Taboos In Ile-Ife
Lagos, Nigeria. 17.1.09
ILE-Ife, the ancient Yoruba city, is strategically located in the centre of Yoruba speaking people of South Western Nigeria. lIe-lfe by geographical coordinate occupies a meeting point between the deciduous forest of southern Nigeria and Guinea Savannah to the North. According to the mythology, Ile-Ife was first of creation on earth and Oduduwa was the progenitor of the Yoruba race. The historians generally acclaimed him as the great one from which human existence originated.
Ile-Ife is the cradle of the Yorubas, a town where other Yorubas migrated from at different times. The people of Ile-Ife are predominantly farmers and are endowed with unique cultural heritage.
Taboos (Ewo) according to the contemporary English Dictionary is defined as something which religion, custom or tradition regards as forbidden and not to be touched or spoken of especially on moral or religious grounds.
Taboos (Ewo) can be differentiated from laws (Ofin) because, Taboos are offences against the land, while Laws (Ofin) regulate human conduct and are offences against the community.
In Ile-Ife, there are Taboos that are general that is, that affect everybody and there are some that are peculiar to certain families (compound), for example, it is a taboo for members of the following compounds to rear dogs as pet.
They are Tewogbade compound in Arubidi; Loaw Ada compound in Itakogun; Otigun compound in Yemoo; Gbelenko compound in Agesinjawe; Egesi compound in Lagare; Loaw Ake compound in Ayetoro... all in lIe-lfe. It also affects some part of Igbajo and Iresi who probably 'migrated from one of the compounds in lIe-lfe. All the families mentioned above were known as Lelu.
According to oral traditions, the king's wife delivered along the way and the baby, was reportedly died. But the baby was abandoned, and on the fifth day, they found the baby with a dog that just delivered, breast-feeding the baby alongside her puppies. The king laid a curse that no member of the family must rare dogs as pet, because there is no way they will not be offended by the dog, and this will lead to calamity.
above Lelu compounds must not share white kola-nuts or kola-nuts that need to
be peeled before eating with anybody. This was because members of this Lelu
clan shared kola-nuts with members of other families and later died. Thus it
was then forbidden for members of Lelu clan to share kola-nuts with people
other than members of their own family. In addition, some members of this Lelu
family still have Taboo (Ewo) that affected them only, like Tewogbades compound
who must not eat vegetable leaf called 'Osun' else they die.
Also, the Otigun compound must not use 'Ejirin' or 'Igboleaja' to paint their huts or house, else snakes will visit their houses. This was as a result of a curse placed on the family by a slave girl who was asked to eat these leaves as a vegetable soup after delivery. These leaves were used in the olden days to paint the ground and walls of the huts. Lelu families have a special praise song to appreciate themselves.
Locust Beans (Iru): This is peculiar to members of Obaloran compound, eating of locust beans (Iru) either knowingly or by mistake will lead to the peeling of the lips and mouth of whoever eats it and also, such a person must not attend or go to 'Igboose' for the 'Obalooran' festival. One who eats and attends will die through mysterious bees attack. This is as a result of a curse placed on the family (compound) by a slave that was given locust beans (Iru) to eat after delivery, since where she comes, locust beans (Iru) is not a taboo.
The following taboo is applicable to all the indigene of Ile-Ife. They are related to death, marriages and birth.
Death: Death of a woman that is still mourning her husband's death is an abomination or taboo, the woman will not be buried by her family members, instead, she will be buried by Onisoro who will perform a ritual before carrying her corpse to the forest, after this, all her belongings will be taken to the centre of the city and burnt by the Onisoro.
In the same vein the food prepared for such a woman (Ekun ooro) by the children which is the burial rites for wives will also be dropped at the centre of the city. Also, a widow still mourning her husband who had not passed the specific number of days to mourn her husband before his burial, must not see off any visitor from the husband's house, else she will die.
Ekun-ooro is burial rites performed for a wife after her death by her children.
It should be stated that the Onisoro are members of Lokore family and they are responsible for maintaining all the shrines in Ile-Ife, they equally offer sacrifices as at when due at the shrines. Thus, the Onisoros are the intermediary between the people and the deities. The item used to appease the deity to the taboos differs and it is only known to Onisoros.
Death by hanging is also an abomination or taboo. When somebody hangs himself, nobody can unite him except the Onisoro. Ritual will be performed before he or she can be united, the family members must not see the corpse, else death by hanging becomes hereditary in the family. The corpse will be taken to Igbooro (evil forest) by the Onisoro to be buried.
Pregnant Woman: it is a taboo and an abomination for a woman to die during pregnancy, because it is an abomination to bury a pregnant woman with the baby. Ritual will,be performed by the Onisoro, they would remove the baby, and would be buried beside the mother. This ritual is performed to avoid reoccurrences of such in the family. Also a pregnant woman should not go to the market in the noontime to avoid the body being inflicted by evil spirit. If there is need for her to go out, she must tie a stone in her wrapper or put on her cloth, this is to drive away evil child from coming near her.
Death by Drowning: it is a taboo to die through drowning in a river, when it is over, the Onisoros will be the people to carry the corpse from the river after performing the rituals and later buried the corpse beside the river. This ritual is done to avoid reoccurrence of such in the family.
Palm Tree: Falling from a palm tree is a taboo a ritual will be performed by the Onisoro and later buried under the tree.
Falling Tree: it is a taboo for a tree to fall on somebody and kill him, he or she will be buried beside the fallen tree by the Onisoro, after the ritual has been performed.
Marriage: Pouring of water on a new bride's feet by the youngest wife in the family before entering the husband's house is a common practice to the Yorubas, but the Lowa ake family in lIe-lfe has a deity which the new wife must kneel down in front and bow before the normal pouring of water. The reason for this is for the wife to be fruitful in her marriage.
delivery of a baby in some families in Ile-Ife must be done at the roof top
called (Aja), after the delivery the mother and child will be brought down.
Failure to do this will cause calamity in the family. This was a curse placed
on the family by a slave. Even if the baby is born at the hospital, before the
baby is taken in, he or she will be taken to the Aja so as to avoid the curse.
Also, in some families, the nursing mother is given soup or food without salt
for 7 or 9 days depending of the sex of the baby.
This is called Ate. Ate rite
is a unique womanhood ritual for the following families: Iji-Oke, Aka,
Agbedegde, Lafogido, Yekere, Ile-alagbaa, Liare, Abewela, Ita-otutu, Ile-Olodo,
Igbo-Agbo and Ogbon-oya. This is as a result of a curse placed on the families
by a slave who was denied salt, pepper and oil in her food till she was
delivered of her baby. The slave owners see salt as precious and necessary in
meal-making, hence cannot be given to her as to feel the punishment for getting
The slave then cursed all females that will come into the families of their owners to undergo such treatment after childbirth. Failure to undergo such treatment will result in calamity befalling the new mother, that is, the death of the babies. Also, some families give lizard to a nursing mother for a period of time, which must be adhered to, else calamity befalls the mother and child.
It is interesting to note that all these taboos are still in existences and are performed in Ile-Ife till date with little or no additions.