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Kùkùrúùkuù: The ecological significance of the cockcrow in Yoruba rural dwellings


By Ibukunolu Isaac Olodude

Discourses around ecological issues continue to revolve around the interlinking between human and non-human forms of life. Humans share the environment with both plants and animals, but unfortunately, humankind continues to see other species as ordinary resources that must be exploited and utilized for human needs. With such a mindset, human activities continue to degrade the environment leading to ecological challenges which now threaten human lives. Africa is not left out of this conundrum, as the hitherto African way of life which utilizes nature to solve its challenges now adopts ‘modernization’ through science and technology, but it has come with a price to pay – environmental degradation and natural resources depletion.

For instance, take the cock and its crowing which performed timing functions within the Yoruba rural society in Southwest Nigeria. In my own research, I found out that the cockcrow has both economic and social, as well as ecological implications. The sounds of the cockcrow early in the morning wake people from sleep and alert them to the need to get ready for the day. Usually, the cock crowing has a three-time dimension that reverberates across the entire landscape. This is because as soon as the first cock crows, other cocks in the neighbourhood suddenly take after the cock and they all seem to begin to echo the crowing. The Yoruba even allude to this in the saying:

Bí àkùkọ bá ti ń kọ láyé, ni àwọn ẹlẹgbẹ́ rẹ̀ ń gbà á lọ́run ('As the cock crows in the world, the sound reverberates in space by its co-crowers)

The sound of the cockcrow usually signals the dawn of a new day and sets the pace for the day’s activities. Further exploration of the Ifá literary corpus on which the Yoruba indigenous religion is anchored on, particularly, Ogbè Ìrẹtẹ̀ showed that the functions and implications of the cockcrow go beyond the timing functions in Yoruba existentialism. It is believed that the crowing of the cock which signals the dawn of the new day has implications on what the day holds for them as it could either be a mastermind of good or bad fortune.

The sounds of the cock and other animals amplify the generic naturalness of nature phenomenally lacking in urban spaces. In Yoruba rural spaces, animals freely roam and perform certain functions that human beings assign to them. In fact, it is believed that the presence of animals who freely roam around signifies the freshness of life and nature as they are more convenient with the natural environment. This fact is amplified in the unanimous quotes below, which are common sayings among the Yoruba:

“Where the rooster crows, there is a village.”


“A dead cock never crows.”

The commonality of these sayings reflects the centrality of the cock and its crowing in traditional Yoruba life. In rural spaces, as can be inferred from the first quote, the crowing of a rooster or a cock signifies the presence of a flourishing village. It announces to a visitor that there is an approaching village with living inhabitants. But when the cock no longer crows, it is a signification of the alteration of nature and human domination of the environment. Urban spaces seem to have lost the beauty of nature as the cramped spaces do not allow for freely roaming animals. In modern times, most animals are caged; hence, their natural inhibitions are hampered. This is one challenge that urbanization brings which seems to cause certain alterations to natural tendencies.

The emergence of factories and steel rolling companies for the production of clocks, wristwatches, alarm clocks, etc., which have taken over the timing functions of the cockcrow come with their own challenges. These industries continue to emit gases and other waste which ultimately damage the ecosystem, affect the health of land and marine animals, as well as pollute the environment both land, water and air. Environmental degradation and resource depletion which come as a result of the adoption of technology have now brought to the fore the clamour for alternative use of conservative technology.

The effects of technology in urban spaces stated here greatly contrast with the naturalness of nature in rural environment. It is safe to say therefore that urban spaces have lost the beauty of nature as the adoption of technology continues to hamper the atmospheric elements and nature. It is to be highlighted that due to the changing times, urban spaces have environmental issues in terms of air and water pollution which till now are kept natural in rural areas, hence the need to appreciate our traditional lived experiences.

Unfortunately, across Africa, several governmental policies are being made which continue to hamper the conservation of natural resources in the several vast forests of countries and nations. Some of the policies attack the African indigenous way of life and ecospiritualities which are aimed at conserving the forests and the natural resources therein. This is certainly one area that needs to be looked into as several of the African ecospiritual practices inherently debar members of the community from degrading the environment and depleting the natural resources- plants and animals especially.

African ecologies have come a long way but still have a long way to go. All hands must be on deck to reverse the scourge of environmental degradation and natural resource depletion. This is because of the looming danger of the effects of climate change on both human and non-human lives. Conscious efforts must be made by both individuals, non-governmental and governmental organizations to promote healthy cohabiting of human and nonhuman forms. Where possible, we must return to nature and see plants and animals as co-inhabitants of the planet earth and not just resources to be exploited. This is the way to go if we must have an eco-friendly African space.


Ibukunolu Isaac Olodude is a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and African Languages at Obafemi Awolowo  University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He participated in the "African Ecologies" workshop, hosted at the British Institute in Eastern Africa, 29-31 July 2023 in collaboration with the Leeds University Centre for African Studies. This blog post is an abbreviated version of the paper presented at the workshop.

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