The Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes – Restricted

The Restricted Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes 
12 June 2023 
by Eben van Tonder
(last updated 13 June 2023)

Content Warning

The content of this page features graphic depictions of violence and may be offensive to sensitive readers. The subject includes descriptions of torture and human sacrifice.


This weekend I paid my first visit to the ancient West-African city of Ile Ife (ile ife), the centre of the traditional Yoruba faith. I wrote my first impressions down early the next morning in “My First Visit to Ile Ife (ile ife): Foundational Work in Uncovering our African Nutritional Heritage.” I did a general introduction to my methodology and the purpose of the notes in the “unrestricted” version of the notes where I deal with general observations from Ile Ife and related information from Africa. (The Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes) The rest of the introduction follows the same headings as those in the “unrestricted notes”, but the content is new. I expand on the thoughts I began in the other set of notes.

How do I Deal with “Haunting” Facts?

Here I deal with the more disturbing facts. Most of these, like human sacrifice, are relegated to the distant past as it is in the rest of the world. Unlike the Inca civilization from South America, where the old faith system is no longer cherished, practised and preserved as here in the Yoruba tradition, it offers us an unprecedented opportunity to interact with a system of faith who were involved in these matters, but who managed to move on from the gruesome elements of its past.

Everything I said under this same heading in The Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes must be factored in, and I stand by it. Here I want to add to my previous thoughts. Despite being closer to our current time, gruesome facts from within the faith system’s history are nothing new to religious tradition. I have, strangely enough, encountered a similar background to the faith, even in Buddhism in Nepal. I am exceptionally familiar with the Christian and therefore, by extension, aspects of the Jewish faith and offer the following for consideration.

Within these other faith systems, we do not only find human sacrifice, as I alluded to in The Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes, but we have key characters committing murder, rape, incest (father sleeping with his daughters), genocide, racial segregation and a host of abominable acts including the slaughter of babies of peoples they “disposes” from the land of Israel. Think of the sacking of Jericho in the Old Testament, where every man, woman and child was killed, and the instruction came directly from the deity.

The reader must therefore be extremely careful to deliver a harsh judgement and the Yoruba faith, exactly like the Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, are in no way at all the only system that had these practices as part of their past. One could argue that the Yoruba faith teaches tolerance and love towards all humans. If one wants to draw comparisons, the Yoruba and Ile Ife has never in their past been involved in mass slaughter and genocide as the Israelites have been, according to the Old Testament and celebrated by Christians and Jews. I am not picking a fight with any of these faiths. I am myself Christian, but to single out the Yoruba traditions as somehow being more disturbing than any of the other major faiths will be a mistake.

These faith systems were not only involved in abominations in the past but also in the present and very recent past. One needs to look no further than South Africa, where the Old Testament/ Jewish instruction from God to commit genocide was the theological basis for slavery and the continuation of indenture (a slightly lesser form of slavery, but no less brutal and discriminatory in many respects). This was true for leaders like Andries Pretorius and for many in the white population who continued to use it as justification for Apartheid as I was growing up.

Under the system of slavery, as practised by the Dutch at the Cape, human sacrifice was not allowed. In fact, it was an abomination, but slaves could have been tortured, even to the point of death and burned alive without any repercussions. The Dutch Farmers/ Boers in the 1800s regularly raided black villages, killed the parents and kidnapped the children to become their workforce on their farms. It was as barbaric as any of the worst atrocities by other cultures!

Then, one can look at the sects of Islam involved in the most abominable actions in beheadings and indiscriminate killing of innocent people in the name of their faith from the Muslim community. Few systems of faith have the history of the Roman Catholic church of torture and executions under its influence and directed by it.

So, someone who reads these things and thinks about using them to cast a negative light on the Yoruba faith is ignorant of history and completely ignorant of other parallel religious documents as we have in the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah. If they say that animal sacrifice is cruel and should belong to the past, it remains central to the life of many in the Muslim community. One must at least acknowledge that such disturbing practices are not restricted to the Yoruba faith system.

