A Contemporary History of Festivals in Yorubaland: Case Study of Oranmiyan Festival

Background to the Study

Ancestor worship is an essential aspect of Yorùbá culture. For worshipers of deities like Oranmiyan and other Yorùbá pantheon gods known collectively as the òrìsà, festivals serve as a connector of the social world of  the Yorùbá to the unseen world.[1] The Yoruba pantheon consists of hundreds of gods, worshiped for an immense variety of purposes, each representative of some natural or spiritual element or human emotion. Some gods existed before the creation of the earth and others are heroes or heroines from the past that became gods after their deaths. Other gods are natural objects in their environment such as mountains, hills and rivers that have influenced people’s lives and cultural history. Important to  the Yoruba religion are storytelling and the journey of life, and these are connected to many sacred rituals.[2]

In Oyo, these gods are honored, reverenced and worshiped particularly during festivals which often begin with the retelling of a Yorùbá myth. This is evident during Oranmiyan festival which explores Oyo history in order to explain its foundation and the ultimate destiny of Oyo Empire.[3]  Oranmiyan worship establishes a body of relationships and transformations with the adherents. These includes maintaining a relationship between an individual and the past history of his or her lineage; Learning and teaching of incantations, traditional dances, songs, and ontology; and establishing continuity in the cultural tradition of Oyo town.

Many traditional festivals are celebrated in Oyo town, and are as old as the people, they are being celebrated in different ways and specified period of the year. A quick classification of these festivals into three categories further establishes the nature of traditional worship and festivals in Oyo town. First are festivals used  to celebrate agricultural products such as the  New  Yam  festival. Another  festival  is  celebrated  in  memory  of  some powerful and historical figures in a particular community, who  had  achieved  and  fought  for  that  community  and made history. Festivals are thereby organized annually to celebrate  them.  Examples  of  such  festivals  in  Oyo include Ogun festival, Shango festival, Oranmiyan festival, etc. The third category falls under  historical  festivals which are organized  in  remembrance  of  a  particular  incident  that happened in a community be it good or bad.[4] Thus, rituals are carried out to honor those who have passed on to the world of the ancestors and provide a space where people may explore the profound and experience phenomena.

Statement of the Problem

Existing also among the Oyo, a sub-group of Yoruba’s of Western Nigeria are festivals that are rich, which can as well influence the world  both  artistically  and  in  moral  values  and  at  the same time earn foreign exchange for the Nigerian nation as  a  whole.  One of such festivals is the Oranmiyan festival. The festival has its inherent aesthetic structures, such as dances  and  songs  which  are  linked  with  ancestors worship, historical figures and notable events either in the lives of its adherents or in Oyo town. However, while scholars have researched other Yoruba gods, no comprehensive study have been carried out on the place of Oranmiyan worship and festival in Oyo town.

This study therefore intends to examine Oranmiyan worship and festival in Oyo town. Look at Oranmiyan shrines in Oyo town, their uniqueness and relevance to the socio-economic growth of Oyo town. It also examines Oranmiya connectedness to the centre of political administration of Oyoland from its foundation up to year 2012.

Research Questions

This project is informed by four central questions:

  1. What is Yoruba belief about Oranmiyan?
  2. How was Oyo founded and what role did Oranmiyan played in its foundation?
  3. How is Oranmiyan worshiped in Oyo?
  4. Of what significance is Oranmiyan to its worshipers as well as Oranmiyan festival in relation to the development of Oyo?

Objectives of the Study

The central aim of this research is to investigate the various ways in which Yoruba Indigenous identities are constructed in the contemporary time specifically through Oranmiyan cult and Oranimiyan festival in Oyo town up to 2013. The study also seeks to explore the spiritual and socio-economic dimensions of Oranmiyan festival in such constructions within the larger context of dominant global culture. The study intends to explore the extent to which colonialism together with Christianity and Islam has marginalized and constrained Yoruba traditional belief system. In effect, the research seeks to explore and establish Yoruba Indigenous identities through cultural festivals and decolonize the minds of many Yoruba about the traditional practice of Oranmiyan worship. Consequently, the main objectives of this study are to:

  1.    Develop and contribute to critical social theory about Oyo (and indeed Yoruba) Indigenous knowledge system through the Oranmiyan cult;
  2.      Examine the historical origin of Oranmiyan worship in Yorubaland
  3.    Discuss the origin and nature of Oranmiyan worship through the costumes used as aspects of Oyo technology;
  4.    Analyse the process of arrangement and importance of the Oranmiyan festival;
  5.   To engage in in-depth examination and discussion of Yoruba lived experiences and understandings of Oranmiyan cult from within the larger contexts of the rise of Oyoland up to year 2012; and
  6.    To open up a space that engages critical dialogue about Yoruba Indigenous identities and knowledge system that are more affirming and accessible, particularly in the realm of African Traditional Religion (ATR) where the adherents of Oranmiyan have been rendered cruel, uncivilized, and bound up in traditional ancient constructions.

