The Yoruba conception of a human person is usually seen in the light of hard determinism and sometimes fatalism. Yoruba statements such as “Ayanmo o gbogun” confirms this. This study is an examination of this assumption. The study examines some scholar’s account of the Yoruba conception of a person in lieu of freewill, determinism and fatalism. The study will be structured into three chapters.

In chapter one of this study, I will examine the Yoruba conception of a person. I will be examining different philosophers and scholar’s perspective on the discourse. I will attempt to compare and contrast their views on the Yoruba conception of a person.

In chapter two of the study, I will examine the notions of freewill, determinism, fatalism and human destiny in relation to the Yoruba conception of a person. I will attempt to argue that these notions occupy a center stage in the discussion of a Yoruba conception of a person

Chapter three of this study will explore the possibility of reconciling soft determinism and hard determinism in the Yoruba conception of a person by refuting the arguments given by hard determinists.

This essay will conclude that contrary to the popular opinion that the concept of “ori” leads to hard determinism or fatalism, it is more compatible with soft-determinism.


1.0        Introduction:  

            The question “who is a person? Or “what constitutes a person? Is one of the most interesting questions in philosophy, especially metaphysics. The concept of a person is not a new discourse in philosophy. This discourse on human person has persisted through ancient, early modern, early modern, medieval philosophy. At the heart of the question “who is a person?” are other questions such as “is a person entirely physical, ideas or a combination of both?” At an ordinary glance, it seems that all these questions have easy answers, but an argument in philosophy over the issue of the human person has showed that it is far from easy.

             René Descartes classified a person as a dual being. Descartes argued that a person consists of a body and a mind. For Descartes, the mind validates the existence of the body. Descartes further explained that the relationship that exists between the two is interactive which prompted him to derive his causal interactionism.

           The notion of personhood cuts through different cultural worldviews or perspective. A perspective I will engage in this study is the Yoruba conception of a human person.The Yoruba conception of a person is quite interesting. The aim of this study is to examine the Yoruba conception of a person and critically examine its implications on determinism, fatalism, freewill and human destiny.

1.1       Background on the Yoruba conception of a person

            According to Barry Hallen and Sodipo, a person in Yoruba thought is made up of three important elements namely Ara[body], Emi[life-giving element],Ori[spiritual head which is responsible for human destiny]. This position is popularly referred to as the tripartite conception of a man. Following this answer, an inner consideration will exhume several questions in Yoruba conception of a man, Ara[body] refers to all the tangible elements that makes a person both externally and internally such as brain, intestine, liver, and so on. Emi is believed to be the immaterial element that provides the energy without which a person is said to be living or being conscious. Bolaji Idowu concurs with this submission when he also opined that “Emi” is the life giving force of man. Its presence or absence he says in man makes the difference between life and death.

            According to Oladele Balogun, the third element in the componential analysis of man in Yoruba belief is “ori”. which is an immaterial entity, otherwise called inner-head and intractably connected with human destiny. Many African philosophers have given different conceptions on the concept of a person, while many subscribed to the tripartite formulation, others subscribed to another formulation which shares close ties with the tripartite formulation such as the addition of “Ese” by Wande Abimbola.

            The concept of a person held by a group of people is fundamental in understanding not only how a person within the framework of thought views himself, but also how matters such as the idea of being, morality, knowledge and truth that are essential for the order of the society are viewed. This is emphasized by the fact that such a concept encapsulates the role the society expects the individual to play for the attainment of an orderly society. Every society has at least one reflection of ideas that can be called their concept or theory of a person. A concept of a person is a collection of views about what constitutes a human beings work, what they need for survival.

            The normative concept of a person evolves from the way in which man is understood in a given community in terms of his relations to other living beings and his role among other men[Sogolo,1993:190-91]. The African traditional thought conceives man as a command being. Is there a special set of criteria that must be met in order for one to be correctly called a person? What sorts of relationship exists between the various components making of man? All these questions aim at discovering the nature of personhood and determining the kinds of entities that can properly be considered a “person”

1.2       Gbadegesin’s Yoruba concept of personhood.

            In explaining Gbadegesin’s concept of a person, I would like to first explain the normative meaning of “Eniyan” as used by Gbadegesin; I would also list the features of the human person according to Gbadegesin and explain them and lastly I will attempt to show that the Yoruba conception of human person does not equate human being with human person.