Important for the Science

Why include these at all? If my thesis is correct that ancient observations, in this case, related to nutrition, become encapsulated in religious thought, such as the preeminence of the blood; if myth grew from actual experience, the extent by which the logic of the myth was applied indicated the clarity of the observation. It becomes the logical and consistent application of the facts. It is, therefore, not evidence of a society that does not think – the exact opposite is true. It showcases a society that thinks. Allow me to show you in the notes what the relevance is to science.

Consistency in Logic

I want to pick up on a point just made that human sacrifice is a logical extension of the earliest thinking of the Yoruba faith. If animal blood is valuable, how much more valuable will human blood be and if human blood is valuable, what is the value of the blood of a king? What is the value of the blood of your own children? What is the value of the blood of your only child? You see the logic!

It could be argued that a consistent application of the Christian tradition would result in all kinds of abominations if we did not restrict or alter our interpretation of the clear, literal meaning of instructions from the Bible to believers. In this regard, the Christian stands to be the one who is “inconsistent” in the application of the faith.

I am a Christian myself and not picking a fight with the Bible. I am merely showing that it would be extremely hypocritical to be judgemental of the Yoruba faith, which teaches tolerance and love for all humanity, whose worldview and cosmology are some of the best developed on earth amongst all the faith systems.

Meat Science and Nutrition

My goal here is, however, not to discuss religion but meat science and faith as far as it contains pockets of information, revealing methods and thinking of thousands of years ago. So, with this lengthy and necessary introduction behind us, here are the things I learned from Ile Ife and from related writings from Africa.

Restricted Notes from Ile Ife

– Visit to Ile Ife on 10 June 2023

  • In certain sacrifices, the animal was not killed by simply cutting the throat, but the animal was intentionally made to suffer. If the deity requires to eat dog, the dog’s four legs are pulled in four opposite directions and the body is cut in two in the middle so that the animal exists for at least a time in two parts. The notion was that pain enhances the value of the sacrifice.
  • Animals were killed in other ways we would see as inhumane, also with the goal of maximum suffering by clubbing them to death with a hammer or other heavy object.
  • The intention of the suffering was to trouble the soul who would roam the earth and perform duties at the bidding of the diviners. In Europe, it may have had a similar purpose, even as far as animals were concerned, but in definitely included the effect it had on meat quality.
  • When the British entered the palace in Benin, they found two slaves, a male and female, hanging on two opposite ends of the room, disembowelled. The severe pain of the sacrifice was to stop the advance of the British forces, which it did not. I was told that it was the British who finally put a stop to all such practices (human sacrifice) as one of the first acts after taking control in Benin.
  • The fact that human sacrifice continued in Ile Ife till at least the late 1800s. The immediate comment must be made that Apartheid only formally ended in South Africa in 1994.
  • I am aware of child sacrifices in West Africa in distant history. I will list the references here.
  • I am told that human meat tastes better than animal meat. The tradition is not from Ile Ife and I am not sure if cannibalism was practised here, but it certainly was practised in West and Central Africa. I will find the references and share them.

From Jacob Olupona’s (2011), City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination

Human sacrifice was part of the religious system in Ile Ife. I give two sets of examples from Oluponas work.

-> Ife as Centre of Sacrafice

He records the following oriki (praise poem) which reveals Ile-Ife’s image in the ancient Yoruba kingdom as a centre for ritual sacrifice:

Abu Iteni, son of Ife, the Eternal City,
Abu, the king of Ife, the landowner, who wears velvet costumes,
Th king who wears the white coral beads.
Adimula [the Ooni] who would offer human sacrafices, cutting open the chest of victims and exposing their livers.
Such violent [human] sacrafices makes me dislike the Olufe's place.

Abu, the king of Ife, the Ooni
He who turns his face away from the incision knife.
He is forbidden to have facial scarification.
The Ooni's presence invokes fear and trembling.
One never remains standing to greet the [important] people of Ile-Ife.
Also one neverstoops to greet them in Ile-Ife.
If one does not greet them in Ife, one is asking for trouble.
If one greets them in Ife, one will be looked down upon.
If one does not greet them in Ife, one will be despised.
After having greeted them, one will become a sacrificial offering.
and so on (read the full poem in Olupona (2011))

Olupona (2011) observes that the poem points to “the popular belief that Ile-Ife was the central sacrificial centre of the Yoruba people.” My interest is in the prominent place of human sacrifice.

