brotherpeacemaker

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Alafia Does Not Come From Africa

Dictionary

When I was introduced into the world of African spirituality everybody I met at the first ile I attended greeted me with the word alafia. Everybody said it. I use it regularly when I write or talk to people who practice Ifa. Which is why I took the article titled “Alaafia is Not an Afrikan Word Nor Does It Mean Peace” very seriously.

After reading the article I was initially angry. Here we are in the Diaspora doing our best to maintain some connection to our African heritage in America, the one place that makes it the most difficult for a black man to keep his roots, and we find out now that we may have been bamboozled into using this word as a greeting. You can’t trust anybody these days. Why am I trying to use African words anyway? Why not use the language I know best and trust the most for my communications with people who practice Ifa?

The bottom line is that I am not African. African people will let me know that I am not African. The African and the African American are kindred spirits who share ancestry. In many respects we should be working for common goals. But like many organizations of people with similar interests, there are just too many opportunities for fragmentation within the group based on things that don’t matter. Black people will divide themselves by light or dark skin, good or bad hair, right or wrong side of the tracks, professional or not, belief system, and whatever.

I have run across way too many Africans within the tradition who never bothered to educate me on the word alafia and I started to feel betrayed by each and every one. My insecurity of not being African but trying to embrace the African ways began to get the better of me.

Through my funk, I started to remember an old Cheech and Chong movie where Chong asked Cheech how to greet Hispanics in Spanish. Not one to pass up an opportunity to play a joke Chong gave Cheech an insult and told him it was a greeting. A few minutes later to Cheech’s dismay they have a minor car accident and find themselves surrounded by what looks like a Hispanic gang. Tommy Chong cheerfully gives the greeting Cheech gives him. Cheech tries to get Chong to stop and shut up but Chong just repeats it like a chant. At least I though it was funny at the time.

Without the ability to immerse myself into a true African culture it would be impossible to know what is truly African or not. Note to self: quit trying to be what you’re not, an African, and be who you are, an African American. Don’t be ashamed to greet people with hello if that’s what you know and can trust.

My consternation got the attention of Orunmila. I’m always glad to speak with Baba but it was with a little extra gladness hoping to get a little clarity on this subject.

One thing we must remember is that just about every language still used today is influenced by and influential on other languages. Just about every word in the English dialect is rooted in languages from other cultures. Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, and many more, contribute to what we mainly speak here in the United States and commonly refer to as English. A culture that considers itself part of the global community will have no choice but to submit to the influence of other cultures. Should African languages be an exception and made immune from the influence of other languages? The greeting of alafia is widely accepted and recognized as a positive welcome. Today in the Diaspora it means peace. Because it may be rooted in an Arabic word that means health in that language doesn’t mean that its current definition is invalid.

I remember a while ago the politicians of France passed, or at least tried to pass, a law to stop the influence of other languages on the French language. At the time I thought the move was pretty xenophobic. I remember when some politician in the United States wanted to rename french fries to freedom fries. I remember thinking that was stupid as well. Language will evolve. It always has and it always will. Artificial limits as to what can or as to what cannot be the evolutionary process of a particular language will not be successful.

Like most people I doubt if I will stop saying alafia when I greet people who practice African spirituality. I say it as an offering of peace. The people I greet with alafia accept it as an offering of peace. We have made a successful communication. And isn’t that the entire point of language?

Monday, April 23, 2007 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Ifa, Orisa, Philosophy, Spirituality

45 Comments »

  1. Alafia Brother!

    Thank you for your insight. I am not African either, in fact I’m not even African American, however, I do follow the Orixa. The bottom line is the open lines of communication.

    Bright Blessings!

    Maferefun!
    Daniel

    Comment by Daniel | Thursday, October 18, 2007 | Reply

  2. An African friend (American-born of African parents)uses “alafia” as a greeting. Seems like it is common in some areas of Africa, and so it makes sense for it to be seen as an African-based greeting, even if originally it came from Arabic (so perhaps it was northern African?)

