This week on the ELAR blog, ELDP grantee and ELAR depositor Mirjam Möller interviews community member Elisha Yunana. Mirjam and Elisha work together on a documentation project on Baa, an Adamawa language of Nigeria.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your language?
My name is Elisha Yunana. I’m married, and have two children, and live with my family in Lagos. I was born and brought up in Gyakan in Lamurde local government of Adamawa state. Our elders tell us that my people, the Baa, came from Sokoto region in the Northern Nigeria before they settled on the river banks of Benue river in Kwah. And some of our people went to relocate in Gyakan, a village higher up in the hills. Our people have 7 clans and our language is important to us for our traditions and our identity. We have two gods that are significant for our people, namely, Gbandima [gbàndɨ́mà] and Kassimin [kàssɨ̀mɨ̀n].
Is your language still spoken by everyone in your community?
No, unfortunately more and more people in Gyakan, where I come from, have forgotten the Baa language as they shift towards Hausa nowadays. They can begin a sentence with Baa and finish it in Hausa. However, in the other village, Kwah, there are not that many other people living there except Baa, so I would say a higher percentage of the people there speak Baa without mixing other languages.
How did this project to document your language begin?
It all began with Mirjam who came to study our language. I met her in 2016 at a meeting for our people here in Lagos. So as she asked for volunteers to help her learn the language, I signed up and gave her my contacts. When she came back to Lagos she contacted me and some other speakers and we started teaching her. I have been involved in the project since December 2016.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your part has been in this project?
Besides working with Mirjam and doing recordings together with her when she is in Lagos, I travel to my village with the equipment supplied by the project. I have been able to travel three times so far to meet with speakers in Gyakan, and Kwah. Once there, I record burials, festivals, narratives, and elders who tell about my people’s history. And while I am here in Lagos, I also meet with speakers and I do short interviews with them on how they use Baa and what they think about the future of our language. Then when Mirjam comes to Lagos to work we look at the material together, I translate the texts and share other information about meaning of words and how we speak our language.
What impact do you believe this project will have on/or has had already on your community?
In fact this project has brought people together. We discuss parts of our culture, traditions and words that are dying and being forgotten. It brings encouragement to our community that there are people in this world who are interested to listen to our stories and learn from us. We always pray for this project that it will continue even when Mirjam finishes her studies, because we want our children to know they have a rich history and tradition.
Do you have a favorite word or phrase in your language?
Yes, I have especially one proverb that I think says more in Baa than I can explain in English. Gya kpan ye re gyaa gwi. ‘a dog that catches something should eat the head (free translation)’. So the lesson is this, that if a dog has caught something and you let him have his share, be sure next time he catches something bigger he will bring it home. We should always appreciate people around us otherwise they may abandon us.
What has been the best thing so far about being involved in this project?
I have more knowledge of my language, as I now feel more confident to read and write it. I also have learnt about my people’s history and our traditions that I wasn’t aware of before I got involved in this documentation project.
Thank you, Elisha and Mirjam! To learn more about Baa, visit the Baa collection at ELAR.
Blog post by Mirjam Möller