Yobamoodua: Language activism striving for linguistic diversity in digital spaces

18/06/2021, por Angel

Yobamoodua: Language activism striving for linguistic diversity in digital spaces

Ọmo Yoòbá

Founder at Yobamoodua Cultural Heritage


Empodera.org interviews Adesina Ghani Ayeni, popularly known as Omo Yooba, founder of Yobamoodua Cultural Heritage, based in Lagos, Nigeria, and which functions as an online repository of Yoruba language words. Graduated from the Lagos State Polytechnic with a Higher National Diploma in Mass Communication, he is a media marketing executive, digital rights activist, multimedia journalist, language rights advocate and climate action ambassador. He has worked on numerous advertising campaigns in the Yoruba language, producing a wide array of digital contents in the Yoruba language. In addition to that, he is an active volunteer translator with Global Voices, where he acts as the Yoruba Lingua Manager. He is a two-time research fellow for the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, where he archived some of the oral literature of the Yoruba people of West Africa. Adesina is a Climate Reality Leadership Corp, trained by US Vice President Al Gore. 

 

Hi ỌmỌ, tell us how was Yobamoodua born, what is the philosophy behind it and the reason for your advocacy of Yoruba cultural heritage?

When I was a boy, my precious and hardworking mother whom we call maami (an abridged version of the English ‘my mama’) used to take my younger brother Temitayo and I to my grandmother, in the village, during the long holiday break in August. I always looked forward to this trip because I was certain to see things that I did not see in the city. The Yoruba objects and implements that I had never seen in my life, the proverbs, terminologies, norms and philosophies that my ears had never heard of, and the village scenery to mention a few, are things that delighted me. I am a very passionate person when it comes to Yoruba philosophy. As an inquisitive being, I often asked elders to clarify statements that they utter, and my mother was always available to provide me with all the explanations that I required. Little wonder that I had a B in Yoruba language in my secondary school final exam.


“I want to make people fall in love and pick up interest in the Yoruba cultural heritage, which they have neglected. Hence the nomenclature, Yobamoodua, an acronym for Yoruba Mo Oduduwa or Yoruba descendants”

 

For three years I could not get admission into a higher school of learning. I was home waiting to get into a higher institution, and while my mates were busy reading the numerous easy to come by English novels, I stumbled upon some old novels used by my mother in the 70’s when she was in school. Reading these novels, the likes of Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje, Won Ro Pe Were Ni and listening to traditional folk-songs, among others, motivated me to further my research. Finally, after I had written so many exams, I got an admission to study Mass Communication, and I came to the conclusion that I must do my journalistic work around culture. So, in 2012, it dawned on me and I came to a resolution, putting efforts in place to preserve and propagate my ancestral heritage to the world on the digital space as well as offline. In essence, the motive behind my advocacy is to make people fall in love and pick up interest in the Yoruba cultural heritage which they have neglected, hence the nomenclature, Yobamoodua, which is an acronym for Yoruba Mo Oduduwa (Yoruba descendants or people who know about the culture of Oduduwa; the ancestor of the race). 

 

Your actions aim to preserve the Yoruba language for younger generations. How can education be the engine to empower youth and women in your country?

Folktales and folklores have been employed in ancient times to inculcate moral values in young ones, thereby building in them the spirit of omoluabi, which is a cultural philosophy of good neighborliness, patriotism, and the portrayal of all good virtues. By telling stories of legends, heroes and heroines that once lived in Yorubaland, children imbibe the language and cultural traditions in an easy and relaxed manner. As one of my services to humanity, I organize storytelling events for children where they also get the opportunity to participate in the storyline as characters, so that they can see themselves in the story as well as mirror the spectacle. This medium is obligatory in the preservation of the Yoruba genealogies because it contains dance, songs and drama, all which are embodiments of the culture. Aside from creating visual representation on digital spaces, live performances of the folktales have a great impact on younger generations, for the fact that facial connection and other physical contacts come into play. A new move for me in this regard, if I can find travel support and collaboration with theatre troops or cultural organizations, is to tour the world just as the griots did in the past, narrating ancient stories, praise songs and oral traditions to the young generation.

