According to historian John Ridpath, “Observers of traditional African culture, so inevitably influenced by Western style of thought and intellectual traditions, failed to understand and interpret the culture.”
This may be because, according to writer John Bascom. “The Yoruba way of life is traditional, dating back well before the period of European penetration.” This is also supported by Wole Soyinka’s “Cyclical reality of the Yoruba world-view.”
The Yoruba beliefs about health encompass the present as well as life after death.
They don’t just define health as the absence of disease, but rather, more expansively, health includes good luck, riches, protection against ill luck or attack.
Their prayer chant for many blessings embodies this sentiment: “Ire owo (wealth); Ire omo (Children); Ire aiku pari iwa (immortality, or afterlife is a continuation of life). Hence, a healthy man is favored by the spirits of the community ancestors Orisa and is a believer in Olodumare (Almighty God).
George Sarton maintains that, “There is no conflict between science and religion, but there may be deep conflict between science and theology.”
Archbishop Immanuel Milingo, addressing life after death and Africans endowed with powers said, “We are what we are because our society still has something special. We can speak with the dead, and a community may be guided in its endeavor to carry out a decision which affects the whole community. The traditional spiritual consultant speaks to the ancestors and other protective spirits, and they give answer.”
The Ori (head) is thought to be the origin of life. In this belief system death is not the end of life, and belief in reincarnation is linked to respect or veneration for one’s ancestors. Ancestors are considered to have enormous power to watch over the living. The Odu Ejiogbe verse states, “I have become Ose tree, I will no longer die. I have become 200 hills rolled into one, I am immovable.”
The Yorubas of South Western Nigerian presents the highest dizygotic(fraternal) twinning rate in the world, particularly in Oke Ogun (Iseyin) Oyo, Nigeria borne out of dietary factors of a species of yam grown locally containing oestrogenic (Nylander 1979). Therefore twins are believed to have supernatural powers bestowing health, happiness and posterity upon families with more permissive upbringing. The first twin is called Taiwo, regarded as junior who came to “taste life” and the second Kehinde, the eldest who “sent” the first so he/she can join him/her and are believed to share a combined soul.
Babalawo (priests) were usually consulted on the third day for the Akosejaye(the life script) to determine one’s mission on earth, to check if they have been here before and to seek taboos or possible mishaps in life.
It’s thought that when one dies, the life of the other would be disturbed and ere ibeji (the sacred image of twins) is usually carved and based on the immortality of the soul and reincarnation, which are both essential to the ibeji, Babalawo, may after interpretation of Ifa corpus( divine knowledge), commission an artist to carve a small wooden figure as a symbolic substitute for the deceased twin and if both twins died, two of these figures are made. The figures are washed, fed and clothed, and as in the Yoruba custom they say “dead Ibeji expenses,are expenses for the living.” The mother enjoys special privilege and dances with the effigies (representations of the persons) once a year while singing praise songs. It’s also important to conduct life gently that one may die a good death, that children lay hands over one’s body in burial. A popular Yoruba saying states that if we die young and a horse is killed in celebration of one’s life: it is better than dying old without people killing a chicken to celebrate.
It is believed every human soul will have a chance to return to earth in the body of a new born. From personal experience, I witnessed some of my siblings who died as young children returned with tattoos made on their bodies before interment by my mother. Odu Oturupon explained Yoruba belief in life after death, how the dead joined the ancestors to become dwellers of heaven (Ara Orun) and why Oyo Yoruba egungun is fully masked.