In a world where culture and tradition seem to varnish quicker than a gaseous spray, Africans in South Carolina have found a means to preserve one of the continent’s oldest and most popular culture, the Yoruba culture.
Predominantly, the Yoruba people are found in the South-western part of Nigeria with few numbers in other West African countries like Togo, Benin, Gambia etc. Perhaps, Urban migration and slave trade might have been the causes for the displacement of the Yoruba people across the globe. Far from home, these expatriates find it difficult to continue with their usual African life; culture and religion. This is no longer a cause for concern for the Yoruba people living in South Carolina in the United States of America. For more than four decades now, these people have been practicing and preserving their culture in a home far away from home. This is all to the credits and giant efforts of a man known as Walter Eugene. He singlehandedly founded the Oyotunji African Village (OAV) that operates like a mini version of the great Oyo Empire
Oyotunji village is named after the Oyo empire, and the name literally means “Oyo returns” or “Oyo rises again”. The Oyotunji village covers 27 acres (11 ha) and has a Yoruba temple which was moved from Harlem, New York to its present location in 1960. The village was originally intended to be located in Savannah, Georgia but it was eventually settled into its current position after disputes with neighbors in Sheldon, over drumming and tourists. During the 1970s, the era of greatest population growth at the village, the number of inhabitants grew from 5 to between 200 and 250. The population is rumored to fluctuate between 5 and 9 families as of the last 10 years. Since Adefunmi’s death in 2005, the village has been led by his son, Oba Adejuyigbe Adefunmi II. The village is constructed to be analogous to the villages of the traditional Yoruba city-states in modern-day Nigeria, although some modernization works have been carried out under Adefunmi II.
His Royal Highness Oba (King) Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, was born Walter Eugene King on October 5th 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, USA. On August 26th 1959, Oba Waja became the first African born in America to become fully initiated into the Orisa-Vodun African priesthood by African Cubans in Matanzas, Cuba. Since then he has initiated thousands of priests into the ministries of Orisa-Vodun. In so doing, Oba Adefunmi I restored the ancient sacred priesthoods of the deities Esu, Orunmila, Obatala, Osun, Yemoja, Ogun, Oya, Sango and Olokun to the African American community. In the fall of 1970, Oba Waja found the Yoruba Village of Oyotunji in Beaufort County South Carolina, and began the careful reorganization of the Orisa-Vodu Priesthood along traditional Nigerian lines. He was initiated to the Ifa priesthood by the Oluwa of Ijeun at Abeokuta, Nigeria, in August of 1972. Baba Adefunmi was proclaimed Alase (Oba-King) of the Yoruba of North America at Oyotunji Village in 1972. In 1981, his Divine Royal Majesty King, Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, the “Ooni” of the ancient Yoruba city of Ile Ife, Nigeria, ordered the Ife Chiefs to perform coronation rites on Oba Waja. Thereafter becoming Oba Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, he became the first in a line of new world Yoruba Kings consecrated at the palace of the Ooni of Ife. In the summer of 1993, Oba Adefunmi I supervised the establishment of Ijo Orunmila Igbo Mimo, the first African American Ifa society. Oba Adefunmi I married several times and fathered six princes and sixteen princesses. Oba Adefunmi fostered the establishment of Yoruba Temples and Shrines in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, DC, VI, Panama and England. He equally enabled the restoration of the rites of Gelede, Egungun and Ancestor worship.
The Oyotunji African Village has evolved over the years expanding their reach and providing community services like the ‘Oyotunji disaster relief,’ across America. Oyotunji now celebrates numerous festivals like the Orita festival every year. There is also a program tagged ‘It takes a village’ that is aimed at sourcing funds for community services. Moreover, when one feels the need to change his European name to an African name Oyotunji village will gladly be at your service. They will organize mega naming ceremony in your honour! One maybe lucky enough to have the Oba of Oyotunji at his ceremony, wedding or any social gathering. This is because of a chance to ‘book-a-date with the Oba’ the village provides even on their website.
The Oyotunji African Village lets visitors immerse themselves in an authentic African village and culture. Open to the public from 10 to dusk, seven days a week, visitors can enjoy the view of the village’s monuments and shrines which were built for their gods and ancestors. They can equally visit the marketplace and homes in the village. They can witness the village’s festivities especially the popular festival a month for their deities. “It’s the same way they visit other parks to find out what’s happening. People are inquisitive and adventurous. They want to learn.” says Adaramola. Through tours, tourism and fundraising activities, the villagers can maintain their community. Money raised from these activities is used for renovations, electrification and general maintenance within the village. “This is the nation. We live like the people in Africa do. While the permanent population may be small, we do have people scattered throughout the communities. They use this as the center-point of the people. We grow our food. Most of the people here are educated and are free to work out of the village, but most of us make our living here” she adds.
Iya Adaramola is the wife of the former king of the village. She was the village’s first visitor in 1975. She arrived at the Oyotunji African Village in the middle of the night after traveling through a dark and narrow road which made her very nervous. Upon her arrival, she was warmly welcomed by the villagers who were in a very festive mood as they celebrated King’s Day in honor of the founder of the village. Notwithstanding, she felt uneasy and vowed to head back home at dawn. Waking up to the sound of chirping birds, she was overwhelmed by peace. She decided to learn more about the people and this new culture she had submerged herself in. As she got closer everything changed for the better and she didn’t leave the village until after three months. “The peace of it, you just have to come and experience it yourself” she reveals. When Adaramola arrived at the village she found various ways to make money. She sold food. She began making books and pamphlets on the Yoruba culture and religion. Currently, she is the principal of the Yoruba Academy in the village, which is a dream come true for her. “It’s important that people know about their own customs” she adds.
There is no doubt that, Oyotunji will continue to serve as a model for other African tribes around the world who seek to preserve and promote their culture.