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Busola Obayomi: Yoruba People & the Obsession with Age & Respect

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This article has been a long time coming. I have spent most of my life trying to understand the “age” obsession with some Yoruba people and Yoruba culture. I was born in a Yoruba Christian family. I say Yoruba Christian family because there are times the Yoruba culture overshadows the Christian values.

Growing up in a Yoruba community, one thing I have heard a lot from people around, either to me or someone else is “Am I your mate?” To be honest, I could not make sense of the whole obsession with “Am I your mate?” I remember getting into disputes with my older sister growing up, who is three years older, and she would constantly refer to, “I am not your mate.” Most times, I was not sure what I have done wrong or what might have preceded that.

As an adult, I see relationships suffer because of this “age” and “respect me” obsession. I personally do not obsess over age. In my church community, we call each out by our first names. I like the simplicity and also the open conversation that we have. People freely speak their minds. I am not against the seniority aspect of the Yoruba culture. Meaning, I am not against calling people, Brother so so and so or Sister so so and so. I think it is a beautiful aspect of Yoruba culture and a sign of honor for Yoruba people. What I do not reckon with, is the obsession over it. And also the fact that some people use that seniority to abuse and lord over others. It is imperative to understand that respect is of the heart. However, I also understand that low-context cultures including the Yoruba culture, also value outward expression of respect.

As a parent now, what is important is training older siblings that seniority does not mean that your younger one’s opinion and views are inferior to yours. Parents should learn to instill in their older children that your younger ones are not inferior to you and they also deserve a mutual respect from you. There is no doubt that older children takes on a lot more burden and responsibilities than the younger ones growing up. This makes the older ones have a sense of entitlement. I remember being in high school in Nigeria and looking forward to be in SS3 because the opportunity to order those in the junior classes around as much as I wanted. This was more of a retribution for the treatment that I have received as junior student in high school. I do understand that is common among all Nigerian schools and not particular to Yoruba people. Contrary to the values and culture I was raised in, my Christian value has taught me to speak out and defend those who are weaker and younger than me. I truly struggle reconciling my Yoruba culture and Christian values.

There are those who struggle communicating because they are not sure how to approach others who are slightly older than them or slightly younger than them. That has impeded relationships that could have blossomed beautifully. When Yoruba culture is well refined with our Christian faith, it produces maturity, kindness and care. But an unrefined Yoruba culture produces domineering spirit and frivolous rivalry and competition.
This is not an article to attack Yoruba culture. I am proud to be of Yoruba decent. And at the end of the day, your community is what makes you. But the goal of this article is for us to refine ourselves to encourage and inspire others but not to Lord over others. Respect is a condition of the heart. If we can listen to each other’s heart, we would see beyond the superficial act of respect.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Bus Obayomi is a dynamic leader who has branded himself as a leadership guru. Bus has served as a student government leader and in various leadership capacities. He has worked closely with New York state elected officials, starting from the City council to New York State legislature. He is also a founder of Youth Zeal Initiative, whose mission is to empower young people in using their gifts and talents to inspire others.

44 Comments

  1. tee

    August 15, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    this conversation is extremely needed ..smh .. I cut my mother in law off because of this.. these people think that respect is just from age.. nah .. u have to respect me too…. took her to the airport after telling her all of her luggage is excess, she wouldnt drop one thing.. then had the nerve to embarass me and the poor guy who tried to help us at the airport… me I left o… my husband said she is older and doesnt have to listen to me ..then why did it become my fault that they made her throw away her excess items? lol …me turn around and come back.. no o..sebi she didnt have to listen to me?

    • Busola

      August 15, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      ahn ahn, why now? Will you do that to your own mum? Old people are stubborn, like kids and stuck in their ways, was bad enough they threw her things, but you not turning back is next level now. but then again, i dont know your history with her so let me just kuku drink tea

  2. A

    August 15, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Nice right up! However, I don’t think this respect issue is only peculiar to a particular tribe. I am currently dealing with someone who isn’t Yoruba and carries respect on her head like gala. We are not up to a decade apart in age, and she doesn’t want me calling her by her first name, will lord everything over me as “big sister”, and expects to be spoken to in a certain way.

    I have lots of yoruba family members and “big sisters” who don’t care about them being older. They actually dislike being treated like they are “old”.

    Bottom line, I think it has a lot more to do with each person’s personality..

