"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Fulani and Origin of the Names “Yoruba” and “Yamuri”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fulani and Origin of the Names “Yoruba” and “Yamuri”

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

Former Minister of Culture Femi Fani-Kayode started a healthy national conversation about the constructedness of collective identities in Nigeria when he repudiated his “Yoruba” identity because he said the name owes etymological debts to the Fulani and that it has pejorative denotations and connotations. This is, of course, both ahistorical and factually inaccurate.

As I pointed out in my preliminary intervention on his claims on social media, the name “Yariba” was first attested in a treatise by a 16th-century Songhai Islamic scholar by the name of Ahmad Baba to refer to the people of the ancient Oyo Empire, which included all of present-day Oyo State, most of Osun State—and parts of Kwara and some western Nigerian states.

Ahmad Baba’s 1613 essay, titled “Al-kashf wa-l-bayān li-aṣnāfmajlūb al-Sūdān” (translated into English as “The Exposition and Explanation Concerning the Varieties of Transported Black Africans”), mentioned “Yariba” among ethnic groups Muslims were justified to enslave.

In his 1806 treatise titled "Bayan Wujub Al-Hijra,Ala L-Ibad,” Sheikh Usmanu Dan Fodiyo referenced Ahmad Baba’s essay and contested some of its claims. Ahmad Baba had written that “the people of Kano, some of Zakzak [Zaria?], the people of Katsina, the people of Gobir, and all of the Songhay” were Muslims who could never be enslaved.

Since Dan Fodio didn’t think the Islam in Hausaland at the time was authentic, he needed to justify his jihad, so he responded to Ahmad Baba posthumously by asserting that what was true of Ahmadu Baba’s claims 200 years ago, “might not necessarily be true at all other times, since every scholar relates what he sees in his own days.”

Dan Fodio’s son, Muhammad Bello, wrote Infaq al-mansur in 1813 where he also responded to Ahmad Baba’s 1613 essay, and had cause to mention “Yariba.” In other words, the name “Yariba” had been used to refer to people of the ancient Oyo Empire at least 200 years before Dan Fodio and his son, Muhammad Bello, used it. That invalidates the claim that it was the “Fulani” who “gave” the name “Yariba” to people in today’s western Nigeria. In any case, “Yariba” doesn’t mean anything in Fulfulde.

As etymologists remind us, before a word is attested in writing, it must have existed several years in demotic speech. That means “Yariba” had been in use much earlier than 1613 when it first appeared in writing—which is hundreds of years before the Fulani encountered the Yoruba.

Now that we have established that it is chronologically impossible for the Fulani to have “given” the name “Yariba” to Oyo people, where did the name come from? It’s obvious that Songhai people (who are now found in Niger Republic, parts of Benin Republic, and parts of Mali as Zarma and Dendi) have called Oyo people some version of “Yariba” since at least the 1500s. But the name may not be original to them, either.

Dr. Hussaini Abdu, in his forthcoming book titled Partitioned Borgu: State, Society and Politics in a West African Border Region, makes the persuasive case that the name “Yoruba” owes lexical provenance to the Baatonu people of Borgu, Oyo’s immediate northern neighbors, whom contemporary Yoruba people call Bariba, Baruba or Ibariba. The Baatonu word for Oyo people is “Yoru” (singular), “Yorubu” (plural). The third person reference to the people is “Yoruba.”

“The name was probably sourced from Songhay contact with Borgu, later reinforced through interviews with Baatonu slaves in Sierra Leone and popularised by European travellers like Clapperton and missionary documentation, such as the works of Samuel Johnson in the nineteenth century,” he wrote.

This isn’t a far-fetched proposition because Songhai, Borgu, and Oyo had deep cultural and historical ties. For one, it was Songhai-speaking Mande people from ancient Mali who brought Islam to Borgu and to Yoruba land, which explains why Islam is called “imale” in the Yoruba language.

Two, the three polities share several common cultural vocabularies. For instance, recently, Professor Oyeronke Oyewumi of New York’s Stony Brook University and daughter of the current Soun of Ogbomoso, asked me if the term wundia, which means a young unmarried woman in Yoruba, had origins in the Baatonu language because, as she said, “it is clear to me that it’s not an original Yoruba word.”

Well, the Yoruba wundia occurs in the Baatonu language as “wondia,” but it turns out that the word is originally Songhai where it occurs as “wondia” in both Dendi and Zarma—with the same meaning. This is just one of several vocabularies shared by Yoruba, Songhai, and Borgu people. In fact, as I showed in my May 13, 2012 article titled “The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words,” several Arabic words in Yoruba such as “alafia,” “alufa,” “borokini,”  “tobi,” “suuru,” “wahala,” “faari,” “anfani,” etc., which also occur in the Baatonu language in the same lexical forms, came to the language by way of the Songhai.

