Yoruba religion and mythology

Yoruba religion and mythology is a major influence in West Africa, chiefly in Nigeria, and it has given origin to several New World religions such as Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Candomblé in Brazil.

Itan is the term for the sum total of all Yoruba myths, songs, histories, and other cultural components.

Many ethnic Yoruba were enslaved and taken to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Trinidad and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th century, after the Ọyọ empire collapsed and the region plunged into civil war), and carried their religious beliefs with them. These concepts were combined with preexisting African-based religions, Christianity, Native American mythology, and Kardecist Spiritism into various New World lineages:

  • Santería (Cuba) (Puerto Rico)
  • Oyotunji (USA)
  • Idigene (Nigeria)
  • Anago (Nigeria)
  • Candomblé (Brazil)
  • Umbanda (Brazil)
  • Batuque (Brazil)

The popularly known Vodun religion of Haiti combines the religious beliefs of the many different African ethnic nationalities taken to the island with the structure and liturgy from the Fon-Ewe of present-day Benin and the Congo-Angolan culture area, but Yoruba-derived religious ideology and deities also play an important role.

Yoruba deities include “Ọya” (wind goddess), “Ifa” (divination or fate), “Ẹlẹda” (destiny), “Ibeji” (twins), “Ọsanyin” (medicines and healing) and “Ọsun” (goddess of fertility, protector of children and mothers), Ṣango (God of thunder).

Human beings and other sentient creatures are also assumed to have their own individual deity of destiny, called “Ori (Yoruba)”, who is venerated through a sculpture symbolically decorated with cowrie shells. Traditionally, dead parents and other ancestors are also believed to possess powers of protection over their descendants. This belief is expressed in worship and sacrifice on the grave or symbol of the ancestor, or as a community in the observance of the Egungun festival where the ancestors are represented as colorfully masquerade of costumed and masked men who represent the ancestral spirits. Dead parents and ancestors are also commonly venerated by pouring libations to the earth and the breaking of kolanuts in their honor at special occasions.

A significant portion of the population either follows the traditional religion called Ifa or consult with the clergy of traditional diviners known as babalawo, or “Father of secrets.”

The majority of contemporary Yoruba are Christians and Muslims, with indigenous congregations having the largest memberships among Christians.

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