By Fr. Augustine Awuchie
In the far away north of Togo kilometers away from the capital lome, nestled inside a dense forest is a Common wealth War memorial in a village called “Wahala”. In 1914 Allied Forces of Britain and France invaded German colony of Togoland. They clashed with the Germans in the village of Chra where the Germans where defeated and surrendered on 26 August 1914 near the village of Kamina, where the Germans had built a wireless radio station to communicate with Berlin.
According to an inhabitant of the village, the name “Wahala” was given to the village because in the olden days there was no source of water in the community. The villagers had to trek many miles to neighboring villages to fetch water and because of this the village was called “Wahala” which means problem, suffering and difficulty” in the local Ewe, Ife and Kabiye Togolese languages.
In Nigeria the word “wahala” is found in Hausa and Yoruba Languages where it was borrowed and used in the broken English popularly spoken in Nigeria. In these Nigerian languages “Wahala” also means “trouble, problem and difficulty.” We don’t actually know who borrowed from the other between these languages of Togo and Nigeria.
According to Wikipedia the word “wahala” is an Arabic word which means trouble, problem and difficulty. Perhaps Hausas may have learnt this word from the Moslem- Arab- Fulanis who brought Islam to them and used Arabic in the religious and political conquests and the word must have spread from them to other parts of Nigeria.
There is more in the interplay in the history of migration, exchange of culture which may explain more on the spread and use of this word. Historians like Ishaq D. Al-sulaimani in his article (The Greater Igbo Nation), claims that originally, the founders of Oyo kingdom Oduduwa once lived in the north among the Hausas from where they were driven to the South West. At Ile-ife they invaded and established their kingdom among the Egba people who many historians claimed was an ancient Igbo tribe. Archeological studies also show that the first inhabitant of ile-ife were Igbos. This is shown in the artifacts and other ancient objects unearthed at ile-ife which have Igbo identity.
Perhaps the Yoruba who came to Ile-ife brought the word “wahala” which they learnt from the north. This is likely most likely expalnation. Secondly the world Yoruba is also a Hausa word. Today tribes like the “Ife” of Togo claim their ancestry from ile-ife from where they migrated to Togo and they actually cite an oral history that it was after a war at Ife that they left. Also, there are claims by historian like Ishaq D Al-sulaimani that the “Ewe’ tribe of Togo were originally an “Egba” tribe shipped from Benin by Portuguese Jewish traders to work in the gold mine in Ghana where the spread to Togo. Today the “Ewe” tribe lives in Ghana and Togo. These Igbos destined for the mines were called Igbo-mina (meaning Igbos destined for the mines) while “mina” is derived from El-mina which means the Portuguese name for the mines.
When you looked at the stillness and whitewashed grave of the fallen British soldiers lying far away from home with nothing to herald their history except their names written in gold at the head of their tombs and few page of their heroics hanging on a bill board, what comes to your mind is that history repeats itself. First migration likely brought the word “wahala ” to Togo, then human need in the of lack of source of water made it a name of village, while war made it the name of a cemetery.