Bawo ni! Se alaafia ni!
Yesterday I had SIX HOURS of class to start out my introduction to Yoruba (I really need to find a download for the accents – you have no idea what I’m saying without them!). I had four hours with our Oluko (teacher) Kehinde where we learned some of the greetings and more history and background on language/culture/Nigeria/etc. Then we had two hours of conversation group – funny I know, what were we supposed to talk about in Yoruba on the first day? But we ended up having a long discussion of Yoruba culture and customs.
Side Note: Chinua Achebe, who is Ebo not Yoruba, said something that has always struck me – he said that he found it strange that someone would have to fly half way around the world to find unusual and peculiar things about another culture when the strange and different exists all around us in our own culture. I have been trying to keep this mindset in everything I learn.
Side Note 2: There is a phrase you have to keep in mind: “Nigeria is full of contradictions” – every minute I have been learning for the past two days, everyday that you think there is something you can say about Yoruba or Nigeria WILL BE busted.
Back on Track: Yoruba is interesting because tradition is so imbedded in the language. I will give you one example of Kehinde and Taiwo. Kehinde literally means “the one who comes last” which refers to the second twin. Taiwo means the first of twins. In Yoruba culture there is much more respect for everyone than in Western culture. If a person is one month older than you, you cannot say their name without adding a word of respect before it. Also unlike Western culture, Yoruba do not practice the weird habit in Western culture of naming a child before it is even born. Actually children before they are born are seen as incredibly selfish creatures, merely feeding off the life of the mother. The name is only given upon birth and usually corresponds to something that is currently happening. Ige means born feet first and is usually an Asa (rebel).
Side Note 3: AHHHHH I need accents! Example: Oko, Oko, Oko can mean husband, spear, hoe – depending on the tone and the corresponding accent. Asa means both rebel and hawk and culture – all unrelated. Forgive me.
Back on Track: Anyway, so you would expect Kehinde to have to show Taiwo the most respect because Taiwo came before him but this is not the case. Taiwo was merely peaking his head out into the world to see if it was safe and a good place to come out. The tradition goes that Kehinde sends Taiwo out to see if the people will treat them well (selfish babes) so Taiwo is merely his runner boy and Kehinde is seen with “more respect” than Taiwo.
This is everywhere in the language. Also, every single name is a full sentence in Yoruba. My chosen name is Ayodele which means “The joy has arrived home” but my teacher will call me Ayo like you would call Olufemi just Femi or Titilayo just Titi because you wouldn’t say the full sentence of the name. There are many more complicated names but we are beginners and cannot really pronounce them yet. Ayodele is a name you would give a child chosen by the eldest (grandmother/grandfather) in the family (doesn’t have to be nuclear) when something good is happening at the time the baby arrived. So if the father got a job after the birth and it is a great celebration you would name the child Ayodele because that is the context of its birth.
I have already learned so much being here. I’m currently sitting in Gainesville Airport about to get on a plane to Washington DC for the Boren convocation/ free hotels and more swag / to talk to some Congress people about my study abroad. I am excited but sad because I will miss two full days of class before returning for four hours of class Friday. The language part is pretty intensive because Borens have a test at the end that I want to be very prepared for but so far it is relaxing just concentrating on one thing.
There are millions of pieces of knowledge coming my way. I am so blessed for this experience and so far though it has been stressful to start so fast (orals haven’t even really started yet in Seattle?!?) I am having an overall great time.
Thanks for reading and good luck with orals!