. Ifa, through the babalawo, or shaman, then prescribes the appropriate rituals and sacrifices to the appropriate deities for the achievement of the right results. The second part of Yoruba spirituality is also guided by Ifa sacred poetry. It is ethical conduct for a purposeful existence. For example, chapter 219 of the Ifa corpus stresses the power of Truth. This odu counsels the necessity of living truthfully and doing justice as the only way to live well among the Yoruba people.


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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 >Encyclopedia of African Religion. p. 739. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  7. "Ethnic origins, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories". bottom: Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
  8. 19,520 identify as Nigerian, 61,430 identify as Canadians.