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Trinidad Yoruba - From Mother Tongue to Memory

 
October 15, 2004 5:49 PM

John Stevenson

Trinidad Yoruba - From Mother Tongue to Memory
(University of Alabama Press, 1996)
By Maureen Warner-Lewis

http://inaccs.com.bb/rasta/review.htm

Maureen Warner-Lewis sets out to describe the West African
language of Yoruba as it it used in Trinidad.


The Yoruba nation represents one of the largest ethnicities in
sub-Saharan Africa. More than 10 million Yoruba people live in
south-eastern Nigeria today and some 400,000 also live in Benin and Togo.

Trinidad Yoruba is divided into three parts. Part One gives the reader
the historical background and socioliguistic behaviour of the Yoruba
of Trinidad. In doing so, an outline is made of the Yoruba people/language
and transatlantic slavery, as well as an intergenerational assessment of
attitudes towards the language.
This section also details the names of places and rituals which carry
Yoruba titles - The Mafumbo stickyard in Belmont, and the female
name Ayegboro, for example.

Warner-Lewis asserts that many of the Africans who landed in Trinidad
between 1840 and 1867 came not as slaves but as immigrant indentured
laborers, a fact supported by oral as well as documentary evidence.
In a sense, they represented an exiled community not unlike immigrants
who were capable of retaining aspects of their culture and language.

Many studies of Caribbean social history labour too heavily under the
misconception that Africans in the region were deprived of their
language/culture by slave laws and the plantation system.

Warner-Lewis argues that these inimical conditions might well have
led to the retention of this African language. Her study occupies a
unique position. Apart from George Simpson's "The Shango Cult in Trinidad",
little or no attention has been paid to Yoruba language and its survival in Trinidad.

Her work is similar to that of an archaeologist; instead of picks and
brushes though, Warner-Lewis employs sociolinguistic techniques
to unearth a language which still exists in the somewhat fossilized
form of Shango songs and rituals.

In fact, Orisha worship - part of a spiritual belief system combining
Catholicism with Yoruba deities - still contains a large vocabulary of
Yoruba phrases and words.

In Part Two,a detailed examination is made of the Linguistic structures
of Trinidad Yoruba such as its phonology, syntax and lexicon.

The most contentious aspect of the work appears to be in Part 3
which is entitled The Dialectics of Obsolescence and
Creolization". Here, she revisits the themes of the "radical death" of
a language as opposed to its (preferred) "linguistic obsolescence" - the state
into which Trinidad Yoruba is alleged to have fallen.

Apart from its heavy sociolinguistic jargon, Trinidad Yoruba is both pioneering and courageous.

It takes courage to proclaim anything of an Afro-centric nature,
besieged as we are by Satellite TV, CNN, and a culture which is
allergic to things African.

Thanks to the life-support machine of Shango rituals and songs
Yoruba still lives on.
To those performing premature autopsies: beware!

Language and premature autopsies
 
Egungun, Egungun ni t'aiye ati jo! Ancestos, Ancestors come to earth and dance! "I'm sick of the war and the civilization that created it. Let's look to our dreams, and the magical; to the creations of the so-called primitive peoples for new inspirations." - Jaques Vache and Andre Breton "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -John Maynard "You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens. The religious leaders were women too..." -- Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source, 1973
 
 
A1
 
October 18, 2004 3:42 PM

The Yoruba were and are a powerful ethnic people. Using present day Eweland as the focal point, on the East they sold sold the Fon and Ewe into slavery from Dahomey. On the west the Ashantis sold the Ewes and others into slavery.

My question is who sold the Yoruba into slavery?

I am asking to fill in some gaps as when the hunters are said to have been hunted we need to fill in the bits that are missing to make the story complete
 
 
 
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October 18, 2004 4:03 PM

quote:
Originally posted by henry38:
The Yoruba were and are a powerful ethnic people. Using present day Eweland as the focal point, on the East they sold sold the Fon and Ewe into slavery from Dahomey. On the west the Ashantis sold the Ewes and others into slavery.

My question is who sold the Yoruba into slavery?

