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. The Yoruba oriki (cognomen) is a form of cultural expression which is prevalent in Africa.

Among the Yorubas, 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, ajanaku 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 some are not always positive in its moral content. See this: 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. 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. 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 some people, “the world has become sophisticated”.

Oriki teaches us wisdom, but most youths are not interested in oriki because most of them don’t live in their hometowns, and their parents don’t teach them the oriki, perhaps because they feel that it is not important.

“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.


Published by oloolutof

Urbanologist, Geographer, Traditionalist and Oral historian. ​I am a versatile, personable, computer literate and goal – driven achiever. I have good communication skill with ability to interact at different levels. I am self –motivated, can easily assimilate new ideals and quite adaptive to work in different environments. Studied in University of Jos, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and University of Calabar.

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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