So it’s no surprise that there is a vast circulation of cultural and ethnonymic registers between these polities. Interestingly, the Baatonu people (more than 80 percent of whom are now in Benin Republic) don’t call other Yoruba groups “Yoruba.” For instance, they call the Yoruboid groups in Benin Republic Kawo (plural Kaabu or Kawobu). “Yorubu” is reserved only for Oyo Yoruba.
It’s obvious that Ahmad Baba wrote “Yoruba” as “Yariba” in his 1613 essay because Arabic, the language in which he wrote, does not have the vowel “o.” The three dominant vowels in Arabic are “a,” “I,” and “u.”

Obviously, both the Fulani and the Hausa copied the name “Yariba” from the Songhai who in turn copied it from the Baatonu people of Borgu. I speak the Baatonu language natively; if the name “Yoru” had a meaning in the language, that meaning is lost now. But there is not the faintest whiff of derogation in the name when the Baatonu people use it to refer to Oyo people. Nor does it mean anything even in Songhai, which my mother’s relatives speak natively.

What is significant, however, is that people of Western Nigeria aren’t called “Yoruba” today because the Borgu people called them so, or because they were identified by a version of that name by Songhai, Hausa, and Fulani people. They self-identify as “Yoruba” precisely because returnee slaves of Yoruba descent chose the name, popularized it, and encouraged people in the region to embrace it.

John Raban’s 1832 book titled The Vocabulary of the Eyo, or Aku, a Dialect of West Africa is perhaps the first to mention the name “Yoruba” in writing. Then in 1843, Samuel Ajayi Crowther published A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language. Raban, like Crowther, was a reverend gentleman and returnee Yoruba slave in Sierra Leone.

 In 1859, Nigeria’s first modern newspaper, called Iwe Irohin fun awon Egba ati Yoruba (Yoruba for “newspaper for the Egba and Yoruba people”) hit the newsstands. The name of the paper suggests that when the newspaper was founded, the “Yoruba” (read: Oyo people) were regarded as different from the Egba and other Yoruba subgroups, although the language was considered similar enough to have one newspaper for all of them.

It was Samuel Ajayi Crowther who in the nineteenth century actively worked to encourage the amalgam of related linguistic groups in western Nigeria to adopt the name “Yoruba” as their endonym. So an exonym (name given to a people by others) was adopted as an endonym (name by which a group self-identifies) through the instrumentality of an outsider who made himself an insider. Of course, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group continued and strengthened Crowther’s initiative.

Professor Stephen Akintoye has also done a wonderful job of exploding Chief Fani-Kayode’s claims in his short article titled “About the Name ‘Yoruba’.” Nevertheless, he misstated a few facts. He said it is Arabs who call Yoruba people “Yarbawa” and that only Yoruba people call Arabs “Larubawa.”

"Larubawa" is actually a Hausa word. It's the plural form for Arabs in the Hausa language. The singular form is Balarabe. Yarbawa is also the plural form for Yoruba people in the Hausa language (the singular is Bayarbe, which some Yoruba people mispronounce as “Berebe”). It's not an Arabic word. Note that "awa" is the lexeme for the plural forms of ethnonyms in the Hausa language. That's why the plural for even the Hausa people themselves in their language is also Hausawa (singular: Bahause).

And “yamiri”? The Fulani didn’t “give” that name to the Igbo. The Hausa did, and it’s derived from an imitation of yem mmiri, Igbo for “give me water.”

Related Articles:
Fulani Did NOT Invent "Yoruba" and "Yamuri"
"Yariba," "Nyamiri," and "Sons and Daughters of Oduduwa"
The Arabic Origins of Common Yoruba Words
Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names
Of Yoruba, Arabic, and Origin of Nigerian Names
Language Families in Nigeria
Mesu Jamba, a Slur Against Ilorin People, is a Linguistic Fraud
Ooni of Ife's Strange Theory of the Yoruba Origins of English
"Mesu Jamba," the Question of Etymological Fallacy, and Other Reactions
Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu's Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism (I)
Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu's Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism (II)

26 comments:

Unknown said...

Very interesting piece. I am now more enlightened on the history of and where the name of the most educated people in Nigeria emanate
Thanks alot. Please do keep up the good job of analytically discussing topics of interest to humanity.
It is worth the time.

Mimshach Investment said...

This is very educative and enlightening, I'd read it a thousand times over and enjoy doing so. Thanks Prof for this piece of FREE education.

Unknown said...

Very nice

Anonymous said...

Brilliant analysis, Prof. More ink to your pen.

Ahmed Abiola Muhammad LP said...

This is indeed very enlightening. Thanks a lot

Unknown said...

This is very educative and insightful. Well done sir!

Unknown said...

More than enlightening! This piece explains more about origin of the name Yoruba than any other piece written! Thanks prof

Attitudinal & Intellectual Revolution said...

I am really enjoying the discussion.

Prof, have you read Prof. Akintoye's submission?
Yours and his are complementary.

Glad FFK sparked up the discussion and our schorlars rose to the occasion.

In a response to your assertion on the Facebook earlier in the week that most collective identities across the world were given by strangers, i suggested we concentrate on changing ourselves and let the names be. This is not different from Prof. Akintoye's conclusion either.

Once again, thanks for the schorlarly intervention.

Kehinde Olabode said...

I am really enjoying the discussion.

