Apart from the commonly used worship items across different faiths, Yoruba sayings or proverbs sometimes find their way into Christian worship, reflecting the cultural orientation of the people. These sayings and proverbs are often used by Christian religious leaders who may not have formal education or a strong command of the English language. They use expressions deeply rooted in the Yoruba culture because their Yoruba-speaking listeners can easily understand them. When passages from the Christian bible are rendered in Yoruba cultural songs, sayings, adages, or proverbs, it allows for a more meaningful communication of the intended message. Many of these sayings and proverbs are also used by traditional worshippers and originated from them as part of the cultural heritage even before imported religions arrived.
For example, a Yoruba Christian preacher may use the saying “Whoever gathers sticks will use their head to carry it” before a prayer point, which may sound like an incantation to a Christian listener who is unaware that this saying is mentioned in the Bible. Similar words are used by traditional worshippers as well because both sides recognize the truth and relevance of these sayings in relation to creation and the human experience. The observation is that these sayings are not exclusive to any particular religion or culture as long as they reflect the human condition.
Tope Alabi used Yoruba words in her song that were labeled as “Ifa slangs.” These words included “Ebo” (sacrifice), “abo’ru” (acceptable sacrifice), and “abo’ye” (living sacrifice). The English translations of these Yoruba words are well understood by Christian worshipers as they are part of the teachings they receive regarding the sacrifice of the founder of the faith and the expected behavior of the followers. Each of these words is either directly mentioned in the Bible or can be inferred from various passages.
In her song, it seems that Alabi was either describing her personal experience as a Christian worshiper using the deepest Yoruba saying she knew, or she was aiming to communicate her message in a way that resonated deeply with Yoruba speakers who may not understand English well. The use of these words related to sacrifice aligns with the Christian teaching of being dead to self and offering oneself as a living sacrifice. Core Yoruba speakers can easily grasp this concept. It’s worth noting that the founder of the Christian faith also used locally available and familiar illustrations to connect with his audience. Similarly, Yoruba gospel singers who use “ewi” (poetry) incorporate such words into their songs.
The Yoruba music albums of Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, provide examples of gospel singers who use Yoruba words deeply rooted in the culture to describe, praise, thank, and appeal to the Supreme Being called Olodumare. Many of these praise words are also used by traditional worshipers. Some may mistakenly consider certain battle-focused prayer words found throughout the Bible and used in Adeboye’s songs as “Ifa slangs.”
READ MORE: Gospel Singers And Use Of ‘Ifa Slangs’ (I)
Gospel singers who use “Ijala ode” (hunters’ ode) and other Yoruba art forms also incorporate sayings rooted in the culture, which are equally used by traditional worshipers to praise and thank Olodumare. The use of these sayings effectively conveys the message to Yoruba Christian listeners, as they reflect the human condition and are deeply connected to creation. It’s important to note that sayings based on the observation of creation cannot be exclusive to one faith. Different religions can adopt the same sayings, adjusting them to suit their own purposes while maintaining the underlying reality they convey. The context and focus may differ, but the essence remains the same.
The use of English in Christian worship has somewhat diminished the appreciation for the depth and richness of the Yoruba language among its speakers. Some may feel that certain Yoruba sayings should not be used in connection with the Christian God simply because they don’t sound exactly the same in English or have been associated with traditional worship. However, it is likely that the Supreme Being appreciates all languages and desires to hear them spoken with their inherent richness. Alabi’s use of the profound and deep Yoruba language, which she clearly understands, should be valued and appreciated.
Alabi’s song carries deeper implications than what some initially perceived. It demonstrates the growth, knowledge, wisdom, and new insights of a gospel singer who is breaking barriers. By using words that hold great meaning for her in the language she knows so well, she should be commended for her extraordinary insight. Each worshiper has the freedom to use sayings they believe best express their act of worship to the Supreme Being they believe in. If Alabi’s intention was to connect deeply with her audience by employing words that have a profound impact on her, she should be celebrated for her unique perspective.