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Dr. O. Johnson.



From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate



Pastor of Oyo




First published 1921 Reprinted 1937 Reprinted 1956 Reprinted 1957 Reprinted 1960



What led to this production was not a burning desire of the author to appear in print as all who are well acquainted with him will readily admit but a purely patriotic motive, that the history of our fatherland might not be lost in oblivion, especially as our old sires are fast dying out.

Educated natives of Yoruba are well acquainted with the history of England and with that of Rome and Greece, but of the history of their own country they know nothing whatever ! This reproach it is one of the author's objects to remove.

Whilst the author cotild claim to be a pioneer in an untrodden field, he can by no means pretend to have exhausted the subject ; but he hopes by this to stimulate among his more favoured brethren the spirit of patriotism and enquiry into the histories of the less known parts of the country. It may be that oral records are preserved in them which are handed down from father to son, as in the case of the better known Royal bards in the Metropolis, such records though imperfect should surely not be under-rated.

In the perusal of this feeble attempt, the author craves the forbearance of his readers ; he deprecates the spirit of tribal feelings and petty jealousies now rife among us. In recording events of what transpired, good or bad, failures and successes, among the various tribes, he has endeavoured to avoid whatever would cause needless offence to anyone, or irritate the feelings of those specially interested in the narratives, provided only that the cause of truth, and of public benefit be faithfully served.

With respect to the ancient and mythological period he has stated the facts as they are given by the bards, and with respect to the History of comparatively recent dates, viz., from the time of King Abiodun downwards, from eye-witnesses of the events which they narrate, or from those who have actually taken part in them. He has thus endeavoured to present a reliable record of events.

He is greatly indebted especially to the honoured David Kukomi, the patriarch of the Ibadan Church, (the now sainted father of the Rev. R. S. Oyebode). Kukomi was a young man in the days of King Abiodun, and it was his fortune (or misfortune) to take part in the wars and other national movements of the period as a common soldier, and was thus able to give a clear and reliable account of the sajdngs, persons, and events of those stirring times, being a cool man of judgment, observant, and remarkably intelligent.


Also to Josiah Oni, an intrepid trader in those days, an active and intelligent observer who was well acquainted with almost every part of the country, and took part in some of the most stirring events of a later period.

And last though not least to his highness the venerable Lagunju, the renowned Timi of Ede, so well known all over the country as a gifted and trusty historian of the Yoruba Country.

And to others also who are not here mentioned by name.

The histories of all nations present many phases and divers features, which are brought out by various writers in the lines in which each is interested ; the same method we hope will be pursued by writers in this country until we become possessed of a fuller History ot the Yorubas.

S. JOHNSON. Oyo, 1897. Aiila Ogun.


A SINGULAR . misfortune, which happily is not of everyday occurrence, befel the original manuscripts of this history, in consequence of which the author never lived to see in print his more than 20 years of labour.

The manuscripts were forwarded to a well-known English publisher through one of the great Missionary Societies in 1899 and mirabile dictu nothing more was heard of them !

The editor who was all along in collaboration with the author had occasion to visit England in 1900, and called on the publisher, but could get nothing more from him than that the manuscripts had been misplaced, that they could not be found, and that he was prepared to pay for them ! This seemed to the editor and all his friends who heard of it so strange that one could not help thinking that there was more in it than appeared on the surface, especially because of other circumstances connected with the so-called loss of the manuscripts. However, we let the subject rest there. The author himself died in the following year (1901), and it hcis now fallen to the lot of the editor to rewrite the whole history anew, from the copious notes and rough copies left behind by the author.

But for many years after his death, partly from discouragements by the events, and partly from being appalled by the magnitude of the task, the editor shrank from the undertaking, but circum- stances now and again cropped up showing the need of the work, and the necessity for undertaking it ; besides the almost criminal disgrace of allowing the outcome of his brother's many years of labour to be altogether lost. No one, who has never made the attempt, can have the faintest idea of the great difficulties that attend the efforts to elicit facts and accuracy of statements from an illiterate people : they are bewildering with repetitions, prolix in matters irrelevant, while facts germane to the subject in hand are more often than not passed over : they have to be drawn out by degrees patiently, and the chaff has to be constantly sifted from the wheat. In no sphere of labour is patience and perseverance more required than in this. It shows strongly the magnitude of the labours of the original author, labours undertaken along with the unremitting performance of his substantive duties.

