THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH MOLEFI ASANTE, PART 3
Do please allow me to reveal Professor Asante’s mind in its full complexity! At this stage of his career, it has become irrelevant whether you agree with him or not!! Many historians construct a people’s past intending to understand the peculiarity of the worldview that shapes their identity in the way it appears. This is hinged on the understanding that the people’s history provides the materials for living their world and knowing why they choose a line of philosophy with which they have been identified from time. Historians push such frontiers because they believe it would be difficult to understand why they have continued in a direction that they are known for without understanding a people’s historical foundation. There is, therefore, an assumption within the historical scholarship that when a people are disconnected from their history, they stand the possibility of losing their identity and eventually their respect in the community of people because not only would they have been dispossessed of their spiritual and moral principles, they would also have embraced a different historical material that contests the originality of theirs, and eventually, subsumes their identity in the end. Curiously, Africa has become one of the continents in the world whose history is either deliberately or maybe systematically taken away from them for reasons that are not unconnected to the attempt by the orchestrators to keep them suppressed.
Meanwhile, the African intellectual geography identified these problems from its incubating period. They immediately recognize that the most potent way to challenge such destructive moves by their identity predators is to embrace their cultural traditions unapologetically. Asante is among these intelligent minds whose advocacy for indigenous Africa epistemic revival has reached the rooftop in recent academic engagements. Throughout the 20th century, this critical mind has continuously served as a front-liner in Africa’s activism of historical and cultural regeneration. Despite the impressive contributions that he has made in this case, his light of intellectualism did not go down in the 21st century either because he has championed the course of African mental freedom through the historical reconstruction of the African past. His intimidating stature in academic history cannot be overemphasized. So, when I asked him in one of the recent Toyin Falola Interview Series about what he considered as his intellectual legacy, I was not trying to claim ignorance of his wide-ranging intellectual potential; I was only interested in him restating it for revalidation before the international audience in the virtual meeting. Laden in that question is the attempt to excavate the ideology that can be used to understand the African past.
From the introductory expressions of this timeless sage, you can tell that the knowledge of the African past blossoms in his entire career and life. In the habit of paying homage, he began with acknowledging African ancestors, recognizing their efforts that have brought about the excellence he and other scholars of his network represent. Beyond the honour that he accorded to his ancestors is the epistemic exposition that Africans believe in the successive knowledge production where a generation makes efforts to preserve the wisdom and understanding of the ancient people and, under the same energy, transfer the inherited legacies to the generations that would succeed them. Considered superficially, one could think that such perception reveals an occultic hallucination about their traditional sources. Still, when considered deeply, one would see that such a mindset developed from the awareness of every individual’s uniqueness in making knowledge and transforming it into something valuable and eventful for society. In other words, everyone in the pre-colonial African society is a potential knowledge curator, and they are known to spread this knowledge at every given opportunity. So, the intellectual legacy of Asante is something linkable to what the African ancestors have accomplished. It is a continuation of it.
In all of the things this man has rolled out for African future generations, one thing stands out, and that is the project of creating an autobiography of discipline to which he has committed his lifetime attention, resources and energy . Creating such academic discipline is excellent for many reasons, chief of which is its capacity to reorient the African people about their history and recalibrate their minds towards accepting their identity, which has faced centuries of mindlessly callous derogation by the Euro-American imperialists. The argument consolidates the need for such indigenous knowledge production process that African mental and identity dislocation is a product of ceaseless disarticulation of their cultural heritage and spiritual value for at least 500 years. It is an irrefutable confession that a people who experienced such level of psychological re-engineering appearing in the form of the rhetoric of condescension, and some other cases, the strategic disqualification of their thought processes that informed their identity carving, cannot but experience the level of self-hate that exists in areas of Black community across the world, either in Africa or in Black America. Asante believes, and so do every Afrocentric scholar, that the problems facing Africans in contemporary time are socially constructed and can be surmounted by social re-engineering.
It should therefore come as no surprise, Molefi fired, that Africans of the contemporary time have lost their sense of direction. This conclusion is informed by observing their engagement in the current time, which indicates that they are generally consuming ideas from every other race of people but themselves because they do not produce theirs, as their ancestors uniquely did. Africans in modern times indulge in activities of the European practices, drag their African neighbours into it, and sometimes actively get involved in promoting the economic system that such European establishments have created. While they do this with no modicum of awareness, they become the targets of all other people because of the implicit conclusion from African behaviour that they are a people who undermine what their ancestral identity can give them. Meanwhile, all these things happen because Africans have been miseducated about themselves, reoriented about their history, and socially re-engineered to favour everyone but themselves. From all directions, the people have become a stockpile of disrespect and a statue of dishonour. Asante is confident that restoring the lost dignity can be achieved when institutions like the discipline he jointly created with others get the attention of people who think in similar directions.
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that a man who has this lofty ambition about Africa showcases his commitment to such engagement beyond words. This explains why Asante was asked by one of the interviewers about his memoir and some other writings. Asante’s memoir, As I Run Toward Africa, which even from the title shows a thematic focus that seeks to validate the ethereal essence of the African continent and the people. In his response, he conceded that knowing Africa in the totality has been his ambition. There cannot be a contention that it involves a circle of the process that requires dedication, determination, and commitment. It is a process where one would be faced with a body of challenges that would want to douse the spirit of the ones doing this metaphorical running to their ancestral sources. It entails getting fabricated responses that would justify the identity of the Europeans, which has been imposed on the Black people. However, one’s level of discernment would assist in debunking materials aimed towards the deracination of the African identity because not only are there much of this stuff, but they are also capable of making individuals doubt what they were told to be their true history. Imagine a situation where people have a warped sense of an aspect of their culture; they would have internalized these values because they have been fed only with them.
