If any practicising historian in Sierra Leone were to take a longue duree perspective on Sierra Leone historiography as practiced by Sierra Leoneansforty-two years after the first Sierra Leonean bagged a doctorate in historytwo key issues might appear on that register. The first would be our collective ignorance about the society and polities that existed in the area that came to be known as Sierra Leone before/around 1500. I don’t think our knowledge has gone beyond what Rodney et al relying on Portuguese sources have produced to the extent that we still talk about how Pedro Da Cintra discovered Sierra Leone. The second would be the apparent fixation with ethnic categories in the production of post-colonial historywhat I provocatively dub the ‘poisoned chalice’ of the first generation of Sierra Leonean historians.
This ‘poisoned chalice’ of the ‘Fourah Bay College School of history’, if I could borrow Akintola Wyse’s formulation (I don’t think a school emerged); or if you like their original sin, was their deadly romance with ETHNIC history. Without exception the first generation of Sierra Leonean historians either did their primary research on a national group or subsequently devoted their post-doctoral research on same. Wyse, the diplomatic historian, became the high priest of the kriolists; Gus Deveneux labored on the Colony-north-east relations; Arthur Abraham invented Mendedom; Mac Dixion-Fyle migrated from Tonga plateau in Zambia to Krio studies; Cecil Magbaily Fyle played with Kuranko-Yalunka; Lenga Koroma and the late Eddie Turay danced with the Limba; while Alpha Bah brought the Fullahs on the national ethnic register. This deadly romance with ethnicity reared its ugly head when the second generation emerged: Alusine Jalloh worked on Fula; and Gibril Cole on the Okuthe so-called Muslim Krio. The choice of a research topic, let me hasten to say, is never an innocent enterprise. And the context in which such choices are made should be a clue as to why researchers choose particular topics and not others. The fixation with ethnic history at a time when ethnicity was arguably the major signifying metaphor in the nationalist register remains the indelible birthmark of Sierra Leone historiography.
Twenty-five years ago, as I was winding down my graduate studies in Toronto, I published a review of Akintola Wyse’s magnum opus: The Krio: An Interpretative History. This review, which got unnecessary publicity from folks with vested interests, could be read as an outsider-insider’s take on a particular aspect of Sierra Leone historiography. A recent account by Magbaily-Fyle had me ‘taking the entire machinery of Sierra Leone history production at FBC to task’ by underlining the backwardness of Sierra Leone historiography (I wish I had done that!). Not having studied at FBC and having to find my way in the labyrinth of post-colonial history amidst echoes of Pedro da Cintra founded Sierra Leone, I was struck by the generous use of racist anthropological categories that every undergraduate student in ABU, where I did my undergraduate, could spot in the dark. My primary research topicthe development of a working class in Sierra Leone was therefore a reaction to the ethnicization of Sierra Leone historiography by the first generation of professional historians.
But my talk is NOT about ethnicity per se. On the contrary it is about HOW/WHY the self-styled Kriolists have moved from the C to the K word. I want to map out the politics that informed this move by interrogating the flimsy evidence on which it is supposedly anchored.
My ARGUMENT is that the Kriolists were/are uncomfortable with the invention of CREOLEDOM, by Arthur Porter, and before him Christopher Fyfe, the colonial patriarch of Sierrra Leone historiography, as a Victorian script, thoroughly Western, and therefore Non-African. This tag of being foreign or external hung over their neck like an albatross. And in their quest to reinvent the Creoles as Sierra Leone’s new ethnicity they had to find an African provenance for what to call them. This micro-nationalist project and search for an authentic African pastauthenticiteis what erroneously drove them to appropriating the K word which they have tried to market as Yoruba so as to appear authentic and therefore African. For Christopher Fyfe the move from C to K word was simply ‘implausible’. A recent doctoral dissertation by Lansana Gberie dubbed the move ‘highly tendentious and polemical’ (Gberie, 10).
