MODUPE ODUYOYE, a linguists, is a retired Literature Secretary, Christian Council of Nigeria, and for 10 years, Consultant on Literature Project for Christian- Muslim Relationship in Africa. This author of several books, heads SEFER Books Ltd, a publishing house in Lagos. In a chat with OMIKO AWA, recently, he talks about books and other issues affecting the society.
I studied English language, Latin and History at the University College, Ibadan, from 1954 to 58. I actually applied for Special Physics, but was admitted for the Arts, which I ended up studying for 4years. And upon graduation, I taught English language, English literature, Latin and History at Ibadan Boys High School for 5yrs, during which I became the general secretary of Christian Movement of Nigeria and also the travelling secretary. While acting in that capacity, the president Prof, Idowu advised I study Theology, which took me to Yale Divinity School from 1963 to 66. My background followed me to the school because from 1960 to 1962, I was teaching Yoruba on part time basis for the Extra Mural Department of University of Ibadan while still with Ibadan Boys High School, to Yoruba non-native speakers, and the questions they raised made me to unwound what I know of the Yoruba culture, of which years of studying and teaching English literature and English History was distancing it from me. In one of the days, I was teaching the US-Peace Corps Yoruba, Dr. Williamson who had just returned from Yale with his doctoral in Linguistics requested to sit at the back of my class and after listening to my lecture asked of the books I used for my notes. I said, ‘I write them myself and he said since I’m ready to go to Yale, I should go and see Prof. Block of the Department of Linguistics when I get there. On getting to the school, I did as instructed by Dr. Williamson; met the professor and registered some courses.
But you never studied Yoruba why were you teaching it?
Now, this theory of things must be studied in school to be practised is very strange. Please, where did Bill Gate studied computer; who taught the first architect, architecture; or the first medical doctor medicine… who? In CMS schools in Yoruba land in Nigeria, you are taught English and Yoruba sponsored Studies. Ajayi Crowther took part in the translation of the English Bible into Yoruba and in the writing of the autographs of Yoruba and Nupe languages, he was a linguist, a Bishop and a missionary; which school taught him those languages. But, because every missionary is expected to learn the language of the people he is preaching to, he learnt them through the people.
Why special interest in Yoruba language and Yoruba names?
One, because I’m a Yoruba. Secondly, to make it easier for the foreign students I was teaching to freely mingle with the locals because they have to know the people they were to dealing with. I told them that Yoruba names are almost like a sentence, for instance Ade s’ ola, is a sentence; Awo l’ owo, is a sentence; Akin de le, is another. So, I said wherever you hear a Yoruba name, just wait and ask for the meaning. And you will find subject, verb and object, very many times.
Why were you also interested in Greek when the language is considered dead?
I picked up Greek because it was necessary for the study of the New Testament Bible in its original form. I started studying Latin right from 1947 in Ijebu Ode Grammar school till 1963; I was teaching it at Ibadan Boys High School. Now, it happened that the people, who propounded theories for Comparative Linguistics, were Europeans such as Sir Jones, who studied Greek and Latin in England. He was English and was posted to India as Administrative Officer, which exposed him to the people and their language. With this situation, he began to compare Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, and finding similarities and differences of the languages, he began to give lectures on his findings, which was what we studied as theories. Knowing that these languages are interrelated, he groups them as Indo-European languages. These were the languages we were taught in Comparative Linguistics.
However, upon graduation, having studied Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, I began to see the interrelatedness of our local languages, which led to my investigation on the common origin of all languages of man. I started with Yoruba and later English because it’s our lingua franca, but while growing up I mingled with Igbo children in school, which made it possible for me to pick one or two things from the language and at 12, I added Latin having known Hausa from 5 years in Jos, where I lived with my parents. This investigation led to the writing of “Sons of the gods and the daughters of men and Afro-Asiatic interpretation.” I ‘m looking at the event of Genesis 1:11 from the Afro-Asiatic world, which includes Middle East, Ethiopia, Lake Tchad, Hausa, Angas, Tiv, Igbo, Ewe Zulu, Yoruba and others.
Are you saying we are all from a common origin?
Yes, yes, and yes; and researchers have proved that too. For instance I read that until 6000 years ago no continent except Africa was populated because it’s the only place you get the largest area of warm climate, and life survives easier in warm climate. So, life began in Africa and from here, spread to other parts of the world through the horn of Africa.
With this while are Nigerians fighting themselves?
It is because brothers in many families fight themselves; have you not heard of sibling rivalry?
Are you now saying the political rivalry in the country is natural?
It’s a case of brothers fighting each other; so let grandmother Ani or ala (the earth goddess) settle them. Let grandmother separate them. Let her intervene because we are all going back to her. Nigeria’s problem is an issue of sibling rivalry, so let ala settle it.
Would that not mean going back to worship the earth goddess (Idol worshipping)?