            Gbadegesin identifies the Yoruba name for a person as “Eniyan”. Gbadegesin argues that “Eniyan” has a normative dimension and an ordinary meaning. Therefore, Gbadegesin argues that it is not unusual in Yoruba culture to hear an observer to remark that “ki se eniyan”[he/she is not a person]such a remark stems out of the observers assessment of the person. The individual accesses the other person’s moral standing. The normative dimension is quite popular in Yoruba thought. The normative dimension attempts to prescribe standards. This normative dimension is used by the Yoruba’s to assess a person’s moral standing.

            This is quite different from the ordinary meaning in the sense that the ordinary sense has no deeper interpretation compared to the other words, Yoruba’s tend to attach much importance to the normative aspect than the ordinary aspect.

            ”ki se eniyan” as used above deals with the normative aspect of an individual not the ordinary because it sought out to access an individual’s personality. Gbadegesin addresses the structural components of the human person. Gbadegesin identifies the terms that feature in the Yoruba conception of a person. Gbadegesin identifies the “ara”, “okan”, “emi”, and “ori”. Gbadegesin explained that there is a lot of confusion about what each of these means and what relationship exists among them. Gbadegesin sought out to clear this confusion by stating that we would be better off by not starting with the English equivalents of those terms, but rather to describe their usages among the Yoruba and to relate them to each other in terms of their functional interdependencies.

            “Ara” according to Gbadegesin is the physical material part of the human includes the external and internal components which includes flesh, bone, heart, intestine and so on. Gbadegesin explained that it is often described in physical terms such as heavy or light, strong or weak, hot or cold. Gbadegesin goes further to explain that sometimes it usages seems to suggest that it refers to the whole of a person.

            Gbadegesin gave a normative example of “ara” in the form of “are re lo mo” [he/she knows herself only or she is selfish] to explain that the phrase signifies the assessment of a person who has his/her own personal interest at heart without caring for others or even for his/her own real self because in the Yoruba traditional thought it is implied that if a person really pays attention to his/her real self, then such a person would not be selfish. Gbadegesin explained that the body is like a case which houses the senses. indeed, it is the window to the world.

            For Gbadegesin, It is imperative when discussing “ara” to ask whether a person is all body or not? This question is often ignored because the Yoruba conception of a person believes that a person is significantly more than the body. the internal organs of the body though physical, they also play an important role in the conception of a person, using the normative dimension, a person would be referred to as weak if he/she possesses one “ifun” or none at all. Using this normative dimension, a mentally retarded person would be a person who has no “opolo” or a distorted “opolo”.

            “Okan” is the second on the list of features on the Yoruba conception of a person. Gbadegesin explained that “okan” has a dual character in the Yoruba conception of a the ordinary sense, it is recognized as the physical organ responsible for the circulation of blood, and secondly, it is conceived as the source of emotional and psychic reactions. Indeed, it is not strange for a Yoruba man/woman to refer to the second sense. Using the example of “ki lo kan” [strengthen his/her heart], a person who is easily upset is described as having no “okan”.

            Following this line of thought, it would appear that the emotional states of persons are taken as functions of their state of their “Okan”. “okan” is seen as an important element in the Yoruba thought. Great emphasis is placed on the “okan” because it is believed that it controls the emotions and actions of a person. A seeming question that is being raised here is that is “okan” is the same to the English equivalent of “mind”?

            Gbadegesin noted that this is a difficult question because the western conception of mind is ambiguous. According to Gbadegesin, if we attend to the non-technical conception of the mind, it means” that which feels, perceives, wills or that from which thought originates”. Taking the non-technical sense, Gbadegesin noted the mind may be entity but not necessarily in the Cartesian sense of “that entity whose essence is thought”. That which is the “subject of consciousness” may be a material accessing these senses; Gbadegesin says we should attend to the non-technical sense.

