Yoruba oriki: A dying cultural genre?

The oriki is a time-honoured cultural form. But Yoruba youths appear to be no longer interested in it. Abiodun Awolaja examines the reasons for this change.

JUST as this writer was rounding off work on this piece in the Imalefalafia, Ibadan newsroom of the Nigerian Tribune, an encounter with a senior colleague proved illuminating. Asked to recite her town’s oriki, she retorted: ‘’Oriki ilu wa je mo Ogun. Ma wa ma fiyen pe ara mi? Olorun ma je.” (Our town’s oriki relates closely to Ogun, god of iron. Will I now relate such to myself? God forbid!)The attitude of the said colleague, a top-ranking journalist from Ekiti State, correctly mirrors what seems to have become of the Yoruba oriki today. The Yoruba oriki (cognomen) is a form of cultural expression which is prevalent in Africa. Among the Yoruba, it is a time-honoured poetic form, a repository of traditional lore, values, virtues and accomplishments. The oriki has been described as a genre used to inspire people, and varies in length depending on whether it refers to a single individual or a clan. It can be sung or drummed.

For instance, the Ooni of Ife is referred to, among other endless titles as “Oonirisa, jingbini bi ate akun,” (Ooni of the gods, plenteous like a tray of akun beads), while the Alaafin of Oyo is called “Iku baba yeye, alase ekeji orisa (“death, father, mother, commander, second in command to the gods). And even animals have oriki in the Yoruba world: the elephant is “eerin lakatabu, janaku ti n migbo kijikiji (mighty elephant, spirit who shakes the forest heavily),etc, the lion is “oloola iju, akomolailabe (forest-based circumciser, the one who circumcises a child without a blade), etc.

Usually, every Yoruba family has its own oriki, which extols the virtues of the clan, but it is not always positive in its moral content. For instance, part of the oriki of the town where this writer hails from reads thus: omo eluku mede mede, omo imale afeleja, omo akenigbo, keru o ba’ra ona; omo ole yilu baara ko i jeun aaro; omo asalejeje bi eni ti o robinrin ri…etc( son of Eluku; son of the spirit who fights with the machete; son of the one who cries in the forest and intimidates people of the road; son of the layabout who roams town before eating breakfast; son of the one who pets a concubine delicately, like one who has not seen a woman before..etc), which would seem to suggest that the people are war mongering thugs and fornicators.

An Ibadan oriki also describes the place as one where “the thief is justified rather than the owner of the goods,’’ while the Iseyin people are described as “ebedi moko, male’’(ebedi welcomes both the husband and lover), although the latter part has now been cleverly omitted, perhaps in view of the country’s recent millennium development goals. Some common oriki middle names also include Arike (child meant to be spoilt), Abebi (child begged to be born), Aduke (people will fight over the privilege to take care of her); Ajani (child we fought to have), etc. Interestingly, some mischievous individuals now construct parodies of the oriki genre: “omo badiye ku ata la n lo” (child of when the fowl dies, we quickly grind pepper’’)etc.

However, the glory days of the oriki seem to be gone, as most Yoruba youths are no longer knowledgeable or interested in the cultural genre.

A cross-section of interviewees gave their views on this cultural turnaround.

Modupe Akinyooye, a journalist from Ondo town, Ondo State, submitted that “the problem is that many are not really interested in oriki because their knowledge of the Language is shallow. The language barrier is a corollary of the fact that most parents bring up their children in English.” To Princess Olobe, a computer executive, “the world has become sophisticated.

Oriki is no longer useful. It teaches us wisdom, but people no longer believe in the surulere (patience pays) kind of ideas, but in Olorunsogo (God has done wonders), meaning that life is now on the fast track and people hate dull moments. If anyone sings your oriki, it is because they hope to collect something from you, like the musicians do. Oriki is now useless.”

Adepoju Fausat, a 200 level student of Mass Communication at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Oyo State, said most youths were not interested in oriki because “most of us don’t live in our hometowns, and our parents don’t teach us the oriki, perhaps because they feel that it is not important.’’ Asked, however, why she was able to recite the oriki of Ofa, her hometown, she replied tersely: “My grandmother taught me,’’ while Nafisat Azeez, a colleague of hers, blamed the phenomenon on what she termed the youths’ lack of cultural education. “However, the oriki lives on because if you go to your local government to get the Certificate of Origin, you will be asked to recite your town’s oriki.’’

Bukunmi Ogunsola, a 400 level Linguistics student at the University of Ibadan said the fate which had befallen the oriki in recent times was traceable to two factors. “First, parents don’t teach it to their children because they want to break their link with their extended family. Secondly, even those who know the oriki don’t recite them because they don’t want to be seen among their peers as being local or rustic. However, oriki can be relevant during inter-tribal crisis when knowledge of them could save or kill.’’

Mrs Omofolake Owabiire, a business executive, however gave the religious dimension to the question. To her, what should be uppermost in everyone’s minds is the coming of the Lord Jesus, and not oriki.“ In the olden days, our parents gave us oriki.

But when we started bearing children, we realised that oriki really amounted to nothing. I know one Alake; she is a very dirty woman. So my children asked, ‘what’s the meaning of Alake?’ The world is now sophisticated, and the coming of Jesus Christ ought to be in our minds.”

She pointed out that in the past, some rulers were so inspired by oriki that they shot the singer, “when their head swelled up. Oriki is a satanic thing; why should we praise ourselves rather than God?”

However, to Olatundun, a Mass Communications student, “oriki is important because it takes us back to our culture and makes us remember the child of whom we are.’’

Professor Yisa Kehinde Yusuf, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, gave a global perspective on the issue. “It is all due to ignorance and Westernisation. People think that oriki is a sign of retrogression. Interestingly, however, the Yoruba oriki is progressive and forward-looking, as the current practice worldwide is that people are trying to shed surnames and marital names in order to ensure a higher level of equity in naming, and oriki names such as Aduke, Alake, etc, come in handy.

“The direction of African studies should be towards African culture. The kind of naming practice which we have dropped actually represents the ideal to which Western communities are trying to aspire. In Yorubaland, if a female child is named Aduke, that is the name she would bear throughout her life time. This is an equitable and gender-fair naming system. If you go to the market, any Mrs that you find there has gone to school. The practice in Yorubaland is to refer to women by their names or their children’s names, for instance, Iya Bisi, Iya Sola, etc. Surnaming came through the school colonial system and health institutions.



2 thoughts on “Yoruba oriki: A dying cultural genre?

  1. It’s so painful and very today that the our land have turn something else due to the underrating of the oriki of our land…..especially ibadan M̶̲̥̅y̶̲̥̅̊ home state,the third largest city in africa and and d largest city in nigeria….hmm ibadan(the pace setter)where thieves are favour ahead of d right owner,ibadan,a city that accomodate leaders’,thieves,the idle and lazy ones,ibadan d home of ogunmola,ojo,d city were top politician elevate…..I will be very grateful if anyone can forward the ibadan and esho oriki to me


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