5 March, 2024


Yoruba People & Culture

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

The Out-of-Africa-2 hypothesis which dominates scientific opinion today proposes that a migration out of Africa of the species homo-sapiens-sapiens, or modern man, took place about 100,000 years ago. These modern humans of African origin conquered the world by completely replacing archaic human populations (homo erectus, homo habilis, homo needletails, etc) which had crossed out of Africa much earlier, from about one million years ago. This modern theory allows for the possibility of minor cross breading between the two populations in isolated theatres. 

In this first stage of “Out of Africa 2”, as said, homo sapiens moved out of Africa about 100,000 years ago spreading over the Middle Eastern land mass, entering India, moving north across Central Asia into China and maybe 50,000 years ago crossing over into New Guinea and then Australia. The available anthropological and scientific literature is rich and these two paras are intended no more than to point readers in this direction. What is certain is that social organisation was very rudimentary in the hunter-gatherer societies that preceded settled civilisation in the Tigris-Euphrates Valleys, the Fertile Crescent and Mesopotamia commencing about 12,000 BC.  There are hardly any cultural symbols (burial sites) or methods of state-craft carried over from say 30,000+ years ago. Prehistoric, in our case pre-Balangoda Man simply existed. His sate-craft is unknown and cultural artefacts mostly lost.  

Significant sites associated with the Yoruba

Then why on earth should anybody in this country be interested in a people and culture that dominated north-east Nigeria, unless it has resonances with political evolution in this country?  I grant that the number of people in Lanka who have ever heard of the Yoruba people and their culture is small though the Internet provides a number of leads. The significance of the Yoruba’s for north-western Nigeria and in the regions west of the northern part of the Niger River is profound. The Atlantic coast from where the river joins the sea to Benign, Togo and all the way beyond Ghana is known as the Tonkin Gulf, the Gulf of Guinea or the Bight of Benin. The region and coast share a superficial history similar to the East and North-West Cost of Lanka and there are some historical parallels to Lanka’s late-medieval period.  

Yoruba cultural and statist symbolism today

Archaeological evidence of the existence of Yoruba culture in the region can be traced to the first millennium BC. The people who lived in Yorubaland up to the seventh century BC, though not known as the Yoruba, by the first millennium BC shared a common ethnicity and language group; something similar to the pre-Sinhala and pre-Tamil inhabitants of this Island. These Ethnic groups, including the Yoruba became well known internationally due to their trading with the Portuguese which gave them access to guns and other weapons. In late 1800s, they entered into a treaty with the British and were colonized by Britain in 1901. Recall that the Kandyan Kingdom succumbed to the British in 1815. Eighty-six years in the anthropological time scale is but the blink of an eye.

By the 1st millennium BC Yoruba cultural practices, traditions of social organisation and ‘state-forms’ were influential. Today common cultural practices are widely dispersed in expatriate Tamil communities in the UK, Canada and the USA while a sliver of Tamil expatriate entities struggle to sustain the fiction of revanchist of organisations that can keep alive an Eelam-state ideology in these countries – the Transnational Government of Eelam (TGTE) for example. In the case of the Yoruba the continuity of social-organisational structure into modern times is less fictional and more authentic.   

One point of theoretical interest is the thesis that material benefit alone dictates the evolution of society and culture and the state-craft are mere appendages that tack along. Is it reasonable to say that the different stages of human historical evolution are a movement of society from slavery to serfdom, from classical (Greco-Roman, Xian China or pre-Mohenjo-Daro Indus Valley) to feudal, serf, medieval and capitalism today? That is too simplistic because each stage in social evolution carried within the transition vestiges of the culture and statecraft of its origin.

In more recent times migration has crafted a course of worldwide penetration quite distinct from the aforesaid Out of Africa 2 experiences. It has left dominant markers – for example Chinese cuisine, without challenge the most diverse and delicious in the world – has spanned a legion of China Towns all over the world. Indian indentured labour built the railways of North and South America or settled down into stable plantation communities all over Asia and Africa. None of this of course is to be confused with the much earlier pre-history which I have referred to as the Out of Africa 2 period. 

It is my observation that in North America (US and Canada), the UK and Australia what is taking shape in the Lankan expatriate community is the emergence of separate Tamil and Sinhala cultural formations not a Sri Lankan culture; take for example “clubs”, religious occasions and even weddings (except  the formal event when “everyone” as to be invited). This is the shape of things to come in ‘expatriate Lanka’. The creation of Tamil and Sinhala cultural communities, not a Sri Lankan expatriate culture is what I see. 

If the fight for devolution of power to communities and regions is taken boldly forward by entities within the country, the aforesaid bifurcation in the expatriate arena will unimportant. This is one reason why I have in this column, ever since the Gotabaya-circus was driven out, placed so much emphasis on the role of entities like the NPP to influence the JVP, the positive role of progressive liberal classes and the potential for Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim progressive bourgeois political parties.

In the West the Indian and Pakistani expatriate communities maintain social distances and neither mixes closely with Sri Lankans. Indeed, there is some distance between the American Blacks and Africans who have migrated to the West in recent years. This is despite the fight against slavery and its residues by American Blacks and heroic role of the Civil Rights Movement. All goes to show that even when the colonial master is not pulling the ‘divide and rule’ strings these distances will long prevail.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    KD: You are right that the South Asian and Sri Lankan, Sinhala and Tamil Diaspora has been Weaponized. Today Rishi Sunak is doing America’s Dirty work in the Ukraine and fighting a proxy war on Russia.
    2023 Sri Lanka as it celebrates 75 years of lost independence has been mapped and will soon be carved up into a grid for Digital and on ground colonialism..by the Euro-Bond imperialists. The Energy sector has been carved up. The marine sea bed is being carved up into fake oil exploration plots and the land is being carved up and most important PUBLIC TRANSPORT and the Railway system is being systematically hacked as part of the MCC-Washington hit men Ranil Rajapaksa’s legacy so that the Railways will be Privatized like the electricity and energy sectors.

