Yorùbá Girl Lost

by Ololade Siyonbola

Where do the lost Yorùbá children go? Do they grow wings and fly away to a new land? Do they wander the streets at night? Do they disappear into a world of confusion? Or do they find their way back home? Where do the lost Yorùbá children go?

No matter how much you work to assimilate your child into this century, into this new world, into your new country or foreign society; no matter how much you do to make them “equal” to their foreign peers, they must always come back somehow. There are few things that belong to any human. If nothing else in this world, a man can claim his body only as his own. At least, while he is living. He can not claim the clothes on his back, no matter how much he paid for them. Because they can eventually be taken away. He can not claim the house he lives within, because that too can be burned down. Nor the car he drives, nor the woman he loves, nor the friends he has. He can not even claim his mind, for that too can be damaged in so many ways. A man owns only his physical body.

Within this body are contained so many things. Millions of things that no one can ever take from him. Not with any machete, not with any gun, not with any fire. Self contained in his body are his features, which speak generations of history to his life, based upon the people he looks like, the features that have been passed down to him. Contained here also are his DNA, of which his features are the visible result. This is all a man truly owns in his lifetime. His DNA can never be erased, replaced, changed in any way. It is permanent and unmoving. It is his identity. Some identity can be created based upon circumstance; however this is a false and temporary identity. The only identity that is real is based upon DNA. His DNA gives him an identity because it is the roadmap of his creation, a roadmap that was created based upon the roadmap of his two parents. And their roadmaps, their DNA, were created by combining the roadmap of their four parents, and theirs by their eight. The history of the lineage of any man can never be changed. No matter what is written, or unwritten, no matter who lives or dies, this history is a concrete one. Every man has this history and nothing can take it away from him.

For a man who owns this identity in the Yorùbá way, his DNA roadmap is the meeting of the roadmaps of his parents and their forefathers. This may be a purely Yorùbá lineage or it may contain speckles of other histories, these speckles being the individuals who came into his family as foreigners. It might even be just over half Yorùbá. Either way, he will usually name his lineage by that which was predominantly his forefathers’. This is his identity. This example obviously applies to any man’s lineage be it Kinyarwanda, Akan, Gikuyu.

So a Yorùbá man, or a Yorùbá child, or a Yorùbá woman, or a Yorùbá girl will receive his or her solid, undeniable, concrete and permanent Yorùbá identity from the Yorùbá identity of his or her parents and forefathers, nothing else. Even if he was raised in Yorùbáland, this does not affect his DNA. Circumstance identity by itself is false and temporary, it is not DNA. The combination of DNA and a circumstance identity go a long way to deepen the individual’s understanding of his identity, but the DNA is the only immovable portion of the identity. Your DNA is your identity, which means you are those who came before you. All that you are, all that you own, when stripped down to nothing, when left isolated in the wilderness, is your identity. You must always remember this, whether you are in the corporate boardroom, in someone else’s army, on someone else’s frontlines, someone else’s school, someone else’s job, or sitting in the village commons at a village gathering. This is always still the most essential part of your identity. This is not to say your education is not important, your God is not important, your success is not important; however, all of these things can be taken away from you in your life. Your body can not. Your DNA can’t. Your education is lost the minute anything happens to your mind, your religion is lost the minute you stop believing, your success is lost the minute your opportunities are no more.

So if you are Yorùbá, you are Yorùbá. Nothing can be done about this, to change it or affect it. Your DNA, your identity, is self contained, and this is what it says. On the roadmap for your DNA, for your lineage, your identity, it states Yorùbá more than it states anything else. Now if this is your historical identity, you have a dire responsibility to proliferate this identity. You have a responsibility to maintain this identity, because if you do not, and if none of your Yorùbá counter parts do, then you run the risk of extinction for this culture. If every Yorùbá person were to disown his own identity, it is safe to say that by the next few generations, there would be no more Yorùbá identity. It would be only a thing of the past, of the history books. Seriously consider this. If there is no Yorùbá spoken, no Yorùbá food eaten, no traditions maintained, no rituals practiced, for a certain amount of time, it is safe to say the Yorùbá identity will be no more.

