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Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya

Volume 5, Issue 2, December 2013

Oyelakin Richard Taye
Pages 81-101

Questionable but Unquestioned Beliefs: A Call for a Critical Examination of Yoruba Culture

The fundamental belief in destiny in Yoruba culture is explained within the tradition that for every individual person who comes to aye (earth), there is a package of destiny containing the totality of all that such person will be. However, the content of this destiny is not known to any person except Orunmila, one of the deities. Therefore, it is believed that a person dies if and when he/she has exhausted the content of his/her ori (package of destiny). Included also in the Yoruba belief system is that a youthful death is a sorrowful death. This is predicated on the premise that a young man could not have completed the content of his earthly mission. His death is therefore sorrowful, and he could therefore not be admitted into Orun(“heaven”) to join the league of the ancestors. This is the explanation for the belief in reincarnation, and, more specifically, the belief in akudaaya or abarameji(reincarnated persons). This paper argues for two main points. First, in spite of the Yoruba belief that no human being is privy to the content of destiny, the Yoruba belief in sorrowful or sudden death (ikuofo or iku-ojiji) presupposes some knowledge of the content of each person’s destiny. Second, the beliefs in destiny on one hand, and in sudden or sorrowful death on the other, are mutually exclusive. This means that if one is true the other will be false and vice-versa, so that holding the two together would be contradictory. Because such contradictions are common in the entire gamut of Yoruba belief, there is need for a critical examination of the Yoruba belief system in the quest for a modern culture.

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