Europe and Latin American countries are spotlighting the global influence of Yoruba culture in.
At the event titled Yoruba Culture: A Cross-Continental Approach, the European National Institutes for Cultures (EUNIC) Nigeria, in collaboration with Latin American embassies in the country as Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Mexico and the honorary Consulate of Colombia in Abuja, celebrated the global impact and place of Yoruba culture.
The evening capped off a series of webinars that explored the different aspects of the Yoruba culture (such as language and literature, Yorubas in the Diaspora, traditional and contemporary Yoruba music, divination, Orisas and Yoruba deities) and its influence in Europe and Latin America.
Although the Yoruba culture has its origin in Nigeria, the transatlantic slave trade led to the transportation of west Africans as slaves into Cuba and several other Latin American countries, especially those of Yoruba heritage, which saw to the culture’s global expansion.
In Brazil and Cuba, Yoruba traditional religion is popular and revered, but with some peculiarities, like the Yoruba deities bearing different names to what they are called by the Yorubas of Nigeria. Ambassador of Cuba to Nigeria, Clara Pulidon attributes this to the culture’s survival and adaptable abilities even without the language.
“African languages, not just the Yoruba language, that entered Cuba were lost because the Spaniard colonists did not allow the slaves to practice their religion or speak amongst themselves either in Yoruba, Igbo or other African languages. So, in that regard the language was kept mainly for some events.
“For instance, practitioners of Yoruba traditional religion use certain phrases, during the ceremonies. Maybe it was the way that Yorubas spoke those years ago, words and phrases used in the 19th century. But as a living language, Yoruba language was lost to most Cubans. Maybe, you can find few people that are able to communicate in the language, but do not speak enough Yoruba to deliver a conference.
“It is interesting because I shared the opinion that cultures without language do not survive. But in the case of Cuba and many parts of the Caribbean, culture survived without the language. Of course, that culture mixed with other cultures – interacting with other African cultures, Spanish culture. We cannot say that that culture is totally pure. It was transformed and became what is the Cuban culture,” said Pulidon.
Beyond the study and research of Yoruba culture as a historical subject, it remains a living culture that is being integrated in contemporary art and professional practices.
“There is an interest not only by Yoruba people in the tradition. As such, there are a lot of people who want to learn the Yoruba culture and how it was, traditionally, as a historical subject, something to research. But in the series of talks we organized, there are strong interest in the culture by contemporary practitioners in Yoruba culture, not as something to look at as tradition but something they can integrate in their own practice. These are artistes who work with the Yoruba culture but in their own contemporary practice. We have architects who are interested in learning how traditional architecture from Yoruba culture can influence and inspire their architectural practice today. It is not just something from the past to be looked at as a tradition, but it is a living tradition; something that can still and is influencing and inspiring contemporary art, music, architecture etc.,” said the Director, Goethe Institut, Dr Nadine Siegert.
Indeed, as prove of the adaptability of the Yoruba culture, EUNIC Nigeria Cluster, President, Eva Barta notes that in one of the webinar series, featured a Babalawo in Spain who claimed he felt the call of Ifa since childhood.
In addition to a live discuss panel, other activities of the evening included Yoruba dance performances, screenings of the short animation film on the origin of Yoruba deity, Sango and Yoruba deities Illustration exhibition created by Kolawole Olanrewaju’s Komotion Studios.
Pleased with the event’s offerings, the Olu of Waru/Apo FCT community, Oba Babatunde Ogunrombi noted that Yoruba culture traditional healing system and Yoruba assumed to be extinct remain relevant in the contemporary Yoruba society.
Expectant mothers, he said deploy Yoruba traditional medicine (otherwise known as herbs) for boomerang purposes, while there are Yoruba herbs blended to ‘sweat out’ malaria and clear one’s iris.
“For malaria, I take Agboba. There is a tree called ‘orugwo’, with tea leaves and some herbs, you mix and mash them together and drink it every morning for a month and sweat out malaria. Bitter Kola is good for the eyes. Peel it, soak it inside water, and use the water to clean your face every morning, or put it in your eyes to clear your iris. There are many herbs and roots that when you cook together are medicinal,” said the traditional ruler.
On future projects from EUNIC Nigeria, Siegert said the organization is open to exploring other projects and cultures beyond Yoruba.
“As the Cuban ambassador said so beautifully, Africa is in Europe and Europe is in Africa. This is something that we can look into. I think the three continents Africa, Latin America and Europe have a long history, an entangled history, a dark history of enslavement of people, which a few continents have been a part of; but also have cultural relationships. That is what we are trying to understand more and to foster through our work as a unique cluster.”
As part of EUNIC Nigeria, Goethe institut has supported projects exploring different Nigerian cosmologies – four projects that each reviewed cosmology in the different regions of the country, the Yoruba, Hausa, and smaller groups in the eastern Nigerian. “Our interest isn’t just in Yoruba culture, and if we have another chance for other projects as this, we will be happy to do that as well.
“It is about unifying culture, unifying countries and finding ways of dialogue and mutual understanding through culture,” Barta.
Meantime, the cluster is amping-up its Museum Project which it kicked off in the year 2019, with the aim of ensuring its sustainability. The project aimed at contributing to improving museums in Nigeria, kickstarted with a survey of the situations of Museums in the country, and followed by discusses with representatives and creators of Nigerian museums. The discusses were succeeded by online trainings in 2021 for the representatives and creatives, which led to the invitation of four of them to residencies at Europe Museums this year.
“Now, we intend to go even further, if possible, to African museums, and possibly museums in west Africa region with exchanges and such,” added Barta.