IN previous chapters we have often had occasion to refer to the sale of land. In this chapter we shall briefly summarize the concept of sale, the methods of conveyancing and the means by which a man can gain some security of title to his land.
We must distinguish sale, as a process, from the idea that sale gives the purchaser full rights of ownership. Sale, as defined by the dictionary, is a transaction for money. The term is now used by the Yoruba when a large sum in cash is paid for land instead of the customary gifts of palm wine or gin and kola nuts. Yet these token gifts are often substituted with their value in cash. The sale price of land is usually much higher than the value of the gifts presented in return for a customary grant, but cases often arise where it is difficult to see whether the transaction was intended as such a customary grant or a sale. Theoretically, sale does not necessarily imply the conveyance of full ownership of land -- in English usage a lease, or any other such dependent interest, may be sold. But among the Yoruba the implication exists that the land sold becomes the 'bona fide personal property' of the purchaser; this local term implies that the purchaser holds rights of ownership in the land, corresponding in practice to those of the holder of an English freehold estate. The term corresponds, too, to the phrase 'individual ownership' in that it describes not only the quantum of the estate (ownership or freehold) but the nature of the holder of the estate -- the individual as opposed to a corporate family or descent group. Logically there seems to be no reason why one descent group should not sell its land to another, but this does not seem to happen among the Yoruba; in this century land is almost invariably acquired by the individual and not by the descent group.
We must distinguish, too, between the sale of land and sale of the improvements on it. Where rights amounting to ownership of the land are held by a corporate descent group the sale by a member of his house or cocoa farm does not transfer to a purchaser, who does not belong to the group, any right in the land; he gains this right either by being accepted by the group as a customary tenant on the land, or by a partition of the land by the group, which gives the individual vendor the right to alienate his own share. Where, as in rural Ondo, the ownership of the land is conceived as being vested in the community, improvements