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  • Writer's pictureAwo Ifasola Sangobolade

Do i have to pray in Yoruba? to the Orishas?

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Being a what you could call a traditionalist follower of ifa and orisa the way it comes out of S.W Nigeria or isese more specifically form Ogun state Ode Remo my linage ( ijebu region) . It is obvious that yoruba is the dialect used to communicate in the region ( or that specific form of the ijebus dialect ) and with the orisas. Interestingly enough even within that same small region within the village of maybe around 70,000 or more people . It is found out there is several different dialects within even the ijebu dialect that are still yoruba in essence but different in some other aspects of speaking and or pronunciation's etc i.e a different dialect or sorts with in or under one areas dialect .

I have been around different yoruba speaking people form oyo, ile ife, ososgbo, lagos, and i can tell you . You can clearly notice the difference when they speak Yoruba regardless of actually knowing fluent yoruba. one can tell just as one can tell the diffence in accents witha someone in New York or that of Teaxs they all speak english just in a diffrenet way is how i can best discribe it to the westerns. But it even more profound than that when it comes to these dialects of Yoruba. For one region may not even understand each other depending on how far these diffrences strecth. I have a friend who showed a baba in ibandan a song writen to him in ijebu by another baba.

The baba from ibandan said sorry i cant understand it. And they are both native yoruba babalawos . So you see how one region might not full understand others yoruba. Down below i will put a wrtie of all the more known yoruba speakng yoruba dialects. So one can see how many they truly are. Some estimate that thier could vary well be over 200 yoruba dialects. So which one is the one we all need to speak for the orisas to hear or understand us ? Or do we even need to speak Yoruba at all ?

In fact the word "YORUBA" is not even a YORUBA word let me explain what i mean . The word means nothing in the dialects which they spoke and speak . In the colonial days there was no such thing as "THE YORUBA PEOPLE" They had regional dialects where within themsleves they had some similarities. And as explained up above many diffrences . Regions considered themseleves different nations. What the yorubas have today is a creation of the missionary during the time of colonialisim . The word yoruba was a name given to the people in the region of OYO. The word YORUBA owes it origins to the Baatonu people of BORGU. The baatonu people and those of OYO where niegbors . The word the Baatonu people used to describe the people form OYO was "YORU"which is the singular form of the word . The plural from of the word is Yorubu or Yoruba.

So the question is it true or do i need to know yoruba to pray to my orisas? Well the answer to that is an outstanding NO! Many in Yorubaland traditional elders even will have you believe that if you dont learn or know Yoruba then you should not be in the tradition and helping others or whatever there hang up is which is really all just based in control and elitisim . Most of us come to these traditions as adults with families . Yoruba is not an easy dialect to learn a dialect which is tonal and is vary ancient isn't going to be mastered overnight if at all . i know someone that speaks yoruba took him 6 years and he still only at like 80 percent accuracy.

Yoruba dialect is diverse and not as a cut and dry like that of Spanish or English would be as stated above. Hell even the versions of 'yoruba" that did leave the shore of yorubaland . Like for example the so called "corrupt Yoruba" version that was inherited during the transatlantic slave trade in Cuba. One of the biggiest hubs in diasporian yoruba orisha practice. Is still largely well.... corrupt so people claim . Over the years as expected many things had been lost mistranslated and misinterpreted. For Yoruba was only used in ritual settings and not as the common tongue in Cuba. Like for one small example the word "Abure". Which is a word often or common used amongst the Afro- Cuban orisha practioners to basically greet one another as brother. Sadly though the word 'Abure according to the people i know isnt even a word that means anything . The "correct" word is ABURO! And even aburo mean junior brother not just brother as in the reference word used as abure by the afrocubans for example. So you can see the complex dilemma with the yoruba dialects and all its difference versions. And how they have manifested over eons across S. W Nigeria and outside those African shores.

