Cultural Heritage of Oyo Empire

The Yoruba people, Western African nations’ representatives, created their own language, religion, art, and architecture and formed a significant part of authentic Nigerian culture. The origin of this ethnic group, the Oyo state, grew into a kingdom in the sixteenth century by conquering their neighbors and making social and political arrangements (Udo, 2020). Oyo’s thriving period developed customs such as brotherhood, the ruling of Alaafins, traditional art, drumming, spiritual dances, yam-based cuisine, and lingual deviations from other Nigerian ethnicities. The cultural heritage of the Oyo Empire is a valuable source of knowledge about the African nations’ evolvement, and studying it can provide reasons for the current issues in Nigeria.

History of Oyo Empire

In the sixteenth century, the Oyo Empire rose as the Alaafin Orompoto conquered the neighborhood tribes and formed an army to protect and expand the land. The imperial zenith was reached when economic development profoundly influenced social and military segments, yet the decline began in the eighteenth century (Ogundiran, 2020). The Alaafin Awole’s political and trading decisions led the Empire to lose of their power and become conquered by Fulani Muslims at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Ogundiran, 2020). Nevertheless, the imperial period established the citizens’ values, socio-economic attitudes, and the state’s authority among other Nigerian regions.

Oyo Empire Culture Represented in The United States

During the next three centuries, since the Empire declined, many people migrated to countries such as the United States, getting the Americans to explore the Nigerian cultural heritage. Indeed, the Oyo traditions and values are held in the families and supported by the communities established to spread the knowledge about the origins and connect with the relatives (Udo, 2020). The Oyo Empire’s arts are also represented in the United States’ museums, such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the collection of Masquerade wooden masks at the Detroit Institute of Arts (Udo, 2020). The cultural heritage is expressed through the celebrations, religious traditions, music, and tales shared between the families with the Yoruba roots.

Collectivistic Nature of The Oyo Culture

The Oyo Empire rose mainly because of the Alaafin’s ability to unite the tribes and together reach consistent prosperity. Consequently, the culture of Yoruba people of the region developed as collectivistic, and it can be viewed through the arts. For instance, drumming demanded collaborative effort to play traditional compositions, and musicians rarely acted alone. Music was an essential part of culture due to its spiritual role, and religion united the tribes under the same beliefs. Oyo Empire’s architecture required palm oil and mud mixing for building, therefore working together was necessary to create the monuments such as the Alaafin Palace (Udo, 2020). The collectivistic nature of the Oyo culture can also be submitted through the fact that the Empire’s inhabitants developed their own language that influenced their naming customs, literature, and legislation.

Artistic Contributions of Oyo Cultural Heritage

The Empire significantly contributed to Nigerian arts during the period of its rise, and the spiritual purpose of creations revealed many details about the beliefs and provided significant cultural heritage. For instance, drawing and sculpturing various gods by using unique techniques distinguished the Oyo people from others. Masquerades and the masks necessary for that popular cultural event also reveal many facts about religion’s influence on Oyo Empire’s culture (Udo, 2020). Architectural decisions such as palaces, family houses, and the mud walls the Empire’s elese (soldiers) built around the settlements were an example of cultural progressiveness (Ajayi & Omojeje, 2019). These artistic contributions became a valuable heritage and source of knowledge about the Oyo Empire inhabitants’ lives.

Oyo Empire’s Values

The imperial period is a profound time for any group to develop solid values beyond the basic need to survive. Indeed, the Oyo Empire expanded on empowering brotherhood and considering each person as necessary for the region to thrive (Ajayi & Omojeje, 2019). This foundational moral addresses the contemporary issues because it teaches to respect diversity and taking care of people around – the two basic postulates for a healthy society. Religion was the most outstanding value for the Oyo Empire and became the most significant cultural heritage (Udo, 2020). The spirituality educated inhabitants to stay united and honor the gods who were considered powerful enough to reward and punish.

Oyo Empire’s Religion

Oyo Empire’s belief system was part of the Yoruba religion, yet they developed their own traditions. The native religion is based on the concept of Orisa and various gods who helped the tribes thrive. Although the pantheon of spiritual creatures was praised through music, dancing, and arts, the supreme Orisa was the most honored, making the Oyo beliefs similar to Christian and Islamic monotheistic structures (Ojebode, 2019). Religion was the principal value for the Empire, and through its context, the leaders inspired tribes to unite. Furthermore, spiritual music and dances left a significant cultural heritage and influenced the development of arts in Nigeria (Ojebode, 2019). Religion, the concept of Orisa, and mythology built around it became the foundation for folklore and philosophy of the Yoruba people, supporting Alaafins in their ruling strategies.

Gender Roles in Oyo Empire

Gender roles were traditionally strictly separate, and the Oyo Empire’s inhabitants followed the example of most African ethnicities. Indeed, only men could become Alaafins and take military positions because leadership, protection, and social activities were considered their responsibility (Ogundiran, 2020). In contrast, women took care of families, raised and educated children, and participated in spiritual rituals (Ogundiran, 2020). Men were the moving power for developing safe and prosperous lives, while women were the source of creativity and customs holding. The prosperity achieved in the Oyo Empire revealed that the traditional approach to gender roles’ perception is significant for maintaining a strong society.

The Oyo Acculturation

The Oyo culture is clear and understandable for most people; however, the religious values might be difficult to perceive. The Yoruba people claimed that they were born under the Orisa’s and other gods’ protection, while the theological concepts such as Christianity state that the divine defense must be earned through various challenges (Ojebode, 2019). The roots and stories behind the traditional celebrations, such as the Bere festival, might require acculturation because they are tied to the climate and natural conditions only relevant to their particular region (Ajayi & Omojeje, 2019). Furthermore, the Oyo Empire’s cultural heritage requires explaining spiritual dances and masquerades’ origins, as their philosophy is different from the modern.


The cultural heritage of the Oyo Empire is a valuable source of knowledge about the African nations’ development, and studying it can provide reasons for the current issues in Nigeria. Indeed, the arts, architecture, religion, politics, and philosophical concepts of the imperial period reveal how the traditions such as respect for brotherhood or believing in divine protection influenced prosperity. Furthermore, cultural heritage helped spread the knowledge of the Yoruba people’s uniqueness and conventions worldwide, increasing the global awareness about the African ethnicities. The Nigerian states today have various issues, and exploring Oyo’s roots and cultural heritage can help find the solutions to economic, political, and social difficulties.


Ajayi, A., & Omojeje, A. (2019). Oyo-Ondo relations: A study in pristine inter-group relations in Nigeria. African Journal of History and Culture, 11(6), 57-64.

Ogundiran, A. (2020). The Yoruba: A new history. Indiana University Press.

Ojebode, A. (2019). African Onomastics: Animal Psychology and Zoonyms in the Cognomen of the Alaafin of Oyo. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Studies, 1(5), 22-27.

Udo, E. M. (2020). The vitality of Yoruba culture in the Americas. Fahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 41(2).

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