            “okan” means heart in the Yoruba traditional thought, it also means courage. The Yoruba conception of a person believes that the state of the heart determines how courageous or timid a person is. for Gbadegesin, the question is whether “okan” is construed as “that from which thought originates” since “okan” is recognized as a material component of the body. More clearly, the question takes this form, is it just that “okan” is a material component whose activities have consequences for the physic, emotional, thinking states of a person, and therefore responsible for them or is it that beyond the physical and visible “okan” there is something invisible and perhaps non-physical which is responsible for all forms of conscious identity?

            Gbadegesin believes that more of the latter is involved in the discussion on “okan” Gbadegesin noted that the Yoruba word “okan” translates as heart. therefore, following the former suggestion, it would mean that the pumping and circulation of blood by the physical heart is construed as so crucial that its result are connected with the state of a person’s thoughts and emotions at any point in time, thus between “opolo” [brain] and “okan” [heart], conceived in physical terms, we may account for the mental activities and emotional states of persons. Gbadegesin concludes that “this is a far-fetched hypothesis for understanding the Yoruba view on the matter”.

            The reason for this conclusion according to Gbadegesin is that, drawing the kind of connection between the activity and/or state of the physical heart and the mental states of persons requires more than an intuitive understanding, and this requires adequate scientific knowledge which is not available to everyone, whether African or westerners.

            This according to Gbadegesin accounts for the non-physical conception of heart in the English language.

            For Gbadegesin, the word “okan” is conceived as the source of thought and emotions which is quite distinct from the physical heart. following the insistence by Gbadegesin on the non-technical sense, it would appear that mind refers to something which is the source of thought in a broad sense. Gbadegesin identified the Yoruba word for thought as “ero”. Gbadegesin explained that to think is to “roonu”. Thinking therefore is “ironu”. Following the etymological definition, to “ro” is to stir and “inu” is inside. Thus, to “ronu” is to stir the inside of a person and “ironu” is literally stirring the inside. This explanation would not make sense unless we identify the inside as the receptacle for the various organs. This runs against the Yoruba conception of a person therefore, an appeal to etymology will not help here.

            The question “kini ero e” means what are your thoughts? and this compares with “kini o walokan re?” which means literally “what is in your mind? “or “what are your thoughts?” this seems to suggest that the seat of “ero” [thought] is somewhere close to, if not identical with “okan”. Hence, “okan” translates as physical heart, in view of the Yoruba understanding of the heart as the organ for pumping and circulation of blood, they are not likely to see it as the seat of conscious seems therefore to be some other source for such activities, though perhaps closely related to the heart.

            This according to Gbadegesin is where the postulation of a double nature for the heart appears to make sense. For it appears, from an examination of the language, that while “okan” [as physical heart]is recognized as responsible for blood also has an inevitable counterpart which is the seat of such consciousness activities. This is equivalent of the mind in English.

            Thisinterpretation for Gbadegesin raises a further challenge. If “okan” is taken as the seat of thought, what function is then performed by “opolo” [brain]? Gbadegesin explained that “ero” as it occurs in “okan” seems to refer to a wider range of processes than the “opolo”. Gbadegesin identified these processes to include willing, desiring, wishing, hoping, worrying and so on. Gbadegesin explained that when a person is described as “alaelokan” [one with no okan], it means that the person lacks the capacity for endurance, not that the person has no head.    There is a class of activities which “opolo” seems to be particularly responsible for rational activities that is, a person who is incapable of simple logical reasoning is described as “alalelopolo”[a person without a brain].for Gbadegesin, it is a misuse of language to refer to a hard-hearted person as “olokan lile”[one with a hard brain],just as it is wrong to assume a mentally ill person as “olokan didaru”[one with a disturbed okan],the right description for such a person would be “alaelopolo”.in clearer terms,”opolo” is recognized as the source of logical reasoning, while “okan” is the source of all consciousness and emotional response.

            The third feature that Gbadegesin identified is “emi” Gbadegesin identified “emi” as another element different from “ara”. this “emi” is non-physical. Emi has been variously translated as soul or spirit and so on. Gbadegesin believes that those translations confuse more than they clarify.

