In a recent episode in her new vlog series Ask Funmi, Nigerian TV icon Funmi Iyanda takes up the endlessly fascinating question of the Yoruba Demon.
What is a Yoruba Demon?
“The idea,” she explains, “is that Yoruba men are usually so suave, so urbane, and they’ll dress so swagalicious…but they will sleep with anything. They will sleep with you, your cousin, your friend, and your friends whatever.”
The term Yoruba Demon was popularized a couple of years ago and has since come to mean a Yoruba man whose cosmopolitan disposition runs counter to his promiscuity and unchecked capacity to break women’s hearts. But in spite of its hold on the Nigerian imagination, the concept has been left largely unexplored in nuanced intellectual terms. This is what Iyanda’s video offers. She draws from pop-culture, cosmology, history, and a bit of the ethnographical archive to weave together a beautiful treatise on the Yoruba Demon as a grossly misunderstood figure of urban Nigerian masculinity.
If you’re still confused and wondering what the hell we are talking about, go on and watch the video below or read the transcript posted below.
Here is the full transcript
Note: the transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Okay, for those who don’t understand the background to this. Let me lay down the background. I think it started on Twitter where somebody started calling Yoruba men demons.
And the idea is that Yoruba Men are usually so suave, so urbane, and they’ll dress so swagalicious. And just by their dressing, their urbaneness, and their seeming civility, you’ll think that they are going to be really great lovers, attentive and loyal, monogamous and loyal and that usually Yoruba Men are never that. They will be suave. They will be swagalicious. They will speak pretty. But they will sleep with anything. They will sleep with you, your cousin, your friend, and your friends whatever. So that’s the idea of Yoruba demons.
I have to defend my Yoruba brothers, okay? Yoruba Men are not demons. What Yoruba men are, I think, is fascinating. And this actually is a really fascinating opportunity for a bit of cultural understanding. Because I think that a lot of things that we consider African culture–number one there’s no African culture because Africa is a continent of different nations and many, many different cultures. I will speak about Yoruba culture because, well, they are calling Yoruba men demons for this reason.
I think that a lot of things that you consider African culture are actually a confusion and a bastardization of Victorian ideas, Victorian philosophy, Victorian culture. I mean, so much so that people who originated it themselves, have moved on from it. It was a part of English evolution. It’s not ours.
A lot of things that we consider to be our way is not our way. And I think that a lot of things are confused. Which is why this Yoruba Demon thing is interesting—because what people don’t like is that they appear on one hand to be very Western and then on the other hand, they behave like bush men, who are polygamous in nature.
I don’t think that civilization, that westernization is civilization. I think that civilization is civilization. And you can have different types of civilization. However, generally, my people like to think that Oyinbo knows best. And so, we have this idea that we have become these people who like Judeo-Christian ideas of marriage and relationships. However, it’s like that thing—you know— people go to church, but they still go and see somebody. They still go to shrine. It’s the same way that we are in many ways.
People subscribe to or they like the idea of Western philosophy and culture and religion. But they tunnel back into what they think is their own philosophy, culture and religion. However, what we think is our culture, philosophy, our religion itself has become really muddied through the centuries. So what you get is you find this young man who on the surface seems like westernized men. But deep down, they seem to have these Yoruba ideas of how relationships.
But let’s ask ourselves what Yoruba ideas of what a relationship should be because that’s what’s fascinating. Unlike Judeo-Christian conditioning and certainly Victorian way of looking at the world, the Yoruba culture in its original sense does not consider sex a sin. Yoruba culture considers sex natural. It’s a natural thing. And so sex is divorced in a way from concepts of marriage. Sex is part of marriage. But sex is not of ownership.
Which is why in that culture, if you think back — I mean, there are these little things that will give you inkling. I would challenge anybody to answer this for me — that your great grandmothers, if you are Yoruba — your great, great grandmothers: how many of them were married once? Your great, great grandfathers, how many of them married one woman?
The idea of marriage in Yoruba is really fluid. Very interestingly so. My friend Dr. Bibi Bakare says there are many, many types of marriages in Yorubaland. So you could have a situation where a man has many wives. You have women who would marry over and over again. It’s not working, they move on. You have women who are married, but they live in your fathers’ house.
It’s a very interesting culture. It’s also a culture that I would like to think has the vestiges of what would have being a completely different way of looking at gender. Yoruba names are not gender specific. The name doesn’t have a he or she. It has person-hood. The Yoruba culture puts person-hood ahead of gender. If you look at all of those things, and then try and marry it with a Judeo-Christian Victorian way of looking at the world, it becomes confusing.
Let me make this excuse now for my Yoruba brothers: I think that deep down, the average Yoruba man wants to be like his great, great grandfather. He doesn’t really mind his wife, his woman cheating — as long as he doesn’t know. He doesn’t really mind. And they can shoot me about this. I know deep down, they don’t really mind. They are easy-going in their idea of ownership. There isn’t that stringent ownership culture in Yorubaland. The women in Yorubaland were industrious and they owned their own industry. Once you start sleeping with a woman, you’re her husband. If she has a child for you, you’re her husband. There is not such a thing as bastards in Yorubaland for that reason.
This is where we come from as Yoruba people. And so the Yoruba man, the modern Yoruba man — who has a bit of confused identity thinks that he subscribes to the Judeo-Christian way. But deep down, because he’s been culturally conditioned to be a certain way, he’s not that way. That’s why he seems to be a demon. He seems to be two faced. He’s telling you this, but that’s not what it is. I think he’s finding his way as to whether he wants to be this, or whether he wants to be Koseku-koseye. It’s a very fascinating concept and one that I actually need to give a lot more thoughts to and one that somebody should actually do some more research about.
All I’m going to say to you is that the Yoruba Man is not a demon. The Yoruba man is of a culture that is actually at ease. Yoruba’s are hedonistic in nature. They are life-loving, party-going — you know what I mean? They are actually — I like to think of this as a sort of evolution— quite evolved in thinking in that sense.
So things like “oh this woman belongs to me she should sit here” is not really their way. They would like for the women to be loyal to them—and I’ve told you before about this—nobody wants to own a child that they don’t know if its theirs or not. But if you have a situation like it is in Yorubaland, the family would adopt the child. If this woman says it’s our child its our child.
It fascinating. I don’t know where to start or where to stop, but Yoruba men are not demon. The thing you consider demonic or demon-like in Yoruba men I think is just a confusion of old reality, new reality and evolving reality.