    Comment by Mars | Sunday, November 4, 2007 | Reply

  3. Don’t worry so much about it, you are more than your race, you don’t have to define yourself in those terms, your history is bigger than Africa or America. Racism is focusing on race, if you do it , others will too. If you want to be seen as a race, then focus on your race, if you want to be seen as a human, then focus on your humanity. You have a culture of your own, you don’t need to seek one out, accept yourself and your beautiful heritage as you were raised and you will find peace and health both, and that is what alafia means anyway. – jaik

    Comment by Jaik | Thursday, December 20, 2007 | Reply

  4. i agree with you. one of our teachers, a nigerian born & raised babalawo, uses alaafia as a greeting just like he uses “ekaaro” and “ekurole”, so it’s all good. not to mention probably a function of lineage, native region, etc.

    peace & blessings. odabo!

    Comment by omi | Friday, May 16, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thanks for the feedback omi,

    A changing and growing language is a sign of a changing and growing people.

    Peace

    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Friday, May 16, 2008 | Reply

  6. Thanks for the feedback William,

    I hope you’re inspired to come back often!

    Peace

    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | Reply

  7. Hi,

    You are probably right that ‘alafia’ is not of true ‘Yoruba’ origin (whatever that means), and was probably imported in some sense. However, I am pretty sure this is the standard greeting one uses (at least this is what I hear my parents say to other Yoruba-speaking Nigerians), so you should definitely feel comfortable using it.
    Moreover, my own sense is that Yoruba culture and African cultures more generally are very inclusive. There is no shame in borrowing words and good ideas from other cultures, it is what I think makes us strong.

    Comment by Oladapo | Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | Reply

  8. Thanks for the feedback Oladapo,

    Peace

    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | Reply

  9. Alafia fun e ( peace be with you),
    Quest is an attribute of Seek, to seek is to be open to greater true possibility, in human nature there exist the potential to make others inferior at the expense of the other been superior.
    The word ALAFIA to me as a yoruba means Peace, tranquility,wellness,calmness and good tidings coming from the person that say the word.
    I wouldn’t want to engage in a dialogue that removes from these attributes from a word with a potent spiritual power,similar to ASHE (the seal to making it happen).
    so, brother (unique male sibling)peacemaker(giver of good tidings).
    Alafia O, mo se iba( I come with respect).

    Comment by babalola | Monday, August 18, 2008 | Reply

    • Bismillaah. Salaam/Peace. This is getting to me! i need to know. What does alafia mean?

      Salaam. Wafi

      Comment by Wafi | Sunday, October 14, 2012 | Reply

      • Bismillaah. Salaam/Peace. oops sorry….

        The word ALAFIA to me as a yoruba means Peace, tranquility,wellness,calmness and good tidings coming from the person that say the word.

        Comment by Wafi | Sunday, October 14, 2012

  10. Thanks for the feedback babalola,

    Peace

    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, August 18, 2008 | Reply

  11. My dad’s name is Banji Olabanji in yoruba is “to go with honor” while in Japanese, Banji means “everything”. You will find that there are alot of phonetically similar words in West African languages and Japanese, but i hardly think that we can conclude Yoruba people are naming their kids with Japanese words.

    There’s a lot that we just don’t know about the migration of people, the origin of some cultural traditions, etc. Do we know for sure that the use of the “alaafia” by Africans coincided with the introduction of the Arabic language to the Yoruba or vice versa, i.e., was this a common term in the Arabic language before or after their migration into SS Africa? Who knows.

    Even here in the US, you find double meaning to slang depending on which ethnic group is using it. Remember “getting jiggy”? For urban AA’s, that meant to be well dressed, looking good. But for suburban whites “getting jiggy” meant having sex with people. And back in the day, “getting jiggy” meant to act crazy or jittery. Could be cross cultural influence, could be evolution, could be, whatever.