-> Reverend David Hinderer and Other Missionaries

Olupona (2011) describes Hinderer as “the most visible European missionary of the nineteenth-century Anglican CMS and the most important missionary visitor to the Ife people.” He “became a central figure in attempts to evangelize the Yoruba.” Hinderer’s second visit to Ile Ife took place in 1875. A missionary from Sierra Leonean named Thomas was stationed in Ile Ife. “Hinderer stated in his report: ‘Things went well for a while until the faithful man [Thomas] would no longer bear continued human sacrifices which the king had promised to stop.” (Olupona, 2011) Olupona comments that “His [Themos’] remarks indicate how strongly the people of Ife were attached to traditional beliefs and practices.” Hinderer continued to remind the Ooni of Ife to step human sacrifices. He met with the Ife chiefs and admonished them to stop their “daily human sacrifices.” (Olupona, 2011)

I agree with Olupona’s (2011) observation that Hinderer failed to recognise the central role of ancestral worship chiefly because it involved human sacrifice and his efforts were overshadowed by his missionary zeal. It resonates with me as I ignored the historical belief that animals must suffer to produce better meat and refused to interact with the data. I failed to gain a better understanding of the cultural and technological context.

Ile-Ife as a Sacred Space and Ceremonial Center

Olupona’s discussion of the “why” behind human sacrifice is foundational to putting the practice into context. Not just in the emergence of the Ifa system of beliefs but much broader in terms of the existence of all the other systems of faith. It involves the co-existence of the natural and observable and the religious mythology.

A few preliminary thoughts. He describes religion as being in the first place “pretheoretical.” He writes that “in the first encounter, religion is not an ‘intellectual’ enterprise. Before codified and written or oral corporal, the religious doctrines of various cultures all over the world occurred to their ‘founders’ primarily on the basis of a series of unique spiritual experiences, each particular to a specific geographic and cultural region. Canonical authority for devotees of various religions came into being long after the death of their founders. Consequently, there is confusion between religion as a unique phenomenon and religion as an intellectual exercise.”

Olupona encourages Westerners and those with Western thinking who want to understand the Yoruba faith system of Ile Ife to reach “beyond the limitations of secular humanism, and scepticism. One must be willing to develop an awareness of Yoruba and African worldviews, imagination, and hermeneutics that allow for a culture that is remarkably adaptable, profound, and open to creative meanings and interpretations.”

In Olupona’s consideration, the natural and observable is a physical space, namely Ile Ife but I think the concept can just as easily be extended to include a mental space. It is the heart of my contention that before the city of Ile Ife or any other such location on earth, there had to be a mental world that developed where observable facts were used as the reason for including physical elements into religious mythology. I, of course, refer to the fact that blood became the key sacrificial offering mainly due to its observable value over any other part of the animal carcass in its close relationship with life (you can live without a limb, but not without blood) and its seemingly magical nutritional value.

In The Ile Ife (ile ife) Notes, I have shown that the sacrificial system related to blood possibly originated in the dietary value of blood, which we traced back to its zink content and the observed reality that as blood leaves the body, “life departs” leading to the conclusion that the life of the animal is in its blood. It is, therefore, the intersection of symbolic and physical myth.

The existence of what is brutal must be considered in particular as it is this fact that is most troubling to the mind. Olupona (2011) shows Ile Ife as a place where “symbolic and historic myths intersect.” He references the work of David Carrasco who investigated the Aztec civilisation and emphasized the importance of Tenochtitlan “as one of the few historical examples of a city that emerged out of a ritual centre based upon religious violence integral to urbanization.” He analyzed the Aztec city as “a public sphere that becomes possible only because of ceremonially cultivated cruelty and institutionalized hatred.” “As urban centres continued to expand outward from their ceremonial cores, a civilization emerged that used institutionalized human sacrifice as a means to construct both warrior and urban identities based on a series of myths, hierophanies, sacred centres, and rituals.”