When all this had to be done with the daily exactions of a busy profession, and other demands on his time, friends will judge the editor leniently for having taken such a long time to repair the loss sustained many years ago. Some chapters had to be rewritten,

X editor's preface

some curtailed, others amplified, and new ones added where necessary.

But this history has a history of its own, for apart from the mishap that befel the original manuscripts as above detailed, its vicissitudes were not yet over. When at last the task of re-writing it was completed, jt was forwarded to England by the " Appam," which left Lagos on the 2nd of January, 19 16. The Appam was at first supposed to be lost, but was afterwards found in America, having been captured by the raider Moewe. Nothing was heard of the manuscripts again for nearly two years, when they were at last delivered to the printers ! By that time, paper haci become so dear in England that it was deemed advisable to wait till after the War before printing. The manuscripts were next sent back by request to the editor, wl^o in order to obviate a future loss, under- took to have it typewritten, but in the meantime even j;ypewriting paper became difficult to obtain. All these drawbacks were success- fully overcome in the end, as well as the difficulties in passing the work through the press.

He now lets the book go forth to the public, in the hope that it will fulfil the earnest desire of the original author.


Ajagbe Ogun.




§1. Introduction xix

§2. The Yoruba Language xxiii

§3. A Sketch of Yoruba Grammar . . . xxxiii


Origin and Early History i


The Origin of the Tribes 15


Religion 26


Government 40


Yoruba Names 79


Yoruba Towns and Villages 90


The Principles of Land Law 95


Manners and Customs 98

§(a) Social polity ....... 98

§(6) Facial marks ....... 104

§{c) Diet 109

§{i) Dress no

§{e) Marriage 113

§(/) Trades and professions . . . . "7

l{g) Learning 125

§(A) Wealthy Personages ..... 126

§(») The Iwofa system ...... 126

§(;■) Distraining for debt 130

§(*) War 131

§(/) Funerals 137








§3. §4- §5.

CHAPTER I. The Founders of the Yoruba Nation Oduduwa ........ 143

Oranyan ........ 143

Ajuan alias Ajaka ....... 148

Sango alias Olufiran . . . . . .149

Ajaka's second reign ...... 152



CHAPTER II.— Historical Kings

§1. Aganju 155

§2. Kori 155

§3. Oluaso 158

§4. Onigbogi 158

§5. Ofinran 159

CHAPTER III.- §1. Eguguoju §2. Orompoto §3. Ajiboyede §4. Abipa or Oba m'oro

-The Kings of Oyo Igboho

161 161 162 164

CHi^I'TER IV. A Succession of Despotic Kings

§1. Oba lokun Agana Erin ...... 168

§2. Ajagbo ......... 168

§3. Odarawu ........ 169

§4. Karan 170

§5. Jayin . . . 170

§6. Ayibi 172

§7. Osinyago 173

§8. Ojigi 174

§9. Gberu 175

§10. Amuniwaiye ........ 175

§11. Onisile 176

CHAPTER V. Basorun GahA and his Atrocities and Abiodun's Peaceful Reign

§1. Labisi 178

§2. Awonbioju alias Oduboye ..... 178

§3. Agboluaje ........ 178

§4. Alaje ogbe ........ 180

§5. Abigdun alias Adegolu ...... 182

§6. Abiodun's peaceful reign ...... 186



§1. Aole surnamed Arogangan

§2. The King's enemies .