 Literature Review

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Significance of the Study

While there is a wide breadth of literature and research on the Yoruba deities and gods both in Yorubaland, and the retentions of Yoruba culture in the diaspora (i.e., Haiti, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba), this work addresses the realities and experiences of a very specific Yoruba community that shares a contemporary identification with both continental and Diasporic Yoruba.  This study therefore is vital as it promises to provide huge body of largely historical literature which focuses primarily on the source of Oranmiyan worship in Oyo town.

More specifically, the focus of my research is the Oranmiyan worship and festival in Oyo town. This particular Yoruba community lived highly complicated and remarkable lives where they followed global capital, in the hopes of giving their children better lives and training them in either the Christian or Islamic fold to lead a modern life. This study therefore becomes important as it represents the living faith of the Yoruba traditional religion where most Christians and Muslims run to when they need to solve their problems or want mystical answers to the question of Oro Idile (traditional rites).

            Furthermore, analysis of the various continuities and preservations of Indigenous Yoruba spirituality through Oranmiyan cult amongst Yoruba in Oyo has not been undertaken. Very little research investigates how the Oranmiyan cult influence the economic and socio-political scene in contemporary Oyo  making this study unique for its relevance both to the participants in the study, and to those who are socially positioned in similar ways.

     Finally, this research is of significance as it challenges the dominance of largely anthropological research methods and theories that have dehumanized and positioned Africans and other Indigenous peoples as  uncivilized in the civilized world, a view which many Yoruba converts hold today.  Instead, this study is anchored in and part of a larger decolonizing project that seeks to give voice to the Yoruba traditional religion which has been marginalized, silenced and demonized even by Yoruba themselves.

Contribution to Knowledge

By examining Oranmiyan cult in Oyo, this will be analyzed in a view to demonstrate that the Yoruba has a remarkably unique cultural landscape that sets them apart from the rest of other cultural groups in Nigeria. By extension, this study is set to exemplify the diverse nature of the Yoruba culture and the factors responsible for this  diversity.

This study will contribute to knowledge by illustrating that a given African culture, the example of the Oranmiyan festival in Oyo is a mirror reflection of the history, religious belief and traditional identity of the people of Ibadan.

Lastly, the study will unearth Yoruba belief about the dead and afterlife as well as the spirit beings, and ancestral spirits (Obi, Akoda, Isese), all having enormous spiritual powers, forces, energies, or authorities over the affairs of man.

Research Methodology

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Chapter One


Statement of the Problem

Objectives of the Study

Scope of the Study

Literature Review

Significance of the Study

Research Methodology

Organization of the Work

Chapter Two


Geographical Location

Historical Origin of Oyo

Economic Activities

Political Organization

Patterns of Religious Belief

Cultural Festivals in Oyoland


Chapter Three


Concept of  Oranmiyan among the Oyo

Traditions of Origin of the Oranmiyan Cult

Introduction and Acceptance of Oranmiyan Cult in Oyo

Patterns of Oranmiyan Worship

Rituals and Traditional Beliefs

Chapter Four


Oranmiyan Shrines in Trado-Modern Oyo

Oranmiyan Festival and Contemporary Oyo Economy


Chapter Five


Modern Trends towards Oranmiyan Festival

Challenges Facing the Adherents of Oranmiyan Cult





[1] O.A. Oderinde, “The Lore of Religious Festivals among the Yoruba and its Social Relevance”. In LUMINA Journal, Vol. 22, No.2, p. 3

[2] R. T. Oyelakin, Yoruba Traditional Medicine and the Challenge of Integration”. In  The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.3, 2009, p. 73

[3] Observations of the researcher during the Oranmiyan festival in Oyo, 2012

[4] R. T. Oyelakin, “Yoruba Traditional Medicine and the Challenge of Integration”. p. 74




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