Who then are the Kriolists and what is their individual/collective claim? In what follows I discuss the work of Akintola Wyse, the leading the Kriolists scholar, and Mac Dixon-Fyle and Gibril Cole. I refrain from discussing Magbailey-Fyle, though a Kriolists by my reading, because he has not made any original contribution to the conversation.
The Kriolists can be categorized into two groups: the empiricists whose narrativization of events is driven by the idea of nativizing liberated Africans and their descendants as belonging to Africa as opposed to Europe by emphasizing the Africaness in their culture. This African culture, not European, serves as the foundational anchor for its ultimate claim as an ethnic group. Those in this group are Akintola Wyse, the high Priest, Magbailey-Fyle and possibly Clifford Fyle and Eldred Durosimi Jones.
Mac Dixon-Fyle and Gibril Cole, the editors of the New Perspective on the Krio, belong to the second group with seemingly theoretical pretensions. Dixon-Fyle had wrestled with the thorny question of Creole identity in his study of Saros in Nigeria; while Cole would go on to repackage the new formulation presented in Fyle and Cole with a new spin on the etymology of the K word in his recent book The Krio of West Africa.
The empiricists are merely, it seems to me, stating what appears to be the obvious: that Creole history cannot be reduced to the activities of the original settlers: the Africans from the new world! That Creole history was more than the sum total of those who landed from the free world; it was their descendants and the liberated Africans who morphed into what we today refer to as Creole. Framed this way, the empiricists avoid engaging the conventional notion that Creoledom a la Arthur Porter was Englishdom writ largea charge they militantly deny. But by affirming that the descendants of the settlers, plus the liberated Africans which include indigenous people equal Creole, they inadvertently affirm the universalist definition of who is a Creole: hybridity; mixing of culture; mélange; pot-pourri of several cultural forms which nineteenth century Freetown truly was. But to run away from this, they affirm without any incontrovertible evidence, that C word is a corrupted form of Akiriyo a Yoruba word. And that Akiriyo later became corrupted to the current K word. So to deny the Euro-Western heritage of their subject even as they are imprisoned by the etymology of the very category they use, they invent a Yoruba origin and adopt the K word.
Dixion-Fyle and Cole are apparently more confused than the empiricists. On the one hand they claim that the process that brought together the different groups that constituted nineteenth century Freetown was indeed a process of Creolisationthe C word. This the empiricists deny. But then they proceed to affirm that the process of Creolisation, the C word, did not create Creoles with a C, but Krios with a K! How is it possible for this very process to create one kind of species in one part of the world and then another species in another part of the world? Is the historical process that leads to peasantisationtying petty commodity producers to the market and the state not the same but just not the same everywhere? Is proletarianisationthe process that divorces producers from the means of productionnot the same everywhere? Historically, we recognize that the process of peasantisation and proletarianisation are never the same in any country. Yet we also recognize that the end product be it in England, Russia, USA or South Africa resulted in the creation of a peasantry and a working class. The peasantry and the working classes cannot be the same in any two countries; just as the process that engendered their being is never just the same everywhere so it is with the process of Creolisationthe C word which is a universal category. The refusal to accept the universalizing logic of Creolisationthe C word has blinded Kriolists to the obvious similarities between the Creoles in Sierra Leone and Creoles elsewhere. Here is a missed opportunity undermined by ideology to tease out the Sierra Leone experience in a globalised context.
What then is the evidence???