             Gbadegesin noted that “eniyan” is the combined effort of “olodumare”,the supreme deity, and some subordinates. The body is constructed by “Orísà-nlá”, the arch-divinity. Gbadegesin explains that this deity then supplies “èmí”, which activates the lifeless body. “Èmí” is therefore construed as the active principle of life, the life-giving element put in place by the deity. It is also construed as part of the divine breath. This “emi” has to be distinguished from “èémí” (breath) which is physically identifiable. “Èémi” for Gbadegesin,is construed as a manifestation of the continued presence of èmí. Simply put, once the body is supplied with “èmí” through divine action of the deity, ara (body) now has èémí (breath) and begins to “mi” (breathe). The presence of “èmí” ensures that the human body, previously lifeless, now becomes a human being, a being that exists. Since “èmí” is part of the divine breath, it will continue as the principle of life for a particular human being at the pleasure of the deity. When it is recalled, the human being ceases to exist.

            Gbadegesin opined that “èmí” is more of the determinant and guarantor of existence. It is the breathing spirit put in a human body by the deity to turn it into a human being. Having “èmí” therefore makes one a child of the deity and therefore worthy of protection from harm.

            Reference to one as an “elèmí”is an indirect warning against being maltreated. It is interesting that this usage is also extended to other creatures, including insects, because they are believed to come into being by the creative activity of the deity. Èmí, as the active element of life, is thus a component common to all human beings. It not only activates the body by supplying the means of life and existence, it also guarantees such conscious existence as long as it remains in force.

            Gbadegesin explained that two claims have been made about the nature of “èmí”. first, it is spiritual and secondly, it has an independent existence. Both claims are subject to philosophical dispute. The first has been contested that “èmí” cannot be spiritual while it at the same time occupies space by being embodied. While the second embodies the question of whether independent existence is disputed on the ground that it is not an entity but a force, and as such cannot have an independent existence?

            Gbadegesin explained that we must address the question whether “èmí” is conceived as spiritual by the Yoruba, and, if so, whether such a conception is incoherent. Gbadegesin employed the use of the Yoruba dictionary to help solve the problem posited by the interpretation of “emi”. The Yoruba dictionary translates spirit as “èmí”[spiritual] as “ti èmí”, matter as “ohunkóhun tí a fi ojú rí, tí a sì fi owó kàn” [whatever we see with our eyes and touch with our hands] and material as “nkan ti ara”[that which Pertains to the body]Furthermore, however, it seems clear that the Yoruba understand “èmí” as the lifeline of human is understood as a portion of “Olódùmarè’”s divine is important to note that since “Olódùmarè” is also understood as spiritual, the portion of this source of being which is given to the human being must also be spiritual.  It is also recognized that it is the possession of “èmí” that makes humans children of Olódùmarè. It is the logic of the source of èmí, therefore, that suggests its nature as spiritual. Gbadegesin explained that unless we deny the spirituality of Olódùmarè, we cannot deny, without inconsistency, the spiritual nature of “èmí”.

            The last feature on the discourse of the Yoruba conception of a person by Gbadegesin is “ori”. “ori” is another element in the make-up of the human person. Just like “okan”, “Orí” has a dual refers to the physical head and, given the acknowledged significance of the head vis-à-vis the rest of the body, “orí” is considered vital even in its physical character, it is the seat of the brain. Gbadegesin noted that its importance cannot be over-emphasized. The “ori” has a physical and a spiritual which makes up the dual character. In any case, there is the conception of an “orí” which is recognized as the bearer of the person’s destiny as well as the determinant of personality.

            Earlier on, Gbadegesin referred to the creative process of the human being as a combined effort of the “orisa-nla” and some subordinates.Gbadegesin explained that after the “orisa-nla” has finished crafting the body, the incomplete person moves to the house of “ajala” who is in charge of “ori” for the choice of “ori”.In Gbadegesin’s explanation, the “orí” is, as it were, the ‘case’ in which individual destinies are wound up. The incomplete created being picks up his/her preferred ‘case’ without knowing what is stored there. This aspect raises so many questions on whether the incomplete created person has free-will or determined? Since at that point, it is still an incomplete being. Gbadegesin explicated that whatsoever is stored within the picked calabash or “ori” will determine the life-course of the individual in the world. It is therefore the “orí” so chosen that, as the bearer of the individual’s destiny, determines his/her personality.