    • 3

      KD- capture of institutions and sabotage is how hybrid economic proxy war progresses in this age of Digital Colonialism. On January 5 the train to Jaffna was stopped and now the train to Batticlaloa has been stopped citing elephant attack! Meanwhile huge numbers of buses are being imported by the corrupt transport minister.
      This was part of Washingtons MCC project which was targetting the national transport system – ports, airports and National Railway for its valuable Lands and their Trincomalee – BIA air-sea link for the AUKUS war machine.
      As 2023 dawns it is clear that the sabotage of the Train and transport services and sector is being systematically done. hacked in preperation for NATO-AUKUS neocolonilaism under India’s and China’s nose… and of course soon the long promised Famine will hit Sri Lanka with Bio-war fare attacks on Cattle, Fall army worms, Coconut pests and transport system and supply chain breakdown to hit Sri Lanka later this year too!
      Long live Miracle of Modayas, caught in the midst of Hybrid Cyber Economic PROXY War just like Ukraine is of the West against Asia in this ‘Asian 21st Century!’

      • 0

        “completely replacing archaic human populations (homo erectus, homo habilis, homo needletails, etc)”
        Needletails? I believe Prof. KD’s autocorrect is having a bad day…..
        “Is it reasonable to say that the different stages of human historical evolution are a movement of society from slavery to serfdom, from classical (Greco-Roman, Xian China or pre-Mohenjo-Daro Indus Valley) to feudal, serf, medieval and capitalism today?
        And where exactly are we? Feudal capitalism? Theocratic capitalism? Capitalism with Lankan characteristics?

  • 2

    “Prehistoric, in our case pre-Balangoda Man simply existed. His s(t)ate-craft is unknown and cultural art(i)facts mostly lost.”
    As once a Marxist thinker, the writer should know that the state is a product of class society and private ownership of property.
    Culture is contextual, and artifacts have until much later in human history concerned human need and means of production.

  • 2

    In drawing historical parallels one has to exercise caution.
    Contexts were totally different between colonization in Asia and in Africa.
    European colonization of this island and other Asia-Pacific regions was an outcome of trade rivalry (mostly spice initially) in the 16th Century.
    European colonization of Africa started much later, well after slave trade got into full swing and when the hunt for minerals was on the rise.

  • 4

    How many hours did OC spend looking at “Yoruba cultural and statist symbolism today?” ……… Eye-candy to forget his beloved R&R.

    Strangely enough it brings back a lot of memories, Prof David. One of the courses I studied in college was “African Slave Trade.” ……… In the first 2 years we had to study some non-engineering subjects and those classes attracted the best looking gals – engineering was full of Bankman-Fried’s Caroline Ellison types: the type Native feels most comfortable with …….. and the word was out “African Slave Trade” was an easy A.

    There was one gal, who wore ripped-off Levis with about 2 inches of butt hanging out …… went to the prof’s low desk, bent over, and had long discussions about slaves – to this day, we still argue if she did it purposely or not. The boys were sitting behind with their tongues hanging out; hearts in their mouths. Your heart is in fine fettle Prof David, it seems you didn’t undergo such travails!

    Wish I can remember any of my education/learning ……. all I remember is gal’s legs …… legs and legs and legs ……

    Sinhala_Man should thank his lucky stars he was spared all the temptation; isolated in Bandarawela ……. with nothing but STC and JVP/NNP to while away his time on ………

    • 1

      “There was one gal, who wore ripped-off Levis with about 2 inches of butt hanging out …… went to the prof’s low desk, bent over, and had long discussions”
      Ah, but you have discreetly omitted how many inches of whatever hung out at the prof’s end. You don’t want to offend Deepthi the resident feminist, I suppose.

    • 1

      NF. These aging Marxists are a peril to them selves. You are very unkind to S_M. Poor man. He must be in tears.

  • 2

    Thanks, Kumar for allowing us to get away from the tensions and uncertainties that are almost unbearable here.
    The Bandarawela Electorate Meeting, which was scheduled to start at 3.00 pm on the 13th, went off all right. I got there about 3.40; there had already been a Tamil speech. Then speeches by a couple of academics. Harini’s speech was confined to the need for civilized behaviour. The last, and main speech was by Tivlin Silva. He knows how to bring a speech to a climax. A satisfactory meeting.
    With the NPP well placed, there’s no need for risky fireworks. No AKD, no Vijitha Herath. Simon has commented earlier that we must not turn these people into indispensable heroes. I agree, but we humans have a proclivity for heroes. Handunnetti is said to be in Japan.

    • 1

      Having said that, let it be noted that one of the front-line NPP speakers is under fire for regarding nurses the way nimal fernando regards his “gals”. Lalkantha is a speaker who uses popular lingo, to reach out to he “average voter” – if such a person exists,
      He is faulted here by Tharindu of the Aragalaya,
      All this requires a clear mind; not one addled by sleeplessness as mine is now..
      Good nighthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVebVwo3w_chttps:

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