WESTERN CULTURE AND YORUBA ETHICS: A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS


WESTERN CULTURE AND YORUBA ETHICS: A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS    

ABSTRACT

    This essay is written in partial fulfillment of the department of Philosophy’s requirement for the award of the Bachelor’s of Arts Degree of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma.

    In this essay, we have tried to discuss some of the Yoruba ethics Influenced by the Western Culture.

    What we have just done in this essay is to take some of the Yoruba ethics and compare it with the Western Culture and try to point out the peculiarities and differences between the two cultures. We have also tried to familiarize my fellow students and people from other tribes with an understanding in the study of Yoruba culture, practice, norms and tradition in general.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title page...............................................................................ii

Certification..........................................................................iii

Dedication............................................................................iv

Acknowledgements............................................................. ...v   

Abstract...............................................................................vi

Table of contents..................................................................vii

General introduction............................................................ix

CHAPTER ONE

1.1    Ethics............................................................................1

1.2    Ethical universalism.......................................................2

1.3    Ethical relativism...........................................................2

1.4    Cultural universalism.....................................................3

1.5    Cultural relativism.........................................................4

1.6    A brief genecology of the Yoruba.....................................5

1.7     The yoruba political culture...........................................6

1.8    Religion culture..............................................................8

Notes and Reference.............................................................12

CHAPTER TWO

2.1    Family life....................................................................13

2.2    The altruistic nature of the yoruba family life...............16

2.3    Marriage practice among the Yoruba...........................22

2.4    The impact of colonialism on Yoruba culture...............27

Note and Reference...............................................................29

CHAPTER THREE

3.1    The Yoruba origin and cultural heritage.......................30

3.2    The nature of socio- ethical taboos in Yoruba land........40 

3.3    The introduction of indirect rule by the colonial masters. (western political culture).....................................................41 

Notes and References...........................................................48

CHAPTER FOUR

4.1    Potential and active time..............................................49

4.2    The reckoning and chronology......................................53

4.3    The present, the past and future..................................58

4.4    Conclusion...................................................................63

Notes and References...........................................................67

Bibliography........................................................................68

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

    There are various and at times conflicting opinions on the role which Western culture played and is still playing in moulding the ethical structure of the present contemporary Yoruba society.

    This is a two-sided sword which could be dually interpreted and the interpretation may either appear positive or negative. The controversy might be a result of the present ethical structure of the present Yoruba society has been an important one which consequences either improves or diminutives the ethical standard of the Yoruba people.

    Another reason which is sometimes offered for the various and different opinions held by the contemporary Yoruba springs from the conflicting motions which people have on how the Yoruba society ought to be. Yet another reason might be the present moral laxity, political diversity, disintegration and religions decadence prevailing among the present day Yoruba society and revealed or manifested by present day example or occurrences.

    There was Western acculturation of the Yoruba society. This process led to the transfer and acceptance of the Western Culture throughout Yoruba land with the consequent decline in ethical standard and tradition. In addition, the contradictions between the norms of the Western culture and the Yoruba society; for example, the role the obas and the chiefs were so much alternated without redefinition which at times results in moral conflict and moral decline. Not only that there was decline in moral inter-personal relations within the Yoruba as, I also like in this essay to explain the concepts likely to appear in the whole contents of the essay

CHAPTER ONE

YORUBA AND WESTERN ETHICS

1.1    ETHICS

There are many actions which we will condemn as morally wrong and ought not to be done by anybody, for example, stealing, murder, bribery aimed robbery and corruption e.t.c there are also certain actions which everybody considers as morally good e.g kindness, honesty, respect for elders, hospitality e.t.c. Now, why do we say that certain actions are good or right and we see others as bad or wrong­­? How do we determine the badness or wrongness and goodness or rightness of certain actions?.

To answer these questions and the likes, we need a science, which deals with human conduct. The science which deals with human conduct is regarded as ethics1. Ethics is therefore a yardstick used for measuring the goodness or rightness and wrongness or badness of certain actions or conducts.

