The Yoruba people are among the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, they are also one of the three major tribes in the country. Originally/primarily domiciled in seven states but found all over the country and also in some parts of other west African countries like Benin Republic and Togo; Àwon omo yoòbá (The Children of Yoruba) constitute about 16% of the Nigerian population and have a population of close to 40 million people.
The Yoruba people acknowledge themselves as the descendants of Oduduwa (Oodua) and recognize Ile-Ife in present-day Osun State Nigeria as their cradle, according to Yoruba Creation Mythology. Oyo Empire of present-day Oyo State is revered as their earliest organized kingdom. The Yoruba language is classified under the Benue-Congo branch under the Niger-Congo language family. Speakers of the Yoruba language are also found outside the African continent in places like Brazil and Cuba due to the influence of transatlantic slavery.
Where Yoruba People Can Be Found
Here is a list of the Nigerian States that are referred to as the Yoruba States:
- Lagos State
- Osun State
- Ekiti State
- Oyo State
- Kwara State
- Ondo State
- Ogun State
Kogi State Nigeria also has a significant number of people of Yoruba origin like the Kabba people, but the state is not considered to be a primary Yoruba State. Edo state also has quite a number of Yoruba inhabitants.
In Yoruba states and Yoruba land, the predominant spoken language is Yoruba and if you are a tourist, a casual visitor, or a traveler on transit; you will need to learn some primary words and phrases in the Yoruba language to be able to communicate with the locals for a less difficult time.
Here are 25 Yoruba Words and Phrases You Need To Know
For a much easier comprehension and better understanding, these words and phrases are classified and grouped according to their uses, when or how they can come in handy, and how to use them.
One thing the Yoruba people are very particular about is respect. Do not make the mistake of trying to engage any Yoruba person in a conversation without greeting them first. Here are a few words and phrases that connote the right mode of greeting. To appear more “cultured” when greeting an older person in Yorubaland; bow a little if you are male, and curtsy a little if you are female.
1. E Kaaro: Good morning. In the morning you say E Kaaro, and if it’s to an older person, you should add ma/sir.
2. E Kasaan: Good afternoon. For afternoon time, but do not forget ma/sir for an older person.
3. Eku Irole: Good evening. Once it’s evening time, Eku Irole is ideal, and ma/sir should be added for older people.
4. E kaale: Another phrase for Good evening but used during the night time from the hours of 7 pm or when it is already dark.
5. Bawo Ni?: How are you? Ask a person you meet about their wellbeing by saying Bawo ni? This is a friendly gesture and be sure to add Ma/Sir for an older person.
6. O Dabo/O daro/ O dola: To bade farewell or say goodbye. O dabo means See you next time, O Daro means See you in the morning and O dola means, See you tomorrow.
Words for Hello
There is no specific or specified word for “hello” in Yoruba, however, there are some convenient Yoruba words or phrases that can serve the purpose of hello. Do not forget to end with a Ma or a Sir when referring to an older person.
7. E Ku Ishe o/ Ekushe o: This directly translates to “Welldone with your work”. This can be appropriately used for a person or a group of people who are busy with something.
8. E Pele o: This is also convenient when trying to say Hello.
9. E Nle o: Especially when greeting people sitting in their house.
10. E Ku Ijoko/ E Ku Ikale: When you see a group of people relaxing or just sitting down and cooling off, these phrases are Ideal.
At The Market
If you find yourself struggling to strike a bargain, requesting the price of an item, or simply trying to communicate with the sellers, these are some Yoruba words for the purpose.
11. Mo Fe Ra…: This means “I want to buy…” Mo fe ra Nkan means I want to buy something, Mo fe ra bread means I want to buy bread.
12. E Lo/E Lo Ni?: This means “how much”. If you want to find out the price of an item you want to buy, you should say E lo or E Lo Ni? to be more specific, you can also say E lo no eleyi? How much is this? Eleyi means this.
13. O Won: If the price for the item you want to purchase is too much for you and you want to express to the seller that it is pricy. O Won means, It is expensive.
Numbers are an important part of buying and selling. Here are the Yoruba words for numbers 1-10.
For Personal Introduction
15. Ó Ruko Mi: This means, My name. O Ruko mi ni means my name is. For when you are trying to introduce yourself to someone or a group of people. “O Ruko mi ni Samuel,” My name is Samuel.
16. Kini Óruko e?: If you are trying to know the name of the person you are communicating with. Kini oruko e means, What’s your name.
17. Tani e?: For when you are trying to inquire about a person’s identity. It means, Who are you?
18. Kilode?: This is a multipurpose word. Can be used in a friendly or official manner. It means What’s the matter? or can also mean Any problem? What is going on?
19. Nibo lowa?: This is a question and it means, Where is it? Nibo lewa also means where are you?
20. Funmi Lówó: This means, Give me money.
21. Mo Fe Lo Si Òja: For indicating your destination, this particular Yoruba phrase means, I want to go to the market.
22. Mo Fe Jeun: This is one of the very common Yoruba words or phrases you should know, especially when you are on transit. It means I want to eat.