§3. The rebellion of the Oyo Chiefs

§4. The rising of Ojo Agunbambaru

§5. Maku

188 189

193 194 196

CHAPTER VII —The Rise of the Fulanis to Power

§1. The spread of anarchy and fall of Afonja . . . 197

§2. The first attempt to recover Ilorin. Battle of Ogele . 200

§3. The second attempt : The Mugba mugba War . . 201

§4. TheBattleof Pamo 202

CHAPTER VIII.— Consequences of the Revolution

§r. The Owu War 206

§2. The Lasinmi War ....... 210

§3. State of the Capital at this period .... 212

CHAPTER IX, Further Development of the Anarchy

§r. Evil days for the Capital ...... 217

§2. The third attempt to recover Ilorin. The Kanla war 218

§3. The vicissitudes of Iko3d . . . . . .219

§4. The Gbogun War ....... 220

§5. The Pole War and death of Abudusalami . . . 222

CHAPTER X. Spread of the Anarchy

§1. Devastation of Egba towns and villages . . . 223

§2. Foundation of Abeokuta ...... 225

§3. The Egbado Tribes ....... 226

§4. The founding of Modakeke ..... 230

CHAPTER XL— The Revolution in the Epo Districts

§1. The destruction of the Epos, and death of Ojo Amepo . 234

§2. The occupation of Ijaye and end of Dado . . 236 §3. How Ibadan became a Yoruba town. The Gbanamu and

Erumu Wars ....... 238

§4. The Settlement of Ibadan ..... 244

CHAPTER XII. Wars for the Consolidation and Balance of Power

§1. The evacuation of Opomu and Owiwi War . . . 247 §2. The fall of Ilaro and Ijana 248


CHAPTER XII.— (coniinued)

§3. The Orayefun War ....... 250

§4. The Arakanga or Jabara War . . . . .251

§5. The Onidesg and Oke I§ero Wars .... 252

§6, The Iperu War ....... 253

§7. The faU of Ota 255

CHAPTER XIII.— The Last of Katunga

§1. Final efforts to throw off Fulani yoke . . . 258

§2. The Eleduwg War 263

CHAPTER XIV.— The Interregnum

§1. Civil war at Abemo ....... 269

§2. The destruction of Abemo 271




CHAPTER XV.— The New City, New Government, Ilorin


§1. Prince Atiba, early life and history .... 274

§2. Atiba's accession ....... 279

§3. Conferring of titles ....... 280

§4. The Osogbo War 285

§5. The expulsion of ElSpo from Ibadan . . . 289

CHAPTER XVI.— Fratricidal Wars

§1. The Osu War, Aaye and Otun .

§2. The Egbas and Egbados ....

§3. Ibadan and I jkye. TheBatgdoWar

§4. Abeokuta and Abiki ....

§5. The He Bioku expedition and the end of ElSpo

§6. Sagaun and Igbo Ork ....

293 296 297 301 301



-Subjugation of the IjesAS and Ekiti's Social Reforms

§1. The Opin War ....

§2. Subjugation of the Ijesas

§3. The first Dahomian invasion of Abeokuta

§4. The Aii War and relief of Otun

§5, Raids by minor chiefs of Ibadan

§6. Social reforms ....


309 313

317 321





-A Glorious End and a Gory Dawn of Two Reigns

§1. The death of King Atiba .

§2. Circumstances that led to the Ijaye War

§3. When Greek meets Greek

§4. Famine and the sword

328 331 336 345

§1. §2. §3. §4. §5.

CHAPTER XIX.— Sequels to the Ijaye War

The Awayfe War ..... The Iperu War .....

The Ikorodu War

The second Dahomian invasion of Abeokuta The atonement .....

355 356 360 361 363

CHAPTER XX.— The Close and the Opening Careers of

Two Heroes

§1. Ogunmola's administration

§2. The Igbajo campaign

§3. The late Ogunmola Basorun of Ibadan

§4. Ogedemgbe and the fall of Ilega



371 377

CHAPTER XXL— Two Administrations of Opposite Policies

§1. Orowusi's administration ..... 383

Ibadan under a Kakanf 6 . An unprovoked war. Ado

§2. §3. §4. §5.

The Are's administration The Emure War

387 390 391 394

CHAPTER XXII.— A New Reign and Evil Prognostication

§1. The end of Adelu the AlAfin of Ovo . . . 396

§2. The Wokuti expedition ...... 403

§3. The new policy ....... 405

§4. The civil murder of Aijenku the Fghoko . . . 407

§5. Plot against the Seriki lyap^ ..... 410

CHAPTER XXIII. The Commencement of the 16 Years' War

§1. The Bokofi expedition ...... 413

§2. The first act of war ...... 414

§3. Insurrection against the Ar§ and the death of Seriki lyapo 417

§4. Further raiding expedition on ggba farms . . . 420

§5. The revolt of the Ekiti tribes 423

CHAPTER XXIV.— Conflicts in the North

§1. The celebrated battle of Ikirun or the Jalumi War

§2. The results of the Jalumi War ....