1.2    ETHICAL UNIVERSALISM

Ethical universalism states that ethical judgment no matter the degree ought to be universalisable. Thus ethical universalism states that one single ethical standard of judgment ought to be held throughout the world.

    With ethical Universalist, all actions are to be taken as common to all. This theory or concept claims that for example, an action which is judged “right” or “wrong” “good” or “bad”, “praise worthy” or “blame worthy” in Western countries, ought to be able to accept the same claim among the Yoruba people here in Nigeria.

1.3    ETHICAL RELATIVISM

    “ Ethical relativism shows diversity or variation of a group or an individual morality. Judgment on mortality in this case depends on individual human conduct”2. However, it is important to know that ethical relativism is contingent on some other basic factors. These include cultural historical and class distinction of an individual or a society. Ethical universalism claims that one single ethical or moral standard of judgment ought to be upheld throughout the universe, while ethical relativism claims, that on the other hand, that whatever action is judged to be praise worthy or blame worthy is relative to individual or a society in a period of time or circumstance.

1.4 CULTURAL UNIVERSALISM.

The term cultural has been defined in various ways, for example, culture has been defined as; ‘’Every broad general principle of selectivity and ordering --- “highest common factor” ---- in terms of patterns of and for and about behaviour in every various areas of culture content are reducible to parsimonious generalization’’3.

From the above definition, its quiet clear that culture can emerge not only from tradition and customs of a given society. It could also be acquired and incorporated into ones existing culture in many other different ways. These other ways include the process by which a person acquires from or a group of persons acquire from contact with other person or group of persons. Like ethical universalism, this theory says that all cultures must be universalizable. What cultural universalism emphasizes is, that if a country ‘’A’’ claims that it is justified to practice culture ‘’Y’. Then if country ‘’A’’s or society ‘’A’’s claim were consistent, it must be agreed upon that other societies or countries ‘’A1’, ‘’A2’’, ‘’A3’’,  ----, ‘’An; would be similarly justified to practice culture ‘’Y’’ in situation ‘’R’’. To do otherwise, would be to make an odd claim.

1.5 CULTURAL RELATIVISM

Cultural relativism affirms that all values are a functions or product of their culture and reflect the interest of their society and culture. It is a fact of human experience as conditioned by culture.

When we study society that is different from one another. For example, in some of the Eskimos group, they think that it is better to take their aged people to waste lands to be left to die rather than keeping them alive in their old age to suffer.

This is parricide, others are abortion, euthanasia, human –sacrifice and cannibalism. These examples so given shows that, the rightness or wrongness of human actions means different things to different societies or even between individuals. That is, there can be no set of moral codes or ethical codes. Everyone ought to accept as universally valid or individual.

1.6 A BRIEF GENEALOGY OF THE YORUBAS

The Yoruba society or kingdom covers the present day Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Ogun and some other parts of kwara – state and Lagos- state and also extends to the present day republic of Benin. Yoruba society is usually taken together as one entity because of the homogenous traces in their language. Despite it’s many dialects, this language provides the main evidence of a common origin and cultural heritage.   

   A second point to a common origin of the Yoruba society is the existence over the whole country of a cycle of myths and its people and the foundations at ‘’Ile-Ife, the worlds center of the first kingdom.

1.7 THE YORUBA POLITICAL CULTURE.

The key political unit on which government was based in all Yoruba kingdoms was the ‘’Town’’, ‘’Ilu’’ Each kingdom is consisted of many towns, but that did not mean that there were many independent governments in each town or kingdom’’4. The government of the capital served as the central government of the kingdoms, while those of the subordinate towns served as the local government units. Both at the central or local levels, the system of government were monarchical, that, it was headed by an Oba (king) who was entitled to wear a crown.

