How To Say I Love You in Yoruba, Nigeria in the Yoruba Language
Written by Andrew Oloruntosin, seen in the featured image above. He is a native resident of Yoruba, Nigeria.
The union between a man and a woman in the south western part of Nigeria is more than just a fallacy or fairy tale of love. Historically, love in Yoruba’s culture of Nigeria is not just the union of both parties who have fallen in love with each other, but the union of two families to produce a new family into the community.
Thus, it is a long and complicated procedure that also involves other people besides the two love birds. While the process has changed some in modern times, which will be covered briefly at the end of this journey, this article represents a look at the historically significant Yoruba culture.
Please read all of the articles in this Love Series with an open mind. These pieces are written by someone intimately familiar with the local culture, a culture which is unique from the one you live in.
It is possible you will strongly disagree with some of the practices. In this case, learn from the culture, and try to look for some small token of the culture you can appreciate.
The journey of love in Yoruba’s culture starts before the couples become adults. At childhood, the head of the family, called baale, calls an ifa priest to make a divination and ask the oracle about their son’s life journey.
Who he is going to become, his life span, and how bright his future will be. That is because, the very most important and crux criteria for getting married in Yoruba culture is having a livelihood, which has already been predetermined by the parents.
Most males take after their father’s occupation, while the females follow their mother’s footsteps. A successful divination proves him “man enough” to now start scouting for the love of his life, the mother of his unborn kids, and a beautiful female to be his ìyàwó.
Introducing the Couple Through a Solicitor
Once he finds a lady after his heart, he tells his alarina, a solicitor, moderator, or intermediary who usually is his bosom friend. It is the alarina that talks to the lady on behalf of his friend, not because he is shy, has low self esteem, or because he doesn’t know how to approach a lady. It is all because that is the cultural procedure, which has a reason that will become evident shortly.
The alarina tells the girl how his friend feels about her. For the lady to accept, the alarina must have a really sugar-coated tongue laced with sweet and romantic words. He must be confident and outspoken; his friends love life lies on his shoulder.
If she agrees, the alarina’s job isn’t over yet as he still stands as an intermediary between them. He is the one who tells both of them about each other, their likes and dislikes, their occupations, their family background, and probably hereditary diseases in both lineages so as to stop further spread.
Introduction of the Families
On getting more intimate, it is time to take the affair to the next level. The lady plays the role of informing her parents about her newly found love, and they request to see him and his people, a ceremony called mo mi mo e, meaning introduction of both families. It is during this short ceremony, they discuss bride price, gift items, and finally pick a date for their wedding.
Consulting the Oracle, the Babalawo
They then consult the oracle through a Babalawo. The Babalawo is the one who seeks divination from the oracle, to know if the date picked is favorable. In case there would be some bad occurrence on the day, the Babalawo appeases the gods to save the day. The oracle also tells the Babalawo if the union is a favorable one and if they are going to give birth to children.
The Cry of the Bride and the Igba
The elaborate wedding ceremony usually ends with a marriage rite called Ẹkùn ìyàwó, meaning cry of the bride. It is an essential rite as it shows how sad the wife feels about leaving her parents’ house. Thereafter, she is escorted by her families and friends to her husband’s house, her new home.
At the door step, before entering into the house, they perform another ritual rite of washing her leg with cold water, to signify peace and tranquility and to prevent her from carrying any form of bad luck into her husband’s house. Then she is given an igba, a calabash, to break into pieces with her leg and the number of pieces found is believed to be tantamount to the number of off springs she would produce.
Yet, this isn’t the end as there is a much bigger, more dreadful rite that needs to be performed. This rite is so powerful it can nullify all the previously successful processes. It is known as ibale, her virginity. Having sexual intercourse before the wedding ceremony is considered a huge taboo in the Yoruba culture, because virginity is held at high esteem among the Yoruba people.
This is why the intending couples are not allowed to have closed contact to express their love to each other. They are not even allowed to be found alone together; there is always someone there with them. Do you remember that all their conversations are handled by the alarina? He is the one constantly telling the lady ore mi ni fe e, meaning my friend is in love with you. Now you know the exact reason why the moderator is important in this process.
So, as the husband goes in with his wife, he is given a white cloth to spread on their bed or mat, where they would be having sexual intercourse. While people standby outside waiting for the result, they are gripped with the fear of the outcome, except from probably the wife’s rivals who are also interested in the guy.
If the cloth isn’t stained with blood, at least not menstrual blood, the husband’s family sends a half-filled keg of palm wine, a rotten yam, and a half-filled match box to the wife’s family to show them that their daughter is promiscuous, rotten, and incomplete. The wife’s family is put to shame while she is banished from the village or town.
If the result is positive, they send the full gift items to the wife’s family and publicly praise them for raising her well. She is also cherished by her in-laws and husband.
This process is a survival journey that the couples celebrate during their anniversaries, although not really a prominent practice since everything is gradually wearing off due to civilization.
Modernizing Love in Yoruba – Partially Abandoning the Traditional Ways
The job of the alarina has been substituted with various online dating platforms that give everyone the chance to introduce themselves to the world. The only way to say mo nifẹ rẹ, meaning I love you, is to just say it without an intermediary, and the love journey begins.
The modern relationship practice is now much easier; dating is solely based on the love birds, but their parents are still in control of their wedding, which comes after the usual introduction. They pick a wedding date, but this time around without the Babalawo.
Instead, the parents prefer to seek religious leaders such as pastors and imam for prayers to make the day a blessed one. The bridal chant where she cries about departing from her parent isn’t really in existence anymore, nor is the breaking of calabash.
Also, the virginity test has been canceled, and whatever happens on the night of the wedding stays between the new couples. Nevertheless, there are an extremely few groups of uncivilized Yoruba people who still believe and practice these traditional processes.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey of love in Yoruba culture.
If you enjoyed this article, please read the others in the Love Series. All of them are linked there and are a good cultural learning opportunity.
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