Who I Am
Oruko mi ni Basirat Ottun. Mo’n gbe ni Brooklyn. Mo je omo Yoruba. Currently, I am one of a number of people that have been given the tremendous opportunity to take part in the Yoruba Fluency Project.
I began my Yoruba language classes in February 2014, and will continue through with the project over the course of the next few months. Part of the project will consist of a trip by project participants to Nigeria to engage in language and art related projects.
Lost in Translation
Being that I am a second-generation Nigerian American, some may wonder why I would even need to take Yoruba classes. Shouldn’t I already know the language? The answer to this question is two-fold both yes and no. On the one hand, I am no stranger to the Yoruba language. As a child that was born to two native-born Nigerian parents, I grew up hearing the Yoruba language spoken in my household on a regular basis. However from my perspective, the Yoruba language was mostly heard but not fully absorbed. While it was easy to master simple phrases like “Joko si bi ko” (Sit down somewhere), “Fi mi sile jo” (Leave me alone), and “E ma binu” (Don’t be mad), other more detailed conversations and dialogues were not always easily comprehended. Various dialogues, proverbs, and communications were easily lost in translation.
Visits taken to the motherland were also challenging. Talking with elder members of the family who didn’t understand the English language was difficult. Communications were often limited to the basic greetings. E kabo ma? Se Alafia ni? (Good morning ma (elder woman). How are things?) In order to bridge the gap to feel more connected to my roots, I decided that I would intentionally learn the language of my roots. My ultimate goal is to master the language, and pass it on to my children and others.
My Experience Thus Far
So far one of my favorite parts of the class has been the engagement in cultural and artistic aspects of the Yoruba language. For example, in one of our class sessions, we learned the Yoruba love song “Olo Mi.” Below I’ve included a verse from the song.
Mo r’oun to dun, (I have seen something sweet)
Mo r’eni keji mi (I have found my second/other half)
Giri giri lo n se mi (I am freaking out)
There are butterflies in my belly
Ko ri ko sun, ko je, ko mu, (I do not sleep, eat, or drink
E ma bawi o (It is not my fault, so do not complain) (Do not scold Her)
Oro ife laiye, bi adanwo ni (The mystery of love is like a test)
Iru omo ti mo fe, (The type of children that I want)
Won be lara re (Are within your body/loins)
Baby gb’oruko mi, (Baby hear my name)
O ba elewa mu (it even suits you)
Mo fe ba e d’arugbo, (I want to grow old with you)
Mo fe ba e da’le (I want to live until eternity with you)
Iwo ni mo fe ma jiri (I want to wake up to your face every morning)
L’ojojumo aiye mi (Everyday for the rest of my life)
In another class, we learned a traditional Yoruba folk song as one of the instructors played the instrumentals using his guitar. It was such a fun experience learning the lyrics in Yoruba and then being able to translate them into English. As a lover of music and songs, it feels great to be learning and extended my love of artistic elements into the Yoruba realm.
We’ve also studied Yoruba proverbs extensively. It’s nice to be able to make that connection between the past and the present.
As for me, it’s more than about learning a language. It’s about learning the nuances and stories that are embedded in Yoruba language and culture. It’s about being connected to my roots.