Art History: Feminism in Yoruba


The Yoruba is a tribe with its roots in the south of West Africa. The Yoruba iscreditedfor oldest and finest artistic traditions in Africa and the world as a whole. Theseartistic works have been spread around the world because there were migrations from African to the other parts of the world. Mainly slavery contributed to the spread of the Yoruba to Cuba, Caribbean Islands, and American continents. By definition, art has an influential role of communication; since through art people can express their feelings and how they perceive things.

The communication aspect of artis achievedthrough the various forms of art, which include: writing, drawing, painting, dance, and music(Folarin 1993). These forms of artistic works provide the critical relationship that exists between art and culture. Culture refers to the ideas, custom and beliefs of a community that are passed down from generation to generation(Cosmicyoruba 2011). The passage of the cultural practices is done extensively using the artistic works of that community. In this light, it can be concluded the culture of a community is dependent on the art of that community. There are many factors involved in the cultural practices of a community, and the female involvement in the cultural activities ranks among the vital elements(Familusi 2012).

Feminism is a topic that has seen many dynamics around the world as estabilshed by variuos scholarly, artistic, legal, and anthropology works. Women in the current world are seeking to establish equality with their male counterparts. However, traditionally men and women had clear and elaborate roles in the society. In the Yoruba art, females are shown as market women, wives, priestesses, nursing mothers, mothers to be, and gift givers(Folarin 1993). This discussion establishes feminism in the Yoruba art. The study will put the emphasis on women and the Yoruba culture, highlighting the importance of women in this culture.

Discussion and analysis

There are various factors that define the female states of being. Thus, to understand the status of women in Yoruba society and art it would be prudent to understand the beliefs and attitudes towards women. Different communities have different unique cultures, which contain the norms and the values of the people(Folarin 1993). As a consequence, different people see things differently from those from another culture. The Yoruba tribe is a patriarch society like many African societies, and this forms the basis on which the perception of women is based.

Perception of women

Women in the Yoruba culture are defined by the various positions they hold in the society. However, this perception is left to the discretion of their male counterparts, as the culture definitions are dependent on the male perception. Man scholars of feminist studies have largely deduced that the facets of the African culture are hostile to women. For instance, Yoruba women are known for their hardworking nature. Mainly, they are viewed as the foundation of the Yoruba society(Drewal and Drewal 1983).

However, their efforts and contributions are rarely acknowledged. Women glory, for example, was determined by the gender of the child she would give birth. If a newborn was a female, the mother was scolded and treated like a lazy, good for nothing woman. On the other hand, if the child is a male, praise will be showered on the mother. This indicates that the femaleswere regarded as afailure in the society. Despite the mother, the act of receiving a newborn girl with such hostility showed that the place of a woman in the society was low(Familusi 2012).

However, women had several titles depending on their position in the society. Women took names like, wife, daughter, Queen, priestess, princess, mother, or witch. The perception of women on this scale depended on the positions they held in the society. These perceptions are seen and reflected in religion, songs and music, language, and other artistic works. Women were praisedon several occasions; but, these celebrations were within the parameters and controls of the patriarch framework(Folarin 1993). Gelede and other events demanded the wearing of the gelede masks. Gelede was a Yoruba traditional celebration of praising the elderly women.

Gelede masks were worn by men in women clothing for them to come across as women. The objective of these festivities was to praise womanhood and femininity as well as the power that women held. Although the gelede event was in favor of women and was supposed to empower them, the event thrived in an environment that sought to limit and control women. The highest power or value given to a woman was motherhood; motherhood carried a lot of weight in Yoruba(Cosmicyoruba 2011).

Feminine aspects in Yoruba

1. Motherhood

Motherhood is universalistic in many aspects; the love of motherhood is a pervasive one as it is found in many cultures. In the Yoruba culture, a mother is a symbol of life and its continuance. Mothers give, nurture and sustain life and as a consequence respect and far-reaching love is bestowed on the mother. Men and the society as a wholeare tasked with the ultimate protection of the mothers. Several artistic works are used to describe theimportance of mothers. A proverb states, “mother is gold, father is mirror(Makinde 2004).” The proverb carries a great emphasis on how mothers are precious to the society.

