By Olatunbosun Samuel Adekogbe and Olusanjo Mathew Abayomi Daramola 


The distinctiveness of one culture is what demarcates it from other human societies. In Africa, the cultural values accrued to motherhood are vested in domestic responsibilities identified as a child nurturer and developer. This is quantified by the woman’s relationship to family and society in general, something which is expressed by Jimi Solanke in his song “Iya o se Paaro” (Mother cannot be exchanged), a song which was purposively selected for this paper. While a number of other musicians in Nigeria have sung about the roles of fathers in African society and their leading positions, Jimi Solanke is specifically concerned about the values of mothers in society. He relates these values to mothers as nurturers and caretakers of the home and within society. This is culturally understood to entail a totality of traits that are peculiar to African mothers. Values here are to be understood as beliefs that suggest in detail what should be considered as legitimate, right, as well as worth giving importance in life. (Leith. 34) emphasizes that culturally, African women are the transmitters of the language, history, and oral culture, music dance, habits, and artisanal knowledge, a position which Jimi Solanke also subscribed to in his music. For example, ‘iya lo lu gbo’wo mi’ regards mothers as the teachers first and then the caretakers of their children from infancy until they step into adulthood. Jimi Solanke opines that mothers are equally responsible for instilling traditional values and knowledge in children. Moreover, within the African traditional culture and amongst prominent religions across the globe comprising Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, motherhood as a phenomenon is given special importance. Not only it is widely held as an exalted realm for the woman, religious imagery even sentimentalizes and idealizes motherhood. The image of Madonna is intrinsic to Christian femininity while Devi-Ma is worshipped in the Hindu religion. Africans talk about the creation goddess often depicted as a mermaid or a beautiful woman and associated with the moon and ocean. The idea of self-sacrifice emphasizes the centrality of motherhood in African society (Ogini. 11-19).

In another song, titled ‘Iya ni Wura’ (Mother is Gold) Jimi Solanke refers to mothers as gold; this song further affirms the good quality of a mother which anyone could be proud of in any society. However, it is considered in African culture that children are more intimately bound with their mothers and are always proud of them. This societal conceptual stand on motherhood has contributed to mothers being collectively considered as a symbol of the nation-state. Actually, in present-day social orders, the idea of the mother has instructed mainstream advance as an image of the country state. Patriot talks in differing worldwide settings that connote any country as mother imagery to prepare enthusiastic slants that include the love of the mother as well as the love of the country. Complimenting this fact, Akinjobi. (2011, p.2), asserts that most nationals today address the nation- as- mother symbolism to mobilize patriotic sentiments. Other writers of literary works have attested to the importance of mothers in African culture in various published books. Camara Laye and Senghor (1967) express their love for African women in terms of love for motherhood (Roscoe. pp. 98-104) and echoes this idea in his book review ‘Mother is Gold’. David Diop’s poem ‘Africa my Africa’ (1957) glorifies the mother status. In this poem, he emphasizes the achievements of the three African women, who have been honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace. This poem is also suggestive of the recognition mothers are getting in African poetry, while Okigbo’s poem entitled, ‘‘Before you, mother Idoto, naked I stand” (1967) recognizes the power of his mother “Idoto.” The motherhood imagery used to be evident in the anti-colonial nationalist struggles in Africa in the 1950s and early 1960s up to the point of independence. (Ngcobo. p.143) observes that this was also evidenced in South Africa especially after Mandela went to prison and in the 1980s and 1990s until the all-inclusive election that brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994. There are also patriotic songs composed by musicians, such as Miriam Makeba and there are several monuments erected in many countries that celebrate the nation-as-mother. These patriotic songs and monuments commemorating motherhood in countries like Nigeria, Ghana Liberia often invoke the sentiments of loyalty toward the land of birth.