I am asking to fill in some gaps as when the hunters are said to have been hunted we need to fill in the bits that are missing to make the story complete


The main "hunters" were the Europeans. Often when they finished using domminant tribes in an area to capture other weaker tribes(this was done under durress to a certain degree, how easy is it to say no to people pointing guns at your head)...the Europeans would then enslave the dominant ones. Sometimes we forget the "link" between the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is the initiator...European capitalists.
 
 
 
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A1
 
October 18, 2004 5:13 PM

The Europeans did participate in some hunting but it was on such a small scale, it was insignificant. No I am sorry to disagree with you on this, but the hunters were not the Europeans, they were fellow black bastards. The Europeans took advantage of the evil that had been going on for years in the region before they arrived on the scene.

If you check the history of West Africa you would find the Kingdom of Dahomey defeated the British and kept them away while they carried on their trade in slavery. The Ashantis also defeated the British, killed the Governor, McCarthy and drove them off the Gold Coast for many years. These empires warred with the British because they were top dog and the British was interferring with their trade. After the wars the white people who were left were the merchants who appointed their own Governor Maclean to look after their affairs.

Ironically the British came back after many years with enough firepower to defeat these two Empires and end slavery.

So back to the question; who sold the Yoruba a very powerful ethnic group into slavery?

I know no one sold Ashantis into slavery, they were the dominant group and the hunters but I keep hearing of Yorubas being sold as slaves hence my curiosity and the question
 
 
 
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October 19, 2004 9:33 AM

This is my view on West African history. I know that other elite and powerful ethnic groups sold people into slavery, but I think history has been warped for a particular motive on this subject.

Did We Sell Each Other Into Slavery?
A Commentary by Oscar L. Beard, Consultant in African Studies

The single most effective White propaganda assertion that continues to make it very difficult for us to reconstruct the African social systems of mutual trust broken down by Slavery is the statement, unqualified, that, "We sold each other into slavery." Most of us have accepted this statement as true at its face value. It implies that parents sold their children into slavery to Whites, husbands sold their wives, even brothers and sisters selling each other to the Whites. It continues to perpetuate a particularly sinister effluvium of Black character. But deep down in the Black gut, somewhere beneath all the barbecue ribs, gin and whitewashed religions, we know that we are not like this.

This singular short tart claim, that "We sold each other into slavery", has maintained in a state of continual flux our historical basis for Black-on-Black self love and mutual cooperation at the level of Class. Even if it is true (without further clarification) that we sold each other into slavery, this should not absolve Whites of their responsibility in our subjugation. We will deal with Africa if need be.

The period from the beginning of the TransAtlantic African Slave so-called Trade (1500) to the demarcation of Africa into colonies in the late 1800s is one of the most documented periods in World History. Yet, with the exception of the renegade African slave raider Tippu Tip of the Congo (Muslim name, Hamed bin Muhammad bin Juna al-Marjebi) who was collaborating with the White Arabs (also called Red Arabs) there is little documentation of independent African slave raiding. By independent is meant that there were no credible threats, intoxicants or use of force by Whites to force or deceive the African into slave raiding or slave trading and that the raider himself was not enslaved to Whites at the time of slave raiding or "trading". Trade implies human-to-human mutuality without force. This was certainly not the general scenario for the TransAtlantic so-called Trade in African slaves. Indeed, it was the Portuguese who initiated the European phase of slave raiding in Africa by attacking a sleeping village in 1444 and carting away the survivors to work for free in Europe.

Even the case of Tippu Tip may well fall into a category that we might call the consequences of forced cultural assimilation via White (or Red) Arab Conquest over Africa. Tippu Tip s father was a White (or Red) Arab slave raider, his mother an unmixed African slave. Tip was born out of violence, the rape of an African woman. It is said that Tip, a "mulatto", was merciless to Africans.

The first act against Africa by Whites was an unilateral act of war, announced or unannounced. There were no African Kings or Queens in any of the European countries nor in the U.S. when ships set sail for Africa to capture slaves for profit. Whites had already decided to raid for slaves. They didn't need our agreement on that. Hence, there was no mutuality in the original act. The African so-called slave "trade" was a demand-driven market out of Europe and America, not a supply-driven market out of Africa. We did not seek to sell captives to the Whites as an original act. Hollywood's favorite is showing Blacks capturing Blacks into slavery, as if this was the only way capture occurred. There are a number of ways in which capture occurred. Let us dig a little deeper into this issue.

