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Religion, Polygamy and Social Status in the song “Ara Nba Da” by Theophilus Iwalokun

Essay 2008 9 Seiten

Geschichte - Afrika

Leseprobe

The song “Ara Nba Da” from Theophilus Iwalokun is part of the collection of popular music recorded between 1954 and 1957 in West Africa by the Union Trade Company of Basel. It belongs to the genre of Jùjú music, which is a Yoruba variant of the urban West African palmwine guitar tradition. The intention of this paper is not to do an ethnomusicological analysis but rather to approach the textual content concerning its explicit as well as implicit topics.

The song is about a person of south western Nigeria who seeks to marry polygamously to get respected within the society of Yorubaland. In the song text are several hints about the person's identity – that is, about its gender and religion. Before analysing polygamy as the main topic of the song it is therefore being attempted to find out its sex and religious affiliation to get in the position to approach the issue more specifically.

While it is no difficult task to identify the gender of the character, since the line

Hlọn a bu ẹ titi a lo ni aya.

Everybody will abuse you that you don’t have a wife.

strongly indicates a man who desires to marry a woman, the religious believing of the person in question is by no means easy to ascertain as in Yorubaland coexist at least three different faiths – that is the Yoruba traditional religion, Christianity and Islam. The traditional religion in Yorubaland predates both the advent of Christianity and Islam. In the Yoruba spiritual cosmos it is Olódùmarè, the creator of the universe and benefactor to all humans, who is placed in the centre of the belief. Olódùmarè is assisted by a pantheon of deities and nature spirits called Òrìsà, each of whom personify different attributes of the Supreme Being.[1] In the Yoruba belief one’s destiny is born in heaven and life is the struggle to fulfil it. Humans must therefore cultivate a positive relationship with both the deities and one’s destiny in order to realise one’s goals in the world.[2]

Although Islam had entered Africa south of the Sahara along with Arabian merchants more than a millennium ago in Yorubaland it arrived not until the first half of the 19th century when agents of Usman dan Fodio – the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate further north – penetrated the country.[3] Christianity, eventually, is the newest religion in Yorubaland which was imposed by colonial authorities in the end of the 19th century in their attempt to eradicate all “pagan” beliefs and practices.[4]

In the 1950s the traditional Yoruba pantheon already diminished into insignificance. Even in Ife – the cradle of the Yoruba religion – less than 5% of the population worshipped their old deities. The majority of the people had already adopted either the Islamic or the Christian faith. This was only partly due to the colonial policy to brush aside all indigenous cults. It is rather to be seen against the background of modernisation: Both Islamisation and Christianisation came along with education, which in turn gave rise to a new educated elite. Conversion to Islam or Christianity thus became the means of moving up in society. Consequently education, and with it Christianity or Islam, became the more desirable.[5]

Provided with this sort of background information it is now possible to draw again on the song “Aba Nba Da”. The line:

Oluwa nise ta ye o.

God is the one that is helping us.

might be useful to determine the religious belief of the man of whom the song is about. Since Theophilus’ emphasis lies on “the one” when he sings about God this strongly indicates a monotheistic faith. At first sight the concept of one all-embracing God can be applied to all three religions in Yorubaland. It is true that within the traditional Yoruba religion Olódùmarè is regarded as the Supreme Being. But He only is a high god among a plurality of lesser gods (the Òrìsà). Moreover, due to His absolute transcendence He is not worshipped and has therefore neither priests nor cult-groups.[6] Hence it is unlikely that Theophilus addresses Olódùmarè and it must be either the Islamic or the Christian faith to which the man in the song belongs.

To further isolate the religious question another line in the song might help:

Mo sọ fun mama mi pe mo fẹ

bi ọmọ merin larin ọdun kan.

I told my mother that I want to

have four children within one year.

This verse clearly implies polygyny since the man must marry at least four wives to achieve his purpose in only one year. People attached to a Eurocentric world view might directly say, this man must be Muslim! Unfortunately it is not that clear: In Yorubaland polygyny is a widespread phenomenon and by no means only in the Muslim communities. Among the traditional Yoruba and even in the Christian communities it is a widely accepted practice as well. The Yoruba regard polygyny as the ideal form of marriage due to socio-economic reasons and prestige. Whereas adherents of the traditional Yoruba faith may have as many wives as they can afford - there are reported cases of even more than 20 wives belonging to only one man -, Muslims are limited to four wives at any one time.[7] Although members of the mission-origin Protestant churches and Catholics are supposed to remain monogamous, in the numerous localised Christian branches polygyny is far from abnormal.[8] It is therefore not surprising when in some areas of Yorubaland up to two thirds of all wives are living in polygamous marriages – namely in the traditional, Islamic and Christian communities.[9]

These findings show that the verse cited above does not help to reveal the religious views of the man in Theophilus' song. Even though it was possible to exclude the traditional Yoruba religion, there are still two possible faiths left to which the man might worship. Since this verse was the last hint in the song his religious affiliation remains hidden.