§3. The Ekiti parapos ......

§4. The beginning of the actual conflict .

§5. The Ar§ to the front



439 441



CHAPTER XXV. Ibadan at its Extremity

§1. Home defences ...... 450

§2. Closure of roads and the results .... 452

§3. Distressing episodes ....... 454

§4. New developments, clouds and sunshine . . . 457

CHAPTER XXVI.— Failures at Reconciliation

§1. The Alafin's efforts for peace . . . . . 462

§2. The Alafin's messenger ...... 464

§3. The Governor's delegates ..... 467

§4. The lion at bay 473

CHAPTER XXVn.— A Rift in the Cloud

§1. A turning point ....... 479

§2. Rambling talks of peace ...... 480

§3. Desperate movements ...... 490

CHAPTER XXVIII.— The Rev. J. B. Wood and the A.O.K.

§1. The visits of the Rev. J. B. Wood to the camps . . 494

§2. The death of Latosisa the A.O.K 500

§3. The vicissitudes of war . . . . . . 503

CHAPTER XXIX.— The Intervention of the British


§1. Measures by Governor Moloney . . . . 508

§2. The Ilgrins and peace proposals . .... 515 §3. The messengers and preliminary arrangements . .521

§4. The treaty of peace 527

§5. The reception of the treaty by the Kings and Chiefs . 532

CHAPTER XXX.— Dispersal of the Combatants by Special


§1. Special Commissioners sent up .... 53^

§2. The Commissioners at Kiriji ..... 543

§3. The Proclamation of Peace and firing of the camps . 547

§4. The Commissioners at Modakeke. Failure . . 552

CHAPTER XXXI.— Disturbance in every part of the


§1. Ilorin intrigues and the fall of Of a . . . 5^1

§2. Revolutionary movements at Ijebu .... 5^7

§3. " A mild treaty " 57^

§4. The exploits of Esan and the controversy thereupon . 576




-Abortive Measures to Terminate the War

§1. The mission of Alvan Millson

§2. Subsidiary efforts of the Rev. S. Johnson .

§3. The AlAfin's diplomacy

§4. Correspondence and a treaty

§5. The AlAfin's measures for peace and the issues

§6. The Ilorins at Ilobu ....

§7. The conduct of the chiefs at Ikirun .

CHAPTER XXXIII.— The Dark before the Dawn

§1. Liberation of the Egbados

§2. Troubles at Ijebu ....

§3. Strained relations with the Ibadans .

§4. Death of Aliku the Emir of Ilorin

§5. Ijebu excesses and infatuation

§6. Causes that led to the Ijebu War

§7. Further causes that led to the Ij ebu War

§8. The Ijebu campaign

§9. Effecte of the Campeiign .

CHAPTER XXXIV.— The End -of the War

§1. Governor Carter s progress up country

§2. The return home of the Ibadans

§3. The return of Governor Carter to Lagos

§4. Local opinions about the war

§5. Constitution of the Ibadan Town Council

CHAPTER XXXV.— The Establishment of the British Protectorate. The Sequel

Abeokuta 643

§1. §2. §3. §4- §5- §6.

Ibadan .


The Ekitis

If e and Modakeke



Treaties and Agreements

§1. Abeokuta

§2. Oyo

§3. Ibadan (an agreement)

§4. Egba (boundaries) .

§5. Abeokuta (railway)

§6. Ibadan (railway)


Appendix A [continued)

§7. Ijs§a (human sacrifices) ...... 663

§8. Ekiti 664

§9. If§ ....... 665

§10. Between England and France for the West Coast . 666

§11. Porto Novo . . , . . . . . . 667

§12. Proclamation ........ 668


§1. Yoruba Kings, Basoruns, etc. ..... 669

§2. Ibadan chief rulers ....... 670

§3. Ab§okuta leading chiefs ...... 670

§4. Emirs of Ilorin ....... 671

Index 673

Map of the Yoruba Country ..... at en<i


The Yoruba country lies to the immediate West of the River Niger (below the confluence) and South of the Quorra {i.e., the Western branch of the same River above the confluence), having Dahomey on the West, and the Bight of Benin to the South. It is roughly speaking between latitude and North, and longi- tude 2° 30' and 30' East.

