Penning down this piece is one of my favourite pastimes. Today, I am here to tease you with an update. The whole confusion started from the biblical days when the inhabitants of a city called Babel decided to construct a tower that would link heaven and the earth. Before embarking on the unthinkable adventure, the entire earth was peopled by one race with one common language. If those adventurous folks had not embarked on the impossible mission, there would not been inter-tribal, inter-ethnic feuds that is consuming us today. I am not saying that people of the same tribes don’t turn against one another. Even siblings are known to be at daggers-drawn!
To frustrate their ambition, God decided to put different languages on their lips, so that when a mason asked his labourer to bring adobe (block), he would produce a bowl of sand instead! That communication barrier frustrated the project, and all of them had to scatter abroad in a blah, blah, blah fashion.
Several of the Babelians landed in a geographical expression called Nigeria. Can you imagine Nigeria without a lingua franca?
Now come with me. There is a settlement along Ilorin Jebba road called Biribiri. Biribiri is known to many Nigerians as 419, dishonesty, crookedness, etc. So, if a native of that settlement introduces himself/herself as a Biribiri person, how would you react? The Nigerlites have never stopped amusing me. After Mokwa are a number of settlements whose names would shock an average Yoruba man. Nami means hit me. Gbamita means take me for sale while Yanmigbe means roast me dry. You can imagine the type of confusion which the arrivals of Namian, Gbamita or Yamigben in a place like Wasimi (meaning come and rest) in Ogun state. There is a place in Ibadan called Mosafejo – I flee from litigation. Inhabitants of the area must be lovers of peace, I guess. Then we have Abuja, meaning short-cut in Yoruba. Little wonder, everyone here is cutting corners… to get rich quick.
The meaning of the following Yoruba names will also leave you agape: Mepaiyeda – I did not turn the world upside down. But the world is already upside down now. Ajanlekoko – dog is pursuing hyena. What kind of hyena will that be, anyway? Arapaja – someone who possesses quarrelsome arms. Ha! If you have an Arapaja living in your neighborhood, better behave around him. Mabogunje – don’t spoil medicine. This protector of medicine must be a NAFDAC material. Okebiorun – mountain like heaven. A replica of Tower of Babel? Alasoadura – prayer garment. This person should be a pastor. He will make it! Erubami – I am afraid. Of what now? One shouldn’t die before his time o! Soyinka – I am surrounded by wizards. Then you need a lot of prayers. Odegbami – I was saved by a hunter. Woa! This man will never lack bush meat. Shomefun – wizard grabs chalk. For what? Is he a teacher? Shomefun also looks like ‘show me fun’ on paper. And that is exactly what I am doing here now – showing you fun. Anikulapo – one with death in his pocket. Remember Fela? How then did death succeed in pocketing the pocketer of death? Onigbinde – the snail merchant has arrived. This man must be very rich because snails are very expensive.
Then there is also the miracle worker known as Opadokun – staff turned into ocean, whereas Moses used his own staff to part the Red Sea. Ikuforiji – forgiven by death. In that case, an Ikuforiji will live forever. Oloyede – an honorable has arrived. This one is a state or National Assembly material. Fijabi – born out of hostility. Will this man know any peace in his life time? Gbemisola – lift me into opulence. Me too! Abiona – born on the road. Here is a waka-about for you. Bolorunduro – one with God. He is certainly in the majority. Abegunde – arriving with a masquerade. Ojuju Calabar!
What about Ajiriotutu – awake to see cold (weather). The bearer of the name was a PDP chieftain who died while waiting to cast his vote in his ward 2, Ireti Ayo West unit in Ilaro West Local Government Area during the Osun state House of Assembly poll some years back. He could not have died of cold. Abegunrin – one who walks with a masquerade. He is a cousin of Abegunde just defined above. Okutepa – death selling groundnuts. Groundnut eaters should watch out! Okugbe is settlement in Edo State close to Okpella. To a Yoruba, okugbe means dry cadaver!
Iro is a Hausa name whereas it means an enemy in Igbo and a lie in Yoruba. There was this ‘lie’ drama in a police station starring a Hausa damsel and a Yoruba man. It was the Hausa girl who was first asked to render her grouse. At a point, the Yoruba man interjected, screaming: Iro ni! Iro ni! (It is a lie! It is a lie!) The Hausa girl in turn hit back, yelling: Kariya ne! Kariya ne! Iro dan wana baya wurin a lokacin’, meaning: it is a lie! It is a lie! Iro my brother was not present at the time. See the kind of trouble a language barrier can cause.
Besides names, there are major tribes in this country that are pigeonholed into different monikers. For instance, the Hausa would refer to an Igbo as “Yan miri”, meaning give me water. A story is told that when the average Ibo man stepped on the soil in the northern part of the country, one of the challenges he faced was thirst. So, unable to speak the local language, he went about blurting “Yan miri”, followed by a gesticulation of a cupped hand to his mouth.
The Igbo hit back, referring to the average Hausa man as “aboki”, meaning friend. However, the times have changed. The average Igbo folk no longer see an Hausa man as a friend.
“Aje okuta ma mu mi” or “kobo kobo” (whatever one that means) is what the Yoruba people call his Igbo compatriots. This moniker is derived from the way the Igbo man handles swallows like akpu, garri or pounded yam without as much as sipping water even as sighting made-in China! In a similar vein, the Igbo folks refer to the Yoruba as “Ngbati Ngbati”. That expression appears to punctuate every sentence that proceeds from the lips of a typical South-westerner.
The Yoruba folks see every northerner, whether he or she is Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Tiv, Beriberi, Bachama, etc, as “gambari”, notwithstanding the fact that the incumbent Chief of Staff to Mr. President, Prof. (Ibrahim) is pigeonholed into Agboola, being his middle (Yoruba) name.
The Berom ethnic group in Plateau, until lately, were commonly referred to as Shoo-Shoo (the pronunciation is shaw shaw). A story is told that when the Europeans were seduced by Jos because of its salubrious climate, the hospitable natives of the city greeted them with shoo, shoo, meaning welcome.
The Nupe folks seem to have lost their identity to “Tapa” as far as the Yoruba people are concerned. They would not even stop there. They break into a sing-song “… Eji nana babo”. Linguistically, Tapa and Yoruba are cousins! Tapa ought to hit back with their moniker for the Yoruba brothers and sisters. I will chat up a Tapa colleague at the office to see if he can create one if there is none at the moment.
The list is endless but space is never kind to a columnist. So, let me apply the brakes at this point.