The Oba was divined and was the political and religious head of his town. As head of the government, the Oba was regarded as a divine king, and in theory he had absolute powers of life and death over his people. His attribute was ‘’Oba, alase, ekeji Orisa’’ --- king the ruler and companion of the gods. He was also addressed as ‘’kabiyesi’’ an expression which is said to be contracted from of the sentence ‘’ki-a-bi-o-ko-si’’. That is, there is no question of anyone challenging or querying your authority.

In a nutshell, the Oba, in theory, had the power of life and death over his subjects and was as, a divine king not accountable to them for any of his deeds.

When the Westerners came, the whole old Yoruba political ethics changed and was viewed in different was. Some people believed that the powers of these divine kings were withdrawn bit by bit under the pretence of indifferent rule system, and that the king’s powers were eroded completely after the western Europeans granted the Yoruba people independence by the politicians who took over the chair of leadership from them.

The former role of Obas and chiefs were alternated and decline loyalty of all sorts. The moral or ethical implication of this was obvious and still felt in the present political rulers and Obas relationship among the contemporary Yoruba society. Other observers saw these changes not as obstructive or a complete distortion in the old system but as a sort of political re-organization which still revered the old system and placed the Obas in post which they, by tradition ought to occupy.

After all, they said, Obas throughout the Yoruba land are still recognized as the chief priest in all religious and ritual ceremonies.

1.8 RELIGIOUS CULTURE

     The western missionaries did not bring the idea of God to Yoruba people. They believed in the existence of one ‘’Great God’’ as an integral member of the society as distinct from the western Christian conception of God staying a loof in heaven, in the community of good Angels.

     The Yoruba people believed in the existence and power of Deities (spirit) headed by an omnipotent God. Where ever you find a Yoruba man, there also is his religion. Although Yoruba religion is not written down like the sacred’’ Bible’’ of the western Christians, yet all the chapter of the Yoruba religions are written everywhere in the life of the Yoruba people. Among the Yoruba, there are no irreligious people.

According to professor John Mbiti, for a Yoruba man to be without religion or not to live a religious life amounts to a self-communication from the entire life of the societ,’’5 and Yoruba people do not know how to exist without religion.’ to the Yoruba’s, man’s character is of supreme importance vand it is this which Oludumare (God) judges.6n, Man’s well-being here  on earth depends upon his character, so also his place in the afterlife is determined by Oludumare. The ethics of the Yoruba’s is a transcendental ethics. This is so because it is ultimately but on an objective transcendental moral order.  Order which is beyond man and is not within his power to alter

       Although, Yoruba religion is not written down like the sacred ‘’Bible’’, yet unlike the westerners, Yoruba peoples belief is that, it is not enough to embrace a faith which is confined to church building which is locked up six days and opened only once or twice a week.

     Through education the western missionaries were able to produce catechists, pastors, teachers, priests, church- wardens and converts. As a result, Yoruba traditional religion was particularly looked up with disfavour as the missionaries associated it with ‘’idol’’-worship and considered it as hindrance to Christian evangelism and conversion without any consideration for moral values the people attached to it.

       This is according to some Yoruba people was the beginning of moral laxity among the contemporary Yoruba’s. Yet others give western religion a positive took, as the big hammer that destroyed immoral practices like human sacrifices killing of twins, euthanasia, cannibalism e.t.c which culminated Yoruba traditional religion and ethics without or with little consideration for ethical relativism.

      Furthermore, some see western religion as a tool used to re-integrate the Yoruba youths, which fell prey to social destabilization and eventually became socially designated as a result of rural-urban flux. Finally, the universal moral attitude of western religion has so much transcendental moral or ethical values over and above the Yoruba tradition in such a way that it creates and maintains social solidarity among the Yoruba’s.

NOTES AND REFERENCE

Edward Paul,      Encyclopaedia of philosophy. (Volume 3 Edited by Macmillan & Free press Ltd.). P. 69.

Ibid         page 189.

J.A. Atanda,     An introduction to Yoruba \history. (Longman Group Ltd. (1973))  P. 19.