Prof, have you read Prof. Akintoye's submission?
Yours and his are complementary.

Glad FFK sparked up the discussion and our schorlars rose to the occasion.

In a response to your assertion on the Facebook earlier in the week that most collective identities across the world were given by strangers, i suggested we concentrate on changing ourselves and let the names be. This is not different from Prof. Akintoye's conclusion either.

Once again, thanks for the schorlarly intervention.

Unknown said...

Great piece, Definitely gonna check up on the ancient songhai empire.

Hopefully you would get to share some history between Igbo, Hausa/Fulani relations before the colonials

Unknown said...

There is no strength in this analysis other than mere conjectures. As far as I am concern, this analysis doesn't explode the postulations of Chief Femi Fani-Kayode. The jury is yours as to the etymological origin of the Yoruba name, if there is a faint whiff of derogation in the name when used, after a deeper and deeper research. Profs and FFK's analysis share a convergence in the fact that they both accepted that the name Yoruba is an exonym adopted as an endonym through the instrumentality of an outsider who made himself an insider!

Unknown said...

Educative

Sanmi Olarewaju said...

A very wonderful and educative write up. Am now better informed. Thanks a million.

Unknown said...

Weldone sir, more wisdom and long life to you in jesus mighty name.

http://www.gntt.simdif.com said...

Grate people with good knowledge and good to have you in our century.

Anonymous said...

Most educated kwa ? Lol

Steveosaz said...

Thank you Prof for this intellectual contribution to a topic of public interest. I hope FFK reads this gives a perspective that might differ from this that's if there's any.

Udeagbala Chukwuebuka Collins said...

Worth reading

ooduapathfinder said...

[12:44 AM, 10/27/2019] “What is significant, however, is that people of Western Nigeria aren’t called “Yoruba” today because the Borgu people called them so, or because they were identified by a version of that name by Songhai, Hausa, and Fulani people. They self-identify as “Yoruba” precisely because returnee slaves of Yoruba descent chose the name, popularized it, and encouraged people in the region to embrace it.” ------ Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.




While discussing J.T Bowen’s “Grammar and Dictionary of the Yoruba Language”, Pliny Earl Chase, in his paper titled “ON TIIE COMPARATIVE ETYMOLOGY OF THE YORUBA LANGUAGE” (1863) says:
“The Yoruba Language is surprisingly rich in abstract terms, and is of the early Turanian, or agglutinative type”—which may account for the various inflections by the early Songhay or Fulani writers. To Pliny Earl Chase, it seems little less than miraculous that a “barbarous” people should have so long retained in its entire speech the clear traces of its whole radical vocabulary and with so little appearance of phonetic decay”.
MEANING: The Yoruba Language was self-developed. Ile-Ife, regarded as the “source” of the Yoruba, despite the existence of autochthonous communities, and having its tentacles all over what is now regarded as Yorubaland, meant their LANGUAGE must have “followed” them while on their journeys of establishment. It is surprising that all what we are being told now is how others define us by our methods or language of greeting AND NOT by our EVERYDAY SPOKEN words--- for example, calling us “aku” or “lukumi” because such is how we greet or refer to our friends did not solve the problem of our everyday speech (or the etymology of the words)—unless we are being told that we had no such speech except to greet each other—which was/is why Pliny Chase would be “surprised” that such a “barbarous” people “retained in its entire speech … with so little appearance of phonetic decay”.
Furthermore, IF the Fulani saw us as “cunning”, that would have meant they were/are “not cunning” and therefore wholly honest and pure, which would be a fallacy. This alone nullifies whatever claims they have over the origin of the word.
The dialectal ascription, as in Egba/Ijebu/Oyo etc, were REFLECTIONS of Yoruba GEO-POLITICAL IDENTITY, which was based on some sort of “Federalism” whereby each Kingdom was autonomous while recognizing Ife supremacy—the eventual violation of which led to the Yoruba Civil Wars.

ooduapathfinder said...

The Yoruba Language is not an "exonym adopted as an endonym through the instrumentality of an outsider who made himself an insider".


“The Yoruba Language is surprisingly rich in abstract terms, and is of the early Turanian, or agglutinative type”—(which may account for the various inflections by the early Songhay or Fulani writers). To Pliny Earl Chase, it seems little less than miraculous that a “barbarous” people should have so long retained in its entire speech the clear traces of its whole radical vocabulary and with so little appearance of phonetic decay”---- Pliny Earl Chase, in his paper titled “ON THE COMPARATIVE ETYMOLOGY OF THE YORUBA LANGUAGE” (1863) while discussing J.T Bowen's "Grammar and Dictionary of the Yoruba Language"

Unknown said...

I'm OK with this, remain bless sir

Ahmed Abdulrahman said...

Nigeria need articles of kind, in our present situation. More of this please!

Unknown said...

Thanks Prof. for your informed intervention.

Unknown said...

Interested

Mysoftedge said...

Very enlightening. Thank you so much sir.

Anonymous said...

It is glaring that the Hausa Fulani Kanuri Nupe Igala Yoruba and Bariba ethnic Groups have a lot in common