Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Yoruba are the largest group of people in Southwestern Nigeria. There are also significant number of Yoruba living in Benin, Ghana, Togo, and Sierra Leone. The Yoruba are historically noted for their rich and complex culture which included a long history of indigenous urbanization, a vast empire with several constituent city states, and an actively engaged citizenry organized along occupational guilds, social clubs, secret societies and cult groups.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Western Africa




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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the FA28 Yoruba collection consists of 31 documents, covering rich and complex cultural information, circa 1880s to 1960s, collected by missionaries, colonial officials and professional anthropologists. The book by anthropologist William R. Bascom (1969, no. 47) provides comprehensive first-hand ethnographic accounts of Yoruba culture as observed in 1937-1938, 1950-1951 and 1965. This is the most basic source to be consulted. It is also complimented by additional articles by Bascom that discuss different aspects of Yoruba culture and society including social structure (1942, no, 4; 1951, no. 16), cult groups and divination (1941, no, 2; 1942, no. 24; 1944, no. 17), functions of local credit institutions (1952, no. 17), food and cooking (1951. no. 5; 1951, no. 6). Other anthropological studies in the collection include both broad ethnographic surveys (Forde 1951, no. 1; Lloyd, 1965, no. 43; Parrinder 1950, no. 25), and relatively short manuscripts examining specific themes including political structure (Lloyd, 1954, no. 7), lineage groups (Lloyd 1955, no. 7), kinship and marriage (Schwab 1958, no. 12; 1955, no. 8), class and economic differentiation (Lloyd 1953, no. 9), craft organization (Lloyd, 1953, no.9), land tenure and tenancy (Lloyd, 1955, no.10; Ward-Price, 1939, no. 11), urbanization and change (Lloyd 1953, no. 27; Perham 1937 no. 14), and divination, cult groups, witchcraft and dynamics of gender and religion (Matory 1994, no. 48; Parrinder 1950, no. 25; Clarke 1939, no. 18; 1944, no. 23; Prince 1964, no. 45, and Morton-Williams 1956, no. 21). Also included in the collection are reports by a senior colonial government official discussing a wide variety of issues in native administration (Hailey 1951, no. 22) and two missionaries (Johnson 1921, no. 46; Ajisafe 1924, no. 3). The collection largely focuses on Yoruba communities in Nigeria, except Parrinder (1947, no. 20) who provides a brief ethnographic survey of the Yoruba in Benin (formerly Dahomey). Readers will also find useful information in Matory (1994, no. 48) and Bascom (1969, no. 47) relating to the influences of Yoruba religion and art forms on the cultures of peoples of African origin in the Caribbean, Cuba Brazil and USA.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Ádùgbo - neighborhoods - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Ájė - witchcraft, - use "SORCERY (754)"

Abiku - child believed to die soon- use "DIFFICULT AND UNUSUAL BIRTHS (845)", together with "ABORTION AND INFANTICIDE (847)" and/or "THEORY OF DISEASE (753)"

Bale - head of a compound or town) - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)" with "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" and/or "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

Basōrun - high military title - use "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"


Cult groups- use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" with "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)"

Ebi, or Idile - kin groups- use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)" with "LINEAGES (613)"

Esusu - rotating credit society - use "CREDIT (452)"

Ibeji - twins- use "DIFFICULT AND UNUSUAL BIRTHS (845)"

Ijoye - local chief - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)"

Ila - facial marks- use "BODY ALTERATIONS (304)"

Ipanpa - guilds - use "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Iwōfa - pawns or indentured laborers - use "BORROWING AND LENDING (426)" with "LABOR RELATIONS (466)"

Iwefa - eunuchs - use "BODY ALTERATIONS (304)"

Oba - king or paramount chief- use "CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)"

Ámo Ośá - widow or divorce women returning to their partilineage - use "CELIBACY (589)" with "RESIDENCE (591)"

Ōrė - friends - use "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)"

Orisun - clan founder - use "CLANS (614)"

Orun - heaven - use "COSMOLOGY (772)" or "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

This culture summary is from the article "Yoruba," by Sandra T. Barnes, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9, Africa and the Middle East, John Middleton, Amal Rassam, Candice Bradley, and Laurel L. Rose, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall &Co. 1995. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in February 2007. Population figures were updated in May 2008 with the advice of Sandra Barnes.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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