            Indeed, it is here that the issue of free-will and determinism takes its advent from in the Yoruba conception of a person. There are many variations on how the “ori” is being selected. Gbadegesin noted some accounts indicate that the “orí” itself, as a fully conscious personality component of the person, kneels down to pick the destiny. While other writers, suggest that “orí” is chosen by the individual after he/she is animated by the deity with the supply of “èmí”. For Gbadegesin, both explanations are coherent and can be defended by making a recall to oral tradition. Secondly, it appears to capture more clearly the idea behind the linguistic expression of the choice of destiny. For in the language, the process is described as the choice of “ori”, and it is construed as an entity in which destiny is encased. That is, it is the orí that is chosen.

            The picture one gets from this latter account is that of numerous “orí” with different destinies or portions already wound up in them, and the persons(ara with èmí) going to make a choice of any “orí” that appeals to them without knowing the destiny wound up in them. The other account suggests that it is the “orí” itself, as a full personality that kneels down to make the choice of destiny. This does not take into consideration the fact that a personality is not determined before the choice of destiny. It is the destiny or portion that is chosen that forms a personality. For Gbadegesin, one way of reconciling the two positions is to reconstruct the former position which claims that it is the “ara+ èmí” that does the choice of “orí”. To do this one may allow that what is meant by the choice of “orí” here is that the individual [ara+emi] kneels down before “Olódùmarè” to choose, by verbal declaration, what he/she would be or do in the world.

            To posit this clearly, to choose one’s “orí” simply means choosing one’s destiny. In this case, there is no entity in any form, physical, quasi-physical, or spiritual which is picked up by the individual. He/she just speaks the words of destiny and these words are approved by the deity. This account according to Gbadegesin looks a lot more coherent, because, it allows us to avoid the problem of how an “orí”, whether physically or quasi-physically construed, can enter into the physical structure of the person so as to become part of his/her component. Even though it avoids this problem, it raises a number of others. Firstly, it leaves no room for the deity that figures in the Yoruba account, namely “Ajàlà”, the potter of human orí. Secondly, it does not account for the fact that the Yoruba regard orí as a spiritual component of personality which is in fact, raised to the level of a personal divinity. According to Gbadegesin, if “orí”, as understood by the Yoruba, merely refers to the words of destiny as declared by individuals, then their constant reference to orí in supplications and the offerings of sacrifices to it should be judged a mistake. Yet, the fact remains that if it is a mistake, it is one which a typical Yoruba would rather make.

            The idea of orí as a spiritual component, chosen by the individual and having the power of a guardian and protector over him/her, seems too deep-rooted in the Yoruba world-view to be given up. It is therefore the “ori”so chosen, with the destiny wound up in it that determines the personality of the individual. And though the orí is symbolized by the physical head, it is not identical with it. For the orí is construed as the inner—or spiritual—head (orí-inú). Gbadegesin notices some problems about the concept of “ori”, for instance, if the ara is physical body, how can it be available before birth to choose an orí? Or if the pre-natal orí is not the physical body, is it quasi-physical? Is the “èmi”that is involved in this combination of ara and èmí spiritual or physical? First, the time frame here is pre-natal. Activities like choosing an orí go on in the spirit world where the divinities and prospective human beings are construed of as engaging in all kinds of relationships and exchanges. In this world, anything is conceivable. Indeed, it will be recalled that a divinity (òrìsà-nlá) is postulated as responsible for molding the human body. So it could be the physical body that is involved.

            “ara”with its associated deity-given “èmí”moves to the ‘house’ of Ajàlá, the ‘potter of heads’ who is responsible for the orí. It seems clear, according to Gbadegesin, that it is a combination of conceptualization and imagination that is brought into play here. On the one hand, there is a conception of a spirit world in which anything can happen. On the other hand, some of the things that can happen there are imagined on the basis of what is experienced in the Physical world and are therefore endowed with its attributes. We may choose to impose the idea of a quasi-physical ara on this basis, and we may perhaps succeed in making the account look more coherent to us. However, we should note that such a reconstruction may fail to do full justice to the ideas as understood in the language.

