Language, in Michael Halliday’s words, is a resource for meaning. Sociolinguists do project the
inseparability of language from society. This paper argues that language often serve as the frame on which a flesh of believes are pasted and moulded and mounded. The word, ‘world’ translates as ‘aye’ in Yoruba. The Yoruba will say, ‘aye ti o ye enikan’ that is, ‘the world that nobody understands’. The word, ‘world’ does not suggest anything meaning ‘understanding’ in English. The word, ‘ye’ in Yoruba, with high tone means ‘to understand’ and with low tone means ‘to live or survive.’ In another way, ‘aye’ refers to witches whose acts are mysterious and destructive. We can have aye (witches) ninu aye (in the world) ti o ye enikan (that’s not clear to anybody). Here, pun is
created around the world ‘ye’ but beyond the play upon word is the belief that world itself connotes
Also, the concept of man has choice in its translation in Yoruba. Man translates as eniyan.
Yoruba do say ‘eniyan ma n yan ni’, ‘eniyan abidi yan-an.’ The word ‘yan’ with low tone means ‘to choose’ and that make them say ‘a man usually makes choices’ it is not just a matter of pun but a matter of meanings arising from how Yoruba language operates among Yoruba people.
The topic above will be further clarified using a belief framed around the placenta of a child as
expressed in the music of the two selected artistes.
Tope Alabi is a prominent and contemporary (and may be controversial) Yoruba gospel musician.
She is very vast in Yoruba language. She often uses Egba dialect of the language in her music.
That is to show that she possesses Yoruba as a
Mother (well, may be Father)’s tongue. Yoruba is her First Language. Below is a transcript of one of her songs entitled, “Agbelebu” (The Cross).
Awa eda t’Olorun da, aye otooto la wa.
We, creatures that God created
Onikaluku lo yan ayanmo. Aye agbelebu lawa.
Each chooses a destiny. A life of cross we come
(egbe) Oh oh oh oh. Agbelebu oh oh oh oh , eda to wa sile aye, ka to le yo a o sunkun o.
(chorus) oh… the cross oh… creature (man) that comes to the world, before we rejoice we will cry.
Taba bimo tun tun jo jo looo tibi tomo ni o kowoo rin bowa yee.
When we give birth to a child, new and fresh, both evil (placenta) and the child will walk abreast into
Akehinde omo aa labarin omo, ibi saa loruko ren je.
The second, the escort of the child, evil (placenta) is its name
Ibi a ti ribi leda o lee so igba ibi dekun-un eda omo layee.
Where we get placenta man cannot tell, when placenta gets to the womb, man does not know in
Eyi waa sari daju oo pe eda ti waa ye pelu ogun naa
This makes it evident that man has come to a life or world of war or problems
… chorus… oh oh oh oh oho ho….
… chorus… oh oh oh oh oho ho….
Baati waye pelu ibi bee lawa ye pelu ayanmo
As we come to the world with placenta we also come with a destiny.
Apoti ogo oo ba wa waye kokoro to si on be ninu adanwo.
The box of glory that comes with us to the world, the key that opens it is in trials
Bi aba sinbi a kii sin ogo. Ogo n farasin saye edaa gbogbo.
If we bury placenta we do not bury the glory, glory hides or resides in life of all man
Kato le yo ao segun-un naa.
Before we rejoice we have to conquer first
Kokoro ogo airi ni agbodo wa.
The key to glory is invisible or unseen, we must find it
The word placenta throughout the context of its usage in the song refers to evil or problems. It is in that sense that it is established that man has to face a lot of trials in life. It also shows that for man
to achieve anything great, he will have several hurdles to cross in his life. At a point, the musician wonders where placenta originates from.
Man comes with glory in him but he is accompanied by placenta, ‘ibi’ which means and symbolizes evil or troubles. It is also explained that placenta has to be buried. Yoruba do not just throw placenta away. It is to be buried. Placenta is not the only thing to be buried. Other things are prepared with it to make it a form of sacrifice of burying evil in the life of the child.
