"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mixed Feelings about the Release of the Dapchi Schoolgirls

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I am the father of three daughters, one of whom is a teenager. If I were to live in Dapchi, my daughter would attend the school the Dapchi girls were abducted from. So I can't imagine the unspeakable horrors the parents of the abducted girls lived with. The parent in me is at once ecstatic over the release of the girls and distraught over the death of five of them and the continued captivity of one of them.

More than that, though, I am also worried that while no amount of money is too big to secure the release of the girls, the financial negotiations that led to their release would strengthen Boko Haram to launch more daring abductions of schoolgirls. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when. This is a vicious cycle.

After the usual, predictable protestations from government officials to the effect that no ransom had been paid to the terrorists to secure the release of the girls, SaharaReporters disclosed on Wednesday that five million euros had been paid to the Al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. “But a source who also participated in the negotiations with Boko Haram that led to release of over 80 Chibok girls in 2017 told SaharaReporters that the federal government not only made the ransom payment of five million euros to the insurgents,” the paper wrote, adding that government “also exchanged some Boko Haram prisoners in return for the Dapchi girls.”

It’s easy to dismiss this as speculative or even made-up, but examples from the immediate past should give us cause for pause. For instance, the government had denied paying any money to the Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram for the release of 80 Chibok girls, but Wall Street Journal’s explosive and exhaustive report of December 24, 2017 proved beyond all shadows of doubt that “Nigeria paid a secret ransom of €3 million to free some of the kidnapped schoolgirls.” Three million euros adds up to nearly 1.5 billion naira.

In another case, the BBC reported that the government paid a hefty ransom to Boko Haram. "The ransom was €2m. Boko Haram asked for euros. They chose the suspects and gave us the list of girls who would be freed,” BBC quoted a source as confiding in them.

It’s pointless recounting all the numerous credible revelations of ransom payments to Boko Haram by the government because it was the subject of my column two weeks ago, but the point being made is that Boko Haram is now better financed by the Nigerian government than our military is. And, as sure as tomorrow’s date, the terrorist group will continue to use the war chest handed to them by our government to unleash more terror, abduct more girls, and earn more money. It has become a profitable racket.

While it’s hard to make the case that money shouldn’t be paid to secure the release scared, innocent girls, it’s also good to remember that the money paid to secure the release of some girls will be used to abduct other girls and inflict harm on others. So ransom payment isn’t a sustainable strategy. Any country that purchases its peace will perpetually be indebted to war.

But more than that, Boko Haram is now winning the ideational war. For instance, reports said that when members of the group returned the Dapchi girls, they stayed for a bit and preached against girl-child education. They told the girls to never go to school again or risk abduction. In a region that desperately needs education, especially girl-child education, we’ve been set back by probably five decades. No responsible parents will send their daughters to school again. The girls’ life is infinitely more important than their education.

Similarly, Boko Haram is clearly now being unwittingly lionized, deodorized, decriminalized, and mainstreamed by the government. The photos and videos shared by the Daily Nigerian online newspaper of jubilant crowds cheering Boko Haram terrorists in Dapchi while the group freely hoists its flag is disconcerting. The terrorist group isn't just being financed by the Buhari government through handsome ransom payments; it is also being unintentionally glamorized. There is no bigger recruitment tool for the group than this. It’s a loud message that crime does pay.

In my April 13, 2013 column titled “Amnesty for Boko Haram or Pampering of Mass Murderers?” where I vigorously opposed calls by northern elders for the granting of “amnesty” to Boko Haram, I offered a short and long-term solution to the Boko Haram menace:

 “What ‘northern elders’ need to do, if they are REALLY interested in solving the Boko Haram problem, is help mobilize ideational resources to defeat the ideology that gives birth to and sustains groups like Boko Haram,” I wrote. “This is a long-term strategic initiative that will not yield immediate results, but that is worthwhile nonetheless. In the short-run, our security agencies need to be equipped with 21st century intelligence-gathering capabilities to confront and defeat these primitive monsters of depravity that have made life miserable for millions of innocent people.”

I still stand by this.

Elements of successful nations
Every modern, successful nation must have five core elements:

(1) economic justice so that even the weakest and the most vulnerable stratum of the society can live, not just survive

(2) social justice so that accidents of birth, geography, and religious beliefs aren’t permanent barriers to the prospects of upward social and economic mobility

(3) a responsible and sincere government that serves the people and not the other way round

(4) a critical and watchful media system that acts as the watchdog of the government and not the lapdog of the temporary occupants of power

(5) an educated, vigilant, and engaged citizenry who are not susceptible to cheap elite manipulation and narrow primordial loyalties.

A nation that has only the first two elements is a fragile nation. A nation with just one of these elements has no reason to exist. And a nation with not a single one of these five core elements is Nigeria.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Proposal for Secondary School Transcripts for University Admission

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I was invited by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) sometime ago to participate in a discussion on how to improve the university admission process in Nigeria. I couldn’t honor the invitation because of a schedule conflict. But here are the thoughts I would have shared if I had a chance to be at the discussion.

Nigeria’s education system is contemptuous of processes and obsessed with single-metric outcomes. That is why a brilliant, hardworking student who made consistently excellent grades in internal school exams but got stumped in their final O-level exams doesn’t stand a chance against a bad or mediocre student who somehow did well in the final O-level exam.  This fact distorts our appreciation of the true abilities of students.

At the moment, the most important criteria to adjudge students’ readiness for university education in Nigeria are grades from O-level exams and scores from the UTME. As I argued in a previous article, this is neither fair nor helpful.

So I am proposing a more process-driven alternative to adjudging student readiness for university education, and it’s a modified variant of the American system. It would be nice if student performance in the last three years of secondary school education is factored in admission decisions. That means senior secondary schools should have transcripts and Grade Point Averages. I am aware that some private secondary schools in Nigeria already have this, but this needs to be done nationwide.

To ensure the integrity of the process, at the end of every school term, secondary school principals should submit the records of student exams— from SS1 to SS3— to state ministries of education, the federal ministry of education (for federal secondary schools), and JAMB. At the end of three years, an academic transcript should be created with grade point averages for every student. There should be concordance between the transcripts in state ministries of education (and the federal ministry of education for federal secondary schools) and the transcripts in JAMB’s record.

Senior secondary school transcripts should then be used as one of the criteria for admission into universities, polytechnics, and other higher education institutions. There are many reasons why this is useful.

One, it ensures that the hard work—or lack thereof—that students invest—or fail to invest— in their senior secondary school education has real consequences. As it is now, most people don’t even remember the grades they made in their secondary school days. (Although I graduated from university more than two decades ago, I remember the grades I made in all my courses).

Second, knowing that their grades are being recorded and archived for purposes of admission into higher education institutions will inspire students to take their studies more seriously. Right now many students have no real motivation to excel in internal continuous assessment tests and end-of-term exams because results from these tests and exams are transitory and of no momentous consequence. Of course, I am not denying that there are students who are motivated to excel in spite of the low stakes in these internal exams, but more will be if they know that the consequences of the tests go beyond their schools.

