Yorùbá Childbirth and Moral Upbringing

Yorùbá people believe giving birth to children is one of the most important things they live for; they believe children are the most important heritage and legacy to leave behind after death.

Excerpts from:

Omọ́bọ́lá Agnes Aládésanmí
Ìbùkún Bọ́láńlé Ògúnjìnmí

Yorùbá people believe giving birth to children is one of the most important things they live for; they believe children are the most important heritage and legacy to leave behind after death. That is why they do everything possible to have morally brought up and viable children. It is also a belief in the Yorùbá society that whoever does not give birth to children has no sustainable legacy. As a result of the place of prominence children occupy in the belief system of the Yorùbá, it is naturally by the way of procreation impossible to have children without sexual relationship between a man and a woman, therefore, there must be a sexual relationship between a couple before pregnancy can be achieved and then, child birth. 

Yorùbá culture does not permit pregnancy or childbirth before marriage. What the Yorùbá culture permits is having a well founded and structured home before pregnancy and eventual child birth and upbringing. A man or woman of marriageable age that refuses to get married does not always get the approval of people of the Yorùbá society. Instead, they make corrective mockery of such individuals until the needful is done.

Immediately a newlywed wife is settled in her matrimonial home in Yorùbá society, the prayer of both families is for her to start having children. Once it is getting to five months after marriage, and there is no conception, they begin to ask questions from the husband and the wife on the possible causes of the delay. The causes could come from either the husband or the wife, and it could be a collective issue from the two of them. If the couples do not have tenable reasons for the delay, they begin to give the wife concoctions that could aid speedy conception. Once the wife has conceives, family members begin to make different consultations to ensure that the pregnancy gets to fruition without any hitch, especially if the woman had had issues before conception like miscarriages.

All she would be given at the first three months of conception are herbal medicines that would make the fetus developed very perfectly and to forestall possible hitch or loss of the pregnancy. Other traditional methods the Yorùbá employ at the stage of pregnancy are: oyúndídè (use of traditional medicine to conceal the pregnancy from the wicked people of the world who could harm the pregnancy), giving of precautionary instructions to the pregnant woman like avoidance of certain delicacies and fruits.

The Yorùbá philosophy that backs this step is to keep the pregnancy in good shape.
The Yorùbá also believe that a pregnant woman must not move about under hot sun or at mid-nights, these times are considered dangerous for movement due to the belief that evil spirits move about searching for hiding places where they can make their abode. If they come in contact with a pregnant woman in such hours, it is believed that they will replace themselves with the fetus and as a result, the woman will give birth to a problematic or spiritually abnormal child. Another belief is that a pregnant woman should not eat okra or snail so that the child will not be drooling saliva while growing up.

It is not just the pregnant woman that is subjected to limitations while in that state; the husband is also subjected to some restrains, especially if he is a hunter. He will be cautioned from killing some kind of animals like pregnant deer. It is widely believed among the Yorùbá that such animal possess a kind of magical power to transform and put itself in the state the wife or children of the hunter is at home. The Yorùbá thought and belief inherent in this is that if a hunter encounters such animal especially those mating, the hunter must exercise some restrains in shooting at them so he does not regret the action afterwards. It is assumed the wife of the hunter may be having extra marital affair which the mating animals could represent to the hunter. The same belief goes for a hunter whose wife is pregnant, shooting such animal could translate to shooting his pregnant wife in the real sense of things.

If we put to consideration most of the precautionary measures or instructions given to a pregnant woman, they all emanated from the wealth of experiences of the Yorùbá which they gathered from their environment from time to time, this in turn translate to their thoughts and beliefs on issues.

When the pregnancy grows to six months, the type of traditional method of care giving employed in such state are usage of herbal medicine and amulets that will make the pregnancy grow as expected. They also give traditional medicine that will safeguard the fetus from certain sickness that could deform the child after birth. Once the pregnancy reaches the eighth month, they begin to make herbal concoctions that will make delivery easy and hitch free. At the ninth month is when preparation for safe delivery begins. All precaution devices against miscarriage will be removed, while the pregnant woman will be restricted from travelling or moving too far from the house.

