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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Yoruba oral tradition going into extinction

By Bosede Okankiri


It is generally believed among all religions in the world that there is, a divine being, GOD, who created all things. The scripture, in John 1 vs 3, says: ‘all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made’. These things include people of different ethnic and religious groups, colors, languages, cultures and traditions. What an omnipotent God!
God created people separately in each geographical location in a unique way; hence every tribe has gotten its own culture and tradition according to its location. As people in the northern part of Nigeria (the Hausas / Fulanis) have their own way of life, so also the Zulu people in South Africa have their culture and tradition, and so on. A cultural practice in one tribe could be a taboo in another place. Culture is one of the marks by which a community of people or a nation is identified.
Culture can be defined as the integration of the arts, customs, habits, beliefs, values, behaviors, language and material object that constitute a people’s way of life which is passes from one generation to the next generation. Culture is a phenomenon that distinguishes one ethnic tribe from the other. Various cultures can be identified among the people of a particular tribe and even in a particular nation. The concept of Oral tradition, or oral lore, describes a practice in which custom, culture, value system, knowledge, art, idea, cultural materials is received, preserved and passed orally from one generation to another through speech or song which may include folktales, chant, verse or incantation.
Identification of Yoruba oral tradition is all encompassing in the aspect of kindness/goodness, moral power for effecting good, bravery, respect for seniority, truthfulness, reliability, diplomacy, and the art of dissembling for the greater good of whole.
The Yoruba word for ‘kindness/goodness’ literarily means a good ‘inside’ (stomach and heart or the totality of the physical substance within the person). A cruel person has a bitter inner self….A kind person redistribute wealth to others, but not at his own expense (bina ba joni jomo eni, tara eni laako gbon). Act of kindness should begin at home in the immediate and extended family.
Bravery is viewed in terms of physical, metaphysical, medicinal, and moral power, and in an essential tribute for both males and female. Use of wisdom is superior to use of physical strength and foolhardiness is not permissible. ‘Alagbara ma mero baba ole’.
The moral obligation to tell the truth is tempered by the fact that ‘the truth is bitter’, and must be spoken with regard to context and consequences. Diplomacy includes the gift for communication through gesture and innuendo, combining wisdom with a capacity to be devious and keep the inner self hidden in the interest of whole. There are no separate teachers of moral education. All adults inculcate moral values in children to ensure a healthy and disciplined society.
The man of principle is gentlemanly, fearless, socially responsible, and generous. Social responsibility is elaborately articulated through the etiquette of greetings and exchange of resources. Yoruba language has a salutation for every conceivable occasion, situation, and human relationship – while sitting or standing, when overtaking another on the road, at work or at play, for relatives, friends and strangers. On first meeting of the day for people from different compounds, general and specific inquiries must be made about all close relatives. An extension of the greetings code is the obligation to offer condolences or sympathy to anyone who is bereaved, ill, injured or even momentarily indisposed. Hospitality is emphasized with older and wealthier persons being expected regularly to express their generosity through giving, warmth. A spirit of fun, cooperation, trust and mutual help are core values express through their practices. Unsympathetic and covetous attitude breeds distrust and could lead to suspicion of witchcraft.
Moral values are tradition that is being handed from generation to generation. It includes large family practice, hardworking, respect for senior, respect for members of the family & society, respect for family system, respect for religion practices and value for languages among others. There are certainly some common moral attributes which are acceptable by the society.
Yoruba oral tradition is very effective among the people as it brings the people together. It is a corrective and a checkmating measure in the society. It also preserves the heritage of the people in terms of language, tribal marks, mode of dressing, mode of greeting, hairstyles, shelter system, the way of cooking, backing of babies, music in which drumming is embedded, communication which include storytelling, folk tales, riddles, proverbs, myths, legend, folklore, symbols, song, taboo, body gestures, sign, etc.
A traditional story especially one concerning the story of early people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings or events. Myth is a symbolic narrative of unknown origin but a traditional means of correction, which is associated with religious belief; it is distinguished form of behaviors. Yoruba believed in myth and legend and it is passed down from generation to generation, for example Yoruba people believe that whistling in the night is an invitation of demons; flogging of a male child with broom renders such a child impotent, not only that but the child’s gods-given fortune is rendered worthless; standing on a broom for few seconds would cause fear and palpation when walking in a lonely place; passing over the leg(s) of a woman (maybe in a corridor of a building or anywhere) would make any child born of the particular woman to resemble the person who passed over her leg(s). Of course this could raise a suspicion or doubt the paternity of the child. It is also a myth that lion is given birth in the wilderness whenever it is raining and sunning simultaneously. Another one is that standing at the entrance (door mouth) of a building or sitting on a mortal is, believed to be, inviting the wrath of Sango (god of thunder). There is another common myth that when using your hand to collects rain water when raining, that your hand will shrink. Talking while removing chicken’ feathers which they believe would make more feathers to grow. And so on and so forth.
Yoruba also believes in taboo. Taboo is generally what is not acceptable in the society. It is a forbidden or implicit prohibition on something based on a cultural sense that it is excessively repulsive or, perhaps too sacred for ordinary people. Such prohibitions are present in virtually all societies. Yoruba hold a strong belief in their culture and tradition, among which are cultural taboo or superstitions as the case may be. Information is being passed on to the younger ones by elders on how things should or should not be done.
Most of these cultural taboos were developed, aftermath of certain events in the past, or as a way of making the people to be cultured. Taboo in Yoruba helps to checkmate society, men & women, youths and children. It makes people have sense of belonging. Yoruba people hold cultural taboos which are passed down from generation to generation in high esteem. Some of these taboos are put in place to protect the age long tradition
However, the adoption of other cultural tradition otherwise known as ‘imbibement’ of foreign culture as a result of colonialism has changed our diet, marriages, music, dressing, our dialects, religion, customs, skill, art, culture, our heritage and oral tradition. This has led to a complete disappearance of certain words and phrases in Yoruba languages, mode of dressings, food etc. Culture loss among the Yorubas is very common in this present generation. Everybody madly adopts an alien culture. Culture loss also occur with the advent of social media and also among educated parent who failed to train their children in their cultural way (local language, cultural ways of dressing, cooking), everything is now foreign. Many have destroyed their culture in Nigeria because of Western influence, they destroyed their religion, destroy object of worship, and put their dressing aside which can be said to be ethnocide.
Our indigenous things no longer ‘have meaning’ to us. Hence some people say; ‘cultures are bound to change’. However, there are dynamic processes that encourage the acceptance of new ideas but some traditions don’t yield to change.
Our cultural value has been neglected due to the embarrassment of Western Education. People no longer cherish our indigenous language. These days, many children cannot speak their native languages. No thanks to most of the contemporary parents, who cannot even speak their mother tongue fluently, because they too failed to learn and understand it when they were much younger as students in both primary and post primary education. They rather concentrate on another man’s language in the name of western education.


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