Friday 12 April 2024


Bishop Ajayi Crowther was not your everyday average Joe. He was a brainy polyglot. He could speak Yorùbá, Nupe, Igbo, Latin and English language fluently while he was not fluent in some other languages of west Africa. The argument that he spent only two weeks in Onitsha and therefore couldn't have mastered Igbo to the point of rendering it in written for holds no water, unless you are irredeemable ethnic dungbeetle.

There are Yorùbá in Alaba market in Lagos who have never been to Igbo land but can speak Igbo fluently. Crowther was sold to slavery at age 11 and spent his teenage years among different ethnic groups that were dumped in Sierra Leone. I want you to imagine a polyglot who could speak Yorùbá and Nupe at that 11 yrs, how he will capture and learn other languages he came in contact with easily. In his memoir, he said he noticed the change in his native language and the language of Ẹgba and Ìjẹ̀bú as he was being brought to the coast of Lagos though he could still pick what they were saying. That sort of kid would excel in language at advance age no doubt.

The Crowther family that eventually adopted him and gave him their family name saw his brilliance and that was why he was sent to school at that time before missionary took over his education. The Christian education he received exposed him to Latin which he mastered very well. Would you say because he never lived in Rome, he ought not to have mastered Latin?

About pioneering the translation of Igbo writing. Let me ask you something, when you have an idea about something, you start it and along the line you call people of similar interest to join you. Eventually the project became successful and it was published in your name because you started it and completed it with help of others, will you allowed to be denied of full credit on such work?

Bishop Ajayi Crowther translated Bible into Yorùbá piece by piece and he collaborated with many people along the line. One of them is Henry Townsend who lived in Abẹ́òkúta. He consulted natives who speak the language better and that was why the first Bible in Yorùbá was heavy with Ẹ̀gbá dialect despite the fact that Ajayi was an Ọ̀yọ́ man. Those people were duly recognized as contributors to the project, but it was Ajayi that got his name published with the work because it was his brainchild and he labour night and day to get it done from start to finish. The same way with Igbo.

What you people don't know is that Ajayi also attempted to translate the Bible to Nupe before his death. A project which met with failure due to old age and lack of resources.

No matter the vile and bile you have against Yorùbá, it should not erode the credit Ajayi deserve on his work on Igbo language. Ask yourself this question: will the same energy and resources be spent on denying Ajayi the right to authorship of the first book in Igbo language if Ajayi had been a white missionary? Search your conscience.

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