THE Yorùbá people, at over 50 million in population, are the largest single indigenous Black African people in Africa and in the world. Only two other Black African peoples – the Hausa and the Igbo – come close to them in populationin West Africa, although a composite people (the Hausa-Fulani, made up of the Hausa and Fulani together) might be as large or somewhat larger. All other Black African peoples in Africa are considerably smaller than these three in population. All three belong to West Africa, and wholly or mostly to Nigeria.
According to Nigerian official estimates, the Yorùbá number about 45 million in Nigeria. The same estimates make the Hausa-Fulani nations together about 48 million and the Igbo about 40 million. However, the Nigerian official estimates are commonly known to be unreliable and they are always disputed.
Further to the west, Yorùbá population in neighbouring Benin Republic plus Togo Republic is commonly estimated at about three million. In a 2008 public lecture in Ibadan, Prof.WandeAbimbola (former Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and former Nigerian Senator) stated that the homeland of the Yorùbá does not end in Togo but extends a little into eastern parts of Ghana, where there are tens of ancient Yoruba towns, some large and some small. It is not known, however, how large the total Yoruba population is in these eastern parts of Ghana.
The Yorùbá speak one language, the Yorùbá language. This one Yoruba language has many provincial and local dialects; but all these dialects are mutually intelligible.
Generally, the Yoruba people speak of themselves as one large family which contains many sub-families or sub-groups differentiated mostly by their dialects.Among the Yoruba, the differences between the sub-groups and between their dialects are constant sources of humour. All Yoruba people know that, in their nation’s long history, people have moved, relocated and intermarried so much that today, there is hardly any Yoruba person who cannot trace his or her family roots to various places and various sub-groups in Yorubaland.
(How wonderfully entertaining a game it would be if every Yoruba person writes the little that he or she knows about his or her family roots, including family Oriki, and a platform is created for displaying and comparing these. How much we Yoruba would thereby come to know about our great history).
The Yorubaare one of the most ancient peoples of West Africa. Studies in the archaeology and anthropology of West Africa, as well as studies in the evolution and growth of languages in early West Africa, all show that the Yoruba are one of the many peoples or nationalities that first evolved in West Africa – other such peoples being the Nupe, Igala, Gbagyi, Igbo, Edo, Ijaw, etc. Archaeologists and historians believe that each of these peoples has lived in its present homeland for at least 6,000 years. Fanciful traditions that any of these peoples are comparatively recent migrants from the Middle East, or are descended from the Jews, have no foundation in known facts.
The Yoruba are famous as the creators of the most urbanized indigenous civilization in Black Africa’s history. Unlike all other Black African peoples, the Yoruba have built, and lived in, many towns and cities during the past 1000 years. Other Black African peoples might have no town, or one town, or a few towns separated by large expanses of forests or grasslands; only the Yoruba owned tens of towns located at short distances from one another throughout their homeland. Why the Yoruba developed so differently from the rest of Black Africa is not yet known to historians.
From east to west, the Yorùbá homeland starts close to the western banks of the Lower Niger in today’s Kogi State of Nigeria, stretches westwards through the rest of south-western Nigeria (in today’s states of Kogí, Kwara, Èkìtì, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ògùn, and Lagos, with a small slice in the Delta State), across southern and central Benin Republic, and stretches across Togo Republic – and, according to Prof.Abimbola, a little into eastern Ghana.It is commonly estimated that about 80% of the Yoruba homeland territory lies in south-western Nigeria.
In comparison with the countries of the modern world, the Nigerian part of the Yorùbá Nation is, in population, bigger than many of the richest and most influential countries of the Western world. It is a little bigger than Canada, about as big as Spain or Poland, about four times as big as Portugal or Sweden, over six times as big as Denmark or Switzerland. Of the 53 countries of Europe, only five (Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy) have populations that are larger than the population of Yorubaland in Nigeria; two (Spain and Poland) have populations about equal to the population of Yorubaland in Nigeria; and each of all the remaining 47 countries is smaller than Yorubalnd in Nigeria.
Of the fifty-four countries of the continent of Africa (besides Nigeria), Yorùbá population in Nigeria is smaller than those of only three countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Congo (Kinshasa), a little larger than the population of the Union of South Africa, and considerably larger than the population of every one of the remaining fifty countries. In West Africa, Yorùbáland in Nigeria is considerably larger in population than the combined populations of the four countries of Benin Republic, Togo Republic, Liberia, and Gambia.
In land area too, Yorùbáland in Nigeria alone is, in comparison with the countries of today’s world, quite a large country. The exact statistics of it in Nigeria is difficult to ascertain, but it is usually estimated to be about 95,000 square miles. At that size, it is slightly larger than the territorial size of the United Kingdom, and many times the size of European countries such as Belgium, Holland or Portugal.
Beyond the Yoruba homeland in West Africa, varying sizes of pockets of Yorùbá Diaspora are found in various countries of West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Mali, and others. Their greatest concentration is found in Sierra Leone where they number about one million in population in the Greater Freetown area. Beyond West Africa in tropical Africa, a large Yorùbá diaspora, numbering about two million in population, is found in the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan, and a smaller one in Central African Republic.
Beyond Africa, varying sizes of populations of persons of Yorùbá descent, resulting from the African Diaspora of the Atlantic Slave Trade era, exist in many countries of the Americas – in countries like Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Bahamas, Suriname, the United States, etc. In these countries, more and more Black persons who originally came from other nations of Black Africa have been claiming Yoruba descent. The reason for this is that Yorùbá culture has been the one outstanding pillar of African personality and cultural pride in these countries.
Consequently, the number of people who identify themselves as Yorùbá has kept increasing over the centuries, especially in more recent times. Today, Yorùbá descendants number about 50 million in Brazil (a country of 194 million), and about six million in Cuba (a country of about 13 million). A total of over 100 million Black persons in all the Americas are thus identified today as Yorùbá descendants.
Finally, in the decades since the independence of Nigeria in 1960, conditions in Nigeria have resulted in the emigration of an ever-swelling stream of educated Yorùbá to various parts of the world. It is probable that over 4 million of such Yorùbá emigrants have made their homes in countries of the Western world – United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and some countries of continental Europe. In each country where they have settled, Yoruba immigrants constitute a highly educated immigrant citizenry.
Because of the growing expansion of Yorùbá cultural influence in the Americas, educatedYorùbá people in homeland Yorùbáland in West Africa tend to identify more with the Black peoples of the Americas than do any other indigenous African people. The Yorùbá elite in Nigeria now commonly claim that the total population of Yorùbá people plus Yoruba descendants worldwide is close to 200 million. The idea of a “Trans-Atlantic Yorùbá Nation” is growing in the Americas, and it seems likely to become a significant factor in world affairs soon. When the Ooni of Ife recently visited the United States, he was received everywhere by enormous crowds of Yoruba and Yoruba descendants, and many citizens of Brazil and Cuba frequently asked him when he would take them back home to their Yoruba homeland.