Today a well-dressed man with a Sean Connery/Salman Rushdie look, beard, and an eerily similar Wole Soyinka/VS Naipaul voice walked into the language lab. He was accompanied by a colleague in the department who had brought him there to use the computer. I’d heard a little about him from the departmental emails. He is one of the prospective employees brought to take a tour of the department and meet members of staff. He had come earlier before I arrived at work. He stands a chance of being a new addition to our staff so I went to speak with him.
“Where are you from?” He asked after I’d introduced myself.
“Bawo nee.” He said, and I was suprised.
“A dupe. How did you know this. Have you ever lived in Nigeria?”
“No. I’m from Brazil.”
“Wao. I didn’t know that you speak the language there.”
“Yes we do. The Yoruba religion is very big in Brazil. It’s a huge huge thing.”
I knew this, but was still very impressed. Then he went on.
“Do you know Shango?”
“And my personal favourite – Eshu*!”
“I tell everybody about Eshu, especially the Christians I meet, and they look at me like an evil voodoo priest.”
We went on to talk for a few more minutes, and he then showed me a youtube video of a performance of the Yoruba religious worship in Brazil. The songs are a mixture of Portugese and Yoruba. One could pick out many Yoruba words, phrases and expressions in the song. The costumes however are a mixture of European and African. The drums were distinctly African.
The short conversation has given me a new appreciation of religion being the most enduring bearer of language. We’ve seen it with Latin and Catholicism, Arabic and Islam. Now we’re seeing it with Yoruba and Candomble.
It is was all just very interesting to me.
* Eshu is the Yoruba god of mischief, lost in the translation of the English bible into Yoruba as the devil himself.