            Gbadegesin goes on to address the issue of the relationship between the components as explained by him above. The components can be grouped into physical-material and mental-spiritual. For Gbadegesin, “Ara” belongs to the first, èmí to the second, and “orí” and “okàn” have physical and mental aspects. Secondly, a different conception of “okàn” is postulated to account for the phenomenon of thought. Gbadegesin noted that there is no need for such a postulation, but there is no doubt that it exists. We have seen that it also exists in the ordinary use of the heart in the English language.

            Thirdly, orí is also postulated as a spiritual entity (in addition to its meaning as physical head) to account for the phenomenon of destiny. There is no parallel to this postulation in the English language, and Gbadegesin considers it the distinctive aspect of the Yoruba concept of a person. Even when “okàn” is postulated to account for the phenomenon of thought, whatever it has to do with this and with the emotional state of a person cannot be separated from the “orí” as the Bearer of his/her destiny. According to Gbadegesin, okàn, as source of conscious thought and emotions, can be regarded as a subsequent expression of the destiny portion encased in the orí. This for Gbadegesin may be explained as follows that “orí” determines the personality of the individual. The emotional states, on the other hand, are reflections and good indicators of the personality. Okàn, as the source of consciousness and emotions, therefore only reflects that which had been encased in the orí originally. In other words, okàn may be regarded as one of the avenues through which destiny unfolds in the post-natal existence of the person

            For Gbadegesin, the symbolic representation of orí by the physical head is indeed indicative of how its importance is construed. As the location of “opolo”(brain), the physical head is the seat of intelligence. The introduction of orí (inner-head and bearer of destiny) as a spiritual element is to suggest for Gbadegesin, that there is more to what is seen to be going on, and this is the spiritual direction of the orí. Ori is therefore the determinant of the personality of the individual. The “èmí”, as the active life force supplied by the deity. this “emi” though it guarantees existence and activates the lifeless body into consciousness, it cannot be the basis for identifying persons as individual selves because it is common to all.

            Gbadegesin noted that “èmí”activates the lifeless body, it does not make it the center of conscious identity because an individual may have “èmí”(as an activating life principle) and still not be conscious of his/her existence as a self. On the other hand, orí is identified with each person; it is an essential component of human personality. However, this does not make it in Gbadegesin’s words “the locus of conscious identity”. because of its spiritual dimension, “orí”functions as a remote controller of the person’s fundamental activities, including thinking; but it is not itself the center or seat of thought.

            Gbadegesin concluded that the very thought of appealing to one’s “orí”through sacrifice already presupposes the existence of the “orí”which is, in that case, the object of the thought. The subject of conscious identity responsible for the phenomenon of thinking, feeling, willing, and desiring, is in the Yoruba language, “okàn”, which would seem to correspond to the mind in English.

1.3       More on the Yoruba conception of a person.

In discussing the Yoruba concept of a person, many other African philosophers have contributed to this discourse on “what defines a person?” I will be examining their works and attempt to draw similarities and differences between their conceptions and Gbadegesin.

            A person in the Yoruba thought according to Hallen and Sodipo (1986: 105) is made up of three important elements: ara (body), emi (life giving element) and ori (Spiritual head, which is thought to be responsible for human destiny). In the Yoruba concept of person, ara (body) refers to all the tangible elements that make a person both externally and internally such as the brain, kindly, intestine, heart etc. and not just the body frame which houses other constituents of a person. it is obvious that out of these three components identified by them, “ori” plays a major role because according to them, it is that which determines every significant event during the particular life time, (perhaps including the functions of the body and that of emi (the vital spirit). In other words, the temptation to think that “ori” (inner head) is the sole determinant of human personality in traditional Yoruba thought is high.

For Segun Gbadegesin {1983:208-17} Gbadegesin believed that four elements[ara,okan,emi,ori] makes up a person which differs from what Sodipo and Hallen who believed in the tripartite Yoruba conception of a person. Another point of seeming disagreement is on the issue of “ori”. Hallen and Sodipo hold that “ori” (inner head) is the sole determinant of human personality in traditional Yoruba thought is high while Gbadegesin disagrees that “ori” is the sole determinant of human destiny. Gbadegesin asserted that “okan” especially as a seat of thought has a vital role to play in determining human personality.