As a Yorùbá person of the same lineage, it is your personal responsibility to make sure that does not happen. Through yourself, through your children, through your family, you must maintain this responsibility, to proliferate the Yorùbá identity.

I am a Yorùbá Girl Lost. My parents taught me neither the culture nor language. I was partially responsible for losing the language, because at age six, I decided that I was not going to speak it. The culture was lost when I was transposed into a foreign, non- Yorùbá environment. Because I was young, I would have been able to learn it all again if I had been taught. I do not blame my parents, because it is not their fault. They fell victim to the same mentality that leads many Yorùbá parents to forget to teach their heritage to their children. There was no sense of urgency that said, “If I don’t teach them this culture, they may never know who they are.” Many Yorùbá parents do not appreciate the importance of this impartation because they believe that it is more important that their children assimilate into the new world, than that the heritage which was imparted to them by their parents is proliferated. In this the heritage is lost. For any parent who has not yet had this realization, have it now.

“They don’t need Yorùbá, because they will need to have good English to succeed.” “We live in a modern time.” “They don’t need that useless language.” “We don’t want them to have an accent.” Or a giggle. These are the responses many parents give for not teaching their children what their parents taught them. The giggle is the worst one. The parent who giggles doesn’t even regard it as a question worth answering. This parent has no regard for the proliferation of his or her culture whatsoever. He didn’t even think it worthy to try to come up with an answer to this question, because to him, it is an irrelevant question.

Thinking our children do not need the language even though we do, is the same as saying our children do not need to eat Yorùbá food while we do. Adults will speak Yorùbá to each other, but English to the children. We will prepare amala and ewedu for our dinner, and give the children french fries and burgers. This does not make sense. If the tradition is to be continued at all, through whom will it be continued if not through the children? Do you expect to live forever? Do you expect to outlive your children? Do you think that you can single-handedly proliferate the Yorùbá tradition without the help of the next generation?

And youth, do you think you can become just as American as someone whose lineage began here? Just as British as the Brits? Do you think you are the same as someone whose lineage “begins” with slavery in this country? Do you really believe that you have the same responsibility as them? If you accept your personal responsibility to your lineage, can you possibly be responsible for the same culture that they are? If we are proud to represent our school, our borough, our company, how can we not be proud to represent our DNA? Because remember that when that school is erased, when you are stripped of all of your other affiliations and possessions, that the only thing left is your DNA identity. A body on an autopsy bed has no affiliations. He is left only with DNA. So if you represent all of these other things, and finally come to a point—which you are guaranteed to someday, if you live long enough—that they mean nothing to you, what will you have left? This circumstantial identity, based on where we live, what we do for a living, where we attended school, the amount of money we make, where we work, is temporary and meaningless.

I came to a point of recognizing the importance of knowing the language at a young age, not much later than the age at which I stopped speaking it. Because I was in an environment where there were other Yorùbá speakers, I could feel it. If you want to train your child to sell out, you must train him to sell out completely so that he can never feel the lack of his identity. You would have to isolate him from his people, send him somewhere that he can never again hear his language spoken; send him to the moon. I felt it more than my parents could, because even if they had to defend their choices, that comes to an end. There is no end to being lost. Unless you find yourself…in Yorùbá class.

I yearned to be part and parcel with my people, but not enough to do something about it. I wasn’t sure what my options were. I asked my mother to teach me, and she began to. But thus far, I have only met one Yorùbá person with the patience to truly teach the language, fully. Not my mother.

The older and more educated I became, by life or by books, the more important it became to know myself. The hole in my soul where the Yorùbá tradition should be became more and more gaping, it even started to bleed, the more I sought to be relevant to my generation. Also as I formed more and more relationships with my countrymen, I found that the language was the distance between us. The closeness that I can not have with some of my people is solely based on the fact that I can not relate to them in that most intimate way that any one Yorùbá person relates to the next one. Instead of running from it, as I’d once felt forced to do, I ran head first into everything that belongs to me. I began to study it. The more I learned, the more I found I missed. The gaps that Yorùbá movies and music leave are filled in by the passing conversations. But there is so much to learn. So I remain diligent.