Additionally, songs are written with an aim of praising a mother. A song states a mother is a precious gold. The song emphasizes the ways mothers cares for their off-springs since conception, to birth as well as at old age. The song states, “Mother is a precious gold That cannot be purchased with money(Drewal and Drewal 1983).” This praises and value given to motherhood makesmotherhood to be revered as most women admire and look forward to motherhood. In Yoruba culture, motherhood carries high value, as it is, enables the preservation of humanity.

This value is also given emphasis through several Yoruba sculptures that established woman’s image as specials. A saying in Yoruba states that “if children are considered so desirable and beautiful, then it is understandable that the woman through whom the child comes into the world must be so highly regarded(Makinde 2004).” As a consequence women yield a significant amount of power in this society.

2. Power and Politics

Many cultures in the West believe and push for the equality of sexes; in the sense that women and men share equal roles in the society. On the other hand, the traditional West African culture, power was apportioned to different sexes depending on their roles; thus creating distinct power circles between men and women(Rain Queens of Africa; Admin 2011). Power among women was carried in motherhood. This evident from the fact that motherhood was an admiration for all women in order to enjoy the praises associated with motherhood.

Praises were a sign of power since being celebrated a sign that an individual had a great impact on the society. In addition, a woman who gave birth to a boy gained a higher status in the society than a woman who gave birth to a girl. Giving birth to a girl was viewed as an act of laziness by the mother(Makinde 2004). In this light, the ultimate power of women in this culture was to be a mother.

The queen mothers are the epitome of power. Several factors lead to this status. One the queens were married to the kings of the day and as a consequence they carried the ultimate responsibility of giving birth to the future kings(Rain Queens of Africa; Admin 2011). According to the Yoruba tradition, a woman who gave birth to a future king is said to possess some magical power. Ascending to a royal throne required a person to be well nurtured and protected from the competing forces.

This task was done by the mother of a future king. As this society allowed polygamous marriages, kings were likely to have more than one wife. In effect, the hire of the throne had to be a son born by one of his wives. It was the responsibility of these wives to prepare their sons to take the throne and guide them on the leadership of the community(Rain Queens of Africa; Admin 2011). This fact brought competition among the wives, as each aimed at defeating her sons competitors to the throne. Also, the queen of mothers helped their sons to become prosperous during their reign. The community believed a mother could only become a queen of mothers if she possessed some magical powers in order to thrive over the competitors.

In addition, the power aspect of the women was their ability to influence the decisions of their husbands. Although, women were seen to be less influential in the matters of the society, they had the power to do so through their husband due to the intimate relationship between them and the husbands(Drewal and Drewal 1983). The effects of wives influence on husbandsare seen in the kings’ reign. The queen has the ear of the queen, and the king is likely to do as asked by the queens in order to make them happy.

For example, the queen of mothers had extensive power in the Yoruba community. The queen had absolute power over her subjects. Additionally, the queens were independent to make their decisions, and they had their courts as well. The queens were ranked at the same or higher level in comparison to the community chiefs and as a consequence they were very influential on the decisions made regarding the community matters. Queens were advisors to the Kings and as such they helped kings in making decisions concerning the ruling of the kingdom(Rain Queens of Africa; Admin 2011).

In this aspect, queens were celebrated as the symbols of power. They were essential in determining the future kings of the various kingdoms in the Yoruba community. Additionally, they helped their husbands and sons to reign successfully in the kingdom. This puts the emphasis of women power in the society which could be good or detrimental(Yeats, W.B. 2012). A woman can be a curse or a blessing to their husband and the society as a whole.

The recognition of the power of women is given the symbolic example of water. In Yoruba, water is the source of life and such it is a necessity but sometimes water can be dangerous. Water can cause flooding, which brings destruction of property and humanity(Cosmicyoruba 2011). This comparison of woman power to water captures that theactual power of women and the need to recognize it(Folarin 1993). A Yoruba poem indicates that there is aneed to recognize thepower among women.

The poem states that, “In anything we do, If we do not guarantee the place of women That thing will not succeed He said, ‘we should acknowledge the power of women He said, ‘if we acknowledge their power, The world will be peaceful(Makinde 2004).” This power is crucial in Yoruba culture, as it formed the basis of the success of the community. The power of women is also seen in the religious matters of the society.