Contrasting Baba and Bàbá in Yoruba Culture

By Olutayo Irantiola

In Yoruba culture there are various ways through which people are identified as either a mere person or as a Very Important Person (VIP). Some of the ways through which this is noted include dressing, the size of the family, titles and most importantly, how the person is celebrated by drum when there are notable events. Drummers and Praise chanters of every community are the custodians of the oral history.

These repositories of the culture ideologies also have their unique ways of downplaying and upping the ante of any family based on their experience of the family. These people have various ways of motivating and demotivating. As such, this accounts for the right behavioral patterns usually entrenched in the way of life of youngsters when they are growing. This makes parents to charge their children to “remember the child of whom they are” in an easily understandably manner.

The culture also gives room to folktales largely embedded with messages; parables amongst other means of encouraging people to live upright and morally well. All of these were infused by the various religions when they first came in Yorubaland. For instance, the Missionaries from the West got interpreters who did a lot of contextual interpretations of the Bible so that people can understand the teachings of this faith.

In a drama written by the renowned dramatist, Professor Femi Osofisan titled Ajayi Crowther: The Triumphs and Travails of a Legend, Ajayi Crowther preached to his audience using cultural inferences. As such, those who he communicated with had a deeper understanding of what he was teaching them because it is akin to their worldview. He went further to use the folklore model of teaching by infusing songs into his sermon.

In contemporary times, the late Revd ST Ola Akande, had an in-depth knowledge of Yoruba language and this reflected greatly in his teachings. In a sermon at a funeral service delivered many years ago, Pa Ayo Odeku recounted that the great preacher made a contrast of the hierarchical concept of Baba loosely translated as Father and Bàbá loosely translated as an Influential Man.

According to the analysis of these words which can be differentiated by tonality, ‘Baba’ is the Father, biological or foster; he is equally the breadwinner of his family. The father is the right hand of discipline. However, the culture has a provision for father-figure personae who takes charge of reprimanding any erring child in the neighbourhood. The act of correction reinforces the lesson that bad behavior will not be tolerated. He roles usually does not go beyond his cocoon. However, his presence at another location does not make meaning to others.

On the flip side, the meaning of Bàbá transcends the former. Bàbá can be loosely translated as an Influential and Affluent man, whose influence is known both in-house and in the community; he can be recognized as a man of substance by people when come across him; his finesse and impeccable personality gives him away as somebody that must be respected. He sits amongst the Elders in the community notwithstanding his age. He is a man full of wisdom and deep insight. He has a good command of language and he loves humanity.

The drummers sing his cognomen at every opportunity, “Bàbá ni bàbá ńjẹ́, Bàbá ni bàbá ńjẹ́, Ò báà tàkìtì, kó o f’orísọlẹ̀, Bàbá ni bàbá ńjẹ́”

Every man can be Baba; it takes more effort to be Bàbá. The choice has been set before you, o man to choose how you want to be addressed today!

1 Comment
  1. Babs does not have any comparison with Bábá. . Bábá is regarded as a problem solver for the Community
    ( Eniti a nsare pe ni ojo ti oro ko sunwon ).I wish that I could give the proper English translation. In every Yoruba Community we have BÁBA and BÀBÀ. Only the true Yoruba sons and daughters know the difference.

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