Briefly, inhabitants in post 1850 Freetown did refer to themselves as Creoles with a C. But this was never popular, hegemonic, or consistent; it was uneven and contested, partly because there were other competing ethnic markers: Oku, Ijesha, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Popo. Sierra Leoneans was also used as a marker of identity. By 1850 there were several languages spoken on the streets of Freetown but the most dominant was Yoruba and its variant. Up till 1900 the C word was not the dominant marker for the inhabitants in Freetown. The first written evidence of the use of the C word appeared in 1843 in reference to schools by a Surgeon. It was used by Europeans not the so-called Creoles themselves. We need to make a distinction between the use of the word by the people to identify themselves and its use by others, especially Europeans. So we have abundant written evidence of the use of the C word but not the K word in the nineteenth century which was supposedly locked in an obscure oral tradition that no one seems to remember. To understand how the K word was invented we need to examine the contribution of each of the Kriolists! We have laid out their position, that is to say, the general outline of their argument. I now turn to their contribution in the rather bumpy movement from the C word to the K word.
wyse: The Hight Priest
Wyse’s claim for Kriolists arguably commenced with his joint article with Magbailey-Fyle published in The Journal of the Historical Society of Sierra Leone. ‘Kriodom: A Maligned culture’ was originally read at a conference in ABU in 1977, and published two years later. The piece could be read as the angst of two krio nationalists historians affirming the existence of a krio culture as if that in itself is something one should worry about. The stridency with which their views were articulated came across as part of a larger project to lay the basis of their collective claim to krio ethnicity. The blow by blow account of kriodomfrom awujoh to put stopessentially an inventory of Christian Creole register would be repeated ad nauseum by Wyse as he carried his battle forward to subvert and de-centre the C word. But the article is a fossilized rendition of what constitutes culture. No attempt was made to demonstrate how the Creole acquired their culture or how institutions/cultural patterns evolved; every example they gave appeared to have been formed out of nowhere! What for instance is the link between awojoh and banchu? When did Ojeh or Egugu became Creole? On what basis can one claim esusu as a Creole institution when it existed in almost all pre-capitalist mercantile societies in West Africa? These claims need to be historicized for them to stand as veritable Creole creations!
Wyse’s manifesto would appear shortly after the collaborative piece was published. In a 1980 occasional paper of the Institute of African Studies, FBC, titled ‘Searchlight on the Krio of Sierra Leone: An Ethnographic Study of a West African People’ he set out to demonstrate his core thesis by emphasizing the presence of ethnic groups/folks with names similar to those in the Sierra Leone area among the Liberated Africans. This search for groups internal to Sierra Leone was to counter the often held assumption that the ‘Krio are not indigenous to Sierra Leone, that in fact they are alien’ (Wyse, 10). His first project was therefore to affirm ‘the positive links between “West Africa’s youngest” ethnic group, and the people of the interior (Wyse, 10). The figure 6,000 was then given as the total number of ‘Recaptives bearing names indigenous to Sierra Leone’; a figure three times higher than the number of original settlers who totaled roughly 2000 (Wyse, 9-10). But even if we are charitable with these numbers it is misleading to assume that Bala is from Sierra Leone when Bala can be found in Hausaland; or assume that Musa is from Sierra Leone when Musa can be found all over West Africa. And Mandika, Fulla, Vai, Soso are not necessarily indigenous to the Sierra Leone area. The point here is that the names and the ethnicity do not ipso facto translate to being indigenous to Sierra Leone.
