Iwa rere ni eso eniyan- good character is the beauty of a person. Yoruba is the mother tongue of upward of ten million people who live in the Western region of Nigeria and adjoining areas of the Northern region. It covers states such as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, kwara and Ogun. Among these groups, the understanding of Iwa or omoluabi is the same; there is no controversy in its meaning and usage. It is worthy of note therefore that, to look for appropriate word or synonymous to virtue in Yoruba is difficult, because of deficiency in translation. It is on this ground that iwa will be used as concept of virtue. Iwa in English language is character which does not capture the entire meaning of iwa in Yoruba language.
Inu bibi o da nnkan indignation does not bring forth anything good
Suru baba iwa patience is the best of characters
Agba t’oni suru a patient elder has everything
Ohun gbogbo l’o ni the truth of this thesis is adequately demonstrated
Dia fun ori, a bu fun iwa in the incidence of destiny that lacks good character
Tiwa nikan lo soro nurturing as well as exhibiting good character is difficult
Ori kan oburu n’ ile ife no destiny is bad in pristine ife
The above extract from ifa literary corpus will serve as a strong fulcrum to the understanding of the Yoruba concept of virtue. From this extract we see a scud of affiliation between iwa and ori, this means Yoruba hold high to ori and iwa. The question is why?
Iwa is said to be the synonym of virtue in Yoruba culture, since iwa is explained as the acquisition of good character. And virtue we say from the western and Christian understanding is a firm disposition towards good in a consistent manner. It therefore means that both iwa in the Yoruba context and virtue in the western understanding drive at the derivation of good that effects one’s personal life and the lives of all around him. If iwa can be substituted for virtue in the Yoruba culture, then what is iwa according to Yoruba belief?
According to J.A.I Bewaji, iwa baba ini, olu gbogbo ola imo ijinle, oba gbogbo oro can only be understood within the context of iwapele. It therefore means that for any meaningful exegesis of iwa to be carried out, it must be looked from gamut of iwapele. Iwapele according to Fayemi Kazeem Ademola is the fruit of a stem called omoluabi, and omoluabi is a child given birth to by the highest being of perfected character. By this it follows to say that omoluabi exhibits iwapele. But this has not fully done justice to the concept of iwapele. Iwapele according to Oyeshile is a valuable asset in a life of any child which serves as a fertile soil to grow other valuable characters like inurere and iteriba which helps the core Yoruba child find his/her place in the society.
From the above, it is obvious that iwapele is more or less like the mother of every good character in the sense that it is through it that all other characters are gotten. Iwapele can easily be taken to mean suru (patience), a character that attracts every other good and essential character to dwell in anyone who possesses it. Through iwapele, iteriba (respect) and inurere (good intention) is built. Anyone who has these three mother character is said to be omoluabi- a child or being that has what it takes to be in the society, someone who has a place amongst his/her people, one who knows how to talk, when to talk and what to say while talking (one who is sagacious). He must know what to do and what not to do and how to do what ought to be done. He /she (the omoluabi in view) must be respectful and good nurtured towards all, ready to accept the will of the elders and obedient to the customs and traditions of the people. All these are made possible through iwa because iwa is rated above all other valuable things, such that a person who has all the other valuable things and opportunities of life but lacks good character or moral beingness, which is the essence of proper human existence, will sooner than later forfeit all his material possessions which would not let him be moral.
To summarise this notion of virtue in Yoruba culture is to posit this Yoruba adjectival phrase iwapele ati omoluabi loba
Conclusively, we dare to say that the concept of virtue is not a strange phenomenon to the Yoruba culture.