This is a beautiful example of an oríkì for Òrìṣà Ọ̀ṣun recorded by musician Samm Bennett in the house of Àdùnní Olórìṣà Susanne Wenger at 41A Ibokún Road, Òṣogbo, Nigeria, on December 26, 1981. You can listen to the soundfile and read along the full text in Yorùbá and English below. Let me give you a small introduction first, on the oríkì and some general difficulties involved in its translation.

This performance was not recorded in a ritual context, it is a rehearsal of a “household oríkì” on the day prior to the weekly ọ̀sẹ̀ ceremony for Ọ̀ṣun. Susanne Wenger never permitted any recording device involved in “a space where the spark of ritual novelty, creativity or inspiration was expected to appear” (Victor Manfredi). The children at Ibokún Road were highly encouraged to practice their skills outside of the ritual, as “Susanne Wenger was alarmed at the decline of the mnemonic art among the younger generation” (Manfredi).

Ibokún Road 41A, Òṣogbo, 2015, the house where Susanne Wenger lived. A rare example of afro-brazilian architecture, influenced by thousands of returned slaves from the mid to the end of the 19th century, called the Aguda people in Nigeria.

Ibokún Road 41A, Òṣogbo, 2015, the house where Susanne Wenger lived. A rare example of afro-brazilian architecture, influenced by thousands of returned slaves from the mid to the end of the 19th century, called the Aguda people in Nigeria.

Every day of the Yorùbá five-day-week (in Western counting a four-day-week) is dedicated to special Orisha. An Olorisha is paying attention to the shrine regularly once every four days, giving basic offerings, communicating with kola nuts, praying, chanting and evoking the Orisha.

Oríkì can be translated as “praise”. People often have their own personal oríkì, given to them by family members or close friends. These names refer to qualities the owner has. It might describe e.g. the circumstances under which one is born or other remarkable things that happened to someone in his life. In this example Susanne Wenger’s oríkì Àdùnní means “the person from whom we derive joy”, or another oríkì mentioned by the singer is Àbèní, “the person who one begs to have”. Family or lineage oríkì are already more complex and very important in social events. Especially talking drummers have to memorize them to greet and praise the members of the community according to their rank and status.

Orisha have many different oríkì, praise names, which are used to call their attention. These words refer to narrative stories, ìtàn, that get distilled into a short name-like attribute containing essential powers and qualities of the Orisha. Hearing the oríkì alone, without knowing the stories around, has been compared to reading fragments of a text. You can decipher them when you get to know the whole picture – but sometimes there is more than one story about the oríkì. In this is case it often helps translating oríkì not just literally, word by word, but in a more interpreting or poetic way. This is one if the major difficulties in Yorùbá translation. The English word alone does not give you automatically an insight into the culture and the meaning of the word in this context. Anthropologists often accept a “weird” literal translation, that lacks its meaning completely to outsiders, instead of investing more time into finding an equivalent that is readable to people of other cultures. As a Yorùbá language student I also love literal translations, but without an interpretation often they are not understandable (also see the blogpost on Orisha Orò, with lots of òwe, proverbs). Oríkì is poetry, a form of art, and thus requires some freedom in the art of translation, I believe.

Fence artwork by Adebisi Akanji, Ibokún Road 41A, Òṣogbo. 

Fence artwork by Adebisi Akanji, Ibokún Road 41A, Òṣogbo. 

Another common difficulty in translating Yorùbá texts just from a (musical) recording is the elision of one vowel when two vowels meet. E.g. the sentence “Ẹ má gb’Àdùnní l’ọwọ́ ìyá” is translated here, thanks to Victor Manfredi, as “Do not separate Adunni from the mother”. The “gb’Àdùnní” could come from “gbà Àdùnní”, “to take A.” or “gbé Àdùnní”, “to carry A. with both hands”. The latter contextually means “to kidnap” when applied to a child, as in the popular noun “gb’ọ́mọ-gb’ọ́mọ”, “kidnapper/trafficker”. In this word the high tone shows clearly that the word gbé is involved, but in the recorded song it is difficult to say whether the remaining “gb” has its roots in “gbà” or “gbé”. The vowel of the verb disappears completely and just the tone gets transferred to the vowel of the following noun. So we decided to translate it finally as “to separate”, a verb that expresses both the idea of “to take away” and “to kidnap” at the same time.

