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This chapter discusses focus constructions in Yoruba ofo incantations. ' Across ten categories of ofo, the frequency of these constructions is very high, and it can be argued that they are structurally important to each text. We suggest that this pattern helps to reduce ambiguity arid also to create parallelism between verse lines, thereby enhancing the understanding and perceived effectiveness of this genre of magical speech.. 2.0 INTRODUCTION

The term FOCUS has been linked by different scholars with functions such as prominence, emphasis and foregrounding. Rooth (1996) compares focus to a spotlight playing on thematic material to bring some of it to the hearer's attention (of Also Halliday 1973 p. 113). Yoruba has a variety of stylistic devices for signaling focus. Including repetition as well as special word orders and tone patterns, and the use of relative clauses. In addition there are the ni~ and kif- constructions, respectively marking affirmative focus and the generic negative.1 Ofo, for its part, is an. oral aspect of African magic, It requires uttering words in a set pattern; a minor fault in rendition may render an ofo ineffective. Ofo are used in almost-every sphere of bum an activity, for protection against evil forces or in order to achieve success. Based on functional criteria, Ajayi (1997) lists ten sub-types: ofo iba ofo afose ofo aforan ofo afero ofo aparo ofo arobi ofo awure ofo isoye ofo maadarikan ogede/aasan for paying homage for making what is said happen for escaping misfortunes for attracting clients for counteracting poison to ward of calamities for good luck to activate memory for self defence the destructive incantations

The generic of ofo as a whole shares a set of formal linguistic traits. The aim of this chapter is to document and explain the significance of focus construction in the semantics pragmatics of this type of poetry.




Ofo is loaded with focus construction. The bulk of these are declarative sentences in the imperative mood which expresses the speech of act of the text as a whole. Overall, less than 20% of the sentences in the corpus are compound or complex, and the majority of the simple sentence are focus construction. Looking at a single text in each text types, the frequency of ni constructions as a proportion of total sentences ranges from one-sixth to two-third. A detailed breakdown is given in (II): II Type ofo iba ofo afose ofo aforan ofo afero ofo aparo ofo arobi ofo awure ofo isoye ofo maadarikan ogede/aasan total sentences 18 43 20 13 8 31 21 43 12 31 ni- construction 6(33%) 27(63%) 4(20%) 8(62%) 3(38%) 12(39%) 14(67%) 7(16%) 7(58%) 9(29%)


An example

The following text belongs to the ofo afose subtype, which speaks in die voice of authority whose word must instantly come to pass. This kind of poem can be used in sociopolitical affairs, and b economic and medical contexts to disarm dupe or revive someone. A-a-se, ko ni saise Nitori awise ni ti ifa Afose ni ti Orunmila Ase ogunmo nii se I awujo efo Ase Ijimere nii se I awujo eranko Terekese nii se I' awujo Owu Gbogbo igi [ti legbede ba fwo ba] nii dun Ki o se, ki o se ni ti iilakose Yee [a ba wi han ogbo]ni igba I igba Yee [a ba wi han igba] ni igba'i gba Oro [okete ba le so] ni ile i gba Aba [alagemo ba da] ni orisa I gba Aro oun abuke kii p'ohiin Orisa da Sango kii ko ohun orogbo; Orisa kii ko ohun obi Obatala kii ko ohun sese-efun Kokoro [keekeekee kii ko ohun ayatale

N N N N line 5 N N (R) N N (R) N (R) line 10 N (R) N K K K line 15 K K


Oba llu kii ko oro iyo Oju oro kii ko ohun omi Osibata kii ko ohun odo Koriko [ti a ba ja fun eerun] naaa ni eerun i gbaa'mu; Abede ni ti okira; okira kii be tiree ti Ito kii pada senu Omi kii san poju wehin; Kankan ni ewe ina i jo'ni; Irawo kii dajo ile ko sun'ke; Adigbonnaku kii fojo iku ree do'la; Dandan ni ti aidan Ojo [omode ba. wa oyin] nii royin; Ojo [ muti] ni i pa'ni; Ojo [a ba gbele eebu] ni a a bo o; Ojo [ a ba ribi ni bi wole Ojo [ akukodie kan ba] ni le aye Naa niyoku re I gbeeran Ojo [ a ba peegun] ni eegun I je Ojo [ a ba poro] ni oro I igbona Ojo [ oluwongaga ba waye] naa ni I orun Oojo no oro ina mu igi Oojo ni oro ejo I mu niyan Oojo naa ni oro ito maa mu le Warawara ni jimere I so lori igi aladi; Warawara ni aa ri ku idin, warawara; Warawara naa ni ki ohun yi se o, warawara