It is said that Orunmila the prophet deity of the oracular system named ifa is known or referred to as Afedefeyo : That means that he can understand all human languages on the earth. So to could all other orisas surely by default. I mean we would be limiting these cosmic forces if we boxed them in to say they don't understand anything other than a sepecific dialect of the alomost 200 forms of Yourba .And even if that was the case which its not which version of Yoruba? would be the ideal one they prefer to hear or understand? See how this starting to make some sense i hope lol. Below i will leave a write up from an old baba . Which shares his own experience with his initial struggles to assimilate to praying in Yoruba . Like many of us including myself, this is an all to common theme in the mind of many orisa worshippers across the board. Take a read below and take from one diasporan practioner and his journey of over 30 years . Might find it to be interesting and refreshing and help you in your practice and understanding.

One of the original languages of our religion is Yoruba, which often prompts the question from diasporian practitioners: do I have to pray to the Orishas in Yoruba?

Naaah, you don’t, not at all, for various reasons – the first being: what Yoruba? Egba? Oyo? Egbado? Ife? Ijesa? Edo? Ketu? There are dozens more, and all of them are different. Even nowadays “standard” Yoruba is a misnomer: there are essentially two different “standards”: Oyo and Lagos. And for the “ancient, archaic” Yoruba: see above! There are just about as many ancient archaic versions of “Yoruba” as there are different peoples and tribes in the “Yoruba cluster”.

The second and main reason why it is not necessary at all to pray to the Orishas in whatever kind of Yoruba, is that it would be a very dumb Force of Nature indeed who is limited to one language only, and a human one to boot! Orishas are not people, they are cosmic forces that couldn’t care less which of the 30,000 or so languages on earth is used to address them. It is much more the force and the conviction of your prayer that makes it work, and this force and conviction should be evident to you!

Long time ago I used to do a lot of prayers and invocations in Yoruba, and only occasionally I switched over to my native Dutch. At one of these occasions a couple of Nigerian Yoruba friends were present in order to assist me, and they politely said: “Uncle Jaap, when you pray in ‘Yoruba’ we hardly understand what you’re saying, so badly mispronounced it is. You mean well, but it sounds silly, especially since you do not know exactly what the words and the idioms mean.

When you pray in Dutch however, the force of your prayers and invocations immediately increases and becomes much more effective, because you know exactly what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. When you invoke in Yoruba we smile, but when you invoke in Dutch (even if we don’t understand a word!) we literally get goose pimples from the force of your invocation, and the presence of the Orisha is immediately felt. So, Uncle Jaap: if you want to raise a mighty amount of Ashe, just pray and invoke in Dutch. Simply forget the ritual gibberish, and get the job done in your native lingo”.

Well friends, I’ve heeded their advice ever since, and my communication with the Orishas has never left anything to be desired. So: use whatever language makes your invocations and prayers the most forceful, and more often than not that will be your own language.

Baba Verduijn Netherlands


By Dr. Paul Osa Igbineweka  shows us in this write up below with even more clarity that in ancient times. What we know today as Yorubaland. They didn’t speak the so called Yoruba dialect but what they spoke was something influenced by Benin formerly known as dahomey. Interesting enough it shows where the common diaspora word the afrocubans use to describe themselves  Lukumi or Olukumi came form.



Yoruba should stop fabricating history. Let's set the record straight. At the Camp (Eko) or Outpost, Benin were the first on the Island by extant history not any group called Yoruba, because the name Yoruba was unknown at that particular time. Before the Benin outpost or camp called Eko, the Benin Hunters and poachers of Elephant had navigated the terrain, where Elephant Tusks or Ivory Tusks were harvested for artefacts in the forest of Isherin (oha-eni).  As a sailor King, Oba Orhogbua established Eko as camp or outpost on the Island. And made advances to the coast of Dahomey at Port Novo and Volta Delta. Long before that the Benin that migrated to Ghana as the Ga people occurred during the time of Ọba Udagbe6do6 (1299 A.D.).



On the Eko camp or outpost, it was the arrival of the Aworis who first settled at Isherin, notthe Islands, but some of them from the hinterland of Isherin led by Ogunfumilure (sic) moved further to the Island and found food wrapping leaves floating on the waters, and by quest of inquiry found people in the Camp already established by the Benin. These people of Awori were the Adejos from Ife to Isherin and later to the Island thateventually settled with the Benin in the area of the Lagoons. (Ref: The historical evolution of Lagos and Short History of Benin). They were made to pay royalty (Isakole) to the Oba ofBenin. However, they still form part of the royalty in Lagos.