John S. Mbiti,    African Religions and Philosophy (Heinemann London, 1976) P. 2.

Bolaji Idowu,     Olodumare, God in Yoruba belief (longman, 1962) P. 154.

M. Haralabos.    Sociological Themes and Perspective. (Heinnemann Ltd. London 1937) P. 525.

In the state of nature, the life of man is solidarity poor, nasty, brutish and short; man is permanaetly in a condiiton of war

 CHAPTER TWO

2.1   FAMILY LIFE

In dealing   with this topic, a topic of functionalism will be adopted for the elucidation of its major social facts. The key point of the functionalist perspective could be summarized by a comparison drawn from the working of the body system (homeostatis) to that of a family in a society. This we can achieve by examining the various parts such as brain, lungs, the heart, the liver e.t.c

However, if we examine simply analyze the parts in isolation from each other, we would be unable to explain how life is maintained. To do this we have to examine the parts in relation to each other since they work hand in hand to maintain the organism. 

In like manner, a family among the Yorubas is made up of the inter-connected toles of a nuclear family to an extended family; social relationship within the family and how they are structured in tams of a set of related norms and values. Having established the existence of this social structure, the next move is to consider how that structures function. This involves an examination of the structure and their relationship to the Yoruba society.

For Yoruba people the family has a much wider circle of members than the one suggests among the westerners.

In Yoruba traditional society, the traditional compound consists of a walled a walled square or a walled circle to one main gate –way and single –storey house all around. Members of each extended family lived together as much as possible in a compound called “Agbo-ile”. The family includes children, and other immediate relatives.

The family also includes the departed relatives which are thought to be still interested in the affairs of the family to house hold is the smallest unit of the family, consisting of the children, parents, and sometimes grand precuts, and they share only a room or two it is generally at night, that the household is really itself. Because, it is in the night that the parents are with their immediate children discuss private affairs of their household and the parents educate the children in matters pertaining to domestic relationships.

The eldest man is the leader of the “ agbo- ile “ while the eldest wife is the head of the wives and their children. The individual owes his existence to other members of the family, including the living and the dead. An individual is simply part of the whole He can only realize himself in the family for it is the family that make, create and produce the individual; for every individual depends on the corporate group.

The respect given the aged among the yoruba extended family extends beyond the basic fact of their vast wealth of knowledge and life experiences it is primary based on the simple morality that they are the fore- bears of the society and the rushers and sponsors of the young members of the family to the world. For these reasons, morality among the extended family requires that they be given due respect, recognition, and appreciation of their role.

2.2 THE ALTRUISTIC NATURE OF THE YORUBA FAMILY LIFE.

The attribution moral philosophy of total security of each member of the group and care for the aged embedded in the extended family system among the yorubas before their contact with the western culture, is now being eroded bit, rather piece by piece. The importance variante altruistic morality and humanism among the Yoruba extended family is shown in various ways. For example, to be old among the Yoruba is to be respected and taken care of. Every child in his socialization is thought to respect an elderly person or the person of the aged and old age itself. It is constantly reminded that for moral reasons, if he is going to old, as everyone hopes he will, he should not maltreat any old person so that he might not be molested when he becomes old.

Other altruistic nature found among the Yoruba family system is, “communal system of land tenure” which is based on the idea of live and let live philosophy. These enables each member of the family to be his brothers keeper with each person having access to the means of production which of course is not alienated from the group corporate.

Among every extended family, the land is jointly held for the common benefit of all with the allocation to every able bodies member who may need it at a particular time and period. The philosophy is “what we have, we hold and share.”

The opportunity for each member of the family to develop themselves and the fulfillment of individual and the fulfillment of individual talents and ambition is another altruistic nature of Yoruba extended family philosophy of live and let live. The individual develops his tolerance and mutual support. To live and allows others to live in the way they deemed fit was not only practiced but every member of the family was enjoined to follow it to the last letter. Heavy sanctions were levied on the violated and defaulter.

