Early last month (or perhaps the month before), to help an acquaintance on DeviantArt, I picked up a book that had been sitting around my apartment. It was called The History of the Yorubas, and I had bought it the last time I was in Nigeria, thinking that it was the sort of thing I ought to know.
But, just like my other Yoruba book: Colloquial Yoruba, the pages within had neither been exposed to the light of day nor the sight of mine eyes, and I was content simply to own these books: knowing that someday, I would be ready to open them.
So when I tell you that the day I finally picked up this book, I was neither ready to learn my history nor my language, it should come as a surprise to you that l somehow learnt a bit of both.
As with all books, this one began with a little preamble. The dedication, publisher’s notes, author’s preface, and editor’s preface. But unlike all books, the editor’s preface told a compelling story – a story of trials and tribulations, as the original manuscript faced many obstacles on its journey to print. Like Odysseus, the book had its own adventure to tell.
Following that story, came a fascinating introduction that paraphrased a letter about the first impressions British colonizers had of Nigeria and the Yoruba people.
Yet, more so than those others, it was the next, seemingly mundane section, that hooked me: a brief introduction to the Yoruba language.
Now when I say brief, I mean that this introduction was no longer than 20 double-sided pages if that; and within a fortnight of reading these 20 pages, I was able to understand and form complete written sentences myself.
For someone like me who spent all 6 years of secondary school consistently failing Yoruba, and the years after relying on expressions and gesticulations, there is no understating just how extraordinary this is!
I mean, in the same night I finished studying the introduction, I was able to translate my name, my brother’s name, cousin’s name, and that of a few of my friends; In the days after I wrote a letter (of sorts) in Yoruba to an old friend who had always encouraged me to learn; And in the weeks after, I was able to draft a fictional Yoruba conversation in a novel I’m writing.
Of course, my Yoruba still isn’t anywhere near perfect, but to go from zero to Pierrot within 20 pages is nonetheless a worthy feat; even if my Yoruba is naive and laughable. 😳
So today I recommend this book to you, not for its historical value per se (at least not until I finish it), but for its linguistic benefits. If you’re interested in the etymology of Yoruba, then this book will give you that and more… and if all you want to do is learn the language, then give Colloquial Yoruba by Antonia Yetunde Folarin Schleicher, a shot.
The History of the Yorubas by The Rev. Samuel Johnson; I truly can’t wait to find out what other gems are hidden in its pages.