Africana “Womanism

Africana Womanism is an ideology grounded in African culture. The term Africana Womanism was coined by Hudson-Weems in 1997 and it rightly discards the term feminism. According to Lyons (2008, p.28), “Africana Womanism was born out of a debate between Third World Women and Western Feminists in which one perspective laid blame on Western Feminists for silencing the African Woman in the very speech intended to liberate her from oppression”. Hudson-Weems (1977, pp.77-97) acknowledges that she did not create the legacy of Africana Womanism but has “observed Africana women, documented their reality, and refined a paradigm relative to whom they are, what they do, and what they believe in as a people”. Hudson-Weems (ibid, p.291) further states that “Africana Womanism accepts some elements of mainstream Feminism’s female-centered empowerment agenda. It, however, criticizes Western Feminism for its caustic beginnings and inapplicability for women of African descent”. The need for a theory that is Africa specific was brought about through sentiment by women as noted by Marta (1981, pp.551-557) that:

‘as an African woman: I must remember what I do affects the status in society of my husband, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law…Therefore (African) woman…will always look back and ask, ‘am I carrying the family with me?

In as much as Africana Womanism is global in its approach and has managed to isolate the African woman from the general category of “women” that includes non-African women, it still has some major weaknesses which need to be addressed. In this connection, Mangena (2013, pp.7-14) states it aptly that:

The major challenge remains that Africana Woman, just like the term woman, is not a monolithic block. What is particularly problematic is combining and having one approach that addresses the problems of one category but two separate realities of the African continent and that of its diaspora. In as much as women in the continent and its diaspora belong to the same category their realities are quite different. Whereas Africana women in the diaspora may still be existing in racist societies, those in the continent may not identify race as an immediate problem in their daily encounters because most of the African nations are independent of political imperial rule.

Africana Womanism does not discriminate amongst women who live in the same country who belong to different ethnic groups because of the existing nature of communal living and cooperative understandings among African women irrespective of race and color. 

Motherhood and African Cultural Stand:

In most cultures, expectations of mothering roles intensify social pressure to conform to what the culture says or what the tradition decrees. In Iyuku in Estakor (west of Edo State of Nigeria), culture continues to perpetuate highly prescriptive notions of motherhood. In this community of farmers, women are made to pass through some unhealthy practices in the name of motherhood. They are expected to undergo certain rituals during pregnancy, especially during their first pregnancy. A woman must go through circumcision when she is seven months into the pregnancy; for this reason, the practice of circumcision and clitoridectomy, now seen in many quarters as a violation of human rights, is vitally placed in Iyuku. Mbiti (1970, pp. 24-36) recognizes the power in the blood which he says binds the individual to the land and consequently to the departed members of the society. Kruger (2003, pp. 198-204) and Phoenix & Woollet  agree that in this case, the circumcision blood is like making a covenant, or a solemn agreement, between the individual and her people (Phoenix & Woollet 1991, pp.13-45). Before this operation, a woman is considered an outsider. However, she is then transformed after the operation. While much of our lives involve the enactment of socially constructed cultural representations (that take gender-specific forms), motherhood stands out as a construct imbued with extraordinary ideological and cultural significance. It also provides a pertinent illustration of the way in which some constructions come to assume identity politics that aim to homogenize and naturalize social categories and groupings.

In Africa, like elsewhere in the world, motherhood has been an important theme. Writing on women’s social identity and shaping their political involvement, Oyewumi (2001, pp. 1-12) Sudarkasa (2004, pp. 34-47) and Walker (1995, pp. 417-437) opine that “within the African context, the construe of motherhood is heavily implicated in the network of ideological imperatives. Mama (1995, pp. 343-345), equally notes that “gender, race, class, culture, nation, and empire are other ways that respond to how female subject is constructed”. Walker (1995, p. 433) and Hassim write about a number of contextual factors in South Africa but, perhaps most explicitly is the system of Apartheid, has informed the ways in which White and Black women have put possibly common notions of motherhood (under patriarchy) to different political uses (Hassim 1991, pp. 65-82).

Motherhood in Africa is seen as a God-given role and for this reason, it is considered sacred. The spiritual power of women especially as mothers must be recognized whether one sees African women as victims or actors. (Christian: 1992, p.147), complimenting this fact, Ojo-Ade (1983, p.161) concludes that whether or not one depicts women’s travails especially, in domestic and cultural responsibilities that are endowed upon them. Chinweizu further argues that mothers have exploited her biological superiority and has consolidated her power by taking over the role of mother, cook and nurse in the household (1990, pp.78-84). In this sense, Ngcobo believes that generally, Africans take motherhood to be all about children, as she argues that:

Every woman is encouraged to marry and get children in order to express her womanhood to the full. Motherhood is so critical in most traditional societies in Africa that there is no worse misfortune for a woman than being childless (1998, pp. 140-49).