  3. Fols

    August 15, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    …i agree oh. And just to add, the respect and deference given to elders is more often than not coming from a place of compulsion or eye service instead of love or appreciation.

    P.S. I’m Yoruba too, but i gotta admit, we overdo it sometimes.

  4. Baybie

    August 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    That’s a great point but sho mo age mi ni?! LOL

  5. John Matilda

    August 15, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    I want to deviate a little.. Your post made me realize something… It was until recently I actually realized that in the yoruba culture, the wife is supposed to accord respect to her husband’s siblings no matter the age. I. E, she’s supposed to put aunty or uncle in front their name hence forth, due to that “respect”, she serves them whenever they visit, she can’t correct them or freely express herself because they are her “elder”. But the husband doesn’t reciprocate such “respect” to his wife’s siblings. I find it very weird.
    Secondly, when the wife puts to bed, it’s customary for the mother in law to visit (I have no problem with that), what I find worrisome and quite cruel is that the new mother is to cook and serve her mother in law, and also bath and cater to the needs of her baby o. Isn’t she supposed to be resting and recovering from the push and all?.. She needs someone to help her out with the bathing and generally taking care of the baby since she’s a newbie in the motherhood thing.
    I say all these as a matter of factly coz I have cousins who are yorubas but I never really understood their culture until recently.
    I need inputs from others on this matter, I will be reading and replying. Thanks

    • D

      August 15, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      it is not a Yoruba thing John.when I had my baby it was the best time for me cause all I do was breastfeed and sleep.My in-laws has an house keeper who takes care of the house the laundry and MIL only left the baby when she wants to cook. so when she is not helping with the baby she is cooking.
      when my mum came around to pour sand sand in my garri (always asking me to stand up and help around the house) just asked her how soon she was going back like I love you mom and you did extra for your DIL don’t come here and ruin my moment.
      So if any in law is expecting so much from you I feel you already gave out the impression that you take all shit and doing extra is in your DNA.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      August 15, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      @ John Matilda, I am Yoruba and when I had my baby, my mum not MIL came. Nevertheless, if my MIL who is also yoruba, would have helped around the house, of this I am certain. This is also despite us having our issues. My hubby has 2 younger living siblings, the only one i call “sis” I have always called sis, before i started dating (we went to the same Church). For his baby sister who is my age mate, nahhhh . Like someone mentioned above, this “respect” thing is more of a personal/family thing than a tribe thing. At least based on my personal experience.

      My MIL however has her respect issues but I think hers is more of a Nigerian thing than tribal . For example, she believes because she is the MIL (more importantly, the mother of the husband), whatever she says or does, goes in our home. According to her, even when she is wrong, I would always have to be the one to apologize because in her own words, ” I am older and her mother-in-law”

    • John Matilda

      August 15, 2018 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks ajala and foodie.. It’s a big issue for some people. All these things I said have to be done, even the husband that is supposed to support you tells you it’s their way of life. It’s crazy

  6. Moi

    August 15, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    I’m yoruba and can relate lol.
    Called my sister’s friend by her first name , next thing she called my sister to ask how old I am cos I didnt add “aunty” lmaooo I was shook!!

    • Osa

      August 15, 2018 at 8:30 pm

      You sef no try. ????

    • Butterfly

      August 15, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      What rubbish. I am sure she is older than you not more than two years. I am friends with people that are 4, 5 even 6 years older than I am that I call by their names and they are fine with it. it is those that are only 1 or 2 years older than you that will put it on top of their head as if they want to grow that ‘Aunty’ into a flower.

    • Californiabawlar

      August 16, 2018 at 12:19 am

      Lmaoo! Sister’s friend?? Wetin she chop? Hmmn, as a proper stubborn Ekiti girl, I have navigated all of this respect nonsense since I was a child by being extremely unfriendly to everyone.
      My mum and siblings can get it if they don’t reciprocate respect, much less some rando Aunty/Uncle. I only speak English and am usually very curt and polite to new people…. after I establish boundaries, I relax and then become nice and friendly. This formula ALWAYS works. No one expects much from me to begin with but they love all me! There’s just always this we all know she’s not very alright distance that helps me keep my sanity.

      I’m just out here living my best Yoruba life.

