Monday, 17 July 2017 04:10

Party On!: How Yorubas Practice Religious Tolerance

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When my father died, as with such occasions, all manner of relatives came calling, both known and unknown.  However, no obscure relative’s visit caused as much consternation as that of a young lady in full hijab.  My brother-in-law, a pastor, was alarmed particularly when the lady refused to lift her veil nor respond when he asked who she was.  Fortunately, my recently widowed mother overheard the interrogation and beckoned her to a non-male occupied space where they could talk in private.  Later, Mom revealed that she was one of my aunt’s four daughters.  This aunt, though raised a Christian, had married a Muslim and apparently so had her daughters.  Thus, when her brother died, she’d sent one of her daughters to bring condolences from her faction of the family.

Ours is a typical Yoruba lineage comprising a cacophony of religions co-existing harmoniously - parents holding different religious views from their children, sisters from brothers, and even husbands from wives.  Families comprise of traditionalists or followers of any of the Yoruba gods, living alongside Christians and Muslims.  Commonly, it is assumed everyone is entitled to their own religious persuasion free from external persecution.

Why?  A ready answer is cultural pantheism whereas Yoruba history is littered with a pantheon of gods and goddesses including: Ogun, Sango, Oya, Yemoja, and Esu/Legbara.  In addition, each lineage had household gods to whom they paid homage.  Consequently, when the world’s major religions made inroads into Yorubaland, the people added the ‘new gods’ to those already on ground and carried on.  They accepted their new faiths alongside their traditional ones.  In fact, a common song in the early days went thus,

Awa ó s’orò ilé wa ò,

Awa ó s’orò ilé wa ò

Ẹ̀sin kan ò pé, rárá o,

Ẹ̀sin kan ò pé ká wa má s’orò,

Awa ó s’orò ilé wa ò.

Thus, lineages regardless of modern religious practices still congregated to perform traditional rites.  And as allegiance to traditional gods decreased, the camaraderie between religious adherents did not.  Hence, families celebrated with one another the religious holidays regardless of their persuasion – eat ram at Ileya, goat at Oro, and cow at Christmas.  Every religious holiday was seen as an opportunity to party.

Further, many Yorubas are not purists in their religious beliefs.  For instance, a Christian may go to a Babalawo (traditional juju professional) when seeking a child that she believes is not fast enough coming from the Christian God.  And a Muslim may follow an older sibling to a church for prayers.  Indeed, begrudging parents often insist children choosing to marry into a different religion gain their blessing by marrying in their religious tradition herewith a Muslim girl marrying a Christian is given a Nikai.

To be sure, though majority of religious Yorubas coexist peacefully, there’s a small percent which practice intolerant religious purism wherein a parent disowns a child who chooses to marry into another religion or siblings cease relations based on suspicions of religious chicanery.  By and large, these altercations usually do not result in violence. 

Rather, they party on or stay home. 

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Abi Adegboye Ph.D

Abi Adegboye began writing as a young girl growing in western Nigeria.  In a culture that reveres boys, she was born the second of three girls.  Certain she had to be her family's 'boy,' she climbed trees to harvest fruit, dressed chickens for dinner, caught mice, and whatever else required male-handling.  She also loved to read, write, and draw.  Her initial efforts yielded publications in local newspapers and newsletters.  However, she was advised to get a day job which turned out to be as a professor of political science.  This opened to her, a different avenue for publication in her areas of research including African women and development, women migrants, and the impact of public policy on women’s political economy.

On her 40th birthday, she rekindled her creative writing with the publication of Butterfly, a picture book and Reflections on Nigerian Christianity, a social commentary.  Since then, she’s co-authored Owanbe! Yoruba Celebrations of Life (2010), a cultural anthology and published Wanna B Prez? 10 Life Strategies from President Barack Obama’s Journey to the White House (2012), a YA motivational YA book, and Renike comes to America (2016), a novella.  

Abi writes multicultural fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults.  She shares her writing through speaking engagements, performances, storytelling, and classroom visits. 

For more information about Ms. Adegboye’s publications, or to connect with her, visit her

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