What is the meaning of the word Yoruba?
Have you always thought about where the word Yoruba originated from? Have you heard many misconception and misapprehension that left you baffled? That was what got hold of me too so I decided to dig into it.
What is the meaning of Yoruba? Does it have any inclination to our language? This is a thought provoking topic that needs profound reasoning and intense research for better understanding.
It is time we faced the monster that keeps trailing us whom many try to ignore. In Yoruba culture, appellation is often derived from a prerequisite factor or foretelling. For fact telling, some name their child Owolabi hoping the child will bring fortune to the family, another one is that almost all Yoruba towns have their names derived from an event or a factor as illustrated in; Eba-Odan – Ibadan, Abe Okuta Olumo – Abeokuta and Ibi ti Ile ti yo – Oyo and so forth. However, these factors appear not partake in the word Yoruba.
I asked a lot of people to define Yoruba, nobody had a clue so I decided to return to history and I delved into what Yoruba scholars of the past centuries had written. Slowly I began to unravel the mystery of our name.
The first hint I got was from an ordinary search which spouted Yariba. What does that mean?? I carried on, I moved on to the always ready Yoruba dictionary written by Samuel Ajayi Crowther which defines ‘Yariba’ as a bastard and deceitful person.
Another came from the one I found on a scholarly written journal of Dr Taiwo Ayanbolu who insisted Yoruba is a name derived from Hausa language which means deceit. He claimed he found the definition at York Museum in England dating to the 19th century.
Before I go further here, I would like to stress how the name came aboard. It has been recorded that the Hausa-Fulani who had been in contact with the Yoruba even before the rise of Oyo Empire had for some reasons chosen to call us Yariba, or Yaribansa.
Perhaps this might have been a result of Yoruba people’s bargaining skills which often made the Fulani traders fall victim of trade by barter. Another one I stumbled on was narrated by another scholar who said the name Yoruba started protruding during the clash between Yoruba and Fulani that steered the lost of Ilorin to them in the 18th century.
The Igbos had cleansed themselves off ‘Yinmiri’, a name the Hausa-Fulani had technically given to them. The igbos have today refuted Yinmiri to be a derogatory word, however, the reverse is the case for the Yoruba. From findings I have made, Yaribansa is a Fulani word meaning Bastard. An extremely derogatory word in Yoruba discourse.
I read one of Professor Ade Ajayi’s book “Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth century” where he insisted that during the indirect rule era, it was necessary for the imperialists to give a unique name to the entire towns and people who spoke Yoruba language.
Somehow, they settled for Yoruba. Yoruba is a deviation of Yariba which the Yoruba people of that century rejected. The Ijebu, Ijesa and Egba rejected this name vehemently but because during the Kiriji war (the Yoruba civil war) where the collapse of Oyo Empire commenced and the signalling factor the imperialists used to prompt the rule over Oyo from covers. The name Yoruba was foisted on Oyo and Ibadan mainly on documents and slowly the name Yoruba was enshrined in our culture and hence, our appellation.
Research shows that the Egba were the last to accept Yoruba as their appellation, reason coming from facts emanating from the first newspaper published in Yorubaland in 1859, goes: Iwe Iroyin Fun Ara Egba Ati Yoruba. This indicates that the Egba refused the name Yoruba as at 1859.
Furthermore, I have read the Odu Ifa and I have familiarised myself with many Ogede Ofo, Iwure and Ewi of the past generations and I have never heard where we were referred to as Yoruba, rather, as Omo Kaaro Ojiire, Omo Oduduwa or Omoluabi.
I am penning this for us to know the origin of the word Yoruba, it is a bitter pill to swallow especially now that the name has travelled far and wide, should we try to augment our appellation Yoruba? certainly too late to make any sort of modification. We might as well just carry on dealing with it.
By Bola Olalekan