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.
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
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?