The Socio-Cultural Functionality of Yoruba Court Poetry


Lawal, M. A.


This paper examines the socio-cultural functions of Yoruba Court Poetry (YCP) using data from the palace of the Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ, a prominent monarch in Nigeria. It argues that, ́ contrary to popular opinions, YCP does not just eulogise the king but serves as a medium through which many social values can be maintained and reinforced. The study employs the interview method of generating data as the palace poet of the monarch was interviewed during the process of which he gave a rendition of the chants, which were later qualitatively analysed. The analysis was done in line with concepts from the Functionalism theory of Bronislaw Malinowski. The analysis revealed that YCP performs so many functions that it can even be used to solve some societal challenges. Hence, the study concludes that YCP should be recognised as an authentic sub-genre of Yorùbá oral poetryseparately from personal and lineage panegyrics. It is also recommended that it should be taught in conventional schools and the new media.


court poetry, socio-cultural, functionality, interview, eulogy.


This study attempts to examine Yorùbá Court Poetry (YCP), as a sub-genre of Yorùbá Oral Poetry. Therefore, the study is in the ethnographical field of oral literature. Court Poetry (CP) is also occasionally called Royal Poetry (Akíntúndé). It includes the poems, songs, and chants collected, composed, and chanted or recited by bards, spouses, and children of a ruler or leader usually for the purpose of eulogy. The fact that in every society, there is usually a bond between the ruler(s) and the ruled is already well established. Often, the ruled assist in propagating and entrenching the identity and personality of the rulers in a bid to avow the supremacy of their leader. This emphasises the sovereignty of the society and its leaders. CP is one of the materials used by members of a society to highlight the authority and impact of their ruler and their society. In addition, the genre reveals the poet's allegiance to his patron(s) (Cope 22). Sometimes, the bards compose the poems for the society and the monarch. When this occurs, the people can identify with the leader, and appropriate his attributes to the entire society and her members.


In the opinion of Bronislaw Malinowski, the functionalist theory focuses on the idea that all human occasions and actions have a cultural, practical, and special function. This is why functionalists believe that it is imperative and more fulfilling for the functions of the activities of people to be studied in order to exploit the usage of such activities for the betterment of society. Malinowski also posits, “the human societies and culture are best understood as an assemblage of contrivances for satisfying the biological and psychological needs of the human organism that makes up the society (ix). This emphasises the idea that society will habitually have “biological and psychological needs”, which the cultural activities are expected to solve. This confirms the functionalist notion of “the theory of need”, which accentuates the functionalist ideology that every cultural activity has certain functions it performs in society. In the opinion of A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, another prominent scholar of functionalism, Function is “…the part it plays in the social life as a whole and therefore contribution it makes to the maintenance of the structural continuity” (396). Like Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown accentuates the point that if the needs of a society are not fulfilled, the consequences will be severe and could disrupt the permanence of the progressive processes of the society


This paper has attempted to examine the socio-cultural functionality of Yorùbá court poetry. It starts by discussing the nature of CP using the works of different scholars before delving into its focus. Through a semi-structured interview of the palace bards, the paper utilises data on YCP from the palace of the Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ, Nigeria. It examines the content in a bid to ́ deduce these functions and accentuate the functionalist idea of the theory of need. The functionalism of Bronislaw Malinowski emphasises the theory of need, which is a concept that focuses on the idea that every human or cultural activity has a purpose, which he calls a need. This has been found to be true especially in relation to the content of YCP. Some of the functions YCP performs include psychotherapy, conflict resolution, teaching of morals, portrayal of societal beliefs and values, etc. It is believed that if these functions are judiciously espoused, they can avail the society by serving as source of development and solution to contemporary challenges. Hence, it is recommended that YCP could serve as an unorthodox solution to modern challenges in the society. It therefore becomes imperative that individuals should be made to learn their CP as well as have a passing knowledge of that of others. This can be achived through the social media where the chants can be streamed for easy access. The chants could also be taught in schools by being entrenched in syllabuses of Nigerian languages. This will help to prevent the genre from going into extinction as it is largely based on memory. It will also decolonize education and learning especially as the oral forms that perform these functions have been in existence for a long time and are still relevant today especially when adapted to contemporary usage/media.


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