The Yorubas are one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. They are predominantly found in the South-West region of the country. A good number of them are, however, found in other countries such as Togo, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Ghana.
Although there are various accounts of the history and origin of the Yorubas, one of the most significant and succinct accounts records that the ancestor of the Yoruba people migrated from Asia to Ile-Ife in the current Osun State, Nigeria.
In 1821, there was an outbreak of war called the “Owu War”, which was fuelled by the need for slaves. Many of those captured during the war were sold to slave traders across the coast and off they were shipped for sale in Western countries, as the case was at the time.
However, the British Navy, which was very active across these coasts at the time, intercepted some of the slave ships and liberated many of the slaves in Freetown in the present Republic of Sierra Leone. In Freetown, the Yorubas outnumbered all other Liberated Groups and these groups began to refer to them as “Aku”.
The Yoruba people are known for their superfluity (if you may call it that) in greeting – one of the attributes they are known for and which, of course, they cherish deeply. The Yorubas have greetings for almost every situation and condition. Interestingly, there is a dominant phrase in these greetings. That phrase is “Aku”. It is with this phrase that every greeting is said albeit this phrase cannot be literally translated in English.
The best translation for “A ku” would be “greeting for this season or condition or situation we are in or experiencing” where the “a” in the phrase stands for the collective pronoun “we”. Thence, some of the commonest greetings are:
A ku aaro – used to greet in the morning
A ku osan – used to greet in the afternoon
A ku ale – used to greet in the night
A ku ise / A kuuse – used to greet when working
A ku otutu – used to greet during the cold weather
A ku ooru – used to greet during the hot weather
A ku oorun – used to greet when it is sunny
A ku ojo – used to greet when it rains
A ku odun – used to greet during festive periods such as Christmas, New Year, Easter, etc.
A ku ongbe – used to greet during a fast
A ku ase / A ku ina dida – used to greet when cooking
In some cases, just one situation can have various forms of greetings. A typical example is during a festivity or ceremony – in modern days, weddings, birthdays and the likes.
A ku aseye – used to greet for a ceremony
A ku inawo – is used by the people who contributed to the occasion, for example, the family members
A ku abase – used for a ceremony too, is used by guests who graced the occasion. Hosts of the occasion can also greet their guests that way but it will be said as “A ku abase”.
This peculiar attribute of the Yorubas, therefore, earned them the name “A ku” in Freetwon, particularly because they were known for greeting one another, “A ku ise”.
(2005) Toyin Falola, Matt D. Childs: The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, Google Books