Oríkì is a type of traditional oral poetry that is attributive and often projects praise. It is said to be the most popular of Yorùbá poetic forms and is passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, this appears to be declining like many other traditional practices. In the absence of written documents, certain oríkì’s acted as custodians and banks of information regarding the nobility, origin, fame, profession, lifestyle, achievements, exploits, positive and negative characteristics of an individual. Oriki’s extend even beyond people to eulogise towns, indigenous foods, idols, animals and many more.
For oríkì’s, its most popular meaning when translated is a “panegyric” (at least in a good chunk of movies and general sites or applications that translate). However, a panegyric is a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something and this is not always the case with oríkì’s because, depending on their category, it may not always be a public speech.
They are used to hype, honour, pacify, describe and tell of an origin but what exactly is an oríkì? As it is with languages, finding direct translations do not always do justice and after deliberating, some have said that oríkìs can best be described as a type of “lineage ode” (this is majorly in reference to a certain category of oríkì’s, this category being Oríkì Ìdílé). Generally, it might just be best to say a praise poem as that covers multiple categories.
As mentioned in the last paragraph, oríkì Ìdílé refers to the oríkì for one’s clan, family or household, they tell of one’s ancestors in said family.The children take the father’s family oriki but this does not stop them from being connected to or knowing that of their mother.
Other types of oríkì include:
- Oríkì Olorun (God’s oríkì). This consists of attributes of God. There are many versions and thus renditions vary depending on who is asked.
- Oríkì akinkanju (oríkì for warriors). Famous Yoruba warriors such as Ògèdèǹgbé, Kúrunmi of Ijaye, or Balogun Ibikunle have oríkìs praising them and telling of their exploits. Here is Balogun Ibikunle’s oríkì translated into English.
- Oríkì orisa (oríkì for gods and goddesses). The Yoruba’s have oríkìs for gods and goddesses often chanted by their followers. These oríkìs praise and eulogise the deities whilst speaking of their attributes
- Oríkì oba ati ijoye (oríkì for rulers and chiefs). These are the orikis for Kings and chiefs of towns and villages. These may be supplemented with praises from traditional drums notably the gangan (talking drum) by palace drummers.
- Oríkì ẹranko (oríkì for animals). This sort of oríkì is about animals and quite popular in this category is the oríkì for birds, typically from the viewpoint of hunters. Popular oriki’s exist for erin, ẹkùn and also for odìdẹrẹ. These refer to elephants, lions and parrots respectively.
- Oríkì orílẹ̀ (oríkì for regions or towns). This includes how a town came to be, what a town is known for and so on.
- Oríkì orúkọ àmútọrunwá (oríkì for names based on conditions one was born with e.g a breech baby, a baby born with the umbilical cord round the neck,twins, triplets and co). Here is the oríkì for twins (oríkì ibeji)
- Oríkì orúkọ apejẹ/àlàjẹ́ (oríkì for people that is their affectionate name). This type of oriki is gendered so the female oríkì orúkọ apejẹ is distinct from the male. Here are some examples.
Female oríkì orúkọ apejẹ
Male oríkì orúkọ apejẹ
- Oríkì ounjẹ (oríkì for food). As the name suggests, this type of oríkì is dedicated to food and may have strong dialectical influence. A popular example is oríkì anamọ i.e the oríkì for potatoes.
What category of oríkì would you like to learn more about?