Despite the fact that the placenta is buried, it is believed that a man must not know where his placenta is buried. The day he gets to that spot with that knowledge, he dies. It is possible to argue that this is superstition and nonsense. The
point, however, is that in the past, there have been cases of deaths related to that issue.
Ibi is not to be handled carelessly in the Yoruba world. It relates to evil. So, evil people often use it
to bewitch a child a cast a spell or curse on the child which will later affect the child in future. In the Yoruba world, even a strand of hair can be used by evil people to enchant a target. Full names including one’s mother’s name can be used to enchant a person. It may and may not be superstition. Even superstitions are built around experiences of a people. Most times, religion and
language help in conceptualizing those beliefs. Yoruba do say, ‘ara ile lo maa pee lamodi, were lara ita maa pee’ (relatives or family will call is sickness but strangers or outsiders will call it madness or lunacy). Either superstition or not,
placenta has a connotation of evil, trouble, problems all negatives that must be buried. The fact that life experiences often connect to the placenta is evident in the Yoruba’s idea that a promiscuous person, a philanderer is only exhibiting the fact that his ‘ibi’ was not handled properly. They believe the placenta of such a
person must have been eaten or bitten by a dog.
In Lanre Teriba (Atorise)’s ‘Sweet Mother’ the issue of placenta relating to evil, since it is called ‘ibi’
which means evil, is clearly discussed.
Osu mesan ni mo gbe
Nine months I lived or stayed
Pelu ibi ninu mama mi
With placenta in my mother’s womb
Ase Oluwa lo yami ya’bi o
It’s the authority of The Lord that separate from placenta
Ma je n ri’bi mo o laye
Never let me again see (or experience) evil in my life.
It is obvious here that placenta is taken to connote evil. Since the artiste was separated from placenta when he was born he prays not to get evil any more. He expresses he is severed from placenta by divine intervention. It is a serious issue.
Placenta is so connected to evil that the artiste believes since it has been severed and buried, he
should not experience any trouble in his life. The point, however, is not the veracity of the connection that placenta has with evil but in the fact that the Yoruba language is the foundation for that concept. That concept, in Yoruba world, has
come to mean life. It affects life as it is defined.
Perhaps the way life is defined is the way it appears to be.
At this point, necessarily, we can examine the scientific, and of course Western understanding of
placenta. Placenta is of help to the child. Then it is sort of a friend or helpmate. So, another Yoruba
word, "ikeji omo" which means "the second of/to the child" is better in line with science. 'Ibi omo' actually literaly translates into 'the place of a child.
That is one of the ways science will make us see placenta. It's a place of resources for the child.
Diachronically, 'Ibi' which means 'place' lost its meaning to 'ibi' which means evil. So, "ibi omo"
now means "evil of/to the child.
Language has made this a reality such that one who will disregard placenta’s relating to evil can
do so freely but not near the powers in the metaphysical domain. There are other uses of
placenta. Some people burn it, some cultures would have the mother eat it roasted, some use it
for ceramics or beauty and decoration products.
But the Yoruba 'must' bury it. Their culture, however, isn't inferior to those who eat it or use it
some other ways. It's just that language defines some part of us, language influences some part of
our cultures. So, cultures are functions of language per time and across times. Language has a great impact in the experiences
and meanings of the life of a people. Even warnings or taboos proscribed by or in myths do have repercussions if disregarded by a member of such society or belief. The concept of the power of the tongue is another critical aspect of how language ‘participates’ in shaping the social experiences of a people. For example, after uttering incantations, a man may declare that a person will or must die. There is a great consideration for curse and blessing in religion and metaphysical respect. To many, such consideration is mere
superstition. Saying a man will die (and if the man dies) does not mean (to science) that the utterance is responsible for the death of the dead man. It may be just a coincidence. Is it? That someone says a man will die does not matter even if the man dies. Does it? Does it not? Cultures may be dynamic but in that dynamism is a static definition of a people- Language (may be not the but it) is a definition of a people.