Are Yoruba men really exceptionally unfaithful?
“This might be feeding confirmation bias about Yoruba men being handsome and dashing, but perennially thirsty and untrustworthy philistines”.
At first glance, this does not seem to be the most pertinent question in a country like Nigeria. This is partly because Nigeria has a lot more important issues to worry about, and partly because we all “know” that the “Yoruba Demon” is a real person whom we have all met and interacted with. In Nigerian pop culture as well as in real life, the existence of this attractive creature of the night is treated not as a hypothesis, but as an actual scientific fact.
While many vehemently disagree, there is a school of thought that believes that this masculine creature of the nether worlds, who typically goes by names like Femi, Tunde, Tunji, Kayode, Timi and Dare, is an actual cultural reality with economic and historical context to explain its existence.
Halfway across the continent, the existence of the Congolese Dandy subculture is evidence that in some parts of Africa, subcultures that Nigerians recognise as that of the Yoruba Demon actually exist and are widely acknowledged. But is the Yoruba Demon a comparable concept? Or is it in fact a made-up identity and a borderline ethnic slur?
The Yoruba Demon – A Historical Perspective
In the early to mid 1970s, driven by a petroleum price surge fueled by tensions in the Arab world, Nigeria found itself in the midst of a post-civil war economic updraft. The oil boom of that decade and the resultant rapid expansion of Nigeria’s consumer economy are the stuff of legend these days. Apart from funding scarcely believable stunts like ordering 30% of the world’s entire cement supply and leaving this so-called “Cement Armada” to go bad off the coast of Lagos, the oil boom did something else.
You can hear it when you listen to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s music from this period. Unlike the angry, revolutionary, regime-excoriating stuff he would later come to be known for, Fela’s music from 1970-1974 was light hearted social commentary delivered by a talented musician who clearly didn’t take things too seriously.
These were the boom times, fed by a perfect storm of high government revenue, Africanisation of the economy (government-sponsored buyouts or expropriation of colonial businesses), and the heady, libertine, hippie spirit of the 1970s which came with sexual liberation and unprecedented improvements in standard of living.
Within this context, it is easy to imagine how the Lagos-centred Nigerian economy and state at the time would be characterised by happy-go-lucky young men chasing their fortune and exercising their love for multiple skirts. This is further complicated by the fact that no indigenous culture in Nigeria was in fact monogamous in the modern sense we understand, prior to colonialism.
In other words, the concept of multiple sexual partners being an abnormal or undesirable thing simply did not exist outside of the most puritanical churches.
Is it possible that somehow amidst this dea of context, a type of Nigerian man emerged who was newly unshackled from the constraints of social conservatism and having the time of his life in an exploding consumer economy funded by a cash-flush, welfarist government which famously declared that its problem was not money, but how to spend it? Did the so-called Yoruba Demon bubble forth from this cauldron of accidents, coincidences and 70s-era Pan African socialism? Or is this character archetype a fiction used to slander our friends named earlier?
Is the Yoruba Demon Nigeria’s “Florida Man?”
Every so often, a piece of American meme culture escapes into the wild and makes its way around the world leaving a trail of “LOL” comments and cry-laughing emojis in its wake. One of the most delicious examples of this is the infamous “Florida Man” meme which trades on the belief that inhabitants of the coastal state of Florida are fundamentally different to the rest of the USA. As the meme goes, if you google “Florida man” (or “Florida woman”)and check the search and news results, you will be deluged with some of the weirdest stories you have ever seen on the internet.
Fifty-five year-old woman strips herself naked and goes on a rampage, climbing tables and throwing bottles inside a restaurant? Florida woman. Man wrestles alligator for a bet and wins? Must be Florida man. Man smears himself in faeces and runs down the street hurling fecal matter at passersby? Definitely Florida man. Man accidentally lights himself on fire and suffers second degree burns while trying to light the world’s biggest spliff? Can only be Florida man. Man throws a baby at a police officer during a high speed police chase? Who else but Florida man?
In fact there is so much factual news content out there seemingly dedicated to proving that human beings in that geographical location are wired differently that it is easy to start believing that people from Florida are actually missing a couple of screws in important places. This assumption however – regardless of how entertaining it is – is unfortunately wrong. The real explanation for the Florida man phenomenon is much more prosaic than one would imagine. The surfeit of kooky “Florida man” stories is in fact merely down to the state’s Freedom Of Information laws, which make it very easy for the media to access arrest records from law enforcement.
In other words, the reason there are so many weird and unbelievable Florida Man stories out there in comparison to other American states is simply because Florida grants journalists access to police arrest records much more readily than other states do. Hence, it could in fact be the case that the actual capital of weird and kooky occurrences in the States is Ohio or Vermont or Michigan – but without access to that information, nobody could possibly ever know. Florida Man therefore, is a self-created and self-fulfilling perception fueled by an information imbalance which leads to a widespread confirmation bias.
The “Yoruba Demon” phenomenon can be contextualised this way too.
Put simply, regardless of Abuja’s existence and the rapid growth of the rest of urban Nigeria, Lagos remains the spiritual capital of Nigeria – its beating heart and soul. Nigeria’s news media is overwhelmingly domiciled in Lagos. The city remains the undisputed leader of Nigeria’s pop culture, which means that whatever story or narrative dominates conversations in Lagos automatically dominates Nigeria. The majority ethnic group in Lagos is of course, the Yoruba, which like Florida Man, creates the possibility of a confirmation bias based on a simple feedback loop.
If Nigeria’s cultural centre were to move to Benin or Jos or Enugu or Port Harcourt, would it be the case that Osato, Julius, Chukwuemeka or Calistus would simply become Nigeria’s new *insert ethnic identity* “Demon”? It is impossible to say because Nigeria’s cultural and economic centre is not shifting from Lagos anytime soon, which means that stories about the escapades of the men who predominate in Lagos and the surrounding southwest continue to receive disproportionate attention and coverage. This might be feeding confirmation bias about Yoruba men being handsome and dashing, but perennially thirsty and untrustworthy philistines.
Of course, this hypothesis could be entirely wrong. It could actually be the case that the Yoruba Demon is a genetic, cultural and historical fact that this writer may be in denial about due to his own Yoruba blood. Until data is presented confirming this however, the Yoruba Demon will remain a popular myth sustained by semi-jokey meme culture, as against a real, actual personality archetype.
That is my story and I am sticking to it.