At the time of delivery, the eldest wife (ìyáálé) of the house or family is always in charge of the delivery of the younger pregnant wife. The service of a traditional birth attendant could also be required if the need arises in case of complications. Once a pregnant woman’s water breaks or she sees blood, it is a signal that it is time for delivery. The woman will be taken to a room already prepared for that purpose, she will be asked to lie on her back or to kneel. Once she is delivered of her child, they will await the delivery of the placenta before she can be declared to have safely delivered. It is until then that the news of her delivery will be given to her husband and relatives.

Relatively warm water is used to wash a new born baby after the umbilical cord has been taken care of. A specially made bathing soap (ọṣẹàbùwẹ̀), locally made sponge (kànìn-kànìnìbílẹ̀) and traditionally made cream (osùn) are used for the first bath of the baby. They ensure the baby is well cleaned to avoid unwarranted body odour which is believed to last a life time if the child is not properly cleaned at the first bath.

Hot water and a thick fabric or towel is also used to clean and press the stomach of the new mother after birth which continues till around two to three weeks after delivery, doing this is believed will melt the clot of blood that would have formed up in her stomach during the process of child birth.

After that, the child will be given the family tribal mark and circumcised either the child is male or female.

Circumcising a male child in the Yorùbá belief system enables his male organ to be more beautiful, active and also helps to do away with possible infection of the cut away part. Circumcision of a female child on the other hand is believed to be a compulsion in the Yorùbá traditional setting. The philosophical belief that accompanies this is to guide against the child’s promiscuous tendencies. The Yorùbá belief a female child that is not circumcised will be promiscuous and always show interest in having intercourse. 
As a result, the Yorùbá holds circumcision for both male and female children very imperative though the culture is becoming abolished in the contemporary Yorùbá society. Many Yorùbá speaking states in Nigeria have domesticated girl child circumcision as a criminal offence; this is due to civilization and the imposition of Western culture on the Yorùbá culture. Research in medicine has also shown that girl child circumcision is harmful and it is with no benefit. It also proscribes the act as barbaric and full of undesirable consequences like bodily injury to the female sexual organ, and contracting of deadly diseases like the dreaded HIV/AIDS. It can cause drastic reduction in sexual libido in circumcised women which could eventually lead to divorce, stigmatization and death if not well managed. It is also reported that it can cause infant mortality.

Due to the domestication of this medical report, and the overbearing tendencies of the Western culture and civilization, the culture of female circumcision in the Yorùbá society is getting jettisoned and relegated daily.
The same is the case with giving children tribal marks, facial marks are majorly given for beautification, tribal and family identification purposes.

But the culture is no longer in vogue in the contemporary society. There are few or no parents of Yorùbá extraction that allow giving of tribal marks to their children again.

It’s also known, that seven days after delivery of a child is when the child is circumcised and given tribal marks. It is done mainly in the morning. The Yorùbá belief that giving tribal marks and circumcision at the early days of child birth will not allow the child feel the pain or inflict injury on the child. They believe that doing it in later years could cause bodily injury on the child and her sexual organs. They also believe that it should be done early in the morning when the day is young and the blood is not hot, so as to aid timely stoppage of the blood that will come out of the tribal or circumcision wound.
Another Yorùbá philosophical belief associated with giving of tribal marks and circumcision is that a child does not die doing the process (ọmọkì ítọwọ́oníkọlàkú) and that any child that dies in the process is not destined to live.

