In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Yoruba Diaspora

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Slavery and the Slave Trade
  • New Trends, Old Struggle

African Studies Yoruba Diaspora
Toyin Falola
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0226


The Yoruba are among the largest and most researched cultural groups in Africa. In the contemporary composition of states, the Yoruba people traditionally occupy the southwestern region of Nigeria. The arbitrary partition of boundaries and classification of peoples by the colonial government saw that some of this population within the Yoruba nation before the colonial period now find themselves outside of this territory in places now known as the North-Central part of Nigeria. These places include Kwara State and part of Kogi State. Further, owing to this history, as well as to the history of slavery, trading relations, and trading engagements, the Yoruba people have never been restricted to their enclave. They are easily spotted in many parts of Nigeria, and they constitute a formidable community in some parts of West Africa, including Togo, Benin, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire. Outside of Africa, the unfortunate trade in human cargo that dominated the trading relations between African and European merchants from the 16th century until its effective termination in the second half of the 19th century explains the Yoruba people’s substantial presence in parts of the Americas and the Caribbean. Today, when we talk about the transnationality of the Yoruba people and culture, mention is made of the population and the people’s enduring culture in places like Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Jamaica, the United States, and Haiti. Here, they constitute a formidable cultural entity that brings to life the idea of the Yoruba diaspora. Yoruba culture has existed and survived in these faraway lands across the Atlantic in a way that dwarfs the cultural essence of those migrants in West African countries who are geographically closer to their primordial home. This is not in isolation of the circumstances that led to the migration of both groups, period of migration, and the consequent composition of the people in these places. Due to their geographical location, which protected them from the trans-Saharan slave trade, the Yoruba people were conspicuously absent among the African slaves who were sold to the Arabs and lived in places like Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. This explains the absence of this diasporic population and culture in Asia as compared to the Americas and the Caribbean. In what follows here, an attempt is made to highlight the major source materials that could help scholars and students of the Yoruba diaspora search for notable texts to aid their research and/or study.

General Overview

Debates about the practical stretch of the term diaspora apart, Yoruba diaspora here refers to the totality of the Yoruba people’s experience in various locations where they found themselves, especially across the Atlantic. Homeland as a conceptual frame refers to the primordial base of the diaspora population in Africa—Yorubaland, in this particular context. There is a continuous conversation between the homeland and the diaspora, and there is no small measure of studies conducted on this (e.g., González-Wippler 1992, Brown 2003, Mann and Bay 2001). This explains why it is imperative for a study on the Yoruba diaspora to be grounded in the Yoruba people’s ways and lives. Diaspora Yoruba, like other cultures, and as illustrated in Otero 2010, and Clarke 2004, thus consists of items, symbols, histories, narratives, ways of life, and practices of people that share the same ancestry and trajectory with those who had existed and/or still exist in present-day southwestern Nigeria. This population exhibits a huge cultural potency in rituals, arts, kinship, fashion, and philosophy, all of which were codified and taken into concrete forms of ideas and traditions passed down to future generations through word of mouth. Oral traditions and creative oral arts form the basis of Yoruba civilization, like every other African culture. Adeeko 2017 called the contents of these traditions in Yorubaland the act of being Yoruba—that is, Yorubahood. These elements are the concrete ideas that those among the population who were traded as slaves took with them to their diasporic locations, and were what they used to navigate and negotiate their encounters in these places. In an exploration of the ethnogenesis of the people and the significance of the myths adapted for the social construction of the Yoruba identity, Apter 2018 gives a compelling argument that attests to the homogeneity and heterogeneity of the Yoruba nation. Further in this light, Johnson 1921 remains an authoritative and foundational basis for understanding the Yoruba world from its history and cultural practices. Since the publication of this authoritative text, others with similar missions have been produced, bringing more clarity and nuance to what we know about the Yoruba people. Even though it is generally agreed that ethnic identities are socially constructed toward a political goal, scholars have argued against the position of some theorists who believed these identities are purely political and could not be viewed as having any tangible cultural or historical ties. Obateru 2003 takes this discussion to another level of clarity, combining the author’s expertise in urban and regional planning with history and archaeology to trace the trajectory of urbanization in Yorubaland, putting the take-off period around the 11th century, with the coming of Oduduwa, and terming it the Golden Age in Yoruba history.