Once a vowel in a word was heard by one translator as “o” (middle tone) and by another as “ọ̀” (low tone), what lead to different translations. Also because the verb “rọ” in the same sentence was by one translator identified as a verb meaning “to call” - in a dialect variant of Òṣogbo - while another translator from another Yorùbá city did not know this verb and translated it as an adjective.   

The Ritual Orchestra for the weekly ọ̀sẹ̀-ceremony in front of the house of Adunni Olorisha Susanne Wenger, Ibokún Road, Òṣogbo, 1977. With Victor Manfredi, dùndùn drummer Ayan Kolade, Adigun Olosun, famous dancer Sango Sodo with his wife, who is one of the oriki singers, Iya Ikirun and Ayan Sipe, famous bàtá drummer. ©Victor Manfredi

The Ritual Orchestra for the weekly ọ̀sẹ̀-ceremony in front of the house of Adunni Olorisha Susanne Wenger, Ibokún Road, Òṣogbo, 1977. With Victor Manfredi, dùndùn drummer Ayan Kolade, Adigun Olosun, famous dancer Sango Sodo with his wife, who is one of the oriki singers, Iya Ikirun and Ayan Sipe, famous bàtá drummer. ©Victor Manfredi

The bàtá talking drums of this recording could not be transcribed. Imagine the drummers to recite oríkì for Susanne Wenger and Òrìṣà Ọ̀ṣun and actively involve themselves into the chanting of the children and the poetry. As you can read in the translations one of the singers directly addresses the drummer’s ability to “speak with his hands”, while she has to use her mouth. Drummers literally “beg for money” by praising the person funding the event, this is one of the roles they play in the ritual and Yorùbá culture.

Tótoọ̀la Ẹgbẹ́bí Ọlọ́ṣun Ifáṣeésìn, Susanne Wenger's granddaughter, who translated this song. ©Tótoọ̀la Ọlọ́ṣun

Tótoọ̀la Ẹgbẹ́bí Ọlọ́ṣun Ifáṣeésìn, Susanne Wenger's granddaughter, who translated this song. ©Tótoọ̀la Ọlọ́ṣun

The first complete transcription and translation into English was done by Tótoọ̀la Ẹgbẹ́bí Ọlọ́ṣun Ifáṣeésìn, Susanne Wenger’s granddaughter. Linguist Victor Manfredi provided information on the recording situation and Ọ̀ṣun’s praise names. Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, linguist, writer and founder of the new project www.yorubaname.com translated parts of the Yorùbá chanting in Ijesha dialect and contributed to the transcription. The proofreading was done by linguist Clement Odoje. Finally Victor Manfredi again contributed enormously to the translation. Thank you to all the people involved! With the music in the background it is not easy to understand all the lines clearly. One line is missing, another line is roughly sketched. For a few lines I decided to give their alternative translations.

This oríkì is a good and basic example to get to know the structure of this poetic art form, the musical phrasing of the singing and the 'clave', the call-and-response scheme, the art of bàtá drumming and talking, the freestyle improvisations of the two women, the praising of the household-owner Àdùnní Olórìṣà and Òrìṣà Ọ̀ṣun at the same time and to get to know the way traditional education works or has worked in 1981, demonstrated by the youngest members of Yorùbá society.

This soundfile is courtesy of linguist Victor Manfredi, who shares on his website field recordings and material on Yorùbá language and culture. There I found this fascinating and powerful soundfile, which still causes me goosebumps when the bàtá drums set in. I wanted to understand it and now I can share it with you. Thank you to Victor Manfredi and Samm Bennett. 

Listen to the song below, just press the play button and read along, praising Òrìṣà Ọ̀ṣun and Àdùnní Olórìṣà!

Oore yèyé òòò!

Oshun priestess Adedoyin Faniyi Olosun, Wenger's daughter, is today living in the house. It is mantained as a museum for Mama Adunni, as Wenger is called in Osogbo. 