The singular importance of Wyse’s searchlight is that it laid bare for the first time the evidence on which the move would be made from the C to the K word. This would be repeated in publications after publications throughout the 80s. We therefore need to cite him at length to know exactly where he is coming from and to examine the evidential basis of his claim. Here is Wyse at his best explaining his findings:
The term Krio (which has been used here in several places) is the now accepted form of referring to both the people, known previously as the Creoles, and their language; it came into use within these two years. The word Krio is a contraction of the word AKIRIYO from the Yoruba expression for those “who go about from place to place after church”. According to Professor Clifford Fyfe, whose attention was drawn to this evidence by Professor Babalola of Ife University, the term Krio, from Akiriyo is the most plausible explanation for the origins of the name of the Krio. On linguistic grounds there is no occasion where in the borrowed words to be found in the Krio language the letter ‘L’is dropped (Personal communication with Fyle). In other words, linguistically the form CREOLE could hardly be the antecedent of KRIO, unless, of course, it could be hazarded, that the word Creole is an example of a bizarre form of Anglicization sometimes found in the Krio language. Or it might simply be a case of pronounciation. If CREOLE is spoken quickly it might sound like this “creo”Krio. However, the average Krio refers to himself “mi na Krio” or “mi nah krio man”. Thus we find it a bit difficult to determine how the form Creole came to be used. For that matter, we find it even more intriguing when some people make the distinction that Creole refers to the people and Krio to the language. The logic of this is not clear. For the earnest researcher the problem of accuracy is still to be solved, and this would demand further investigation, especially so since we are not definite as to whether they are contemporaneous, or that Clarke may have misunderstood the term and rendered it Creole. But we need to find a historioethno-linguistic basis for the origins of the term, and the evidence adduced for the use of the term Krio derived from AKIRIYO has some degree of plausibility. In the case of the new form, ‘A’ is omitted and ‘Y’ is silent or omitted. Indeed, if we recall that Krio people have a penchant to go visiting after church service on Sundays, and, in the case of Muslim Krio, after Friday prayers in the mosques, then we can appreciate the appropriateness of this description, hence the term (Muslim information by Gibril Cole).
More convincing as documentary evidence is an article of Fred. S.F. Olumokun Nicol (written in 1935 but revised and re-written by his son, Charles K. Olumokun Nicol), published in The African Review in 1949. He gives a detailed analysis of the origins of the word Krio. He states that since the bulk of Liberated Africans has Nigerian antecedents, especially Yoruba, they used to address themselves in their native tongues when they first arrived in Sierra Leone, in which the word KIRIYO was invariably used. For instance, a neighbor enquired about the children of another: Awon omode da (where are the children?). The response was: Won lo kiri (They went to play). The conversation would continue— First Neighbour: omode won yi, won o Fe se se! Lo Jo ju mo ki won mu Igboro lese la ti krir! (These children do not want to help us work; only, everyday to jump in the streets to walk about and play!). Second Neighbour: Kiriyo ni won je; Kiriyo ni won se. Nigba ti won kiri tit won yo, to re won, won ma pada wa le( Their name is Kiriyo, and so they are; “wakabot”, when they walk about till they get tired and satisfied; they will return home). From this conversation the word Kiriyo (actually two words= Kiri (to walk about) and an adjective Yo (full or satisfied), contracted thus KRIYO= to walk about and be satisfied, and thus the form Krio, took its origins.
This quoted passage constitutes the dynamo that eventually propelled the final move from the C to the K word. The cautious Wyse that we see in the quoted passage, the scholar, soon gave way to the triumphant Wyse; a transition from the historian to the ideologue. Thus in his chapter in the Joseph Harris anthology Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora, Wyse sermonized on the use of the K word: “The use of this form is not widespread, and many would want to contest the origin of the Krio, but we “Kriolists” are satisfied about its antecedents, and when the completed work on the Krio dictionary by Professor Eldred Jones and Clifford Fyle is published, greater currency will be given to it” (Wyse, Global, 324). By the time his magnum opus appeared in 1989 complete with a map of Sierra Leone showing where the Creoles are located, we see a triumphant Wyse proclaiming loud and clear that “we have now adopted the term ‘Krio’ as the most meaningful and appropriate designation of our people'( Wyse, 6).
For the time being we need to note that the title of Nicol’s articlethe only written evidence for the K word is the “Origins and Orthography of the KRIYO Language”. Please note the spelling of KRIYO. I must say that I find it very very strange; repeat, very very strange that those who call themselves Kriolists’ would argue that C word is a corrupted form of the K word and that the K word couldn’t have originated from the C word. What they have not explored is the possibility of both the C and K word evolving independent of each other. The bifurcated nature of liberated African society; the binary that evolved in the making of two Creoles might be the veritable site to explore the possibility of an independent evolution of the two terms because their meanings are completely different.