However, after having determined that in Yorubaland polygyny exists and is widely accepted in all three religious faiths it is possible to examine the topic even without the knowledge of the religion of the man in question – but then of course only generally for Yorubaland and not specifically to a certain religion.

In the past, societies in Yorubaland were predominantly based on a subsistence economy. The demand of labour was high, because a greater number of farm workers reduced famines and other risks. But the supply was limited since the population increase has been close to zero for most of the time. It is for this reason that scholars generally assume that polygyny emerged as a means of increasing labour power through marriage and reproduction: A man's wives would not only work on the household and on the fields but would also bear a large labour force which in turn would grow more food on a steadily expanding demesne. Hence the number of wives and children was regarded as a man's greatest assets, and the main indicator of his wealth and status.[10]

On the other hand, the tradition of bridewealth excluded virtually all adolescent men from marriage, because they could often not afford the payments. It entailed that the age at marriage was far over 30 years for men while women usually married young at 16 or 17 years of age, which meant a spousal age gap at first marriage of almost 20 years. The institution of polygyny has therefore been the major factor of economic and social stratification since it prevented young men from accumulating wealth.[11]

In the course of the 20th century, with the advent of industrialisation and urbanisation, the situation was beginning to change. As the expansion of commerce brought new possibilities for wage labour the need for a large labour force became less urgent. Moreover, since modernisation was accompanied by unprecedently high rates of population growth unemployment became a problem, and thus, particularly in the non-agricultural areas, a large family size was likely to be disadvantageous.[12]

However, the Yoruba held on to the practice of polygyny and the ratio in both urban and rural areas remained high. In the case of the rural communities this can be explained through high migration patterns of young Yoruba males into the cities, thus creating an imbalance of the sex ratio conducive to polygyny in the countryside. The high rate of polygamous marriages in the urban areas can be seen against the background of individualisation. In Nigerian cities, where impersonal relations were often rudimentary, having several trustworthy wives plus a bunch of children could be an advantage in establishing enterprises.[13]

Again, although in the 1950s the increasing purchasing power reduced the male average age at first marriage to 26 for the bulk of the adolescent male population either the bridewealth payments remained a burden or there were simply not enough women available one could marry.[14] It is exactly this problem which Theophilus addresses when he sings:

Ara nba da o

Omo ni o jẹ nda o

Aranbada owo ni o jẹ nda o

What I should have done with money

I cannot do it because of financial problems

Lack of money has caused me some problems.

In Yorubaland marriage meant social security and advancement. Marriage was seen as a union between two families or lineage groups and was therefore an active means of making connections. Hence, polygamous marriages enlarged a man's influence by having more alliances with other families, which in turn gave him more commercial and political strength.[15] The other way round, an unmarried man would often have weak social ties and would therefore been more vulnerable to affronts. This issue is expressed by the Yoruba proverb in Theophilus' song:

Igunnigun yan ni jẹ o lọ o,

Ẹyẹ akala yan ni jẹ o lọ o.

“Igunnigun” cheats on you and flies away,

“Eye Akala” cheats on you and flies away.

“Igunnigun” is a Yoruba term for a dirty bird, while “Akala” is a fine clean bird. The proverb can thus be interpreted that all sorts of people will cheat the man, because he has no wife who helps in the household and weak social ties which would otherwise help him to solve affronts.

As noted earlier polygamy can raise social status and bring a man prestige since it is seen as the ability to pay the brideprice for more than one women, to manage one large or more households, and to provide food, clothing, and schooling for numerous children. Moreover, because in the Yoruba division of labour the husband provides capital with which his wives trade or engage in crafts each additional wife means additional income for the marriage unit. Hence, by marrying polygamously a Yoruba man could strengthen his social ties and accumulate wealth while simultaneously raising his social status.[16]

It is for this reasons that the man in Theophilus' song emphatically wishes and is asked to marry so as to gain prestige, which is expressed in the lines:

Igbeyin apọn, apọn dada o.

The end shall be very ripe.

Omọ araye mama bẹ yale rẹ o.

People will be trooping into the house.

Ki lle maa gbagbe ẹ o.

Your family shall not forget you.

The three cited lines imply that the man will have many wives and a plurality of children. As he will marry additional wives who bear him more children he will climb the social ladder. Invested with greater reputation more people are going to visit him in his compound and as his prestige raises it is likely that – after his death – he will be placed high in his family's ancestors line.