Seeking knowledge is generally an arduous task, but seeking one’s identity in a provocatively hostile world to such redemptive engagement is more challenging. Therefore, it is expected that people would react dramatically to the ideas and philosophies to which the intellectual has dedicated his time and resources. This informs the question that I threw to the professor: how does he respond to the critics of the Afrocentric agenda, especially those who are excessively combative of anything that challenges the supremacy they have created in their minds? The Professor opened another discursive engagement in responding to this question, exposing an exciting debate line. He mentioned that the first waves of criticism directed to Afrocentricity came in the early 1980s after publishing the first work he did on the subject. Coming from a Marxist camp, they questioned the silence of the book on Black’s economic system and status, which, to them, forms a solid foundation for the promotion of racial discrimination and prejudices against them. The readied way by which Asante felt he could absorb this pressure was to reply that he did not mainly produce the work to serve as an expository essay for African economic systems and statuses in the world’s political order. He argued that it was meant to reinterpret the reality of the African world.
Despite its silence about the economic structure and culture as conceived by the Western society, the book does not, Asante explained, fail to express the African notion of economic growth, which he confessed stands on the principle of economic relations with people based on what they can share not necessarily in terms of material possessions. The underlying issue in this economic orientation is that the people are considered participants and not ordinary things in their immediate society’s economic engagement and system. Since it is based on the relationship between people, the total concentration lies in the values of the individual regardless of their material worth, as emphasized by the Western Marxist ideologues. However, criticism from the Marxist School would be the tip of the iceberg, as several others were coming from different angles. One of such angles is from the white conservatives who immediately became engrossed in the fear that Afrocentricity seeks to promote a black nationalist agenda, which they believe would challenge their racial superiority and technically reduce the privileges that come with it in the American society. It cannot be overemphasized that Black nationalism is a factor in American society and a potent instrument of emancipation among the Black community. However, the academic revolutionary Afrocentricity sought to serve was to announce itself as a cultural transformation seeking to find lasting solutions to African problems.
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This discussion leads us to another exciting dimension of intellectual exchange that fueled the topic of Afrocentrism. In his interest in African history and culture, Asante has written many books on Africa, and it is logical to ask him of his motivation to do this. When asked, he once again held the audience spellbound with his very educative insights. Asante provides a rough-hewn view about the reasons for the continued undervaluation of the African people. He stated that the discovery struck him that several books which were written about Africans were authored by non-black educators and intellectuals, which confirms the assumption that there is a systematic effort for the marginalization, suppression and the oppression of these people or their deliberate underdevelopment through the production of knowledge that undermines the African identity. It is believed that when others author the materials about the African people, some among them will continue with their discriminatory and exploitative agenda. By the time an African is engrossed in such materials, they would have been wrongly designed to stand at variance to their ancestral values. This would inevitably create a self-hatred to their epistemic and spiritual beginning.
To Asante, many books were racist. They make essential efforts for the dislocation of African history because the authors were aware of the immeasurable danger it would mean to white supremacist people if it is discovered that Africa was indeed the economic stronghold of the American and other European societies. In recent years, discoveries have exposed the Western world to complicating the erosion of African worth and values. To the extent that the narrative shared in many of these books have a baseless historical foundation, no replicable archaeological engagement and obviously no reliable evidence to corroborate their wild assertions. Therefore, the awareness of this is enough motivation to embark on a research engagement that would help him make findings of the people he shares genetic (in)formation with. It would help provide an alternative perspective, albeit a revolutionary one, for the people who have hitherto been fed with fallacies that exist only in the imaginative world of the writers. Such writing would elevate and then animate the values of the African people, their cultural traditions, their arts, their knowledge production and even their philosophical history.
To achieve a feat such as this, there is bound to be some resistance level from different angles. Such resistance would have emerged for various reasons. It would be difficult for an American society that has successfully created the impression that the African people had no history or anything worthy of academic exploration to embrace an idea that contradicts this position. They would most likely violently rise against such a campaign because it would challenge the superstructure of the West founded on a foundation that the African people were devoid of past and records to assuage themselves of the character assassination that already follows them around. These are the initial challenges that confronted establishing a metaphysical foundation that will help promote African history in any respect. In essence, the recognition of the African historical scholarship and discipline in the American society is creditable to the ceaseless and endless demands by the African-American student populace who remained intransigent about their determination to include African history into their curriculum. Irrespective of contentions and controversies that this struck, their commitment to this ambition helped facilitate Africology and Black Studies to date.
In all of these, members of the African diaspora are usually confronted with the dilemma of tracing their cultural traditions and ancestral sources to a particular ethnic group and challenging the extremely racial American environment where they found themselves. Because of this identity plight, it is of essence that we know the contribution that genetic tracing could make in the enhancement of the search for a lost past. When asked about the possibility of disconnection between an African in the diaspora, especially those who have survived hundreds of years of oppression, marginalization and suppression, Asante answered that it should not generate the heat attributed to it in the recent years. He mentioned that although the people who are descendants of enslaved Africans are usually caught in the web of an identity crisis, they are stuck in the frenzy of finding their genetic beginning. However, people in this category should be informed that their shared experience in the diaspora has been the very foundation for the uniqueness of their Black identity.