The country was probably first known to Europe from the North, through the explorers of Northern and Central Africa, for in old records the Hausa and Fulani names are used for the country and its capital ; thus we see in Webster's Gazetteer " Yarriba," West Africa, East of Dahomey, area 70,000 sq. miles, population two millions, capital Katunga. These are the Hausa terms for Yoruba and for Oyo.

The entire south of the country is a network of lagoons connect- ing the deltas of the great River Niger with that of the Volta, and into this lagoon which is belted with a more or less dense mangrove swamp, most of the rivers which flow through the country North to South pour their waters.

It will thus be seen that the country is for the most part a table- land : it has been compared to half of a pie dish turned upside down. Rising from the coast in the South gradually to a height of some 5-600 ft. in more or less dense forest, into a plain diversified by a few mountain ranges, continuing its gentle rise in some parts to about 1,000 ft. above sea level, it then slopes down again to the banks of the Niger, which encloses it in the North and East.

In a valuable letter by the Rev. S. A. Crowther (afterwards Bishop) to Thomas J. Hutchinson, Esq., Her Britannic Majesty's consul for the Bight of Biafra and the Island of Fernando Po, published as Appendix A to the book entitled " Impressions of Western Africa,"^ we find the following graphic description of the country :

. . . " This part of the country of which Lagos in the Bight of Benin is the seaport, is generally known as the Yoruba country, extending from the Bight to within two or three days' journey to the banks of the Niger.^ This country comprises many tribes governed by their own chiefs and having their own laws. At one time they were all tributaries to one Sovereign, the King of Yoruba, including Benin on the East, and Dahomey on the West, but are now independent.

' Longmans, Green & Co., 1858. "^ i.e. At the time of writing. Ed.


The principal tribes into which this kingdom is divided are as follows :

The Egbados : This division includes Otta and Lagos near the sea coast, forming a belt of country on the banks of the lagoon in the forest, to Ketu on the border of Dahomey on the West ; then the Jebu on the East on the border of Benin ; then the Egbas of the forest now known as the Egbas of Abeokuta.

Then comes Yoruba proper northwards in the plain ; Ife, Ijesha, Ijamo, EfoH, Ondo, Idoko, Igbomina, and Ado near the banks of the Niger, from which a creek or stream a little below Iddah is called Do or Iddo River."

. . . " The chief produce of this country is the red palm oil, oil made from the kernel, shea butter from nuts of the shea trees, ground nuts, beniseed, and cotton in abundance, and ivory all these are readily procured for European markets.

. . . The present seat of the King of Yoruba is Ago other- wise called Oyo after the name of the old capital visited by Clap- perton and Lander.

A King is acknowledged and his person is held sacred, his wives and children are highly respected. Any attempt of violence against a King's person or of the Royal family, or any act of wantonness with the wives of the King, is punished with death. There are no written laws, but such laws and customs that have been handed down from their ancestors, especially those respecting relative duties, have become established laws.

The right to the throne is hereditary, but exclusively in the male line or the male issue of the King's daughters.

The Government is absolute, but it has been much modified since the kingdom has been divided into many independent states by slave wars, into what may be called a limited monarchy ..."

Physical features. ^The country presents generally two distinct features, the forest and the plain ; the former comprising the southern and eastern portions, the latter the northern, central and western. Yoruba Proper lies chiefly in the plain, and has a small portion of forest land. The country is fairly well watered, but the rivers and streams are dependent upon the annual rains ; an impassable river in the rains may become but a dry water-course in the dry season.

There are a few high mountains in the north and west, but in the east the prevailing aspect is high ranges of mountains from which that part of the country derives its name, Ekiti a mound being covered as it were with Nature's Mound.

The soil is particularly rich, and most suitable for agriculture, in which every man is more or less engaged. The plain is almost entirely pasture land. Minerals apparently do not exist to any appreciable extent, expect iron ores which the people work them- selves, and from which they formerly manufactured all their implements of husbandry and war and articles for domestic use.


Flora. The forests teem with economic and medicinal plants of tropical varieties, as well as timber, of which mahogany, cedar, brimstone, counter, and iroko are the principal.

