Appraising Nigeria’s indigenous religion

The African indigenous religions provide strong linkages between the life of humans and the world of the ancestors. Humans are thus able to maintain constant and symbiotic relations with their ancestors, who are understood to be intimately concerned and involved in their descendants.

Many Nigerians follow the teachings of purely indigenous religions. Most of these religions share the idea that one supreme God created the earth and its people, but has left people to decide their own paths in life. Followers of the traditional Yoruba religion believe that hundreds of spirits or minor gods have taken the place of the supreme God in influencing the daily lives of individuals. Many Yoruba slaves who were taken to the Caribbean and the Americas brought this religion with them. There it was used as the basis of Santeria and voodoo.

Yoruba traditional religion includes Sango, Oya, Ori, Yemoja, Ogun, Osun, Obatala, Esu, Ifa,  Egungun, Gelede, Sigidi, Elegba, Amadioha in igbo language means (god of thunder), Ala (earth goddess) and more than than one hundred gods are from the Eastern region, while the Northerners mostly identified with Islamic religion, though they worshiped Maguzanes or Bor during the pre-islamic era.

The festival of Ogun, which also takes place on an annual basis, involves sacrifices as well. Prior to the ritual and celebration, priests take a vow to abstain from cursing, fighting, sex, and eating certain foods, so they can be seen as worthy of Ogun. When it’s time for the festival, they make offerings of snails, kola nuts, palm oil, pigeons, and dogs to soothe Ogun’s destructive wrath.

Ori (known as Orí in Latin America) is a Yoruba metaphysical concept. Ori, literally meaning “head,” refers to one’s spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded into the human essence, and therefore is often personified as an Orisa in its own right.

In Yorùbá religion, Sàngó is one of the most popular “Orisa”. He was a strong ruler and a notable magician. Sango was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. He succeeded Ajaka, son of Oranmiyan who appears to have been a weak ruler. His symbol is a double-headed axe, which represents swift and balanced justice. He is the owner of Bata (double-headed drums), as well as the Arts of Music, Dance and Entertainment in the Yoruba Culture. In the Lukumí (Olokun mi which means “my dear one”) religion of the Caribbean, Sango is considered the center point of the religion as he represents the Oyo people of West Africa.

Sango had three wives; Osun, (a river goddess) was his favorite because of her excellent cooking, Oba (another river goddess) offered Sango her ear to eat. He scorned her and she becamethe Oba River, which merges with the Osun River to form dangerous rapids. Lastly, Oya (Sango’s third wife) was a crafty woman who stole the secret of Sango’s powerful magic

Oba was Sango’s first and legitimate wife; Osun, his second wife, and Oya, his third wife, whom he made his queen. Osun played a trick on Oba out of jealousy. She deceived Oba that if she can cut a piece of her ear and offer it to Sango as part of his meal, he would love her the more. Oba, excited by this information, ran home to prepare Sango’s “Amala”, his favorite meal. She sliced off her ear and stirred it into Sango’s food. While Sango was eating, he saw the ear in the food and was infuriated thinking that Oba was trying to poison him. Sango drove her from his house and Oba ran out crying. She fell to the ground and turned into a river which is still being worshipped till date. She became the patron of matrimony (as “Orisha”) and it is believed that she destroys marriages that abuse either partner.

Historically, Sango brought prosperity to the Oyo empire during his reign. He is associated with the sacred animal, the ram, and the colours of red and white. Sango is venerated in Haiti, as a god of thunder and weather; in Brazil, he is known as Xangô; in Umbanda, as the very powerful loaNago Sango; in Trinidad as Sango, god of thunder, drumming and dance; and in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela – the Santeria equivalent of St. Barbara, he is known as Changó.

Sango displayed his magical powers by directing lightning unto his own household, killing his wives and children. He got angry and entered the ground in Ira by himself after the incidence; he was deified as the god of thunder and lightning. Sango as purpoted did not hang himself. Sango’s followers went to another village to acquire magical powers and returned furiously to destroy the enemies of Sango in old Oyo.

Obatala or Osanla (known as Obatalá inNigeriaand in Caribbean and South American Spanish and Oxalá inBrazil) is anorisa. He is believed to be theSkyFatherand the creator ofhumanbodies, which were brought to life by the smooth breath ofOlodumare.Obatala is the father of all orishas (irunmole or imole). Hisprincipalwifeis Yemaya.

Egungun festival is a festival that is celebrated amongst the Yoruba people, which is celebrated annually and has been passed successively down to generations. It is believed to help develop trade and commerce and generally bond the people of Yorubaland together regardless of their religious beliefs. Members of the society dance to marketplaces, wearing their masks to represent the deceased spirits of their ancestors, the spirit to be worshipped is solely decided by Ifa Oracle.

The Gẹlẹdẹ spectacle of theYoruba is a public display by colourful masks, which combines art and ritual dance to amuse, educate and inspire worship.Gelede celebrates “Mothers” (awoniyawa), a group that includes female ancestors and deities as well as the elderly women of the community, and the power and spiritual capacity these women have in society. Focusing not only on fertility and motherhood but also on correct social behavior within the Yoruba society.


Yemoja – mother of fish children 

Yoruba mythology, she is regarded as one of the16 Orisas (gods) sent by Olodumare. (The supreme god).

Yemoja descended on a rope to create the earth with other Orisas(gods).

She is seen as the figure of motherhood and is revered by barren women as she can provides them with children. It is believed that the first mortal men were birthed by her.

Yemoja is often portrayed as a loving caring mother who can become temperamental and violent if crossed.

She is the goddess of fertility and protector of pregnant women and their children.

Yemoja is the goddess water bodies and is the protector of people who work and travel on the sea. She is the head of the Gelede society (society of mothers)

In wood carvings, she is depicted as a mermaid. Every year a festival is held in her honour, where sacrifices of maize, yam, porridge and other foods are offered to her. New members are also initiated.

Many stories have linked her as the wife of gods

like, Okere, Obatala, Erinle and OrisaOko. She is also the mother of Ogun, Sango, Dada, Ibeji and many other gods.She is portrayed as having

humongous breasts so as to breastfeed her many children.         Her symbols are cowries’ shells symbolizing wealth, fishes, a mother carrying a child, multicolored crystal beads, pigeon, and white clothes.

Yemoja is still worshipped today, and she exists in other countries like Cuba, Uruguay, Haiti, and Brazil

Ifa religion? It is a spiritual system based on belief in three major components: the Supreme Being (Olodumare), the spirits (Orisa), and the ancestors. Olodumare is also known by other names, including Eleda, Eledumare, and Olorun. “Ifa includes magic, the use oftraditional medicines and veneration of the dead.

Like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Ifa is monotheistic, but itssupreme creative figure, Olodumare, shares power with dozens ofsubsidiary deities”


  • Adefaye, a culture and museum expert, sent in the piece from Ibadan.


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