Meanwhile, when ideas are set in motion, they continue to generate conversations that lurk themselves around matters of relatable values. Therefore, while the quest for Afrocentricity came to the zenith, there erupted the idea of decolonization. It is essential to understand how the scholars of Afrocentricity relate to this intellectual experience, hence the question posed by me to the versatile professor. It appears that there is a fundamental dissimilarity that exists between the two concepts, that is, Afrocentricity and Decoloniality, even when there are areas of convergence. Asante maintained that while both seek to achieve similar aims and objectives, they differ in their approach to getting the job done. According to him, the term decolonization has a way of placing Europe at the centre of African history, making the issues concerning their past, values, culture and political ideas revolve around European politics of imperialism. Sadly, this creates some challenges for the identity of Africans because it shows them as though their history began with the European penetration of their continent. Such strict concentration limits and then hinders their prospects of discovering their true identity.
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The problem is multifaceted on many grounds. Even when you, for example, decolonize successfully, there is an aftermath discovery that the individual still battles with the vestiges of colonization either symbolically or ideologically. For instance, a decolonized African person can demonstrate their zeal for the colonial system even unconsciously; that is why they are in most cases bound to repeat the activities of their colonial masters in different but somehow complementary ways. Looking at the beautiful fabric of the Afrocentric agenda, it is apparent that they are out to achieve more than the mere destruction of the European civilization and or history which was imposed by the colonial experience. They are on the campaign to challenge the systematic racism that undermined African knowledge production and cultural beauty because their forebears were enslaved. In other words, they seek to advance the question of domination and subjugation and rejuvenate the African identity by questioning the structure that silences their identity. To them, Africa is the center of their protest, and the ambition was that it must be brought back to its deserved position in the scheme of things. Therefore, as Asante implies, when the decolonial scholars complete their expeditions, they would still need to be Afrocentric to replace the destroyed civilizations by Europe that have undermined and undervalued them for long.
(This is the first report on the interview with Professor Molefi Asante on September 19, 2021. For the transcript, see YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNMT3q-Psqc
and on Facebook. https://fb.watch/87kf9tlYA5/)
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Femi Osofisan’s Cordelia: A Short Fiction Of Fused Literary Genres
A Conversation With Tunde Kelani On Cordelia ( Part 1)
On November 5th, 2021, at 8 pm, Tunde Kelani will premiere his latest movie. This is a rare world premiere to be integrated with a live symphony by the University of Delaware. Global personalities, such as Wole Soyinka and Olusegun Obasanjo, are expected to attend (https://events.udel.edu/event/cultrual_fusion_initiative_world_premiere_cordelia). It has been my pleasure to discuss with TK or TKO, as he is fondly called, about the various aspects of the production, including the challenges.
In this three-part essay, I start with the story on which the movie is based, Cordelia, a short story written by Femi Osofisan, a master of literary genres. Declaring Osofisan a master of literary genres is not particularly news because anyone familiar with Osofisan’s writing antecedent and who has read Cordelia is sure to exclaim, “Femi Osofisan is truly the master of literary genres!” And in so claiming, they would not be wrong. Cordelia is a short fiction of fewer than 70 pages, yet, Osofisan proves his talent and mastery through the scintillating and vivid pages of the book. He takes to a first-person narrative technique that would make readers almost conclude at the start of the book that it is the life story of someone known, or close, to the author. Also, anyone who has been to the University of Ibadan would relate to the vivid and robust imageries that Osofisan painted throughout the book, right from the first page.
To many ardent followers and readers of Osofisan’s works, the literary icon is a dramatist. That would not be a wrong way to describe him, as he has written several successful plays, from Women of Owu to Morountodun, No More the Wasted Breed, Another Raft, Tegonni, amidst others. There is no doubt that drama is at the heart of his literary fame, awards, and critiques. For one, he has carved a niche for himself as an adapter of plays to suit the African setting and through the furtherance of plays from fellow African literary icons. Femi Osofisan, known as Okinba Launko in the poetic quarters, enjoys prominence with poetry too. Okinba Launko is a household name for captivating, Africa-themed, and strongly conceptual poems, and only those who do not know literature would make light of the name. His poetry books include Dream Seeker on Divining Chain and Minted Coins. While his forte may not be in novels and prose, Osofisan has proven his mastery and why he towers among the highest in the ranking of African literary icons.
Cordelia is a short fiction written under the Okinba Launko pseudonym. In this book, Osofisan deploys the three genres of literature to give readers a wholesome read of the renowned Osofisan. There are many aspects of discourse in Cordelia. The first noticeable one is the symbolic use of trees, which the reader comes in contact with from the first paragraph, and they do not cease to surface till the very end. From the outset, Osofisan draws a striking contrast between the trees and humans, telling of the complexity of human life and the desirability and continual search for simplicity. Osofisan deploys personification in the description of the trees, and through this, he draws a contrast between the narrator and the trees. We immediately see the observant nature of the narrator, whose name we will never find out–one more reason that may reinforce readers’ suspicion that the story is a biography. The use of poetic devices is also quickly brought to the fore in the first paragraph, as the narrator draws a comparison between the trees’ state that morning and angry and protesting students.
Readers are soon introduced to the narrator’s marital problems. This is not intentionally done to tell them of the narrator’s woes, but as a topic without conscious thoughts. It reminds us of how the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart and how difficult it is to have challenges or troubles on one’s mind and not speak about them, intentionally or not. Osofisan’s narrative technique gives readers insights into the narrator’s thoughts and thought patterns. First, we know that the hidden figure is someone keen on nature. Then, one can tell from the outset that the main character cannot talk and argue for long. Picture a man who would rather nurse negative perceptions of their spouse, brood on such perceptions, and appreciate trees rather than confront their marital problems.