Oshun priestess Adedoyin Faniyi Olosun, Wenger's daughter, is today living in the house. It is mantained as a museum for Mama Adunni, as Wenger is called in Osogbo. 

 

INTRO (all children together)

Oore yèyé òòò… (first two vowels missing on the recording)

Kindness of the mother

Oore yèyé òòò…

Kindness of the mother

Oore yèyé mo rọ

Kindness of the mother I call (Tótoọ̀la Ọlọ́ṣun)

Alt.: The kindness of the mother is easy (Clement Odoje for Oore yèyé mọ̀ rọ̀)

Ọ̀rọ̀ yèyé, ó ṣòro òòò…

The issue of the mother is difficult

Ògidi omi ooo

Undiluted water

Lákọ́kàn pẹ̀lẹ́ ooo

Lakokan be gentle (Lakokon is an aspect of Oshun in Oshogbo with an own shrine at the riverbank)

On’lé àkòdì

Owner of a mansion full of antiquities/artworks/treasures (note: Susanne Wenger was living in a huge art collection and her house is still like a museum today.)


CALL

Ẹ k’óore yèyé ooo

I greet you for the favors you receive from mother

RESPONSE

Ẹ k’óore yèyé Ọ̀ṣun

I greet you for the favors you receive from mother Oshun

Repeat Call and Response 1x


CALL

Ṣébí ‘wọ nì ‘yá ooo

But you are the mother

RESPONSE

Ṣébí ‘wọ nì ‘yá àwa

But you are our mother

Repeat Call and Response 1x


CALL

Ṣébí ‘wọ l’ò ní o…

But you are the one asking (me)

RESPONSE

Ṣébí ‘wọ l’ò ní n wá

But you are the one asking (me) to come

Alt.: Is it you who is asking me to come? (Victor Manfredi)

Repeat Call and Response 1x

Oshun priestess Adedoyin Faniyi Olosun, Susanne Wenger's daughter, at Ibokún Road, 2015. 

Oshun priestess Adedoyin Faniyi Olosun, Susanne Wenger's daughter, at Ibokún Road, 2015. 

CALL

B’ẹ̀ bá n fé kó yẹ yín ò eee…

If you want things to be well with you

B’ẹ̀ bá n fé kó ye yín ò aaa…

If you want things to be well with you

Ẹ má gb’Àdùnní l’ọ́wọ́ ìyá

Do not separate Adunni from the mother

B’ẹ̀ ba n fé kó ye yín

If you want things to be well with you

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

Repeat Call and Response 1x


CALL

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré ò eee…

Play it like it is supposed to be played

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré ò aaa…

Play it like it is supposed to be played

Ẹ má gb’Àdùnní l’ọwọ́ ìyá

Do not separate Adunni from the mother

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré

Play it like it is supposed to be played

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré ò eee…

Play it like it is supposed to be played

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré ò aaa…

Play it like it is supposed to be played

Ẹ ṣ’ọ̀yàyà sí t’Aládùnní

Be cheerful to Adunni

Ẹ ṣeré bí eré

Play it like it is supposed to be played

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

Wolfy Ẹgbẹ́bí Akínyẹlé Ayọ̀ọlá, Susanne Wenger's great-grandson, 2016, in Austria, visiting the Susanne Wenger Foundation. ©Totoola Olosun

Wolfy Ẹgbẹ́bí Akínyẹlé Ayọ̀ọlá, Susanne Wenger's great-grandson, 2016, in Austria, visiting the Susanne Wenger Foundation. ©Totoola Olosun

CALL

Jíṣẹ́ mi l’ókun o, lòòkèrè

Deliver my message to those abroad (across the sea), appropriate candidate far distant in space

Jíṣẹ́ mi l’ókun o

Deliver my message to those abroad (across the sea)

Pé ìyá mi Àdùnní ṣ’ọdún l’ayọ̀ ooo

That my mother Adunni made a joyful festival

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Pé ìyá mi Àdùnní ṣ’ọdún l’ayọ̀ ooo

That my mother Adunni made a joyful festival

Pé ìyá mi Àdùnní ṣ’ọdún l’ayọ̀ ooo

That my mother Adunni made a joyful festival

Ẹ bá mi wi fún wọ́n l’okun ooo…

Support me in telling to them abroad

Pé ìyá mi Àdùnní ṣ’ọdún l’ayọ̀ ooo

That my mother Adunni made a joyful festival

RESPONSE

Repeat call

View from 2nd floor Ibokun Road over the city of Osogbo. 