Third, it helps to lessen the outsized importance attached to high-stakes, make-or-break assessments like the Senior School Certificate Exams and the UTME. Plus, being examined and graded by people who didn’t teach you has its down side, which can be offset by the kind of coursework-based assessment system I’m proposing.

In any case, when the 6-3-3-4 system was inaugurated in the 1980s, we were told that internal, school-administered continuous assessment tests would constitute at least 40 percent of Senior School Certificate Exams. As far as I am aware, that hasn’t happened, and I don’t know why.

Fourth, a de-emphasis on exam-based learning and an incorporation of coursework-based assessment of students will bring our students’ qualifications in line with international best practices. Secondary school students in the US, for instance, are issued high school diplomas at the end of their study. They also have transcripts and GPAs for the purposes of university admission. Universities use this in addition to scores from standardized university entrance tests, recommendation letters from former teachers, and personal essays.

The UK has also been tweaking its secondary school education to make it sensitive to the demands of the times. It transitioned from GCE Ordinary Level to the General Certificate of Secondary Education in 1988, and several reforms are still being proposed, including accepting science experiments in lieu of examination.

Finally, it gives university examination committees a broader view of candidates’ abilities and trajectories. A student with a superb secondary school transcript but a subpar SSCE result and a mediocre UTME score is probably the victim of disabling examination anxiety, that is, in the absence of other extenuating circumstances.

I know brilliant secondary school classmates who did poorly in the school certificate and university entrance exams because they were crippled by the dread of being graded by external examiners who didn’t teach or know them. Such students deserve an interview from admission committees, and the only way such students can be identified is if an internally administered coursework-based assessment system is instituted in secondary schools.

Like all solutions, this is isn’t foolproof. The first obvious problem is record keeping. The second is that some people can— and will— game the system. Teachers may be persuaded, coerced, or bribed to inflate grades if the grades are part of the criteria for university admission. But school certificate and UTME exams are also subject to abuse. There is no point giving examples of these abuses because everyone interested enough to read this article to this point knows what I am talking about.

Solutions are not abandoned because they are subject to abuse. Most importantly, giving this option a chance helps create a rich, diverse composite of criteria that can be used to determine the suitability of candidates for admission into universities, polytechnics, and other higher education institutions in a fair, just, and equitable manner.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Tragic Symbolic Blunders on Buhari’s National Sympathy Tour

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The president’s reluctant decision to compensate for insensitively celebrating with his privileged friends in Kano who luxuriated in obscene opulence at a time the nation was (and still is) reeling from a string of horrendous sanguinary tragedies by visiting the nation’s hot spots has lost its symbolic worth for at least three reasons.

Symbolic gestures are appreciated only when they are not forced, when they are given willingly, or unexpectedly. That’s why people don’t appreciate birthday gifts from their significant others if the gifts are given only after they are demanded—or only after the givers are reminded. The value of the gifts isn’t in their monetary worth but in the thought that goes into buying and giving them unsolicited. It’s the same with symbolic presidential visits. Their value doesn’t lie in the immediate problems they solve because they don’t solve any problems; their value lies in their symbolism. So Buhari’s forced tour of the nation is actually symbolically worthless, but it’s at least better than his accustomed aloofness.

Nevertheless, the president appears to still be smarting from being forced to visit troubled spots in the nation. He said he should “not be expected to always go out to the field to make noise and insult the sensibility of Nigerians before it would be known that I am taking actions against the killings.” Fair enough. But does he have to attend wedding ceremonies of his elite friends even in moments of national catastrophes? Can't he be represented by a minister, the same way that he sends delegates to sites of national tragedies? Or is it only the tragedies of poor people that he doesn't have to personally attend to?

What is worse, though, is that the president is vitiating, even undermining, the whole point of the tour through his indelicate and unpresidential pronouncements in Taraba. The media reported him to have said that more people have been killed in Taraba than in Benue and Zamfara combined, adding he has a way of gathering his “own information on all the crises and killings in the country.” Exactly what purpose does this insensitive hierarchization of needless and avoidable bloodletting serve?

The president was clearly attempting to delegitimize the pains of the people of Benue and Zamfara. Nothing can be more painful than to have one’s pains made light of, especially by a person whose duty it is to comfort you. Even a single death is a tragedy whose horror shouldn’t be attenuated by odious comparisons. As Vice Chancellor of ABU, Professor Ango Abdullahi was viciously excoriated in the 1980s when he said “only two” student activists were killed by police bullets during a protest.

Buhari’s gaffe is even more egregious. He has sworn to protect all Nigerians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or state of origin. So why give more weight to one tragedy than others?
Already, this unwarranted presidential gradation of tragedies has rendered the president vulnerable to charges of ethnic partisanship—and for good reason. In tense moments like this, the president should be a consoler-in-chief. He shouldn’t be seen to be escalating conflicts by playing favorites.

Another tragic gaffe the president made was his insistence that he had fulfilled his campaign promise to secure the nation. “Today, even our worst enemy can attest to the fact that the APC-led federal government has done well in the area of security,” he said. “We have decimated Boko Haram, while the fight against corruption is going on well.” If government has “done well in the area of security,” why is the president on a tour of scenes of bloodletting? Why do we have more widespread bloodbaths in the nation now than at any time in recent memory?

A president who doesn’t see the contradiction in flaunting his “success” in security while on a forced sympathy tour of several parts of the country that are drenched in oceans of blood lives in an alternate universe. He is completely disconnected from reality. And that’s scary.

 I seriously doubt that Nigeria can survive a Buhari second term. The man simply doesn’t have the temperament, emotional maturity, and intellectual preparedness to govern a complex, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious country like Nigeria. Anyone who can’t see this is worse than blind.

Dapchi Girls: Buhari is Emboldening, Not Degrading, Boko Haram
The abduction of innocent school girls in Dapchi, Yobe State, is yet another evidence of the falsehood about Buhari’s “success” in downgrading Boko Haram. I have called out these lies several times in the past at the cost of inviting smears and ad hominem attacks on myself. But that’s an insignificant price to pay for standing for the truth.

Contrary to claims that his government has downgraded Boko Haram, Buhari is actually bolstering the group. For evidence, look at these facts:

As a reward for releasing 84 Chibok girls, the Buhari government paid Boko Haram a €3 million ransom, which adds up to more than 1.3 billion naira, according to the Wall Street Journal of December 4, 2017. "Several senior officials confirmed that the swap included the release of five captured militants and a total of three million euros, delivered in two drop-offs," the paper reported. "To a threadbare insurgency that had been driven into the mountains, the two payments in 2016 and 2017 represented a timely windfall. Since the insurgents collected their three million euros, some Nigerian officials say an army that had struggled to feed itself seems replenished."

Earlier in October 2016, the government paid the terrorist group what the London Guardian of October 14, 2016 called a “‘handsome ransom’ worth millions of dollars” in exchange for the release of 21 Chibok girls. “Millions of dollars” would add up to at least a billion naira. Again on February 11, 2018, the government paid Boko Haram an unspecified amount of money to free 13 hostages. In essence, Boko Haram now has a bigger, fiercer, more menacing war chest—financed from Nigeria’s public treasury— than the Nigerian military.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram’s ranks are being swelled by the same government. For instance, in addition to paying the group 705 million naira in 2017, five notoriously vicious Boko Haram commanders in the custody of Nigerian authorities were released. On January 15, 2018, the government freed 244 “repentant” Boko Haram members. How the hell did they know that they are “repentant”? And what does that even mean?  A few days ago. the government freed another 526 Boko Haram members, according to CNN. There’s more, but that’s what I remember for now. Feel free to add to this.

