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British Research Fellow laments decline of Nigerian travel writing, African languages


Dr. Rebecca Jones reading Babalola Thomas’ Ero L’Ona to the amazement of the principal officers of Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo (ACE) and participants at a seminar on languages

Dr. Rebecca Jones reading Babalola Thomas’ Ero L’Ona to the amazement of the principal officers of Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo (ACE) and participants at a seminar on languages

A British research fellow of the University of Birmingham, Dr. Rebecca Jones, has expressed dissatisfaction over the neglect of Nigerian travel writing and possible extinction of the Yoruba Language among Nigerian writers due to inadequate use of the language in their works.

Jones stated this at recently during an International Lecture Series titled: “Journey to the Hinterland: The Rise of Nigerian Travel Writing in Yoruba and English, 1923-1937,” at Adeyemi College of Education (ACE), Ondo, while reviewing the works of notable Nigerian writers like D.O. Fagunwa, Pelu Awofeso and Babalola Thomas among others.

According to her, the seminar was organised to appreciate the beauty in the Yoruba Language, the rich civilization and the inimitable lifestyle of the African people at large and to cause a reawakening among present-day writers to enact their experiences in Yoruba Language.

She described the characteristics of Nigerian travel writing to include the use of literary tools and devices such as the epistolary style, the serialized pages, lively, personalized accounts of the writers’ thoughts and subjective expressions; playing with language and literary writing.
“Others are songs, jokes, proverbs, subjective, not objective accounts of places. They describe people and places they encounter, current affairs, politics and religion, and address readers,” she said.

Jones, who is a First Class graduate of the University of Cambridge, holds Masters of Arts in African Studies and a PhD from Birmingham University, Department of African Studies and Anthropology, said she was offered seven Africa Languages but chose Yoruba because of the beauty and specialty peculiar to it among other languages of the world.

According to her, she started learning Yoruba Language in 2007 and visited Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, University of Ibadan and some other Yoruba-speaking communities in Nigeria during her master’s and PhD programmes for about four months. She listed the benefits of the reawakening to include existing culture of documentation and travel writing, newspaper editors’ tours, writing a new nation into being, the benefits of travel, the sociability of travel and the travel writer and Yoruba literary experimentation in the press.

While analyzing the work of Babalola Thomas, Ero LÓna, a Yoruba travel novel, while speaking Yoruba fluently and adeptly interpreting into English, Jones identified the mastery which Yoruba writers have over the use of words and the ability to cognitively use them to express their experiences to the fullest.

The research fellow marvelled how greatly the writer describes and narrates every situation accurately through the use of indigenous language, proprietarily. She lamented the interpretation which can only summarize the account and create a convoluted version of the original.

Jones lamented the gradual abandonment of Yoruba by native writers and the premium placed on English which she said might result in a huge loss for Yoruba people and many Africans, who adopt English as Second Language (ESL) and medium of instruction in their countries.

However, Jones, who disclosed that her project supervisor in Europe, another Briton, gave her a Yoruba name ‘Olufunmilayo,’ pointed out that the discouragement is at the institutional level, where all the activities of the people are codified in English language.

She also told The Guardian that Yoruba writers like Pelu Awofeso and Kola Olatubosun are working tirelessly to form a strong reawakening with the London-based Yoruba Conversation Club, a group of Europeans and other non-African natives to preserve the rich Yoruba language and its aesthetic values.

Jones stated her resolve to take a job in any Yoruba-speaking nation because of her passion for the language, and urged the Yoruba and Africans at large not to relegate their indigenous languages. She affirmed that language is the tool of all possibilities for human beings and the essence of their existence.

Provost of ACE, Prof. Olukoya Ogen, remarked that the seminar had taken place at the nick of time to appraise the literary professionalism of Yoruba travel writing and aesthetic values of the African people before, during and after colonialism.

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