    Just thought it was jumping the gun for the author of the article you cited to conclude it was anti-African to use that term.

    Comment by Jina | Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Jina,

      Very good points! The original author’s problem is not the meaning behind the word “alafia” or its source. The original author wants to promote an air of traditional African purity or exclusivity that just isn’t necessary or called for these days.

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Reply

  12. Not necessary and probably not possible :-D

    Comment by Jina | Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Reply

  13. I am Nigerian. Born and raised in Ibadan, a Yoruba city. Alafia or Alaafia IS a yoruba word. My mother uses it. My grandfather uses it. People in Nigeria use it. Just because it might have its roots (even thats debatable) in arabic doesnt make it non-yoruba. There are a lot of english words that have their root in latin or french. But they are still english words. Same with Alaafia. Its a yoruba word.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Tope | Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Reply

    • Hi, I was born and christened in Nigeria and given Alafia as my middle name in a traditional ceremony. Please tell me how I can find out it’s literal meaning — health, peace…??
      Thanks,
      A Alafia

      Comment by alafia | Friday, August 7, 2009 | Reply

  14. I am a Yoruba from Oyo town in Nigeria.

    The word ‘alafia’ probably has its root meaning in Hausa phrase ‘lafia la’ which means peace be unto you. The Yoruba, just like many African people are influenced by other people they come across. Buredi in Yoruba is the English name for bread. More words like that can be found in Yoruba.

    Femi

    Comment by Femi | Tuesday, November 10, 2009 | Reply

  15. I came across this site while looking for something else…

    [Rest of the comment deleted due to a severe lack of tact and an abundance of bullshit]

    Iya’beji

    Comment by Iya'beji | Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Reply

  16. ‘beji,

    I don’t know who you are. And it really doesn’t matter. You and your sanctimonious ilk are the very reason this site exist. If you think this site is so dangerous and crazy, then you are more than welcome to take your traditional bull elsewhere. Nobody is forcing my insanity down your throat. You are more than welcome to go away. Frankly, I find you insulting and I find you a nuisance. I do hope one day your understanding of Orisa and of Ifa will reach some level of sophistication that resembles spiritual consciousness. But judging from your rhetoric, I doubt if that day will ever come in this life time.

    You came across this site while looking for something else. Please, continue looking and quit wasting your time leaving your less than helpful comments here. You’ll save yourself a lot of time leaving messages that will never be published here.

    Peace

    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Reply

  17. Arabs are just mixed Africans who deny the African in their blood…so the term is African in origin.

    Comment by halifa | Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Reply

  18. Thank you this was very helpful.

    Alafia!

    Comment by Oshundunni | Monday, October 25, 2010 | Reply

  19. WHILE I THINK THAT THIS POINT IS VERY GOOD AND PROVIDE US WITH VALUABLE INFORMATION I THINK IT IS STILL UP TO AN INDIVIDUAL TO USE ALAFIA OR NOT,THE WORD IS YORUBARIZED.WE EVEN ASK WHEN GREETING SE ALAFIA NI.HAVING ACCUIRED THE KNOWLEDGE I NOW GREET BY TIME OF DAY OR BAWONI.I CONSIDER MYSELF AFRICAN EVEN THOUGH IN THIS JOURNEYI HAVE BEEN BIRTHED IN THE DIASPORA

    Comment by Amosun Olaosebikan | Sunday, May 22, 2011 | Reply

  20. IF A CAT MAKES YOUNG ONES IN AN OVEN IS IT BREAD?I AM AN AFRICAN

    Comment by Amosun Olaosebikan | Sunday, May 22, 2011 | Reply

  21. I PRAY THAT WE CONTINUE TO ENGAGE OURSELVES SO THAT WE WILL ELEVATE OUR MIND AND SPIRIT

    Comment by Amosun Olaosebikan | Sunday, May 22, 2011 | Reply

    • Ashe, ashe, ashe!