K K K line 20 N (R) N; K ' K K N line 25 K K N N (R) N(R) line 30 N(R) N(R) N(R) N(R) N(R) line 30 N(R) N N N line 40 N N N

lt will happen, it won't fail to happen because ifa's (speech) is oracular; Orunmila's (speech) is divinatory; ogunmo 's command always prevails in the assembly of leaves; ijimeres3 command always prevails in the assembly of animals terekese4 always prevails in the assembly of cotton; lt is every true a baboon touches that reverberates; "Let it come to pass. let it come to pass" is the (command; of ilakose , Whatever we shout to flax 6 it hears; whatever we shout at the igba7, it agrees to; what a giant rat tells me earth, the earth agrees to; suggestions made by a chameleon, the divinities accept; cripples and hunchbacks do not defy [Obatala]8 Sango does not ignore orogbo9 divinities do not ignore obi10;

line 5

line 5

line 15


Obatala does not ignore sese-efun11 Small insects do not ignore grubs; even the king does not ignore salt; water lettuce12does not ignore water; water lilies 13do not ignore the liver; the grass we pick for soldier ants is what they grab on to a sharpened, prepared cutlass cuts right through, it doesn't fall to cut; sputum never returns to the mouth; water never flows back where it come from; the stinging-leaf14 imparts an-instant jolt; dead leaves do not inspect the ground, and then rush back to their branch; (adigbonnaku15 never postpones its day of fainting; compulsion is the mark of aidun The day a child looks for oyin17it finds it; the day we drink alcohol, it intoxicates us; the day we dig holes to plant seed yams, we cover them up; the day the placenta comes to light, it is buried; the day a rooster crows on the earth, its fellow roosters take up the call; the day we perform egun18, the ancestor acknowledges us; the day we perform an Oro19 ritual, the fact becomes known; the day oluwagaga30 appears, it dies off On the same day, fire's force grabs a tree; . on the same day, snake's poison grabs its victim; on the same day, the stench of urine permeates the soil, It is instantly that ljimere abandons his seat on an ant-infested tree; it is instantly, too, that a child abandons his seat on the werepe21 tree it is instantly that we observe a maggot die, instantly; it is instantly, too, that this utterance should take effect, instantly!

line 20

line 25


line 35

line 40

Structure Analysis In the text , as noted in the right hand margin, we can count 30 ni construction (N) and 13 kii-constructions (K). the linear distribution of these constructions is charted in (4). 3.1 IV a. b. c. d. 1 line with neither N or K; 11 lines with N; -----------8 lines with K; -----------2 lines with N; ------------(line I) (lines 2-12) (lines 3-20) (lines 21-22)


e. f. g. h.

3 lines with K; ------------1 lines with N; ------------2 lines with K; ------------16 lines with N; ------------

(lines22-24) (lines 25) (lines 26-27) (lines 28-43)

Setting aside line 1 which is an introductory formula, the overall pattern of the text is a multiple .sandwich, with ni- construction forming the outer layer, then kii- construction as the next layer 'further in, then a layer of ni, all surrounding a section of kii at the middle. .The symmetry is actually reinforced by the two exceptional lines. Line l has neither ni nor ,kii, while line 22 combines one. sentence of each type. Line 22 occupies the numerical midpoint of the incarnation's 43 lines- The same two lines, 1 and 22, are the only cases of a single line comprising two sentences. This balanced arrangement can be said to serve a mnemonic purpose, since there is predictable alternation between the two types (ni and kii). ,The alternation of ni and kii segments also has. an aesthetic function generating variety without randomness. We furthermore believe that the pattern in (iv) contributes to the texts effectiveness as a per formative utterance, i.e. a ritual formula intended to produce a practical impact on the hearer, because it provides scope for structural parallelism, 22 As with structural symmetry, so too can structural parallelism be regarded as both mnemonic and performative in function. By parallelism we mean repetition at a certain level of structure. There is syntactic. repetition in each unit in (iv) by definition, since the repetition of ni and kii constructions is the basis for dividing the text. This division is reinforced by clusters or relative clauses in the largest two units. A relative clause is the focus argument of the ni -construction in the last 4 lines o, unit iv(b), and in the first 8 lines of' unit (iv.h).23 There is morpho-lexiail repetition, and hence parallelism, in lines 2-3 (awise vs afose). There is purly lexical repetition, and hence parallelism, in the line 19-20 (ko ohun) and again in lines 29-39 (ojo loojo) and 40-43 (warawara). The lexical repetition tends to be at the beginning of the line/sentence, which is also the favoured position for focus. 3.2. Stylistic Significance