The personality of the narrator is further revealed in the succeeding paragraphs. Indeed, he is not the aggressive type. He confesses that when things get tense and are on the verge of getting out of hand, he would “grab his bag finally and flee from the house without his breakfast.” Osofisan further appeals to the imagination of readers through descriptive imagery, thereby creating a clear picture of the narrator’s encounter every time he arrives at the faculty. Yet another contrast is drawn as the narrator reveals that the habitual calmness that the trees bring him every morning is missing on the day when readers have their encounter with him. One remarkable thing that we must draw attention to is how the author infuses the past into the present in Cordelia. It is almost impossible for the reader to discern one from the other until the narrator discloses it. The opening paragraphs of the book are written in such a way that one would not be able to tell that they are not fully set in the present–that while the narrator tells us about his arrival at the faculty, his opening thoughts on the trees and the calmness they bring him are no more than reminiscences.
Soon after, readers know the cause of the absence of the calmness nature brings to our narrator. And that is his marital woes with Remi, his wife. The narrator’s mind is preoccupied, suggesting that his marital woes are worse than they used to be. His inability to concentrate on teaching his class further confirms this suspicion. His mind is preoccupied, so much so that even though he is taking one of his favorite classes, he has problems concentrating. The narrator is not himself in the classroom, which leads him to abruptly end the class and return to his office for some brooding and me-time.
During his me-time, we meet the trees yet again. They are shaking off the dust this time as the narrator also attempts to shake off the dust that clouded his mind. At this point, the reader meets Stella and Cordelia, two friends who are the narrator’s students. One is a known student, and the other is a new student. Through well-structured dialogues that hint more at their personalities, we get to know about the two women. Also, Stella confirms readers’ suspicion that the narrator’s preoccupying thoughts of his marital woes must have severely impacted his ability to successfully handle his class that morning.
The students’ presence and worry-free chats with the narrator do some good for him, as he slightly loosens up, while doing his best to avoid any casual familiarity. As the students leave, we meet the trees once again. The multi-layered functions of the trees in Cordelia become apparent as one progresses in the reading of the book, or one would notice it during a second reading. They serve as pointers to what is to come, similar to the book’s silent narrator.
Osofisan is famous for the use of narrators. One that readily comes to mind is the narrator in Women of Owu, who reveals situations to readers, sometimes before they occur in the play’s setting. Although the narrator now feels lighter, he treads cautiously, as the mood and mien of the trees pass an ominous message. As if on cue, the announcement of a coup, masterminded by Cordelia’s father, comes over the radio. And so starts an unplanned and unprepared-for adventure. Soon, students start their demonstration.
There is yet another lesson for contemporary student unionists. Activism was bred and thrived on Nigerian campuses in the past. Students spearheaded protests and shows of dissatisfaction. They were fearless and bold in their actions. In contemporary Nigeria, the situation is starkly different. The focus of student unionism has shifted to being a money-making means, liaison with mainstream politicians, and a means for students to launch their political careers. As the narrator broods on the consequences of the new coup in the nation, and as students’ voices rise in the demonstration, his wife, Remi, appears and demands to use his car. As he tells her of the danger and tries to dissuade her from driving during a demonstration, Stella enters and confirms the narrator’s fears: Cordelia’s life is in danger.
In real-time, Osofisan takes us through the bravery and chivalry of the narrator: How he goes against the will of his wife to help save Cordelia’s life. He does not hesitate to lock his wife in his office just to save Cordelia. We see how he subjects himself to conditions beneath a distinguished member of the faculty in a bid to save the young girl’s life. We see how he braves confrontation, time and time again, from dissatisfied and angered students. There is also the case of the breaking into his car and how he was injured. One of the most decisive consequences of his decision to help Cordelia is the total disruption of the order in his office. His wife rips apart his precious books and tears up his research documents. This leaves the narrator in an abject mood, further compounded by the military invasion he meets at home.
His inexperience with the military leads him to make the grave mistake of handing over Cordelia to Kawale, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He realizes his mistake at the arrival of Colonel Nwanze-Peters’ troops. He is whisked away and tortured till the colonel finally frees him. The situation becomes more precise, and the narrator discovers that the coup was masterminded by Kawale, using Nwanze-Peters’ name and voice, and that the coup was foiled. The narrator embarks on the brave mission of delivering a letter to the Kawale camp. On this mission, he gets his first lesson on the need to double-check when dealing with the military. His second lesson with the military is learned when Colonel Nwanze-Peters does not fulfill his promises in his letter to Kawale.
Anyone who has read any of Osofisan’s poetry books will attest to his ability to captivate readers’ attention using poetic devices–imagery, metaphor, alliteration, and narration being chief of them, all of which he employs in Cordelia. Many things are striking about the nature, setting, and composition of the book, but the most striking of them all is how the author holds the reader’s breath from start to finish, using poetic devices to his advantage. In writing Cordelia, Osofisan donned his garment of Okinba, the poetic narrator, and I am convinced that the decision to use the pseudonym Okinba Launko as the author’s name is an intentional and message-laden move.