There are also to be found the Abura, useful for carving purposes, ebony, Ata 2i hard wood used for facing carpenters' tools, the Iki, a hard wood which when dry is very difficult to work, as it speedily blunts edged tools. The Ori, another hard wood useful for making piers on the coast, and the Ahayan, a very hard wood, unaffected by ordinary fires, dry rot, or termites.

All these are indigenous, but recently " Indian teak " has been introduced, and it flourishes widely, as well as the beef wood tree on the coast.

Although a large variety of fruits can be grown, yet the people do not take to horticulture ; what there are grow almost wild, very little attention being paid to them. Papaw, bananas of several varieties, plantcdn, oranges, pineapples, the Oro, plums (3'ellow and black), the rough skin plum, the butt lime, are to be found everywhere. Some fruit trees have been introduced, which have become indigenous, e.g., the sweet and sour sop, the avocado (or alligator) pear, guavas of two kinds, pink apples, rose apple, mangoes, the bread truit and bread nut trees, the golden plum, etc. All these are cultivated, but not widely.

Vegetables, of which there are several kinds, are largely culti- vated. Yam, koko, cassada, sweet potatoes, are the principal " roots " used as diet, also beans (white and brown), small and large, and the ground nut are largely grown for food. The guinea corn grows in the north, and maize in the south. The calabash gourd and the Egusi from the seeds of which Egusi oil is pressed, grow everywhere.

Fauna. ^Big game abound, especially in the north, where the lion is not far to seek, also the elephant, buffalo, leopard, wolf, foxes, jackals, monkeys of various species, deer, porcupine, etc. The hippopotamus is found in large rivers, and alligators in the swamps and lagoons in the south.

The usual domestic animals and poultry are carefully reared.

Of birds, we have the wild and tame parrots, green pigeons, stork, crown birds, and others of the tropical feathered tribe.

The country was at one time very prosperous, and powerful, but there is probably no other country on this earth more torn and wasted by internal dissensions, tribal jealousies, and fratricidal feuds, a state of things which unhappily continues up to the present time.

When the central authority which was once all-powerful and far too despotic grew weak by driving the powerful chiefs into rebellion and internecine wars, the entire kingdom became broken up into petty states and independent factions as we now know them.

As far as it is possible for one race to be characteristically like another, from which it differs in every physical aspect, the Yorubas


it has been noted are not unlike the English in many of their traits and characteristics. It would appear that what the one is among the whites the other is among the blacks. Love of inde- pendence, a feeling of superiority over all others, a keen commercial spirit, and of indefatigable enterprise, that quality of being never able to admit or consent to a defeat as finally settling a question upon which their mind is bent, are some of those qualities peculiar to them, and no matter under what circumstances they are placed, Yorubas will display them. We have even learnt that those of them who had the misfortune of being carried away to foreign climes so displayed these characteristics there, and assumed such airs of superiority and leadership over the men of their race they met there, in such a matter of fact way that the attention of their masters was perforce drawn to this type of new arrivals ! And from them they selected overseers. These traits will be clearly discerned in the narratives given in this history. But apart from the general, each of the leading tribes has special characteristics of its own ; thus dogged perseverance and determination character- ise the Ijebus, love of ease and a quickness to adapt new ideas the Egbas, the Ijesas and Ekitis are possessed of a marvellous amount of physical strength, remarkable docility and simplicity of manners, and love of home.

Among the various families of Yorubas Proper, the Ibarapas are laborious farmers, the Ibolos are rather docile and weak in comparison with others, but the Epos are hardy, brave, and rather turbulent ; whilst the Oyos of the Metropolitan province are remarkably shrewd, intelligent, very diplomatic, cautious almost to timidity, provokingly conservative, and withal very masterful.

The whole people are imbued with a deep religious spirit, reverential in manners, showing deference to superiors and respect to age, where they have not been corrupted by foreign intercourse ; ingrained politeness is part and parcel of their nature.

The early history of the Yoruba country is almost exclusively that of the Oyo division, the others being then too small and too insignificant to be of any import ; but in later years this state of things has been somewhat reversed, the centre of interest and sphere of importance having moved southwards, especially since the arrival of Europeans on the coast.

Such is the country, and such are the people whose history, religion, social polity, manners and customs, etc., are briefly given in the following pages.


