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Woman As Member Of Family in Yoruba Society

That a daughter is born in a family is never seen as a bad omen like in some societies. Both genders are welcome in the Yorùbá family with all fanfare. The family members would even posit that ‘Owo ero lo fi bere (lit. She starts with softness/gentleness) when a wife gives birth to a baby-girl. ‘Gbogbo lomo (Either male or female child, there is no difference); ‘Ko si iketa omo; atokunrin atobinrin’ (there is no third child after male and female). Thus, woman is seen as a full member of the family from birth.

As the female child grows up, she assumes her roles and responsibilities ordinarily as a member of the family, NOT as a female. Although she is expected to fulfill extra responsibilities; it is as a form of further and former training to be able to meet up with her higher tasks as a mother in the not too far future in the same society. If she is not well trained, no suitor would want to seek her hand in marriage. It is only for this reason that a female child is seen to be performing more tasks in the house than the male child.

Woman is never downgraded in the family because of her gender as earlier emphasized. As the Yorùbás call the first son of the family DAODU; first daughter of the family is also known as BEERE. In absence of her parents from the house, she assumes the responsibility of being the head of the family. Tradition does not allow any of her male siblings to go against her instructions. If the parents are present, all her aburos (juniors) are her errand boys and girls to facilitate her responsibilities for the family because she is Egbon (senior). Oyewumi (1997:40) has this to say on the issue of seniority among the Yorùbás without an iota of bias against any gender:

Seniority is the primary social categorization that is immediately apparent In Yoruba language. Seniority is the social ranking of persons based on their chronological ages… Age relativity is the pivotal principle of social organization.

A very important aspect of social issues in Yorùbá society is inheritance. Woman is never excluded in the inheritance of her parents in the traditional Yorùbá society. He has access to inheritance of both the father and her mother. Many philosophical sayings of Yorùbás are full of information on this. Example of such as translated by Ajíkòbi (op cit: 82-83) runs thus:

If you come across a woman
Inquire of her if she has some yam-cuttings
If you come across a man,
Inquire of him if he has some yam-cutting.
Since one cannot know whose deceased father must have left some yam-cuttings in his yam-heaps (for his children to inherit)

Ajíkòbi (ibid: 83) further dilates on the above wit that:
This maxim simply indicates that both sexes have equal consideration in the inheriting of the vital means of life-the land in the Yoruba laws and culture.

Barnes, S.T. (n.d.) in Ajíkòbi (ibid: 82) explains the inheritance opportunity for both women and men in the Yorùbá society that:

Women and men do, however, inherit urban real estate with equal rights shared among siblings, and they inherit rights to use rooms in their natal homes whether rural or urban.

As a wife, woman in the traditional Yorùbá society is pampered. Ajíkòbi (ibid:75) explains this concept clearly that:

…it was a popular practice in the pre-colonial era in Yorubaland that newly wedded wives were not allowed to work for the first three years. They were fully catered for and pampered by their spouses.

He (ibid) cites an axiom in Ifa verse – Ogbe-Iyonu/ Ogbe-Ogunda as found in Popoola, A. (1990:24) to support this philosophy:

Ó sá taara
Ó rìn taara
Òtààrà, taara n’isàn odò
Ojú Odún méta,
L’obinrin fi i jeun owó oko. [sic.]

He [ibid] gives its translation thus:
He who runs swiftly
He who walks rapidly
The stream flows rapidly
The total dependence of a housewife [i.e new wife] on a husband is for three years.

If in the course of any misunderstanding between her and husband; the society creates an avenue for the woman to be rescued from being maltreated by the husband. Members of Osu ile [Very senior daughters of the family] come to her aid; and even sometimes physically punish the husband without any male family member raising an eye-brow.
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that woman is seen and regarded as a full member of Yorùbá family who enjoys her status as one.

Source & Written By: Qasim Oyetola

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