I implore you, if you are a person of Yorùbá lineage who does not know the language, learn it. Drop everything and learn it. The culture, the tradition. Gain an understanding, and become Yorùbá. It is not too late. Because I promise you, one day you will find that you are lost. One day you will find that all of the other things that made your temporary identity are lost or are finally meaningless to you. You might find that you have no identity based on your physical body, your DNA—the only thing that you can own in this life—because all you have used to define yourself has been outside of that. That day, will be a cold and lonely day. That day will be a painful day. And you will yearn to fix what’s broken. You will yearn to replace what has been lost. You will yearn to go back in time, to undo everything, that day. You might address it at that time, or you might suppress this feeling. I implore you to address it. Even much before you see that day, so that you never have to.

If you are a parent, please, please, please teach your children not only the language, but everything you know about the culture. Do not give them a choice. You may need to be creative about it. You may need to stop speaking English to them completely, or to a large extent. But it is your responsibility to save your children from that day when they are lost. It is your responsibility to teach them their identity, so that they do not one day start running helter skelter to find it at all costs. If you are in a dual language home, teach them what you can of both!

If you are a fluent Yorùbá speaker or someone who knows the culture, make it your responsibility to teach it. I am attending a Yorùbá class right now in Brooklyn. I implore you to start one, if you have the means. Wherever you are, seek out those who want to learn, who may be too proud to speak out. Teach them.

You owe it to the blood running through your veins.

What happens to a Yorùbá Girl Lost? Does she grow wings and fly away? Does she wander the streets at night? Does she disappear into a world of confusion? Does she hide from her culture and avoid the truth? Or is she found, in Yorùbá? What happens to a Yorùbá Girl Lost?

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Boldlove November 7, 2011 - 2:45 pm

What is interesting is that you voluntarily put down your native language and are ashame of your country, yet the language was forcibly taken from African Americans, and for the most part they are proud of your country. I have a friend from Nigeria who lives in the USA and her son was born in the USA he is 14 and she has not taught him not one word in her native language. She has another son who was born in Nigeria and he only knows about 10 words in the native language. She don’t even realize that to many black people and some others, this is a shame.

kome August 6, 2011 - 11:15 pm

i don’t think being yoruba is the issue but how does this article affect us as nigerians?in the 21st century we can’t still be proud of our nation most nigerians die on their way to spain and when they make it even they can’t get jobs or documents to live normally in spain, noooo tribe isn’t important it might be important tho when nigeria becomes habitable but until then na

moji July 6, 2008 - 11:09 pm

this article is so dear to me. i wish that we all could begin to understand the nigeria of our parent’s generation and find a place now in it for ourselves. but still as americans or brits, we are still nigerian. that never leaves. it is in our blood. our breath. it is much of who we are. god bless. amen.

Toyin Agbetu April 22, 2008 - 10:48 am

Thank you my beautiful sister for sharing what many of us in the Diaspora are feeling. Your words came to me a time in my life when I needed reaffirmation of my beliefs. I hope one day I will be able to provide the same service to you.


Toyin Agbetu, an African in Britain

'Demola Odufuye November 13, 2007 - 6:39 am

Thanks for a job well done, I hope a lot of reasonable peolpe will learn from your effort to retrace their missed steps, and help their offsprings from cursing them in the nearest future. God bless you and reward you abundantly for helping unknown number of people with this beautiful work of yours.

wale November 10, 2007 - 7:53 am

Good Article,Please If You Are In Support Of Such Attitude,Do All Possible To Make Sure Your Sons And Daughters Identifed With Their Origin,Youuba,Send Them Home If You Can Afford It And If There Is Someone Reliable That They Can Live/Stay With,If Your Patners Is Youruba,One Of You Can Choose To Be Speaking Youruba To Them While The Other Partner Speaks Good English To Them Not Inie Or Me Shoes As Spoken In London.

No Matter How British/American Your Child Becomes,He/She Will Always Remain Black/Yoruba.

Oyaniyi Lawrence Olanrewaju September 14, 2007 - 11:31 am

Not only people abroad lost their culture, parents in Nigeria are also contributing to this. many parents doesnt speak Yoruba to their children even in Nigeria not to talk of travelling abroad. We Yoruba at home realy appreciate this text. More grease to your elbow

Emmanuel Urhiofe September 12, 2007 - 11:02 am

enlightnening, informative and recommendable

Ayo Aladejebi September 6, 2007 - 1:02 pm

Àwon Yorùbá bò, wón ní “Ilé lati ń kèsó r’òde” – “Charity begins at home”. How long must it take our people to realize that you cannot separate yourself from “yourself”. It’s like someone looking in the mirror and cannot make out the face he’s beholding.

