Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nigerians Insult Traditions (Yabbing), Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on Nigerians' custom of yabbing (insulting) people.

Click for Part II of this series features a Nigerian vlogger (video blogger) Tboy (Don't Jealous Me). My transcription of that video is also included in that post.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

For some reason or another, I decide to do an online search about the Nigerian custom of insulting people as it relates to the African American custom of the Dozens. Here's what I found:

"The Dozens is a game among two contestants, common in African American communities, where participants insult each other until one gives up or violence erupts. It is customary for the Dozens to be played in front of an audience of bystanders, who encourage the participants to reply with more egregious insults to heighten the tension and consequently, to be more interesting to watch. Among African Americans it is also known as "sounding", "joning", "woofing", "wolfing", "sigging", or "signifying. The origin of the game is unclear, but it has roots in Africa: similar contests are held in Nigeria among the Igbo people, and in Ghana. Comments in the game focus on the opposite player's intelligence, appearance, competency, social status, financial situation, and disparaging remarks about the other player's family members—mothers in particular—are common...

The Dozens is a contest of personal power: wit, self-control, verbal ability, mental acuity, and toughness".
[Italics added to highlight that sentence.]
That same Wikipedia page indicated that "Amuzie Chimezie, writing in the Journal of Black Studies in 1976, connects the Dozens to a Nigerian game called Ikocha Nkocha, literally translated as "making disparaging remarks". This form of the game is played by children and adolescents, and it takes place in the evening, in the presence of parents and siblings. Commentary among the Igbo is more restrained: remarks about family members are rare, and are based more in fanciful imaginings than participants' actual traits. In contrast, the game in Ghana, which is also commonly played in the evenings, insults are frequently directed at family members.[5]

Here are some definitions that explain the next entries in this post:

Definition of "yab" from
"jab (jb)
v.jabbed, jab·bing, jabs
1. To poke or thrust abruptly: jabbed a knife into the log.

2. To stab or pierce: jabbed the steak with a fork.

3. To punch (someone) with short blows.

1. To make an abrupt poking or thrusting motion: jabbed at the pickles with his fork.

2. To deliver a quick punch.

1. A quick stab or blow.

2. Sports A short straight punch in boxing.
Thus, "to yab" ("jab") here means to verbally poke, stab, or strike a blow at someone by insulting him or her.

Here are several comments from "Why Do Nigerians Like To Yab(insult) people?

(Note: "Naira" is an informal, contemporary way of saying "Nigeria".)
"glorina « on: November 24, 2008, 10:29 PM »
Whether it's on a public forum, on comedy shows, at work, at home. They never relent from using their sharp mouths to yab people, is it in our genes or WHAT?”

Why Do Nigerians Like To Yab (insult) people? by Ifygurl: 2:28pm On Nov 25, 2008
But serious Note
Nigerians just don't know how to give an advice without insulting others.
I've some Nigerian do that. I know there intentions was meant to be Good but somehow instead of an advice it will turn to an insult.
Even some Nigerian parents do that.
I think that's our way of advicing others

Epiphany« #21 on: March 27, 2009, 03:22 PM »
correct me if i am wrong, but is in not a 'black thing'? I have always wondered about the similarities btw naija yabbin and some black Americans/Caribean people. Comedians like Eddie, Chris Rock, Tucker, Bernie Mac (RIP) always yabbed people in their jokes. Listening to the typical american rap songs, tv shows, documentaries, movies, etc, the blacks are always at each other as well as the white guys - and anyone else that happens to rub them the wrong way!

What would you say about this?

« #26 on: May 10, 2009, 10:05 PM »
LOL who knows but if thier was an award given to a country for the best insults nigeria would win year afta year no doubt. we all can insult like no mans business in fact a reality show should be aired on naija life it would definately recieve high ratings lmfao ;D

everyone in my family except my mother(so sweet and kind) has a raza blade for a mout lol

« #29 on: May 11, 2009, 09:11 PM »
@ poster

Because we too many and if we no develope aggressive life skills including "Insult", people go chance you.*

Re: Why Do Nigerians Like To Yab(insult) people?
« #31 on: May 11, 2009, 10:08 PM »

i think there's a difference yab and insult.

most nigerians yab pple. i personally do not have a problem with yabs going back and forth. its fun"
* Here's my guess about how this comment would be given in Standard American English:
"Because there are so many of us [too many Nigerians in too little geographical space]that if we don’t develop aggressive life skills including how to insult people, people would take advantage of us."

Here's a comment from another nairaland discussion thread about yabbing (insulting):
"Why Do Some Nigerians Insult & Abuse In Nairaland Instead Of Socialize & Relate? by Jakumo(m): 8:46am On May 14, 2010

The trading of colorful insults and put-downs is as revered a tradition among Nigerians, as is the black American version of rhyming insults known as "The Dozens", in which televised competitions are now held on the BET cable channel. First time visitors to Nigeria often confess to being startled at the sheer volume with which Nigerians converse, and the way they joyfully exchange insults and threats at the drop of a hat, yet rarely ever come to blows.

My personal favourite verbal affronts noted in the Nairaland Forum are as follows :

" You are the product of a leaking condom."

" To say you are as ugly as a monkey would be to insult monkeys."

" I don't blame you, knowing you are the love-child of your father's gardener and one of his goats."

" Where on earth did a village lunatic like you manage to stumble across a computer keyboard ?"

