Kafiri, Sai­tan, Og­bo­mosho: Strange per­sonal names among Amer­ica’s Gul­lah peo­ple

Sunday Trust - - FUN & GAMES - with Fa­rooq Kper­ogi (PhD)

In last week’s col­umn, I promised to share with the reader some of the no­tice­able African in­flu­ences in the Gul­lah lan­guage. These in­flu­ences are so vast, var­ied, and deep that I can­not do jus­tice to them in a sin­gle news­pa­per col­umn. So I’ve de­cided to cap­ture them in two in­stall­ments.

In his ground­break­ing book ti­tled African­isms in the Gul­lah Di­alect, which I made ref­er­ence to in last week’s col­umn, the late African-Amer­i­can lin­guist Dr. Lorenzo D. Turner iden­ti­fied more than 4,000 words in the Gul­lah English di­alect that trace lex­i­cal de­scent from sev­eral lan­guages in west and cen­tral Africa. He found these African in­flu­ences in Gul­lah peo­ple’s per­sonal names, in their quo­tid­ian con­ver­sa­tional vo­cab­u­lar­ies, and in their folk songs, sto­ries, hymns, and in­vo­ca­tions. I will ex­plore Gul­lah per­sonal names this week and con­clude with the African lex­i­cal in­flu­ences in the ev­ery­day speech and songs of the Gul­lah peo­ple in the com­ing weeks.

In what fol­lows, I iden­tify the African ori­gins of many Gul­lah per­sonal names. Given that the re­search for the book from which ma­te­rial for this col­umn was drawn was done in the 1930s, I have up­dated sev­eral of the au­thor’s data. I’ve also ex­tended and en­riched his con­clu­sions based on my own ex­pe­ri­en­tial and epis­te­mo­log­i­cal lo­ca­tion in re­la­tion to his data.

Thou­sands of per­sonal names the Gul­lah peo­ple bear are sim­i­lar to many names peo­ple in west and cen­tral Africa still bear. It is im­pos­si­ble to men­tion all of them in this piece; Turner iden­ti­fied more than 4,000 per­sonal names among the Gul­lah in Ge­or­gia and South Carolina. So I am only go­ing to iso­late a few, mostly Nige­rian, names that stood out for me.

I am par­tic­u­larly sur­prised by the large num­ber of Yoruba names the Gul­lah peo­ple bear. As Turner pointed out, the Gul­lah peo­ple had not the slight­est aware­ness of the Yoruba ori­gin and mean­ing of their names. Among the hun­dreds of Yoruba names Turner recorded among the Gul­lah peo­ple in the 1930s are names like Ade, Ade­bisi, Ade­biyi, Adekule [Adekunle], Adeniyi, Ade­wale, Adu, Adosu, Aganju, Akaraje [i.e., eat bean cake], Akawo [Akanwo], Alafia [ “Alafia” is an Ara­bic-de­rived word; see Ara­bized African names be­low], Alabo, Alade, Alawo, Baba, Bankole, Erelu, Idowu, Iyaoba, Ke­hinde, Oduduwa, Otunla, Og­boni, Oluwa, Okuta, Ola, Oriki, Olu­biyi, Olug­bodi, Oye­bisi, Sango, Yeye.

There are hun­dreds more in the book, but I was struck, just like Turner was, that the Gul­lah peo­ple have re­tained the dif­fi­cult “gb” sound in their names. Most peo­ple, in­clud­ing Africans who don’t speak a Niger-Congo lan­guage, usu­ally have a hard time ar­tic­u­lat­ing the “gb” sound, which Turner called “the voiced labio-ve­lar plo­sive,” in­clud­ing the “kp” sound that be­gins my last name, which Turner char­ac­ter­ized as the “gb” sound’s “voiced coun­ter­part” (p. 25).

This, for me, is noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary. Even my first daugh­ter, to whom my na­tive Baa­tonu lan­guage isn’t a mother tongue, has a hard time pro­nounc­ing her last name and has pleaded with me to dis­pense with the “K” in our last name. I told her that would be a mu­ti­la­tion of the name be­cause “kp” is an in­de­pen­dent sound unit like “ch” is in “chair” in English.

Well, the Gul­lah peo­ple also bear many African­ized Muslim names they ob­vi­ously in­her­ited from their Fu­lani, Mandingo, Yoruba, Hausa, Bam­bara, Wolof, and Mende Muslim an­ces­tors. As I pointed out last week, the ex­ten­sive sec­ond-hand Ara­bic in­flu­ence Turner found in many African­derived Gul­lah words, which he dis­cov­ered af­ter speak­ing with West Africans in Lon­don and Paris in the 1930s, caused him to learn Ara­bic so that he could make sense of his data.

Turner recorded names like Aburika, which is prob­a­bly a cor­rup­tion of Abubakar; Adamu, in­ci­den­tally my fa­ther’s first name, which is the West African Muslim ren­der­ing of Adam; Aduwa, an African­iza­tion of du’a, the Ara­bic word for prayer; Ay­isa and Ay­isata, Mandingo and Bam­bara Muslim ap­prox­i­ma­tions of Aisha, the name of one of the wives of the Prophet of Is­lam; Ayuba, the Muslim ver­sion of Job, which is ren­dered as Ayub in Ara­bic; Baraka, which is Ara­bic for bless­ing that shares et­y­mo­log­i­cal and se­man­tic affini­ties with Barack, the first name of Pres­i­dent Obama; Dirisu, which is how the Mandingo and Bam­bara peo­ple call the Muslim name Idris-Yoruba Mus­lims call it Disu; Fa­tuma, Fatu, Fa­ti­mata (all Mandingo, Wolof, and Bam­abara ver­sions of “Fa­tima,” the name of the daugh­ter of the Prophet of Is­lam); Fitina (de­rived from the Ara­bic word for trou­ble); Ibrahima, the West African Muslim ren­der­ing of Ibrahim, which Chris­tians and Jews call Abra­ham.