In a complementary statement, Mbiti writes that “a barren woman is seen as incomplete and a “dead end of human life, not only for genealogical level but also for herself”(1970, p.144). Studies have shown that the inability to have a child is often devastating to both partners; however, there are differences in men’s and women’s reactions to infertility. Prior research by Solanke, Bisiriyu, and Oyedokun has tended to concentrate on the woman’s experience while virtually ignoring the men. Hence; childlessness is a cultural aberration in sub-Saharan Africa and widely unacceptable in most African communities (2018, p.2).

Feminists in Africa, while conceding that motherhood may at times operate in an oppressive manner, have tried to read other meanings to motherhood, meanings that are empowering for women. Within these meanings, they agree that giving birth bestows a certain status on women, even mystical powers. Yoruba traditions point to this fact. Among the Yoruba people, motherhood is said to confer privileges that give credence to the very foundations of society and women’s presumed roles in it and thus symbolizes fertility, fecundity, and fruitfulness. The Yoruba saying, “Iya ni wura, baba ni jigi” (“mother is gold, father is a mirror”) is also expressed by the late Dipo Sodipo (a popular musician in South-western Nigeria) in a song titled” Iya ni Wura”. He goes a long way in showing the importance of motherhood in African society.

Yoruba Concept and Values of ‘Ikunle Abiyamo’:

The Yoruba concept, belief and value of ikunle abiyamo, (mothers’ labour period), the kneeling position assumed by the woman at the moment of giving birth to her child confers special spiritual privileges upon her. Badejo and posits that although the reality of motherhood is experienced by women, the institution is ably controlled by men because the experience is being interpreted by men and the structure they control (1998, p. 95). Emecheta dwells on the concept of motherhood in most of her books, especially in Joys of Motherhood and Second Class Citizen (1979, pp.23-38). Flora Nwapa mirrors this concept in her Efuru, (Efuru is a novel by Flora Nwapa which was published in 1966) where childlessness and failed marriages mandate a literary review that mirrors the importance of children in the African family. Going further in this discourse, most African communities have their own idea of motherhood and how a woman should experience it. Emecheta looks at how sexuality and the ability to bear children may sometimes be the only way by which femininity and womanhood are defined, the same woman has to work and support her family because the so-called breadwinner cannot provide any bread for the family, so she is forced to support the family and at the same time be responsible for the children (ibid, p. 32). Mbiti tries to convey the importance and joy of birth especially, how the mother nurses her infant, and also about the child naming celebrations and rituals that herald the welcome of the birth of a new baby (1970, p.32). It is fundamentally conceived that the importance of children to the African family is very vital and the nursing of such children rests principally on the African mother.

Ogundipe-Leslie (1994, pp. 23-36), accounts for the importance of motherhood in Africa due to the theme of extreme relevance to African societies, and for this reason; it is widely documented in most of the works by African singers including Jimi Solanke. There are other issues which include poor cultural practices bestowed on widows, discrimination against women with childbearing issues, discrimination against unmarried women of particular ages, lack of inheritance for the girl child, denial of the right to education of the girl child, female genital mutilation, and gender bias in politics and other professional status that are of utmost importance to women in Africa, but the issue of motherhood is still very important. Musicians, both males, and females, such as Prince Nico Mbarga (Nigerian) sing Sweet Mother, Jesse King (Nigerian) sings Mummy Kanye West (American) sings Hey Mama, ASA (Nigerian) sings “Orisa bi iya o si laye,” which means, (There’s no oracle like the mother on earth), Davido (Nigerian) sings Wonder Woman and Juliana Kanyomozi (Ugandan pop princess) sings Woman, these musicians have all encouraged every woman to bear children and women without children are seen as evil. With motherhood, a woman is considered blessed; she acquires a higher status in society, respected and even she becomes mythologized. In an interview with Jimi Solanke, he further comments on the position of mothers in the society encompassing in the following ways:

Mothers are custodians of child’s beauty and intelligence which are attended to through tenderness, compassion, patience, and tolerance for the benefit of the child and the society.

Any home without a mother in African society is despised and often subjected to ridicule by society.

Motherhood roles in Africa are not limited childbearing but, in a more precise sense of being referred to as a mother in all motherhood responsibilities with no lacking in moral character.