      Comment by Imani | Thursday, April 12, 2012 | Reply

  22. Thank u for this. I was re-researching the name before I use it for my business, and I kind of like that the north afrikans used it to mean health. Ive know it to mean peace from Yoruba studies years ago, but wld accept either as a positive way to greet others. Don’t feel betrayed much is lost in translation, as we are reshaped by the sands of time. onelove.

    Comment by ayo | Thursday, June 16, 2011 | Reply

  23. i have that word as my middle name. everyone finds it funny!!!!!

    Comment by Shackeria Brown | Monday, June 20, 2011 | Reply

  24. Bendiciones, hermano. I’m a Santero of 38 years, Eleggua con Yemaya. We don’t use Alafia as a greeting but it does have huge meaning, originating from Chango and Orunla through Obi.

    The thing about Africa is that it is a continent with many nations and many peoples, similar to Europe or the Americas. North Africa is home to many Arabic countries and Yorubans were somewhat of a nomadic people who traveled that continent, although many settled throughout Nigeria. I only say this because when you write of Africa, it sounds like you are writing about one homogeneous place, which happens often when people discuss Africa. In any case, since you took the pathway of Ifa, you are the son of Orunmila, so you have many questions that can be answered at your pleasure. Again, Bendicion to you and Orula.

    Comment by Adifun | Friday, September 9, 2011 | Reply

  25. Alafia is a standard greeting/response in the Kabye region of Togo. In the Kabye language alafia in very general terms can be translated to the equivalent of ca-va in French, being both a question and a response (although in strict terms the question should be alafi’we). The spelling is debatable but the pronunciation is alafia.

    Comment by Sarah Gledhill | Sunday, October 2, 2011 | Reply

  26. Thank you for writing this article to bring clarity to the words of greeting we so easily embrace without question. Though it may have another meaning other than “peace” I believe that it’s not only the words we speak but the way in which we speak it that relays the intention from the heart of the speaker.

    Alafia ashe (the life force of health, peace) reside within and around you brother Peacemaker… Stay blessed!

    Comment by D. M'Chelle | Sunday, November 6, 2011 | Reply

  27. I am a high priest of Yoruba or babalow.I don’t know what circles of Yoruba you have been hanging around but alafia is only use when throwing coconuts I have never heard it used as hello its when all four coconut pieces are white side up and is a tentative yes your supposed throw again I’m always greeted with iboru iboya iboche che Myself as a babalow you also can’t compare Cuban Yoruba and african.Cuban has been influenced by Spanish for years it’s only in the last 100 years that everything has been put in books it was an oral tradition for centuries I think you need to check who your hanging with unfortunately their are a lot of shady people involved with Santeria just like any religion if their asking for thousands of dollars and want to fix every problem with blood sacrifices and receiving saints run their in it fornthe wrong reasons back in the day in Cuba babalow were humble and just charged enough to live simply know in Miami they want mansions Mercedes and money not mention drugs and achohol and women i was in a room one day with over twenty babalows and I was the only person not convicted of a felony that’s fucked up when you consider we are holy men like you I wanted to stay in touch with my roots what I found disturbed me the worst thing is nigerians are going to Cuba to receive powers because slot of the rituals have been lost in africa after so many years of conflict and war many babalows lost their lives so much has been preserved and at the same time perverted in Cuba it’s a shame

    Comment by Fonzie | Thursday, December 22, 2011 | Reply

  28. I wish you well as you journey through meanings not least been the name Yoruba itself an adulteration of a negative insult extended to Oyo people by their Hausa cousins that got reduced to Yariba in the 1800s and became Yoruba today. Words like Olukunmi or Anago is closer but of course by the time the Saro returnees from the Slave trade wrote their stories and appropriated that name it stuck. Simply the meaning we choose is far more significant than the origin of what these things we designed to describe. For many who now call themselves Yoruba this tidbit of history is inconceivable. The meaning you choose is by far the most significant and valuable thing. Ire O!