Bibliography

Brown, Judith E. Polygyny and Family Planning in sub-Saharan Africa. In: Studies in Family Planning, Vol. 12, No. 8/9 (Aug. - Sep., 1981), pp. 322-326

Caldwell, John, I. O. Orubuloye & Pat Caldwell. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System. In: Population and Development Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 229-262

Chojnacka, Helen. Polygyny and the Rate of Population Growth. In: Population Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Mar., 1980), pp. 91-107

Ibrahim, Jibrin. Religion and Political Turbulence in Nigeria. In: The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 115-136

Johnson, Judith M., Susan L. Thompson & Gerald J. Perry. Juju-Soup: The Witch Herbalist's Solution for Infertility. In: African Studies Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Apr., 1990), pp. 55-64

Koster, Winny. Secret Strategies: Women and Abortion in Yoruba Society, Nigeria. Aksant Academic: 2003

Lawal, Babatunde. Àwòrán: Representing the Self and Its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art. In: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 83, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 498-526

Matory, J. Lorand. Rival Empires: Islam and the Religions of Spirit Possession among the Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá. In: American Ethnologist, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Aug., 1994), pp. 495-515

Mazrui, Ali A. Religion and Political Culture in Africa. In: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Dec., 1985), pp. 817-839

Parratt, J. K. Religious Change in Yoruba Society: A Test Case. In: Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 2, Fasc. 1 (1969), pp. 113-128

Ray, Benjamin C. Aladura Christianity: A Yoruba Religion. In: Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 23, Fasc. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 266-291

Ryan, Patrick J. "Arise, O God!" the Problem of 'Gods' in West Africa. In: Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 11, Fasc. 3 (1980), pp. 161-171

Ware, Helen. Polygyny: Women's Views in a Transitional Society, Nigeria 1975. In: Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. 185-195

Appendix

Ara Nba Da[17]

Aranbada owo ni o jẹ nda o.

Lack of money has caused me some problem.

Mo sọ fun mama mi pe mo fẹ

I told my mother that I want to have four

bi ọmọ merin larin ọdun kan.

children within one year.

Ara nba da o.

What I should have done with money.

Omo ni o jẹ nda o.

I can not do it because of financial problems.

Igunnigun yan ni jẹ o lọ o,

“Igunnigun” cheats on you and flies away,

Ẹyẹ akala yan ni jẹ o lọ o.

“Eye Akala” cheats on you and flies away.

Hlọn a bu ẹ titi mọn a lo ni aya.

Everybody will abuse you that you don’t have a wife.

Oluwa nise ta ye o.

God is the one that is helping us.

Igbeyin apọn, apọn dada o.

The end shall be very ripe.

“IRA EMEDEYE” yeye.

“IRA EMEDEYE” is a very good person.

Omọ ara(a)ye mama bẹ yale rẹ o.

People will be trooping into the house.

Ami o koko.

A big Amen.

Ki lle maa gbagbe ẹ o.

Your family shall not forget you.

Te wurẹ ba jẹ lọ, apada ma sile o.

Definitely, when the goat gets out it will come back again.

Ta guutan ba jẹ lọ apada ma silẹ o.

When a sheep gets out it will definitely come back home.

Igbin kin un nin ajo ko gagbe ile rẹ.

A snail does not go on a journey and forgets its house.

Ile ma gbagbe o.

Don’t forget house.

[...]


[1] Lawal. Representing the Self and Its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art, 498

[2] Ray. Aladura Christianity: A Yoruba Religion, 270f

[3] Matory. Rival Empires, 496; Mazrui. Religion and Political Culture in Africa, 817f

[4] Ibrahim. Religion and Political Turbulence in Nigeria, 116

[5] Parrat. Religious Change in Yoruba Society, 113

[6] Ryan. The Problem of ‚Gods‘ in West Africa, 166

[7] Johnson et al. Juju-Soup: The Witch Herbalist's Solution for Infertility, 56; Ware. Polygyny: Women's Views in a Transitional Society, Nigeria 1975, 186

[8] Samuel Oshoffa for instance, the founder of the Celestial Church of Christ left behind 34 wives and 150 children when he died in 1985. Ibrahim. Religion and Political Turbulence in Nigeria, 118

[9] The data is extracted of two different surveys conducted in 1975 and 1989-90 in urban and rural areas in Yorubaland. It is possible that the ratio might have dropped in the subsequent years of the surveys, but for the decades before both authors claim that the ratio should have been similar or even higher. See: Ware. Polygyny: Women's Views in a Transitional Society, Nigeria 1975; Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System

[10] Chojnacka. Polygyny and the Rate of Population Growth, 91f; Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, 234

[11] Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, 234

[12] Chojnacka. Polygyny and the Rate of Population Growth, 92

[13] Ibid., 93

[14] Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, 234, 253; Chojnacka. Polygyny and the Rate of Population Growth, 93

[15] Koster. Secret Strategies, 81; Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, 234f

[16] Brown. Polygyny and Family Planning in sub-Saharan Africa, 322f; Koster.. Secret Strategies, 81; Caldwell et al. The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, 252

[17] https://africanmusic.unibas.ch/transcripts/3022_Ara_nba_da.doc

Details

Seiten
9
Jahr
2008
ISBN (Buch)
9783668282933
Dateigröße
473 KB
Sprache
Englisch
Katalognummer
v289082
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Basel – Centre for African Studies
Note
1,0
Schlagworte
Africa Juju Nigeria Popular Music

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Titel: Religion, Polygamy and Social Status in the song “Ara Nba Da” by Theophilus Iwalokun