  7. Busola

    August 15, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    I agree with everyone. yes its generally an African thing, but let me tell you., us Yoruba folks do waaayyyyy too much. Thankfully this generation is receiving sense, but its really a lot. Then boys are raised to become narcissistic retards who are entitled to everything. We try to mix Christianity and tradition only when its convenient for us disregarding others and its disgusting. the people also blame their stupid attitudes and pride on tradition, talking about respect. Im so over it. We need balance. oh and the fake e pele mummy bending a knee is just the worst!!!! i hate it because no other tribe in my experience does this fake shit. its bad enough humans naturally pretend but add this to it and its just uuggghhhh. One lady whose son married an American was carrying anger in her heart crying because she came from another city to visit them and the girl did not cook. Her son and the girl both work full time. She did not teach the girl with love what to do so how is she to know when she is not from her place? The girl will act how she was raised to, if she taught her son well then he would know and o it, or tell his wife. thats another gist sef. its so annoying honestly i just agree, Yorubas over do it.

  8. Mrs chidukane

    August 15, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    My dorm captains in jss1, mofe and tope, with their witch of a friend olamide. The most wicked 15 and 16 year olds on the planet. FGGC akure. Mofe later became head girl. Very wicked people. Made my stay extremely miserable. I had to leave after one year.

    • omomo

      August 15, 2018 at 10:02 pm

      wow mrs chidukane..you must have been really traumatised to remember all these years later…lol

    • Mrs chidukane

      August 16, 2018 at 1:28 am

      Traumatized is an understatement. My grades dropped, I became gaunt. My mom saw me and wept. My friends still talk about how scary I looked after one term in that school.

  9. Osa

    August 15, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Culture for culture. Abeg leave my yoruba sisters and brothers alone. Each culture has its own peculiarities. I still cant fathom, for example how the igbos -in 2018 o – require a widow to shave her head as proof of innocence of her late husbands death. High class o, low class o, all join.

    • John Matilda

      August 15, 2018 at 11:33 pm

      There are some things in culture that needs to be scrapped or changed. We give so much importance and credence to this culture that it takes away common sense, empathy and moral standards. And it starts from you and I.

    • Mrs chidukane

      August 16, 2018 at 1:30 am

      Abiriba people don’t have such widowhood practices. However, there’s no guarantee you will enjoy what your husband left behind when he died.

  10. Bule

    August 15, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    Yoruba people use age as a yardstick for respect. Igbo people use money and wealth. You will see a small boy with money and those igbo elders will be shaking like leaf. To each tribe, it’s own.

    • Bule

      August 16, 2018 at 12:28 am

      *its

    • Mrs chidukane

      August 16, 2018 at 1:39 am

      Igbo people have several yardsticks for respect and these include age,wealth, achievements, community contributions etc. Igbo people love hardwork and celebrate success. They always have. Most of the stuff you see in nollywood is not a true representation of all Igbo people. There’s an old Igbo adage that loosely translates as,when a child washes his hands,he eats with the elders. That’s why they can respect a young man who has made it, and still accord respect to older people.

    • Miss sunshine

      August 16, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Wish i could like this a million times Mrs Chidukane. Preach!!!

  11. Q

    August 15, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    I am Yoruba and I remember being forced to apologize to my sister for something she did wrong to me. I stood my ground respect is recripocal. In my family, I call most people by their name or Nick name but when I met my fiance’s sister I dediced to add sis to it because she’s older by a year but I conveniently call everyone younger than her by their name.

  12. Adeleke

    August 15, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    It’s a demonic culture that suppresses the mold of families especially on the female gender. Let me not even start

    • John Matilda

      August 15, 2018 at 11:37 pm

      Adeleke.. Thank you, it’s just on the female gender really. That is why the onus befalls on the man to protect and support her. That is for those that realize the absolute nonsense in such practices

  13. Temitops

    August 16, 2018 at 4:17 am

    Yea, that Mil ish is for real oh, when I had my first child via c section, my mil came for omugwo n all she did for me was to bathe n carry d baby. I had to start cleaning d house, making my meals 5 days post c.section. I was stressed so much that I had ppd n had to be admitted on the 10th day. Guess what my hubby didn’t see any big deal. Fast forward to my second, I insisted on my mum been around such that my hubby now assumed I don’t like his mom. I had my 3rd child via c section last week, we are not resident in naija any longer n when I told my hubby I would need him to help to housechores, he responded that’,so Because I had a baby, does it mean I can’t do d chores??? I’m so sad at the moment

    • MamaD

      August 16, 2018 at 5:25 am

      So sorry Dear. I feel your pain. Little by Little, you will get through this. Do the ones you can and what you can’t do, leave it till next time (it may be difficult leaving chores for next time if you have OCD tho). Try and be cheerful, listen to songs you like, concentrate on your LOs, shower yourself with love… You will heal faster. Stay strong!