Referencing Long, Olupona (2011) says that “the ceremonial centre allows for the ‘domestication’ of space. . . The urban community relies upon this sacred centre as a means of defining itself and projecting an identity to the world at large.”This sacrad centre “organizes human consciousness by domesticating both conceptual and physical space.” (Olupona, 2011)

Ile Ife is sacred “because it represents a point of intersection between heaven, earth, and the underworld. The symbolic union of these three cosmic regions is identified through ritual, magic, and historical myth. This identity of residents of the sacred city requires that people be ordered and stratified according to patterns described by sacred myth and set at the city’s genesis.”

He quotes Long that “the experience of the sacred reveals the social structure as an arena in which intimacy and obligation, actualities and potentials, and habits and conduct are defined and clarified. It is within the social structure that the dynamic relationship between groups and persons express a generality of conduct and behaviour that becomes normative for the society, thus defining the events of social life.” He draws the conclusion that “the need for such definitions explains the genesis of oral texts, mythologies, and belief systems that bring order, ethics, and a system of morality to a multidimensional centre. The centre is determined, not solely by the specific geometric dimensions imagined in Western scientific thought, but instead by several microcosms collectively constituting a sacred space.” He makes the important remark that “it is space that expands from such places as the ritual drum, which expresses the energy of the divine and which only the drummer can truly hear.”

The centre, even for the Yoruba culture, is not only the sacred city, but also includes the beliefs, ritual practices, mythology, and arts of the inhabitants of the city.

My questions about offerings, where I link it with an ancient observed value of blood, caused confusion when I presented it in Ile Ife. This was pointed out to me by Araba Agbaye, the “highest-ranking priest in the world” or “the leader of all priests worldwide”, in WhatsApp communication in the week following my return to Lagos. He told me that his view is spiritual and my starting point is physical or scientific. My questions stem, however from a hypothesis that the two are interrelated. Olupona (2011) observes that Ile Ife is sacred exactly because it represents a point of intersection between heaven, earth, and the underworld. “The symbolic union of these three cosmic regions is identified through ritual, magic, and historical myth.” My thesis about the origins of the use of blood as observed nutritional value, intersecting with a desire to please or appease the divine and mythology that is created around this is the point of my work on the subject and is in line with the conclusions of the nature of Ile Ife as to what makes it a sacred space.

Human sacrifice is to me simply the extension of the same logic. Blood is better than intestines or meat. Meat is better than fruits and vegetables. Human is better than animal.

In evaluating the validity of Olupona’s approach and conclusions, I realised that there are striking similarities between his characterisation of the development of religion within a particular geographical location, the observed phenomenon that these often develop from institutionalised violence and that mythology, historical events and physically observed phenomenon intermingles to create a “cocktail of beliefs” that collectively becomes the morality and faith system of a particular cultural group.

For the first time in my life, I was able to identify the religious movements among the Afrikaners from South Africa to have followed a similar trajectory. There has been a tight connection between being Afrikaans and the faith of the Afrikaner as it developed from the late 1800s till 1994 in what is referred to as Afrikaner nationalism, but in reality, had all the hallmarks of a distinct religion. The faith-system of Afrikaner Nationalism was largely dismantled when the advent of democracy necessitated a radical re-alignment of the complete faith system when apartheid became illegal. Similarly, I have found the emergence of new mythology within the Yoruba tradition following the imposition of a rules-based society in Nigeria where human sacrifice was outlawed.

Still, there are large parts of the Afrikaner community in South Africa who still hold on to the old belief system in the same way as there are still very small pockets of Nigerians who embrace human sacrifice.

The old classic Afrikaner religion (Afrikaner Nationalism) has largely been replaced by a dynamic, inclusive, progressive and generally productive branch of Christianity that is able to accommodate the realities in Africa with all its challenges better than most other Western cultures. Olupona’s conclusions are validated by the experience of the development of Afrikaner Nationalism.

Even in Apartheid South Africa, not everybody was fooled by Afrikaner Nationalism. I am proud to say that from my great-grandparents, and by and large, most of my family rejected racial discrimination as not consistent with their religious tradition. They saw the violent Old Testament realities as contrary to a new path that was taught by Jesus Christ who brought about a progression of the old faith of violence and genocide to a faith system where every human is equal. As such, I am able to embrace the African spirit of my forefathers where I can hold on to the teachings handed down by them with an inherent belief in the equal ability of all cultural groups. Since my visit to Ile Ife, I have engaged in many “discussions” with my forefathers whom I developed the greatest respect for over the years. I have been able to study their lives through the work of my Uncle, Jan Kok. There is a large group of South Africans who, like my family rejected Afrikaner Nationalism and who saw it as a quasi-religious movement.