View from 2nd floor Ibokun Road over the city of Osogbo. 

CALL

Ẹ rọ̀’fọ́ fún wọ́n jẹ ò eee…

Prepare ẹ̀fọ́ (plant leaves) for them to eat

Ẹ rọ̀’fọ́ fún wọ́n jẹ ò aaa…

Prepare ẹ̀fọ́ (plant leaves) for them to eat

Nítorí àròká ẹ rọ̀’fọ́ fún wọ́n jẹ

Because of the gossiping prepare ẹ̀fọ́ (plant leaves) for them to eat

RESPONSE

Repeat call


CALL

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀ ò eee…

Accompany me so that we go there

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀ ò aaa…

Accompany me so that we go there

Nítorí àròbó

Because of a newborn

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀

Accompany me so that we go there

RESPONSE

Repeat call


CALL

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀ ò eee…

Accompany me so that we go there

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀ ò aaa…

Accompany me so that we go there

Òṣogbo Òròkí

Oshun of Oshogbo (Oroki is a praise name for Oshun)

Ẹ sin mi k’á re’bẹ̀

Accompany me so that we go there

RESPONSE

Repeat call


CALL

Mo re èé d’Òṣogbo ò eee…

I go to reach Oshogbo

Mo re èé d’Òṣogbo ò aaa…

I go to reach Oshogbo

Ọ̀ṣogbo Òròkí

Oshun of Oshogbo (Oroki is a praise name for Oshun)

Mo re èé d’Òṣogbo

I go to reach Oshogbo

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Ọ̀ṣun lé ténté ò eee…

Oshun sits elegantly/appears on top (common description for the sun or moon)

Ọ̀ṣun lé ténté ò aaa…

Oshun sits elegantly/appears on top

Òròkì d’òṣùpá ò (Òròkì di òṣùpá ò)

Oshun becomes the moon (Oroki is a praise name for Oshun)

Ọ̀ṣun lé ténté

Oshun sits elegantly/appears on top

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

Repeat Call and Response 1x

Susanne Wenger's house is still open to visitors, who want to get informations on her art and life. 

Susanne Wenger's house is still open to visitors, who want to get informations on her art and life. 

CALL

Mo màá ri bí ò

I will for sure give birth

Mo màá ri bí ò

I will for sure give birth

Orí ọmọ ìí gbé s’íkùn

The head of the child does not stay in the womb

Màá ri bí ò

I will for sure give birth

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

Repeat Call and Response 1x


CALL

Tèmí ó d’ire ò eee…

My own will become good

Tèmí ó d’ire ò aaa…

My own will become good

Níwájú Òròkí ò

In front of Oshun

Tèmí ó d’ire

My own will become good


CHANT 1 (of a woman speaking Ijesha dialect)

First line not understandable

Iyá mi pèrègún ilé ìjámu

My mother, peregun (a plant of Obaluaye) the house of worry

A ṣá’dẹ bí ení ṣa’gbá

The one who spreads to dry brass like the one who spreads to dry calabash (Kola Tubosun)

Alt.1: The one who eats brass like the one who eats calabash (Totoola Olosun)

Alt.2: The one who harvests brass like the one who harvests calabash (Victor Manfredi, see explanation below)

Mo k’óore yèyé f’Ọ̀ṣun

I greet “ore yeye” to Oshun

Èèyàn t’ó bá tètè k’óre yèyé

The person who praises quickly “ore yeye”

Ní o jé pé

Is the one for a long time who has everlasting blessing

Èèyàn t’ó bá tètè k’óre yèyé

The person who praises quickly “ore yeye”

