Singing to Death: The Yoruba’s Perspective of Voluntary Euthanasia

Femi Abiodun


Music has been part of individuals as they sing or listen to music voluntarily or unconsciously; and this in most cultures starts from cradle to grave. But that people in their privacy sing to ask for death may be strange in some cultures. This study engages in identifying why some people sing to ask for death. Discussion is premised within the Yoruba’s perspective of voluntary euthanasia (self-assisted death). That people in Yorubaland help themselves to die is a measure of dignity in what their culture allows- death is preferred to shame (iku ya jesin). The instruments for data collection comprised oral interview, focus group discussion (singing) and discography method. Respondents were 10 patients purposively selected in a Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. The data collected were subjected to ethnomusicological analysis.

The result showed that it is better to die young than to die at old age in penury.  (Ka ku lomode ko ye ni; o ya ju ka dagba radarada). The result also showed that if people have their ways, they do not want to die at all (Ma je nku kin to ku). The paper argues that singing to ask for death is a therapy and catholicon for accepting death when death is obvious. Singing becomes a succor and emotional relief to the physical agony, mental stress and spiritual depression which are possible factors that may warrant “let me die”; and take away shame. The paper concluded that voluntary euthanasia as a palliative index/indices has more positive acceptability in Yoruba culture. It is also a therapy in disguise that covers shame and the pain attached to death phenomenon. Singing as part of relief measure in pains, sorrow and discomfort is positive euthanasia that lessens the fear of death. Singing at death therefore, is a panacea to illness and remedy believed among the Yoruba to “cure” disease. It prolongs life and enhances good death. This study will generally contribute to the frontier of knowledge in voluntary euthanasia (self-assisted suicide). It will also advance a better understanding of cultural dichotomy about voluntary euthanasia and irreconcilable debate about singing to death.

Keywords: Voluntary euthanasia, singing to death, Yoruba culture, juju music

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