The YORUBA of West Africa and Diaspora practice religious freedom to a fault remaining the most tolerant community of every religious belief in the world. It is always fun to study, admire and live the way Yoruba celebrate various religious events even those adverse to their well beings during the Slave Trade in the hands of their Arab Muslims or European Christian brothers. In contrast, Yoruba remind us that the same way a slave is born, so is a free child. The only community where a slave can aspire to be a king and a king can reduce himself to a slave. Though Africa remains the only Continent without its indigenous religion practiced freely and openly, Yoruba religious culture has not been so consumed.

The reason most Yoruba practice free religion can be seen in their children. These kids cannot wait for every religious holiday to contest with goat horns or on sticks, feast, dance, and put on Africanized masks in celebration. There are different masquerades and festivals that generate great interest amongst those that have been taken by other religions. They all celebrate at one another's houses. In short, they party all weekend on streets. Children grow up with this accommodating religious culture and pass it on to their children. Religious freedom became a cultivated custom from an early age.

The advantage of this religious freedom is that Yoruba have been able to get along without holy war in the name of Crusade or Jihad. Instead of war, Yoruba make love and marry across religious lines. As much as the rest of the world is obsessed with religious superiority or inferiority complex, those type of feelings exist but at a minimum in Yoruba communities. Whenever they are away, they miss religious freedom taken for granted at home and are constrained within religious tolerance in other communities.

When Yoruba claim that the world started from Ife, many people ridicule such belief as myth. The same people, however, cannot explain how Adam and Eve were created, if that is not myth by scientific standard. Before Adam and Eve, there was life in Africa as a scientific fact. It is the Continent where Eledumare created Obatala. The point here is not to ridicule or create any more controversy as we see daily between parents that insist their children should be thought traditional creationism of the Bible or Koran and those going for evolution in scientific theory or both. It suffices to point out that myth or science exists in Yoruba belief of how the world was created before those beliefs in the Bible, Koran or Hindu relative to scientific facts.

Looking at Yoruba culture, one of the problems is that of identity complex where we believe, if good persons did wonders in their communities, we must accept them in Africa as saints but our own prophets have no honor in their communities. The culture of Yoruba point to people that were prolific writers and mathematicians writing on every object they can get hold of including people's faces, back, forehead, calabash, sand, stone and people counting in thousands in their language. This cannot be the people some others, because they cannot read Yoruba writings called them illiterates.

Africans at home and in Diaspora have never moved far away from their own religion and the worship of one God is not new to Yoruba culture since each of the gods are related to one God, a few even married one another. The Yoruba religion is firmly embedded in Yoruba culture and language. They refer to it when they thank God for his blessings and also swear by it in their sincerity. As far as foreign religions are concern, they have limited use in the culture and language when it comes to authenticity.

There is no way you can get an African at home or in Diaspora to swear by indigenous God or god of Ogun or Osun. But put their hands on the Bible, Koran, Tora, or the holy book of Hindu; my brothers and sisters will swear freely in the name of God. Even during slavery, Diaspora Yoruba use Santeria to worship Ogun, Osun or Obatala while their conquerors thought they were praying to St. Anthony or some other saints. Yoruba have never departed from the God of Ife, cradle of Yoruba life, culture and religion.

Those that study Yoruba culture could not but wonder how much of Yoruba God or prayer is incorporated into these other religions inadvertently. There has been suspicion that this incorporation was intentional just as the Santeria in Diaspora. Yoruba Alfa and Reverend praise God in these other religions as if they were praising the God that created thunder, river, iron or forest. Realizing that Yoruba have gods for each of these relating to one God, it becomes easier to understand if some of them were intentionally or inadvertently confused. It is very difficult to take Yoruba God out of Yoruba culture.

Even those that called themselves Yoruba atheist just like Christian and Muslim, exclaim in the name of Yoruba God. Aware of this fact, some of the religions have made Latin and Arabic compulsory for prayers since God only understand each as the only way to heaven or perish. So in order to get a direct message or prayer to God, it has to be in one of those languages through their Prophets. Unfortunately, many Africans mastered these languages and more without understanding the full meaning as it is crammed or used for nothing else but prayers. African children are sent to prayer houses early before they could learn how to think, write and speak in their languages. But man cannot live by bread or prayer alone.