When you add this to the fact that on at least two occasions (according to BBC Hausa and Daily Trust), our foot soldiers who came close to capturing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau were told to back off by unnamed honchos in Abuja, there is little doubt that the Buhari administration is an enabler of Boko Haram.

What’s even more tragic, though, is the utterly irresponsible propaganda the government spews about “technically” or “completely” defeating Boko Haram, which has anesthetized vulnerable people into a false sense of security and made them easy targets of the murderous, nihilistic terrorists.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

How Boko Haram’s Infighting, Not Government Policy, Degraded It

By Abdulbasit Kassim

The President Muhammad Buhari administration has advanced the narrative of “technically defeating,” “tactically defeating,” and “completely defeating” Boko Haram. As much as I will not necessarily want to tag the Buhari’s Boko Haram “success” as a myth, the “success narrative” has been blown out of proportion.

The decline of Boko Haram’s strength is not necessarily the result of proactive steps of the new administration or even the relocation of the command center to Maiduguri. Although the present administration would want to claim victory over Boko Haram for the recovery of territories previously annexed by the group, the fratricidal wars that started from the time of the Nigerian Taliban and the series of endogenous schisms that plagued the group did more damage than the salvos of the government.  

Even before the public disclosure of the mutual recrimination between the Abubakar Shekau/Man Chari and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi/Mamman Nur factions, Boko Haram was clearly heading towards a natural death on account of the group’s tactical disagreements over takfir (excommunication of Muslims) and the killing of Muslims; strategic disagreements between the group’s pragmatists and doctrinarians; rifts with al-Qaeda affiliates in the Islamic Maghreb; tense relations with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; dissent over goals and views of the enemy; ideological competition with other Muslim actors; and a dwindling support base of fighters who are constantly befuddled by the faction to support at each epoch of the group’s schisms.

This piece only gives a broad overview of the internal debates and fratricidal wars plaguing Boko Haram. An in-depth examination of this issue can be found in my article titled “Boko Haram’s Internal Civil War: Stealth Takfir and Jihad as Recipes for Schism,” which will be published on March 15, 2018 as part of a volume titled, Boko Haram Beyond the Headlines: Analyses of Africa's Enduring Conflict.

The first schism evolved from the debate on the appropriate time to declare jihad and the necessity of establishing Islamic evidence (Iqāmat al-dalīl/al-ḥujja) on political rulers ruling with secular laws, and it took place between Muhammad Yusuf and Abu Abdurrahman Muhammad Ali al-Barnawi during the formative period of the Nigerian Taliban. Yusuf reasoned that by establishing Islamic evidence on the political rulers ruling with secular laws, it would attract a large followership and support communities that would be ideologically immune to the arguments put forth by the Salafi clerics in their defense of the political rulers.

These communities would then be better indoctrinated to fight jihad against the secular rulers. On the other hand, Ali argued that it is not obligatory to establish the Islamic evidence on the political rulers before declaring jihad against them because none of them can claim to be ignorant of God’s command to rule with His laws as opposed to secular laws.

The second schism took place between the followers of Abu Usama al-Ansari (Auwal Ibrahim Gombe) who later launched Ansaru in 2012 and the followers of Abubakar Shekau. The schisms covered the debate on the counter-productive strategy of targeting Muslim civilians especially those who participate in elections, Shekau’s uncompromising stance on al-`udhr bi-l-jahl (excuse of ignorance), Shekau’s excommunication of Muslims, Shekau’s demand for obligatory obedience, his refusal to permit his followers to travel to Somalia and Algeria without his permission, and his complete rejection of the group’s Consultative Council.

Even the mediation from Abu Hasan Rashid al-Bulaydi and Abu Abdalla al-Shinqiti of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could not bring the two factions together. The first and second epoch of schisms did not claim many casualties within the group unlike the third epoch, which reached its peak during the current administration.

The third epoch of schism witnessed the killing of top commanders in the group, most of whom were killed for petty reasons or for insubordination. For example, Taasi'u 'Abu Zinira' who was  involved in the negotiation for Chibok girls was killed by Shekau; Mallam Abdulmalik, BH leader in Kaduna, was also killed; Abu Amr Falluja and Ba Gomna (a relative of Shekau) were killed (the latter was killed because he bought a house at Amchide in Cameroon); Mustapha Chad who was sanctioned by the US Treasury was killed; Kaka Allai who allegedly led the Monguno Barracks attack in 2013 was killed; Abu RPG was killed for backbiting; Abdullahi Hudu was killed for narrating a dream where Muhammad Yusuf told him to speak to Shekau to refrain from slave raiding; Adam Vitiri and many others too numerous to mention were all victims of the in-group fratricide.

This fratricide is akin to having a government that kills off all its major army generals. But the killings did not end there. In addition to the killings, they also leaked each other’s' secrets. The ideological friction leading to infighting and bloodshed between Abubakar Shekau and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi are informed by the following:

Both factions view political rulers, soldiers of the Nigerian Army, and members of the Civilian JTF as infidels. But Nur and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi do not excommunicate Muslims who do not view the actors above as infidels as long as they do not provide active and passive support for those actors in their war against Boko Haram. They excuse the Muslims until the “actions of unbelief” of the actors above have been clearly explained to Muslims.

According to Shekau’s interpretation, Nur and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi have also become infidels based on their position. The excommunication of Nur and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi is lawful in Shekau’s view based on the permissibility of ‘Takfīr al-Adhir’ (making takfīr on the one who gives the excuse of ignorance on an individual engaging in acts of polytheism).  Therefore, it is permissible to shed the blood of Nur and Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi and those who follow them in ISWAP. It is also permissible to shed the blood of anyone who doubts the permissibility of killing Nur, Abu Mus`ab al-Barnawi, and their followers in ISWAP.

So Boko Haram has been weakened not only by government counterterrorism operations but also by their own squabbles and internal disputes. In view of these internal and potentially endless disputes, even without the salvos of the government, the group is eventually heading towards a natural death, but the course of the death changed with the dynamics that came with the payment of ransom for the release of the captives kidnapped by both factions of the group.

The extent to which the payment of ransom will alter the group’s operations is yet to be seen, but for the foreseeable future the internal civil war is nowhere near over. Our situation would have been worse today if not for the fratricide that wrecked the group to an unimaginable position.

Abdulbasit Kassim is a PhD student in the Department of Religion at Rice University, USA. He is the author of The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State (co-authored with Michael Nwankpa) published by Hurst Publishers (April 2018) and Oxford University Press (July 2018). Follow him @ScholarAkassi1

Related Article:
Bursting the Myth of Buhari's Boko Haram "Success"

Sunday, February 25, 2018

African Words in America’s Gullah English Dialect II

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Last week, I highlighted many African-derived words in the Gullah dialect that Dr. Lorenzo Turner identified in his book. Several of my Nigerian readers were intrigued by the retention of Fulfulde numerals (from one to 19) in Gullah, which Turner recorded near the town of Darien, in the state of Georgia, in the 1930s.

