Yoruba Holy Writing [NEW]

In his 1969 article in  African Language Studies, “Further indigenous scripts of West Africa: Manding, Wolof, and Fula alphabets and Yoruba holy-writing,” David Dalby, a pioneer in the area, wrote:

“The so-called ‘holy’ writing of Josiah Olunowo Oshitelu (Ositelu) was elaborated by him between 1926 and 1928, following a dream on 4th April 1926 in which he had seen ‘an open book, written in strange arabic language’.

“Oshitelu was born in 1902 at the village of Ogere, 23 miles west of Ijebu-Ode (W. Nigeria). He had an elementary education, becoming literate in Yoruba and English, and subsequently worked as an Anglican teacher-catechist. As a child he had been reputed to have powers of prophecy and of detecting witches and to have had revelatory dreams: these dreams or ‘visions’ returned to him in his early twenties and he became convinced that he had been called by God as a prophet (being dismissed as a result from his teaching post in February 1926). He began keeping his detailed journals from 1925 (continuing until 1934), and established the Church of the Lord at Ogere in 1930. During his open-air preaching, Oshitelu sometimes spoke in tongues, with his colleague Ajayi serving as an interpreter. He died in 1966.

“Oshitelu’s journals provide evidence of experimentation with his ‘holy’ writing during 1926 and 1927, leading to a more stabilized form from the beginning of 1928. The script appears frequently in the journal alongside words in a ‘revealed’ language, spelled out in Roman letters. No key to Oshitelu’s script was provided by him, however, and the individual characters are still undeciphered. The script appears from its form to be alphabetic (rather than syllabic or ideographic) and is written from right to left. From the sequence and occurrence of individual characters the script (at least in the examples available) does not reflect the syllabic structure of Yoruba, but does correspond to the structure of many words in Oshitelu’s ‘revealed’ language, in which consonants are often repeated on either side of a vowel.

“Oshitelu’s journals contain also many mystical seals, often linked with citations in the script. Dr. Turner has suggested that these may show an influence from Masonic symbols and from occult signs in the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, both of which are known in Nigeria.”

Needless to say, we would love to hear from anyone who has any more information about this intriguing and mysterious script.