Mid-nineteenth century Freetown was arguably one of the most educated enclave in the world. “By 1840 the more than 8,000 children in Sierra Leone’s schools (a fifth of the small colony’s population) gave it a higher literacy rate than in many European countries” (Northrup, 8). In fact “more school places paid for by public funds were available per capita in Sierra Leone in the early nineteenth century than were available per capita in Britain itself” (Spitzer, 15). Between 1850 -1870 when Creole society a la Porter was alleged to have been formed, men of ideas, not women, were already debating the meaning of Creolization and Westernisation. Two important titles emerged during this period, one from the first individual to qualify as a medical doctor, James Horton, and the other from A.B.C. Sibthorpe the colony’s first historian of note who published an article on fofoo in the Artisan a working class journal in 1888 and conducted oral interviews amongst the Liberated Africans. It is hardly thinkable that this society would have been oblivious of the K word if it indeed existed. By the 1880s, The Sierra Leone Weekly News, the most vibrant colonial paper in West Africa was flourishing, a veritable outlet for all the happenings in Sierra Leone and beyond. To then argue that such a literate society would have failed to record the existence of the K word is to engage in wishful nationalist mythology.
Now to the evidence in the Nicol piece published in 1949. The article was allegedly written by Nicol the father in 1935 but it was only published, by Nicol the son, after his death. And even the published version was “revised and rewritten” allegedly by his son, though “substantially the same as prepared by his father who was well versed in the affairs of the early days of Sierra Leone’s history” (Nicol, 8). By 1949 it was clear that Creole hegemony was at an end and the rantings of Creole nationalistsThomas Decker the man who allegedly invented the K word that was subsequently appropriated by Eldred Jones who started publishing in the 50s using the K wordthat started in the late 30s and 40s could have influenced the rewriting of the original article. Why was the article published in 1949 and not before?
Let me also draw your attention to certain anomalies in Wyse’s use of sources/referencing. In the passage quoted we read in quotes those “who go about from place to place after church” with absolutely no reference!!!! (The reference on linguistic grounds appeared as personal communication with Professor Fyle in a footnote). And the reference to Muslims visiting after prayers is attributed to Gibril Cole then a student writing his honors dissertation which he completed in 1979. In an undated pamphlet written, possibly in 1981or 82 titledYoruba influences on the Krio of Sierra Leonethe first time Wyse referenced the KRIO-English dictionary, “those who go about from place to place after church” is cited as personal communication from Professor Fyle. In his chapter in the Joseph Harris anthology just cited and his magnum opus those who go about from place to place is referenced not in quotation marks but as a citation in the footnote to Nicol’s article and his ‘searchlight’. I found this very very strange. (This is definitely not a case of sloppy references).
Since the Nicol article remains the only written source for the Kriolists’ claim this kind of referencing is indeed troubling. The phrase “those who habitually go about paying visits after church service” is cited in the Fyle and Jones Krio-English dictionary as the definition of a Creole (Fyle and Jones, 203). And the reference given is the Nicol article. But nowhere, I repeat nowhere, in that two page article do we find any reference to “those who habitually go about paying visit after church service” as a definition of a Creole. The said article is on the Creole language and the closest definition for a Creole presented in the article are the children who refused to work and just drift away to go and play. Is this sloppy referencing? I doubt this very much. If it was, a correction would have been made. But it took us thirty-five years to discover because nobody was looking or even asking the right questions.