Another surprise for me is the Gullah people’s retention of some uniquely African exclamatory expressions. For instance, Turner recorded the interjectory expression “kai!” among the Gullah. Like in many West African, particularly Nigerian, languages, “kai!” is used in Gullah to express great surprise. The exclamation “bismilai!” to express shock or great surprise also survives in Gullah—at least up to the time Turner observed and recorded the language in Georgia and South Carolina. It was most certainly bequeathed to them by their Senegambian Muslim ancestors. As any Muslim knows, Bismillah is the first phrase of the Qur’an, which means “in the name of Allah.” But it’s also often used as an exclamatory expression.

Contemporary (northern) Nigerian Muslims tend to prefer “A’uzu billahi!” which is the shortened form a’uzu billah min ash shaitan rajim (I seek protection from Allah against Satan), often said before bismillah. Or they may say “subhallah!” (Glory be to Allah).

It is also worth noting that the ubiquitous “una” (plural form of you) in African-inflected English pidgins and creoles is also present in Gullah. It is derived from the Igbo “unu,” which is also the plural form of “you” in the language, the singular being “ya” or “gi.” While “una” is the preferred form of the pronoun in Gullah, other variants exist, such as “huna,” “wuna,” and “unu” (preserved from the original form in Igbo). In Gullah, “mi na una” means “me and you,” where “na” means “and,” as it does in Igbo.

Similarities in syntax
Turner also identified several fascinating syntactic similarities between Gullah and West African languages. For example, he said, “In a great many of the West African languages, as in Gullah, there is no distinction of voice” (209). He gave an example to illustrate this: “instead of saying He was beaten, the Gullah speaker says, dem bit am, ‘They beat him’.” That is exactly how it would be said in Nigerian (or West African) Pidgin English.

But what interests me more than the striking syntactic and semantic congruence between the Gullah “dem bit am and the Nigerian (or West African) Pidgin English “dem beat am” is the retention in Gullah of what I once called the “singular they” in both Nigerian Pidgin English and conversational Nigerian English, which is derived from the structure of various Nigerian languages. In a September 2, 2012 article titled “The English Nigerian Children Speak I,” I wrote:

“In Standard English, ‘they’ is the plural of ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘it.’ In Nigerian English, however, ‘they’ can refer to a single person or entity. For instance, if a parent sends a child to call another child, the child could say something like, ‘Abdul, they are calling you,’ where ‘they’ … refers to the parent. When there is a power cut from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria…children routinely say ‘they have taken light,’ where ‘they’ refers to the electricity company.

“This is evidently mother-tongue interference. Most Nigerian languages I know have the singular ‘they’…. The irony, though, is that even Nigerian children whose only language is English ‘suffer’ from this ‘mother tongue interference.’”

In Gullah, as in West African Pidgin English, “dem” is the lexical equivalent of the English “they,” and its use as a singular signifier even though it is lexically plural owes sociolinguistic debt to the structure of West African languages where “they” can signify "singularness."

Another syntactic feature of Gullah worth calling attention to is what Turner called the dialect’s “word order in interrogative sentences” where the subject often comes before the verb. In other words, interrogative sentences and declarative sentences are different only by tone, not by word order. This point recalls a humorous Facebook status update I read recently that went something like this: “Pidgin English is the only language where question and answer can be the same thing. Question: Light dey? Answer: Light dey.”

The person who composed the status update is obviously not a linguist. If he were, he would have been familiar with the fact that it isn’t only in Pidgin English that interrogative and declarative sentences have the same syntactic arrangement. He would have known that this is also true of many African-inflected English-based creoles in the historic Western black diaspora, and that this feature is derived from West African languages.

Most Influential African Languages in Gullah?
People who have been following my series on the Gullah have asked if I can give them a sense of which African languages have had the most influence on Gullah. That is a difficult question to answer, but I will give it a shot.

According to Elizabeth Donnan’s Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America vol. 4, which was published in 1935, between 1716 and 1744, 51 percent of slaves brought to Charleston, South Carolina (from where they were later taken to Georgia) came from Angola (which includes present-day Angola and the Congo); 7.4 percent came from Senegambia; 4.7 percent came from the Bight of Biafra, which encompasses most of present-day (coastal) southern Nigeria; 2.8 percent came from the Gold Coast, which is now Ghana; 0.2 came percent from the Windward Coast, which is now Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire; and the geographic and ethnic origins of 33.9 percent are unknown, perhaps because they came from the Caribbean Islands.

From 1749 to 1787, 25.2 percent of the slaves taken to the Sea Islands came from Senegambia; 16.7 percent came from Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire; 14.6 percent came from what is now Angola and Congo; 13.1 percent came from present-day Ghana; 6.6 percent came from Sierra Leone; 2.2 percent came from the Bight of Benin, in what is now Benin Republic and Togo; 0.8 percent came from the Bight of Biafra or southern Nigeria; and 20.7 percent came from the Caribbean Islands.

From 1804 to 1807, 52 percent of the Africans who became Gullah came from Angola and the Congo; 17.9 percent from Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire; 11.4 percent from Ghana; 4.7 percent from Sierra Leone; 1.7 percent from Senegambia; 2.5 percent from (coastal) southern Nigeria; 1.6 percent from Madagascar and Mozambique; and 8.2 percent from the Caribbean Islands.

It is obvious from this record that the majority of Gullah people who came directly from Africa are descended from Angola and the Congo. It also means that the Nigerian (Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Bini, etc.) influence in the language and culture of the Gullah people is disproportionate to their number, given that comparatively few Gullah people are descended from what is now Nigeria. (I am certain that the Fulani influence in Gullah numerals is from Senegal, Mali, and Gambia, not from Nigeria.)

What has become apparent to me from reading various books on the Gullah people is that they inherited various things from several different ancestors. Most of their quotidian cultural performances have heavy Sierra Leonean and Liberian imprints, to use the modern identifiers for their places of origin. In terms of lexical influences in their language, Mali, Senegal, Gambia (Mandingo, Fulani, Wolof, etc.) and Angola tend to predominate, although there are tinctures of lexical influences from almost all of the ethnicities from which they trace their ancestral provenance.

In personal names, Yoruba is disproportionately dominant, especially given that slave records from the Port of Charleston in South Carolina show that less than 1 percent of the ancestors of the Gullah are Yoruba. Of the nearly 4,000 personal names Turner recorded, I identified 775 names that are unmistakably Yoruba, including names like Oduduwa (the mythological Yoruba progenitor), and even names of Yoruba sub-groups like Ijesa and Ogbomosho.

Nonetheless, as the records I quoted above show, merely looking at the percentage distribution of Africans brought to the Sea Islands to determine the Nigerian origins of Gullah people may be misleading since a large number of their ancestors came to their present location by way of the Caribbean Islands. My sense is that the Nigerian (particularly Yoruba and Igbo) influence in Gullah culture and language emerged from their ancestors who came from the Caribbean Islands.

