Following the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, many Africans have begun to take a wide range of measures to promote African languages.
Writing Yoruba with borrowed Latin alphabet may soon be a thing of the past, as Yoruba, the chief Tolúlàṣẹ Ògúntósìn of Benin, West Africa, has invented a writing system to encode Yoruba.
The alphabet came to him through divine inspiration in his dreams, according to chief Ògúntósìn in a WhatsApp interview with Global Voices. He now travels through Yorùbáland – spanning from Benin to Nigeria – to promote his “talking alphabet” as sent to him by his ancestors.
Chief Ògúntósìn believes that this alphabet was used by Odùduwà, the father of the Yorùbá people, in ancient times – but was lost. There are 25 symbols in total.
African linguists claim that if Africa is to grow, it must have its own spelling or writing systems. A civilized and ancient Niger-Congo language like Yorùbá should not rely on borrowed spelling to encode your thoughts and philosophy.
In 1843, the Rev. Samuel Àjàyí Crowther of the Christian Missionary Society developed the Yorùbá spelling by adopting Latin script with diacritics – or accent marks. Since then, thousands of books have been published in Yorùbá with Latin instead of Ajami, Arabic script used before 1843 to write in indigenous West African languages such as Yorùbá and Hausa.
Some advocates of the language argue that the use of Latin, a foreign script, to encode African languages, keeps the continent in a mentality of slavery.
The inculcation of this new writing system follows the history of the ancient writing systems of Africa, such as the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the adrinka collection of the Akan tribe of Ghana, the Ethiopian Ge'ez, the nsibidi ideographic writing of west-central Africa dating back to 5000 BC, as well as the Vai scriptures are of African origin.
Guess a par talking alphabet ’
Global Voices editor in Yorùbá, Ọmọ Yoòbá, interviewed the boss Ògúntósìn, via WhatsApp voice memo messaging, to find out more about how he discovered this new alphabet.
Chief Ògúntósìn, now 43, explained that after his father's death in 1997, he had to care for his siblings as the eldest son and was unable to continue his education after finishing high school.
However, as a Yorùbá chief, he focused his cultural work on uniting Odùduwa's seven grandchildren, and served as a mediator. However, as his cultural integration work progressed, he wanted to achieve more.
In 2011, he approached a babaláwo or “diviner” of Ifá, the Yorùbá god of wisdom. The fortune teller, Olókun Awópẹ̀tu, told him to visit his ancestral shrine within the Farasinmi community in Badagry, Lagos State, Nigeria, and to take whatever he came into contact with in the shrine.
There he found a “strange object” that he took to Porto-Novo, Benin. When he arrived, the house was completely dark. Without light bulbs in the living room, it usually depended on the light emitted by the rays from the television screen. He placed the object on the table and turned on the television, and found with surprise that the object he had placed on the table had disappeared. He turned the entire room upside down and finally found it in a corner of the house.
That night, he slept with the object under his pillow. He told Global Voices:
… I had a dream that I visited the sun. When I got to the sun, it was dark and I was shown the alphabet in the form of lightning. Every time I slept, I had similar dreams, going from planet to planet, teaching people how to use the script…
… I had a dream in which I visited the sun. When I got to the sun it was dark and they showed me the alphabet in the form of lightning. Every time he slept, he had similar dreams, he went from planet to planet, teaching people to use the alphabet …
For three years he kept dreaming about the alphabet, he saw visions consecutively but did nothing.
This time around, in 2016, I went to the sun again, I met a man, Lámúrúdu, who taught me the sound of the alphabet, he afterward sanctioned me to go all over the globe teaching people the mastery of the symbols. I usually look old in my dreams – and tired – when I wake up from sleep.
This time, in 2016, I turned to the sun, I met a man, Lámúrúdu, who taught me the sound of the alphabet, then authorized me to go all over the world to teach people mastery of symbols. I usually look old in my dreams – and tired – when I wake up from sleep.
Things started to scare the boss Ògúntósìn – he began to feel weak, he told Global Voices. He decided to narrate his dreams to a close spiritual advisor, Oníkòyí, king of Àjàṣẹ́ in Port Novo, who advised him to do what he was instructed in his dreams.
So now he travels from one place to another in Yorùbáland to transmit his knowledge of the odùduwà alphabet.
This is a short video of teachers teaching their students how to write odùduwà alphabet in a classroom in Benin:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPqFyeK4HJQ (/ embed)
Promotion of the Yorùbá alphabet
In 2017, Chief Ògúntósìn, with prominent traditional rulers of Yorùbáland and from outside the country, visited Rauf Arẹ́gbẹ́ṣọlá, former governor of the Ọ̀ṣun State of Nigeria, in Òṣogbo, the state capital, to request support for his newly discovered odùduwà alphabet. Arẹ́gbẹ́ṣọlá is now Minister of the Nigerian Federal Interior Ministry.
Unfortunately, three years later, the verbal promises made by former governor Arẹ́gbẹ́ṣọlá to teach the alphabet discovered in primary schools in southwestern Nigeria have not been kept.
In an attempt to make the odùduwà alphabet popular, chief Ògúntósìn has written a book and produced a documentary on spelling – with excerpts posted on the internet for public viewing – and an abandoned cartoon project that didn't come to light for lack of funds .
Chief Ògúntósìn also uses YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook groups: “Ẹ̀kọ́ Aèébàèjìogbè Odùduwà” and “Alfabetos odùduwà” to promote and teach interested language learners.
He calls on stakeholders to support the promotion of his linguistic discovery, which will checkmate the Western culture of writing and give the Yoruba people their well-deserved identity in terms of language development.
A kind-hearted Yorùbá, Sunday Adéníyì, supported the cause with the printing of a thousand copies of the exercise book “Alfabetos Aèébàèjìogbè Odùduwà” for primary school students.
Copies of the educational pamphlets were printed in Igbo, Hausa, English and French respectively. However, increased support is crucial to spread the alphabet to a wider audience.
The odùduwà alphabet is a welcome novelty. However, switching from Latin writing to the new system will be a major challenge.
That said, the odùduwà alphabet is a great step in the right direction towards the development and growth of yorùbá – which the Yorùbá people will call their own.