Friday, October 25, 2019

Fulani Did NOT Invent “Yoruba” and “Yamuri”

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This was first published on Facebook and Twitter on October 22, 2019.
Femi Fani-Kayode was reported to have said that he isn't “Yoruba” because “The name ‘Yoruba’ derives from ‘Yariba’ and it means ‘shady and unreliable’” in the Fulani language. That’s not true.

The name “Yoruba” was first attested in a treatise by a 16th-century Songhai scholar by the name of Ahmad Baba al-Massufi al-Timbukti to refer to the people of the ancient Oyo Empire, which included present-day Oyo and Osun states—and parts of Kwara and Lagos states.

The name was adopted and adapted by Muhammad Bello (who later became the Sultan of Sokoto). He referred to Oyo people as “Yariba” in his article on the Oyo Empire. In time, Yariba became the word by which Hausa people called the people of Oyo. The people didn’t have a common collective name for themselves; they self-identified by such names as “Oyo,” Ogbomosho,” “Ife,” “Ijesa,” "Igbomina," etc.
It was Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a returnee slave who claimed to be descended from Yoruba people, 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.
“Yariba” is not a word— and doesn’t mean anything— in either the Fulani language (also called Fulfulde) or the Hausa language. Nor does it mean anything even in Songhai, as I’ll show in my Saturday column. By the way, the Fulani don’t refer to themselves by that name, either. That’s the Hausa exonym for them. They call themselves by some version of "Fulbe." “Hausa” itself, interestingly, is not native to the Hausa! It's the Songhai word for "southerner."
And “yamiri”? It’s also not a Fulani word. It’s a relatively recent Hausa word for the Igbo, and it’s derived from an imitation of mmiri, the Igbo word for water. During the Civil War, Hausa soldiers reported Biafrans as universally asking for “mmiri,” which sounded to their ears as “yamiri.” In time, it became the name for the people. I’ll say more on this in my column next Saturday.

Several people pointed out that the name "yamiri" predated the Nigerian Civil War.

"Yariba," "Nyamuri," and "Sons and Daughters of Oduduwa"

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi
I've been deluged with so much work these past few days that I've not had the time to come on social media. I just became aware of Femi Fani-Kayode's response to my preliminary response to his claims about how the names "Yoruba" and "Yamuri" came about.

My Saturday column in the Nigerian Tribune will respond, with facts, not emotions, to his totally ahistorical claim that the Fulani "gave" the names "Yariba" and "Nyamiri" to Yoruba and Igbo people. They did NOT!
Nonetheless, I'm glad we're having this conversation. When I wrote in 2005 that most contemporary collective identities in Nigeria, including the "Yoruba" identity, are as constructed and as relatively recent as Nigeria itself, I got a lot of predictable pushback from some of the same people who're now recognizing this fact. That's progress.
Fani-Kayode talks of the "sons and daughters of Oduduwa" as if this were an unproblematized identity category. It's not. As my friend Professor Moses Ochonu showed in his work, even the Oduduwa myth of origin for Yoruba people—along with other popular myths of origin such as the Bayajidda myth for Hausa people, the Kisra myth for Borgu people, etc.—was a colonial project.
Colonialists commissioned folklorists, Ochonu pointed out, to record myths of origins of different Nigerian communities. They then isolated and privileged some myths and suppressed others. The Oduduwa myth of origin wasn't the only myth of origin in Western Nigeria and wasn't originally shared by everyone in the region. Nor was the Bayajidda myth by everyone in Hausaland.
This fact doesn't, of course, invalidate the utility of the myths. Every society needs its myths for internal cohesion and for the politics of group and inter-group identity.