Speak Lukumí, Yoruba or Simply Tong Twisted in between?

Master Akpwón Lázaro Ros, Osha Niwé Igbaé Bayen N'ntonú

Oral tradition can be like playing telephone, the kids game when you pass along a message from one person to the next, and at the end of a long line of ear-to-mouth communications, the original message normally is pretty different than what you had at the start.

To a great extent that has happened to the liturgical dialect used in Santería known as Lukumí (some say this word means ‘my friend’). What we have today and what is used in many ceremonies is broken down, mixed with Spanish and in some cases with English and it is a huge goulash that makes no proper sense in many cases to people who know Yoruba.

I am going to illustrate my point with some travesties I have heard over and over during batá drumming and osha initiations, where even the akpwón or the oriaté, depending on the occasion is singing something that does not make sense.

Let me make clear that my intention here is transparent; there is simply no need to continue on repeating things like a parrot without understanding what we are saying when we have now more contact with Yoruba speaking people and there are many good quality books and recordings that can help us fill in the knowledge gap where needed.

Song to Babalú Aiyé

Here is what I have heard over and over

“Aberikutu agua lerizo, aberikuto agua lerizo la ayé babá Babalú Ayé agua lerizo ayé babá
Babá eee babá soroso, babá eee babá soroso aine komo de babá sire sire seremoba babá sire sire”

Now this makes absolutely no sense.

The first error is the word “aberikutu”, nicely followed by the addition of the word ‘water’ or ‘agua’ in this song, nor are there any sea urchins “lerizo” or at least that is what it sounds to me like they are trying to insert ‘erizos’ (sea urchins) into the mix.

Here is what this song should say as per John Mason’s book “Orin Orisa: Songs for Selected Heads
( I am not using the Yoruba accent and intonations marks on purpose)

Agadagodo awa eri so. Ore baba.
(The padlock ties our heads. Father favor me)
Babaluaye awa eri so. Ore baba.
(Father, lord of the world we are tied down. Father favor me)

Quite a change to see what the lyrics are meant to say and not what we think we hear and repeat without questioning. You may be puzzled about the word padlock in reference to Babalú Aiyé but that is a subject for another post and I do intend to post it soon.

There are many more examples I can point out; let’s see one that is a song to Yemayá which I am sick of hear it mangled.

This is what I hear at batás:

“Cae cae cae Yemaya Olokun, cae cae cae Yemaya Olokun”

People Yemayá is not falling! Se cae is the reflexive verb in Spanish that means to fall, nor there is Olokun hanging around her on this song, even if they get along well and share the ocean as home.

This is what it really should say:

Kai! Kai! Kai! Yemayá olodo
(Imagine that, imagine that, imagine that, Yemayá is the owner of the rivers)
Kai! Kai! Kai! Iyá mi olodo
(Imagine that, imagine that, imagine that, the mother of waters is the owner of the rivers)

By the way, Yemayá is indeed a river orisha if you remember your patakís well. There is an apatakí where she turns into a river while trying to escape from the wrath of her husband. She wants to escape him so badly that she transforms herself into a river to flow back to the sea.

If we want to preserve traditions, we better become a bit more inquisitive about what is that we are repeating. Listen to various versions of songs particularly those left behind by mega star akpwón Lázaro Ros, Osha Niwé Igbaé bayén n’tonú. It is healthy to research; listen to different elders sing and compare. If possible, ask them if they know the meaning of what they are singing, some may surprise you with their openness and be glad you gave them the opportunity to share what they have learned along the way, while others could react with hostility if they are unsure of what they know. Either way, be forgiving of the later; understand that fear of ridicule is a powerful force indeed.

There is absolutely no reason to have your tongue tied up in knots when it comes to Lukumí or to sound like a rag tongue. Knowledge is power when it comes to words because it is through them that we convey, invoke and transform osogbo into iré and through the power of words that we call upon the orishas to protect us every day of our lives.

If you have some examples of rag tongue situations share them below, I am sure we all can learn from them.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

11 Replies to “Speak Lukumí, Yoruba or Simply Tong Twisted in between?”

  1. Thanks very much for taking the responsability to teach, share, and add more info to those who are WILLING to open their minds and spirit

  2. Alafia Yeyefini,

    It is easy to share when we have good examples to follow, I count you among them. 🙂


    1. I had a dream about legba before i knew anything about yoruba. i read a few books but i need some 1 to point me in the right direction to learning about our true Religion. i can be reached on my email.

