Saturday, January 07, 2006

Èdè Yorùbá (Yoruba Language)

While the Yoruba language is a fairly easy language to learn in its rudimentary form, it’s tough to learn to read and write it properly with all its punctuation marks. The language is rich in vocabulary and style, and it is unfortunate that only very few Yoruba indigenes have really mastered the language.

While visiting Owukori's Black Looks earlier this week, I was “captured” by one of her post: “Holding on to language”, where she brings attention to the UNESCO’s plan to celebrate African Languages this year (2006).

Going by Soul's comments there- the Yoruba and Ibo languages have undergone extensive mutation in major urban cities, and very few have good command of these languages in these areas. While I’m not surprised by this development, I’m saddened and embarrassed by it. We are all guilty of mutilating these languages. Shame on us all!

I’m Yoruba by the way despite my awkward name. I’m a thorough bred Yoruba man. “Omo Ondo ni mi paa-paa” meaning: “I’m from Ondo town for that matter” in English.

I remember my secondary school days when over-zealous Captains/ Prefects were fond of saying “No Vernacular Permitted” whenever someone spoke in Yoruba. The die-hard among us then have had to serve all sorts of capital punishment for flouting this law. Some parents did raise their children to speak straight English for infancy- the “Ajebotas” (kids raised on butter/cheese) as we called them those days, now the number of Nigerian parents doing this have since escalated.

Are we not in trouble? Is it not bad enough that we are being killed by despotic heads of states or robbed by kleptomaniac politicians and bureaucrats- now the average Nigerian family is depriving future generations of Nigerians the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of, and the ability to communicate in original indigenous (Nigerian) languages. Many have being robbed of their heritage under the pretense of being “educated”. This is more like a miseducation to me, and I’m sure this is also the case in other African nations.

I’m certain Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the former slave-turned preacher, will be turning and choking in his grave. I leant in history class then that he translated the bible into Yoruba- “Bibeli Mimo” (Holy Bible), in the late 1800’s. Here is a link to a google search on Samuel Ajayi Crowther; have your pick from the links.

How about Daniel Olurunfemi Fagunwa M.B.E? He was a very fine literary don, his classic novels written in Yoruba and later translated by Wole Soyinka and others are literary gems! According to an entry on Wikipedia:
“Fagunwa's novels draw heavily on folktale traditions and idioms, including many supernatural elements. His heroes are usually Yoruba hunters, who interact with kings, sages, and even gods in their quests. Thematically, his novels also explore the divide between the Christian beliefs of Africa's colonizers and the continent's traditional religions…”
Fagunwa's first novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale (1938; The Forest of a Thousand Daemons), was the first full-length novel published in the Yoruba language. His second novel, Igbo Olodumare (“The Forest of God”), was published in 1949. He also wrote Ireke Onibudo (1949; “The Sugarcane of the Guardian”), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954; “Wanderings in the Forest of Elegbeje”), and Adiitu Olodumare (1961; “The Secret of the Almighty”); a number of short stories; and two travel books, his profile on Encyclopedia Britannica states.
“…Every event points to a moral, and this moral tone is reinforced by his use of Christian concepts and of traditional and invented proverbs. Fagunwa's imagery, humour, wordplay, and rhetoric reveal an extensive knowledge of classical Yoruba…”
I have read some of these books while in secondary school, and I’d love to read them again (this will be a good test of how well I can read Yoruba after many years of fallow). What I really want is to see these novels transformed into movies, and what a glorious day that will be!

I have come to appreciate the Yoruba language even more since I started my sojourn in the United States. Despite the occasional problems of accent and phonetics as a result of not being an “Ajebota”, and not raised to speak the English language right from my mother’s womb, at least I have a solid command of two languages, and that makes me a proud bilingual...multilingual actually.

No matter how difficult indigenous languages could be, they are our national and tribal heritage and treasure, and should be cherished, celebrated, and preserved. I can’t help but wonder how many of my tribe men and women can even read and write the Yoruba language properly these days…