They spoke the mixed language of Idu (Ẹdo) and Olukumi. To the Benin, Awori were related bybeing the descendants of the people of Oduduwa whom the Benin known as Ekaladerhan).By the influx of the Ijebu, Egba and others from the hinterland to Lagos they wereoverwhelmed and lost their true identity and peculiarity, and swallowed up by the general. Yoruba language . At the outset they were not called Yoruba.

The late Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther evolved the combination of the similar dialects to formgeneral Yoruba language which also include some common used words of Ẹdo-Idu and Oyodialect as the basic dialect.To say they spoke Yoruba language in Benin palace during the period of Oranmiyan is not true. The language which the Aworis had in Ife was Olukumi, Ẹdo-Idu and Ilaje. Oranmiyanspoke Olukumi. It was that Olukumi he used in Benin. Hence, the Benins would say, "ma ma he6 ze6 Ẹdo fo, amaiwe6 Olukumi." (we have not yet spoken our Ẹdo language to its fullest, talk less or how much more of Olukumi. The people of Olukumi were seriously affected by the slave raiding of Oyo empire that most were sold into slavery that we found today as descendants in the diaspora.


Furtther more we have this write up below on the diversity of the yoruba dialect as it known today. This is yet further evidence the the Yoruba dialect is much more diverse than one could have ver imagined.

Linguists have not been able to separately identify every single Yoruba dialect. Because of that we will never know the exact number, as every town would probably identify they're language as unique to themselves. Before British colonialism there was no united culture or language called Yoruba, though they were the same language.

We can divide it into the different regions of “Yorubaland”

North West Yoruba- (This was the main Yoruba dialects that the British & outsiders thought as “Standard Yoruba,” because of the Oyo Empire. The modern Standard Yoruba is still seen as the Oyo dialect. Ibadan, Egba, and Owu were all former subjects of the Oyo Empire before they gained independence so this is why the dialects are similar)

  • Egba Dialect (of the Egba people of Abeokuta)

  • Ibadan Dialect

  • Owu Dialect (Owu people of Abeokuta)→ very similar to Egba

  • Egbado Dialect (they now prefer to be called Yewa), migrated to the region of the Yewa river with the Egba

  • Oyo Dialect “Standard Yoruba”

  • Eko (Lagos) Dialect (mainly inhabit what is now Lagos and the Lagos lagoon)

North East Yoruba- This is the Yoruba in the extreme parts of the region that border the Hausas in what is now Kogi State. They are grouped together as the Okun dialects but are not mutually intelligble

  • Aworo/Oworo- mainly spoken in Lokoja

  • Yagba Dialect

  • Ijumu Dialect

  • Ibunu Dialect (found in the town of Kabba)

  • Owe Dialect

Central Yoruba- This is the Heartland of the Yoruba people, and include some of the more iconic and most ancient of the Yoruba dialects. People who speak this dialect easily stand out as they often change the “i” in a letter to “u.” For example, isu, meaning yam, would become usu. It is most similar to NW Yoruba

  • Ife Dialect: In Yoruba mythology and backed up by archaeology, Ife is one of the oldest settlements of the Yoruba and is considered the home of all Yoruba people. It is most likely that the dialect has evolved from its ancient roots, but this is most likely the direct link to the proto-Yoruboid languages

  • Ijesha Dialect: The Ijesha people are one of the most widespread group of people in Yorubaland. The people are centered in the town of Ilesa, and was one of the earliest distinct Yoruba people.

  • Ekiti Dialect: (I call it “Ilara” in reference to the small Ekiti town of Ilara-Mokin, where my family is from). When hearing it, one might think it is not Yoruba, but it is the most famous example of the switching from i→u. The town of Ilara-Mokin is often called Ula or Ulara in the dialect. It is spoken in Ekiti State but many Ekiti towns are in Ondo state because it was divided in the 1990s. There is also an Ondo dialect that is very unique to Ekiti.

