By EMEKA OBASI
Pick up your books, fellow Nigerians, the debate is on. Many of us spend time making money and doing politics even some teachers hardly read so they cannot write to give us new Wole Soyinkas, Chinua Achebes, Keneth Dikes and Jacob Ade-Ajayis.
Femi Fani Kayode has opened a new chapter in our national discourse and we are all compelled to go do some academic exercise. He insists the word Yoruba is alien to the children of Oduduwa and goes ahead to say it evolved from ‘yariba’, a derogatory remark.
I have read reactions to Fani Kayode’s lecture series. Great Historians tried to dismiss it as fairy tale, full of emotion. Particularly interesting is the submission by Prof. Banji Akintoye. And I want to quote him.
He said: “Nobody knows the origin of any name. Who knows the origin of German, French …French, Germans don’t know the origins of their names.”
Without taking anything away from the erudite scholar, I am sure France and Germany would have been quaking after reading his reaction in the Vanguard. These countries are not like Nigeria. They know where they are coming from.
Germany was derived from Germanus which means Neighbours. It was a Roman word used by the Gauls. Germans call their country Deutschland.
France was formerly known as Gaul. The land later came under attack by the Franks. It was from the invaders that the new name emerged.
I am sure Prof. Akintoye’s question does not need more than this. Fani Kayode did not ask for too much. He only declared open an interesting debate on the origin of the word Yoruba.
I will go ahead to talk about some continents, countries, and even cities whose names are not shrouded in controversy and secrecy.
Africa was named after the Afri tribe of Tunisia. At least, many of us know the rich History of Carthage. Hannibal, the Warrior, is a common nickname in our country. Biafra had two, Col. Joe Oseloka Achuzia and Major Okpani Nkama.
Europe is named after Europus, a town in Macedonia. The import is that you do not belittle any country. The big nations of Europe and the old powerful empires did not have the honour of being so recognized.
Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer from Florence. He was also a financier and navigator. In his native Italy, there may not be so much attributed to him. However, in 1507, America was named after Amerigo Vespucci.
Italy has so much to do with cattle. There may not be rampaging herdsmen in Florence or Milan. Italy originated from the word ‘Vitalia which means cattle or pasture land.
Russia is the land of the Russ. England belongs to the Angles, conquerors of Southern Britain in the Fifth century. The English word for Hispania or Espana is Spain. It was lifted from ‘Shapan’, [Rabbit land].
China’s wonder of the world is the Great Wall. Some accounts say it is the only structure on Planet Earth visible from outer space. The Great Wall was constructed by Emperor Tsin. China is named after him.
The Mohawk and other Indians who inhabited the Americas before the influx of European explorers and expansionists cannot be forgotten. ‘Kanata’ is the Red Indian word for settler huts. That is also the origin of the name Canada.
Indians in Asia are not red. Some are as dark as Africans, many are as fair as Mestizo Americans. The country name India came from River Indus.
Simon Bolivar, better known as the ‘Liberator’, was originally from the Basque Region of Spain. There is a Bolivar village there. When he crossed the Atlantic, the man made his mark. Bolivia is named after him.
Back home in Africa, we recently witnessed a name change. On April 19, 2018, the King of Swaziland dropped the name for Eswatini. Land of the Swazi, that is the meaning of Eswatini.
Texas, the oil producing state in the United States, has the highest population of Ndigbo in that country. Give it to the friendly atmosphere or the clement weather. The truth is that the name Texas, was derived from the Indian word for Friends.
Nigerian towns also know how they got their names. It does not have to do with conjecture. If we are debating the origin of Yoruba, the people do not doubt the history of their cities.
Osogbo means ‘osho-igbo’ [demon of the forest]. It was founded by two hunters from Ijebu land, Laaroye and Oguntimehin, in 1375.
Another town in the South-West that was established by hunters is Abeokuta. They were led by Sodeke. All of them were of Egba stock. That was how people from Ake, Gbagura, Owu and Oke Ona moved to Abeokuta [beneath the rock] in 1830.
Ilorin has an emir but it was a Yoruba town until the Fulani conquest. The name was coined from ‘ okuta ilo i rin [ stone for sharpening metals].
Up North, Abuja was founded by Abubakar Jatau, an Hausa Prince from Zaria. That is one big town in Northern Nigeria that was not an emirate. The name Abuja was taken from the founder.
Jalingo is the Fulani word for ‘I’m victorious’. Katsina was founded by a woman, Katsi even if the most popular Hausa woman down memory lane was Queen Amina of Zaria.
Down South, Enugu, like Abeokuta, is known for Rocks. At the end of the Civil War, an amalgam of teams in the Coal city was known as Enugu Black Rocks. The English meaning of Enugu is hill top.
Outside Nigeria, I found one place name interesting. In 2000, I visited Australia and my temporary home was in the Lidcombe area of Sydney. That is where you have the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere.
Unfortunately just before I arrived Sydney, a Nigerian athlete, Hyginus Anugom, was knocked down by a teenage driver.
I got to know that Lidcombe was coined from two Mayors : Frederick Lidbury and Henry John Larcombe. The name Lidcombe came up on January 1, 1914.
That should attract something in us. It was on that same day that another Frederick, Lugard of Abinger, amalgamated Southern and Northern Nigeria.