Fagunwa: Town and gown meet to elevate Yoruba culture, history

The issue of culture and history took the centre stage at the formal presentation of Daniel O. Fagunwa’s book, Aspects of African and World Literary History, held at the Conference Centre of University of Ibadan. Edited by Professors Adeleke Adeeko and Akin Adesokan, the book is a collection of scholarly essays and some of the papers delivered at the Akure conference, convened in 2013 to commemorate 50 years of Fagunwa’s death.

Chair of the occasion, Professor Ropo Sekoni, who stood in for Chief Ade Ojo, took excerpts from Femi Osofisan and Jacob Kehinde Olupona’s papers, as well as an extract from a paper on the Arts Council of England, where he said: “In an increasing number of homes, particularly among the intellectual and mercantile middle class, everything about our own culture is being deliberately suppressed nowadays, blacked out systematically from the children’s consciousness, including the ability to communicate in our mother tongues. Unfortunately, our governments in Nigeria have habitually, for reasons largely deriving from our colonial history, shown little interest in the area of cultural education. So, it has always been left to private organisations and individuals, especially in the artistic world, to keep raising the danger signals in this area, and to initiate programmes to salvage things.”

From Olupona, he noted: “His (Fagunwa) home place (Oke-Igbo), which I referred to earlier, definitely deserves to be given a new face-lift, so that it will be preserved for generations yet unborn to recognise how much Fagunwa’s novels did in giving us a literature that can be called classic in every sense of the term.” Also from the British Government, he cited policy statement such as: “We support the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Between 2015 and 2018, we will invest 1.1 billion pounds of public money from government and 700 million pounds from the National Lottery to help create arts and culture experiences for everyone, everywhere.”

According to Sekoni, the first two quotes from Osofisan and Olupona describe Nigeria’s local problems, while the third, a mission statement of the Arts Council of England, is the solution many countries are adopting to safeguard the crafts their talented citizens have provided to enrich humanity and their countries.

Stressing that government is not doing enough to arrest the alienation of citizens from arts and culture, Sekoni, said: “Let us accept that the money invested in this project (Fagunwa’s book) is part of the home remittances from the Diaspora and be grateful that the Yoruba is lucky to have at this time a responsive Diaspora. But no country can depend eternally on home remittances to drive its cultural production. If these men and women had been born in our region during the locust years since the 1980s, it is possible that they would not have been able to speak and read Yoruba and, consequently, would not have known the significance of Fagunwa to the world.

“Governments, particularly in the Yoruba region, need to get their acts together to arrest the alienation of citizens from art and culture.”

The don urged states and local governments to support the promotion of arts and culture and also to make it part of the school curriculum from primary school to tertiary institutions.

He called on Southwest governors to invest in culture, as engine of development, and urged the six states in the Southwest region to set up policies on art and culture promotion, for local governments to create funds for supporting cultural activities and be supported by the state, for states to create conducive learning environment for the child between age five and 11/12; with instructions in Yoruba and for the provision of public libraries and museums; among others.

“We may not have the resources of England, but if we do not start now, we might not be able to build.”

Organised by Fagunwa Study Group (FSG), in conjunction with Bookcraft, a publishing firm, the event titled, ‘Celebrating D.O. Fagunwa: Aspects of African and World Literary History,’ also saw Tejumola Olaniyan, who represented the Chair of the group, Prof. Femi Taiwo, stating that FSG is a collection of scholars and professionals, who have abiding interest in the works of Fagunwa. He stated that the group aspires to offer a platform for the expansion of the study, creation and dissemination of knowledge about Yorùbá civilization at the highest intellectual level.

According to him, “Some years back, we noticed the absence of much recent original scholarship on the writings of Fagunwa. So, we decided to do something about it. Our initial plan was for a special issue of a journal, but that transformed into a trail-blazing and hugely successful conference in Akure in August 2013. The book we are presenting today is the result of that conference. The FSG’s agenda is to make Fagunwa the springboard for scholarly explorations in Yoruba literature, religion, philosophy, culture, and politics. We will, in the near future, be asking members of the public to be part of the exciting programmes –– conferences, workshops, public lectures and book presentations on many aspects of Yorùbá intellectual heritage and its global reach. Let us together create a thriving, lively and stimulating tradition of Fagunwa scholarship.”

Describing the work as a marvelous testimony of D.O. Fagunwa, Soyinka, who wrote the foreword to it, insisted that he was and is still fascinated by the earlier mystery surrounding the death of Fagunwa. Admitting to the continued allure of the more mythical version involving Fagunwa’s mysterious disappearance in the Wuya River, the Nobel laureate said: “There’s something about fantasy that makes it safe to indulge in. It’s not reality; it is fantasy. So, you don’t have to worry about keeping to it. It was as if one of his (Fagunwa’s) own creations had emerged to lead him to the world (beyond). I simply prefer my own version, which many could relate with.”

Fagunwa’s widow, Chief (Mrs.) Elizabeth Fagunwa, however, made frantic efforts to correct the erroneous stories surrounding her husband’s demise, saying: “Fagunwa was a human being; he was not a spirit. I married a man, not a spirit. Against the notion that Fagunwa’s body was not found, I want to tell you that his body was found and brought to Ibadan and was buried at the St. Luke Anglican Church cemetery on December 10, 1963.”

Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, represented by his Special Adviser, Research and Documentation, Kunle Adebayo, described Fagunwa’s birthplace as the last vestige of cultural afforestation and promised to support FSG.

“Fagunwa’s books are metaphors for the cataclysm suffered by our nation and the context of its possible remediation,” Adebayo said. “The pastoral Fagunwa represents the originality, discretion and cultural conservatism of Ondo State people, while the narrative artistry and metaphysical settings of his works are imageries conjured from the very heart of the physical expression of Fagunwa’s Oke Igbo in our Ondo State. Just as Idanre, that corrugated hill of nature’s mystery, which has inspired many creative evocations, so has Igbo Olodumare, a real and physically existing community settlement in Fagunwa’s town, evoked a title for one of his greatest works.”

While speaking on the need to preserve and promote our culture, the former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, said: “Culture is the very essence of the being of the people. We cannot talk about development outside our cultural milieu and if you look at those country that have developed rapidly in the last 30 years, you would see the place of culture in their socio-economic life. Look at Asia, China, Japan and others; they have infused their culture into the economic and political life of their people.

“This is a major part of our history and Nigeria, as a nation, should learn from this. When we were reading the text in our primary school days, we were more fascinated by the rare spirits, but actually, Professor Wole Soyinka did us a favour by translating one of the texts to English language and we got to understand the very essence of Fagunwa’s message, which is about perseverance, altruism, being able to make sacrifice for the common good of the society, everything about nation building. Fagunwa was undauntedly an uncommon genius.”

Ondo State Cultural Troupe thrilled guests with cultural dances, while Iwalewa Olorunyomi of the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, read excerpts from one of Fagunwa’s novels in Yoruba.

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