The claim by Wyse citing Fyle and then Babalola allegedly at the Unife in the 70s/80s is false. Babalola, now deceased, was at Unife briefly in the 60s; but he is not a linguist; he studied Yoruba literature and specialized in Ijala: hunters chant. The information that he allegedly gave Fyle which Wyse based his claims on did not come from a linguist but a native speaker. On the claim about plausibility and linguistic evidence it is necessary to begin by stating that Yoruba is a tonal language; and it proceeds on a CV VC basis but never on a CC VV basis. Put differently, as a rule of thumb a double consonant/vowel does not occur in Yoruba. Durosimi; Ekundayo; Akintola. (Omolabi; vcvcvcv; yetunde cvcvcv; adesina vcvcvcv; abiodun vcvvcv; abisodun vcvcvcv) On this basis the word KRIYO cannot be a Yoruba word: CCVCV; AKIRIYO is Yoruba VC VCVCV a contraction of kiri and yo. But the title of the article is also suspect because CC does not occur in Yoruba. If and when it does occur as in Akintola or olubunmi the N is nasalized! So if we accept KRIYO and then drop the R it becomes KIYO which again does not prove the point the Kriolists are trying to claim. And KRIO is CCVVdouble consonant/double vowel. Because Yoruba is a tonal language Yo could have several meanings: mo ti yo- am full/well fed; mo yo lan noh- I was drunk yesterday. The meaning and pronunciation changes depending on the context/emphasis.
Wyse’s claim that “on linguistic grounds there is no occasion where in the borrowed words to be found in the Krio language the letter ‘ L’ is dropped” which he got from Fyle is also false. A letter from a Christian convert probably written in 1860 when Creole language was already spoken in Freetown side by side with Yoruba and English referred to School Masser /School Master as SCROO MASSER a clear case of the letter ‘L’ being dropped in a borrowed word in the Creole language (Paterson, 287). Granted this is only one word but it does give the lie to claim that there is no occasion and the evidence from mid nineteenth century is compelling.
I now turn to Gibril Cole whose recent monographThe Krio of West Africagives a new spin to the K word. Cole makes a distinction between the C and K word by arguing that the extant scholarship ‘ascribe the origins of the nomenclature Krio to extra-African provenance’ (Cole, 17). For Cole, ‘the term Krio is not an adaptation of Creole’; Creole, he argued, can be applied to the Freetown context only to the extent to which it connotes ‘out of place’ or ‘homegrown’its universal meaning! Krio, Cole tells us, ‘is derived from the original Yoruba Akiriyo’; ‘it etymological roots are decidedly African’ (Cole, 18). Unlike Wyse, Cole reconstructs his argument not from ‘to walk about and be satisfied’ formulation found in Nicol nor from the undocumented reference to visiting relatives on Sunday and Friday that is absent in Nicol but on what he calls the ‘context of the post-Atlantic commercial landscape’ (Cole, 18). This new add-on by Cole makes it possible for him, in my view, to reinvent the notion of Akiriyo as a market cognomen.
Thus from Akiriyo, Cole introduces a completely new turn: using the Yoruba verb Kiri (hawk) by posing the question’Kil’on kiri? (What are you selling/ what are you hawking! According to him this question was customary in the marketplace in Yoruba society. But nineteenth century Freetown was no market place, and inventing struggling hawkers trooping from the surrounding villages to Freetown cannot replace children playing outside the house. Akiriyo, he contends, was used in reference to Yoruba-speaking Liberated Africans engaged in commerce, not in reference to children who go out of the house to play and wander around as we learn in the Nicol article. Oral tradition among the so-called Muslim Creole, he alleged, record Akiriyo as an orikia term of endearment, not a pejorative term, as I argued in a 1997 article which he cites in a footnote but never engaged. Akiriyo, he concludes, ‘subsequently evolved to kiriyo, and finally to its present formulation, Krio’ (Cole, 19). Akiriyo captures the vocation of the Liberated Africans, as hawkers, not dissimilar to instances throughout history where tradesmen/women were/are identified as tailor, sawyer, mason, shoemaker and goldsmith (Cole, 19).