Chancellor Williams, in his classic work, The Destruction of Black Civilization, explains that after the over land passage of African trade had been cut off at the Nile Delta by the White Arabs in about 1675 B.C. (the Hyksos), the Egyptian/African economy was thrown into a recession. There is even indication of "pre-historic" aggression upon Africa by White nomadic tribes (the Palermo Stone). As recession set in the African Government began selling African prisoners of war and criminals on death row to the White Arabs. This culminated as an unfortunate trade, in that, when the White Arabs attacked, they had the benefit of the knowledge and strength of Africans on their side, as their slaves. This is a significantly different picture than the propaganda that we sold our immediate family members into slavery to the Whites.

In reality, slavery is an human institution. Every ethnic group has sold members of the same ethnic group into slavery. It becomes a kind of racism; that, while all ethnic groups have sold its own ethnic group into slavery, Blacks can't do it. When Eastern Europeans fight each other it is not called tribalism. Ethnic cleansing is intended to make what is happening to sound more sanitary. What it really is, is White Tribalism pure and simple.

The fact of African resistance to European Imperialism and Colonialism is not well known, though it is well documented. Read, for instance, Michael Crowder (ed.), West African Resistance, Africana Publishing Corporation, New York, 1971. Europeans entered Africa in the mid 1400's and early 1500's during a time of socio-political transition. Europeans chose a favorite side to win between African nations at a war and supplied that side with guns, a superior war instrument. In its victory, the African side with guns rounded up captives of war who were sold to the Europeans in exchange for more guns or other barter. Whites used these captives in their own slave raids. These captives often held pre-existing grudges against groups they were ordered to raid, having formerly been sold into slavery themselves by these same groups as captives in inter-African territorial wars. In investigating our history and capture, a much more completed picture emerges than simply that we sold each other into slavery.

The Ashanti, who resisted British Imperialism in a Hundred Years War, sold their African captives of war and criminals to other Europeans, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, in order to buy guns to maintain their military resistance against British Imperialism (Michael Crowder, ed., West African Resistance).

Eric A. Walker, in A History of Southern Africa, Longmans, London, 1724, chronicles the manner in which the Dutch entered South Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck anchored at the Cape with his ships in 1652 during a time that the indigenous Khoi Khoi or Khoisan (derogatorily called Hottentots) were away hunting. The fact of their absence is the basis of the White "claim" to the land. But there had been a previous encounter with the Khoi Khoi at the Cape in 1510 with the Portuguese Ship Almeida. States Eric A. Walker, "Affonso de Albuquerque was a conscious imperialist whose aim was to found self-sufficing colonies and extend Portuguese authority in the East & He landed in Table Bay, and as it is always the character of the Portuguese to endeavor to rob the poor natives of the country, a quarrel arose with the Hottentots, who slew him and many of his companions as they struggled towards their boats through the heavy sand of Salt River beach." (Ibid. p. 17). Bartholomew Diaz had experienced similar difficulties with the indigenous Xhosa of South Africa in 1487, on his way to "discovering" a "new" trade route to the East. The conflict ensued over a Xhosa disagreement over the price Diaz wanted to pay for their cattle. The Xhosa had initially come out meet the Whites, playing their flutes and performing traditional dance.

In 1652, knowing that the indigenous South Africans were no pushovers, Van Riebeeck didn't waste any time. As soon as the Khoi Khoi returned from hunting, Van Riebeeck accused them of stealing Dutch cattle. Simply over that assertion, war broke out, and the superior arms of the Dutch won. South African Historian J. Congress Mbata best explains this dynamic in his lectures, available at the Cornell University Africana Studies Department. Mbata provides three steps: 1) provocation by the Whites, 2) warfare and, 3) the success of a superior war machinery.

There are several instances in which Cecil Rhodes, towards the end of the 19th Century, simply demonstrated the superiority of the Maxim Machine Gun by mowing down a corn field in a matter of minutes. Upon such demonstrations the King and Queen of the village, after consulting the elders, signed over their land to the Whites. These scenarios are quite different from the Hollywood version, and well documented.

It has been important to present the matters above to dispel the notion of an African slave trade that involved mutuality as a generalized dynamic on the part of Africans. If we can accept the documented facts of our history above and beyond propaganda, we can begin to heal. We can begin to love one another again and go on to regain our liberties on Earth.