 

 

The knowledge gap and divide is a cankerworm to the growth and development of the African continent. It is a common place as a result of the predominant use of educational instruction in the English language, instead of the indigenous languages

 

The issue of knowledge gap and divide is a cankerworm to the growth and development of the African continent. This is a common place as a result of the predominant use of educational instruction in the English language, instead of the indigenous languages. Education was prevalent in Africa, and in Yorubaland in particular, long before the intrusion of the Europeans on our territory and knowledge was passed on in the indigenous language of my people, hence understanding was assured. The educational system must take a paradigm shift in the medium of inoculating ideas, that is, the Yoruba language should be used in schools, this will develop the language, improve the comprehension of students as well as serve as a better empowerment tool for the abundant people who do not speak or understand English.

 

The Yoruba language should be used in schools. This will develop the language, improve the comprehension of students and serve as a better empowerment tool for the abundant people who do not speak or understand English

 

To bridge this knowledge divide and ensure that a knowledge society is achieved, the youth and women from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, regardless of the language that they speak, are entitled to education; that is why I plan to have a radio program that empowers the people about the computer know-how in the Yoruba language, climate change education and more. The program will also be adapted for social media in the form of podcasts and visualization. On the other hand, many of the indigenous industries like adire (tie/dye), apere hihun (basket making), igba finfin (calabash ware making) to mention a few, and which have distinct registers are fading away on a daily basis. These language banks and money-making traditional industries must be preserved and revived by passing on the knowledge to the young generation and women of today, in a way that it will meet international standards plus compete with its counterparts across the world. It is no gainsaying that these empowerment initiatives have tremendous roles to play in reducing the poverty rate on the continent.


Technology must be employed to make life easier. I work with my team to have global citizen media news visible in the Yoruba language

 

Your activism has a real impact in Nigeria through your work as an advocate for Global Voices. What are your specific actions to transform education through technology?

Once again, technology is to serve the people and it is a vital tool for the progress of the people, therefore, all technology must be employed to make life easy. I joined Global Voices to contribute to the ideology of digital activism which the organization stands for. As part of my civic responsibility and also, as the Lingua Manager for the Yoruba language, I work with my team to have global citizen media news visible in the Yoruba language. By doing so, we make available open licensed contents that can be reused by anyone for anything that promotes a similar objective. Artificial Intelligence is here with us. It is a task that must be archived whereby the Yoruba language can be used in Machine Learning, programming and what have you. When we have enough data in place, through partnership and collaboration, programmers and computer engineers alike can develop software, applications and games that will further transform the education system. 

 

The use of digital tools in the education system is having a new turn in Nigeria. Though there is still work to be done, the future is bright for the Yoruba language in the tech world

 

Furthermore, the use of digital tools in the education system is having a new turn in Nigeria, as we can witness a paradigm shift in the use of learning suites, digital devices like educational tabs (opon imo), Open Educational Resources and online learning. Though there is still work to be done, the future is bright for the Yoruba language in the tech world.


The colonial mentality syndrome is a major setback to digital activism of indigenous languages. The languages of the land are not duly recognized in the cities, in government and even in schools, except in rural communities

 

What are the challenges and success stories related to digital activism of indigenous languages?

The late Fela Anikulapo Kuti in one of his songs used the term “colo-mentality”, that is ‘colonial mentality’. True enough, he was right! The colonial mentality syndrome is a major setback to digital activism of indigenous languages among every other thing that involves the indigenous cultural traditions. The languages of the land are not duly recognized in the various homes in the urban cities, in government and even in schools except in the rural communities. Albeit the language is taught as a subject in schools, used in the media and in some government quarters, still there is need for acceptable recognition, and implementation by law for the indigenous languages to be used for holistic pedagogy of all subjects rather than imparted only as a subject on the education time-table.


Crowdsourcing platforms are not yet available in parts of Africa, like Nigeria. People like me, who need funding for projects, need to look elsewhere or partner with someone abroad

The lack of sufficient recognition of indigenous languages is the reason why adequate funding and support is not imminent in the cultural sector. However, there is a rainbow after the stormy rain. Some international organizations like the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Smithsonian Institute in the USA including many others, for example, provide small grants that support the indigenous languages and culture. Many activists are employing crowdfunding resources to collate fund to implement their projects in animation, learning apps and devices, Machine Learning, etcetera, only that this crowdsourcing platforms are not yet available in some parts of Africa like Nigeria, therefore people like me, who need funding for projects, need to look elsewhere or partner with someone abroad to create a crowdfunding account on my behalf. By and large, ‘A luta continua, Victoria Ascerta’ (The struggle continues, the victory is certain). 

 

You have produced uncountable Yorùbá advertisements for Nigeria radio campaigns and TVC. Tell us about this experience.