Cordelia is thematically rich and attention-grabbing, a sustaining short story that TK has successfully converted to a good movie. More so, Osofisan wrote it in a way that makes the book evergreen–like the trees that sit at the faculty quadrangle. And, wonderfully, Tunde Kelani and his production team have a movie on the book. Did TK follow the script? I will answer this question in the second part.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Alaafin Of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III: On History, His Kingdom, And The Yoruba
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH OBA LAMIDI ADEYEMI III, PART 2
History is innocent to the extent that the individuals handing it down are not motivated by a level of inducement that can trigger fictional addition to the content of events. History is a candid guide that leads humans to suitable backgrounds where the sources of what humans do are revealed with disinterested views. However, the innocence of history as a source linking people to their past experiences is gravely challenged the moment the individual handing it down is induced by material things, has an ulterior motive, or is compelled to do so under duress. In these highlighted situations, the historian can be so dangerous to follow because not only would they mislead their audience exceedingly, but they would also cash in on the innocence of their listeners who would go on with wrong narratives and wrong impressions, to God-knows-when time. This is why those in the discipline of history value historiography as they do history itself. Historiography is essentially a responsible academic engagement simply because it situates a historical experience within the context of the motivation of the historian. Suppose the historian is found to have a sinister motive for their history rendition; they will produce a revisionist history that may result in difficulty between one individual and the other, one community and the other, one civilization and the other, and one race and the other.
One of the most controversial items of history is the history between the Yoruba and Benin, with overzealous historians across the two sides making frantic efforts to reprogram the past events for their parochial intentions. Beyond these revisionists’ intentions, many people usually challenge the credibility of what historians say or imply by their narratives. Here is a version of the Oyo tradition. The Oyo people are historically believed to have come from Oranmiyan, their progenitor who sojourned from Ile-Ife to conquer the surrounding areas in an attempt to expand areas under their political control. After he left Ile-Ife, he got to Benin, then a fledging civilization, where his incredible warrior capabilities enthralled the locals around to the level that he governed for a while. He would later offer his son to serve as the king because he was not done with his exploratory expedition. His son, with the assistance of locals, built the Benin civilization. Oranmiyan had also established a similar suzerainty in Oyo.
In what would perhaps serve as a compass to our correspondence with the Alaafin of Oyo, who is a direct descendant of Oranmiyan from the beginning to the current time, our first distinguished interviewer, Professor Jide Osuntokun, sought to understand the connection between Oyo and Benin because such enlightenment would expose the audience to otherwise hidden knowledge about the past already shrouded in secrecy. Beyond knowing, though, Professor Osuntokun asked how the Alaafin has used the throne to forge a lasting and Pan-Nigerian relationship with the kings of the civilizations Oyo has historically linked.
It is essential to repeat that the association of the Alaafin’s ancestral fathers with the Benin people is similar to what he had with the Nupe or the Borgu people. Due to this fact of history and as actors in the evolution of civilization, we know how different and competing groups were managed to bring peace, a lasting economic relationship, and a political alliance so that issues that are capable of threatening humanity would be jointly addressed. After all, humans are connected in multiple ways for a variety of reasons. To underpin the argument that the Benin Empire or kingdom had a tremendous historical association with the Yoruba people as their progenitor, Oranmiyan, the current Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, said that the Benin political engagement and palace affairs were run in the Yoruba language until 1922, a time when the colonial imperialists already established themselves in Nigeria. The exposition of this reality gives a general overview of how the relationship was nurtured and honored by the parties involved. In fact, relating with the story or question about how they forge relationships with one another for regional peace and economic growth of the civilizations involved, it cannot be contested that the adoption of Yoruba language in the palace of Benin until 1922 was an indication that they shared ancestral history.
In the intention to establish a strong connection among the kings because they were the representatives of the people and their cultural systems, the colonial government organized a conference in 1937, with the selection of kings in their hierarchical order. Meanwhile, the institution of kingship in the pre-colonial nations was not only culturally regulated, but it was also sacred. There were not as many kings as we now do. This brought a level of sanity to the system, and the honor attached to kingship was great. Kings did not commonly leave their palace, except there was an occasion mandating them to do so against what is obtainable in modern times. For this reason, the kings earned the respect of their people.
A few decades after the departure of the British, many kings were made by the politicians. The Alaafin was asked if there are efforts to address the issue of proliferation of kingship. His Imperial Majesty confirmed his awareness of the issue, but he is also not oblivious to the political situations that brought these kings to power. He conceded that because partisan politics infiltrated the institution of kingship, it upturned the traditions for the interest of self-serving political representatives.
The primary beneficiaries of such a scheme are the individuals who have political influence. They ensure that their political allies are used to acquire power, support, influence, and money to seek an Obaship position. In essence, the very cultural toga or cultural traditions that brought about the evolution of kingship became abused. It radically changed the institution’s prestige and allowed the people who have no interest in traditional leadership to ascend the sacred seat. This would eventually lead to the careless desecration of the Yoruba civilization because the individuals at the echelon of their traditional institutions are ignorant of its tradition and do not know how kingship is operated for the benefit of the people.
A problem that characterized the kingship institution in Yorubaland is that of succession. It has generated much heat and conflict because individuals want to associate themselves with power and the pecks that come with it. Regulations are put in place to ensure succession. This includes the selection of Oba, for example, because the ascension of kings on a throne requires orderliness, without which the society could degenerate into potential chaos. Post-colonial disorder created challenges, destroying their indigenous systems and principles followed in selecting kings.
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In responding to the question as to how this became the practice, despite the various challenges that come in the wake, Oba Adeyemi responded that two families belong to the royal lineage of Atiba in Oyo. These are the Agunloye family and the Adeyemi family. Meanwhile, they still preserve this system of succession. The present occupant of the throne is from the Adeyemi family, and the tranquility and serenity that happens in the palace today can be attributed to this. Thus, they have continued to observe the system of succession because it helps to reinforce the fact of history that shows where they are coming from. This was a consensus that the royal lineage and distinguished dignitaries understood that the expanding world deserves new philosophical structures that would assist the people in managing their activities so that they would not become anarchic and imposing in governance. It is thus evident that the structural adjustment has come with a positive impact, as can be seen in the life of the Oyo people.