  3. Thank you so much for your contribution. I agree with you 100%. I learn by repeating but, no one has had the knowledge to teach me the significance of what I am repeating. Learning this is valuable as it is the power that conjures forth the Ocha to act. I would appreciate very much to be able to learn some things from you. In particular, my Ocha name, OmiLekun, I have been told three possible meanings of it. I would like to know its actual meaning. Is it the depths of the sea, the gates of the sea or, leopard of the ocean? Your help is greatly appreciated. Much love and blessings-Jose, OmiLekun.

    1. Alafia OmíLekún,

      Let me research it with my mayores and see what different meanings it has. I am sure it is more than one. Mine I was explained during the itá, but I know for a fact that it is not written the way it was given it to me at the naming ceremony or pronounced like it.

      I will get back to you soon.


  4. This is a wonderful work you have undertaken for our understanding of music that contains much spiritual knowledge that can only bring about more respect, and appreciation of Ifa-Orisha religious tradition. The elders are the keys to unlock the meaning of these songs, whether in Cuba,Brazil, or Nigeria.By cross referencing you will uncover the treasure, but time is short, the work is great,and the Elders are passing into the sunset leaving us with the respondsibility to bring greater clairity to the coming generations. There was an Elder at the university of Ibadan named Baba Wale Ogunyemi whom i took to meet some of my Cuban elders in 1984. he had traveled extensively in Nigeria as a profesor, an initiate, and a writer. On hearing the songs of Baba Lazaro Ross iba he told me of the songs he knew and which ones came from different parts of Nigeria,Benin, or Togo,as he was able to travel to those places. He told me the main dialect he heard in the songs was old Anago. He was 60 plus at that time. he said a younger person or someone who has not traveled could not understand the language as there are 12 or more Yoruba dialects with only one being standardized with the need for everyone to speak the same language.And he told me one song can be sung with 2-3 different meanings but with the same melody with a change of one word or pronunciation. he said you must ask what are they singing for then you can understand more.Thank you

  5. Taking class with Amma Mckenn now and learning the proper pronunciation and meanings. Its a process but worth it. IT seems the act of preservation is still indeed a necessity.

  6. Dear Sir,

    I have come in contact with two songs, which are said to be Yoruba songs. I have done many many searches on line, tried some direct translation with a dictionary, and I have not been able to make sense of these songs or know if they are truly Yoruba songs and where they may have come from. They are both very beautiful songs to listen to.

    Ide were were nita oshun
    Ide were were
    Ide were were nita oshun
    Ide were nita ya
    Ocha kiniba nita oshun
    Cheke cheke cheke
    Ide were were

    the other song:

    Kai Kai Kai, Yemaja Olodo
    Kai Kai Kai Asesu Olodo

    Barago Ago Oromi(i)
    Barago Ago Yemaya

    if you can help me, let me know!

    Thank you,


    1. Jila

      As luck has it those are two of my favorite songs. They do have a direct translation. The one for Oshu which is the first one you have posted:

      Ide were were nita oshun
      Ide were were
      Ide were were nita oshun
      Ide were nita ya
      Ocha kiniba nita oshun
      Cheke cheke cheke
      Ide were were

      Speaks about the idde or the bracelates Oshun people wear (manillas) being the slaves of Oshun and making rattling noises at her command. This is not a literal translation it is the interpretation of the song. I can get you the word by word translation, but I am away from home and do not have my source book with me. I would suggest, however, that you get your hands on the following book by John Mason, olosha Obatala Orin Orisha: Songs for Selected Heads. The only issue is that the copy is selling by over $300, not a cheap book to obtain.

      The second song you asked about is one that I have heard used a lot on Awans of Olokun, but it is a song to Yemaya and it speaks of her greatness. Most songs are mean to praise or taunt the orisha. I will go back to the books later and give you more of a literal translation.


      1. I am desperately searching for the direct translation of Ide Were Were myself… if you ever find yourself handy to your book and think to post them I would be eternally grateful!

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