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Oyibo or Oyinbo is a word used in Igbo, Yoruba, and Nigerian Pidgin to refer to Caucasians.[1][2][3] In Nigeria, it is generally used to refer to a person of European descent or people perceived to not be culturally African. The word is pronounced oyinbo in Yoruba speaking areas and oyibo in Igbo language. Both terms are valid in Pidgin English.


The origin of the word is difficult to ascertain. It is believed that the word was coined from the Yoruba translation of “peeled skin” or “skinless,” which, in Yoruba, translates to “yin” – scratch “bo” – off/peel; the "O" starting the word "Oyinbo" is a pronoun. Hence, "Oyinbo" literally translates to "the man with a peeled off skin".[4][5] Other variations of the term in Yoruba language include Eyinbo, which is usually shorted as "Eebo".[citation needed]

In the Igbo language, a demonym takes the form “onye” + “place of origin.” Hence, whereas an Igbo person is called “onye Igbo,” a Yoruba is called “onye Yoruba” and a German “onye Germany.” Thus, the first white people were called either “onye ocha” (singular) or “ndi ocha” (plural), for “white person” and “white people,” respectively. This was because the Igbos of those days did not know where the white people came from. Interaction between the Igbos and the white people resulted in the white people trying to refer to the Igbos with a name similar to what the Igbos called them but they had problems in pronouncing Igbo words due to the presence of double lettered alphabets, which involve nasal pronunciation in some of the consonants, such as 'ch', 'gb', 'gh', 'gw', 'kp', 'kw', 'nw', 'ny', 'sh'. These are not present in the English language, hence the difficulty in the European man's effort in giving the Igbos a similar demonym as the Igbo people had given to him; instead, a name resulting from a mutilation of Igbo words was produced "oyi Ibo" instead of "onyi Igbo", meaning 'Igbo person'. The Igbos later started referring to white persons as 'oyi Ibo' as a way of mocking the white man for his inability to say "onye Igbo". This would later be adopted by other Southern Nigerian tribes as the standard name for the white man and coupled with dialect variance, one obtains different pronunciations such as "Oyinbo' in Yoruba and other western Nigerian tribes. Also, 'Oyibo' means English Language in Igbo. In general usage, it may refer to individuals with various skin complaints such as vitiligo or genetic conditions such as albinism.[citation needed]

Oyibo is also used in reference to people who are foreign or Europeanised, including Saros in the Igbo towns of Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Enugu in the late 19th and early 20th century.[6] Sierra Leonean missionaries, according to Ajayi Crowther, a Yoruba, and John Taylor, an Igbo, descendants of repatriated slaves, were referred to as oyibo ojii (Igbo: black foreigners) or "native foreigners" by the people of Onitsha in the late 19th century.[7][8]

Olaudah Equiano, an African abolitionist, claimed in his 1789 narrative that the people in Essaka, Igboland, where he claimed to be from, had used the term Oye-Eboe in reference to "red men living at a distance" which may possibly be an earlier version of oyibo. Equiano's use of Oye-Eboe, however, was in reference to other Africans and not white men.[9] Gloria Chuku suggests that Equiano's use of Oye-Eboe is not linked to oyibo, and that it is a reference to the generic term Onitsha and other more westerly Igbo people referred to other Igbo people.[10] R. A. K. Oldfield, a European, while on the Niger River near Aboh in 1832 had recorded locals calling out to him and his entourage "Oh, Eboe! Oh, Eboe!", meaning "White man, White man!" and linked to modern 'oyibo'.[11][7]

The word may also be said to be a corruption of the Edo word ‘ovbiebo,’ a blend of two words: ‘ovbi,’ meaning ‘child’ or ‘indigene,’ and ‘ebo,’ the Edo word for Caucasian. Other southern Nigerian tribes may have found it difficult to pronounce the ‘vbi’ consonant, corrupting ‘vbi’ to ‘yi’ or ‘yin,' with 'oyibo' and 'oyinbo' eventually coming to replace the original Edo coinage.[citation needed]


In Central and West Africa the name for a person of European descent is Toubab.

In Ghana the word used for a 'white' person or foreigner is 'Obroni' in the local languages, those of the Akan family.


  1. ^ Matthias Krings; Onookome Okome (2013). "Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry, African Expressive Cultures". Indiana University Press. p. 267. ISBN 9780253009425.
  2. ^ Toyin Falola; Ann Genova (2005). Yoruba Creativity: Fiction, Language, Life and Songs. Africa World Press. ISBN 9781592213368.
  3. ^ Elisabeth Bekers; Sissy Helff; Daniela Merolla (2009). Transcultural Modernities: Narrating Africa in Europe Volume 36 of Matatu (Göttingen) series, Journal for African Culture and Society. Rodopi. p. 208. ISBN 9789042025387.
  4. ^ "African Safari for Jesus".
  5. ^ "I Used To Think God Was Perfect, But..."
  6. ^ Njoku, Raphael Chijoke (2013). African Cultural Values: Igbo Political Leadership in Colonial Nigeria, 1900–1996. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 1135528209.
  7. ^ a b Lovejoy, Paul E. (2009). Identity in the Shadow of Slavery. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 61. ISBN 1441193960.
  8. ^ Okwu, Augustine Senan Ogunyeremuba (2010). Igbo Culture and the Christian Missions, 1857-1957. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 95. ISBN 0761848843.
  9. ^ Carretta, Vincent (2005). Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-made Man. University of Georgia Press. p. 15. ISBN 0820325716.
  10. ^ The Igbo Intellectual Tradition. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. p. 45. ISBN 1137311290. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  11. ^ Laird, MacGregor; Oldfield, R. A. K. (1837). Narrative of an expedition into the interior of Africa. Richard Bentley. p. 394.