    • Girly

      August 16, 2018 at 11:39 am

      Honestly, i know not all MIL are like that, but to be truthful, the mother of the wife is better to come around for omogwu becos no mother will sit down and see her daughter who just ‘pushed’ or most especially go through CS do chores and not help.

      My MIL did the same, though she is a nice woman, but i did almost all the chores in the house. Can you imagine i washed the baby clothes all through her stay with me. Plus you will want to give her good food to eat, when my mother can manage whatever i give her to eat. If not that my mother insisted that i should not go out until after 3 months, my MIL finds it difficult to go to the market for me. It was hell truly. I almost had PPD too. I have vowed my mother will be the one to come the next one.

      Bottomline is that nobody can be like your mother. The love and care is out of this world. Your mother can do anything for you.. Do you know out of fear of lack of respect, I can’t even tell my MIL to help bring something from the parlour or somewherelse, i had to stand up to do it.

      some husbands are not helping matters too. Husband, always protect your wives from your mothers and family. Especially if the wife is good and you know it, but out of the fear of ‘i don’t want to disrespect my mother and family’ you leave her to be treated badly.

    • Girly

      August 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      @Temitope, pele. I can feel you. Nobody can be like your mother. Though my MIL is a nice woman but do you know I washed my baby’s clothes all through her stay with us, and yet i had CS. Plus she will want to eat good food when my mother can manage whatever I give. If not that my mother insisted that I don’t go out for 3 months after the CS thing, my MIL complains she doesn’t like going to the market. And yes. there are GOOD MIL. They dont see the difference between you and their daughters. That is where the gap comes from.

      Some husbands don”t help matters too. They leave their wives to be treated badly becos they dont want to disrespect their mothers.. Protect your wives, especially when you know it is right.

    • Bule

      August 17, 2018 at 11:38 am

      Eff that rubbish! Some men are just effing entitled and take the piss. You had a csection and brought forth new life. Is he kidding me? These men just take advantage of the gender-bias system! This is basic human etiquette for pete sake! If you love someone, you ease their discomfort and pitch in!

      I swear, I will never lower my standards to marry a wicked man. Yes, I call it wicked, because that is what it is.

    • Aisha IBRAHIM

      August 17, 2018 at 11:37 pm

      @ Temitops, with all due respect, your hubby is a goat!!!
      What sort of family did you marry into? When it is not like they are doing you a favour or something fa!
      You will have to be strong for yourself and your children, before they start infiltrating their minds with the idea that their mum (you) and females in general are second class humans.
      This is very wrong; whichever way you look at it.

  14. honeyposh

    August 16, 2018 at 9:22 am

    my mil is the best thing to ever happen to me, i often tease hubbys sisters that i got the best deal. Firstly she can feed you to stupor, as in every minute she keeps asking me if i want this or that. Secondly her place is my safe haven, i had my child in the states, as soon as i came back she swept to action as in i did not do anything.
    she takes over and had to be in her place for months, u need to see when hubby said we should start planning on returning home how sad i was because my maternity leave was over.
    We all relate very well and we are all yorubas.

  15. Funniest thing

    August 16, 2018 at 10:05 am

    Funniest thing is that you all above cant receive/endure the same thing you wanna give out.

    Who are all these MIL’s, is it not same you that will marry, give birth, become a grand ma, give out your son/daughter and become a MIL?

    Who are all these SIL’s isn’t it you ladies?

    Politicians are thieves, they are looters….wait till he/she gets there, they join the league of looters.

    We all rant when we are at the receiving end but you all cant take it when the same thing is dished out to you

    LIFE!