Mothers are to teach morals in society. They are called to be good teachers, not just about education but also about culture and disciplines

The Power of Mothers’ Breasts in the Concept of Motherhood among the Yoruba:

In any African community, the mother’s breasts are assumed to have some power, when a mother tells a child that “I will bring out my breast,” it indicates caution to an erring child. The power in the breast is so significant in the sense that everyone is considered to have suckled the mother’s breast during infancy. No child will be so stubborn to the extent that he/she will not dare the mother’s breast, this puts mothers in a position of honor to command so much respect and awesomeness. The importance of these cultural and religious symbols of motherhood is borne out of the fact that they are repeatedly alluded to in life and literature. Down the ages, literary and artistic works have dwelled upon the features that define the motherhood.

Jimi Solanke and African Mothers:

Several musicians, for example, Prince Nico Mbarga sings “Sweet Mother”, Jesse King sings “Mummy”, Asa sings “Orisa bi iya o si laye,” (There’s no oracle like the mother on earth) in “So Beautiful” and Davido sings “Wonder Woman” have released musical tracks on the theme of mother and motherhood but Jimi Solanke’s views on the values of motherhood especially, with regards to an African mother, mothering and motherhood have been well expressed in his songs with strong advocacy for the importance of mothers in African societies. This campaign, such as the musical concert organized for mothers on “mothers’ day” with Jimi Solanke’s Band as the standing artiste and sponsored by MTN Communication Limited in Nigeria in 2018 has also been well channeled in several folk songs credited to Jimi Solanke. A perusal of several musical pieces by Jimi Solanke reflects the prevalence of supermom nature amongst African mothers. Attesting to this observation, St. Clair (1994, p. 27) writes that the fact remains that no degree of stereotyping against women existed in traditional Africa. The woman possessed the power to organize the family and society at large. Clair’s belief validates the tradition rife in the society that an existing enormous task and responsibility are conferred on African womanhood and motherhood. Expressing few considerations of Jimi Solanki’s advocacy (also as a fine artist) on the values of African mothers, Jimi Solanke also displayed some artistic expressions in his office in Ile-Ife. Below are some of these quotes:

                  Figure 6: An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017.

An appraisal of the selected songs as expressed below would be necessary as factual evidence to concretize his position on the plates/figures cited above.

Musical and Cultural Analysis of Jimi Solanke’s Selected Songs: 

In this section, the selected three songs are considered for analysis. The first is ‘Iya lo’lu gbowo mi’ meaning ‘mother is my caretaker’. Below is a notational score of the song as sung by Jimi Solanke:

Musical text and meaning

Text                                                                               Meaning

Iya lo’lu gbowo mi                                                      Mother is my caretaker

Ti n’toju ni kekere                                                       Who took care of me from my infancy

Eyin re lo fi pon mi                                                      She puts on her soft back

Iya ku ise mi                                                                Mother well done for caring for me

Emi k’iya mi ku ise                                                     I salute my mother for this great care

Pe lu’teri ba mole                                                        With humbleness and humility

Emi ko le ko’se fun’ya mi mo                                     I can never refuse her errands

Iya, iya, iya o                                                               Mother, mother, mother


Cultural Analysis of the Song:

Since time immemorial, mothers have been playing a very significant role in almost all cultures. Yoruba culture is no exception. Mothers are highly respected and adorned in many ways in a majority of clans in Nigeria. African mothers are culturally bound to their children. The mother and her child seem to share an exclusive bond based on the strong intimacy from birth to breastfeeding, crawling to walking, schooling to graduating, and apprenticeship to freedom. And probably a child never grows up in his/her mother’s eyes; always in need of protection and affection. This is one of the standpoints of Jimi Solanke in his advocacy for the values of African mothers with a strong salute for all her efforts on the African child.