  • Adeeko, Adeleke. Arts of Being Yorùbá : Divination, Allegory, Tragedy, Proverb, Panegyric. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt20060q5

    The text introduces readers to those concrete structures of ideas that characterize the Yoruba people among other cultures. Through divination, praise poems, greetings, dressing, religion, and other factors, the book explains how the Yoruba identity is formed. Anyone interested in studying Yoruba in diaspora is offered the avenue to access the grand norm and philosophy that drives the people anywhere they are.

  • Apter, Andrew. Oduduwa’s Chain: Locations of Culture in the Yoruba-Atlantic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    The text is a brilliant mixture of ethnography, anthropology, and history to attest to the richness and originality of the Yoruba culture that survives in various parts of the world. The author explores the political role of myths and traditions in forming cultures and constructing ethnic identities using the example of the Yoruba people.

  • Brown, David H. Santeria Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    The author provides good coverage of the literature on Yoruba-descended peoples in Cuba. The volume contains great visual data and inserts the Cuban story into the US story. Suggesting a progressive community, Brown shows how culture has been adopted as a “usable past” for the construction and reconstruction of old practices in another environment to form an identity and organize a community of people of shared experience.

  • Clarke, Kamari Maxine. Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780822385417

    How and why is it that culture and traditions have been used as an agency in transforming society and forming a community? Clarke answers this question through the theoretical and empirical lens that studies the Oyotunji community in North Carolina in the United States. Using this text for a study of the Yoruba diaspora will help enlighten the reader on the reproduction of the sociopolitical Yoruba community in an Atlantic city. It simply tells the study of adaptation and memory.

  • González-Wippler, Migene. Powers of the Orishas: Santeria and the Worship of Saints. New York: Original Publications, 1992.

    The text goes through the trajectory of the Yoruba òrìsà (or orisha) worship system in Cuba and their Spaniard lords’ restrictions that first inhibited them from their traditional practices. According to the book, the Yoruba òrìsà worship system became Santeria in this Atlantic location, as their traditional practice of worship was cloaked in Catholicism for survival and reproduction.

  • Johnson, Samuel. The History of the Yorubas. Lagos, Nigeria: CSS Press, 1921.

    This work remains fundamental to the study of the Yoruba people. It covers virtually all aspects of the people’s history, cultural practices, traditions, and norms. This pioneering text reflects on the similarities and differences between some cultural groups within the Yoruba nation. The author says this twice. I understand his point, but the Ijebu people were also quite important, as the author acknowledges in a later entry. I worry that this statement is overly simplistic and may mislead readers. It discusses major events in the country that led to the collapse of the Old Oyo and attempts at reviving this hegemonic empire.

  • Mann, Kristin, and Edna G. Bay, eds. Rethinking the African Diaspora: The Making of a Black Atlantic World in the Bight of Benin and Brazil. London: Routledge, 2001.

    This text is co-edited by two notable scholars in the history of the transatlantic slave trade, and this is brought to bear in this publication. In nine chapters, the authors bring together different narratives that have produced a rich cultural mixture in the Atlantic world as they locate the roles and experience of Africans in this history over time. The intersection between Afro-American cultures and experience and the homeland—Africa—thus constitutes the crux of the discussion.

  • Obateru, Oluremi I. The Yoruba in History, 11th Century to the Present. Ibadan, Nigeria: Penthouse Publications, 2003.

    The book is rich in sources and analysis. It makes every effort to locate the Yoruba people’s history from the inception of the nation’s urbanization process, which was engineered by the coming of Oduduwa around the 11th–12th century, to the trends that prevailed in the early part of the 21st century.

  • Otero, Salimar. Afro-Cuban Diasporas in the Atlantic World. Rochester, NY: Rochester University Press, 2010.

    The theory of Yoruba diaspora is examined in this work through the admixture of the biographical, ethnographical, and historical study of the Yoruba community in 19th-century Cuba and Lagos. It looks at the formation of a transnational “home” created by memories and imaginations in the world of those forcefully taken to the Atlantic world during this period.

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