The Yoruba people are one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria; they are found in the southwestern part of the country. Much smaller, scattered groups also live in Benin Republic and northern Togo.
There are different types of occupations in Yorubaland. Among the Yoruba people, a person’s occupation is known as ‘ise owo’. Yorubas regard a man without an occupation a useless and lazy fellow in the society and call such man ole (lazy fellow) or “ole a lapa ma sise” (lazy fellow that has hands but won’t work).
On the side of women, some work while some stay at home to take care of their family. It should be noted that the set of Yoruba women who choose to stay at home in order to cater for their families might also be engaged in some sort of trading activities that won’t require them leaving their homes.
Some even rear animals in their compounds which of course add will to the income of their families or provide meat when needed.
Of all the traditional occupations in Yoruba land, farming is the most practised and, most times, the most profitable. Farming is common among Yoruba men. Women and children are used as labourers on the farm and this explains why many farmers resort to polygamous lifestyle.
They marry up to three, four and some even go above six wives so as to have many children who will provide labour on their farms. A small population of the farmers hire paid laborers. Farmers are rich and well respected in the Yoruba society.
Palm Wine Tapping (Emu Dida)
Palm wine tapping is another widely practiced traditional occupation among the Yorubas. They are called ‘ademu’ which translates as “palm wine tapper” in English language.
The tapped palm wine, known as Emu oguro, is sold at the market or in palm wine sheds. Palm wine is revered in Yoruba land; kegs of palm wine are purchased for gatherings, ceremonies and festivals. The tapper might as well decided to build his own shed where people can buy and drink palm wine.
Another widely practised occupation in Yorubaland is blacksmithing, known as agbede. This profession requires a lot of strength to achieve the best results, thus making it hard or almost impossible to find a female blacksmith in Yoruba land.
As aforementioned, the difficult and stressful occupations in Yorubaland are mostly reserved for men. Blacksmiths, known as alagbede, produce weapons for their communities to protect itself from attacks and wars. They also produce farming implements such as cutlass, hoes and others.
All blacksmiths in Yorubaland worship Ogun, the Yoruba god of Iron, because of their constant usage of Iron.
Hunting is also common among the Yoruba men, hunters are well respected in the community for risking their lives to provide meat for the community. Hunters face lots of trouble during hunting expeditions.
Many accounts claim hunters encounter strange things in the forest, like talking antelopes, demons and spirits.
Certain rites are performed after a hunter kills an animal to ward off any evil that could trail him, his family and community. Hunters, called ‘ode’ or ‘oluode’, and their families feed on a part of the meat and the rest is sold at the market.
Fishing (Ise Apeja)
The occupations of Yoruba people will remain incomplete if fishing is omitted. This occupation is widely practised in Yorubaland, but fishermen can only be found in communities close to the river or sea. They are known as ‘apeja’.
Wood Carving (Ise Ona)
Wood carving is another important occupation in Yorubaland. Idols used in shrines are carved by experts called ‘gbena gbena’. Palace decorations are mostly carved wooden objects, the rest which is about 40% are from animals skin and iron.
Masquerading is also an occupation in Yorubaland. It is believed to be a spiritual kind of occupation because of what it entails such as communication with the spirit world.
Known as egungun, a masquerade dress in a scary costume called eku and dance to special drumming and chants.
Poetry (Ewi Kike)
Poets, known as akewi, are also found in the Yoruba society. The akewi is paid to render his ewi (poetry) in ceremonies such as marriage, naming, coronation, etc. The akewi also work in the palace where he renders the king’s panegyric.
Other occupations in Yoruba land include drumming (ise ayan), native doctor (awo), trading (owo sise) and so on. Among Yoruba women, pottery, weaving, dyeing, hairdressing, trading and so on are practised.