            Bolaji Idowu also identified himself with the tripartite conception of a person in the Yoruba thought. Idowu believes that man is made up of “ara” (body), “emi” (the life force of a person) and “ori” (inner head).for Idowu, the “ori” is the element responsible for a person personality and destiny. This view is not shared by Gbadegesin who believed that “okan” has a role to play in the determination of a person’s destiny.

            Olusegun Oladipo also pitched his tent with the tripartite Yoruba conception of a person. Oladipo believes that a person in the Yoruba thought consists of “ara” (body), “emi” (life giving entity) and “ori” (the inner head). Oladipo argued that “ara” belongs to the realm of the material, both “emi” (the life giving force) and “ori” (inner head) belong to the realm of the immaterial. Oladipo further explained that he is of the opinion that there is no way any organ can be solely taken to determine human personality in Yoruba thought because opolo (brain), “okan” (physical heart), ifun (intestine) which are all parts of the body (a material entity) also have some mental and psychic functions to perform.

             A point of discord between Gbadegesin and Oladipo is on the nature of “okan”. Oladipo categorizes “okan” as part of the internal organs of “ara” [body], while Gbadegesin contends that “okan” [heart] is another element in the structure of the human person, with a dual character. Gbadegesin agrees with Oladipo that “okan” is not just a physical heart that is responsible for all circulation of blood and it can be identified. On the disagreement note, Gbadegesin argues that “okan” is not just a physical heart that can be seen as performing some mental and psychic functions, but there is a non-physical “okan”, invisible “okan” which is responsible for all forms of conscious identity. Both writers aptly agreed that “okan” has a vital role to play as seat of thought or consciousness in determining part of human personality in Yoruba thought.

 Wande Abimbola (2006:73) goes further than what other authors discussed. Abimbola introduced the notion of “ese” to the tripartite Yoruba conception of a person. “Ese” as used by Wande Abimbola is not necessarily physical. Abimbola used it to reconcile the objection that human destiny according to the Yoruba conception of a person encourages laziness. Abimbola stressed that a person without the physical “ese” [leg] may have “ese” [work] which changes his/her potentiality.

1.4       Conclusion

In this chapter. I examined the Yoruba conception of a personhood. This chapter compared the views of some scholars like Olusegun Gbadegesin, Bolaji Idowu, Barry Hallen, Sodipo and Oladipo Balogun on the Yoruba concept of a person. This chapter found out that the Yoruba concept of a person entertains features such as “ara”, “emi” “okan” and “ori”. These features are not consensus in some quarters as they are always subjected to continuous critical evaluation. In the next chapter, I will examine the concepts of determinism, free-will, fatalism and human destiny in relation to the Yoruba conception of a person.


Abimbola, W. 1971. The Yoruba Concept of Human personality. La notion de Personneen            Afrique NoireColloques Internationale de Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique(544):   69–85.

Abimbola, Kola. (2006). Yoruba Culture: A Philosophical Account, Birmigham, Iroko. 2006.

Balogun, O.A. (2007). “The Concepts of Ori and Human Destiny in Traditional Yoruba    Thought: A Soft Deterministic Interpretation” Nordic Journal of African Studies 16 (1).

Balogun, O.A., (2010). “Ori as the Sole Determinant of Human Personality in Traditional            Yoruba-African ThoughtLUMINA, Holy Name University. Vol 21, no 2, Oct.,

M.A. Makinde, (1985),“a philosophical analysis of the Yoruba concept of Ori and human destiny”

Oduwole, E.O. (1996). “The Yoruba Concepts of ‘Ori’ and Human Destiny”: A Fatalistic Interpretation. Journal of Philosophy and Development 2(1&2): 40–52.

Olusegun Gbadegesin, (1983)“Destiny, Personality and the Ultimate Reality of Human     Existence: A Yoruba perspective

P.H.Coetzee & P.J.Roux [2003]: The African Philosophy Reader.

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