Decreolization of Gullah
Gullah, unfortunately, is dying in Georgia and South Carolina. Many young people no longer speak it, and those who speak it either consciously or involuntarily purge the African influences in it, making it sound increasingly close to mainstream American English. This process is called “decreolization.” So Gullah is on its way to becoming what linguists call a “vestigial post-creole,” that is, a former lingual admixture of indigenous languages and a foreign (often European) language that has now taken both the structure and vocabulary of the foreign language and dismantled all or most elements of the indigenous languages that constituted the substrate of the admixture.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Bursting the Myth of Buhari’s Boko Haram “Success”

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

A false narrative that several people cherish about the Buhari government is the notion that its singular greatest achievement is its success in containing, downgrading, or defeating Boko Haram. It’s like a consolation prize to compensate for the government’s abject failure in every index of governance. I recognize that taking away the consolation prize of Buhari’s Boko Haram success narrative would cause psychic and cognitive dislocation in many people who will ignore the substance of my argument and launch petulantly juvenile ad hominem attacks on me, but I’m already used to that.

But the question I always ask people who talk of the Buhari administration’s “success” in “downgrading” or “technically defeating” Boko Haram (whatever in the world that means) is: what exactly has Buhari done that hasn’t been done by his predecessor to bring about his so-called success? The only intelligent answer I’ve received is that he ordered the relocation of the command center for Nigeria's military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri. Well, that’s commendable, but it conceals the unchanged, sordid underbelly of military authorities.

For instance, the military is still severely underfunded and ill-equipped. Soldiers on the front lines are still owed backlogs of allowances; several of them still starve and survive on the goodwill of do-gooders. Two videos of the heartrending conditions of our military men fighting Haram went viral sometime ago, and military authorities were both embarrassed and caught flatfooted. I periodically speak with my relatives and friends in the military fighting Boko Haram, and they say little or nothing has changed, except that propaganda and media management have become more effective. The fat cats in the military still exploit and feed fat on the misery of the foot soldiers.

Even on the symbolic plane, which is the easiest to navigate, Buhari hasn’t been better than his predecessor. He did not visit our foot soldiers in Borno to boost their morale nor did he visit IDPs whose misery has become one of the most horrendous humanitarian disasters in the world. He only visited Borno on October 1, 2017—more than 2 years after being in power—to celebrate Independence Day with the military after so much pressure was brought to bear on him by critics. There are three major reasons why the intensity of the Boko Haram scourge has subsided, none of which has anything to do with Buhari’s policies on Boko Haram.

One, our foot soldiers, like always, have never wavered in their bravery and persistence in spite of their prevailing untoward conditions. This isn’t because of the president; it is in spite of the president.

Two, Boko Haram has been weakened by an enervatingly bitter and sanguinary internal schism. Since at least September 2016, the Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi factions of Boko Haram have killed each other more than the military has killed them.

Three, and most important, the conspiracy theories and tacit, if unwitting, support that emboldened Boko Haram in the north because a southern Christian was president have all but disappeared, making it easy for the military to get more cooperation from the local population. Remember Buhari said, in June 2013 in a Liberty Radio interview in Kaduna, that the military’s onslaught against Boko Haram amounted to “injustice” against the “north.” Babachir David Lawal, then a CPC politician, infamously said Boko Haram was a PDP plot to “depopulate” the northeast because the region doesn’t vote PDP. As my friend from the northeast noted on my Facebook page, “Borno elder Shettima Ali Monguno used to call BH ‘our children’ and he only stopped after he was kidnapped for ransom by the group.”

The Northern Elders Forum in 2013 said Boko Haram members should be given amnesty, not killed. Even then PDP chairman Bamanga Tukur said in 2011 that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice. Boko Haram is another name for justice.” Several Borno elders and everyday citizens protected Boko Haram members and frustrated the military. In fact, in June 2012, Borno elders told the government of the day to withdraw soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorists from the state. (But when the military dropped a bomb and killed scores of IDPs, these Borno elders didn't even as much as say a word of condemnation.)

I published letters in 2014 from Borno readers of my column that said the people would rather live with Boko Haram than cooperate with the military because they believed the military was part of a grand plot to annihilate them. The military was so frustrated that it almost wiped out the entire village of Baga in April 2013 when residents provided cover for Boko Haram insurgents who escaped into the area. I wrote to condemn the military at the time.

All this changed because the president is no longer a Christian from the south. Buhari isn’t just a northern Muslim; his mother is half Kanuri, and that’s why most (certainly not all) people from the region intentionally exaggerate the extent of safety and security in the region even when the facts give the lie to their claims. It's all ethnic solidarity. A Maiduguri person with a PhD actually once confided in me that he would never stop supporting Buhari and propagandizing on his behalf because of the Kanuri heritage he shares with him. Imagine what uneducated and barely educated people from the region think.

Because someone with some Kanuri blood in him is president, Boko Haram is no longer a plot to depopulate the northeast. No northern elder is pleading amnesty on the group’s behalf. The group is no longer fighting “for justice.” Killing them is no longer “injustice” to the “north.” And everything is now hunky-dory. Ethno-regional bigotry will be the death of Nigeria.

Shekau’s Sambisa Escape and Boko Haram’s Kidnap of Yobe Girls
Three days after offering a 3-million-naira bounty on Boko Haram factional leader Abubakar Shekau (whom Nigerian military authorities had claimed to have killed several times!), BBC Hausa reported this week that when our valiant troops came close to capturing him alive, they were told by higher-ups to back off. And so Shekau escaped! This is at least the second time this has happened since Buhari has been in power. The Daily Trust reported a similar incident sometime in 2016.

Meanwhile, the group attacked Government Girls Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe State. Thankfully, as of Wednesday, all the girls that went missing after the attack have been found, but this is a poignant reminder that prematurely proclaiming that the group has been “technically defeated” (while asking for $1 billion to fight it!) and promoting a false sense of security among citizens for propaganda purposes is at once unhelpful, immoral, and irresponsible.

Sadly, the people who live with the agony of this tragedy can’t complain publicly. If they do, they risk social ostracism. Only ethically depraved loudmouths with a twisted understanding of “taqiyya” (which they understand as telling lies in defense of people who share the same religion as them, which is a wrong understanding of the concept) come to social media to say that since “god” Buhari mounted the throne of the Nigerian presidency all problems in the northeast have magically disappeared and the region is now heaven on earth. All contrary evidence, however credible, is “fake news”— Trump-style.

But what exactly is going on? I know the insecurity that Boko Haram’s insurgency has occasioned in the northeast is big business for several merchants of death in the military and in certain political circles. Is it these military and political merchants of death who restrain our troops from capturing Shekau?

It has turned out that the girls haven't been found. Initial reports that they had been found were propaganda by Nigerian military authorities.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

African Words in America’s Gullah English Dialect (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Last week I identified some notable African onomastic (onomastics is the science of personal names) influences among the Gullah people. This week I’ll highlight a few African lexical influences in the Gullah English dialect. But before I do that, I’d like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Clarence Thomas, the only black person in the US Supreme Court and the second black person to ever be appointed to the US Supreme Court after Thurgood Marshall, spoke Gullah as a child—and still speaks it whenever he so desires.