As a visitor, one of the most common questions you may be asking or one of the most common assistance you will be needing is directions. You may not be able to get all the words; however, here are some words you should get familiar with.
23. Ònà wó ní kííngba: This is a phrase for seeking a particular direction. It means, Which way should I go?
24. Ya sowo Otun: When you Ask for a direction and you hear this phrase, it means, Turn Right.
25. Ya si apa Osi: This means, turn Left.
25 Common Yoruba Words and Phrases
Apart from the phrases and words above that should come in handy in their designated situations, here are some words that will help you in getting by when interacting with Yoruba people.
- Iyawo: Wife, Iyawo mi, My Wife
- Oko: Husband, Oko mi, My Husband
- Omo: Child, Omo mi, My Child
- Iya: Mother, Iya mi, My Mother
- Baba: Father, Baba Mi, My Father
- Aburo: Sibling, Aburo mi, My Sibling
Yoruba Words For Friendship and Love
- Mo Ni Fe Re: To express your feelings of love, Mo ni fe re means, I love you.
- Ololufemi/Ife Mi: My Love
- Ife: Love
- Ore: Friend, Ore Mi, My Friend
Day to Day Words For Everything Else
These are words or phrases that you can use daily or in your interactions with Yoruba people.
- Emi: For when you are referring to yourself, this means, Me or Myself
- Awa: When you are referring to yourself and others with you. This means, Us or We
- Awon: For when you are referring to others. This means They.
- Ese/Ose: These are the words for Thank you.
- E Joor/Jowo: This means, Please. Jowo can also be used for Excuse me.
- Kini?: Kini is the Yoruba word for, What?
- E Jeka Lo: For when you want to announce intent to leave. This means, let us go.
- Ounje: Food
- Omi: Water
- Yara: Room
- Ile: House
- Rara: No
- Beeni: Yes
- Aso: Clothing
- Bata: Footwear
Unique Customs and Traditions of the Yoruba People You Should Know As a Visitor
Customs and traditions chronicle the way of life of a people or a particular community. The Yoruba people have strong beliefs in their traditions and customs. The majority of the belief system of the Yorubas stem from a long-time adherence to cultural taboos, myths, and superstition. As a visitor, tourist, or traveler on transit, you will come across certain practices that may seem very strange to you.
However, customs and traditions differ from town to town or from community to community. Each part of Yoruba land has its peculiar customs and traditional beliefs, and what might be acceptable in town A may be forbidden in town A. But, some practices are generally upheld in most parts of Yoruba land, and they have become a part of the Yoruba identity; here are some of them.
No whistling at night
Nobody whistles at night in Yoruba land. It is believed to invite reptiles and other unwanted creepy creatures into the house. So, try not to whistle at night if you find yourself in Yoruba land.
Women are forbidden to look at the Oro Masquerade
The Oro masquerade comes out during the Oro festival, a festival that is celebrated across the Yoruba states. The Oro masquerade also shows up when an Oba (King) dies. But, men are the only ones allowed to witness the festival or even see the masquerade. So, if you happen to be in a Yoruba community during an Oro festival, and you are a female, stay indoors to avoid clashes with the locals and possible violence; if you are male, maintain a safe position.
Never cross over outstretched legs
This is based on a belief that, if you cross over a person’s outstretched legs, any child they give birth to, will look like you and nobody wants their child to look like another person, talk more of a stranger. So, be careful and watch out, so you don’t accidentally cross over anyone’s outstretched legs, and do not let anyone cross over yours too. In case it happens, you have to “re-cross” the person’s legs.
Do not carry around or use an umbrella when it’s not raining
As funny as this may seem, the Yorubas believe that playing with an umbrella when it’s not raining will invite endless rain on the day of any of your important events. So, if you do not want heavy non-stop rainfall on your wedding day, do not bring out an umbrella when the skies are clear.
Pregnant women don’t walk under the hot sun
This is believed to cause the pregnant woman to give birth to a deformed child, or the child will get possessed by evil spirits that roam around in the hot sun.
Putting a piece of thread on the head of an infant experiencing hiccups
In Yoruba land, it is believed that when an infant is experiencing hiccups, a tiny piece of thread on the head just before the forehead, will seize the hiccups.
Never beat a male child with a broomstick
This is believed to cause the male child to become impotent as he grows up. But we are moved to ask, what about the female child?
Never carry a ladder on your shoulders
This is believed to attract a bad omen and untimely death because carrying a ladder resembles pallbearers carrying a corpse.
Do not collect rainwater with your hands
This is believed to cause thunder to strike the defaulter, although children are much more sternly warned not to collect rainwater with their bare hands.
Rabbit meat and dog meat
This case is an example of peculiarities and differences. In Ondo State, it is forbidden to eat rabbits but dog meat is a delicacy, while in other parts of Yoruba land, eating dog meat is forbidden while rabbit meat is a delicacy.