The beauty of the Yoruba culture lies in their ability to give names to people, places, or objects, and the use of literary expressions for these characters, especially when it is about their stories in the past. Just like they have names like “Ajike, Abeke, Alake, Alao, Akanni, Adunni, etc.,” which each has its story and meaning, they also have names for objects or activities like “Ilari (cutting comb), owo (broom), Igbeyawo (wedding), ajo (thrift), etc.
The same way there is a Yoruba word for “husband,” which is “Oko,” is the same way they call “Aya” as “wife.” However, in comparison to “Iyawo,” the frequently used and acceptable word for wife in Yorubaland, the word “Aya,” which also means wife, is underused among the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria. It’s interesting to note that other Nigerian society members are now using the term “Iyawo.” Iyawo has been used in several regions, especially in the West, to describe a newlywed.
In the past, when a husband wanted to call his wife, he would say “aya mi,” but in recent times, husbands, including the families of both parties and even friends, now call it “Iyawo or Iyawo wa.” In other words, people were not familiar with “Iyawo” until an incident happened in Yoruba history.
In this piece, I will be revealing the origin of the Yoruba word “Iyawo” and how it became a popular word to date.
Once upon a time, a highly attractive princess and the first monarch of Iwo Town in ancient Yorubaland, Wuraola, was looking for a patient, understanding, and affectionate spouse. In the past, ambitious and diligent suitors like Sango and Ogun travelled to Iwo town to make marriage proposals to Wuraola. Unfortunately, neither Wuraola nor a cordial engagement with her was bestowed upon them.
History has it that Wuraola had insulted and cursed her suitors, forcing them all to leave the village of Iwo on the same day they arrived because they couldn’t stand her terrible behaviour. She had a behaviour of giving unfriendly gestures and intolerance toward suitors.
Soon after, Orunmila, a well-known Yoruba historical figure and attractive guy, went to Iwo town to ask Wuraola for her hand in marriage. He sought advice from Olodumare, the king of the Yoruba Kingdom, before beginning his expedition.
Olodumare gave Orunmila some advice, among which was the knowledge that he must exercise patience in order to win Wuraola’s affection. He was not given a cordial welcome by Wuraola when he arrived at the king’s palace. Orunmila thanked the monarch for the nice gesture and offered him gifts in response. He surprisingly stayed in Iwo for a few days despite the princess’ unfriendly demeanour.
Orunmila spent seven days at Iwo, which is best described as hell on earth. Orunmila received neither food nor water from Wuraola. Orunmila was insulted to the core, yet he maintained his composure and grinned at her. He even grinned when she seized his pouch (apo ominijekun) and used his opon ifa (divination board) as firewood. Even though Orunmila was boiling over with wrath, he didn’t show it and followed Olodumare’s instructions before he journeyed to Iwo.
The king of Iwo town then gave Wuraola in marriage to Orunmila on the sixth day of his stay there after deciding that he was a patient, gentle, and tolerant man, suitable to marry his daughter. The aim was for Wuraola’s terrible actions to put her suitors to the test in order to find her a husband with decent manners and a temper.
Wuraola was described as a wonderful, considerate, and polite person. Orunmila was relieved that he had followed Olodumare’s advice, and on the seventh day, he and Wuraola returned to his hometown.
Orunmila’s accomplishment was applauded and appreciated by the residents of his community. This is why anytime Orunmila was asked about his wife, he would respond with, “Iya ti mo je ni Iwo” (my sorrows in Iwo). This is how wives came to be known as Iya-Iwo (sufferings in Iwo) and later Iyawo.