My “’Un-Negro-Ness’”

September 28th, 2009

Listen up! “Alafia” (Peace.)

I declare it as an historical fact that a vast majority of African-American ancestors were Yoruba people forced into captivity during the era of slavery and extracted from their motherland, the Yoruba Kingdom.

It is a personal declaration from me, grounded on my love (sacred connection) for my African-American relatives—who alongside with me—are hereby being ‘un-negroed.’

I am a Yoruba to the core, and I am proud of it. This is the identity that I intend to relate here to my fellow Africans (African-American cousins) in the Diaspora—dispersed, unfortunately, by design, in the form of forcible possession and displacement—from their motherland, to the so-called” ’New World’” by atrocious slave traders.

According to the historian, Basil Davidson, “Some of (them) were brought into the country not under their own names, but under those names their captors knew them by. It was by such names that they were delivered by the slave traders to the market of the New World.”

The Yoruba, also known as “Nago,” entered America under the name, “Nago.”

Dr. Ulysses Jenkins has equally attested to this sentiment with his explanation that “the achievements of the Yoruba in other parts of the world are also credible. Some of the slaves imported into America were Yoruba(s). It cannot be regarded otherwise than just and fair that the Yoruba at home should have a share in the credit due to their kith and kin: the black man (and woman) in America.”

Dr. Ulysses Jenkins continues, “Two instances may be cited here. The late Booker T. Washington, the distinguished black man who founded Tuskegee Institute in the United States of America, was a man of real fiber and brilliant achievement. His career was one which brings credit to any nation which could claim him as a member.”

He continues, “There is no doubt that he was of Yoruba extraction, as his middle-name “Taniafeni,” also variably written as “Tanifeni,” “Taniaferan,” or ”Taniferan,” is unquestionably a Yoruba name which is still in use in Yoruba Kingdom, especially among the Egba(s). Again, the Negro spirituals, which have thrilled the western world and which show the delicate pathos of the black man (and woman) are a development of “Negro” music as used by the Yoruba(s).”

The name “Taniafeni” (“Taniafeni,” “Taniaferan,” or “Taniferan”), which stood for the middle initial of Booker “T” Washington, means “Who loves someone (you?), almost as seen in a call-and-response style of communication. The name is always implied to mean “The one who loves you.” It is a proper name with an interchangeable application of a question and an answer to mean “The one who loves, and whom we love, loves you and me.”

Suffice it to say that theYoruba people, like their African-American cousins (vintage “Bard” Kanye West’s opinion that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, during the  Hurricane Katrina crisis in the mostly black populated areas of the Gulf Region) “tell it like it is” (popular slogan in the African-American community in Buffalo, New York).

The Yoruba language is comparable to other forms of African-American mode of communication, be it the Gullah’s “Gee-Chee,” “Black-English,” “Ebonics,” “Patois,” “Creole,” and “Pidgin-English.”

In terms of grammar, syntax, mannerism, and overall ideas in communicating, an African-American (of both North and South-America) employing any of the above languages would impress oneself as a Yoruba speaker of the English language. It is only the dialect that spells out the distinction in each case in the Northern and Southern U.S.A./Canada; and South-America (Latin/Central America and the Caribbean).

The mispronunciation of some English—even some Yoruba words—is noticeable, phonetically, in some Yoruba people as a seeming pattern of speech defect. I have observed a comparable pattern of seeming speech defect in some African-Americans. Larry Holmes, a former World Heavy Weight Champion comes to mind here. Example here is the letter “S” as pronounced by someone who is being teasingly referred to as a “Son-Of-The-Soil” (“Home-Boy”). He, just like Larry Holmes, no matter how hard he tries, would say something like: “I’m a Shon-Of-The –Shoil” in an effort to declare himself as a “Son-Of-The-Soil.”

The speech pattern, described above, is quite evident in most areas of the Yoruba Kingdom, such as Ife, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu, Oyo, Ogbomosho, Oshogbo, Awe, Ofa, Ondo, Ilesha, Ekiti, Akure, and some other Yoruba localities. Larry Holmes (and if I may add, “Mr. T”) are “Shonsh-Of-The-Shoil” whose linguistic “roots” could be traced to one of those areas in the Yoruba Kingdom.

“Mr. T,” by virtue of his fashion and his hair-style, looks like a royal worshipper of Sango (“Shango”), the Yoruba deity of thunder and lightning. Thus, we can see a distinct Yoruba influence carried over into some popular African-American heroes.

I cannot remember exactly the very first time I heard the Reverend Jesse Jackson; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; and/or Journalist/Commentator Travis Smiley, speak. But one thing I can say about each one of them, respectively, is that, either as a fiery orator or a cool, level-headed speaker, each one of them has always sounded to me like a Yoruba man communicating in English, with a slight polish to his own pattern of speech, as opposed to someone with a full-mouthed Yoruba-English accent.