In 2000, according to the New York Times on December 14, 2000, he told a 16-year-old high school student that his remarkable reticence in the Supreme Court and elsewhere has roots that go back to his childhood. As a child, he said, he was taunted by his peers and teachers for speaking his Gullah English dialect (which he said was more popularly known as Geechee in Savanah, Georgia, where he grew up) or for allowing Gullah influences to creep into his standard spoken English.

“When I was 16, I was sitting as the only black kid in my class, and I had grown up speaking a kind of a dialect. It's called Geechee. Some people call it Gullah now, and people praise it now,” he said. “But they used to make fun of us back then. It's not standard English. When I transferred to an all-white school at your age, I was self-conscious, like we all are…. And the problem was that I would correct myself midsentence. I was trying to speak standard English. I was thinking in standard English but speaking another language. So I learned that — I just started developing the habit of listening…. I didn't ask questions in college or law school. And I found that I could learn better just listening.”

Perhaps he meant to say he thought in Gullah and tried to translate his thoughts into Standard English and couldn’t help the episodic, involuntary intrusions of Gullah.

Michelle Obama is also said to be descended from Gullah ancestors on her paternal side, although neither she nor her parents speak, or ever spoke, Gullah because their forebears left the Sea Islands many generations ago. It was her great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, according to some accounts, who spoke Gullah.
I can’t possibly write about the hundreds of African words that have survived in the Gullah language when Dr. Lorenzo Turner recorded them in the 1930s and 1940s, so I list only a sample here.

1. “Agogo.” Many Yoruba speakers recognize this word as the name for a bell or a bell-shaped metal musical instrument in their language. In Gullah, it means a cowbell, that is, a bell hung around the neck of a cow to make finding it easy. In modern times agogo is also used in Yoruba and other languages, such as Baatonum, to mean a clock, which is decidedly a semantic extension that derives from the notion of a bell as a time marker.

2. “Amin.” Gullah people intersperse their supplications with “amin” instead of the English “amen.” Amin is, of course, the Arabic version of the Hebrew “amen,” which has been exported to and domesticated in English. It means “so be it” in both Hebrew and Arabic. The Gullah use the Arabic version of the word during their (Christian) prayers because that was the version passed on to them by their West African Muslim ancestors.

3. “Bakra.” This Gullah word for “white man” is derived from “mbakara,” the Annang/Efik/Ibibio word for white man. (Annang, Efik, and Ibibio are mutually intelligible dialects of the same language in Nigeria’s deep south.) Turner said Igbo people also use “mbakara” to mean “white man.” That’s not entirely accurate. The Igbo word for white man is “ocha,” but it is conceivable that because Igbo, Annang, Efik, and Ibibio people are geographic and cultural cousins, Igbos understood—and even used—mbakara to mean white people in the 1930s when Turner conducted research for his book. Interestingly, many black people in the Caribbean Islands also use some version of “mbakara”—such as buckra, bacra, and buckaroo—to refer to white people. In some Texas and California communities in the United States, buckaroo and bucheroo are also used to mean a “cowboy.”

4. “Be the groun.” This is an agricultural register in the Gullah dialect. It means to get the ground ready for farming, where “be” means “to clean, to remove debris.” Turner discovered that in Wolof, a Niger-Congo language spoken in Senegal, the Gambia, and parts of Mauritania, “bei” means to “cultivate, to prepare ground for planting.”

Because of the phonetic and orthographic similarities between the Wolof “bei,” which is rendered as “be” in Gullah, and the English “be,” the expression “be the groun” used to be thought of as an incompetent attempt to speak Standard English. Thanks to Turner, we now know that the expression has its own Wolof-inflected syntactic and sematic logic independent of Standard English.

5. “Bidibidi.” This means “small bird” or “small chicken” in Gullah. It is derived, according to Turner, from Kongo, a Niger-Congo language spoken in Angola (from where about 39 percent of Gullah people came, as I pointed out two weeks ago) and the Congo, where it also means small bird or small chicken. White linguists who studied Gullah had dismissed this word as “baby talk” for “small bird” because of the phonetic—and accidental semantic—affinities between “biddy” (the informal English word for small bird or fowl) and bidibidi.

6. “Da” or “dada.” In Gullah, “da” and “dada” are used interchangeably to mean “mother, nurse, an elderly woman.” Turner found parallels for these words in Ewe (spoken in Togo, Ghana, and Benin Republic) where “da” and “dada” mean mother or elder sister. Notice that in Igbo “ada” means “eldest daughter.”

7. “Done for fat.” Earlier researchers had thought this Gullah expression meant “excessively fat.” They thought the “done for” in the expression was an intensifier for “fat,” which they said merely suggested that the Gullah people meant fat people were “done for,” that is, doomed to die. But Lorenzo Turner’s painstaking research shows us that “done for” is actually the phonetic Anglicization of “danfa,” which is the Vai word for fat. Vai is a Niger-Congo language of the Mande branch spoken by a little over 100,000 people in what is now Liberia and Sierra Leone. So, basically, the Gullah people combined the Vai and the English words for the same condition— for emphasis. It should actually have been correctly written as “danfa fat.”

8. “Dede.” This means “correct, exact, exactly” in Gullah. Turner compared it with the Yoruba “dede” and the Hausa daidai (which he wrote as “deidei”), which also mean “correct, exact, exactly.” In Kongo, dedede also means “similarity, correspondence.” In my language, Baatonu, like in Yoruba, dede means “correct, exact, exactly.”

9. Fulfulde counting system. One of the discoveries that pleasantly shocked me is the realization that the Gullah people still retain several Fulani numerals in their English dialect. In Gullah (as in Fulfulde with only slight variations in accent and spelling), one is go, two is didi, five is je, six is jego, seven is jedidi, eight is jetati, nine is jenai, ten is sapo, eleven is sapo go, twelve is sapo didi, thirteen is sapo tati, fourteen is sapo nai, fifteen is sapo je, sixteen is sapo jego, seventeen is sapo jedidi, eighteen is sapo jetati, nineteen is sapo jenai, etc.

The Gullah people who shared this counting system with Turner in the 1930s had no clue from which African language they inherited this counting system. My sense is that it was passed down to them from some of their Senegambian Fulani ancestors. Note that I wrote these words exactly as Turner wrote them. When I searched online Fulfulde dictionaries, I found slight variations in the modern spellings of these numerals, but it’s remarkable, nonetheless, that the Fulfulde counting system has survived among the Gullah after more than 300 years of separation from its original source.

10. A reverse influence: In a chapter of my book, Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World, I discussed the African heritage of common English words and expressions, which entered the language through so-called African American Vernacular English (AMVE). I pointed out that some expressions/words started out as African-derived Gullah dialectal expressions, made their way to demotic African-American speech, and then to global conversational English through what I called "pop-cultured-induced linguistic osmosis." At other times, certain conventional colloquial (American English) expressions (such as "my bad," "to bad-mouth someone," "do your own thing," etc.) began life as calque formations from West African languages in African-American English before mutating to mainstream English. This is also true of many everyday words like "tote," "jitters," "phony," etc.