My journey advertising in Yoruba language was ignited by my zeal for rap. After secondary school, I was home for three years awaiting admission into university, but luck was not on my side. I did not meet the cut-off mark of my choice institutions, thus I had to try the polytechnic matriculation exam and this time, I passed. While at home, I honed my music prowess by listening to folk-songs by Yusuf Olatunji, Ayinla Omowura, Haruna Ishola as well as rap songs by Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J and countless others, even going as far as producing a demo. As a lover of art, my wish was to become a visual artist, nevertheless since I could not get to university to study, I decided to go for journalism. So, my first ever commercial was a rap jingle in Yoruba produced for a telecommunication company in Lagos, Nigeria, and it was well received. 

 

 

The best campaigns are those produced in the indigenous languages because it relates more to the audience. Virtually all English commercial campaigns in Nigeria are complemented by the indigenous language version

 

Afterwards, I was contracted to write advertising scripts for both TVC and radio, translated scripts from English to Yoruba, and as they say, the rest is history. However, I noticed that the best campaigns that have more influence on the target audience are those produced in the indigenous languages because it relates more to the audience, which is why virtually all English commercial campaigns in Nigeria are complemented by the indigenous language version for better immersion and impact.

 

You also teach Yorùbá as a language instructor on tribalingua.com, where you tutor students all over the world. How many international students have you reached? 

Teaching on Tribalingua in 2017 and 2018 was an experiment for me, for it gave me my first opportunity to be a virtual instructor, speaking to students one-on-one via Skype. It also gave me a broader view on developing course material for teaching the Yoruba language. Nevertheless, due to marketing issues of the site, I could not tutor more than three students, but I am astonished that one of my students, Giovanna Capponi, an Italian anthropologist, is doing well in the language. 

 

It is really interesting your collaboration with Localization Lab, adopting technology through collaborative #localization, user feedback, and co-design. Tell us about this experience.

Coming across the works of Localization Lab was a stumbling block for me. I received a direct message from the founder of Localization Lab inviting me to participate in a translation sprint for the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa in Accra, Ghana. We communicated via email and we came to a conclusion to translate technical tools, guides and resources. Working on the translation sprint helped me develop more interest and showed me a need to coin new terminologies in science and tech in order to develop the Yoruba vocabulary. Also, I got to know about the great works that Global Voices do at this event.

 

Can you give us a general picture on the differences between the local communities you work with? How can local communities become more visible through cultural heritage?  

Yoruba is a pluricentric language spoken in West Africa, predominantly in South West Nigeria, Benin Republic and some communities in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, America and Europe. The Yoruba language has dialectal variants that differentiate one community from the other, however, the standard Yoruba, which is reduced to writing, is understood by all dialects, although not everyone understands the various dialects. 


If we look inward and standardize the heritage sites in our local communities, we can make them visible to the world, so that cultural heritage may play a vital role in the growth of the economy and the development of the nation

 

In every community, there is a heritage site, legend and what have you. These cultural mines have not been tapped as expected, because only the inhabitants of those communities know of these things. To this end, indigenes of these communities should wake up from their slumbers, as custodians of their ancestral heritage, the onus is on them to proliferate the knowledge and wisdom of their land, through festivals, cultural engagements like tours, exhibitions, quiz and debate, conferences and symposiums, partnership and collaboration with other cultural advocates, to open up the communities to the world, so that cultural heritage may play a vital role in the growth of the economy as well as the development of the nation. The sites in Jerusalem and Mecca are cultural heritage of those communities, a large chunk of revenue is generated annually from pilgrimage. If we look inward and standardize the heritage sites in our local communities, we can make them visible to the world.

 

What is your opinion and predictions on how everything is going forward during and after the global crisis of COVID-19?  

It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a global health crisis and affecting the global economies. On the other hand, the outbreak has played a beneficial role in the reduction of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere. Carbon emissions have depleted tremendously since human mobility has been reduced, as a result of the lockdown. From my research, I found out that air quality has improved in recent weeks because industrial operations and transportation using fossil fuels was halted. 


After the COVID-19 global crisis, to fix the economy, we have to fix the climate crisis


As a climate action ambassador and a Climate Reality Leadership Corps, my advice to everyone is to play a part in healing the Earth by taking climate friendly actions. All hands must be on deck, everyone must take part in concerted and sustained actions, cut down the effect of deforestation by planting trees to absorb excess carbon in the environment… and political bodies should implement policies that support a green economy by creating a decent avenue for green jobs to thrive. After the COVID-19 global crisis, to fix the economy, we have to fix the climate crisis.

 

More information:

Yobamoodua webpage  

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