When all is said and done, and as the writer rightly says: “If you are Yoruba, you are Yoruba”. However, it is quite disheartening that some parents are still encapsulated in the colonial mentality that brought about a xenophobic yearning within our society. Please wake up and see that time has changed!

Time has changed. Yoruba is not just a language, it is a nation. It is our cultural identity and until we see it from that point of view I afraid we shall continue to undermine the rich and vibrant culture that is the envy of so many people around the world.

It is a shame that so many children – like the writer – have been denied the opportunity to benefit from the rich cultural heritage existing within the Yoruba nation, all in the name of “mi ò fé k’àwon omo yen ní accent” or “wón ma wà confused tí wón bá ń so English at Yorùbá pò” (I wonder who’s truly confused).

We this writer has been very articulate and has laid the case on the table, and I’m sure those who have falling victim of this unfortunate mentality can rethink their stand and stop denying these children what is rightly their heritage. Let’s not forget that “no one goes to bed with fire raging over his roof” – a kì n fi iná s’órí òrùlé sùn.

Aqeel September 1, 2007 - 1:30 am

Very impressive work. keep it up. Hope to read more of this wake up articles from genius like you. Thanks.

Adebayo Ninalowo August 4, 2007 - 2:31 am

The reflection of deep sense of cultural identity and prosaic lucidity is highly impressive.

Apetebi Fagbenro-Amusan July 24, 2007 - 12:58 pm

Beautiful writings, however to be a complete Yoruba , you must also understand and appreciate the tradition mean Ifa/Orisa tradition , i dont mean mean the negative stereo type label that the slave master has infused in our mind called "JUJU" in destroying and separating us from ourselves , i mean our tradition with our Ancestors Ifa, you dont have to participate in it as your religion since now it is being swept aside andalso label as "Religion" , but respect it and understand that that is what makes you a complete YORUBA

Ore Yeye Osun O !

Apetebi Amusan

Anonymous July 23, 2007 - 7:13 am

Rukyat! One up to you! I feel you in your pursuit to find your identity and I wish you the very best in your self- discovery.

Comment 11 – your comment shows how stupid, ignorant and myopic you are! You call learning about your culture "a worthless pipe dream?" Im sorry for you! If people like Ciara that came to Nigeria (during the This Day Musical Concert) and several other African Americans, feel so glad to be 'home" what are people like Rukyat to feel? You are a disgrace to your country and tribe and you should join the likes of Micheal Jackson that feel that the 'only regret he has in life is to be born black'. Why dont you call yourself Kinny or Chingy instead of Akinola! (hiss) Nonsense!

Rukyat dont mind him! More are they that build you up than pull you down!

Akinola July 22, 2007 - 1:56 pm

The fact that this lady is "lost" due to her own parents' neglect/stupidity does not mean she has a special right to ask the rest of us to also get "lost".

With the implementation of this worthless pipe dream of so many so-called Africans like her, black people can only get lost in the resulting juggernaut of ONE PEOPLE in ONE CONTINENT with black people as powerless as ever!

The powerlessness of black people is of black peoples' own doing. It has NOTHING to do with some strangers who want us doomed as a people, but it has everything to do with ourselves as a people.

The sooner we all realize that, the earlier we will start looking for REAL SOLUTIONS rather than a silly one like the one being proposed in that myopic article!

found July 22, 2007 - 2:51 am

you're only as lost as you believe yourself to be.

Ejiro July 21, 2007 - 7:41 pm

Love the article. and completely agree with you. "Death in the roots, brings death to the branches" I think that when Africans lose their identity, that thing that seperates us from the rest of the world. We lose the mst valuable part of who we are. It is sad becasue a lot has een stolen from Africa and Africans, and the little (and most valuable) things we have left, we are freely tossing aside.