…Yoruba—Oh Yoruba—the tonal language! Whenever one comes across a Yoruba word in this article, one might want to employ the d: r: m (do: re: mi :…) musical measures to enable oneself to pronounce the word correctly. One would have to position tactfully the accent signs (\, -, and /) atop the vowel sounds in any Yoruba word, sounding them correspondingly in succeeding order with each respective musical pitch: \ (do), – (re), / (mi).

I aim here to reacquaint my African-American cousins with the Yoruba language, which was one of the African languages that slavery had so forcefully made them forget. The aim of the ‘slave-masters,’ hitherto, was designed to displace a “slave’s” mother-tongue with the English language.

Unwittingly, or wittingly, the “’slaves’” adopted an evolving language form, the African-American (Black) English mode of communication. The various Black-English dialects that evolved from the period of ‘slavery’ to this day are due to the praise-worthy ingenuity of those ‘enslaved’ African heroes and heroines. They survived “the test of time” in body; and their “souls keep marching on” in spirit centuries after their death.

In comparison, in an effort to speak the English language in the Yoruba Kingdom, there had evolved a mode of communication called Yoruba-English or Pidgin-English, beside the proper Queen’s English by an elitist group—the so-called educated middle/upper  class.

Yoruba-English or Pidgin-English has been a romantic and idealistic medium of communication by all and sundry within the Yoruba Kingdom. For example, “Who born monkey?” is a metaphorical Pidgin question that literally means “Who is he or she?” with a sarcastic overtone (and with the nose being turned as an insult by the speaker).

Why the hell did you then get so ‘funky’ on us? Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1987) defined “Yoruba” or “Yorubas”—n, pl. (1894) as a member of a Negro people of the eastern “’Guinea Coast’” mainly between Dahomey and the lower Niger;” and as “the language of the Yorubas – Yoruban – n or adj.” My point of correction to this is that Yoruba is Yoruba to the Yoruba people. There is no such thing in Yoruba Kingdom as “Yorubas.” They refer to themselves as Yoruba (singular and plural), and their language is Yoruba; not “Yoruban.”

I would also like to point to their still being referred to as “a member of a Negro race” in a recent edition of a popular English dictionary, even though such usage of a name to qualify people of African descent in America has been vehemently frowned upon, and gradually being abolished. Is there any justification or rationale for this? Suffice it to say that a Yoruba man or woman, lettered or unlettered would not take being called a “Negro” lightly, because of its demeaning, racist connotation.

The Fon people of Dahomey (now The Republic of Benin) call the Yoruba people “Nago,” not to inflict a “racial slur;” not because of their resentment or hatred for the Yoruba people; but because it is a nick-name—no more, no less—just a nick-name. The Yoruba people call the Fon people of Dahomey “Ajase.” These nick-names, respectively, are still in use, and respectfully so, among these two nations of Africans. Neither one has felt belittled when being thus called. They are, therefore, not meant or interpreted to be derogatory.

According to the Dictionary of Modern Yoruba, by R.C. Abrahams, “In Ipokiya (Ilaro Division of Abeokuta Province) live the Anago type of Yoruba: The founders are said to have come from Ife and to have found in Ipo-Kiya some villagers of Eyo Yoruba(s) from Old Oyo.”

Furthermore, the dictionary states that “all these Anago are farmers, but there also live among them some Popo people from Dahomey (Dahomi), or (The Republic of Benin as it is now recently being called), who both farm and fish.”

Moreover, it also states that “at Idiroko in Ilaro Division, live a mixed population of Anago and Egun, these Anago being related to those in Ipokiya. The Ifonyin are a further group of Anago in Ilaro Division.”

The word “Nago,” started having a racist’s overtone to it when it was inculcated into the “’New World’s’” diction. It is necessary here to point to the correlation between the names “Nago,” and “’Negro’.”  Does one point to the other, and is there any remote possibility that in its transition, with the first 20 African slaves, most likely Yoruba (Olukumi—also corrupted to “’Olucumi’”), in 1619 at Jamestown, Virginia, the name “Nago” was negated and corrupted into “’Negro’” by the hate-mongering racists of the so-called “’New World’”?

There goes the genesis of misinformation, which was spear-headed by the Portuguese, and later on, by the Spanish explorers. When the Portuguese, supposedly, “’chanced’” upon that Yoruba Nago portion of the “’Guinea Coast,’” they mispronounced “Nago,”

ignorantly sounding it off “’Negro,’” thereby corrupting “Nago” till today. Rather than facing up to their error, they arrogantly rationalized it as if the word “Negro,” to which they have given the meaning “Black,” in all its negativity, has its etymology in either the Portuguese or Spanish Language (Latin).

Compare and contrast “Black” and “White,” as they have been applied to the two distinct races of people (white people versus black people) over those ages that both of them have ‘collided’. What’s the deal here?  Maybe, “Olorun-Olodumare” (Almighty-God) can explain.

It is within this same process of negative metamorphosis of name-calling that names such as “’Nigger,’” “’Niger,’” and “’Nigeria’” have evolved.