Which is the idol, if you go to the Bible, book of Job Chapter 2, it says, “naked did I come from my mother’s womb, naked will I return either.” What is the womb of Job’s mother? This has always been my question to students of Theology in Nigeria and GCE comprehensive question on Christian Religious knowledge for secondary school students in the country. What will be the answer? The earth you mean… is that paganism. No, it’s knowing what the Bible says, and I wonder, how many people know what’s in the Bible? For most Christians in the country prefer to read the translated version to the original Greek version of the New Testament or the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament. I will advise them to study the original versions, so that, they wouldn’t fall into the mistakes of that teach in Israel that came to Jesus at midnight to ask what he shall do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus said, “you must be born again,” and he said, “ how can a man go back to his mother’s womb to be born again,” and Jesus said, “ you, a teacher of Israel asking this? Here, Jesus was not talking paganism; he was talking Sophia, that’s Greek for wisdom; or hokmah, Hebrew for wisdom. Let people seek for wisdom, for there are people that still want to be fed on milk of religion at 70, as a result of this, the hidden things of religion are not known to them. God created Ala (earth) for sustenance, which is the reason sculptors in Mbari shrine, Owerri modeled it after a big breasted-woman breast feeding her baby on one kneel and holding a knife in one hand; the baby the woman is carrying represents all human beings while her breast milk is the food we get from land. The knife stands for instrument of punishment, the mother uses to reprimand the baby if he or she misbehaves.
Lets come back to books, do we hope to get something from it when the youths are not reading
Let me tell you, I went back four years ago to a book we read in Latin in 1943, when I was in Form One in Ijebu Ode Grammar School. But, we can’t totally condemn the youths for there is a girl we met here, at the book stand, she is about 14 or 15 and has published her first novel and looks forward to the second in march 2011. So, there are still bookworms in this generation like me. We still have the likes of Chiamanda Adichie, who said they (she and her parents) shared neighbourhood with Chinua Achebe, in Nskuka — a 1960 renaissance community.
The Chiamanda phenomena can be explained from her childhood. She grew up from a rare society, which the Europeans, Japaneses or Americans may not know off. In that community were notable names such as the late Dr. Azikiwe, Prof. Babs Fafunwa and Prof. Okonjo, now, the Obi of Ogwashi Uku and others. Chiamanda did not grow up from slump or ghetto.
But the electronic media and computer seem have drawn the attention of this generation away from books
We can’t rule that out, but be assured that the future of the book is guarantee. The electron media is everybody’s media. Do you know that illiterates have radios and handsets? I want you to know that writing is for the rare brains, or is the world not going to have them forever? There will still going to be eccentrics. I graduated from the university of Ibadan in 1958 and TV was first brought to Ibadan in 1959, in the whole of Africa. I lived in the town, yet, till date, I do no have one.
I just don’t want it and wouldn’t own one, not even a radio set. Though my wife bought them, I have told her never to put them in my sitting room, so she placed them in her bedroom.
How do you entertain yourself or get information of the happenings around?
I entertain myself with books; I get much excitement from books. And for the happenings around, my friends in the media tell me what’s there; books excite me. For instance I just got a book on Septuagint translated in Alexandria from Hebrew to Greek. Each time I read it, is like I’m watching a film of what happened in Alexandria about 300 BC and you say, I don’t watch films.
But you don’t watch movies?
Movies? I watched them as a teenage in Ibadan, then, it was a phase in my life, but now something else has come demanding time.
And what is that?
The study of Antiquity. Antiquity is longer than modern world; the Antiquity of human beings is at least three million years while modern world started about 1400.
While Antiquity, when we should be talking of postmodernism.
There is nothing new under the sun. Though, they call some things new, in the real sense of it, they are not new.
But there are really new inventions
Do you mean my handset because it has never exited before? There is nothing new with the handset, for Africans had in the past been receiving messages from faraway places through mind projection, which is common among the elderly, only we hadn’t other means than the human brain to store them. When Philip Emeagwali, who invented the fastest computer, was asked where he got his inspiration from, he said, ‘by reading books on Eastern mysticism and African traditional religion’ and I said what is this man talking about. He said when he was young; he used to read his father’s Rosicrucian Digest and mentioned the figure used for his computer. So, I picked up my biro and began to calculate the bites based on the 256 Odu Ifa in Ifa caucus in Yoruba land. I multiple 256 by 256 and I got Emeagwali’s figure. During the inaugural lecture of the first Computer Science lecturer in Africa, (Prof. Longe of University of Ibadan), titled, Ifa and Computer Science; the don stated that they use binary system, which is compatible to Odu Ifa to project into infinity. So, with Ifa, what is new; for the only thing is that those who can reason beyond the ordinary are using the information got to manufacture things, we now call new.
But some people see it as part of paganism and are running away from it
If they like, let them run and those who won’t, will be the Emeagwalis. I am tried of persuading people to do good. From the book of Genesis, the Bible started persuading people to do good, but when it got to Revelations it charged ‘those who do good to continue and those who do evil to continue, too, for I have my reward in my hand’. We have got to a point we need to say if you like evil continue with it and if you like good continue, too.