Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Body Size in Indigenous Oral Knowledge among the Yoruba in Southwestern Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Body Size in Indigenous Oral Knowledge among the Yoruba in Southwestern Nigeria

Article excerpt


Modern discourses on human health emphasize the importance of body size. Indeed, body size related concepts such as obesity have necessarily drawn attention and remained primary among modern health issues. Obesity is simply the accumulation of fat in the human body. Obesity is globally pandemic (Egger and Swinburn, 1997). It heightens the chance of untimely death, increases the possibility of medical illness and complications and threatens quality of life (Villareal et al., 2012).

Obesity is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancers (Wadden, Brownell and Foster, 2002). Using body mass index of 30 (a standard measurement of obesity), obesity increases the risk of mortality by up to 30% (ibid). Incidentally, people of color or people outside industrialized nations are often assumed to be favorably disposed towards increased body size. Such assumption appears to depict an insubstantial exposition of body size. This can only benefit from a scrutiny of the vast, indigenous oral resources of people of color, the Yoruba inclusive. The philosophies of Yoruba people, much like that of other African people, are subsumed in varieties of oral resources (this also includes non-verbal symbols e.g, Yoruba images). The Yoruba are a poetic nation. Spontaneous and unrehearsed oral performances are characteristic of everyday life, both by the professional and otherwise. Social functions like birth, marriage and funeral are remarkably marked with sonorous songs. In these oral performances lies the wealth of indigenous knowledge. "Right from the pre-colonial era, the Yoruba nation has evolved sophisticated forms of indigenous philosophy which have guided beliefs about the environment and social relations up to contemporary times" (Omobowale, 2008:205). Interestingly, these oral philosophies are of varying categories, including Ifa literary corpus, proverbs, oriki, rara chants, etc. However, sometimes they are hard to distinguish and can be interwoven such that a particular speech can resemble proverbs, sayings, chants, oriki or incantations at the same time. For instance, Schwab (1955) stated that chronicles of a lineage are conserved in rara (ritual chants) and oriki. Barber (1984) also asserted as follows:

Oriki also make up the bulk of innumerable chants, each with its own
name and vocal style: iwi, rara, ijala, olele, alamo, ekun iyawo are
examples. Each chant can be considered a genre in its own right...
Proverbs can be turned into oriki if they were favorite utterances of
the person being saluted, or if they can be interpreted in a way that
sheds light on his/her character. Oriki appear in ese Ifa, the poetry
of divination, whenever a divination priest of an earlier age is named.
Sometimes it is not possible to determine which genre is incorporating
which: there are passages which appear both in Ifa verses and in oriki
orile.... Yoruba oral literature in general appears like a vast stock
of verbal materials- themes, formulas, stories, poetic idioms, which
can float through the permeable boundaries of all the genres and be
incorporated into them to fulfill different functions. Genres freely
incorporate parts of other genres, with much sharing and borrowing of

The following sub sections are discussions of some of these oral resources:

Ifa Literary Corpus

Ifa literary corpus occupies a central position in the records of Yoruba frame of reference and the channel through which other spiritual bodies express themselves (Abimbola, 1975; Harris, 1992). It is an embodiment of the "history of earth and heaven the moral and physical laws with which Olodumare governs the universe" (Abimbola, 1975: 389). Ifa is "an ancient monument where the culture of the Yoruba is encapsulated, enthroned and entombed. Also, Ifa is seen as a practice which embodies Yoruba beliefs, history, sociology and ecology. .Yoruba practices and cultural paradigm could be discerned, studied and appreciated from many Ifa verses" (Olademo, 2009: 49). …

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