The second song is ‘Iya ni wura Iyebiye’ meaning ‘Mother is a precious Gold’ This is a metaphorical statement that adds value to the importance of the African mother who is as regarded as precious as gold. Below is a notational score of the song, sung by Jimi Solanke:

Musical text and meaning

Text                                                                                  Translation

Iya ni wura iyebiye                                                      Mother is a precious gold

Ti a ko le f’owo ra o                                                   Which cannot be bought with money

She conceived me for nine months                              And backed me for six years

Iya ni wura iyebiye                                                      Mother is a precious gold

Ti a ko le f’owo ra                                                      Which cannot be bought with money

Cultural Analysis of the Song:

The quintessential cultural values of motherhood in Africa cannot be underestimated. Nwapa (1966) dwells on the spiritual powers of a woman especially, mothers as she makes woman-as-mother the primary upholder of the native culture. The mother teaches the child about the societal ways of knowing and doing things. In this way, the woman-as-mother becomes significant to the essential development and maintenance of the community. Akinjobi (2011, p.6) cites an example in Iyuku, a community in Estakor west of Edo state, Nigeria where some women carry so much power that whatever they decree must be taken seriously. These groups of women are well above birthing and nurturing; they are reverenced and feared at the same time. It is on this note that Leith (1967:34) emphasizes that:

Culturally, African women are the transmitters of the language, history, and the oral culture, the music, the dance, the habits, and the artisanal knowledge. They are the teachers and are responsible for instilling traditional values and knowledge in children.

The metaphorical expression of Jimi Solanke in referring to mothers as “a precious gold of no equivalent price” is an attestation to the high esteem Africans, especially the Yoruba culture, has placed on motherhood in the context of the social fabric of its culture. Moreover, the way the mother is identified with her children even if they are illegitimate puts her in a vital position in any family setting. In the African cultural system, mothers are again perceived to take a lot of responsibilities which bear results when her children grow up into responsible and law-abiding people.

The third song is ‘Iya ni Wura, Baba ni Jigi’ meaning ‘Mother is Gold, while Father is the Mirror. This song further affirms the golden position of African motherhood, because it is considered in African culture that children are more intimate with their mothers than fathers. However, fathers are referred to as mirrors that reflect a child’s image in society. The reason for this concept is likely to be predicated on the fact that the child bears the name of a father and not that of the mother and most often, they are believed to have adopted the attributes of their lineage through the father. When they behave well and are successful father receives the applause, while owing to their failure and misdemeanor mother is held responsible. Meaning to say to the father goes the praise and blame are reserved for the mother but, that does not always undermine the dignity and vocation of mothers discussed in almost all the tribes of Africa. This is because mothers are the bedrock of the early basic acquaintances of culture for their children and thus play a very fundamental role in the issue of moral formation in the family. A family blessed with a good mother, who equally enjoys the support of her husband definitely inculcates good moral values to her children. This results in a harmonious home and reflects in the daily intra-action and interaction of such family in the community. Love of motherhood is in the heart of traditional African family values. Other popular folk and popular musicians such as King Sunny Ade, Dipo Sodipo, and Sikiru Ayinde Barrister have also expressed their feelings on the values accrued to African mothers. But Jimi Solanke addresses these values from the poetic perspectives which have made the lyrical messages more tonal and easily comprehended. Below is the notational score of the song as sung Iya ni Wura, Baba ni Jigi by Jimi Solanke:


In conclusion, among Yoruba people, motherhood is said to confer privileges that give credence to the very foundations of society and women’s presumed roles in it and thus symbolizes fertility, fecundity, and fruitfulness. Jimi Solanke’s agreement with the Yoruba saying “Iya ni wura, baba ni jigi” (“mother is gold, father is a mirror”) goes a long way in showing the importance of motherhood in African society. Mother is gold; strong, valuable, true, and central to a child’s existence and experience. Yorubas also believe that ikunle abiyamo: the kneeling position assumed at the moment of childbirth confers special spiritual privileges to a mother. Thus there are powers, privileges, and entitlements that come with motherhood even in the act of giving birth, Jimi Solanke agrees with this position in his song iya ni wura Iyebiye where he specifically recounts the nine months of pregnancy and three years of backing the child which is a symbol of the mutual relationship between mother and child. Jimi Solanke states that with motherhood, a woman is considered blessed, she acquires a higher status in society, she is respected and mythologized.


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An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

An art work captured during an oral interview with Jimi Solanke on Saturday, February 25, 2017

Musical notation of Jimi Solanke’s song ‘Iya lo’lu gbowo mi’

Musical notation of Jimi Solanke’s song ‘Iya ni Wura Iyebiye’

Musical notation of Jimi Solanke’s song ‘Iya ni Wura, Baba ni Jigi

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