For all the damaging representation intended in the name-calling, “’Nigger,’” it is very sad to connotate it in prejudice, or in ‘in-prejudice’ as it is being employed today by certain African-American entertainers, most especially “rappers,” and “comedians.” On their parts, they have commercialized “’Nigger’” for their own personal aggrandizement (and unfortunately so) to the debasement of their own people. But if it is as explained by some people that “’Nigger’” means any ignorant person, then a “’Nigger,’” either “White” or “Black” should be qualified as such.

In the “Niger” sense of the word, it demonstrates a double-standard by which the Europeans, most especially the British colonialists, have managed to plant an identity crisis among continental Africans, and Africans in the Diaspora. “Nigger,” spelled with one “g” to appear as “Niger,” was given to an African river, which has its different local names throughout the lands through which it flows in West Africa. For example in the Yoruba Kingdom, it is called “Odo Oya.”

The European (British) explorers, who set out to “discover the source of the mouth” of the “River Niger” had conjured up the name long before they embarked on their expeditions. The river has always been referred to as “Niger” in the European-designed maps of Africa, and Europeans books of exploration and African history in the same manner, and the same logic by which, for example, “lake Victoria,” and any other location in Africa that does not have an African identity was ‘christened.’

I should point out to the fact that the explanation as to the origins of the names “Niger” and  “Nigeria,” have been  in full force long before I was born; taught as a part  of Nigeria’s history in her schools; and at one point, explained away by the military government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

The U.S. Worlds Journal, Vol. XVI, No. XII of December 1990 featured a special issue commemorating Nigeria’s 30th year of ‘independence’ (1960-1990). That special edition of the magazine was titled “Nigeria,” with a sub-title “U.S. World Journal Visits (“On Location”) The Federal Republic of Nigeria: An African Renaissance.” On page 6 of this edition of the magazine, it is stated that “Nigeria” is named after the River Niger, its most striking feature, and very useful means of communication.”

It continues, “The origin of the word “Niger” is obscure. Some theorize that it is derived from the Latin word meaning “black,” others that “Niger” or “Njer” is a name of African origin conferred on the river by a local community. There also exists the possibility that “Niger” is derived from the Greek “Naghar” meaning “River”–River “River” (my emphasis). Although the influence of Latin and Greek colonies in North Africa during early history, and the classical learning of European colonist at a later stage may have some bearing on this, it is more than likely that the name was indeed conferred by African communities, and emanates as an African derivative word.” Does this explanation make any sense?

We do not seem to want to “call a spade a spade” here. We therefore appear to be “’puttying’ the domain of locusts;” window-dressing, and/or white-washing the blemish that we have been carrying since the advent of British colonialism in Nigeria. This point is driven more home in light of the ensuing explanation in the magazine:

The word “Nigeria” to designate the entire area surrounding the Niger River was first used in 1897 by Flora Shaw, a correspondent for the London Times, to describe the Royal Niger Company’s territories. Her husband was Brigadier-General Frederick Lugard, who in 1900, following his wife’s example, named the territories of the Royal Niger Company “Northern Nigeria.”

It continues, “The entire country became known as Nigeria in 1914, when Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated into one administrative entity under the Governorship of Lugard.”

Was it not same Lord Lugard who was the mastermind of the “Indirect Rule,” and “Direct Rule” policies in Northern and Southern Nigeria respectively? In a layman’s language, these policies manifested their ulterior motive of dividing and conquering Nigeria for the British Crown.

I do not know if Lord and Mrs. Lugard did not design the name “Nigeria” as a camouflage of their hitherto imperialistic, racist sentiments which could be literally interpreted to mean “’Land of the Niggers’”? Though a speculation, it might have been a possibility, and therefore worthy of an addition to the many other speculations surrounding the origin of the name “Nigeria.”

No wonder, Charles Dickens ridiculed those explorers, commercialists (traders), administrators, and missionaries who ventured an expedition to the “’Niger’” Delta area, particularly Lokoja, as “It’s all Borrioboola-Gha” (Ha-ha-ha-ha)!

Nigeria! What a troublesome, if not demeaning name? Am I alone in the way the name is making me uncomfortable?

Did the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the Ghanaian citizenry not divorce themselves from that aspect of African colonial mentality by changing their country’s name from “The Gold Coast” to “Ghana,” an ancient African Kingdom?

Did “Rhodesia” not assume the name of another ancient African Kingdom “Zimbabwe,” immediately after her independence?

Oh, how I wish the name “’Lagos—Lagos Du Kuramo’” (Portuguese) could resume its original Yoruba name, “Eko-Akete,” geopolitically.

It is in the light of the above gestures that I would like to appeal to the “’Nigerian’” citizenry to consider renaming “’Nigeria’” after an ancient, and glorious African Kingdom like, for example, “Songhai,” and be called “Songhaians.” If not, to just re-spell “’Nigeria’” to “Naijiria,” thereby abolishing the derogation, “’Nigeria.’”

We need to be “Un-Nigerianed” just as we need to be “Un-Negroed.” We may by so doing un-jinx ourselves from the seeming curse that has bedeviled us through the hands of the slave traders and colonialists. We should uphold a very exemplary esteem to usher us into the dawn of tomorrow, and for evermore.

“Alafia” (Peace).