#003: The Landscape of Language (2)
who would you give the empty calabash?
In the last bulletin, we understood that in the olden days, our fathers communicate with their relatives in the faraway with enclosed symbols so that the messenger does not know the content.
If you missed the first part, read it here and come back to this.
That system of communication is called Àrokò.
And I analyzed various forms of individual communication through symbols that are the norms and in the societal know-how. While these axioms exist, there are personal means of communication invented by family and friends for use among themselves.
Apart from individual communication, there are public symbol language. For instance, when you see palm frond across the entry to a land, you understand it as an embargo. Snail shells are also tied around loads kept on the roadside as warning against tampering with them.
Even today's world, signs language are still used and relevant in the public sphere.
When you see a bottle of water placed on a car by the roadside, you understand the car is for sale. It's telling you BUY ME without saying it.
Here is another: at Ifo on the Lagos-Abeokuta express way, if you stand by the traffic leading the Lagos way and point upward, without talking, the oncoming bus understands you're heading to Oshodi. If you point forward, it means Agege. If you point downward, it is Iyana Ipaja. If you only flag it down, you're likely going to Sango.
If you stand at the part leading to the Abeokuta way, when you point upward, that means Abeokuta. When you point forward, that is Ilaro. When you role your hand in circle, that is Papa roundabout. If you flag it down, you're likely going to Ifo market.
In any event, the Àrokò mechanism devised by our ancestors showed that civilization is not new, it only kept advancing with time, it kept evolving as man's understanding widens via innovations and inventions.
But there's another matter that got me thinking.
I queried how our fathers transformed and transfered their histories as well as family panegyrics, ewi (poetry) and the voluminous Ifa panegyrics (also oracle or divination) from one generation to another even when there was no writing system.
In some cultures, they scribble on rocks, leathers, leaves including the shoulder blades of animals. There was no such in the Yoruba history.
And I understood this transfer of history and knowledge was through teaching and memorization. A parent or grandparent will tell to their offsprings the family history and teach them their panegyrics and poetry. Most of these panegyrics are historical in nature. Even a vast majority of Ifa divination verses are historical.
It is through telling and retelling that these knowledge are passed down the several generations.
In fact, for ease, these parents often give their children foods, charms, marks or concoctions that sharpen their brains and nourish/provide them with retentive memories.
Most are given directly to the children while some to the mother when pregnant so it will be innate for the child. And that's how our ancestors retained their history and knowledge. And that's how we have them handy till date.
I was barely 9 when my father taught me our family's panegyric (oríkì). Our mothers would often recite it as well, especially to praise us, welcome us on arrival from a trip or a visit to them, or to woo us into doing something. Mother also taught me her own family's panegyric.
My parent taught me the panegyric for the twins because I am a twins. Let me answer before you ask: my twin sister is fine and good 😉
And because we are Ìgè– we were both born with our legs coming out first instead of our heads, father also taught me the Ìgè panegyric. I would recite these panegyrics at various events to praise my young self. 😊
I went further to learn on my own the panegyric that's specific to Taiwo (first child of the twins) and another that's specific to Kehinde (second child of the twins) which I am.
My religion taught me that the love for one's country/tribe is part of faith.
So when did "Writing" got into the Yoruba civilization? How did we come about all the signs and tonalities called àmì ohùn?
It started with the genius linguist, Baba Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. He reduced Yoruba into a written language in 1843 when the Church Missionary Society organized a mission to the Yoruba country under the leadership of one of their agents, the Rev. Henry Townsend, an English Clergyman and the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African Clergyman of the C.M.S.
According to Samuel Johnson in a book titled "THE YORUBA LANGUAGE" (Cambridge University Press, 2010),
“After several fruitless efforts had been made either to invent new characters, or adapt the Arabic, which was already known to Muslim Yorubas, the Roman character was naturally adopted, not only because it is the one best acquainted with, but also because it would obviate the difficulties that must necessarily arise if missionaries were first to learn strange characters before they could undertake scholastic and evangelistic work. With this as basis, special adaptation had to be made for pronouncing some words not to be found in the English or any other European language.”
Ajayi Crowther who also studied Latin, Greek and Temne among other languages began translating the Bible into Yoruba and compiling a Yoruba dictionary and a grammar book. He also compiled a Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language including a large number of local proverbs, published in London in 1852.
This man deserves kudos for the fantastic job that brought about this progressive civilization. There are many languages in the world today that can't be written, the tribe thereby dying an automatic death. And shall we not give bravo to the White missionaries as well?
Those days, Ajayi Crowther would also travel to various localities to teach them the knowledge and that's how we still have it till date.
Before I go, one more Aroko for you:
If they send an empty calabash to a king. They're telling him to commit suicide or leave his seat. It happens when they see him incapable or unjust. It's a tight corner for the king. A great sinless treason and revolution. He either dies or walks away.
If you have the opportunity, who would you send a calabash today? 😁
Can you write in Yoruba or your tribal language and apply the signs and tonalities (ami ohùn)?
What other sign language do you know whether in today's world or from the old Àrokò system?
Why not share your answer in the comment?
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