The notion of brothers being his brothers keepers which is strikingly common among the Yoruba is an important feature which is facing away under the current wind of change, as now experienced among the Yoruba. But this philosophy still holds, although in a very slightly modification or in a modified form. This is one of those values that one could boast of and even pray to last long and capable of withstanding the wide-spread evasion of Yoruba culture by the big onslaught of the so-called Western culture as it could be seen in the Yoruba traditional aspect of taking care of the sick among the extended family. In this case, all relatives have to see that everything is done right and essentially stay along at all time with the sick patient.

The ethics behind this is to give a fair scout and security which a patient could receive for it means a double assurance of being waited and cared for by the rest of the family. Today, a person gets sick not because anything is psychologically wrong with his body system but simply because the needs the attention and security from other people.

Another factor which is worth mentioning is the altruistic nature of the Yoruba extended family is the economic native of their philosophy of being one’s brother’s keeper which has been adversely affected by their contact with western culture.

Point, which I intend to clear first, is, the belief which is erroneously held by the majority of people, both Yorubas and non-Yorubas alike. It is usually analogous to a Yoruba proverb or adage, which reads thus; “ Olowo Kan Iarrin eniyan mefa, talaka meje ni gbogbo won je” That is “a group of seven people which is made up of six poor persons and single rich person. Then we therefore conclude that, the particular group is constituted of seven poor person” the ethical interpretation of this adage is that by the time each person’s great demand is met by the single rich person, his wealth is already exhausted. This is analogous to the situation and condition experienced among the Yoruba extended family. It has been said also, that it is very difficult, if not curatively impossible to have among the Yoruba extended family a man of riches and capital, because by the time each one meets the demand of his extended family, he is left penniless.

On the surface, there seems to be no doubt about the veracity or tenacity of this statement. What we do question is the moral motive or hidden thought leading to the statement. This is so because to an average Yoruba man, the extended family is his obligation even if he is the only one, among twenty or more that is blessed and made rich or successful. To him, if he is rich, it is a collective richness and when the wealth is distributed and reached everyone leaving him with no “Kobo” all that he has left is collective poverty.

It is against the Yoruba ethics to be in the midst of riches and stays allouf watching his family wallowing and gnashing teeth in object poverty of want and deprivation and yet, claim to be having peace of mid. The present Yoruba extended family is been influenced by the Western philosophy of individuality or individualism, and as opposed to the former Yoruba general philosophy of attiuism. Some Yoruba, particularly the Western education ones are now faced with the challenge and dilemma as to whether to be a Yoruba in thought and actions in these lines or be Westernized and be ethically dehumanized. But it is viewed for the sake of simple ethical universalism and Yoruba consent of philosophical attiuism in particular, and it is extremely morally indefensible for a Yoruba man to go all out to include in personnel, egoistic, self- gratification, while many of his relatives are dying of hunger around him.

The area of the economic obligation of the Western man does not extend beyond himself, his wife and children. Anything beyond this, he would not move an inch. Even this parents are no longer his business. This tells the relativistic nature of the two cultures.

Presently, it is not a far fetched truism to locate among the Yoruba society especially, those Western education Yoruba elites who had spent many years in Western countries usually come home with the notion of carrying their culture back home to practice; while some, out of financial hardship in the course of their studentship married Western woman and brought them back home. The crucial point made here is that, the joy, which these people who usually indulge in these attitudes enjoy, is nothing more than a little joy. Their relatives would brand them as persons without a source, a base, persons culturally ejected out like the stool from flying birds.

2.3   MARRIAGE PRACTISE AMONG THE YORUBAS

Marriage is an activity in which everyone in the society becomes an actor or actress and not just a spectator. Among the Yorubas, failure to get married means that, the person in particular has rejected the society and the society has rejected him also in return. Another important thing about marriage among the Yorubas is that marriage and procreation are a unity and without marriage procreation is not complete.

.

WESTERN CULTURE AND YORUBA ETHICS: A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS



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