What We Love About Yoruba!

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Language profoundly influences the way people see the world and each tongue has a peculiarity of expression that  tells a lot about the culture of its native speakers. Language shows the heart of a people. It is the mould for that heart. It shapes and defines culture. Take for instance the English language: When the English ask ‘How do you do?’ the appropriate response is apparently not to take the question literally and provide an answer about how you are doing, but to respond with a similar question: ‘How do YOU do?’ While that makes no sense, it shows the Englishman is not in the least bit interested in the fact that you spent the night in the hospital emergency after giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to your elderly neighbor who fell off the stairs and ended up at your feet in a dead faint.  No, he just wants you to ask him how he is doing - not that he is actually going to tell you. Wonder what that says about English culture and its people.



Not so the Yoruba. Described as ‘The merry-making people on the coast of West Africa’, the other thing that stands out about the people is the language and culture of greeting. These people have a greeting for EVERY occasion imaginable!


First off in the morning, the Yorubas greet: E k’aaro. Aa ji bi? (Morning greetings. We woke up alright?) and he expects an answer. Then it continues. As you head out, they greet: O d’ abo (Till you return) and when you do return: E k’ abo (Greetings on your return). If they find you working: E ku ise (Greetings on your work), if you come for visit: E ku idide (Greetings on your venturing out). If you are going through difficulty: E ku iroju (Greetings on your endurance) and if you are rejoicing: E ku ayeye (Greetings on your celebrations) and on a new purchase E ku ina’wo (Greetings on the expenditure/investment). To the family of newly weds: Olorun a se won l’ore ara won (The Lord make them friends of each other) and Aa r’ayo ni’be (We will find joy in this), to the family of a new-born: E ku owo l’omi (Greetings on your hands constantly in water - alluding to the fact that those handling a new-born take extra care to wash up). During the naming ceremony of a baby: A to l’oruko (He/She will earn a name).


If you have an itinerant family member, the Yoruba have a greeting on hand. To the family of those who are away: E ku ilede (Greetings on keeping the home), while expecting the return of a loved one: E ku oju l’ona (Greetings on your look-out) and when the traveller is back home: E ku af’oju ba (Greetings on setting your eyes on him/her). On preparing for an occasion: E ku ipa’lemo (Greetings on your preparations). As the Yoruba are on hand to rejoice with you or mourn with you, the greetings continue: On the anniversary of an unpleasant event: E ku iranti (Greetings on this remembrance), or E ku ai gbagbe (Greetings on not forgetting). To those who come to visit them in the time of their rejoicing: E ku ayesi (Greetings on honouring us/them), or on giving of a gift: A dupe. E ku an’wo si (Thank you. Greetings on extending your hand). To those who come to support others in time to difficulty E ku aroti (Greetings on standing by them/us) and A o ni fi ‘ru e san fun ara wa (We will not repay you with like - alluding to the fact that it is an unpleasant event).


It does not end there. The greetings continue along the banal or seemingly trivial. To the Yorubas, no occasion is exempt. To women plaiting hair: E ku ewa (Greetings on your beauty ritual), if perhaps you are simply sitting down relaxing: E ku ijoko (Greetings on sitting). Even the dead are greeted: Orun re ‘re (Wishing you pleasant heavens), or A rin na ko. O d’oju ala (Greetings on the end of your journey. Till we meet in dreams).


If language shows the heart of a people, what does this say about them? Share what you love about an African language.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2011 15:10
Written by Samira I-Hassan

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