    Comment by Adewale | Sunday, December 25, 2011 | Reply

  29. Thank you for the article, though I thought you were hater by the title of your article. Glad to see you came to a great end with you use it anyways…love it!
    My new radio show is entitled “Alafia” check me out on Wednesday at 6:30 EST on Blogtalk Radio I will be mentioning your article and the meaning of Alafia and referring my listeners to read your article. http://www.Filmstress.com
    Alafia,
    Nicholle

    Comment by Nicholle La Vann | Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | Reply

  30. ALAFIA

    Comment by martinmarcus | Friday, August 31, 2012 | Reply

  31. I guess it depends on you and your culture if you want to use African language i see the perks in that, if your grandma or mother is from African then you probably wouldn’t be saying why am i using an African language I’m not African, well im not a color, i much rather be called African American because my assessors from African and i much rather learn there ways morals, values, and respect, work ethic, than the ways the Europeans got us over hear acting…. Culture Is a persons own…

    Comment by maria johnson | Monday, September 17, 2012 | Reply

  32. Alafia… and

    Greetings onto Writer and Others who have left such insightful dialogue regarding a “Welcoming and Spiritually” inviting word…

    Writer you state that “global community will have no choice but to submit to influences of other cultures….”

    “Globalisation” has been pivotal in this rapidly changing world – cultural clashes are historical and deep-rooted; inequalities remain along with cultural clashes and differences (accepted or condemned)… How do we come to reason with differences in cultures, religions, ethnicity, gender, historical differences and most importantly “geopolitics”…

    Universalism is at it’s best here, in that we are all “Interconnected”, whether “relativist or universalist”, there are universal and fundamental practices and moral standards that do exist…

    Culture… Values… Diversity… much of the African Diaspora were predominately dispersed throughout America during the Atlantic and Arab enslavement trades; the philosophy and essence of a culture is that… “it is to be examined and cultivated”…

    Pan-Africanism or Afrocentrism is an ideology that encourages solidarity of Africans/African Decent worldwide; the origins represent an historically ancient, cultural, spiritual, artistic, scientific and philosophical legacy from past to present…

    Knowledge – Wisdom – Understanding
    In the Spirit of Our Ancestors and Sankofa

    Ase Ire
    Asante Sana
    Hotep

    T.K., Asante Sana to your knowledge of self and inight of others around you…

    Comment by TuWanda J. Locke | Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | Reply

  33. We spend so much time studying the roots did we end up not picking the fruits. The word Alaafia was the name of my godfather and teacher Renard Simmons a babalawo and a Sango priest, who’s odu in Ifa was Otura Meji. In the odu of Otura Meji I was taught that is where the birth of the muslims appear in Ifa and that Muhammad was a student of Orunmila. This being the belief than we have to wonder who is borrowing from whom?? So the word alaafia meaning wellness and the accepted meaning is “good health” and health being the number one of all blessings according to the precepts of Orunmilism under the direction of Olodumare ( Almighty God). I think this word is so important for us as African Americans to be able to distinguish ourselves from native born Africans. As we Africans born in the diaspora find out so connected to religious beliefs that we can connect to our true self with external of Christiany we will recognize the value of self-definition. The sixties and earlier then the sixties African American spent so much time trying to create and recreate our African selves. However, no matter how much we try together recreate our African selves we are still a people that has a very distinctive history outside of Africa. How far does an Apple roll away from the tree that it’s no longer “is” an apple. The answer “is” no matter how far an apple rolls away from it tree it is still an Apple. We in the diaspora no matter how far we are way from our mother Africa we are still African people with the same needs and wants of knowing ourselves, our ancestry, and how we are remembered in history. We as a people hence are trying to recreate ourselve as well as developing our person. Alaafia is a word for us in the diaspora that helps you find us as a people with a specific experience and with a unique past. Maybe in speaking of peace, wellness, and health the speaking become a reality in all our lives.

