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Oyinbo is an early Yoruba word used to refer to Caucasians.[1][2][3] In the 1470s, the first Portuguese birth occurred in Eko, in Yorubaland, later called Lagos. The word was first used by the Yoruba to describe the Portuguese. It would later extend to all Europeans. Many years later, the word became used for anyone influenced by European tradition, customs, and culture, especially once-enslaved returnees. Oyinbo is generally used to refer to a person of European descent, African perceived not to be culturally Yoruba, or to people of the Human race who are light-skinned. The word is generally understood by most Nigerians and many other Africans.


The word is coined from the Yoruba translation of “peeled skin,” "lightened," or “skinless,” which, in Yoruba, translates “yin” – to scratch “bo” – to off/peel/lightened. the "O" starting the word "Oyinbo" is a pronoun. Hence, "Oyinbo" translates literally to "the person with a peeled-off or lightened skin".[4][5][6] Other variations of the term in the Yoruba language include Eyinbo, which is shortened to "Eebo".[7]

Oyibo in Igbo language

In the Igbo culture, it is believed that the word came to be after interactions with white people. Europeans couldn't pronounce "onye igbo" but instead "oyi ibo" as a substitute. Oyibo was later used as a nickname by Igbos to refer to Europeans in a tongue-in-cheek way which eventually stuck. The term is used in the Igbo language to refer to items or cultures related to Western cultures or Europeans.

Oyibo is also used in reference to people who are foreign or Europeanised, including Saros in the Igbo towns of Onitsha and Enugu in the late 19th and early 20th century.[8] 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.[9][10]

Their life style, language, dress, demeanor, the role they played as well as the positions they held in the commercial houses and in the mission, were essentially those of the white people, oyibo.


Olaudah Equiano, an African abolitionist, claimed in his 1789 narrative that the people in Essaka, Igboland, where he claimed to be from, 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 Caucasians. Though Oye-Eboe might be a much older Igbo term that means foreign or different.[12] Gloria Chuku suggested 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 western Igbo people referred to other Igbo people.[13] 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!", and linked to modern 'oyibo'.[14][9]


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. ^ Herman Bauman (14 May 2008). African Safari for Jesus. Xlibris Corporation. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-4628-2537-0.
  5. ^ Herman Bauman (4 November 2009). I Used to Think God Was Perfect, But... Xlibris Corporation. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-4628-2825-8.
  6. ^ Bowen, Rev. T. J. (May 1858). Grammar and Dictionary of the Yoruba language. Smithsonian Institution. p. 13.
  7. ^ Akpraise (2017-05-13). "The Origin Of The Word " Oyibo"". Akpraise.com. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  8. ^ Njoku, Raphael Chijoke (2013). African Cultural Values: Igbo Political Leadership in Colonial Nigeria, 1900–1996. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 978-1135528201.
  9. ^ a b Lovejoy, Paul E. (2009). Identity in the Shadow of Slavery. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 61. ISBN 978-1441193964.
  10. ^ Okwu, Augustine Senan Ogunyeremuba (2010). Igbo Culture and the Christian Missions, 1857-1957. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 95. ISBN 978-0761848844.
  11. ^ Okwu, Augustine Senan Ogunyeremuba (2010). Igbo Culture and the Christian Missions 1857-1957: Conversion in Theory and Practice. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7618-4884-4.
  12. ^ Carretta, Vincent (2005). Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-made Man. University of Georgia Press. p. 15. ISBN 0820325716.
  13. ^ Gloria Chuku (2013). The Igbo Intellectual Tradition. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 45. ISBN 978-1137311290.
  14. ^ Laird, MacGregor; Oldfield, R. A. K. (1837). Narrative of an expedition into the interior of Africa. Richard Bentley. p. 394.