The Yoruba people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, have survived for centuries on the African continent. Evidence points to a powerful Yoruba kingdom in the eighth century in Ile-Ife. They lived in well-structured urban centers organized around powerful city-states well before the arrival of the British colonizers.
With the onset of the Atlantic slave trade, Yoruba people from Nigeria and Benin were forcibly transported to America as slaves. Their religion expanded across many borders - to Trinidad, Cuba, Saint Lucia, Benin, Togo, Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, to name a few.
A new film Bigger than Africa captures how the descendants of one of the largest empires in West Africa before colonisation kept their traditions alive.
Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye, the Los Angeles filmmaker and director of the film Bigger than Africa traveled to six countries to examine contemporary practices of Yoruba culture. He pored over numerous videos and conducted face-to-face interviews with Africans and people of African descent steeped in Yoruba beliefs.
The film shows the Yorubas as among the last Africans to be captured and sent to the Americas and other places just before the slave trade came to an end.
'As a result, they were able to retain their culture, which became a rallying point for non-Yoruba freed slaves desperate to connect with their ancestors,' Mr. Adekeye told Africa Renewal at the screening of the documentary at UN Headquarters in New York. 'They all gravitated toward the Yoruba culture. They became a community, one people in the diaspora.'
'To date,' he added, 'the most pronounced African culture in the diaspora is Yoruba.'
Mr. Adekeye's visit to Oyotunji Village in South Carolina in the United States triggered his interest in the production of Bigger than Africa. 'Oyotunji' in Yoruba translates to 'Oyo awakening.' His film, shot in six different countries (Benin, Brazil, Cuba, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States), and featuring interviews from around the world, follows the journey of these Africans from West Africa to their final destinations.
Many Yoruba monuments dot the six countries he visited, but the greatest manifestation of the Yoruba culture is the language and religious worship of the deities-Shango, the 'Orisha' of thunder and lightning, Babalu-Aye, orisha of the Earth, Kokou, a violent worrier orisha, Obatala, creator of human bodies, orisha of light, Oko, orisha of agriculture, Ogun, orisha...