African group emphasizes importance of preserving culture at 15th anniversary

Monday, August 4, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Descendents of Oduduwa join on the chapter's 15th anniversary to share the traditions, culture, clothing and values of Yoruba culture. The Yoruba culture is one of the most prominent African cultures outside of its home continent. Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed as a non-profit organization by descendants of the Yoruba people, who originate in West Africa, including Nigeria and parts of Togo and Benin, with the goal of promoting its members' culture and educating others about their traditions and customs.

COLUMBIA — Dressed in traditional Yoruba clothing of matched beige buba shirt and sokoto pants, Taiwo Faleti stood before the crowd of about 200 similarly dressed people. Flowing, colorfully embroidered garments, hats and head wraps filled the banquet hall.

Having come all the way from Nigeria, Faleti, a medical doctor, delivered a speech emphasizing the importance of preserving the Yoruba culture, the traditional clothing and the values of its people and of passing them on to younger generations.

"Our culture is not in the school curriculum," Faleti said to the crowd. "You must teach the children the culture and the language."

Omo Egbe Oduduwa, the association of Descendents of Oduduwa, mid-Missouri Chapter celebrated its 15th anniversary Saturday night at the American Legion Hall post 202. Founded in 1999, the mid-Missouri Egbe, or chapter, represents the descendents of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

The theme for this year's anniversary celebration was "everything begins at home," a way of expressing that everything the Yoruba community have contributed to Columbia and the United States comes from the culture they brought from Africa. This theme also emphasizes keeping the culture alive through current and coming generations.

Throughout the night, musicians performed rhythm-driven Yoruba music, and people danced and sang in the language. Children presented a cultural performance about fashion and customs. A formidable feast of traditional dishes was served from a long buffet.

Throughout the event, speakers talked about promoting community service and giving back to society. Columbia's Egbe works with The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, Adopt-A-Spot and Clean-Up Columbia.

The value of community service is a part of the traditional culture that the Yoruba want to ensure is passed on to its children, along with its history and language.

"We want the children to know where we come from," Josephine Oguntoyindo said as she watched her 5-year-old son play with other children in the hall. Although she is of Nigeria's Edo ethnic group, her husband is Yoruba, and they plan to teach their son the customs of both of their traditional cultures.

"The better they understand where they come from, the more able they'll be to know where they are going," she said.

Femi Ogungbade, current president of the mid-Missouri Egbe, was also vocal about the need to pass on traditional customs to the younger generations in order to preserve the group's heritage around the world.

"Yoruba culture is the only African culture that has survived and had greater influence on world cultural development outside the continent of Africa," Ogungbade said in his speech Saturday night.

The largest concentration of Yoruba people today is in Nigeria, the center of historic Yorubaland. Outside of Africa, Yoruba live predominantly in the United Kingdom and North America, with around 188,000 living in the United States according to the Joshua Project.

While working to preserve their culture in the United States, Egbes around the country also do what they can to help people back in Nigeria. The mid-Missouri chapter has partnered with a Nigerian medical school to provide a free clinic in the west African nation, Ogungbade said. In 2012, they raised money and bought a blood pressure monitor and 1,000 bedspreads and pillowcases to send to the clinic.

"There are many less fortunate people back home," Ogungbade said. "We are committed to help them." The mid-Missouri Egbe is also involved in fundraising for orphanages and schools for handicapped children.

"The future of Yoruba culture depends on our youth," Ogungbade said. "We must be proactive in the process of helping our descendents to identify with their cultural heritage and roots."

Many families and children were present Saturday night, with most of the children mirroring the adults and donning traditional garments for the event.

Aisha Ibitoya, 10, wore a beige Yoruba dress and large blue gele, a customary hair wrap reminiscent of a peacock's plumage worn by women. She enjoys being a part of both American culture and Yoruba culture, she said, and she hopes to continue learning about the culture and to be an active member of the Egbe when she is older.

Niyi Ogungbade, Femi Ogungbade's 12-year-old son, also wore traditional  clothing Saturday night. He's studied the Yoruba language for three years but said he still struggles to speak it. He thinks it's important to keep his heritage in his life.

"A lot of Yoruba kids don't like to wear the traditional clothing, they refuse to do it," he said. "But cultures can degrade a little bit with each new generation, so it's important the we carry it on."

Supervising editor is Seth Klamann.

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