He also recorded names like Ju­mare, now re­garded as a Fu­lani name but which is ac­tu­ally de­rived from (al)jumea, the Ara­bic name for Fri­day- Yoruba, Ebira, Baa­tonu Mus­lims, etc. bear the name as Ji­moh; Gib­ril (which Nige­rian Mus­lims bear as Jib­ril or Jib­rin or Jibo and which Chris­tians and Jews know as Gabriel; Imale (the Yoruba word for Muslim, pre­sum­ably be­cause Is­lam came to Yoruba land from Mali); Haruna, which is the West African ver­sion of Harun, which Chris­tians and Jews know as Aaron; Lafiya ( de­rived from “afia,” the Ara­bic word for good health, which is borne as a royal name among the Borgu peo­ple in Nige­ria and Benin Re­pub­lic, and as an ev­ery­day per­sonal name in Senegam­bia and other his­tor­i­cally Muslim poli­ties in West Africa; Mad­ina, the name of the sec­ond holi­est city in Is­lam known to Western­ers as Me­d­ina, which West African Mus­lims bear as a fe­male per­sonal name; Laila; Laraba, a Hausa name given to a girl born on Wed­nes­day, de­rived from al-arbi’aa’, the Ara­bic word for Wed­nes­day; Woli, (the Yoruba Muslim do­mes­ti­ca­tion of the Ara­bic wali, which means pa­tron saint); Sal­ihu; Salamu; etc.

The Gul­lah even bear puz­zling names like Kafiri (a deroga­tory name for a non-Muslim, which Yoruba and Baa­tonu Mus­lims call ke­feri, which is an African ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the Ara­bic kafir) and Sai­tan, which is the Muslim ren­der­ing of Satan!

They also bear the names of West African eth­nic groups as per­sonal names, per­haps in­di­cat­ing the eth­nic ori­gins of some of the Gul­lah peo­ple. They bear names like Fu­lani, Fulbe, Fula (which re­fer to the same peo­ple), Ibibio, Ijesa, Og­bo­mosho, ac­cord­ing to Turner’s records. The name Yoruba didn’t ex­ist as a col­lec­tive name for peo­ple in what is now south­west Nige­ria. “Yoruba” in its cur­rent form is a 19th-cen­tury cre­ation by Sa­muel Ajayi Crowther-fol­low­ing a 16th cen­tury Song­hai Is­lamic scholar by the name of Ahmed Baba who first used the name to re­fer to peo­ple in the old Oyo Em­pire. That is why only names like Ijesa (a Yoruba sub­group found in present-day Osun State) and Og­bo­mosho, rather than “Yoruba,” ap­pear in the records of peo­ple en­slaved in the West from West Africa.

The Gul­lah peo­ple also bear Kwora, the name for River Niger (which is ren­dered as Kwara in the north­cen­tral Nige­rian state where I am from) in many West African lan­guages, in­clud­ing Hausa, Baa­tonu, and Fu­lani from where it was prob­a­bly passed down to the Gul­lah. In­ter­est­ingly, among the Baa­tonu peo­ple, Kwora is a name re­served ex­clu­sively for mem­bers of royal fam­i­lies in both Nige­ria and Benin Re­pub­lic.

While the gen­der­ing of many Gul­lah names cor­re­sponds with their gen­der­ing in West African names (for in­stance, many of the Yoruba names among the Gul­lah are uni­sex, like they are among the Yoruba), there is a dis­cor­dance in oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, a name like Aba, which is a male name in Gul­lah, is the name of a girl born on Thurs­day among the Fante peo­ple of present-day Ghana.

Turner found out that most of the per­sonal names that the Gul­lah bear can be traced to Ara­bic (by way of mem­bers of sev­eral Is­lamized West African eth­nic groups who were en­slaved to rice plan­ta­tions in Ge­or­gia and South Carolina); Bam­bara ( who are now found pri­mar­ily in Mali, but also in Guinea, Burk­ina Faso, and Sene­gal); Bini in south­ern Nige­ria; Bobangi in the Congo; Zarma who now live mainly in what is now Niger Re­pub­lic; Ewe who can be found in Togo and Benin Re­pub­lic; Efik in south­ern Nige­ria; Fante in Ghana; Fon in Benin Re­pub­lic; Fu­lani; Hausa; Igbo; Ibibio in south­ern Nige­ria; Kongo in An­gola; Kikongo in the Congo; Kim­bundu in An­gola; Kpelle in Liberia; Mende in Sierra Leone; Malinke, Mandinka, and Mandingo in Senegam­bia, Mali, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc., Nupe and Gwari in cen­tral Nige­ria; Susu in Guinea; Song­hai in present-day Niger, Mali, and Benin re­publics; Twi in Ghana; Temne in Sierra Leone; Tshiluba in the Congo; Um­bundu in An­gola; Vai in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Wolof in Sene­gal, Gam­bia and Mau­ri­ta­nia; and Yoruba in south­west­ern Nige­ria.

Keep a date next week for an anal­y­sis of African words in the Gul­lah English di­alect.

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