The Yoruba language has been classed among the unwritten African languages. The earliest attempt to reduce this language into writing was in the early forties of the last century, when the Church Missionary Society, with the immortal Rev. Henry Venn as Secretary, organized a mission to the Yoruba country under the leadership of one of their agents, the Rev. Henry Townsend,. an English Clergyman then at work at Sierra Leone, and the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African Clergyman of the C.M.S., also at work in the same place.

After several fruitless efforts had been made either to invent new characters, or adapt the Arabic, which was already known to Moslem Yorubas, the Roman character was naturally adopted, not only because it is the one best acquainted with, but also because it would obviate the difficulties that must necessarily arise if missionaries were first to learn strange characters before they could undertake scholastic and evangehstic work. With this as basis, specizd adaptation had to be made for pronouncing some words not to be found in the English or any other European language.

The system, or rather want of system, existing among various missionary bodies in Africa and elsewhere emphasized the need of a fixed system of orthography. It was evidently essential for the various bodies to agree upon certain rules for reducing iUiterate languages into writing in Roman characters, not only because this would facilitate co-operation, but also because it would render books much cheaper than when separate founts of type must needs be cast for every separate system (scientific or otherwise) that each body may choose to adapt for one and the same purpose.

In this effort, the Committee of the C.M.S. were ably assisted by certain philological doctors, as Professor Lee of Cambridge, Mr. Norris of London, and notably by Professor Lepsius of BerUn, to whom was entrusted the task of establishing a complete form of alphabetic system to which all hitherto unwritten languages could be adapted.

The following remarks are largely derived from the second edition of Prof. Lepsius' work.

The Professor consulted earher efforts that had been made in India and elsewhere to transliterate foreign (Eastern) characters into the Roman, and out of the chaos then existing he estabUshed


on a firm scientific basis the Standard Alphabet in which the Yoruba language is now written. This was adopted by the C.M.S. in 1856. By this system therefore former translations had to be transliterated under certain fixed rules.

The number of letters in the Standard Alphabet is necessarily very large, as it was designed to meet the requirements of all nations ; but with diacritic marks on cognate sounds and accents, and the introduction of three characters from the Greek, the Roman characters furnish all that is necessary from which every unwritten language can draw.

It is very unfortunate indeed that the system has not been faithfully followed by all, for reasons we regard as inadequate and inconclusive. This has provoked the caustic remark of the distin- guished philologist. Dr. R. N. Cust, that ..." no class of man- kind is so narrowminded and opinionated as the missionary except the linguist." For even in the Yoruba which professed to have adopted Lepsius' Standard, certain particulars (as we shall see) have been departed from, by no means for the better. Keen was the controversy on these points between the English and German missionaries of the Yoruba Mission in its early days. In the following' pages the style commonly used in the familiar Yoruba translations is departed from in some important particulars, as they present some peculiar defects which ought to be rectified. We shall endeavour to follow Professor Lepsius' Standard Alphabet as closely as possible.

The Professor himself has conceded that shades of sound can be adapted therefrom to meet special requirements without depart- ing from the principles laid down. Says he in his second edition: " The exposition of the scientific and practical principles according to which a suitable alphabet for universal adoption in foreign languages might be constructed has (with few exceptions above mentioned) remained unaltered. These rules are founded in the nature of the subject, and therefore though they may admit of certain carefully hmited exceptions, they can undergo no change in themselves : they serve as a defence against arbitrary proposals which do not depend upon universal laws ; they will explain and recommend the application which has been made of them already to a series of languages and will serve as a guide in their application to new ones.

"But we have not concealed from the very beginning that it is not in every person's power to apprehend with physiological and hnguistic accuracy the sounds in a foreign language or even those of his own, so as to apply with some degree of certainty the principles of our alphabet to a new system of sounds containing


its own peculiarities. A few only of our most distinguished grammarians are possessed of a penetrating insight into the living organisms of sounds in those very languages they have discussed ; much less can it be expected of missionaries, who are often obliged without previous preparation to address themselves to the reduction and representation of a foreign language, that everything which belongs to a correct adjudication of particular sounds (frequently apprehended only with great difficulty even by the ear) or to their connection with one another and with other systems of sounds, should present itself spontaneously to their minds."