  • “Omo Ilara ni mi- I am from Ilara: Standard Yoruba

  • Omo Ula ni mo re- I am from Ilara: Ekiti Dialect

  • Akure Dialect: Very similar to the Ekiti and Ondo dialect’s it has become distinct because of the large extent of the Akure Kingdom.

  • Igbomina Dialect: Spoken in what is now Kwara State, it is also one of the oldest among the Yoruba, and includes ancient cities like Ila-Orangun and the interesting town of Omugo (Omugo means stupid in the Yoruba language), but no shame for this beautiful town, it may mean something completely different in their dialect, that is the beauties of a tonal language!

South East Yoruba: This is the Yoruba that is most similar to the languages of Igala and Itsekiri, however, Igala and Itsekiri are not dialects but distinct Yoruboid languages. This region was mainly dominated by the Benin Empire. This also includes the iconic Ijebu people, who have become popular in and out of Nigeria.

  • Ikale dialect: Spoken mainly by the Okitipupa people, it was heavily influenced by the Benin people. It also includes the towns of Ile-Oluji & Oke-Igbo (home of Yoruba author D.O. Fagunwa)

  • Ilaje dialect: One of the closest to the Itsekiri language

  • Ondo Dialect: Spoken in the Ondo town of Ondo in Ondo state, this too was heavily infleunced by the Benin Empire.

  • Owo Dialect: Spoken in the town of Owo, it is very similar to Ondo; the iconic Nigerian singer Orlando Owoh frequently sang in this dialect

  • Idanre Dialect: Extremely similar to the Akure dialect, it is the sight of the beautiful Idanre Hills.

  • Ijebu Dialect: The Ijebu people are one of the oldest and most iconic of the Yoruba, and they’re dialect is just as popular. They are also the largest Yoruba sub-ethnic group and border the Egba to the west, Awori to the south, and Akoko/Ilaje to the east. Because of the Ijebu’s ancient roots, many Ijebu scholars claim they are not Yoruba or that they are older than Yoruba kingdoms like Ife. Many famous Ijebu Yoruba people have influenced the world, including scholars like Wole Soyinka. They are closely related to the Remo. with many classifying Remo as a subsection of the larger Ijebu, though many claim that Remo is a unique dialect. The main Remo town is Sagamu while the center of Ijebuland is Ijebu-Ode.

  • Akoko dialect: It is most likely the link between the Yoruba language and the Edo language, with several Akoko towns being in Edo state.

South West Yoruba: These groups of dialects are found in the countries of Togo and Benin or the borders and were cut off from rest of the Yoruba speaking people of Nigeria. They often intermarried with the Fon people.

  • Ketu dialect: One of the ancient dialects & people and are believed to have directly left Ife to Ketu.

  • Awori dialect: A mainly fishing people in what is now the Lagos islands, they often are close in interaction with the Fon people. Nigerian activist and drummer Babatunde Olatunji was from an Awori village and had a Fon mother

  • Ife/Togo Dialect: Found in Togo, the most extreme dialect geographically of the Yoruba.

  • Ipokia/Anago Dialect: These are the dialects found in Ondo state that are on the border between Nigeria and Benin, this includes the famous border town Idiroko. It is close to the Egbado people

  • Idasha Dialect: Related to the Egba people, they live in what is now Cotonou

My own final words and thoughts on this topic is as follows. When you pray yes it great to do so if you like and are able to pray in yoruba ( which ever version of Yoruba you choose) . i do and try my best not being native Yoruba man myself to do my best. Its challenging but over the years i have mastered to a certain degree of yoruba atleast in a ritual setting . I think its great to learn only when you have a clue of what it is your acutally saying if not your just speaking rubbish and nonsense. Basically just empty words that mean nothing to no one and have no value or power or real ase whatsoever ! Regardless of how well you pronounce the Yoruba dialect you choose to speak. Its always best to pray in the tongue that holds the most power that you yelled. So if that's English then pray in English! Because you'll know the full extent of the meaning of the words you are uttering in your prayer. And that's what truly ends up moving mountains .

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