Before tribal marks and circumcision is done on a child, they will take the child first to an Ifá priest for consultation to have knowledge of the child’s destiny and taboos, so that the child’s destiny will not be hindered. The Yorùbá believe everyone came to the world with destiny, but forgets as they get to the world, the process of getting to know the destiny of every child is done through Ifá consultation. The Yorùbá belief in (Ọ̀rúnmìlàẹlẹ́rìíìpín) the custodian of destiny that he was there when everyone chose the destiny they brought to the world.

It is the responsibility of the Ifá priest to appease Ọ̀rúnmìlà to reveal the destiny of any child brought to him for that purpose, and Ọ̀rúnmìlà through citation of the relevant Odù that appears in the process of consultation reveal what the destiny of the child is, with emphasis on things to do and not to do for the fulfillment or realization of the child’s destiny.

After circumcision and giving of tribal marks comes the child’s naming ceremony. The process of naming a child is in two forms in the traditional Yorùbá society. If it is a male child, he will be named on the ninth day after birth due to the nine bones of his ribs. If it’s a female child however, she will be named on the seventh day because of the seven bones that makes up the female ribs, while twins are named on the eighth day.
The process of naming a child begins right from the day it was realized the mother has conceived, and it could be from the day of birth, Yorùbá people do not give names to their children in anyhow. There are some features and requirements the circumstances surrounding the birth or the family must meet before a name can be chosen for such child or the praise name (oríkì). 

The Yorùbá thought and belief that go with this is that (ilé là á wòká tó sọọmọlórúkọ)’ meaning the event in their environment at the time of birth of such child will determine the kind of name the child will be given. Factors that do influence giving names in the traditional Yorùbá society are: family lineage (orúkọìdílé), events surrounding the time of the child’s birth like the death of the father, grandfather or grandmother goes with the belief in giving names like Babárínsá, Ìyábọ̀dé, Babátúndé, Babájídé etc. A child can also be named with regards to the family occupation or deity, names associated with family occupation like that of traditional drummers and hunters include: Àyàngbèmí, Àyánṣọlá, Àyànníyì, Ògúnjìnmí, Ògúngbèmí, Ògúnmọ́lá, Ògúnsọlá etc. Names that are associated with family deities are: Oròjídé, Ṣàngójìmí, Ẹ̀ṣùgbèmí, Ọbàyẹmí, Oṣóyímiká, Ọ̀ṣunfúnmikẹ́, Òrìṣáṣọnà etc. 

Every Yorùbá family has deities and Gods that they worship, since name is giving mainly for identification purposes, hence Yorùbá people give names that shows the religion, strength, exploit and other things they are proud of or known for in their family or linage.

A child’s name could also reflect the economic status, affluence or chieftaincy exploit of the family, example of such names include: Ọláyímiká, Ọláoyè, Òkìkíọlá, Akínjídé, Akíntúndé, Akíntóyè, Adéyímiká, Adéoyè, Sóoróyè. More so, names in Yorùbá society do have meanings according to the manner of their birth. Names (orúkọàmútọ̀runwá) like Òjó, Àìná, Táyéwò and Kẹ́hìndé, Ìgè, Ìlọ̀rí and so forth are examples of such names. Yorùbá also have names they give to children who they believe reincarnate or who die after birth and come back again (orúkọàbíkú). Such children are believed to be possessed and sent from the spirit world to punish their parents and family. Names that reflect Yorùbá belief on such children include: Jẹ́áríọgbé, Ikúkọ̀yí, Ìgbẹ́kọ̀yí, Kòsọ́kọ́, Málọmọ́ etc.

Immediately the father of a child gives a name to the child, it is the name the father gives to the child that supersedes any other name given by family members, relatives and friends, even the mother. It is the name the father gives that stands. Any alteration renders the child a bastard which the Yorùbá culture frowns so much at.

