Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Fela’s Magical Dictionary


 “Yoruba is the Secret of Universal Witchcraft”

— Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti_083

In one of the last interviews before his death, Fela Kuti revealed  that on  January 25th, 1981 he was possessed by a spirit. This possession revealed many things to him, one of which was the secret meaning of words. A kind of linguistic magic—what I like to think of as “a science of the secret” of words.

Fela discovered that hidden in certain English words was a darker, more subterranean meaning that revealed itself only in Yoruba. Certain English words, he claimed, would only reveal their true meaning when given a Yoruba pronunciation.

Yoruba is some sort of light that when shone on English exposes all that is dark and devious about a language that, for centuries, has styled itself as the language of truth and enlightenment.

Here is how it works: 

1. English Word: Technology

Meaning: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry.

Yoruba Pronunciation: Te-ki-ina-lo-ji

Meaning: : Press it so that the fire can go to wake it up

Fela’s Analysis: “Take a word like “technology.” Exposed, it reveals itself as “te-ki-ina-lo-ji” (press it so that the fire can go to wake it up). En hen! If you want to start a plane you must press for the engine, ah hah! For fire to, etc. That is Yoruba.”

2. English Word: Educate:

Meaning: give (someone) training in or information on a particular field.

Yoruba Pronunciation: Edu-ki-e-ti 

Meaning: tie everything up and lock it away

Fela’s Analysis: “Those who first created airplanes weren’t taught how to build one at any school or university, but they “invented” it! They no go school, oh! My brother they no go school! So the word “educate” reveals to us its deeper meaning in Yoruba as edu-ki-e-ti (tie everything up and lock it away). When you come from the spirit world with this knowledge and you start to give your own meaning… somebody will take it off you—take you to school—starting from your parents for that matter!”

3. English Word: Society

Meaning: the community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organizations.

Yoruba Pronunciation: So-si-ayiti

Meaning: tie it up in such a way that it seems free

Fela’s Analysis: “Human beings go through what they call “society” revealed as so-si-ayiti (tie it up in such a way that it seems free). You are already locked up within society and you say you are a free man!…Europeans won’t understand it because they don’t speak Yoruba.”

Keziah Jone’s 1996 interview with Fela was published by Chimurenga. You can read the full interview {HERE}



Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

One Response to “Fela’s Magical Dictionary” Subscribe

  1. Toyin Adepoju March 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm #



Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


15 Pieces to Guide Your Understanding of Xenophobia in (South) Africa

xenophobia in south africa - photo by guillerme sartori for agence france press and getty images

Once again, this September, xenophobic violence was unleashed on other Africans, mostly Nigerians, in South Africa: businesses were closed, shops […]

Johary Ravaloson’s Return to the Enchanted Island Is the Second Novel from Madagascar to Be Translated into English

johary ravaloson - winds from elsewhere - graph (1)

In May 2018, we brought news of the first novel by a writer from Madagascar to be translated into English: […]

Sundays at Saint Steven’s | Davina Philomena Kawuma | Poetry


when god runs out of money (how, no one says) once a week, these days, we come to where the […]

Read the First Excerpt from Petina Gappah’s New Novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light

petina gappah - out of darkness, shining light - graph

Petina Gappah‘s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light was released on 10 September by Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner. […]

We Need To Talk | Muriel Adhiambo | Fiction


IT WAS A warm, humid night in the lakeside city of Kisumu. Under a starless sky, the women, seated on […]

For World Diabetes Day, Miss BloodSugar Calls for Entries to Competition & Anthology Sponsored by Bella Naija

mbs final edit

Press release: What’s your diabetes story? Are you diabetic? Have you been impacted by the experiences of a family/friend/patient with […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.