    • Girly

      August 16, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Yes, you are right. But also know that it is not wrong to err your view when you are not on the receiving end. Everybody wants to be loved and if it is not so, it hurts. Some MIL too should treat their DIL well. Remember you all have daughters that will be married too. What goes around comes around. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

  16. Funniest thing

    August 16, 2018 at 10:07 am

    @ Bella Naija,

    The first time ever i dropped a comment and it reflected almost immediately, not censored.
    Wow, hope you guys will continue like this on all other sensitive and celebrity posts too.

    Kudos for this

  17. anonymous

    August 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

    Igbos have this too but it’s usually the Ada and Diokpara that have this mentality. A typical igbo Ada is very authoritative eh, they carry that same behaviour to outsiders sef. Diokpara too is authoritative.

    I guess it’s because they have a lot of responsibilities and the parents believe that they’ll lead the family when they’re gone so they raise everyone to listen to their words. Also to be fair to the Adas and Okparas, they take care of their younger ones, financially and every other way. My elder sister had to cut her hair when I had a lice infection because I refused to cut mine if she didn’t and my father told her, you should see yourself as her mother and make sacrifices, you are my Ada, your younger ones are your children.

    My elder brother never had a chance to be a child oh, from the time I knew him,
    he was the ‘1st son’ and had to act accordingly.

    Can’t count how many times my parents punished both of them for our failings. ‘you mean your younger one can’t tell time at this age?’, ‘will I be teaching your sister fashion when you’re there?’ ‘I thought you were good with maths, how come your sis is failing maths’. ‘Your brother let his friends bully him, you need to teach him to fight for himself. If I don’t get reports that your brother now fights for himself, you’ll be punished’. ‘Your younger ones didn’t have money and you ate, they should eat first. they are your children’.

    To be honest, I respect my elder ones oh, they were parents from birth. They are so responsible and over achieveing. When people see my younger brother and I, they think we’re from different homes than our elder ones. We’re so playful while my elder ones are about responsibility. Till date, my big sis still babies me, my elder brother just playfully tells me to get married when I ask for money and teases me when I talk back at him ‘you’re talking to your elder bro like that’ but my sister will glare at you and you will keep quiet infact the whole family will take her side cos she’s the eldest.

    She’s like that with everyone and yes, she married a last born that has 4 elder sisters so he just plays and laughs with her asin they’re so compatible. Bro-in-law is a boss in the office and a dutiful son at home.

    Forgive my rambling, had to even comment anonymously so big sis doesn’t suspect its me.

  18. Kflo

    August 16, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Good for you! Please continue to show respect to those that consider it important. Like you, they’re also entitled to their opinions

  19. Ak. D

    August 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    I think it is just an African thing. And @ Yoruba ppl. One thing I tell myself is that I am not yoruba so I do not deal with their dobale issue. I greet you the way I was raised. @ African culture also, it is some what like a norm that if I am older than you then automatically everything I do is right and you have to listen to me but atimes, there might be more than one way to skin the cat. This table I just shaked has a lot of ppl that I respect in it, I pray God will 4give. Loool, but I am saying the truth though, or am I wrong?

  20. Centerstrit

    August 16, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    First, the writer is entitled to her opinion but I disagree with her.

    Its easier said when you`re not at the receiving end. Hopefully, you will not allow any niece or nephew or cousin you`re far older than to call you Auntie or Uncle.
    Everything has to do with morals.
    This is the same reason why you`ll be on a bus nowadays and no one will stand up for a pregnant woman to sit.
    In 40 years time, come back to tell the same story when your 10-year-old grandchild decides to call you by name instead of grandma.
    It’s disgusting to call it an obsession. It’s the culture and there’s no crime in it.
    But if you want to do away with it, do so.
    Don`t propagate your opinion on others.

    • Bose

      August 17, 2018 at 12:41 am

      Thank you so much. God bless you for your awesome write up..

  21. Bose

    August 17, 2018 at 1:13 am

    @ the writer…let’s be careful as to how our Americanized integration affects our sense of respect and culture.like centerstrit said..it’s easier for you to say things like this when you are not at the receiving end..how would you feel if your cousins that you are older than call you by your name …let’s be careful with our interpretation of christian values and our cultural values..

    • Onyi

      August 18, 2018 at 8:58 pm

      My younger cousin’s call me by my first name and i see nothing wrong with it. But then again i am igbo so i don’t force people to show me respect by adding the prefix of aunty to my name as a sign of respect. They have the sense to respect me because i am older and i have the sense to respect them also because that is just common sense and respect is reciprocal.

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