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Yoruba: Practices Rituals and Festivals

Page history last edited by Meagan Christou 11 years, 10 months ago


Practices, Rituals and Festivals



Thought systems traditional to African cultures are rooted in a view in which there is constant interaction between spiritual forces and the community. Spiritual beings may inhabit natural elements or animals and may also take possession of human mediums. An example of this possession of persons is usually temporary and confined to ritual, as when the priest of the Yoruba god Shango dances into a state of deep trance at the annual festival, expressing the wrath of the god of thunder with the lightning speed of his arm gestures and the powerful roll of his shoulders. Often there is no clear distinction between ritual celebration and social recreation in dance performances; one purpose can merge into the other.

Yorubain Nigeria performing a dance in honour of the god Shango

In special festivals and processions, followers of Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder, carry dance wands, oshe shango, depicting a female devotee with Shango's symbol, the double-headed axe.




Among the Yoruba of West Africa, blood sacrifice must be made to the gods, especially the earth deities, who, as elsewhere in Africa, are regarded as the divine punishers of sin. For the individual the oblation may be a fowl or a goat; for an entire community it may be hundreds of animals (in former days, the principal oblation was human). Once consecrated and ritually slain, the oblations are buried, burnt, or left exposed but never shared by the sacrificer.



Central features of the religion are its drumming and dancing celebrations known as tambors. At the tambors elaborate altars are created, and then food is offered to the Orishas (a type of god). Depending on the nature of the celebration, percussionists and drummers (often playing the sacred 3-piece bata drums) play precise rhythms directed to specific Orishas while those present sing call-and-response songs in archaic Yoruba, causing the Orishas to descend and possess initiated priests and priestesses of the religion. The rhythms and forms of Yoruba religion are said to be fundamental to the development of many forms of African American music from gospel to blues and jazz, and to musical forms such as Salsa and Latin Jazz. 

Batá are a set of three double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums. The largest iyá (mother), [E-Yah], is the master drum. The iyá calls the rhythms in, calls changes and conversations. Next in size, the itótele (means: follows completely), [E-Toe-Teh-Lay], follows the direction of the iyá answering the conversation calls and rhythm changes. The smallest drum okónkolo [O-Kon-Ko-Lo], sometimes referred to as Omele [O-May-Lay (strong child)], , for the most part plays ostinato patterns, also changing rhythms from the calls of the iyá.


Monthly Festivals

This schedule is illustrative for 10050 year (2008 A.D.) Note the actual dates may vary.


Sèrè / January


Erele / February

Olokún = Oríà of Okún, the deep seas or oceans, patron of sailors, and guardian of souls lost at sea Erele/Feb 21-25


Èrèna / March

Annual rites of passage for men Èrèna/March 12 – 28

Oduduwa (odudu, the dark pigment; ni ewa, is the beauty) / Iyaagbe (iya, mother; agbe, who receives) = Oríà of Earth and matron of the Ayé. Oduduwa endows the ebony dark skin pigment that accords greatest gifts of spirituality, beauty and intellect to the bearer. The essence of procreative love. Èrèna/March 15 – 19

Oshosi = Oríà of Adventure and the hunt Èrèna/March 21 – 24:


Igbe / April

Ogun = Oríà of the metal and war crafts, and engineering. The custodian of truth and executioner of justice, as such patron of the legal and counselling professions who must swear to uphold truth while biting on a piece of metal. Igbe

Oshun = Oríà of Fertility and custodian of the female essence. who guides pregnancies to term. Igbe starts last Saturday of April, for 5 days-

Onset of wet season (Spring)


Ebibi / May

Egungun (Commemoration of the Ancestors, including community founders and illustrious dead. Èbíbí: starts last Saturday of May, for 7 days


Okudu / June

Yoruba New Year Okudu 03: Onset of the Yoruba New Year (2008 is the 10,050th year of Yoruba culture)

Shopona (Oríà of Disease, shopona, small pox is a virual disease) and Osanyin (Oríà of Medicine and patron of the healing professions: osan, afternoon; yin, healing) Okudu 7 - 8

Annual rites of passage for women Okudu 10 - 23

Yemoja = matriarch of the Òrún-Rere). Oduduwa gave birth to a boy Aganju (Land) and Yemoja (Water) from marriage to Ọbàtala. Yemoja in turn birthed many other Oríà. The old Ile-Ife kingdom arose on her burial site. Okudu 18 - 21


Agẹmo / July

Ọrúnmilà / Ifá = Oríà of Divination and founder of the Ifá sciences, whose divination is with 16 palm nuts. Mass gathering of the yoruba Agẹmo: first and second weeks in July

Oko (Agriculture) Harvesting of the new Yam crop.

Ẹlégba-Bara (Ẹlégba, one who has power to seize) / Eu (shu, to release eject from; ara, the body) = Oríà of male essence and Power, who is the great Communicator and messenger of the will of Olódùmarè. No woman should bara (ba ra, to rub with, have intercourse with) a man who has not done Ikola (circumcision: ike, cutting; ola, that saves) in sacrifice to Ẹlégba. Agẹmo second weekend of July

àngo (shan, to strike:/ Jakuta:ja, fight; pẹlu okuta, with stones. The Oríà of Energy – Ara (Thunder) and Manamana, make fire (Lightening) whose divination is with 16 cowries and whose messenger and water-bearer is Oshumare (the Rainbow). Agẹmo: third week of July


Ogun / August

Ọbàtálá = (Obà,to possess; ti ala, of visions or Oríà-nla, the principal Oríà). Patriarch of Òrún-Rere, the heaven of goodly spirits and beneficial ancestors. As Olódùmarè is too powerful and busy to be pre-occupied by the affairs of any one living being. Ọbàtálá functions as the principal emissary of Olódùmarè on Aye, and is the custodian of Yoruba culture. The aso-ala (white cloth) worn by Ọbàtálá initiates is to signify need to be pure in intent and action: A recurring punishment for social misfits was to try to keep white cloth clean in Africa's tropical and dusty climate. The misappropriation of aso-ala connection to Ọbàtálá was/is a major weapon against the Yoruba in their psychological resistance of foreign invasion, as Christian and Islamic converts were/are indoctrinated that anything considered 'white' is pure: a notion that has also become a key tenet of racialist supremacy Ogun: last weekend of August


Òwéré / September


Ọwaro / October

Oya (Oríà of the odo Oya (river Niger) whose messenger is Afefe (the Wind), and guardian of gateway between the physical realm (Aye) and the spiritual realm (Òrún). Ọwaro

Oun (Oríà of the odo Oun and patron of the (sovereign) Ijebu nation Ọwaro third weekend of October

Onset of the dry season (Autumn)

Shigidi (Oríà of Òrún-Apadi, the realm of the unsettled spirits and the ghosts of the dead that have left Aye and are forsaken of Òrún-Rere. Custodian of nightmares and patron of assassins. Solemn candlelight to guide the unsettled away from your residence, else they settle in your dolls or other toys. Ọwaro 30 World Slavery Day?


Bèlu / November


Òpé / December

Obajulaiye (Oríà of òwò (Commerce) and owo (wealth). Òpé 15

Onset of the second dry season (winter solstice)



"African dance." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Sep. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/721941/African-dance>


Horst, Ian S. Jazz Supreme. 2002. 18 Sep. 2008 <http://www.jazzsupreme.com/yoruba/index.html>.


"sacrifice." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Sep. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/515665/sacrifice


Wikipedia. Yoruba Religion. 16 Sep. 2008. 17 Sep. 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_religion>.


[Note: Not all of my references have matching information. However, there are no disagreements between them either. There was limited information on this subject.]

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