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During the 1600s, the northernmost kingdom Oyo established hegemony over the other Yoruba kingdoms that lasted through the 19th century.

At present, their population is distributed in hundreds of small villages and several towns. Ibadan, with a population of 200,000, is the largest native city. These people afford an example of great Negro state.

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The Yorubas are typical West African Negroes, who are about five feet six inches in height. They are heavily built and very muscular.

Their skin colour is chocolate-brown, and their kinky hairs do not grow very long. With long legs and narrow, high forehead, they have flat nose, very wide nostrils and thick averted lips. The chin is narrow and retreating.

The Yorubas are traditionally farmers, growing maize, millets, manioc and banana for subsistence and coca for export.

The Yoruba land, in general, is low-lying and swampy. The coastal area is characterized by numerous lagoons. The climate of this region is hot and humid. But there are marked seasonal variations.

The mean monthly temperature remains around 27°C. April to July is the periods of heavy rainfall, and after a short pause, August to October are also the months of heavy rainfall.

About 200 to 250 cms average annual rainfall is recorded along the coastal region. The evergreen giants such as mahogany and teak and the deciduous {baobab and locust) trees are the main forest species. The tall grass may reach a height of about 4 metres (12 feet) during the rainy season.

Yam is the main crop. Several varieties of yam are grown and they are planted in different parts of the year, so that yam harvests succeed each other throughout the year.

Maize is the second-ranking crop, followed by millets, cassava, banana, groundnut, rice, pumpkin, beans and peas. Palm oil and palm wine are obtained from wild forest trees. Collection of the fruits of oil palm is an arduous task done by men.

The cola nut, which is the equivalent of betel mixture of India, is both a food and a stimulant and is gathered from the wild and planted trees in tropical belt.

Livestock are of little economic value. A poor breed of small black goat is to be found in most villages. Domestic pigs are not kept and are not eaten as well.

Chickens are raised, and both the flesh and eggs are eaten, but they are of more importance for sacrifices and divination. Fish are obtained in large quantities both on the coast and along the rivers. The coastal people also produce greater part of the salt supply by burning mangrove leaves or roots.

The ownership of land among the Yorubas is dominated by two fundamental concepts: (1) the land belongs to the people, and (2) the existing generations have rights by occupation.

The ancestors of the people continue to dwell in the soil and the descendants acquire the right to use it by virtue of their descent. In the fields dwell the souls of the ancestors and the earth spirits who have special care for the interests of the particular families.

There is, in short, a strongly religious element in the occupation of the soil. An outsider may use land only on sufferance and his descendants can but slowly acquire permanently rights in it.

Yoruba is a patrilineal society, but a wife’s property is under her exclusive control. Since a woman does the greater part of the pretty trading, she is often wealthier than the men of a household, particularly in clothes, ornaments and currency.

A group of related families usually lives in a single compound under the leadership of a headman, who bears the same title, Bale, as the rulers of towns and districts.

The head of a compound is its executive and legal authority, which is responsible for the good conduct of its inmates to the head of a village or town quarter. He exacts penalties for offences within the household, and must protect all inmates against unfair treatment.

His first wife shares his authority as mistress of the compound and is relieved of all menial tasks. The headman is usually the senior man in the largest and wealthiest of the families.

When he dies, one of his sons or brothers assumes office subject to the general approval of the families of the compound. Traditional religion includes gods of the sky and earth, nature and ancestral spirits, divination, and secret societies. Many Yorubas are now Christian or Muslim. Marriage is polygamous and divorce is common.

Slaves formerly constituted a considerable proportion of the population, but are not depressed and impoverished caste. A master made serious efforts to keep them happy and contended, for they are valuable property.

Slaves had, however, no legal rights; they could be killed by their owners as sacrifices, as scapegoats or offences they might have committed, and they could be sold at pleasure.

As a security against a debt a man can pawn himself or one of his relatives. The status of a pawn is legally quite distinct from that of a slave.

The pawn has to perform certain specified services for the creditor; these services pay interest on the debt, but the pawn cannot release him from the obligations until the capital itself is repaid or a suitable substitute is offered.

The political structure of the Yoruba community is elaborate. The priest chief, known as Alafin, resides in Oye, the capital city of the largest of the tribal divisions.

He performs the great magical ceremonies or rituals on which the prosperity of the people and state depends. They worship numerous gods.

The Alafin and the other great tribal chiefs are themselves divine. On death their divinity is transferred to carved effigies set up in shrines.

The Alafin or Oye, although nominally paramount over all the Yoruba tribes, has, since the end of the 18th century, had little authority outside his own section of the Oyo tribes, which has however a population of nearly one million.

Although his religious prestige extends throughout Yoruba territory and his performance of the great national ceremonials is believed to be essential to the welfare of all, a number of other sacred rulers are virtually independent. The chief’s fields are usually cultivated by the people of his area.

Those close at hand do the actual work or provide slave labour, while outlying districts provide food supplies to maintain the workers.

The Yoruba people are very good traders. Much of the trading is conducted by barter, but lengths of cloth and cowrie shells are used as currency in the larger markets and in the payment of tribute.

To the native African cowrie of the coasts the smaller Indian cowrie, formerly traded right across Africa from the east coast, was added to some unknown date and has much higher value.

In brief, the Yorubas are very skilled farmers, with enterprise in trade and industries. Allegiance to the sacred headmen, priests and rulers who perform the great ceremonials essential for the welfare of people, land and crops

Transformation in the society and economy of the Yoruba ethnic group is taking place at a faster pace. They are receptive to the new ideas and the process of urbanization is gaining momentum.

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