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Understanding the Cultural And Traditional Importance Of Mothers In Yorùbá Society

There is a popular saying in Yorùbá land that goes thus:

“Iya ni wura, Baba ni jigi” meaning “Mother is gold, the father is a mirror”

In pre-colonial Yoruba times, one of the items used by the white man to entice the natives and appease them when they introduced themselves was a Mirror; hence, it was seen as valuable and sometimes used as a means of exchange. Gold, on the other hand, was considered extremely valuable, rare, and a treasured item.


So, even in a patriarchal society, how did mothers get such undying respect and admiration even when it was not shown openly and acknowledged?

Back in time, mothers were regarded as “Homebuilders” and all their activities were limited to the four corners of the house. Men stayed at the forefront and acted as the voice of the house. The women were silenced and little or nothing was heard of their impact as pillars of the house.

Despite the relegation of women and mothers in the African society by patriarchy, core traditional Yorùbá society has always shown great respect to mothers and revered their role in the society. By becoming a mother, a woman is promoted to the esteemed position in which she can be referred to as a precious stone.

The common saying in Yorùbá “Obirinin lo’laye; (The world is owned by Women) implies that the world revolves because of the power it draws from women – This saying holds a physical and spiritual meaning-. Motherhood, the divine strength of creating life, the powerful intuition that allows a mother to have foreknowledge of any activity around her offspring gives her the almost Omnipresence power of knowing all. This God-given sense of wisdom and knowledge over the years, has positioned mothers as secondary deities on earth. This duty they carry with all sense of pride and love.

“Orisha bi Iya Kosi” – “There is no deity like a mother”. What could have spurred up such a saying that places mothers on the same pedestal as gods and deities revered spiritually in Yorùbá culture? The answer is not farfetched from the spiritual essence they pass on to their offspring. A mother’s duty never ends- that unconditional love, the absolute spirit of limitless sacrifice, and the selfless care she provides to her children. Mothers would literally take the place of their children even in the face of death. These selfless acts been displayed over the years have shown the importance of Mothers in Yorùbá society.

Whenever one is set to embark on a journey, and suddenly strikes his or her left foot on a stub, it is considered as bad luck. It is believed in Yorùbá culture that the left foot is the maternal foot, and a strike on one’s “mother’s leg” is bad luck. The journey for that day is cancelled or an appeasement is done to wade off any evil.

The role and position of mothers in our society cannot be overlooked and left unnoticed. Life givers, caregivers, protectors, nurses, several multiple roles embedded in one being. The role of mothers cannot and should not be compromised at all. The multi-tasking role they play makes them the superhuman that makes our lives easy the way it seems.

A woman’s role is multi dimensional in Yorùbá culture – a mother, a wife, a daughter, a priestess, or even a witch. The way she is perceived depends on the position she occupies, and the different perceptions are reflected through songs, works of art, music, language, and religion. The highest value is given to a mother because Yoruba people revere motherhood.

Even in songs, mothers are rated as precious gold:

Iya ni wura iyebiye
Ti a ko le f’owora
O l’oyun mi f’osu mesan
O pon mi f’odun meta
Iya ni wura iyebiye
Ti a ko le f’owora

Mother is a precious gold
That cannot be purchased with money
She carried me in her womb for nine months
She nursed me for three years
Mother is a precious gold
That cannot be purchased with money.

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