Iku ya j’ẹsin: Invitation to Suicide in Yoruba Ontology

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by Emmanuel Oladipo Ojo , NA
Classification: FOR Code: 1699
Keywords: NA
Language: English

In Yorubaland, south–western Nigeria, ku means death, ya means better or preferred while ęsin means ignominy. Thus, the Yoruba construct of ‘iku ya j’ęsin’ means ‘death is better than (or preferred to) ignominy’. In sharp contrast to what obtains in the highly individualistic Yoruba contemporary society, in traditional and communalistic Yoruba societies, a high premium was placed on honour, integrity, honesty and dignity. Thus, individuals kept their names (orukọ) and those of their families and forbears (orukọ ębi) unimpaired and inviolable. Indeed, ‘orukọ rere’ (good name) was the standard of measurement of an individual’s or family’s reputation in traditional Yoruba societies hence the construct ‘orukọ rere san ju wura’ (good name is preferred to wealth). But then, there were occasions when imminent military defeat, severe physical disability, serious health challenges, frustration, despondency, hopelessness and guilt threatened the honour and dignity of individuals, families or communities and prompted them to resort to suicide. This paper argues that the Yoruba construct of ‘iku ya j’ęsin’ was an invitation to suicide in Yoruba traditional societies. Although, like any other people, modernization has significantly altered and considerably modified the culture, taste, worldview, traditional values and belief system of the Yoruba; yet, till date, many Yoruba still commit suicide. The question then is: do the Yoruba of south–western Nigeria still commit suicide for the same reasons for which their ancestors and forebears committed suicide? This paper answers this question. Among others, data for this study included interviews, archival material, records compiled by European explorers, missionaries and colonial officials as well as books and newspapers. The study employed the descriptive and analytical method of data analysis.

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