It is etched in history that the democratic culture of the Yoruba has survived extraordinary circumstances. In its long history, the political seat of Oyo moved across different neighboring city-states from where the Alaafin conducted the affairs of the dynasty or empire. This creates an impression that the political validity of Oyo headship and the dynasty was not particularly associated with or tied to specific geographical locations, which meant that the Alaafin was considered the leader of the people irrespective of where he led from because the authority was reposed in him. This allowed for a flexible central government as it could be rotated or taken to geographical places without triggering infractions.
Undoubtedly, the survival of a political structure is founded on a robust political understanding that the people built to preserve their legacies, protect their identity, and promote their collective agenda. The Alaafin was asked to explain the reason for this. He was direct with his response. He argued that the practice was built on the understanding that there can only be one palace. Wherever the Alaafin was, that was the political seat from where he was expected to administer the political affairs of the empire. The mutual understanding that his seat of power was important gave it its relevance.
Elements were carried over to the colonial period. Rather than antagonize the system, the British did exceptionally well to preserve it, although with timely modifications meant to encourage the effective management of the colonial system. The system was validated because it showed the British an existing political structure that catered to the differences in interests and aspirations. Oyo had functioned at different times in history as the arrowhead of the Yoruba nation.
Also, the changes that the British encouraged could submerge the indigenous knowledge and civilization of the people, especially when they do not make efforts to integrate themselves with the dictates of the current time. In responding to questions by Professor Nike Akinjobi and Akin Alao, the king talked admirably of the tremendous transformation he ushered in the last fifty years. There have been structural changes and improvements that align with the contemporary world under him. The most important one he mentioned is his commitment to education to consolidate the existing structure that his forebears laid down. When the colonial imperialist introduced Western education, it required the foresighted ones to immediately explore the potential advantages it came with. Of course, education during the old days was non-formal; however, this does not reduce its values and importance to the development of the race. The non-formal status of education developed people’s skill set, which they used to develop themselves and society.
Understandably, the Alaafin of Oyo is aware of the importance of education in modern Nigeria. Thus, he is a powerful agency of that integration. Under his leadership, numerous academic institutions have been established that are making maximum contributions to the advancement of the people. One thing that cannot be undermined in the developmental trajectory of the people is the influence of identity in their engagements, ranging from cultural views, customary regulations, tolerance, their collective understanding of life, among others. This is because the people are forced to come to a social environment where multiculturalism remains the new basis of existence. Still, they are also conditioned to consider views of state powers as the central values around which they could judge theirs.
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Oba Adeyemi’s multiculturalism is grounded. He studied in a Catholic school, despite being raised as a Muslim. Therefore, his religious background suggests that the ideas he would be introduced to would contradict the ones he was familiar with. In essence, it is essential to ask if his exposure to Christian values through the Catholic school or his relationship with Islam through his family identity influenced the ways he views people of opposite religions or on his reactions to them. This question is appropriate on many grounds. One is that the king presides over the affairs of the people of different religious orientations and affiliations. Also, he would have to demonstrate a good level of tolerance to all. The king, however, attributed his tolerance and accommodation of alternative perspectives to the robust formative experiences he had as a child and then as an adult.
At the beginning of his life’s journey, the Alaafin attended a Christian school under the royal education establishment of the Alake of Egbaland. It was here they introduced him to the philosophical focus and the epistemic world of Christianity. He became versatile and grew in wisdom. Subsequently, he continued his education under a Muslim school where he was once again introduced to the tenet of Islam, with which he came to identify. All these experiences introduced him to the world of different cultures and views, and by that arrangement, he was learning about several things. By virtue of his traditional position, too, he would later become vast again in the affairs of his forebears that combine tradition with religion. As a result of all these experiences, the Alaafin has no reason to discriminate against any religious practice. Apart from being introduced to many of them as a child, he also has to govern people with different religious orientations.
Oba Adeyemi III is part of the order of the royal lineage in Oyo that straddles between two ideologically different eras–the primordial lineage and the current modern state. To strike a balance between these two worlds requires tact, quality intellection, solid ideological foundations, and the moral authority to execute one’s ideas. The King successfully displayed all these qualities and experiences of governance.
The above is the interview report with the Alaafin of Oyo, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, on October 24, 2021. For the transcripts, see: Facebook: https://fb.watch/8RtsH8UVn8/ and YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=S-MEj8qr0ls
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Musa Adedayo And Alaroye: The Future Of Yoruba Language
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH ALAO ADEDAYO, PART 2
Different cultural traditions are threatened as stronger states of the world compete for supremacy. The struggle caused each civilization to exert influence in all ways possible to remain substantially important to the world’s affairs. This agenda brought the aggressive expansionist ambition that led to the colonization of technologically weaker places and economically shaky states to succumb to the pressure of globalization, which mops the influence of vulnerable people. Generally, certain things make a culture vulnerable: their epistemic understanding and ontological foundations, both of which serve as the structure on which every human civilization is built.
However, as much as they are cardinal to a people’s development, their significance can only be expressed through the agency of their language, for example, since their language would be used to drive their cultural traditions and legacies and make them a viable contestant in the society of civilizations. Meanwhile, every human society has language, for they naturally conduct their spiritual and cultural businesses in a particular language. Sadly, however, not all these civilizations with a language have attained a level of intellectual progress where they can reduce their language into signs and codes that can be read and understood even by non-members of their culture. In essence, many people that did not have written language found it hard to withstand the pressure mounted by those who came as predators.
