A brief note on the translation
Many words in Yoruba frustrate trans-lingual transportation by the sheer complexity of their polysemic range. Such words are so culture-bound that they do not translate easily to English, especially when their metaphysical polyvalence in Yoruba has no equivalent in English. Therefore, my translation of Ọbasa's poems in the appendices below yields place to mediation, as I am constrained to try out or devise a series of strategies of transposition and transference, which in the words of Ọṣundare
leads to ‘kiss and quarrel’ between the concerned languages. According to him, when two languages meet, they achieve a tacit understanding on the common grounds of similarity and convergence, then negotiate, often through strident rivalry and self-preserving altercations, their areas of dissimilarity and divergence.
Translation, in the context of what I present below, means literally ‘carrying across’, and this implies all other forms that carry the prefix trans-. It also means not only transportation or transmission but also transformation and transmutation, for all these activities take place when translating literary material in an African language to the English language. My approach to the notion of translation should be seen first in the orthodox sense as the linguistic operation that consists in transporting meaning from one language to another. However, as Anuradha Dingwaney points out,
if translation is one of the primary means by which texts produced in one or another indigenous language of the various countries arbitrarily grouped together under the label ‘Third’, or non-Western, World are made available in Western, metropolitan languages, this is not restricted to such linguistic transfer alone. For Dingwaney, ‘translation is also the vehicle’ through which ‘Third World cultures (are made to) travel – transported or “borne across” to and recuperated by audiences in the West’.
However, translators should be cautious when using Western-oriented, linguistic-based translation theories because some of them are not wholly applicable or relevant to texts in indigenous Yoruba because of the multiplicity of meanings usually attached to specific words in the language. The major weakness of some of these theories is that they do not take into consideration underlying socio-cultural factors in works produced by Africans. A consideration of these factors in African literature will produce what Kwame Appiah has called ‘thick translation’ and which he defines as ‘a translation that seeks … to locate the text in a rich cultural and linguistic context … A description of the context of literary production, a translation that draws on and creates that sort of understanding, meets the need to challenge ourselves … to go further, to undertake the harder project of a genuinely informed respect for others.’
Consequently, my translation below sets out to capture the spirit and depth of Ọbasa's poetry in English by striking a compromise between a literal and a literary translation. My intention was to produce an English text that will be enjoyable and accessible to a diverse audience, including but not limited to students and scholars of African linguistics, sociology, anthropology, history, political science, religion and folklore. Precedence was thus given to accuracy, clarity, simplicity, effectiveness and faithfulness in my translation.
To conclude, I would like to make one quick clarification: Ọbasa's original text are long continuous sequences of lines, but the division into stanzas (and also the spacing between the Yoruba lines) was not the literary/aesthetic choice of the poet – but rather my addition to present the Yoruba and English together and make them accessible to readers of both languages.