From reading Turner’s book, I’ve discovered African-derived English words like “yam” (from the Mandingo yam or yambi, the Ga (Ghana) yamu), tote (meaning to carry), etc. entered English by way of Gullah.

To be concluded next week

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Superstitions and the Thieving, Moneyvorous Snake in Benue

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

A Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) clerk by the name of Philomina Chieshe reportedly told auditors recently that the 36 million naira realized from the sale of JAMB scratch cards couldn’t be accounted for because a sneaky “spiritual snake” had mysteriously swallowed up all the money. Now the lady is the object of all sorts of jokes. I am sorry to burst a few bubbles here.

First, the money wasn’t missing in the life of the Buhari administration. Most people didn’t go beyond the story’s headline and just jumped to conclusions based on their preconceptions. The money was actually missing, according to reports, between 2006 and 2007. It’s just now being discovered after current JAMB registrar Professor Ishaq Oloyede ordered a comprehensive audit of the finances of the organization.

Second, and most importantly, most Nigerians believe in the sort of metaphysical nonsense that conduced to the JAMB clerk’s moneyvorous “spiritual snake” explanation. When it comes to belief in backward superstitions, most educated and uneducated Nigerians are indistinguishable. That was why one British journalist once described Nigeria as a “classless” society, by which he meant that educational attainment and social class are hardly reliable predictors of people’s attitudes and value systems.

People who are laughing at the JAMB woman’s superstitious fraud secretly nurse and cherish their own superstitions, and would get all hot and worked up if theirs are mocked. So let’s start.
The idea that “spiritual” things (such as otherworldly snakes, jinns, spirits, witches, wizards, etc.) steal money is actually not that outlandish in Nigeria. For instance, some people I support with monthly stipends told me sometime last year—at different times and unknown to each other— that “spirits” had been stealing their money at night. It was the first time I’d heard about “spirits” stealing money, but it’s apparently a widespread superstition.

In Nigeria, the vast majority of people believe that evil spirits can be transferred through cell phones. Nigerian journalists characterize some phone numbers as “killer numbers” because they supposedly kill you the instant you pick calls from them! I blocked someone on WhatsApp who was always sending me unsolicited periodic updates on “killer numbers” I shouldn’t pick.

 In Nigeria, a “professor” by the name of Chinedu Nebo, who is a former university vice chancellor, told the nation’s senate in 2013 during his confirmation hearing for the position of minister of power that power outages were caused by “witches and demons,” and that “If the President deploys me in the power sector, I believe that given my performance at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I drove out the witches and demons, God will also give me the power to drive out the demons in the power sector.”

A year earlier, a minister of state in the same Ministry of Power by the name of Zainab Kuchi told a South African delegation that “evil spirits” were responsible for Nigeria’s perpetually capricious power supply. And you wonder why our electricity generation is still stuck in the Stone Age.

Many Nigerians believe that it’s possible to have supernormal immunity against bullets. I’ve read several stories of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) militia men and so-called civilian JTF militia men in Boko Haram-ravaged Borno State being gunned down like sitting ducks because they believed in the lies of a witch doctor who convinced them that some herbal concoction he gave them provided them immunity to gunshots.

This recalls a comical experience I witnessed in Kano in the 1990s when my late uncle was commanding police officer of the Hotoro Mobile Police Barracks. Some “malam” who claimed to have the secrets of supernatural bulletproof insurance told my uncle that he could metaphysically inoculate him against all gunshots. The first question my uncle asked him was, “Are you yourself supernaturally immunized against gunshots?” The man boastfully answered in the affirmative. My uncle went to his room, brought a gun, and aimed it at him. He bolted from his seat faster than the speed of lightning!

On May 27, 2014, many newspapers published a fictitious report of Borno women invoking a magical spell to subdue Boko Haram terrorists who had reputedly come to attack them.  Vanguard quoted a nameless eyewitness of this putative supernormal encounter to have said that Boko Haram “attackers invaded the village yesterday on motorcycles but met some women, adding ‘they wanted to hit the women with sticks but when they raised the sticks, their hands refused to descend.’”

Daily Trust’s report of May 27, 2014 on the same incident titled “Women arrest Boko Haram fighters in Borno” was more dramatic and fantastical than Vanguard’s. Like Vanguard, Daily Trust also quoted an unnamed eyewitness to have said, “The insurgents wanted to attack the women but their guns did not work. They tried hitting them with the boot of their guns but mysteriously, all the hands of the insurgents hung until youth and vigilantes in the area mobilized and killed them.”

As I mentioned in a previous column, many senior members in Buhari’s government believe the president is failing because he is under a spell. “But like most Buhari aides, my informant believes Buhari is metaphysically held captive by a potent, disabling evil spell that causes him to be easily susceptible to the wiles and devious manipulations of a vicious cabal in Aso Rock. He said efforts are being made to exorcise this spell. But that’s superstitious nonsense,” I wrote in my October 22, 2016 column titled “Aisha Buhari and the Evil Aso Rock Cabal.”

And the vast majority of Nigerians believe that there is such a thing as “magun” (Yoruba for “don’t climb”), which is supposedly a metaphysical deterrence against marital infidelity by women. Of course, it’s superstitious garbage. Biologists actually call it penis captivus, and it has nothing to do with what anyone did to any woman. It’s a rare biological, scientifically explainable condition that occurs in every society, including Oyinbo societies where people have gone past the sort of atavistic ignorance that still reigns supreme in our societies.

When I first shared this on Facebook, a whole host of supposedly educated Yoruba commenters on my wall assured me that “magun is real o!” Well, if you believe "magun" is real but disdain the tale of a money-stealing spiritual snake, you're the victim of a massive psychic imbalance and need help.
Those are not the only bizarre things Nigerians believe. For instance, in January 2009, a goat was arrested and detained by the police in Kwara State because “eyewitnesses” said a robber had transmogrified into it to escape capture. In April 2017, Zamfara State governor Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari said the meningitis that killed scores of children was God’s punishment for fornication. The list is endless.

So before you laugh at the woman’s “spiritual snake” alibi, remember the superstitions you believe, too. Remember the “testimonies” you give for the mundane favors you get, for being able to steal government funds and not get caught. You’re no different from the Benue woman.

A scientific mindset free of the encumbrances of silly, retarded superstitions is an indispensable requirement for progress. But from the comments I read on my Facebook wall, we really have a long way to go—or perhaps no way to go, frankly.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Kafiri, Saitan, Ogbomosho: Strange Personal Names Among America’s Gullah People

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In last week’s column, I promised to share with the reader some of the noticeable African influences in the Gullah language. These influences are so vast, varied, and deep that I cannot do justice to them in a single newspaper column. So I’ve decided to capture them in two installments.

In his groundbreaking book titled Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, which I made reference to in last week’s column, the late African-American linguist Dr. Lorenzo D. Turner identified more than 4,000 words in the Gullah English dialect that trace lexical descent from several languages in west and central Africa. He found these African influences in Gullah people’s personal names, in their quotidian conversational vocabularies, and in their folk songs, stories, hymns, and invocations. I will explore Gullah personal names this week and conclude with the African lexical influences in the everyday speech and songs of the Gullah people in the coming weeks.