As a result, massive declination of cultural power surged, and different cultures became very helpless, leading to the immediate extermination of some, the mindless struggling of others, and the perpetual disappearance of others. However, the foresighted ones among the West African nation-states in the nineteenth century, for example, Bishop Ajayi Crowther, who saw the possibility of devaluing cultures without written languages, dedicated his intellectual services to the codification of some Nigerian languages, particularly Yoruba and Igbo. Naturally, such generational achievement is meant to be masked if there is no commitment to enhancing its sustenance by others through different means. Meanwhile, the most potent way to preserve these cultures would have been to mandate its younger speakers to use it as their language of communication and instruction, especially in academic studies or research engagement. But this was far from forthcoming because the colonial system was not ready to allow any competition that such development would bring.
Understanding the potential consequences necessitated the promotion of the English language, as in the case of Nigeria, so that others may bow out. Luckily though, this would not happen because other important individuals became more creative with the situation and devised the appropriate ways by which they could stop the imperial agenda in its track of universalization. This is where the founder of Alaroye, Alao Adedayo, comes in. He understood that the newspaper industry in the country was already culturally predatory as many of them, if not all as at the time of Alaroye newspaper’s emergence, were already conducting their communication business in English. This ultimately reduced the participation of people in collective debates because not only were many of them unsuited for the communication of their thoughts in English, but they were also not appropriately and intellectually empowered to do so. This means they were shut out from important nationalist debates.
Many of them naturally wanted to be involved in national politics, but because they were being sidelined systematically, they either kept their ideas in perpetual suppression or expressed their frustrations in other ways possible. Alao Adedayo disclosed that the motive behind the establishment of the Alaroye is to ensure that the preservation of the Yoruba culture and customs can be achieved. He said, among other things, that the colonized people, having suffered from the bitter experience of their political system, also risked the challenge of losing their cultural traditions and identity because they did not have anything concrete that could preserve their culture for them. But since the Yoruba language is already codified, it makes sense that they created an avenue for its preservation; hence the creation of the Alaroye newspaper.
For the record, Henry Townsend began the pioneering campaign for the proliferation of the newspaper industry in Nigeria, in 1859, with Ara Egba and Yoruba series, but this did not attract something of magnitude compared to what we have in the contemporary time, and the reason was apparent. Essentially, it was a foreseeable challenge for the founder of Alaroye when he introduced the idea in 1985 and was overwhelmed by negative comments meant to distract him. He ultimately knew that the price needed to be paid to establish his dream was to remain insistent, for the environment would not accommodate his ambition without putting up resistance. But the content of his character propelled his determination, and this deserves our examination here. Adedayo talked about how his association with great Yoruba icons motivated his indigenous journalism engagement. He revealed that the constant exchanges of ideas and the extensive learning he gained from observing their activities showed him the beauty of the Yoruba language and its potential if given the right opportunity or platforms. He became immediately determined to ensure that he was focused on the actualization of his dream.
Yoruba language is rich in substance, great in values, and has numerous advantages if allowed to expand. As adults, our association could define who we are and the directions that we would take in life; however, our formative education and exposure significantly impact the trajectory that we would follow in life. Our interviewee emphasizes this when he reflects on his childhood development shaped by the conscious efforts of his parents. He mentioned how his father’s purchase of D. O. Fagunwa’s works helped build his intellectual capacity, as he was introduced to the epistemic perception of the Yoruba people through the books. He got to understand the people’s sociological structure and the philosophy they use in the development of society. He accessed the spiritual world of the Yoruba people, knowing how they conceive the metaphysical world and how they have created several ideological mappings from this thought system. He reckoned that the people are culturally outstanding and marvelous in their ontological engagement, but they will not understand the gravity of this cultural heritage unless they have access to it in all ways made available to them. This is one of the reasons he believed that the creation of the Alaroye was timely and important for advancing the Yoruba cultural identity and preserving their legacies. In short, all these factors worked excellently well for him, and his newspaper received a wide readership and was well-loved by the people.
Beyond the accident of history that led Adedayo to journalism and made him steadfast in promoting the Yoruba language, there is something that should interest us in our quest to understand the success of Alaroye. He committed to the preservation of culture, which was the driving force for establishing his forum. Indirectly but intentionally, he educated us about the need for conscious decisions when making efforts for revolutionary action. Of course, the Alaroye was and still is revolutionary for different purposes. First, it is the journalism avenue that broke the jinx of colonial domination in the country’s news reportage market, although it builds on the efforts of past pioneers. Second, it served as the rallying point for others and restored their confidence to air news in the language the people are culturally and historically affiliated with. So, these achievements combine to revalidate his position about determination. As a result of his commitment, he has made exponential success in the industry, for, without that daunting confidence, he would have bowed down to others who were already making beautiful strides.
The preservation of the Yoruba language and culture introduces the new generation to their literary heritage. This is usually because people’s literature works more deeply and effectively in telling their stories than their manuals or verbal speeches can do. As exemplified by Adedayo’s father, who introduced him to D. O. Fagunwa’s books in his formative years, modern-day parents should, as a matter of principle, speak their language to their wards and always encourage that domestic communication with them is in their language. This is informed by the knowledge that once the younger ones are drawn away from speaking their native language, they would also be disinterested in the cultural values and traditions that come with such an identity. One of the reasons for the continuation of cultural servitude that the present generation suffers egregiously is that contemporary Yoruba parents do not take pride in speaking their language with their wards. People who are not introduced to their indigenous language would not be fully integrated into their cultural traditions, substantially affecting many things in their lives. Therefore, preserving their language and culture begins with employing the language to conduct their domestic engagements.
