Friday 8 July 2022

Yoruba-Speaking Peoples in Dahomey by G. Parrinder (1947)

"It is one or the disadvantages of the division of West Africa between various colonial powers that, in many instances, tribal and language groups are cut across or artificially limited. It is not always realized that the Yoruba speaking peoples, so numerous in Nigeria, extend beyond the frontiers of that colony. 

Right across the centre of what is now the French colony of Dahomey [now Benin] is a band of Yoruba speaking peoples, and even in Togoland this wave continues. These are not isolated groups of traders, such as may be found in many large coastal towns, but continuous towns and villages of people who, whatever their origins, speak dialects of the Yoruba language.

These peoples are often denominated ‘ Nago ' on French ethnographical maps, and the use of this term has been an additional factor in obscuring their kinship in language and also probably in race, with their Yoruba neighbours in the adjoining British colony of Nigeria. The word Nago has entered maps and official documents ; frenchified as Nagot, it sometimes even takes on the ugly feminine term of Nagote. 

This word Nago seems almost certainly to have been invented by hereditary enemies, the Fon of Abomey, some of the old Fon men affirm that the word was given to the Yoruba in general during the intermittent wars between Oyo (and later Abeokuta) and Abomey, in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was an insult, said to mean ' the lousy '! Others have explained Nago to me as indicating ‘ the people from over yonder' , or 'the strangers from the north".

Even if the interpretations now given to the word Nago be incorrect, the original having been forgotten, the term is still foreign to the tribes to whom it is applied. The Yoruba speaking peoples of Central Dahomey often refuse to accept this appellation, and call themselves Yoruba, Egba or Sha (Itsha), unless they have been persuaded that it is a mark of education, or only comprehensible to Europeans, to call themselves Nagots.

There are over eighty thousand Yoruba speaking people in the colony of Dahomey today, possibly nearer one hundred thousand, though recent census figures are not available.

From the mixed town of Porto Novo, near the Nigerian frontier, a fringe spreads as it rises northwards, taking in Sakété, Pobé, Kétou, and then spreading right across the colony as the ancient kingdom of Ahbomey is passed, and the towns of Dassa-zoumé and Savé are reached. From here the Yoruba extend up to the limits of the cercle of Savalou. There are even scattered groups in the subdivision of Djougou, for example the two Dahomean and Togolese villages of Aledjo, a Yoruba name meaning 'stranger'.

Porto Novo is said to have been a Yoruba town, and it is still called Ajache by members of this tribe. The first leader of the migrating Gu, Te Agbénlin is a somewhat mythical figure; the name means ‘antelope ' in Gu-Alada, and that animal is still taboo to the royal family of Porto Novo.

Kehinde Thompson

1 comment:

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