Oluwatosin A. Sodipe July 21, 2007 - 3:00 pm

If I must give a comment on this article, I would say sincerely it's very touching and emotional. It's a wakeup call for every yoruba race in the diaspora (those who reside in Europe, U.S, Asia or wherever) and in Nigeria, to acknoledege the precious gift of God…i.e our great Yoruba language, sound tradition and very rich Culture. In-fact, it's the culture that engulves every other culture. I feel very sad that author have been deprived the joy and harmonity of being a yoruba. But i'm glad that you were able to found your course and way back home. I wouldn't mind to support in teaching Yoruba language to as many lost sons and daughters of our race(Yoruba) who live in foreign land. please keep us updated with your progress. Best wishes!

ebunoluwa July 21, 2007 - 12:33 pm

Interesting read.

My upbringing sounds more or less identical to yours, including the reasons why my parents never spoke Yoruba my siblings and I as we grew up.

I understand the angle you're coming from, in that your body/DNA is the only thing you can ever fully own, but I'm going to play devil's advocate here: it seems that you're saying we should strive to learn our Yoruba culture "just because".

I think your points on DNA being the only thing we own are interesting but you never say why we should be interested in our culture in the first place. You mention relating to other Yoruba people but other than that…why would I, a Yoruba born and raised in diaspora, be interested in it? In today's society of "ask questions" and "question authority", one such as myself can't help but ask "why should I be interested?". If I'm raised here, comfortable with life here and have already accepted my life as a non-Yoruba-speaking relatively clueless-on-most-things-Yoruba person, I'd need more than "it's in your DNA" to peak my interest.

Once again, this is just to play devil's advocate. Just wanted to throw that out there.

Felix July 21, 2007 - 12:07 pm

What a remarkable article…Thanks for your thought provoking issue, however, i do not agree with the comment from BODE ELUYERA, saying that Yoruba men married to Brits and American girls etc just to obtian work permit/ financial motives etc that's arrant nonsense how could u generalize your point? I have been happily married to an eastern european lady for the past 10yrs we have two lovely kids and still struggling financially,and b4 i met her i had a resident permit so how could u tell me that we all married them just for personal aggradizements ..that's bulls….

then ur friend that was replying u in yoruba well that's her problem, take london for example travelling in public buses or tubes u can see some yorubas chatting away like parrots without caring a hoot that they are in public place…so tell me do u support such uncultured behavior?

Adetola B. Adeyeye July 20, 2007 - 10:39 pm

Wow Ruku, i totally feel you on what you're saying. I can also related and I'm glad that someone finally put it into words what many Yourba children feel. I hope that some new parents will read this and teach their children the language. It really does turn into a gap when meeting others of your own people and feeling kind of left out. But i completely enjoyed reading this and hope is article goes a lot further than this website.

lola July 20, 2007 - 7:00 pm

Very honest. It's true our people need to come to a realisation of the need for propagating our language else it dies. So many middle class families have lost the use of the mother tongue due to what I call wannabeism. You want to talk like the European so you refuse to teach your children your traditional language. I remember when I was in the university and a lecturer of mine warned us about that issue. He refered to a junior staff of the department who he had overheard speaking poor English to her son all in the bid to make the child learn English as a first language. The Soyinkas and Achebes didn't learn English as a first language but today they're masters in the language. They have transformed their worldview into the English language making the English language more colourful with their local proverbs. It's high time we realised the import of our local languages. In Ghana where I reside, everybody speaks either Twi or Ga including the children of the high and mighty. It's interesting when you see the 'butter' children express themselves in fluent Twi while our own people back in Lagos will be forming as if Yoruba is taking them back into the 18th Century. We need to begin a conscious effort to reverse this loss of identity or we might have nothing to show in the next hundred years. Great article!

abm1900@mail.ru July 20, 2007 - 5:49 pm

Rukuyat Aliyu, undoubtedly, you deserve commendation for your boldness in writing about this painful cultural topic.