The ingredients the Yorùbá use in a typical naming ceremony are always philosophical with distinct meanings, such ingredients include: sugar cane, salt, palm oil, catfish (ẹjaaborí), water, honey, alligator pepper, kola nut, bitter kola, local gin etc.
The child will be given to an elderly woman, usually, the eldest wife in the family (Ìyáálé) while the mother of the child sits by her side, all the naming ingredients will be shown to the child or put in the child’s mouth for a taste with (ìwúre) prayers that shows the Yorùbá thoughts and beliefs that accompany such ingredients. Sometimes, the ingredients could be given to the mother to eat with the belief that the child will suck same from her mother’s breasts, while those present at the ceremony say (Àṣẹ!!!) amen to accompany and establish their belief in the efficacy of the prayer and the ingredients.

After the prayers, the child will be taken to the entrance of the family house where water will be poured on the roof top for the water to drop on the child with the belief that it is then that the child is confirmed to be part of the family or household. After that, other rituals or family rites which vary from family to family will be performed to prevent the child from premature death and also to be sure the child is not a bastard.

If the child is from a priest’s family, the child will be taken through a special family initiation process called (fífẹsẹ̀tẹọpọ́n Ifá) that is; the child’s leg will be placed on the Ifá divination tray so as to identify the child with the occupation and the religion of the family. It is on this same naming ceremony day the child’s ears will be pierced; either a male or a female child. The Yorùbá pierced the ears of both sexes with the belief that any child that is not taken through this process will have impediments in hearing well, and that if a man with hearing deficiency pierces the ear of a new born, such child will also have impediments in hearing.

Another Yorùbá philosophy that manifests from the Yorùbá thoughts and beliefs in child bearing and education is that if by virtue of mistake two youths who are not traditionally joined in marriage, by unchecked friendship, secretly have sexual relationship and that such lead to pregnancy especially when the family of either of them are not giving support or approval of the relationship; The Yorùbá believe that since the relationship has led to pregnancy, they must be allowed to become one in marriage and declared husband and wife. This is due to the belief that whoever that has given birth to children for one is no longer the person’s concubine. It is a must according to the Yorùbá belief that the two of them be allowed to continue with their love affair and get married emphasizing the fact that (ẹnibátibímọfúnnitikúròníàlèẹni). However, if the male partner wants to play smart by rejecting the pregnancy, he will be asked by elders if truly he had sexual relationship with the female partner, if the answer is yes, he will be compelled to marry the lady and accept responsibility of the pregnancy. Sometimes, if the matter goes beyond normal, the family of the man will be compelled to take responsibility of the child after birth even though they may not take the mother of the child as wife.

The same is the case between husband and wife when they have disagreements in marriage and either of the party threatens to divorce or part ways with the other, elders in the family will call for a meeting to settle the differences amicably. In such gathering, they will make them remember the importance attached to children in the Yorùbá society. No matter how hot the disagreement is, the moment the two parties ponder on what could befall their children if they part ways, they will give room for peaceful resolution in such matters with the belief that no one else can take good care of their children the same way they will. So, it is the belief in the Yorùbá society that any relationship that produces children either in marriage or out of marriage so far children are involved has come to stay. The involvement of children automatically becomes a bound between the two parties.

Apart from the above mentioned point, every stage of child growth in the Yorùbá thoughts and belief is characterized with different levels of care, handling and formative directives. One of the major beliefs that pertain to this fact is that a child not properly monitored and cared for will certainly become a social destitute when such child is expected to be productive. A societal destitute child cannot take good care of him/herself talk less of making good use of the legacies of his/her parents or family.

The Yorùbá by nature are not indifferent to the public. This is because right from childhood, the public, society and the extended family play different roles in upbringing. This training is done in order to make sure that the family name is not dragged into the mud.

A child that is denied proper upbringing or a child that refuses to yield to the common path of societal norms is regarded as good for nothing being. It is the responsibility of parents to guide and give formative instructions to their children, but this does not rest solely on them. It is also the responsibility of the extended family and the entire society by extension in playing this role. It is believed that only two people give birth to a child, but, the entire society guides and forms the child into the acceptable standard of their society.