Ní ó yọ̀ ṣẹ̀ṣẹ̀

Is the one who is just happy

Èèyàn t’ó bá tètè k’óre yèyé

The person who praises quickly “ore yeye”

Ní ó yà gb’owó yà gb’ọmọ

Is the one who gets to receive wealth and children

Ṣolágbadé Èwùjí mo k’óore yèyé f’Ọ̀ṣun

Sholagbade of Oshun, I greet oore yeye to Oshun (Sholagbade is probably the name of the singer, Ewuji another praise name for Oshun)

Ṣolágbadé a b’idẹ b’àbo bi eran

Sholagbade the one who has brass that reproduces like she goats

Iyá mi pèrègún ilé ìjámu

My mother, peregun (a plant of Obaluaye) the house of worry

Obi abata, 4-lobbed kola nuts, as basic offering to the Orisha in the weekly Ose ceremony. 

Obi abata, 4-lobbed kola nuts, as basic offering to the Orisha in the weekly Ose ceremony. 

CALL

Ìyá ló l’ọmọ

The mother owns the child

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

Repeat Call and Response 1x


CALL

Ìyá mi Èwùjí ò

My mother Oshun (Ewuji, praise name for Oshun)

RESPONSE

Ìyá ló l’ọmọ

The mother owns the child

Repeat Call and Response 4 x (Call variations hardly understandable on recording)


CHANT 2 (of a woman chanting in form of Rárà or Ẹ̀ṣà poetry)

Ọmọ an’ígi l’ájé ò

The child with wood in business

Ìrè m’ògún ré gbẹj́ẹ́

Of Ìrè of Ògún… [rest of line unclear]

Mo ró òdo ẹ lode

I found his zero (nakedness) outside.

A ìí ró òdo Ẹ̀yọ̀

We never see the nakedness of Eyo (a masquerade from Lagos)

A ìí ró òdo Ẹ̀gbá l’Áké

We never see the nakedness of the Egba at Ake

Ọwọ́ l’ò fí rí wí

It is your hand you use to speak (addressing the drummer)

Ṣebí enu mo fí n wí tèmi

But it is the mouth I use to speak with, that is mine

O wá d’ilé iyá mi

Now to the house of my mother

Ténigbọla ò

Oshun (Tenigbola is another praise name for Oshun)

O wa....

Line not understandable

Ó ti òkìtì èfọn wá wá ṣ’oògùn

You go to a far place to do your medicine (okiti efon, synonym for a far place)

Ìyá a lógùn lé ò, nínú ilé ò

The mother has the medicine in the house, inside the house

Nínú ilé ìyá mi Mọlá ọmọ olódó idẹ

Inside the house of my mother Mola children of the owner of the mortar of brass

Àbèní onilẹ̀ obì

Abeni (an oriki name of someone) is indigenous from the land of kola nut (slang expression for Ijesha people)

Ìjèṣà dúdú l’ègbọ́n pupa l’èbúrò re

Ijesha has a black skinned elder sibling and a fair skinned younger brother (slang for Ijesha people)

Mọ́lá ọmọ a gbódó poro ni moyèlèlè l’orò elèfòn

Mola the child that carries the mortar at Moyele in the company of Elefon

Ìjèṣà ò

Ijesha

Mo re’lé olóbì ò

I have gone to the house of the owner of the kola nut

Tótoọ̀la Ẹgbẹ́bí Ọlọ́ṣun Ifáṣeésìn, Susanne Wenger's granddaughter, who translated this song. ©Tótoọ̀la Ọlọ́ṣun

Tótoọ̀la Ẹgbẹ́bí Ọlọ́ṣun Ifáṣeésìn, Susanne Wenger's granddaughter, who translated this song. ©Tótoọ̀la Ọlọ́ṣun

CALL

Ìyá ló l’ọmọ eee…

The mother owns the child

Ìyá ló l’ọmọ ò aaa…

The mother owns the child

Iyá mi Òròkí ò ìyá ló l’ọmọ

My mother Oshun, the mother owns the child

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Kò ni’jé àṣemọ ò eee

It will not be the final activity

Kò ni’jé àṣemọ ò aaa

It will not be the final activity

Aṣọdún Àdùnní ò

The one holding a festival Adunni

Kò ni’jé àṣemọ

It will not be final activity

RESPONSE

Repeat Call

One of the rare trees at Ibokún Road, in front of Wenger's house. 