The real Ifa priest cannot be bought or monopolized if you want to know the truth. They will tell you the consequences of your evil proposition against your fellow man and woman, since every action has a reaction. Evil men know this and are initially prepared for such consequences. Some find solace in foreign religions that preach forgiveness for every sin. It is not uncommon to see a rich man build a church or mosque as part of his home where he prays before and after his evil deeds.

The Ifa priest, that introduce Oracles to the world through the Greeks and the Romans sojourn in Africa, will let you know in advance how the evil you sought for others will hunt you to the end. Nevertheless, most religions have cleaned up their fetishes to be relevant in modern days. The Bible and Koran no longer ask for Crusade and Jihad. The Abrahams of today no longer use their first and only son as sacrifice. So has and must be Yoruba religion to clean up fetishes and demystify all religions. Chicken, goat and cow are good enough for sacrifice unless you are a vegetarian or animal activist.

Of course, there are ardent Yoruba Christian and Muslim believers that passed to the children of next generation their English, Arabic and Ari Krishna names and ways. The fact that the freedom exists in Yoruba communities, even in Diaspora point to the religious freedom enjoyed. In the same nuclear and extended family amongst Yoruba, are people of different faiths and religions. If Yoruba start hating one another or just tolerating one another as the rest of the world, blood will run in many families. In some countries Christian, Moslem, Hindu and Jewish faiths are hardly freely practiced because they are barely tolerated out of fear and religious insecurity.

Those that are familiar with religious violence in Africa will quickly point out that the Yoruba are mostly found in the western part of Nigeria. They cannot reconcile religious freedom in the western part to religious riots in other parts. Religious riot in the western part of Nigeria is very minimal and not internally generated. As soon as any riot raises its ugly head, Yoruba are reminded of who they are and are quickly extinguished by greater interest of preservation. Tolerance for such riot is low because every member of a family will suffer the consequences. Each member may practice a different kind of faith but remain loyal to Eledumare, the father of Oduduwa or Adimu amongst other Yoruba cousins and communities throughout West Africa and Diaspora.

The real myth about Nigeria is that in spite of our differences, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and a mixture of other ethnic groups are all related. It may be difficult to understand by the way ethnic riots break out which are mainly for political and economic dominance. The history of Yoruba is assimilation and accommodation of other Africans. Even going by the history of Hausa and Igbo that may not be flattering to Yoruba, Hausa history claim one of their sons was “illegitimate” Yoruba. Igbo claim they were the original owner of Yoruba land. Somewhere in their histories, they admit their relationships.

Yoruba history also teaches us that Hausa and Igbo are Yoruba brothers with the same distinguishing Ijebu mark or scarification on their faces or foreheads as described by Herodotus in the 5th century BC in Egypt and still seen today in Sudan or Waddai. Igbo accept Obi of Onitsha as one of them where Yoruba dialect exists as in Diaspora Cuba and Brazil. But when it comes to division of national cake, the way they go after one another, nobody would believe they ever met one another in the same country on their way to or from Egypt. In reality these are indigenous Africans that have lived with one another peacefully in Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires.

These days the mental faculties of some ethnic groups have been taken over to a larger extent than others by different religions from different communities outside Africa and some are ready to kill one another for their adopted foreign religions. Not the Yoruba. There are scholars that will argue that foreign religions that some charlatan Africans are loyal to have divided Africans more for economic reason than to what ethnic group they belong to. Affiliation due to economic inadequacy and sense of belonging in solidarity with prosperous religions outside of Africa for succor contradict the scientific proof that man sojourned out of Africa, not into Africa.

Yoruba culture and religion confidently defy all these and remain strong in Africa and Diaspora while at the same time accommodating others religious freedom and getting involved, faithfully or not, conveniently or not.

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Articles by Farouk Martins Aresa