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Tolu Adeyemi: What to do When Yoruba Respect Protocols Clash?

As a Yoruba girl, going back and forth with my elders is rude. At the same time, I can’t stand and be making this salad when my senior is washing plates. My brain is doing a futile Google search through my mind for the right Yoruba protocol to follow.



The year is 2017. The parties involved are:

i. Uncle’s wife
ii. Me
iii. Shock emojis.

My aunty-in-law (let’s call her Aunty Bisi) comes over to my parents’ house with her husband and kids for a visit one evening. I am spending the night. After the initial pleasantries, she leaves my parents and her husband in the sitting room to join me in the kitchen, where I am, proud to say, putting together some vegetable salad. I think she’s coming for gist, but no. She moves to the sink and starts washing plates.

Shock 1.

Let me backtrack a little. These are not plates she and her husband ate from. These are my siblings’ plates from a previous meal and I was already planning to give them a talking to about such gross dereliction of duty.

So I move forward to stop her. ‘Aunty please, leave the plates. You don’t have to. I will wash it when I finish with what I am preparing,’ I tell her, making a mental note to increase the punishment for the children at the root of this wahala.

‘No o. Aunty, let me do it. I am nearly through,’ she says.

Surprise 2.

Biko, where is the aunty? Moi? This aunty is older than I am by at least seven years, and is a mother of two still clingy children. By my Yoruba calculations, she should not be calling me aunty.

What’s going on?

‘Aunty, please you can call me by name, and we can wash the plates together. At least, let me help
you rinse,’ I respond.

Next thing, Aunty Bisi positions her well endowed self to block every gap between me and both sinks, clearly offended at my latest proposition. ‘No, Aunty, let me do it. Even that food you are making, I should be the one helping you make it. This is my responsibility.’

Oh dear! How do I respond to this? As a Yoruba girl, going back and forth with my elders is rude. At the same time, I can’t stand and be making this salad when my senior is washing plates. My brain is doing a futile Google search through my mind for the right Yoruba protocol to follow. My appetite is gone. Stupid salad. Why did I come to this house sef? Those children are dead. So many things running through my head.

I try one more time.

‘Aunty, I can’t leave you to do this. It is not proper. You should be resting in the front, after such a long day. I’m sure Joshua (not his real name) wants to play with his mum up front.’

‘Aunty,’ she replies with a bossy voice. ‘Leave it for me. This is what I’m supposed to do as the Iyawo.”

With that taut tone, I am dismissed. I humbly return to the once appetising salad. I give up. As both of us continue doing our ‘duties,’ one of her children starts crying. You would think the other available parent would try to placate the child for a little while. No. Next thing we hear, ‘Iya Joshua! Come and attend to your child!’ and she runs off. Duty get level.

Fast forward to the end of the visit and I’m explaining this puzzling event to my mother who says it is
all normal. Mummy says tradition dictates that Aunty Bisi call me aunty because I am her husband’s
relative, and also, since she was in her in-laws’ house, she needed to do some chores in the house. I was gobsmacked. I had never observed my mother carry out this tradition, but she says ‘I don’t call your father’s siblings by name. I call the older ones brother, sister, aunty, and give the younger ones nicknames.’

I had been married for about a year when this happened. ‘But I don’t do this at my in-laws,’ I protested. ‘Is it peculiar to our ethnic group?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘You are just rude. It is the Yoruba way.’ She left. My mother was a woman of few words. I had gotten something new to ponder about.

I learned that in Yoruba families, a wife has to treat everyone who was born in her husband’s family before she joined like they are older than her, because she is, figuratively, a new born to the family, and as the last born, she should ‘make herself useful’ to the family pending when another ‘baby’ joins the family.

I guess I can understand the logic, if you ignore biology. But new borns don’t do chores. As you can probably tell, it still sounds silly to me. But a couple more years into this marriage business, and I realise that was an introduction. I used to think that the ultimate respect factor in Yorubaland was age. It just seems like unnecessary subjection to me and an excuse for cheap labour, but depending on the family you are ‘married into,’ it could determine whether this is a serious issue for you, or one of jest.

I could use this to segue into society’s expectations of wives, but I really don’t want to, and I think
we’ve heard enough. Let’s not get that deep today.

For anyone who is in this situation, I have found that the best scenario is to have a husband who is a buffer between you and your in-laws, other than reasonable in-laws, anyway. I see nothing wrong with helping out in the house, as an organic relationship is formed. Not something done because you are magically a new born. If your husband is more on Team In-Laws and Chores, though, and you are not, but you only found this out after dancing away from the altar, things may be a little more difficult. But wisdom is profitable to direct. There is nothing that some friendly but firm boundary setting, looking busy, prayer, and choosing your battles cannot fix. I hope. So far, we have seen different Yoruba rules of respect and duties clash. What do you think should be the hierarchy?

Does this tradition extend beyond Yorubaland? Please share your experiences and expectations.

FindingAtm is a lawyer on hiatus who writes because it simplifies life and shares now because she has learnt that you cannot make a difference in hiding. This is a conversation so she will be in the comments section, learning. She may also be caught in Lagos belting songs in traffic.


  1. Larz

    May 3, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Don’t worry am rude too.
    Am nicknamed “Oyinbo Ile wa” because i insist on knowing why I am being asked to do things and agreeung to the rationale before agreeing to anything. Am lucky to marry a like minded guy, his family are relatively modern to a degree. Even if they are not, we present a united front so much easier to handle.

    My principal and mentor once said thus when I spoke the unfairness of my elder sister. He said, “agba ko si fun nkan nmi by ka fi re omode je”. The sole purpose of being old is to cheat younger ones. I call BS on how an entire culture is to cheat/ oppress younger ones. So to the hardcore Yoruba elders, I say good luck with ur hustle but try and keep your drama from me

  2. Ajala & Foodie

    May 14, 2019 at 3:34 am

    I was 1st introduced to this when my much older cousins began getting married. In our own experience the spouses i.e Male cousins were not the ones that set the boundaries but my parents. My parents told the wives they could not call us Aunty/Sister/Uncle/Brother. My mum especially made it clear we were the “aburos”. If the logic of the “new born” is to be upheld then it should apply regardless of gender i.e the husband too should not call the wife’s younger family members by name either since he is just joining her family as well. Patriarchy cow dung is what I call it. The only people I call Aunty are my husband’s Aunty and I called them that b4 we got together. His immediate little sis I call “sister” again I called her that too before we even thought of dating, she has got a few years on me too. We attended the same Church and yes, I used to call my hubby “brother” until “brother” decided he wanted to date us. His little sister and cousins are all 1st name basis. No one has said anything to me to state otherwise but again I am hardly around in-laws due to distance.

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