Unfortunately, your parents are what I call the "educated illiterates" if at all they are at all educated. In Yoruba, such people are referred to as "Olajusodi." Your parents while embracing the european culture lost tune with their own indigenous culture. They are to be blamed for your calamity. However, you deserve the highest praise for realising what is missing in you, and being bold enough not only to face the reality but making the necessary adjustment. I can tell you without any exaggeration that Yoruba culture and tradition are one of the richest in the world. I am saying this based on my surgeon in europe. I have seen both the east and the west. I have always been proud to be a Yoruba and never felt any inferiority complex in the midst of the europeans. Why, because while in Nigeria, I went through the proper Yoruba culture, tradition and up-bringing. I can read, write and speak in Yoruba fluently. Infact, from time to time, I order for Yoruba books and musical DVD's from home. No european can bully me or make me feel inferior in anyway. It's just unfortunate that we have bastards as leaders otherwise, we would have been much better economically today. One of the problems Afro-Americans and other people of African origin are facing is the problem of identity. They don't speak any African language and know practically nothing about African culture unlike Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Polish, Jewish. Irish Americans. Europeans have a lot of respect for Asians because they are very proud of their culture and keep it intact unlike we Africans. We try to speak english better than the English people. We try to impress them by admitting that we don't speak our mother tongues. But has that made us to be accepted in their societies? Definitely no. Most Nigerians in Britain and the U.S. do cleaning or odd jobs that need no special training despite the fact that they hold degrees from reputable Nigerian universities. I can't forget my first trip to London in 1991. I landed in London very early in the morning, and I was shocked to see blacks everywhere cleaning the floor! I am so much aware of the importance of culture that I have vowed never to get married to a non-Nigerian and somebody who can't speak Yoruba. Yes, we spend good time with Russian girls; it's very difficult to resist their beauty, moreso, in cold winters but when it is getting closer to marriage, count me out. I just withdraw quietly. I have resisted all attempts to get married to a russian girl for the simple reason that, deep in my mind, I know that our cultures and tradition are totally different. We have totally different backgrounds. I can't imagine going to Nigeria with a european or american wife or having "black and white" children. I consider myself on transit in europe. Moreover, I honestly can't imagine speaking russian or english to my wife and children at home. God forbid. Most Nigerian men are compelled to marry American, British women mainly because of economic reasons – getting work/stay permit, green cards e.t.c. Just recently, here in Moscow, I was speaking with a Yoruba girl friend – who came to Russia on a year language practise from Unilag – of a Yoruba friend in Yoruba language and could you imagine, she was answering me in english, I had to tell her that it was bad manners on her part replying me in english and moreover I asked her if she wasn't proud of speaking her mother tongue instead of english. In addition, I made her to understand that I consider it a total disrespect for her to be replying me in english. Her case is a typical case of educated illiterates, ignorance or "olajusodi." For deciding to learn Yoruba, you are not only on the right path but you as well deserve a big kudos for the efforts, time, pain and resources directed towards achieving this feat. However, in my opinion, you should not stop at learning the language, try as much as possible to read about the Yoruba as a nation from books and the internet. Also, try to listen to different Yoruba music from Fuji, Juju to modern Yoruba music. Try to eat Yoruba food as much as possible. Try to wear Yoruba dresses as much as possible. Most importantly, try to visit and stay in Nigeria as much/long as possible. With that, you will not only be able to practise your Yoruba but you will as well be able to understand the Yoruba culture and tradition very well which will subsequently lead to your building a strong bond with your people. In short, live the Yoruba experience. You might also want to logg on to this site http://www.yorubanation.org to get some important informatio. It's a strong organization of yorubas in diaspora. Infact, there is a convention coming up very soon. Try as much as possible to attend. I am sure that it's going to be an unforgettable experience for you. Welcome back to our fold sister. Better late than never. Keep us informed with your progress. Good luck.

dele4you2@yahoo.com July 20, 2007 - 10:41 am

I think you are raising perrenial issues and i admire you for your courage. I tried some projected here in Nigeria to put some of our folklores into a book so that the yoruba language is not extinct. the center theme of the book is for generations to keep the touch of the culture and language burning If i have your address, i'd love to share one with you!

globalactingpoets@yahoo.com July 20, 2007 - 5:21 am

This is the same issue I tried to address in my article published in this site titled MEANINGS AFRICANS ATTACH TO A NAME. I was touched after many things but by this writers staement "If every Yorùbá person were to disown his own identity, it is safe to say that by the next few generations, there would be no more Yorùbá identity". I know that the Yoruba here represents all Africans of Black descent. We have to think wise………. I love you, kool lady….


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