Knowing Your Place:
The Hometown and Identity
Odo ki i san ko gbagbe isun [A river does not flow so far that it forgets its source].
The proverb quoted here is one of many Yoruba proverbs that emphasize the importance of remembering one's origins. As Oyekan Owomoyela explains, the proverb means that “the flowing river always remains connected with its source, however far it might flow; otherwise it dies. ” According to him, the proverb is used “to remind people that wherever they might be, however distant from their homes, and however high they might rise above their origins, they must always remember where they came from” (Owomoyela 1988: 268). For the Yoruba, the home place, or hometown, is a significant and continuing source of a person's identity throughout life. Individuals act with that sense of identity in mind, and they are likewise reminded by others that there are expectations and obligations based on that identity. However, a sense of origins, of place, is not quite so simple as it might first appear. On the one hand, the hometown can be simply defined as the place where one's father's lineage is from. On the other hand, it turns out that there is considerable flexibility and choice involved in maintaining connections with one's place of origins; there is choice about which place (or places) is considered to be the hometown, and there is also contextual and situational flexibility, with various types of places providing identity in different contexts.
This chapter will explore the concepts of hometown and identity within the Ijesa context, considering their continuing importance as well as the ways in which they are changing. The first section describes the five Ijesa communities on which the research focused as well as the regional context in which those communities are located. Each of these communities is a “hometown” for a considerable number of people, including many of those