In what follows, I identify the African origins of many Gullah personal names. Given that the research for the book from which material for this column was drawn was done in the 1930s, I have updated several of the author’s data. I’ve also extended and enriched his conclusions based on my own experiential and epistemological location in relation to his data.

Thousands of personal names the Gullah people bear are similar to many names people in west and central Africa still bear. It is impossible to mention all of them in this piece; Turner identified more than 4,000 personal names among the Gullah in Georgia and South Carolina. So I am only going to isolate a few, mostly Nigerian, names that stood out for me.

I am particularly surprised by the large number of Yoruba names the Gullah people bear. As Turner pointed out, the Gullah people had not the slightest awareness of the Yoruba origin and meaning of their names. Among the hundreds of Yoruba names Turner recorded among the Gullah people in the 1930s are names like Ade, Adebisi, Adebiyi, Adekule [Adekunle], Adeniyi, Adewale, Adu, Adosu, Aganju, Akaraje [i.e., eat bean cake], Akawo [Akanwo], Alafia [ “Alafia” is an Arabic-derived word; see Arabized African names below], Alabo, Alade, Alawo, Baba, Bankole, Erelu, Idowu, Iyaoba, Kehinde, Oduduwa, Otunla, Ogboni, Oluwa, Okuta, Ola, Oriki, Olubiyi, Olugbodi, Oyebisi, Sango, Yeye.

There are hundreds more in the book, but I was struck, just like Turner was, that the Gullah people have retained the difficult “gb” sound in their names. Most people, including Africans who don’t speak a Niger-Congo language, usually have a hard time articulating the “gb” sound, which Turner called “the voiced labio-velar plosive,” including the “kp” sound that begins my last name, which Turner characterized as the “gb” sound’s “voiced counterpart” (p. 25).

This, for me, is nothing short of extraordinary. Even my first daughter, to whom my native Baatonu language isn’t a mother tongue, has a hard time pronouncing her last name and has pleaded with me to dispense with the “K” in our last name. I told her that would be a mutilation of the name because “kp” is an independent sound unit like “ch” is in “chair” in English.

Well, the Gullah people also bear many Africanized Muslim names they obviously inherited from their Fulani, Mandingo, Yoruba, Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Mende Muslim ancestors. As I pointed out last week, the extensive second-hand Arabic influence Turner found in many African-derived Gullah words, which he discovered after speaking with West Africans in London and Paris in the 1930s, caused him to learn Arabic so that he could make sense of his data.

Turner recorded names like Aburika, which is probably a corruption of Abubakar; Adamu, incidentally my father’s first name, which is the West African Muslim rendering of Adam; Aduwa, an Africanization of du’a, the Arabic word for prayer; Ayisa and Ayisata, Mandingo and Bambara Muslim approximations of Aisha, the name of one of the wives of the Prophet of Islam; Ayuba, the Muslim version of Job, which is rendered as Ayub in Arabic; Baraka, which is Arabic for blessing that shares etymological and semantic affinities with Barack, the first name of President Obama; Dirisu, which is how the Mandingo and Bambara people call the Muslim name Idris—Yoruba Muslims call it Disu; Fatuma, Fatu, Fatimata (all Mandingo, Wolof, and Bamabara versions of “Fatima,” the name of the daughter of the Prophet of Islam); Fitina (derived from the Arabic word for trouble); Ibrahima, the West African Muslim rendering of Ibrahim, which Christians and Jews call Abraham.

He also recorded names like Jumare, now regarded as a Fulani name but which is actually derived from (al)jumea, the Arabic name for Friday— Yoruba, Ebira, Baatonu Muslims, etc. bear the name as Jimoh; Gibril (which Nigerian Muslims bear as Jibril or Jibrin or Jibo and which Christians and Jews know as Gabriel; Imale (the Yoruba word for Muslim, presumably because Islam came to Yoruba land from Mali); Haruna, which is the West African version of Harun, which Christians and Jews know as Aaron; Lafiya ( derived from “afia,” the Arabic word for good health, which is borne as a royal name among the Borgu people in Nigeria and Benin Republic, and as an everyday personal name in Senegambia and other historically Muslim polities in West Africa; Madina, the name of the second holiest city in Islam known to Westerners as Medina, which West African Muslims bear as a female personal name; Laila; Laraba, a Hausa name given to a girl born on Wednesday, derived from al-arbi'aa', the Arabic word for Wednesday; Woli, (the Yoruba Muslim domestication of the Arabic wali, which means patron saint);  Salihu; Salamu; etc.

The Gullah even bear puzzling names like Kafiri (a derogatory name for a non-Muslim, which Yoruba and Baatonu Muslims call keferi, which is an African approximation of the Arabic kafir) and Saitan, which is the Muslim rendering of Satan!

They also bear the names of West African ethnic groups as personal names, perhaps indicating the ethnic origins of some of the Gullah people. They bear names like Fulani, Fulbe, Fula (which refer to the same people), Ibibio, Ijesa, Ogbomosho, according to Turner’s records. The name Yoruba didn’t exist as a collective name for people in what is now southwest Nigeria. “Yoruba” in its current form is a 19th-century creation by Samuel Ajayi Crowther—following a 16th century Songhai Islamic scholar by the name of Ahmed Baba who first used the name to refer to people in the old Oyo Empire. That is why only names like Ijesa (a Yoruba sub-group found in present-day Osun State) and Ogbomosho, rather than “Yoruba,” appear in the records of people enslaved in the West from West Africa.

The Gullah people also bear Kwora, the name for River Niger (which is rendered as Kwara in the northcentral Nigerian state where I am from) in many West African languages, including Hausa, Baatonu, and Fulani from where it was probably passed down to the Gullah. Interestingly, among the Baatonu people, Kwora is a name reserved exclusively for members of royal families in both Nigeria and Benin Republic.

 While the gendering of many Gullah names corresponds with their gendering in West African names (for instance, many of the Yoruba names among the Gullah are unisex, like they are among the Yoruba), there is a discordance in others. For example, a name like Aba, which is a male name in Gullah, is the name of a girl born on Thursday among the Fante people of present-day Ghana.

Turner found out that most of the personal names that the Gullah bear can be traced to Arabic (by way of members of several Islamized West African ethnic groups who were enslaved to rice plantations in Georgia and South Carolina); Bambara ( who are now found primarily in Mali, but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Senegal); Bini in southern Nigeria; Bobangi in the Congo; Zarma who now live mainly in what is now Niger Republic; Ewe who can be found in Togo and Benin Republic; Efik in southern Nigeria; Fante in Ghana; Fon in Benin Republic; Fulani; Hausa; Igbo; Ibibio in southern Nigeria; Kongo in Angola; Kikongo in the Congo; Kimbundu in Angola; Kpelle in Liberia; Mende in Sierra Leone; Malinke, Mandinka, and Mandingo in Senegambia, Mali, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc., Nupe and Gwari in central Nigeria; Susu in Guinea; Songhai in present-day Niger, Mali, and Benin republics; Twi in Ghana; Temne in Sierra Leone; Tshiluba in the Congo; Umbundu in Angola; Vai in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Wolof in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania; and Yoruba in southwestern Nigeria.

Keep a date next week for an analysis of African words in the Gullah English dialect.


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