The Brazilian government has introduced the compulsory study of African History and Yoruba Language into the primary and secondary schools curriculum; should this be a welcome development for Africa? It is no news that there is an age-long relationship between Brazil and the Yoruba Language. Yoruba is a language spoken across West Africa, it is the main language of the people from the Oyo Empire, and was exported to communities along the West African coast as far as Liberia, through trade and military expansion. According to ‘Metzler Lexikon Sprache,’ written by Helmut Gluck, Yoruba is the native language of about 30 Million Africans.
Although the relationship between the language and Brazilian heritage dates as far back as the Pre-colonial era, adopting it as an official language was indeed a bold step by the Brazilian authorities. The Brazilian Minister of Culture, Dr Sérgio Sá leitão, while speaking at the Institute of African Studies, University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil paraded important dignitaries including Nigerian artists and historians, as well as professors of arts and African studies at a lecture on the importance of Yoruba language in the Brazilian culture and tradition.
According to him, the inclusion of African History and Yoruba Language in the curriculum would help bring the African Brazilian people close to their roots, and thus encourage the understandings of the language among other important languages in Brazil apart from Portuguese which is the official language. The Minister highlighted the role played by Brazil during the festival of arts and culture, ‘FESTAC 77’, held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977; the constant intercultural programmes between Nigeria and Brazil; the annual carnival of arts, music and cultural displays featuring prominent African artists and Yoruba writers such as Yinka Shonibare, Adeyinka Olaiya, El Anatsui among many others, including the highly respected Yoruba writer, Professor Wande Abimbola.
Also speaking at the event, Peruvian Nobel Laureate, Prof. Mário Vargas Llosa made mention of the African community in Peru where the African Peruvians are settled till date. Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, is known as one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. According to Vargas Llosa, Yoruba people and their culture have helped the universe. He said the Yoruba language should no longer be approached as an ethnic language, but a universal language that is alive in the culture and tradition of African and her roots around the universe.
Speaking in Yoruba and Portuguese, Prof Katiuscia Ribeiro of the Institute of African Studies drew attention to the African philosophical practices introducing the constant representation of the Yoruba culture and religion in the Brazilian traditional beliefs. A Nigerian carnival artist, painter and illustrator, Adeyinka Olaiya, also expressed the benefits the Yoruba language would bring to the Brazilian culture if fully integrated into the Brazilian educational curriculum. According to Olaiya, living in Salvador, Brazil, is like living in any of the western states of Nigeria where the Yoruba are predominantly located.
He said: “Most of the cultures and traditions in evidence in Brazil are all of the heritages brought along to the Latin American country by the majority Yoruba families, victims of the BARCO NEGREIROS, the NEGRO BOAT that forcefully brought the enslaved West Africans to Brazil in the 13th century. “The Yoruba heritage that represents the majority of the African cultural practices in Brazil today is having several words in Yoruba roots. Akara, Dendê, Iyalode, Babalawo, Iyalawo and lots more are all derived from the Yoruba roots.” Many Africans, both those living in the continent and in the Diaspora have welcomed the news saying it will give the ‘lost sons’ of Africa in Brazil a sense of belonging.
MOVING FORWARD: With this development, it is clear that policy makers in the Culture sub-sector of Nigeria’s economy now need to move swiftly and be engaged in the articulation and review of a coherent and well-coordinated policy that will ensure not only their planned and sustained development of this great achievement, but also create opportunities for the enhancement of Yoruba language worldwide. Experts within the system should be allowed to map out strategies to foster capacities and knowledge that would promote cultural linkages and international understanding among peoples of Africa and the rest of the world. An analysis of emerging challenges reveals that we need to find a pathway for deploying salient elements of Yoruba culture internationally, to support dialogue among civilizations and cultures all over the world.
Among others, how do you justify bringing into Nigeria, black people and Africans in the Diaspora attempting to trace their roots in Nigeria without considering the benefits accruable to visitors by taking them down to places like Ile-Ife, Osogbo and Oyo Alaafin? Which other Yoruba settlements are more important culturally and historically than these ancient settlements? It should not be about generating revenue alone but about the need to teach correct history of the Yoruba. Whoever visits Nigeria to know more about the Yoruba race without getting to these settlements only wastes his or her money. This news is certainly a good one for Nigeria as the whole world celebrates Years 2015-2024 as the Decade of People of African Descent as Proclaimed by the United Nations and supported by UNESCO.
THE YORUBA RACE: 140 million people of Yoruba origin could be found in various parts of the world. We all remember that the first Nigerian medical practitioner, Dr. Awoliyi, first Lawyer, Sapara Williams and people like Bishop Ajayi Crowther; all of blessed memory, all originated from Yorubaland. We equally have the first female Senator, Iyalode Wuraola Esan, the first female to drive a car in Nigeria, the irrepressible Madam Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. It is an indisputable fact that Yoruba race has, from the time of our colonial masters, taken the lead in practically all fields of human endeavour. This trend has continued, even until the present, with Yoruba race registering its impact as indelibly in several areas. As an enlightened group of people, the contributions of Yoruba to national development are legion. Schools of thought have argued that the progress recorded by Yoruba could be ascribed to the influence of early western education. Beyond this, however, Yoruba, have been able to record meaningful achievements because of their doggedness, dedication and commitment to whichever cause they chose to pursue.
Interestingly, one major attribute or virtue is their unusual ability to rise above situations. From available indications, Yoruba constitute 140 million out of the world’s population. Yoruba could be found in such countries as Cuba, Brazil, South-America, and Barbados. Yoruba also live in places like Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Argentina. Very near home, Yorubaland extends to as far as Ghana, having over 200 Yoruba towns and villages. And there is also a large concentration of Yoruba in Togo, Republic of Benin and along the West African coast. Not many people also know that there are two million Yoruba people residing in Sudan, a troubled nation. It is abundantly clear that the condemnable slave trade occurrence accounted for the spread of the Yoruba to the Western world to contribute to the socio-economic development of those nations.
Nigeria’s Dry Bones Will Live Again.