Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sugar Rays


The weather is hot these days. I can sit outside, and get more coloured, less boringly even-toned. I have something to look forward to in life.

Yorubas worship many things but not the sun.
There's Olokun and Ṣango, there's Ọbatala and Oduduwa, Ọrunmila, Ọṣun, Ọya, Ṣanpọna, Ogun, Eṣu, Yemọja, Egungun,...

They are associated with rivers/the sea, thunder/fire, the future/divination, smallpox, iron/weapons/war, birth, and our dead ancestors. Oduduwa/Oodua is the founding father of the Yorubas, while Ọbatala makes people. Olodumare/Eledumare/Ọlọrun is over them all. Ọrunmila is second-in-command, like the manager.

I love the story about how when people are made, their headless bodies are made first, but each person chooses his own head. So you might have picked a good head before you were born, representing your lot/luck/destiny, or you might have a bad destiny. Oloriburuku - a person with a bad head - is one of the first words non-Yorubas learn in Yoruba, to use to insult people. What a deep insult it is...if you think about it.

The Arabs, or maybe just Sana'anis, call people crazy all the time, for fun, because they love you, or because you puzzle them, or annoy them. If you're superstitious in the cast-out-demons Christian sense, however, there's nothing funny about being majnoon/majnoona, which really means having spirits - and probably not "The Holy" one.

Speaking of trinities, a crazy person in Yoruba is were. First word. The second word people learn is usually oloṣi - a rubbish person, a nothing, or one who does foolish things, I suppose. The third is oloriburuku.

After you master these, and add perhaps "your head is not correct" - "correct" in pidgin, "complete" in proper English - and "your head is not good" (ori ẹ o pe and ori ẹ o daa), you're ready to proceed to hello, good morning, good afternoon...

In Igbo, I know Onyioshi - possibly the same as Oloṣi?, Onyara - mad, mechionu - shut up.
May I just add that Ibo people sound so foolish saying some Yoruba insults, that if I was in an altercation and heard someone say "oriope," or "orodaa," I might just burst out laughing.

In Hausa I know barawo/barauniya - thief, sege - which you say pushing your palm in the direction of the object of your contempt, and which I suppose means curses in general, banza - bastard, and, thanks to a curse-a-lot childhood housemaid, I know how to combine and embellish them to say things I didn't understand, let alone mean.

In Italian, ...

Anyway, back to the subject: sunshine.

I met a very quiet guy on Friday, who after I told him what my first name meant, asked me to which Oluwa/God it referred. Not sure. I'd never been asked that before. I suppose whichever one you believe in, that is, either Olodumare the one who delegates to dozens of gods and helpers whom you may worship freely, or the jealous, first-commandment-is-there's-only-one-me God of the Bible.
I imagine my parents and millions of other Yoruba people don't care.
It's not one of the lesser gods, because the god would have been mentioned explicitly, like in Ṣangotosin, or Oguntosin - both being names I've heard before...and cast-out-demons Christian people would be very careful about saying your name and thereby invoking the evil spirits of a false god.

He thought it was strange that we didn't have a sun god. I guess our sun gave us no reason to worry, he showed up everyday on time. How would my grandparents, or their ancestors, have understood a life where the sun was fickle? Where their warmth depended on this great yellow light in the sky, and they would suffer cold when he did not visit? And the plants didn't smile, their leaves instead yellowing and reddening and dying, until the great bright orange had been bribed into returning?

The fickle sun of California has returned from hiding. We beg him to stay. I am alive since he came. I have painted my toes, I sit outside, I meet new friends, and I have hope.
But I know he doesn't care much about me. Let us pray.


t said...

1. On Songs - Sugar Ray's "Waiting" appeals, because I think of the words "there are days missing from my week again, and there's not a cloud in the sky, but my view from the Hollywood Roosevelt makes me feel like I can fly...I'll keep waiting, anticipating, you"
2. On other references - The Beatles' Here comes the Sun is probably a boring song, I don't know it well enought to know, but Nick, Caltech class of 2005, wrote a play called Sonne, about the arrival of the sun among people somewhere. A few colleagues were in it, and as I helped hem in some of the costumes before the show, I was named Wardrobe Assistant for my great labours with thread and needle.
3. s as in suck but ṣ is sh as in shop
o as in bone, but ọ is u as in cup.
4. On writing accents, symbols, in html: I used this guide to write the letters correctly with the dots (or diacritical marks) underneath.
Properly, Yoruba writing would also have "tone marks" above the vowels, annotating each syllable.
5. See a sample of writing in Yoruba.

t said...

I'm using a Linux computer at the moment, and I just noticed that the diacritical marks (the "dots below" in this post, as well as many "tone marks" in the Wikipedia sample) are not rendered correctly. Everything was fine on my Windows laptop yesterday...
Ahh, standards.

Anyway, now I'm going (obsessive compulsion notwithstanding) to do other things with my life than try to fix this. Sorry.

Just A Techer said...

Thank you Tosin for this nice lesson of linguistics. I hope to hear more Nigeria stories from you...

t said...

Hi Just A Techer:
I have a sad Nigeria story at the moment: some are "pre-emptively" moving to block the possibility of gay rights in the country.
here on bbc
OF COURSE, in the end, tolerance and love will win over hate, it's just sad to see the ugliness that we (by we I mean both the source and the object of hate, it smears everybody involved) must trudge through before we get there.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Bill Pooch said...

Cool blog. Thanks for the first comment in my history.

The Same Techer said...

Sad indeed, Tosin. And OF COURSE, if I wanted to make it sadder, I'd say with Keynes that "in the long run we are all dead". :-/

Looking forward to some good news...

t said...

Read at Historelli's Social Club: A similar blog post, entertaining and readable, celebrating the summer solstice in 2007. It's titled Waiting for the Sun.

Tj said...

Hi T, Great blog! Very interesting, Love your perspective. I know its been a while but, thought I'll drop a line. Are you in Nig or Cali?