Vernacular historiography and self-translation in early colonial Nigeria: Ajisafe's History of Abeokuta.

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Author: Adrian M. Deese
Date: Nov. 2021
From: Africa(Vol. 91, Issue 5)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 11,155 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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Emmanuel Olympus Moore (aka Ajisafe) (c. 1875/79-1940) was a pioneer of Nigerian Yoruba literature and popular music. Ajisafe was one of the most significant Nigerian popular cultural figures of his generation. Written during the amalgamation of Nigeria, his History of Abeokuta (1916) (Iwe Item Abeokuta, 1924) is a seminal text for our understanding of Abeokuta and the Egba kingdom. This article examines the bilingual passages of the History in which Ajisafe invokes oral history to construct a religious ethnography of the early Egba polity. Self-translation enabled vernacular authors to mediate constituencies. The English and Yoruba texts of the History differ in their engagement with Yoruba cosmology. Ajisafe's texts converge in his defence of the Oduduwa dynasty; Abeokuta, in a constitutional Yoruba united kingdom, would be the seat of ecclesiastical power. Civil authority in Nigeria could be stabilized through an Abrahamic renegotiation of divine kingship. To establish his treatise within a genealogy of world Christianity, Ajisafe utilized self-translation as a rhetorical device to reconcile the working of providence in precolonial and colonial African history. Ajisafe's History, ultimately, is an Abrahamic exposition of the role of God's providence in bringing about the complete unification of Nigeria in September 1914.


Emmanuel Olympus Moore (alias Ajisafe) (c. 1875/79-1940) etait un pionnier de la litterature et de la musique populaire nigerianes yoruba. Ajisafe etait Tune des plus importantes figures culturelles populaires nigerianes de sa generation. Redige pendant la reunification du Nigeria, son History of Abeokuta (1916) (Iwe han Abeokuta, 1924) est un texte fondateur pour la comprehension d'Abeokuta et du royaume Egba. Cet article examine les passages bilingues de cet ouvrage, dans lequel Ajisafe invoque l'histoire orale pour construire une ethnographic religieuse de la politie Egba a ses debuts. L'autotraduction a permis aux auteurs vernaculaires de rapprocher les parties prenantes. Les textes en anglais et en yoruba de cet ouvrage different dans leur facon de traiter la cosmologie yoruba. Les textes d'Ajisafe's convergent dans sa defense de la dynastie Oduduwa; Abeokuta, dans un royaume uni yoruba constitutionnel, serait le siege du pouvoir ecclesiastique. L'autorite civile au Nigeria pourrait etre stabilisee a travers une renegociation abrahamique de la royaute divine. Pour inserire son traite dans une genealogie du christianisme mondial, Ajisafe a utilise l'autotraduction comme un dispositif rhetorique pour reconcilier le mecanisme de providence dans l'histoire africaine precoloniale et coloniale. L'ouvrage d'Ajisafe est en definitive une exposition abrahamique du role de la providence de Dieu dans l'unification complete du Nigeria en septembre 1914.


A vast literature exists on the Yoruba-speaking peoples of Western Africa. Academia has long recognized its debt to homegrown traditions of historiography (Law 1976; Falola 1991). The first generation of postcolonial Nigerian historiography, the pioneering Ibadan School of African History, utilized the early vernacular historians as sources for the construction of a new national history (Aderinto 2010). Recent scholarship has demonstrated the intrinsic significance of African vernacular authors (Peterson and Macola 2009). Vernacular authors were among the first to publish in their languages, and the first to emancipate African literary...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A689356759