Like other poetic genres, Ofo allows some constructions that would be stylistically marked in ordinary spoken Yoruba. In a ni- construction, it is well known that the item mat occurs to the left of ni is normally either an argument of the main sentence, or- else a predicate (nominalised necessary). In Line 4, for example, the phrase ase Ogunmo( Ogunmos command') is the subject of the main verb se ('come to pass;.). In line 9, the phrase yee a ba wi han ogb6 ('whatever we may shout to flax') is the object of 'the main verb gbo (hear) in lines 40-43 the ideophone warawara {'instantly') is understood as a secondary predicate of the various sentences that it precedes.24 In some examples from the text, a ni- construction is elliptical with respect to certain lexical items. In line 2, the ni- sentence (v) is most plausibely derived from (vi).


A-Wi-se ni AGT-utter-happen FOC of




Its is oracular utterances (utterances that come to pass) that are characteristics of Ifa VI. Ifa wi a-wi-se Utter AGT-utter-happen Ifa fortells correctly (i.e makes oracular utterances).

Unit (v) does not contain the lexical verb wi 'utter'; so we cannot say that (v) isderived from (vi) syntactically; the relationship is more indirectly semantic in character. The recoverability of the main verb m in (v) is certainly made easier by its appearance inside the focused nominalization a-wi-se. A similar ellipsis occurs in line 3, where the elided main verb (say) can be recovered through the normalization afose. Another example of ellipsis in the text concerns the relative marker n. Since is not a lexical item, merely a grammatical marker, its absence from lines 9-12 and 29-36 is not very surprising because it is fully recoverable from context. In fact, ti is optional in ordinary spoken Yoruba, especially in the dialect of lle-lfe; so perhaps one can infer that the reciter of this text hails form that town.25 For their' message to be compelling, ofo incantations rely upon shared cultural knowledge. The lines in-the text that show this most clearly are those containing lexical items whose cultural content is so great that literal translation foils. Such items include proper names of divinities like Ifa and Orunmila(the divination divinity) in lines 2-3, as well as the use in line 13 of the noun orisa.Orisa literally means divinity, as in the name Orisa Oko 'The Divinity of Horticulture (oko), but in fixed phrases like eni Orisa 'someone belonging to Orisa (by implication,; a 'physically deformed person), the word is understood as an abbreviation of .the proper name Orisa-nlda otherwise called Obatala (Idowu 1962: ,71). Obatala is responsible for shaping the physical body during the creation of a humans being, including any physical deformities, hence lame and hunchbacked people and albinos are said to be specially connected to Obatala. Only by assuming all this background knowledge can we see that the statement in line 13 is effectively a truism. In a similar vein, some flora and fauna names require detailed encyclopedic knowledge in order' for the text to make sense, e.g. the hearer must know that werepe (line 41) is a tree whose bark irritates the skin. By. contrast, some lexical items areemployed in the text only by virtue of their sound, for die sake of' achieving; puns: Three successive examples are found in lines 3-10. Puns contribute 'to the aesthetic value of the text; in the content of a magical utterance' they may also suggest that a name bears a nonaccidental relation-ship to the thing named in defiance of Saussure's view mat the relation between names and things is arbitrary. By hinting otherwise, the text implicitly claims to have access to supernatural information. It is a deep Yoruba cultural belief that to know the name of a thing gives power over that things,' just as one can. influence a person by. using his or her names.36 Thus, the use of puns in the text may constitute a meta-linguistic cultural reference to magic. The alternation of ni and kii constructions, charted in (iv) leads us to ask why these sentence types alternate so productively in the text. In Structural linguistics, if two items are in complementary distribution, the standard explanation is that they are tokens of a more abstract category, or in other words, they both possess some property in


common. We are therefore led to ask what is the property that the construction shares with ni construction? ' Consider lines 23-24, which can be more fully glossed as in (7): VII a. Ito kii pada si enu Spetum kii return to mouth (where it came from) Omi kii san pa oju wo ehin Water kii flow affect eye look back Water never flows back in the direction it came from


