An African Experience At Oyotunji Village



An African Experience: Oyotunji

Originally Founded In 1970 So That People Of African Decent Living In America Could Understand How Their Ancestors Lived

Oyotunji Village Entrance [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]

There's approximately 4.8 million people living in South Carolina. Twenty of those people live in Oyotunji, the only African village in the United States. The village was originally founded in 1970 so people of African decent living in America could understand how their ancestors lived, but – with daily tours – the nonprofit organization “is positioned as the pinnacle center for learning, exploring and celebrating the ancient traditions and culture of the Yoruba people of present-day West Africa.”

Better than a textbook or documentary, the Oyotunji African Village lets visitors immerse themselves in an authentic African village. “It's important that every person – every people – know about their own customs,” said Iya Adaramola, the principal of the village's Yoruba Academy (and wife of the previous king).

Open to the public from 10 to dusk, seven days a week, visitors see the village's monuments and shrines that were built to their gods and ancestors. They see the marketplace. They see the dwellings, the homes. They can observe the village's festivities, of which there is one large festival a month for their dietes.

“While the permanent population may be small,” said Adaramola, “we do have people scattered throughout the communities. They use this as the center-point of the people. This is the nation.”

When the African village was founded in 1970, there were 150 people living within the community. Over time people left and started other cultural houses throughout the United States. But they're not the type of people to forget their roots, where it all began.

The Oyotunji African Village was founded by His Royal Highness Oba (King) Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I (born Walter Eugene King on Oct. 5, 1928 in Detroit). Adefunmi began his African studies at age 16 “to begin his great quest for the gods of Africa.” An individual passionate about his culture and heritage, Adefunmi founded churches and African clothing lines in his earlier years.

Gathering Together For A Village Party [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]
The Village's Royal Family [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]

According to the village's official website, he founded the village in 1970, when he “began the careful reorganization of the Orisa Vodu priesthood along the traditional Nigerian lines.” He later founded a priest council to organize laws and rules and adjudicate disputes among the priests.

“We live how people live in Africa,” stated Adaramola. “A lot of people work very hard, working for themselves. We do the growing of the food. Most of the people here now are educated and free to work on the outside, but most of us make our living here.”

It's through tours and tourism that the villagers maintain the community, along with fundraisers. The money from visitors pays for the buildings, the electricity and other constant upgrading needed to keep a village running. So why should people be interested in visiting?

“It's the same way they visit other parks. It's to find out what's happening. Why do most people go to places? You go to find out,” said Adaramola. “People are inquisitive and adventurous. They want to learn.”

It's unclear if Adaramola is speaking about people in general or herself when she says this. She moved to the village in 1975, back when there were over 100 villagers. She moved to the village to learn more about her people's culture and traditions. She moved to the village to make a mark.

Growing up, Adaramola had always been interested in things that concerned her people, her heritage. Growing up in the south, she experienced racism and segregation first-hand. Going to school in the north, she learned all about her people's history and her own culture.

She arrived at Oyotunji African Village in the middle of the night. The road was dark and narrow. She felt nervous. She wanted to leave. She vowed she would head home in the morning, when it was light.

But as she got closer to the village things changed.

Dancing to ancient songs at Oyotunji [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]
Vintage photo of the village [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]
The village [Photo Credit:Agbadjigan Olaitan]

They were celebrating King's Day, in honor of the founder of the village. People were awake upon her arrival and greeted her into the compound. When she woke up she heard birds chirping. She felt overtaken by peace.

She didn't leave the village at all for the first three months.

She said: “The peace of it, you just have to come and experience it yourself.”

When Adaramola arrived at the village she found various ways to make money. She sold food. She started sewing food. She then began making books and pamphlets on their culture and religion. Soon she was the principal of the Yoruba Academy, which is a dream come true for her.

“We had segregated schools growing up, but I loved my teachers,” she recalled. “We didn't learn about African culture. That just wasn't something that was taught back then. But the teachers taught us with such pride. They were so caring. When I came here, I saw that the students truly wanted to learn. They were always on time. I just want to inspire them.”

For Adaramola, the best part of living at the Oyotunji African Village is making a mark while doing what she loves. And that's what other village members experience as well.

After over 45 years of sustaining the only kingdom baed on traditional Yoruba sociology and values, the village continues to bring culture, art, history and even celebration, happiness and friendship to all who visit it. Step outside the books and experience what life is truly like for the Yoruba people. Step into the Oyotunji African Village: A vibrant living history experience that can't be had anywhere else.

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Camp Lake Jasper

Make Sure To Stay At:

Camp Lake Jasper, conveniently located just minutes off of Interstate 95 at Exit 8. Spend the day golfing, shopping, dining, or enjoying the beach and then return for a relaxing night by the campfire.

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