The African Studies Center (ASC) and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) are proud of the addition of Yoruba to U-M’s African Languages Program, which now offers two African languages through which U-M students can fulfill the LSA language requirement. With the support of ASC and the Fulbright program, Omowumi Ogunleye serves as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA); in this role, she assists Yoruba language instructor Gabriel Ayoola in teaching both beginner and intermediate Yoruba to U-M students. ASC recently caught up with Ogulunleye to learn about her teaching, and how the pandemic has affected the learning experience.

Ogunleye told ASC that she is committed to sharing the Yoruba language and its many important cultural tenets with others, because of her having been nurtured in this language and cultural environment. According to Ogunleye, respect is central to Yoruba culture, specifically as expressed in the ways in which young people interact with and talk to, older people. Accordingly, Ogunleye has stressed the importance of respect in her online classes this semester, also highlighting how speech and fashion are important modes through which respect is conveyed and mediated. As someone who sees herself as a “carrier of culture and language,” she feels “a need to exhibit, and teach people about my culture and the way we live.” 

The FLTA program stresses the benefits, and importance of cultural exchange. This is something that Ogunleye was excited about when she initially applied for the fellowship, especially after learning that Yoruba is not widely taught or studied in the USA. Although she expressed disappointment at not being able to travel to the USA because of COVID-19, she has still been able to convey fundamental insights into Yoruba language and culture.

When asked for an example of what she’s taught, Ogunleye detailed the salience of naming a baby. Yoruba people, she told ASC, name their children to preserve family heritage. “Yoruba parents know that children will be the ones to carry on the legacy they leave behind. They name their children for record-keeping purposes. We can also learn about parents from a baby’s name.” An example of this can be found in the name “Ifayemi” which is a name that is “particularly embedded with information, as it informs us that the religion of the parents is the traditional Yoruba religion, as ‘Ifa’ is one of the Yoruba deities.” Another example of the cultural importance of the naming process is found in the name “Akolade” which “informs us that during the period the child is born, the parents have experienced a turnaround in their financial status. In the process of conceiving the child and giving birth, things have improved financially and they experience a kind of prosperity.” The name suggests that “the child has brought wealth.”

Ogunleye is excited to continue teaching Yoruba to students at U-M, and will continue to do so remotely from Nigeria in the winter 2021 semester. She is hopeful that she will be able to travel to Ann Arbor at a later date so that she can better teach some intricacies of Yoruba communication strategies which are embedded in gestures and body language, as this remains difficult to fully express remotely.

Related links:

More information about ASC language scholarships for the study of Yoruba and Swahili.

More information about FLAS scholarships for the study of Yoruba and area studies.