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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}



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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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



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