What is the evidence for this new ‘linguistic turn’ if I can use this tired phrase to describe Cole’s intervention? Cole’s move from Akiriyo to Ki lon Kiri is a distant shoot in the dark to justify his fetishization of the market. And his sourceRoland Abiodun is an art historian not a linguist. Cole’s claim that oral tradition in so-called Muslim Creole communities document Akiriyo as an oriki only yields one reference to an interview with a certain Pa Babatunde Gabisi conducted in Freetown June 1978. This was when he was researching his bachelors’ dissertation. No attempt was subsequently made to seek other informants twenty years later when he did his doctorate. To flesh out his market spin on Akiriyo Cole found it necessary to exaggerate the role of commerce in the making of Oku identity, which seems to revolve around commerce and Islam. Akiriyo then becomes an oriki that no one seems to remember!
But oriki’sthe Yoruba genre of praise song/poetry/chant do not die; they live in the collective memory of individuals /communities /institutions. According to Karin Barber the acknowledged Queen of oriki:
Oriki are essentially autonomous nuggets of text, and performances of oriki, are therefore often highly disjunctive, fluid, and fragmented. Oriki are pervasive, rendered in many different performance modeschanted, recited, sungand on many different occasions, from solemn ceremonials to jocular conversation. They are also deeply treasured by their owners. People feel an emotional attachment to their oriki so strong that they may be moved to tears by recitation; it is held that babies are soothed by their oriki. Masquerades empowered, men and women enhanced so that they fill out and become what they have it in them to be. There is a sense in which oriki are felt to be inherent in the subject, animating and speaking from within.
It is inconceivable that as an oriki Akiriyo would have lost all its performance attribute in a society where Yoruba speakers existed for more than hundred and fifty years. If it had existed in the individual/collective consciousness of the people it would have been recorded and would have existed in the memory of individuals/ families in the community. Is it any wonder then that the Oku among whom this oriki supposedly reside do not refer to themselves as Krio/Akiriyo? (T)’he expression “Creo”, Mohamed Madhi informed the anthropologists Michael Banton in 1953, was associated with “Akiro”, a Yoruba word meaning scrounger’ (Skinner and Bond, 318). Madhi, the patriarch of the influential Mahdi family in Fourah Bay, was no subaltern in Oku society. He was a leading light in that community for more than four decades. And he grew up with his contemporaries speaking Yoruba/ English/Krio.
If Kriolists run away from the C word in their quest for aunthenticite and indigeniety; the Oku, arguably the authentic repository of Yoruba culture in Freetown, abjure the K word because of its pejorative connotation. Left to both groups and the Kriolists ideologues, neither the C word nor the K word would survive.
But there is another dimension to the riddle of the C and K word. The pejorative connotation of Akiriyo which Mahdi dismisses has a real basis in Oku culture. To go about visiting after prayers is still part of Oku and Creole culture. And since we are dealing with Yoruba culture we need to know why people engage in such practices and whose houses are visited. It is always the poor, the lower orders, the needy who engage in these practices; what the Yoruba’s would call the mekunopoor folks. And the practice tells a story. Hence Mahdi’s comment that ‘creo’ means scrounger. The Oku refer to it as toju ile ka kiri meaning keeping house all over the place. Notice the use of Kiri againgoing about. But it is used in a derogatory sense; implying idleness; unwanted/uninvited guests. E don go toju ile ka kiri is a common saying in Oku society. And it normally takes place on festive occasion; such as Id El Fitri/Adha; after the Friday Jumah salat; or after the normal Magbrib or Fajr salat. This contemporary practice in Oku society springs from the same cultural source.
What is intriguing about this whole kiring business is the idea that a people will give to itself a name that is pejorative/derogative. Not surprisingly this issue has never been raised nor discussed in part because all the Kriolists without exception do not speak Yoruba or understand Yoruba culture. A pejorative name or Othering is always done by others from without; and not by those being ‘othered’. To give an example the Tiv in the middle belt area of present day Nigeria are called Munchi by the Fulani. According to oral tradition, the Fulani some of whom are cattle rearers and the Tiv who are sedentary agriculturists had on one occasion left their cattle in the care of the Tivs to allow them to graze. When they returned and asked for the cattle the Tivs replied in Hausa: Mun chi meaning we ate them. Uptil today the Hausa and Fulani refer to Tivs as Munchi even though the Tivs do not call themselves Munchi; they know and identify themselves as Tivs. Why then would a group of people/ an ethnicity, want to refer to themselves with the K word when the practice from which the word allegedly originated was frowned upon by a large section of society?
