FROM: http://www.church-of-the-lukumi.org

CLBA Journal 2000-05


“Yoruba Vocabulary Known As Lukumi in Cuba”

ã Oba Ernesto Pichardo 1998

Yoruba is the mother tongue of millions who live in the Western Region of Nigeria and adjoining areas. Their language was first written by Christian missionaries in the early part of the nineteenth century. Yoruba has certain regional dialects but a generally accepted “Standard Yoruba” is being taught in schools and is found in books. There are two slightly different forms of Standard Yoruba; one that corresponds to the Oyo province and the other is associated with Lagos.

Yoruba is a tone language. It has three tones similar to the Chinese language: high, mid tone, low. There is no grammatical gender in traditional Yoruba (ó=he/she/it). Yoruba language known as Lukumi language in Cuba presents a different challenge.Yoruba slaves in Cuba had no possible access to colonial schools and books from Christian missionaries. The language inherited in Cuba is the traditional oral speech and its regional variables from the homeland.

The documentation of the spoken Yoruba in Cuba reflects the difficult task of writing a vocabulary from oral Yoruba to written Spanish language. The following illustrates how this was accomplished.

The Yoruba alphabet has the letters: a, b, d, e, e, f, g, gb, h, I, j, k, l, m, n, o, o, p, r, s, s, t, u, w, y

Our technology does not allow to place Yoruba language symbols. The following repeated letters carry a period under each:

E = (.) O = (.) S = (.)

Yoruba in comparison to Spanish does not have the letters: c, ch, ll, ñ, q, v, x, z.

Spanish in comparison to Yoruba does not have the letters: e(.), gb, o(.), s(.).

Yoruba alphabet is divided into 7 vowels and 18 consonants. The seven vowels are: A, E, E(.), I, O, O(.), U. In Spanish they are pronounced; A = alabar, E = similar to tenéis, E(.) = similar to remo, I = similar to litro, O = sounds like ou, O(.) = loma, U = similar to luna.

The consonants have the sounds; B (bi) = similar to boca, D (di) = similar to diente, F (fi) = like fuego, G (guí) = similar to garganta, GB (gbíi) = does not exist so the g is low and the b is extended, J (LL) = similar to lluvia, H (ji) = similar to jefe, K (ki) = similar to k, C and q in kilate, casa and querida, L (li) = like luna, M (mi) = like mira, N (ni) = similar to nada, P (pkuí) = similar to kuáa, R (ri) = similar the soft R in artillero, S (si) similar to sabio, S (shi) = similar to the CH in chiva, T (ti) = like tipo, W (ui) = similar to guira, Y (yi) = similar to yema (iema).

Examples of how the words may found written in Spanish:

Kan = kan, or can
Okan = okan or ocan
Nigbàyi = nibàyi
Ohundie = ojundie, ohundie, oundie
Onje = ounye, onye
S(.) E = che, she
Ijoko = iyoko, iyoco, illoco, illoko
Kigbe = quibe, kibe

Following the above can make it possible to restore the words in Spanish writing back to Standard Yoruba. On the other hand, trying to reconstruct the vocabulary would be a long-term task, especially in sentence composition. Standard Yoruba is also modern and presents new language features compared to the old.


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  1. Mandy Says:

    What does Bawa Ni Kan mean in Yoruba? Is there a book or website which will help me speak Yoruba?

  2. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Mandy, Check out all the articles in this Category Yoruba which give you sites and dictionaries on Yoruba etc.

    Bawo ni kan means How are things?

  3. fornetti Says:

    I do not believe this

  4. beeyee Says:

    Mandy: “Bawa ni kan” sounds very similar to “bawo ni nkan” which means “how are things?” “what’s up”, etc in Yoruba. Hope that helps.

  5. Oshun Fosupo Says:

    ¿Bàwo ni?.
    Significa ¿Còmo tatàn las cosas?.

  6. Adebowale Adeyinka Says:

    I am Yoruba from south west Nigeria and I am also a Spanish language student. The closet sentence to “Bawa ni Kan” in Yoruba is “Bawo ni nkan?” It translate literally to ¿Cómo son cosas? Which in English is “How are things”. It is a sentence frequently used between familiar people to ask after each other’s welfare.

  7. paul Says:

    to adebowale adeyinka.
    nleo ore mi,te escribo desde canarias porque estoy aprendiendo édè yorubá por mi cuenta,lo que lo hace más dificil.y te escribo para preguntarte como hacer el genitivo en yoruba por ejemplo:peter´s house o tambien ” pata de gallina” como ejemplos.de verdad que si me pudieras ayudar te lo agredeceria mucho.
    sin más un saludo desde canarias.

  8. Belkis (hija de Oshun) Says:

    Please how do I say in Yoruba (lucumi) APOLOGY ACCEPTED, thank you.

    • Adebowale Adeyinka Says:

      The Yoruba alphabet does not include the letter “C”. The letter “K” will be the equivalent (at least phonetically) as used in lucumi. So it will be lukumi and letter “k” here will sound as the letter “k” in the English word “look”. The closest match in the Yoruba language is the word “olukumi” which stands for “My Friend” in a dialect of the Yoruba language. But “Ore mi” is the translation of “My Friend” in the Yoruba orthography. Yoruba language has several dialects or “Flavors”.

    • Dotun nuga Says:

      You cannot really say ‘Apology accepted’ in yoruba, what you will say instead is ”i forgive you ‘ which is ” mo dariji’ee” or ‘i accept your apology’ can be ”mo gbó èbè è”

  9. Carmen Julia Says:

    What does the name given to me on my kariosha ita means? Baba Daloyu?
    I was told is padre de firmeza. but later I found out it is incorrect. it is:padre que ve mas alla.


    • Dotun nuga Says:

      The nearest in meaning to your name is ‘ father is beautiful’ or ‘ father is pleasant to the eye’ or ‘ assurance of the father’ which real spelling is ”baba da loju” if you want to learn more find my name on facebook

  10. Sam-Olusegun Monebi Says:

    I am so excited to find this, I am a nigerian from south west Nigeria. I speak yoruba as well and I live in the US…I am so interested in the yoruba culture in Cuba, Brazil and other parts of South America. Could you help with more information or resource on this.. Thank you

  11. Sam-Olusegun Monebi Says:

    Infac t you can read about my interest on my blog


  12. Jinadu ahmed lyday Says:

    I like to come to cuba to see how my grandfather live as slave in cuba. And more about cuba life and culture

  13. Mariana Says:

    Alguien me podria decir que significa ibu ocawoñi??? gracias

  14. Aedeyemi Adejuwon Says:

    I miss u an please dont stress me cause u given me cool shulder

  15. jle Says:

    what dose ” Ire” mean ?

  16. Adenike Says:


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