I see this exact same kind of progression in the Yoruba faith system of Ile Ife where there is an inherent dynamic element in the faith that is able to hold on to old traditions while it re-invents itself to accommodate new and changing realities that face its adherents.

References to Human Sacrifices and Other Cultures

A brief mention of the Inca and other cultures who used human sacrifice is in order.

– The Inca

The relationship between sacrafice and what is valuable is seen in other religions where human sacrafice were part of the regular religious experience. “The Inca ruler himself was considered to be the son of the sun god, thus Inca emperors were worshipped and considered divine, inhabiting the apex of a vast theocratic state.” (MacQuarrie, 2013) I include this quote from leading anthropologist Kim MacQuarrie to show important similarities in the belief system of the Inca and Ile Ife related to the nature of the king as being a god himself. She writes that in the extraordinary harsh conditions where the Inca lived, human and child sacrafices were used to negotiate a better deal with the gods. She writes, “To create and maintain relationships with their gods, the Incas gave them a variety of offerings. These ranged from simple prayers, food, coca leaves and woven cloth to animals, blood and, in the ultimate sacrifice, human beings. In especially uncertain times, such as when an emperor died, or when volcanoes erupted or severe earthquakes or famine struck, priests sacrificed captured warriors or specially raised, perfectly formed children to the gods. The Incas believed in an afterlife and that the children they sacrificed would inhabit a better, and more abundantly provided for, world.” (MacQuarrie, 2013)

– Human Sacrafice in Other Religions

MacQuarrie (2013) writes that “the Incas were not the first culture to resort to human sacrifice in times of great stress or need. The Celts of Ireland and Britain frequently made human sacrifices to their gods. Mongols, Scythians, early Egyptians and various Mesoamerican groups all made human sacrifices for one reason or another. Closer to home, the Greek author Homer wrote of how Iphigenia was set to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to ensure success in the Trojan war (he ultimately sacrificed a deer instead). And in the Hebrew Bible, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, an angel stopped Abraham at the last moment. Abraham sacrificed a ram instead, but only after “learning to fear God”. (MacQuarrie, 2013) Her reference to the Jewish and Christian traditions of human sacrifice correlates with the same observations I’ve made and, by extension, the human sacrafice of Jesus in the Christian tradition.

Questions to answer

  • I came across this notion that pain in the animal when it is being slaughtered enhances the meat. It was so objectionable to me that I did not even note the references. These came from Europe. I will find it and add it here. This point puts the Jewish and Muslim insistence on kosher and halal slaughter into a completely new light and stands as revolutionary thought in antiquity on the matter. It also shows that if a law had to be put in place to ensure a non-painful death, during the time when the law was developed, the opposite must have been a widespread practice.
  • Does an animal have a soul or spirit?
  • Within the Christian tradition where Jesus became a human sacrifice, I see evidence of “suffering enhancing” the value of his sacrifice. A lot is made about his suffering. It is romanticised and plays a key part in the Christian mythology. Is it fair to say that suffering and sacrifice were intimately connected even in the Christian tradition?


Sacrafice is worship where the deity is given the best we have. It is also the appeasement of the god for sins or offences and lastly, it is currency to “buy” from the diety what we require on earth such as wealth and health. Blood is better than the rest of the animal carcass. The value of blood is in the iron content. The role of suffering must still be dealt with.

Please email me at or WhatsApp me at +27 71 545 3029, if you have any comments, explanations or further information.

YouTube clip on my way to Ife:

YouTube link where I reflect on my day in the city is:

Notes from Ife and other sources

Introduction to the general subject

Menu Page

The menu page for work on ancient meat technology and nutrition is: “Meat: From Prehistory into the More Recent, but Still, Distant Past


Frobenius, Leo. (Originally published: 1913)The Voice of Africa, Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912

Jacob Olupona’s (2011), City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination

MacQuarrie, K. (2013) Why the Incas offered up child sacrifices. The ObserverAnthropology

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