It was also necessary to preserve their language by consciously separating their religious identity from their cultural activities. But because contemporary Christian and Islamic identities do not delineate between cultures of a people and their religious beliefs, they try to dissociate themselves from anything that bears the mark of so-called paganistic beliefs or values. The speakers at the interview continued by saying that the Yoruba and their ancestors followed their indigenous culture in the past, which helped them stand their ground when they were invaded by different predators who wanted to make them their vassal city-states or proxy government. They employed their cultural knowledge and technology to contain the invaders and saved themselves from the dishonor of being overtaken. But because all these have been condemned as either “fetish” or “pagan” by people who do not understand the culture, they are considered harmful. However, the identity of a people is inextricably linked to the things they do and how they make efforts to keep themselves afloat in a world that torments them and their customs. Their knowledge about these things is a product of constant research and scientific efforts of thousands of years, and they should not be discarded under the impression that they are evil, even when there is no clear evidence that they are.
Challenges are confronting indigenous creativities in the postcolonial environment, and anyone who does anything that animates their ancestral lifestyle, especially in something like the publication of a newspaper, would face its consequences. Undoubtedly, the various criticisms that Adedayo has faced are proofs of that condition, and then comes the question of profitability, commercial advantages, and the economic benefits of staging such ideological protest in a postcolonial environment. To be candid, going into indigenous journalism publishing is unprofitable for reasons that are not unknown to the general public. People who go into it are energized by the assurance of establishing a solid and long-lasting name for themselves and making an impact that would outlive them. The business mindset does not come with the creativity involved in establishing a Yoruba or any other indigenous communication platform like the Alaroye because the ground is already biased against such development.
In the case of the ex-colonies, the solid foundation of the English language (and other languages of colonialism) has made it somewhat difficult for them to make the deserved progress in a positive direction, and their possibility of making many economic gains is very slim. Even if the financial gains are not coming, the front-liners understand that they are making an impact and not because of money. The soul-lifting realization that the successful implementation of their agenda would promote the thinking that inferiorizing indigenous legacies will create bigger problems.
On many occasions, Adedayo has been frustrated openly by people from whom one would expect a positive mindset towards indigenous journalism. He was discouraged by their assumption that his newspaper would struggle in vain against other available platforms that have gained strength because they are done in the English language. Apparent discouragement notwithstanding, determined people always foresee such conditions and would instead spring up with their desires and continue to pursue excellence even when it comes with some financial commitment. All these are ways to showcase their readiness to develop their indigenous structures and preserve their legacies. Adedayo continues in his fearless engagement of local and international news in his Yoruba Alaroye medium, and his fame persists.
The stigma was evident from the beginning and even choking because several political efforts of past Yoruba icons such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo to rejuvenate the language and make an instrument of social and economic regeneration went down the drain because of some factors beyond their control. It continued to reflect in other areas, and they inherited these challenges decades after initial attempts. But then, they continued to keep the faith. They defied all odds to ensure that they give the Yoruba language and traditions the befitting honor they deserve. Regardless of the skewed and jaundiced market space for the proliferation of the newspaper platform, the fact that the Alaroye has four titles makes people wonder if the desire to promote Yoruba interest and ideology was really more than the desire to make money from the business.
It is reassuring to know that the idea of having four titles on the commercial landscape of the newspapers business is targeted to ensure that there are competing sub-news that would give the people a particular taste per that desire. Although these said platforms appear to be beneficial to the capitalist community where they would compete with existing newspaper platforms for obvious economic reasons, the fact remains that it was an effort to spice newspaper journalism in Nigeria up that motivated the kind of creativity that led to the emergence of these said titles, not any other.
When considered keenly, these different Alaroye titles are necessarily created because they have different but unique things to address. One needs to conduct research about the past activities so that people would find something beneficial from them and see the possibility of drawing ideas that would bring about collaborative development for them. This is hinged on the fact that numerous things could help people when they consider them intelligently and carefully. So, when the company decided to have different headings or titles, it was a well-calculated attempt. For instance, there was no way that the stories of iconic characters like Efunsetan Aniwura, Madam Tinubu, Ogunmola, and Moremi would not teach something important about Yoruba tradition. Where they are not learning the act of courage, they would be learning the importance of hard work, diligence, and dedication from these historical characters. In some beautiful instances, they would be educated about how communal togetherness is necessary and a viable tool in challenging situations that are consuming or can potentially destroy their civilization. It is because of the possibility of getting something tangible out for them that these titles exist.
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In general, there is more to the idea of developing language and sustaining it than what mere verbal commitment could do. Beyond the fact of paying lip service to the protection and preservation of cultural identity in a world where colonial pressure is combined with postcolonial politics, some people must take bold steps; otherwise, their collective identity would be endangered, and their cultural traditions would be made the sacrificial lambs. Such revolutionary actions that would salvage the people’s culture do not always come from individuals with the political wherewithal in the society. In fact, the contrary is always the case.
Today, efforts are being made to ensure that the Yoruba language does not go down on the wrong side of history. One of the ways this is being achieved is by preserving the Yoruba language and culture with the Alaroye Newspaper. Mr. Alao Adedayo undertook the duty and carried the mantle with such a level of confidence that he was able to face and overcome all the obstacles that arose. The phenomenal results from his publications make him an icon to be forever celebrated.
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