Respectfully,

Oscar L. Beard, B.A., RPCV
Consultant in African Studies
 
 
 
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A1
 
October 19, 2004 12:54 PM

There is a lot of fallacy in that history that addressing it is like I have to re-write the the writer's work. Some statements are simply worded to generate an emotional effect and end up being simply untrue and misleading.

Reading certain parts of that history also seem to suggest that slavery was carried out by a few individuals with no nation or state involvement.

Having said all that one must not forget the spirit in which the above history was written, that is; to heal and unite us as a people, which is summarised by the following quote
quote:
It has been important to present the matters above to dispel the notion of an African slave trade that involved mutuality as a generalized dynamic on the part of Africans. If we can accept the documented facts of our history above and beyond propaganda, we can begin to heal. We can begin to love one another again and go on to regain our liberties on Earth.
I am highly motivated by and disposed towards the same sentiments and would leave history lessons to when we as a people are better settled.
 
 
 
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October 19, 2004 1:37 PM

quote:
Originally posted by henry38:
There is a lot of fallacy in that history that addressing it is like I have to re-write the the writer's work. Some statements are simply worded to generate an emotional effect and end up being simply untrue and misleading.

Reading certain parts of that history also seem to suggest that slavery was carried out by a few individuals with no nation or state involvement.

Having said all that one must not forget the spirit in which the above history was written, that is; _to heal and unite us as a people,_ which is summarised by the following quote
quote:
It has been important to present the matters above to dispel the notion of an African slave trade that involved mutuality as a generalized dynamic on the part of Africans. If we can accept the documented facts of our history above and beyond propaganda, we can begin to heal. We can begin to love one another again and go on to regain our liberties on Earth.
I am highly motivated by and disposed towards the same sentiments and would leave history lessons to when we as a people are better settled.


I appreciate what you said, especially in closing, and when speaking to the general "unhealed" Africans in the diaspora I think your idea of leaving the history lessons to when we are better settled is a good idea. But I personally don't have any aversion towards continental Africans based on historical circumstances of slavery. So feel free to correct the author. I always appreciate hearing and learning the truth. I don't want to be walking around with flase notions in my head that go unchallenged. Groing up in the states causes me to be allergic to the comfort of "not knowing". Please teach Henry38.
 
 
 
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A1
 
October 22, 2004 8:14 AM

I usually stay out of this type of discussion but I can't now. The answer to your question Henry 38 is the British in the mid to late 1800's after the fall of the Oyo empire. Before that the answer is no one. I would never call myself a Yoruba. As I was taught by my grandfather and my father we are Anago. The rest of your history lesson is exactly as I learned it. The 'Nago did then and do today rule in Benin. My peoples crimes against the Ewe and Fon among others is a disgrace, although you will be hard pressed to find anyone who will admit it.
 
 
 
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A1
 
October 25, 2004 2:30 PM

Fagunwa, can you explain what "Anago" means? You say you wouldn't call yourself a Yoruba, but you refer to "your" people's crimes. Could you explain what you mean?
 
 
 
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A1
 
October 30, 2004 8:37 AM

Vox, I will try.
Yoruba (for me) is like Negro or Black American. It is a descriptive phrase and usually not meant to be disrespectful, but it is not accurate. I am Anago that is my tribe in what is called the "Yoruba" nation. As far as the crimes of my people... well I am well aware of what my some of my "yoruba" forbears did. It is a discussion I heard many times at my Grandfathers knee. My folks high opinion of themselves, justifiably so. We are a cosmopolitan people with one of the most advanced religious systems in the history of all mankind. That said it is wrong what was done to the Fon and others. We still in some ways see only the gain of today as opposed to the benefit of long range strategies i.e. the greed in the oil business as opposed to more building up of the country.
Don't as the young folks say, get it twisted, I am "Yoruba" to the heart! If to say I no dey comot for house early morning I for eat Iyan and Ila asepo-you no know? I go carry am go heaven? Banza. Make I chop Iyan, eba,eko,amala,gbegiri,eja tutu,tilapia, make I continue?
I hope my rabbit mind has at least touched an answer for you but it is very complicated. Maybe I'll post a looooong article one day.
 
 
 
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