These are both negative generic sentences, describing states of affairs that do not indeed, cannot happen under normal circumstances. ' Semantically,' they are interpreted as having no exceptions. With this in mind, consider the negative sentence ((8). VIII. Gbogbo wa ko lo all IP NEG go (a) None of us went (b) Not all of us went )i.e some of us did go) Adewole (1993) correctly notes that (viii) is liable to two interpretations. The meaning in (vii a) is exceptionless (no single one of us went), but that in (viii, b) is not (some of us did go. and some of us did not). Adewole then goes on to show that the meaning which has exceptions in (viii. b) is blocked if a ni- construction is used: IX. Gbogbo wa ni ko lo all IP NEG go None of us went

This fact reveals a similarity between ni and kii. They both yield exceptionless or universal statements. The difference is a matter of negation is always negative, but ni is negative only if the main clause negator ko is used,27 This leads us to our concluding question: what is the function of all these universal statements in ofo. 4.0 CONCLUSION

Mood, in Yoruba has two primary options: -indicative (declarative) and imperative. An imperative can be direct or indirect. A direct imperative has a second person subject, as in (X). An indirect imperative (formed with the kii complementizer) can have a subject of any person, e.g. the f second person subject in (XIa) and the third person subject in (Xlb).28




Go! (singular address) XI. a. Ki o lo! COMP 2s go You (s) should go Ki o lo COMP 3s go S/he should go


We have seen that the ofo text is loaded with ni- and kii constructions, .and that almost all of theseare in the indicative mood. It Is only the last line of the incantation which is an indirect imperative. We have also seen that the preceding lines provide this imperative with a build up, so as to make it more effective upon the address. We suggest that the link has to do with the exceptionless nature of the ni and kii constructions, discussed in the preceding section. The logic or the text runs as follows: All the declarative sentences describe necessary states of affairs, either positive or negative. (This necessity depends on the pragmatic factors of, shared knowledge and commitment to Yoruba culture 'and cosmology). By analogy, the. final line of the text should also come true without exception. If this logic accurately describes the deep structure of thee ofo text, we have gone some way towards explaining the remarkable prevalence of ni and kii constructions in Yoruba magical incantations. At the, same time, this textual genre teaches us something about Yoruba focus constructions, namely their suitability for expressing unambiguous and exceptionless propositions.

REFERENCES Abraham,R. C. 91985) Dictionary of Modern Yoruba University of London Press Adewole, L- O. (1993) Negating the Yoruba universal quantifier: a semantic analysis Journal of Nigerian .languages & Literature 1,1-7.' Lincom Eutopa Unterscheissheim Ajayi, Y. A. (1995/Forthcoming). The statistical study of literary style and Its implications for Yoraba incubatory poetry. Oyo journal of languages and Applied Linguistics, 1.2, Ajayi, Y. A. (1997). Ofo (the Yoruba incarnates):a text linguistics Analysis. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Ilorin. Awoyale, Y. (1985). Focus as an unbounded movement rule in Yoruba Journal of the Linguistic Association of Nigeria- 3, 75-84.


Awoyale, Y. (1998). A Dictionary of Yoruba ideophones, Manuscript, Linguistic Consortium, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Fabunmi, M; A. (1972). Ibadan. Fox, J. J. (1977). Ajayo:Ijinle ohun ife. Onibon-oje Press,


Roman Jakobson: Echoes of his Scholarship.

De Redder; Lisse.

Halliday, M A K. (1973). Explorations in the Functions of Language,: Edward Amold, London: Idowu, B. (1962) Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief. Longman , London. Olatunji, O. O. (1970) Characteristic features of Yoruba oral 'poetry. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Ibadin. Revised version .published as Features of Yoruba., Oral Poetry.'University Press. . Ltd., Ibadin. (1934). Raji, S. M, (1991). Ijinle Ofo ogede ati Aasan. Onibon oje Press, Ibidan. Rooth, M. (1996). Focus. 'The Handbook of Contemporary Semantic. Theory, edited by S. Lappin, 271-97, Blackwell, oxford. Tamabiah, S. J. (1968)'. The magical power of words- Man 3, 175-208. Reprinted in Culture, Thought & Social Action, 17-59. Harvard. University Press; Cambridge, Mass (1985). Tambiah, S. J. (1979). A Performative Approach to Ritual.- Redccliffe-Brown Lecture.] Oxford University Press. Reprinted in Proceedings of the British Academy 65(198),, 113-69. Reprinted -in Culture, Thought & Social Action 123-66 Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass (1935). Webmers, W. E. (1973), African Language structure University of California press. Berkeley