Several mediums the Yoruba employ in caring and directing the children into the acceptable conduct of the society start from the cradle, such ways are oral poetry like poems, folktales, moonlight plays, folklores, among others. This mode of giving moral instructions is called moral or value systems.

The traditional Yorùbá society doesn’t also spare the rod, they believe so much in the use of rod and simple scolding in correcting children when they misbehave.
The traditional Yorùbá society engages more in farming and trading, it is also the responsibility of parents to inculcate in their children the virtue of hard work by introducing them to farming, trading or other forms of crafts they may choose to venture into, especially those family are known for hunting, blacksmith, tie and dye, weaving, hair dressing, drumming, and traditional medicine. It is a must for parents to give their children this form of education and economic empowerment so they can be financially independent at the appropriate time. In the contemporary Yorùbá society, formal education and vocational training have largely taken the place of farming and trading to a large extent. Yorùbá people frown at idle and unproductive members of their society and they believe that such people should not be tolerated. The Yorùbá do everything possible to shake their children off such attitude so they could become better members of the society.

These days that civilization has taken root in Yorùbá society, western education and foreign religions have improved greatly on children education with the introduction of religious education majorly in the Christian and Islamic form, education in the contemporary society has now translated to sound moral education, good value system, religious education and Western education. It is on these pillars that good moral base of the contemporary Yorùbá society stands.

Yorùbá philosophical belief on the importance of children also manifests when a married woman is faced with barrenness, which sometimes could cause separation. When a woman could not conceive on time, it do cause divers of problems, the reason is as a result of the place of prominence the Yorùbá place having children over having a wife.

They regard having children as a formidable platform on which their tomorrow stands. As a result, a woman that could not conceive or have children is faced with problems of having a stable home. Children are the support pillars women stand on in a Yorùbá marriage. No matter how much devotion a barren woman gives to the marriage and her husband, when the husband dies, she will have nothing to inherit from the husband’s properties. That is why the Yorùbá believe that, children are the major belongings of the woman in marriage and at same time, the gain of marriage.

Even if they do not opt for direct divorce of the woman, it will show in conduct and behavior that the woman no longer has regard from her husband’s family. In some cases, elders do advice the couple to go separate ways for the woman to try another marriage if she will be lucky to have children. If the love the couple share is so strong and doesn’t allow them to part ways, they will continue with the marriage but the message will be clear to the woman that she has overstayed her welcome and most importantly can’t resist the husband from marrying another wife. The husband is free to have another wife that will bear children for him in such case. The barren wife will not also get disturbed by the action due to the belief that she could be lucky and have her prayers answered too if the new wife is able to conceive and have children.

That is what the Yorùbá mean with the belief that (oríọmọ ló ńpeọmọwáyé)
In other times, when a woman is faced with challenges in her marriage, it could be that her husband is no longer showing enough care on her wellbeing. It could also be that she is being tormented by members of her in-laws, which must have reached climax of endurance. The woman may decide to file for a divorce or partial separation. Due to Yorùbá philosophy on the importance of children, when she is advised and gives it a second thought, she will result to be more persevered and see the challenges as destiny or fate. Reason for this counsel is as a result of the importance placed on children in the Yorùbá thoughts and belief system. She will eventually result to fate that she does not have husband but a father to her children.

In conclusion, the struggles of the Yorùbá on the welfare of their children are mainly for the betterment and sustenance of the Yorùbá society, with emphasis on sustenance of the family name and good legacy. Apart from that, Yorùbá people believe that it is only parents who leave behind morally, well to do and socially acceptable children to sustain their legacies after death that have children, that is why the Yorùbá says “ẹniọmọ́ sin lóbímọ”. They believe it is only such children that can sustain the good family name and legacies. Children that do not belong to this category they believe are mere societal problems that could subject the family name of little or no regard. That is why the Yorùbá society does not believe in only having children, but having morally, socially and economically viable and empowered ones.

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