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Tom (in my right hand) and Molly (left hand), Faforiji's pets. pic cr: Islamiyah Badmus

Yoruba Olongbo Iya Aye: The Demythologisation of Feline, Cats

A cat is a small carnivorous mammal of the Felidae family, characterized by its short snout, retractable claws, and well-developed predatory instincts. Domestic cats are popular pets and are known for their affectionate, playful, and sometimes aloof personalities.[1] As of 2021, the number of owned cats in the world is estimated to be 220 million, while the number of stray cats is estimated to be 480 million.[2]

While the number of owned cats keeps increasing, there is a surviving old myth among the Yoruba people who inhabit, majorly, the southwestern part of Nigeria. Cats are considered strange animals and thus have the tendency to host “emi buruku” or evil spirit that is used by Iya Aye (witches) to fight the people.

“Olongbo Iya Aye” the witches’ cats, is a surviving phrase that has lived for ages and has been built up as a common experience throughout the entire Yorubaland through televisions, radios, cinemas, newspapers and most especially myths, folktales, legends and stories who have been spreading the idea of cat’s evil spirit before the emergence of modern outlets that took up the space and widely spread the word.

Featured Image of Cat Demons
Featured Image of Cat Demons cr: B. Panda

As a common Yoruba person, children are raised with ailurophobia or the fear of cats as a result of wiccaphobia or the fear of witches, evil spirits and others in this line. Cats are used as possessors of evil spirits in Yoruba movies, unfortunately, up till today.

The idea of keeping cats as pets spread in Yorubaland lately, and this move directly emanates from different demythologized stories from religion – as in the case of Islam, cat video clips on social media, presentations and others.

Love of cats is a “sign of faith in Islam.” According to Daily Sabah’s posted hadith, Prophet Muhammed said, “Affection for cats is part of faith” (Sources: Maqasid al-Hasanah, al-Sakhawi).[3] In this way, some Muslims who grew up in a cat-fearing society would love cats even though they are scared of them for the fact that the first established beliefs cannot easily be erased. This is the case for four (5) out of (15) people at least.[4]

Cats in Islam,
Cats in Islam. Cats are preferred pets in Islam. Featured image

Another core reason behind the Yoruba belief about cats is that feline fur carries tuberculosis (TB). “If you mistakenly swallow the fur, it is permanent cough,” this is the belief of the Yoruba people. While there might have been some instances to back this belief, it remains a subject of circumstances: “A cat has to come into direct contact with the bacteria to become infected. While cats often do not contact the common form of human tuberculosis, it is possible for a human to be infected with M. bovis or M. microti and pass those bacteria onto any cats they regularly are in contact with.[5]” As a result of an outbreak of disease among cats, TB can be contacted.

According to the news publication of the Times of India:

The first cat-to-human TB infections have been reported in Britain; experts back home say it’s rare for this to happen..

The next time you want to cuddle up a stray cat, better do a rethink. In first-ever incident of a feline-human disease transmission, cats have passed tuberculosis (TB) to two people in Britain. The infection was said to have passed to the patients during unprecedented outbreak of the disease among cays in Newbury, Berkshire.[6]

Keeping cats should not be made a crime by myths and unverifiable stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, which have also been amplified by mostly Yoruba-based media. It is important that admirers of cats who want to keep one should be ready to take care of them to avoid them from contacting diseases.

They should have litter boxes where they will go to piss and defecate. Cats are adorable and clever animals; you will not worry about them going to the litter box, they will go to the place to piss and defecate when there is a need for it.

While the “Yoruba Olongbo Aye” is an old phrase birthed out of the fear of evil spirits, the younger generations are to keep unlearning and learning the true facts, not only about feline but about other things out there whose knowledge have been imprisoned by mythologies.

Tadese FAFORIJI, April 12, 2023. (Tadese Faforiji)

Demythologisation of Cat: Sources

[1] Web search and popular definition of cats. See; Fox, M. W. (2023, March 27). cat. Encyclopedia Britannica. and also, Bukowski, J. A., & Aiello, S. (2011). Description and Physical Characteristics of Cats. In MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from

[2] Nikaci, V. (2023, January 23). How Many Cats Are In The World? [Blog post]. A-Z Animals. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from

[3] Ekinci, E. B. (2017, December 11). Love of cats a sign of faith in Islam. Daily Sabah. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from

[4] I use the case of my friends here. Many of them love cats, but there are always few that hate or fear them. The numbers up there are based on this. “As there is no data on this, I’m going to suggest a figure: 20% of people dislike cats, 60% like or love cats and the remainder are ambivalent” See, Broad, M. (2021, May 30). What percentage of people hate or love cats? [Blog post]. Pictures of Cats. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from  

[5] WagWalking. (n.d.). Tuberculosis. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from

[6] Times of India. (2014, April 12). Can your cat give you TB? Retrieved April 12, 2023, from

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.