What then is the problem?
I started my talk by posing the question of ethnicity within the context of Sierra Leone historiography. I’d like to wind up by reflecting on how we do history. The riddle of the C and K word seem to centre on the Yoruba languagethe meaning and interpretation of Akiriyo. In a pamphlet written in CalabarYoruba Influences on the Krio of Sierra Leonebut never published, I suspect, though parts of it were yanked and appeared in his Krio monograph, Wyse examined the so-called influences of Yoruba on Krio: from food to common expressions to esoteric societies to words appropriated from Yoruba in the Krio language but NEVER the Yoruba language itself. Here I distinguish between Yoruba language and Yoruba culture. Why did Yoruba as a language of communication die out in Freetown? As far as I know no one has posed this question. Bishop Ajayi Crowther’s inaugural service in 1844 was conducted in Yoruba. Similarly a meeting of Freetown inhabitants to elect a King in the late 1880s was conducted in Yoruba. Why did the language disappear after a hundred and fifty years when the epicenter of the language and culture is arguably close to home? Why did Yoruba language and culture survive and still flourish in Brazil and Cuba? These are the kinds of questions that we might want to put on the table as we begin to reimagine nineteenth century Freetown in all its complexity.
There is clearly a dire need to re-examine the categories we deploy in trying to understand Freetown’s complex and fragmented past. A good starting point would be to move away from the bi-furcated narrative imposed by colonial paternalism; the notorious binary of a double Creoledom/Kriodom: one Muslim; the other Christian; one hegemonic; the other peripheral; one mainstream; the other marginal. Much thick description, the real stuff of history, gets lost if not buried in this ethnic cocoon within which the Sierra Leonean past has been crafted. The history of Freetown, indeed the history of the so-called Creole, is yet to be written.
Fyfe’s history of Sierra Leone dealt exclusively with the Creoles as a British creation; he was the original inventor of the Creole myth. Porter’s Creoledom muddied the waters by emphasizing a process of class formation and modernity that privileged Christianity and Westernization. Paterson’s attempt to write Liberated Africans into the script ended up installing a duality in which the past was buried and compartmentalized. The invention of two Creole ethnicities is visible in the work of Wyse and Cole: one Christian the other Muslim. The challenge is to subvert this dualism, this Chinese wall between the two Creole ethnicities, by weaving a narrative that incorporates both experiences.
We need to keep in mind the fluidity of identity as a social construct; that there is no such thing as a fixed and formed identity at any given historical period. As an endless process in formation, Creolization thrives because it is dependent on its in built capacity to absorb and integrate; its openness to new recruits. It took centuries for the transition from slave to Negroes, then to black and subsequently African-American, to occur and then become acceptable. When inhabitants of Freetown returned to Nigeria in the nineteenth century they did not call/see themselves as Creoles; they were Sierra Leoneans, and later Saros. The black loyalists who came to Sierra Leone from Canada spent nine years in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Some were born in Africa; others in America, and in the West Indies. When they came to Sierra Leone they were called Nova Scotians; in Canada they called themselves British subjects/ loyal American or African.
Of the 74,000 Liberated Africans who landed in Freetown between 1808 and 1877 close to 60% were of Yoruba descent. Others came from the so-called New World: African Americans and West Indians. And there were those on the ground: the original inhabitants. The Creoles did not immigrate to Sierra Leone; they were made in nineteenth century Freetown. The project of reimagining nineteenth century Freetown has to perforce proceed from an inclusivist paradigm that decenters as much as it incorporates.
By Ibrahim Abdullah
Tuesday June 17, 2014