Differences Between the Yoruba & Igbo Tribes

Image of Lagos, in Nigeria.
... viti/iStock/Getty Images

The continent of Africa is a place of natural beauty, dramatic landscapes, rich history and diverse peoples. In addition to being the world's eighth most populous country, the West African nation of Nigeria alone is home to more than one-sixth of the continent's total population. Of Nigeria's numerous ethnic groups, the Yoruba and Igbo are two of the nation's largest groups. Although they share some similarities, they possess a number of distinct differences that make each unique.

1 Home Region and Diaspora

The Igbo people generally reside in southeastern Nigeria, which is commonly referred to as Igboland. Due to economic, social and political unrest, a significant number of Igbo people are also found in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Caribbean and many parts of the United States and Europe. While members of the Yoruba ethnic group are primarily found in southwestern Nigeria and all over Benin, Ghana and Togo, there are large concentrated populations in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

2 Percentage of Population

In addition to immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Americas, as well as other African nations, Nigeria is home to more than 150 million people from an estimated 250 tribes. Often called one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, the Yoruba are estimated to have a population of 50 million, and constitute over 20 percent Nigeria's citizenry. Members of the Igbo tribe are believed to make up about 18 percent of the population, boasting more than 27 million people.

3 Tribal Origins and Religion

Although there are a number of origin stories, according to oral traditions, the Yoruba people are believed to have migrated from the region now known as the Middle East during medieval times. From oral tradition and analysis of cultural traits and linguistic patterns, the Igbo people are descendants of people from the Sudan and Bantu-speaking peoples from Central and East Africa. While many Igbo members are primarily Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, most Yoruba people are followers of Christianity and Islam, almost equally. Some Yoruba people also adhere to traditional tribal religious beliefs.

4 Councils and Kings

While the citizens of Nigeria now must abide by federal and state laws, traditional government and politics were extremely different. Although some Igbo groups had a king called an obi, most traditional Igbo governments were similar to a democratic-republican system. Some groups were ruled by a council of elders, while others were ruled by an assembly of citizens. Yoruba people generally preferred a monarchical government, but also had independent communities where small councils made legislative, judicial and executive decisions. Monarchical societies were primarily ruled by a king called an oba.

Ayisatu J. Taylor is a graduate of Smith College and has been writing for more than six years. She is attending graduate school for a degree in emergency health studies with a concentration on disaster response and recovery management. Taylor's work on travel, health and gardening can be seen on numerous websites.