The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition

First page of – Iwe Alọ (1885) – a collection of riddles

Yoruba, a tonal language, is spoken by nearly 40 million of the 185 million people living in Nigeria (2016 World Bank estimates). Some two hundred thousand Yoruba speakers also live in neighboring Benin and Togo. In Nigeria, Yoruba claims the second most speakers nationwide behind only English, the former language of colonial British Nigeria. In turn, Yoruba along with the two other national indigenous languages (Ibo and Hausa) are hegemonizing smaller, local languages throughout the country. Yoruba is part of the Yoruboid branch of the Niger-Congo language family, of which there are some 1,500 other languages. It includes numerous loanwords from English and as a result of the slave trade was important in Brazil, Cuba and other American countries.

Published in Lagos, Nigeria in 1885, Iwe Alọ is a collection of nearly 200 riddles and puzzles written in Yoruba. The author, Nigerian born David Brown Vincent, changed his name to Mojola Agbebi and preferred African to European fashion, due largely to his anti-colonial sentiment. After his ordination as a Baptist minister in Liberia in 1894, he summed-up his feelings: “I believe every African bearing a foreign name to be like a ship sailing under foreign colours and every African wearing a foreign dress is like the jackdaw in peacock feathers.” The print edition of Iwe Alọ, housed in the Bancroft Library, is part of the renowned Yoruba collection of William and Berta Bascom, which comprises some 470 volumes with plenty of examples of similarly early Yoruba language publications. The digitized edition of the Iwe Alọ is freely available through the HathiTrust Digital Library.

Contribution by Adam Clemons
Librarian for African and African American Studies, Doe Library

Iwe Alọ
Title in English: [Booklet]
Author: Agbebi, Mojola, 1860-1917. (David Brown Vincent)
Imprint: Lagos: General Printing Press, 1885.
Edition: 1st edition
Language: Yoruba
Language Family: Niger-Congo
Source: HathiTrust Digial Library (UCLA)
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/101690224

Select print editions at Berkeley:

  • Iwe Alọ. Foreward by D.B. Vincent. Lagos: General Printing Press, 1885.

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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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