Faced with growing threats to security in Nigeria, the governors of the southwestern states have joined together to create Operation Àmò̩té̩kùn, a regional security team that was launched on January 9, 2020.
While many have praised the initiative for dealing with the increase in kidnappings and murders in the region, others have criticized it for being unnecessary and contrary to the federal government.
Amid the politically charged arguments surrounding Operation Àmò̩té̩kùn, linguists and culture enthusiasts are also weighing the assumptions surrounding the English translation of àmò̩té̩kùn.
What does the word àmò̩té̩kùn mean?
Linguists have long opposed to attributing the name àmò̩té̩kùn indistinctly to the leopard, cheetah and tiger. To unravel this mess, linguists have carefully investigated the issue from the perspective of Yorùbá culture in terms of names and translations.
This Yorùbá proverb gives us an idea: “Asárépani bíi àmò̩té̩kùn”, which translates roughly into English as “Kill as fast as an àmò̩té̩kùn”, comparing a person or thing with a fast animal. Well, then, you must be a cheetah, right?
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, not even Usain Bolt could beat it. The word àmò̩té̩kùn comes from the phrase “Ohun, you, to me, to you“, Which is translated more or less as“ what we know has attributes of an e̩kùn ”.
With these statements, it could be concluded that àmò̩té̩kùn means cheetah. However, some call the cheetah òwàwà –no àmò̩té̩kùn.
But what does e̩kùn really mean? Is it a cheetah, a leopard or a tiger?
Some believe that e̩kùn is the leopard, originally from sub-Saharan Africa, which has an ancient relationship with the Yorùbá people. The proverb “fere bí e̩kùn“, Which means“ as fast as an e̩kùn ”, talks about this relationship. A cheetah is faster than a leopard. But is it a leopard faster than a tiger?
Some believe that an ekùn refers to a tiger – an animal that comes from Asia.
This relationship between e̩kùn and the tiger may have emerged from three possibilities: 1. colonization, 2. western education, or 3. Africans' first encounters with the tiger, when the British may have imported them into Nigeria during the colonial era.
It is possible that the British colonizers have assigned the meaning of e̩kùn to the tiger because they were more familiar as a “fast animal.” However, it is impossible for e̩kùn to originally mean “tiger”, as this animal is not native to Nigeria.
Some say the word tiger is ògìdán, but it is probably a oríkì (“Name of praise”) derived from the song:
Ògìdán ò ní se barber k’ájá dé’bè lo ge’run, ìpòrí ajá ò gbódò b’é̩kùnní bùbá.
Ògìdán will not be a barber, dogs will not cut their hair – no dog dares to enter the territory of e̩kùn.
This proverb, a mixture of English and Yorùbá words, uses the English word “barber” (barber), which means that the song was probably composed during or after the British colonial empire. Perhaps it is from there that the idea arises that e̩kùn and ogìdán They mean “tiger.”
Another saying Yorùbá says: “Ògìdán olólà ‘jù, akomonílà láì l’óbe” or “Ògìdán, a prominent jungle animal, marks its puppies without using a knife” – in reference to its sharp claws. This proverb states that the Yorùbá know the leopard – the animal itself, immediately, and therefore, ogidan means leopard, not tiger or cheetah.
If leopard is e̩kùn, we can say with certainty that cheetah is àmò̩té̩kùn.
Both have similar skins, compared to the tiger. The leopard has circular spots, the cheetah also has circular spots, while the tiger has stripes. The face of the leopard and the geupardo also have a certain resemblance.
With respect to existing traditions, the Aláàfin de Ò̩yó̩ (king of the Yorùbá kingdom of Ò̩yó̩), His Majesty, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, always rests his legs on the skin of an e̩kùn – which is always a leopard skin. most of oba or “kings” also uses leopard skin, while few use àmò̩té̩kùn —o cheetah.
Notice how the eégún atìpàkó̩, famous mask dance in Ìbàdàn, Nigeria, wears leopard skin which they refer to as e̩kùn skin.
In addition, there is the popular Adamu Orisa Play Lakes festival, also known as the “È̩yò̩” festival, which refers to disguised dancers. A priest of the Làbà E̩kùn È̩yò̩ group, second in the hierarchy of the five main dance groups È̩yò̩, has a large sack made of leopard skin, referring to the name of the group as e̩kùn.
Therefore, leopard is ekùn while cheetah is àmò̩té̩kùn. And tiger has no indigenous name in Yorùbá. What cannot be found in your culture cannot be found in your language – except perhaps coined or borrowed words.
Linguists must address those misconceptions, especially in the Nigerian education system – and especially when the Yoruba words made international headlines as the name of the great operation as Operation Àmò̩té̩kùn.