    Comment by Awo Oluwole Ifakunle | Monday, March 18, 2013 | Reply

  34. “Language will evolve… Artificial limits [on the] evolutionary process of a particular language will not be successful. I say [alaafia] as an offering of peace. The people I greet with alafia accept it as an offering of peace. We have made a successful communication. And isn’t that the entire point of language?”

    Right on my friend in Osha. That IS the whole point. to communicate. All the rest is pedantry. But, being human, I am not immune to these foibles either and so I refer anyone interested who believes (mistakenly?) that the writings of scholars are of some importance to R.C.Abraham’s “Dictionary of modern Yoruba” (1958). He appears to confirm #s 14,15,26 above in his first definition as being a reciprical greeting around “health”; his second definition gives it as “peace” (p.47). This is a very comprehensive and interesting dictionary if you can find it, by a scholar who was the Government Linguist and Anthropological Officer of Nigeria (’40s?).

    We are all on the path (all blessings and respect to/from Ellegua) to spiritual growth, whether we know it or not!

    Blessings, Bendiciones, Alafia-ache to all.

    Comment by quike | Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | Reply

  35. Thanks for your comments regarding the word alafia. I appreciate learning that the word does have an African root. I plan to research the word farther. Sometimes we as African Americans are so awestricken by anything that connects us with the continent of Afrcia that we will accept anything, even a made-up word. I use it also and thought that it meant “peace”. I can accept it as a positive greeting between my brothers and sisters. Thank you again for your comments.

    Comment by Jan | Saturday, April 6, 2013 | Reply

  36. I have been evolved by The Creator through many religious disciplines and have found that my rapid growth while inside them caused me to burst forth as newborn. So that now, I am a spiritual being made of love and borne on the wings of the spirit of exaltation. I rarely meet anyone with whom I can fully express myself because I obey the spirit as The Creator sends it to me. Learning to do that was not easy. However praise to The Creator I have learned and am learning to do better by degrees. The Creator made it clear to me that Prophet Muhammad (saws) observed the way of peace of the people whom he traveled among while he was doing business for Lady Khadijah. According to the knowing given to me, he was always different from his tribe and wanted them to be as he was. When Prophet Muhammad saw the peaceful way of the people he traded with, he yearned for a way to bring his that peaceful way of living to his tribe and everyone else. He pondered on it so deeply that The Creator led him to a quiet place where He could teach that way to Muhammad. That was my explanation of the knowing given to me, on that subject, by The Creator. In my opinion, many Arabs and non-Arab Muslims have lost their way and are now suffering what they must suffer to return to the peaceful way, which The Creator taught to them through Prophet Muhammad. They have thrown his last khutbah behind their backs, especially the part about racism. The descendants of black, so-called African, captives brought to this country are here for the purification of hueman creation by being a catalyst to reveal the spiritual sickness in those who are hueman, and those who are human. No other group proved strong enough for the job. Perhaps that proves that we are the aboriginal people. Since now we see that job is nearly completed, we are looking for The Creator to give us our pay soon. He doesn’t have a history of being unjust. Religion is only useful to bring us to the ability of living a truly spiritual life. Otherwise it is divisive.

    Comment by Elewa' Ifabowale | Monday, April 22, 2013 | Reply

  37. Forgive me if I missed this, but I’m surprised no one has mentioned the obvious!

    Arabic (as well as Hebrew) are both 100% African languages!!

    You can be sure that ‘Alafia’ is 100% African.

    There was a time when Africa extended out to the Persian Gulf.

    Africans (includes African-Americans, Carribeans, the disapora) owe it to themselves to learn their history. If you don’t know where you come from, you sure as hell don’t know where you’re headed.

    Comment by Adegoke | Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | Reply

  38. This is deep.

    Comment by Guttersnipe | Saturday, March 15, 2014 | Reply


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