HomeTopicalHistory of the Yoruba People: A Rich Tapestry of Culture

History of the Yoruba People: A Rich Tapestry of Culture

Welcome to a lesson on the history of the Yoruba people.

Before the Yoruba people came to settle down in what is known as South West of Nigeria today, they migrated from somewhere, had a history, and belonged to a different tribe. 

We will be exploring the history of the Yoruba people, their origin, and ancestral heritagehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_people. One of the most legendary ethnic groupings in Africa, their ancestral home is located in present-day Togo, Benin Republic, and southwest Nigeria in West Africa. 

Numerous studies have been drawn to their vibrant culture, philosophy, arts, language, sociology, and history.

History of the Yoruba People

According to legend, Ham, Noah’s third son, is the ancestor of the Yoruba people. 

They are the direct ancestors of Cush, the son of Ham, and the black Cushite immigrants and settlers who declined to travel to Africa with the other descendants of Cush and his son Nimrod. Instead, they decided to settle in the ancient cities of Mecca and Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. 

They lived there for years as settlers; an affluent, powerful, sizable, and well-respected minority within the wider Arab population.

However, after Islam was introduced to those locations by the Prophet Mohammed in 600 AD, they were eventually driven out of those Arab towns and communities for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs, their profound mysticism and paganism, and their idol worship.

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After the Yorubas were driven out of the Arab communities, they moved to Egypt’s banks of the great River Nile. There, they mixed with the Sudanese of the Nile, Nubians, and Egyptian Arabs. 

The religion that was the cause of their migration was not only tolerated by the Egyptians, but was also integrated into their own culture. 

However, a great war soon broke out in Egypt that forced the Yoruba people to move again. This time, the majority subsequently moved to what is now known as the northeastern region of Nigeria. They once more mixed and reproduced with the Shuwa Arabs and the Kanuris of the Borno people. Although many of them stayed there, the majority did not.

From there, they finally moved south, establishing Ile-Ife as their major residence and center of paganism in the farmlands and forests of what is now known as southwestern Nigeria. 

Ife is to the Yorubas what Mecca is to Muslims, and Oduduwa himself established Ife as the center of everything Yoruba when he sent his sons out from Ife to different regions of Yorubaland to form their own separate kingdoms.

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History of the Yoruba people: The Ile-Ife Empire 

History of the Yoruba people: The Ile-Ife Empire 

The literal meaning of Ile-Ife in Yoruba is ‘the spreading house’ or ‘the place of dispersion’. It is from here that the Yoruba tribe spread out to other parts of West Africa. Ile Ife was the beginning of Yoruba civilization and is said to date back to around 500 B.C. when it was founded. 

It is the oldest Yoruba city, presently part of Osun State, and has an estimated population of 501,000 people.

The earliest empire in the history of the Yoruba people was the Ife Empire. It was established in what is now known as eastern Benin and southwestern Nigeria. Odùduwà established the empire, which rose to fame for its intricate works of art. 

There were other spoken dialects and languages in the empire, even though Yoruba was its primary language. 

Through trade with Sahelian and woodland nations, Ile Ife became more powerful and was one of West Africa’s greatest cities in the fourteenth century.

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The Seven Ancient Yoruba Kingdoms 


This was the first and oldest kingdom in the history of the Yoruba people. It is considered the spiritual and cultural capital of the Yoruba people, believed to be the place where humanity began.

The city is home to many shrines and artifacts.


This was one of the most powerful and influential Yoruba kingdoms, known for its strong military, impressive economy, and sophisticated political system. Oyo is ruled by the Alaafin, who is considered the supreme ruler of all Yoruba kingdoms.


This was a breakaway city from Ile-Ife, established after a civil war in the 19th century. The city is known for its skilled artisans, especially in the craft of bead-making.


Ijebu is a very important kingdom in the history of the Yoruba people, even to this day. This kingdom was known for its successful and extensive trade routes, especially in the export of textiles and other goods.

The ruling family of Ijebu were considered among the wealthiest in Yoruba land.


This was a collection of smaller city-states during the history of the Yoruba people, known for their agricultural prowess and strong cultural traditions. The Ekiti people were skilled farmers and ironworkers, and their art and music were highly regarded.


This kingdom was known for its mountainous terrain and was considered a major centre for the worship of the Yoruba goddess Osun. The Ijesha people were also skilled hunters and metalworkers.


In the history of the Yoruba people, Ketu was located in present-day Benin and known for its strong ties to the neighboring Fon people. Ketu was also considered a major center for the worship of the Yoruba deity Orunmila and was known for its highly skilled blacksmith culture.

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The Spread Of the Yoruba People 

Over time, Yoruba people have spread across the world, contributing to the cultural fabric of many countries and communities. There are a number of factors that contribute to this spread. 

The slave trade

One of the most significant factors in the Yoruba diaspora is the Transatlantic slave trade, which saw millions of Yoruba people forcibly taken from their homes and brought to the Americas as slaves. 

In countries such as Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States, Yoruba culture and religion have had a significant influence on the local culture. Particularly through the practice of the Yoruba-derived religion, known as Santería or Lucumi.


In addition to the slave trade, Yoruba people have also migrated to other parts of the world for a variety of reasons, including education, work, and personal connections. Some others have inter-married.

In countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, there are vibrant Yoruba communities that celebrate their heritage through cultural events, music, and dance.


In the history of the Yoruba people, the spread of Yoruba culture and traditions across the world has been facilitated by the use of technology and social media, which allows Yoruba people to connect with each other and share their experiences and traditions.

There are now Yoruba cultural festivals and events held in cities across the globe, from Lagos to London, New York to Toronto, and beyond.

Religious practices

One of the most significant aspects of the history of the Yoruba people and their culture that has spread across the world is the practice of Ifa, a spiritual tradition that is based on divination and the worship of deities known as Orisha. Ifa has gained popularity among people of all races and nationalities, and there are now Ifa practitioners and communities in many parts of the world.

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History of the Yoruba people: On a final note

It is interesting that the word ‘Yoruba’ has no meaning in any language. No one has been able to spell out the meaning of the word or tell where it originates from. It could be an ancient word, considering all of the migration the people have had to do, or an insult of some sort.

Who knows?

But despite the challenges and obstacles that Yoruba people have faced throughout history, their culture and traditions have endured and flourished. The spread of Yoruba culture across the world is a testament to the resilience and strength of the Yoruba people and their ongoing contributions to the cultural diversity of the world.

Whether through music, dance, religion, or other forms of artistic expression, Yoruba culture continues to inspire and enrich people all over the globe.