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FOSSU Senate President, Com. Oke Wasiu Ayinde 

The Yoruba people are one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Their popularity also extends to other parts of Africa, and other continents as their language is spoken by more than eighty million people in communities across Nigeria, Brazil, Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia, other parts of Africa, America, and Europe.

Though every ethnic group has its culture, the Yoruba culture is one of the most celebrated in the country and beyond owing to its uniqueness. Culture is the body of knowledge shared by a relatively large number of people. From their artistry (encompassing sculpture, textile, and cuisine) to naming customs (orúko àmútòrunwá – preordained names, orúko àbíso – names given at birth, orúko àbíkú – names for reincarnates, pet names), language, and other cultural practices, the Yoruba are quite unique and blessed with a rich cultural heritage.

The protection of this cultural heritage is one of the greatest benefits our forefathers have bestowed upon the new generation. They continue to give their children traditional names rather than names from the Western world. They would also speak the language at every opportunity they have.

: Yoruba people are known for a number of unique dishes ranging from amala and ewedu soup, gbegiri soup, ewa aganyin, among others.

: We are known for our expertise at weaving, pottery making, embroidering, woodcarving, metalworking, leather and bead working

:  We are also known for a variety of music genres including Fuji, apala, afro juju, as well as afro beats.

:  We are stereotypically referred to as the “lively bunch” owing to their enthusiasm for parties.

:  Our language has a wide range of dialects. The dialect of Yoruba used in Brazil is called Nago, while Lucumi is the one used in Cuba.

Culture determines how a person relates to their environment. It also helps to create a feeling of belongingness and togetherness among people in the society. It is through culture that the entire knowledge-base of a people is transmitted from generation to generation. The Yoruba culture created harmonious environments in the past.

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However, the sustenance of this cultural heritage is threatened by civilization as people no longer promote the Yoruba culture. The only longstanding part of the Yoruba culture is, probably, the burial ceremony usually performed as a rite of passage. Every other cultural practices tend to be waning. Parents no longer communicate to their children in the language; people now settle for western meal as against traditional cuisine; youths now prefer the western mode of dressing to wearing of agbada, dansiki, aso oke, among others; in fact, the usual mode of greeting (prostration by the male and kneeling down by the female) is no longer obtainable; and ultimately, schools no longer teach the language as expected. Isn’t this a threat to the enduring of the Yoruba culture? Of course, it is!

Yoruba traditional education, prior to the advent of colonialism, the Yoruba developed their mode of education referred to as traditional educational system. Education aims to transmit accumulated wisdom, knowledge and skills from one generation to another and the preparation of the youths for the future membership and participation in the life of the society, in its maintenance, growth and development.
Yoruba indigenous education teaches children to imbibe these ethical values:

1. Knowledge of language
2. Belief in God / spirituality
3. Respect for God’s creations, nature, elders, and others
4. Love for children
5.  Hard work
6.  Spirit of sharing
7.  Spirit of cooperation
8.  Knowledge of family roles and linage
9.  Avoidance of crime and conflict
10.  Success through hard work
11. Responsibility to the largest community
12.  Defense of father land, among others.

Yoruba traditional education revolves around good character (iwa). Fafunwa (1983), in promotion of cultural education, identified its features as the development of child’s talents in physical skills, development of ethical character, inculcation of respect for elders and those in authority, development of intellectual skills, development of a sense of belonging and to participate actively in family and community affairs, and understanding, appreciation and promotion of the cultural heritage of the country at large. These are the goals also shared by Yoruba traditional education.

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How can the Yoruba culture be promoted through education?

Language, as a strong means of communication in every society, is the basis of every culture and invariably contributes to the growth and development of any nation. It is of great importance to make references to countries like China and India. The level of development attained in the countries today cannot be disconnected from the belief they have in themselves and the promotion of their language and culture. A nation that seeks to develop must grow all sectors, including its language, culture, and tradition. Mandarin (Chinese) is now becoming one of the most spoken languages in the world.

The relevance of the mother tongue in every society cannot be overemphasized, irrespective of the adoption of foreign languages as lingua-franca, bilingual, or multilingual. Thus, the Yoruba culture can only be promoted if the younger generations are groomed in the language. The first form of education every child receives is that given by their parents at home. Parents should bring up their children in the Yoruba language so as to take pride in it, the culture and tradition. No language is superior to the other; it’s just a matter of perception. Yoruba is unique, and that is why its variants are spoken across many nations in Africa and beyond.
Also, elders should contribute to this impartation process through cultural narratives and storytelling. What has happened to our proverbs and folklores which are full of great virtues and moral lessons? Children are no longer acquainted with the virtues associated with the Yoruba culture. Modernity has taken over. Do we even know that our children could be stimulated by these stories by utilizing their ICT skills in transforming them into computer games? Probably a cue from Ethiopia might need to be taken in this regard.

The language should also be used as a medium of instruction in schools. This is the supporting phase in promoting the culture. According to Professor Fafunwa, the child’s school experience is a continuation of home experience and exposure. Scholars have attributed a great number of primary school dropouts in the country to premature introduction of English as a language of instruction, inadequate teaching and learning facilities, and poorly trained teachers. According to the studies on basic education as carried out by the World Bank and UNESCO, children have been said to learn better and faster when they are instructed in their mother tongue.
In 2018, the Lagos State Government made the positive step of signing the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion bill into law – a cognizant reflection of the position of Yoruba language as the cultural vehicle for articulate communication. The law, apart from ensuring the use of Yoruba language as the medium of instruction in institutions, also mandates it to be integrated as a course unit into General Nigeria Studies (GNS) in state-owned tertiary institutions. Isn’t this a positive move towards the promotion and sustenance of the language? This will not only improve the child’s proficiency in the language but also help them develop reading and writing skills quicker and ultimately affirm their cultural identity. This good gesture needs to be emulated by other parts of the South West.
In the same vein, history should be reintroduced to schools as a separate topic. Remember, he who has no history has no identity. Historical antecedents serve as a source of inspiration for generations to discover, appreciate as well as take pride in their identity.

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Conclusion, We should be wary of propagating the erroneous belief that the western culture supersedes ours. Parents should take pride in and promote Yoruba culture and history at homes. This will help the younger generations imbibe the values inherent in them. Education starts at home and develops in the classroom. The government has a role to play in developing the vocabulary of the language in order to serve as effective tools for teaching various subjects in the school, especially mathematics and science subjects. If the Yoruba culture is adequately promoted and instilled in the younger generations, crime rates will reduce drastically, and youths will become useful members of the society.