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Oriki – Yoruba Praise Poetry


Oriki is an important and cultural, but unwritten (oral) genre of Yoruba literature that is usually used in praise singing. The Yoruba people have very rich cultural oral literature, oriki is on of them. Oríkì is used during individual or communal ceremonies, for individuals or the community. Oríkì possesses a full definition of its owner. For instance, it tells of the nobility, the origin, the fame, profession, accomplishments, beliefs, eating habits, discipline, to mention a few about its owner. It should be noted that Yoruba people have oríkì for almost every existing thing in their environment; the animals, plants, animate and inanimate organisms. Although oríkì is most of the time meant to praise sing, it also used otherwise. For instance, thief (olè) has its own oríkì. While the brave, heroes and the warriors in a community have oríkì with which they are identified, traitors, the compromises in a community also have their oríkì.



The following are some categories of oríkì.
1. Oríkì Olorun (Oríkì for God): The Yorubas understand and respect the existence of God, as the supreme force and power that holds the universe. There are different verses and versions of oríkì that exist for God. Some of the names that exist for God in his oríkì include; Orisa nla, Olodumare etc.
2. Oriki orisa (Oriki for gods/goddess): There are different that emanate from different communities about the gods or goddess they worship. Each of the gods or goddess possess its own unique oríkì. According to Elebuibon (2011), a traditionalist and a Yoruba scholar, he wrote that :
“In order to understand the life style of an Orisa one needs to study his or her oríkì. It is important for an Orisa devotee to learn the Praise Name of that Orisa. The Apossa, those who learn how to invoke the spirits, is trained in the art of chanting Orikis for the deities. At the weekly service of Ojo Ose the priest and priestess first pay homage to Olodumare and the ancestors. Then they chant the Orikis for the Orisas and petition the deities for things they desire with the hope of having thier prays answered. The Praise Names awaken the deities who will now listen to and assist their devotees”
3. Oríkì Oba ati Ijoye (Oríkì for Monarchs and Chiefs): Obas, Baales and Chiefs in Yoruba tradition are accorded much respect. This reflects in the tradition of oriki. In addition, there are special drummers (Onilu) and the chanters (Akigbe and Akun Mungba) that are professionally trained to recite the Oriki idile of kings, the chiefs, and their relatives at ceremonies.
4. Oríkì Akinkanju (Oríkì for Warriors): The warriors and heroes are accompanied and welcome to and from wars or other accomplishments with their perculiar oriki. Like obas and chiefs warriors or heroes (akinkanju) also have special drummers (Onilu) and the chanters (Akigbe and Akun Mungba) that are professionally trained to recite their Oríkì.
5. Oríkì Idile (Oríkì for Families): Every son and daughter of Yoruba inevitably has an ORÍKÌ that falls into this category, while children adopt the oriki from their father’s family, however they are not alienated to the oriki of their mothers’ lineage. It is the tradition for wives to learn the oríkì of their husbands even before marriage. Although, oriki is a much threaten culture of the Yoruba, it is not worthy that this trend can be saved by a timely record keeping and codification of the literature and culture using the modern Information Technology resources. People of a family are identified with their oríkì.
6. Oríkì Ilu (Oríkì for Towns and Streets/regions):
7. Oríkì oruko (Oríkì attached with some names): There are sub categories of Oríkì oruko.
o Names emanate from oríkì for instance Akuruyejo.
o Also, some names have special oríkì sometimes because they have birth process, the day/time they were born or remarkable event around the time they were born, for instance Ojo/Aina, Olugbodi, Abidemi etc.
o Apart from this, some names are used for praise singing, such names are called oruko oriki. It is the tradition in some parts of Yoruba land to give chlidren oruko oríkì, that is; names that praise sing a child, for instance; Aduke, Akanni, etc. Such names start with A.
8. Oríkì eranko ati nnkan(Oríkì for animate and inanimate objects): Yoruba people have oríkì for animals and non-living objects.
Source By: Asubiaro Toluwase  REFERENCES: Elebuibon I. (2011). Power of Oriki. (Internet) http://www.arabaelebuibon.com/2011/03/power-of-oriki.html accessed on 12/01/2012


Oriki is a kind of Yoruba literary genre used to inspire people. It is usually in the form of poetry, consisting of songs of praise. Oriki can also take the name form as well. One must learn, memorize, and be able to chant the oriki of individuals and families. The Yorubas believe that a person’s name relates to his/her spiritual essence, so they take their time giving names to their children. It’s believed if you call a person by his/her oriki, it inspires them.



Yoruba Language and culture is quite enduring and deep, evidence by the fact that close to two hundred years after slavery the culture and language survives in some parts of the Americas. In 1977 a lady came from Brazil performed the Sango ritual ceremony almost exactly to the letter as is still being practised in Western Nigeria till today. Susan Wenger a Caucasian Austrian came to study Yoruba Traditional religion and mythology (for her dissertation) more than 50 years ago and ended up never returning to Austria but became the high priestess of the Osun Diety in Osogbo after many years of understudy at the shrine of the diety.

Oriki element of Yoruba Culture serves the following purposes:

  1. Poetry and Entertainment
  2. Means of Identity (you must know your Oriki) as it proves what part of Yorubaland right to the household you are from. Tribal marks also in conjunction serves the same purpose. From looking at your tribal mark anybody will know the town you are from.
  3. History and means of establishing and understanding your ancestry. It tells the weakness and the strengths of your ancestors and forebears and could give an insight to a) Family traits and behaviour b) past achievements c) health issues d) Antecedents, family migration patterns and family ties to other towns and villages in Yoruba land
  4. Spirituality: The Yorubas believe that the Oriki and knowledge of it has a spiritual essence. It is believed that a person who does not know his Oriki loses his spiritual essence. There was a story of a young man who would always fight and create all kinds of problems. Investigation was conducted into his Oriki and it was discovered that his forebears were warriors and it was their nature and destiny to fight wars. Unfortunately he lived in a generation where there were no wars. His problem was solved by involving him in combat sports. In another case a young man who was usually troublesome with a terrible, fierce and temper that does not easily subside, often times the Oriki specialist would be called to calm him down. As soon as the woman would appear from distance chanting his Oriki and some other words his temper would immediately begin to subside. The Oriki is viewed as a spiritual channel of transmitting the collective consciousness of ancestors to children of the next generation.

Each child at birth is given a prefix Oriki in additional to his names which like the Spanish could be several names. This prefix is then added to the established immediate family Oriki followed by the extended family narrative which is then to the town Oriki narrative.

Written By: Ayoola Oke, Source From: eNotes Newbie February 5, 2010


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