Certain rules of transcription are imperative for a correct scientific method of procedure. Whatever may have been the difficulties encountered in the ancient written languages, so far as the Yoruba and other unwritten languages are concerned, the field hes clear.

The Enghsh mode of pronouncing the vowels had to be rejected in favour of the Italian or continental mode.

The following rules or principles have been laid down :

1. The power of each letter as representing certain sounds as handed down from antiquity should be retained.

2. The orthography of any language should never use (a) the same letter for different sounds, nor (b) different letters for the same sound.

In violation of (a) note the force of the letter g in the Enghsh words give, gin ; of a in man, name, what ; of ea in treat, tread ; of ei in weight, height ; of the consonants ch in archbishop, arch- angel ; of augh in slaughter, laughter ; also the sound of ch in chamber, champagne, chameleon where the same letters are used for different sounds.

In violation of (b) note the last syllables in the words atten/fow, omission, fsLshion, where different letters are used for the same sound.

3. Every simple sound is to be represented by a single sign. This is violated by writing sh to represent the " rushing sound " of s. This, as we shall see below, is quite unnecessary in the Yoruba language. Here we find an application of the principle that where a new sound is not found in the Roman alphabetic system a diacritical mark on the nearest graphic sign should be used. A diacritical mark therefore over s will more fitly represent the English sound of sh. ^ This is also in accordance with the sin and shin in the Hebrew and Arabic, where the difference

1 Publishers' Note. It must be noted, however, that in printing this work s has been used throughout to represent the sh sound.


between the soft and the rushing sound is indicated by diacritical points, e.g.,

Heb. to tD Arab. - ^

Again the letter A is a sign of aspiration (as the spiritus asper in the Greek) as in it, hit ; at, hat ; owl, howl, etc. It would therefore be unscientific to accord it a new meaning altogether by such a use of it in violation of rule i.

Apart from this is the fact that the letter s with a diacritical mark over it has been employed about twenty years previously by oriental scholars transcribing Indian letters into the Roman.

4. Explosive letters are not to be used to express fricative sounds and vice versa, e.g., the use oi ph as f where p is clearly an explosive letter.

5. The last rule is that a long vowel should never be represented by doubling the short. This method seems to have found favour with some transcribers, there being no fixed system of transcription.


In a purely scientific alphabetic system, it would seem more correct that the alphabets be arranged according to the organ most concerned in the pronunciation of the letters, e.g., all sounds proceed from the fauces, and are modified either at the throat, by the teeth, or by the lips ; hence they may be classified as guttural, dental, or labial. But nothing is gained by altering the order which came down to us from remote antiquity as the Romans received it from the Greek, and these from the Phoenicians, etc.

The Vowels.

The vowels in Yoruba may be built upon the three funda- mental vowels, a, i, u, with the two subsidiary ones, e formed by the coalescence of the first two a and i, and o by the coal- escence of a and u from which

we have a, e, i, o and u. These are the recognised principal vowels and are pronounced after the Italian method (ah, aye, ee, o, 00), but whereas in the Enghsh language the short soimd of e is written eh and that of o as aw. these sounds, according to the standard system in accordance with rule 3, are represented by a dot or dash under the cognate sounds, hence we


have e and o. A complete representation of the vowels in Yoruba therefore is as follows : a, e, e, i, o, g, a (prpnounced ah, aye, eh, ee, oh, aw, oo), the original taking precedence of the diacritic. Note that u is not to be pronounced as " you " but as oo in food.

Nasalization. The clear vowels are capable of a peculiar alteration which is produced by uttering the vowel through the nasal canal. There is no consonantal element brought into play, but it is an alteration entirely within the vowel. Nasalization is very largely used in the Yoruba, and consequently its ortho- graphy should be free from any ambiguity. In the Standard Alpha- bet the circumflex (~) is placed over the nasalized vowel to indicate such a sound. Unfortunately the Yoruba as written by mission- aries substitute the letter n for this sign, a cause of some ambiguity in writing certain words as Akano, Akinola, Morinatu, Obimeko, where the letter n stands between two vowels, and is liable to be pronounced with the latter, e.g., A-ka-no, A-ld-no-la, MQ-ri-na-tu, 0-bu-ne-ko ; but following