" I am sure that you never cease to amaze yourself with the insane ranting that emanates from your mouth. "

Here's the only comment that is posted on another nairaland discussion thread about yabbing "Origin Of Yo Mama Jokes And Diss. - Culture - Nairaland"
"Bamaguje: 9:18am On Dec 20, 2011
I was reading about a game called Dirty Dozen, originated from Africa which is exported to US by the black slaves.Dirty Dozen is a verbal game played by the two contestants who engage in insulting each other and makes deprecatory jokes until one gives up or violence erupt.

Hausas called it Ba'a, Igbos called it Nkocha Ikocha, i dont know about the yorubas and other ethnic groups but i do know they have one. People dey even do yabbing contest for pidgin english and lastly Rap artists diss each other too in the record.

My question is does this has to do with the reason why most African Americans and Africans can be a smart aleck,sarcastic and are excellent in using wordplays?

For more info Dirty Dozen [hyperlink]*
*This hyperlink is the first paragraph of Wikipedia quote about the Dozens that is given above.

From "Best insults-Growing up in Nigeria series" Here are three comments from that post:

anwulika, June 2, 2011 , 02:08 PM #1

Kids were MEAN!

Some of these insults we dished out/heard as kids did not not [sic] make sense but still got the resounding "Ela" from bystanders

"Your medula Oblongata is suffering from peri-pay-sue"

All time favorites:

'Thundar faya your nyash"


Of course, model child like moi never insulted anybody

but share your all time faves. "
According to, "nyash" means "female booty" (butt).

Abraxas, Jun 2, 2011
1: Ya mama tumbeleku!

2: 'e no good for ya mama grandmama!

3: Dan bura uba'!

4: Comcombility!

5: Beast of no nation!

6: Nonsense and ingredients!

7: Look at you.

cagedheart -Dec 2010
"I remember chanting this sing-song and getting slapped on the head by my elder siblings...

"You dey craze, you dey get kro-kro for part of your nyash dey cover river niger!"

AMENDMENT July 29, 2013
I recognize that this post doesn't provide an indepth description of Nigerian insult traditions. For instance, because I didn't find that information online to date & don't have any other sources for that information, this post doesn't indicate whether "yabbing" is a the same as or similar to the African American dozens i.e either a quick witted verbal exchange of humorous put downs between two friends, or a rapid verbal battle of insults between two adversaries or potential adversaries. Also, for the same reasons, I don't know whether Nigerian yabbing insults have a formulaic structure like many of the African American dozens "snaps" - "Your [Yo] mama is so [add an adjective and add an insulting but imaginative, witty consequence or elaboration of that adjective.] For example:

Your mama's so FAT, when she jumped in the air she got stuck.
Mo's rebuttal: Your mama's so skinny, you could blindfold her with dental floss.
(Mo'nique Imes and Sherry A. McGee, Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World. Atriz, 2004)

This quote about the dozens from a Nigerian author suggests to me that the African American "dozens" isn't exactly the same as Nigerian "yabbing":
"While retaining the form and spirit of the West African original, African-American dozens has elaborated the witty one-liners into complex verbal war games involving huge armories and modes of attack and defense undreamt of in the homeland. It is a case of Darwinian adaptation for survival of the species in the killing jungles of slavery and racism. The mother remains the central figure. By learning to deal with verbal abuse of her, the modern black youngster learns to endure the historical, real-life abuse. It is as if the system is inoculated with virtual (verbally imagined) strains of the virus, thereby gaining immunity and new health in spite of the reality on the ground."
(Onwuchekwa Jemie, Yo Mama! New Raps, Toasts, Dozens, Jokes, and Children's Rhymes From Urban Black America. Temple Univ. Press, 2003)

I'd love to learn more about the differences between these verbal insult customs.

This YouTube vlog
features several Nigerian men and women sharing the insults that they remember from their childhood. At 042-.052 four people mention insults directed at the other person's father. One man says "anthing toward the father". The implication is that there are a lot of insults that mention father. This comment confirms that statement:
"Lol.. yeah, most, if not all, our insults have something to do with thunder or dog or your father.
-nwaezebuona, 2010
That certainly is different from the dozens as I think very few of those insults mention "father" (or thunder or dogs, for that matter.)

Another commenter who posted to that video's viewer comment thread indicated that those insults taught resilency.

"Waka! Your Father dia !!!

Naija dey bam my people.It gave us our unique resilence.People always ask me in America why i never get angry or offended when people snap me a middle finger or say F.. you. I said because i have recieved more bam curses in Naija that are personal.The American curse words are not truly curses but expression of indecent vulgarities.
-inanna2007, 2012
Could that have been one of the reasons why this Nigerian insult custom was/is apparentally so prevalent?

The best online information that I've found to date about the dozens is

This completes Part I of this series.

Thanks to all those whose comments are reposted on this page.

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Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Here's an exerpt from a comment on a discussion thread that I started in 2009 about Yo Mama insult songs & rhymes:

    "...mothers are usually very highly regarded in African American cultures (I use a plural because there are multiple types of African American cultures)... I think that's partly what's "at play" with mother insults in the African American verbal "game" of the dozens. {If you want to test someone's self-control, strike where they are most sensitive and see whether they loose their cool or are still able to be quick witted).

    With regard to the mother/granny insults in children's handclap rhymes, I think it's rare that children would get angry as a result of hearing these examples. While I categorize the examples shared on this thread as taunting rhymes, they aren't usually used to taunt but to accompany the performance of (usually) girls (about 5-12 years old) percussive handclap routines. That said, some rhymes like these are chanted by athletic sports cheerleaders to taunt the other team and their cheerleaders & fans. But, I think, even then the beat and the accompanying rhythmical, percussive movements are more important than the words."