Before COVID hit, my plan for 2020 was to graduate from my MFA program; sell $10,000 worth of hats during derby/easter/mother’s day/wedding season; use the money to move to Nigeria. I wanted to spend 3 years living in Lagos, Nigeria. I wanted to spend at least three years living in Nigeria. One year in Lagos where my father and his father were born and raised. Two years traveling around, getting to know the country and the subcultures. One of my goals for that first year was to learn Yorùbá. I want to be able to speak to my living relatives and my ancestors in their language. Currently I do not have a shared verbal language that I can use to communicate with these relatives and ancestors. If I learned Yorùbá it would open a path for us to get to know each other differently and more deeply. I also wanted to learn the language to be able to better understand the culture. A people’s language tells you a lot about their values and worldviews.
Well, Ms.Rona came through and disrupted my move plans. The universe came through too and presented me with another option that allowed me to begin learning Yorùbá in the same timeframe that I originally planned for. It wasn’t how I thought that I was gonna do it, but it is happening when it is supposed to happen. The universe reminds me that there are infinite paths to get to a single destination.
In this case my path to Yorùbá language learning came through Song of the Spirit Institute (@songofthespirit). Song of the Spirit Institute has three ( soon to be four) areas of work: reclamation, preservation, and sustainability. The goals of each of those areas is as follows:
To reclaim, gather, recollect our well being in a sovereign declaration that our wholeness, our care, our peace is a necessity to realizing our liberation.
To preserve or safeguard, protect and keep true the innate and inherent essence of a teaching, a tradition, a language and the spirit of a people is the way Song of the Spirit defines preservation.
To sustain a world a people must be sustained. To sustain a people so must be the earth.
I began learning Yorùbá under their Preserving Our Tongue program they provide affordable, web based opportunities for folks to learn Yorùbá, Twi and Shona. The teachers are native speakers who are living and teaching on the continent. The program has supported me and many others in reconnecting to our roots. The program also moves money from the US back to the continent.
My class meets for 1 hour 15 minutes, two times a week, for 11 weeks. The cost for the course breaks down to roughly $7 per class. SEVEN DOLLARS A CLASS to connect to my ancestors. WILD. There is a payment plan option. The textbook is a combination of a free online, open sources textbook and individual resources created by the teacher. There is the option to buy a dictionary, which is about $20. It is very helpful but optional. There are also opportunities for work study. They have been very thoughtful about the financial implications of the course. Like I said they make it accessible and also send money home.
On top of that, the level of instruction is exceptional. This language class is the most thorough, intentional, comprehensive, and culturally grounded language learning experience that I have had so far. For context I learned Arabic from 3 different native speakers at a private university with one of the best Arabic language learning programs in the country; I studied Brasilian portugues at that same institution also from a native speaker; and I learned French in a public arts highschool. I learned spanish from living in Spain. I have a lot of experience in learning different languages, in different contexts, from different people. So when I say that it the quality of instruction is exceptional I am saying that from a place of significant experience.
The resources provided in the course are amazing. The depth of knowledge that the teacher has around Yorùbá language, history, origins is enriched by his expertise around linguistics and linguistic theory more broadly. Everytime that I left class, I left in awe of the pedagogy, the generosity in sharing knowledge, the uncompromising way that the teacher demanded that we perfect every stage before moving on to the next. I had to call people to debrief each class because I left so full and overflowing.
This is the first time that I have taken a course that truly centers a non-western worldview and way of thinking. The goal of the class was not simply for use to be able to speak, read and write. It was for us to have intimate knowledge of, to know the language. It’s history. It’s culture. (seriously, I need this teacher to write a textbook. At the same time I know that Yorùbá is an oral culture. I have a much better understanding of what that is now that I am learning Yorùbá. Right now I won’t go into the details of that as relates to Yorùbá specifically. I will say that an important aspect of oral cultures is that access to knowledge is mediated by and maintained through relationships to people and communities. If you want to know things, you cannot do it without knowing people, being known, being in community. When you know people you are able to know what they know, how they know it and in context. This kind of learning, like relationships develops over time of building relationships with people, plants, materials, places, etc.
On the other hand cultures within cultures that are based on written cultures access to knowledge is mediated and maintained through skills and resources. If you want to know things you have to have the resources to learn the skills to be able to access the knowledge. For example reading and writing are skills. Books, paper and writing implements are resources. In the written based cultures there is not necessarily a person there to teach you the how or why or the context of what is being learned. There is no one there to teach you to respect the knowledge or culture and the people who have preserved it for you. There is no one to hold you accountable or call you in as needed.This kind of learning is championed by educational institutions in the West. It is based in classism, capitalism and other cultures of oppression that are designed to promote the hoarding of resources.
I am so thankful to be in relationship with a community where I am able to access the knowledge of my ancestors and to be held accountable for the knowledge that I will then carr into the future. Today I am inviting you to support my communities by dropping some money into the Song of the Spirit patreon. Check the link in their bio @songofthespirit.
*For my birthday this year I’m asking you to celebrate with me by supporting my joy, my work and my communities. Each day I’ll be sharing one simple thing that you can do to support me in each of these areas. Visit my blog at the link in my bio to read past posts.
*For my birthday this year I’m asking you to celebrate with me by supporting my joy, my work and my communities. Each day I’ll be sharing one simple thing that you can do to support me in each of these areas. Visit my blog at the link in my bio @adornedbyo to read past posts.