Differences Between the Yoruba & Igbo Tribes

Written by ayisatu j. taylor
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Differences Between the Yoruba & Igbo Tribes
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, with an estimated population of more than 150 million people. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

The continent of Africa is a place of natural beauty, dramatic landscapes, rich history and diverse peoples. In addition to being the world's eighth most populous country, the West African nation of Nigeria alone is home to more than one-sixth of the continent's total population. Of Nigeria's numerous ethnic groups, the Yoruba and Igbo are two of the nation's largest groups. Although they share some similarities, they possess a number of distinct differences that make unique.

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The Igbo people generally reside in southeastern Nigeria, which is commonly referred to as Igboland. Due to economic, social and political unrest, a significant number of Igbo people are also found in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Caribbean and many parts of the United States and Europe. While members of the Yoruba ethnic group are primarily found in southwestern Nigeria and all over Benin, Ghana and Togo, there are large concentrated populations in the United States and in the United Kingdom.


In addition to immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Americas, as well as other African nations, Nigeria is home to more than 150 million people from an estimated 250 tribes. Often called one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, the Yoruba are estimated to have a population of 50 million, and constitute over 20 per cent Nigeria's citizenry. Members of the Igbo tribe are believed to make up about 18 per cent of the population, boasting more than 27 million people.


Although there are a number of origin stories, according to oral traditions, the Yoruba people are believed to have migrated from the region now known as the Middle East during medieval times. From oral tradition and analysis of cultural traits and linguistic patterns, the Igbo people are descendants of people from the Sudan and Bantu-speaking peoples from Central and East Africa. While many Igbo members are primarily Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, most Yoruba people are followers of Christianity and Islam, almost equally. Some Yoruba people also adhere to traditional tribal religious beliefs.


While the citizens of Nigeria must abide by federal and state laws, traditional government and politics were extremely different. Although some Igbo groups had a king called an obi, most traditional Igbo governments were similar to a democratic-republican system. Some groups were ruled by a council of elders, while others were ruled by an assembly of citizens. Yoruba people generally preferred a monarchical government, but also had independent communities where small councils made legislative, judicial and executive decisions. Monarchical societies were primarily ruled by a king called an oba.

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