One of the rare trees at Ibokún Road, in front of Wenger's house. 

CALL

Èyí l’ó tura ò eee…

This is so comforting

Èyí l’ó tura ò aaa…

This is so comforting

Ọdún Àdùnní ò

The festival of Adunni

Èyí l’ó tura

This is so comforting

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Tèmí ó d’ire ò eee…

My own will become good

Tèmí ó d’ire ò aaa…

My own will become good

Lọlá Èwùjí ò

In the name of the mother

Tèmí ó d’ire

My own will become good

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Mo mọ̀ ko ò

I picked it though

Mo b’ọ́mọ l’ódò

I met children at the river

Mo mọ̀ ko

I picked it though

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Ṣe tèmi ò

Do mine (bless me)

Ọlọ́mọ l’ódò ṣe tèmi

The one who has children at the river do mine (bless me)

RESPONSE

Repeat Call


CALL

Ló le ṣé ò

It is you who can do it

Atọ́mọọ́gbà

The one who is fit to save the children

Ló le ṣé

It is you who can do it


Notes:

Àdùnní: oriki for a person which means “the person from whom we derive joy”, Yorùbá name of the artist Susanne Wenger, owner of the household where this song was performed.

Àbèní: oriki for a person which means “the person who one begs to have”

Èwùjí: oriki for Orisha Oshun which means “Ewu wakes/rises up”

Òròkí: oriki for Orisha Oshun, “name of a famous woman, Oshogbo” (Abrahams dictionary), “Oshun’s most beautiful daughter” (Susanne Wenger, A Life with the Gods)

Ténigbọla: name which means “spread the mat to receive wealth”

Ṣolágbadé: name which means “make nobility, receive royalty/crown”
 

Oore yèyé: It is the traditional greeting for Oshun. It can be translated as “kindness of the mother”, but it is also left untranslated as it is used as a common standard greeting formula. First I translated “oore” as “benefit”, which is a common translation I came across in many books for Oshun’s greeting. Linguist Victor Manfredi pointed out “that ‘kindness’ is a much more adequate word since ‘benefit’ is a result noun, whereas ‘oore’ in Yorùbá can mean ‘kindness’ and similar, which (is) much more active or agentive, as we say in linguistics”.

Ẹ́ k’óore yèyé ooo: There is also an interesting discourse on this sentence. I translated it as “You greet the kindness of the mother”, an imperative. Victor Manfredi explained to me that “the ‘ẹ’ is not in fact the subject of the sentence as it would be if ‘kú’ was a verb root.” I never was aware of that before when I was greeting people in Yorùbá, like in “Ẹ kúùrọ̀lẹ́, Sa!“ This does not mean “You greet the evening“ of course, but more something like “Greetings to you, in the evening”. The literal translation for “Ẹ k’óore yèyé ooo” would thus be "greetings (to you) for the favors bestowed (on you) by mother" or less literally "I greet you for the favors you receive from mother".

A ṣá’dẹ bí ení ṣa’gbá: This is another good example for the difficulties in Yorùbá translation when vowels get lost through their elision. According to Victor Manfredi two verbs could be involved in this sentence: “ṣà” (low tone) which means “to pick up one by one” or “ṣá” (high tone) “to cut with a slicing motion” as one would do for example to harvest a calabash by cutting it from the vine. He gives us an interesting possible interpretation, which shows that the interpretation of poetry is only possible when you know about the cultural context: “The calabash gourd grows profusely, so that one cuts and cuts and harvests and harvests. Incidentally the round calabash gourd sprouting on its vine is an old and widespread West African metaphor for the reincarnating child or multiple children on their umbilical cords - highly appropriate here although I cannot prove the reference. All metaphors aside, the praise in this case is by implication that Ọ̀ṣun is so wealthy so that she either “harvests” or “picks up” brass ornaments with the same abundance that a farmer would harvest gourds in the field. Money = children is the poetic and cultural equation.”

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