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Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH PRINCE YEMISI SHYLLON, 2023
By Toyin Falola

On such occasions that I have had the opportunity to visit Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon, where he took me and my company of people on a tour of his residences or museum — whichever one it was that we were visiting on each occasion — I always left marveling at the depth and vastness of our host in African arts and artists. To listen to him speak is to understand that, for him, collecting art goes beyond a personal hobby or a sport. It is a culture, a way of life whose profoundness forms a foundation for happiness and fulfillment for Prince Shyllon. You have to listen to him talk about his acquisitions and discoveries to understand the depth of his love for and appreciation of arts — and its varied forms, from sculpture to paintings to drawings.

In pre-colonial Yoruba history, the Egba, from where the Prince comes from, had several categories of leaders, each with designated duties and responsibilities. There were the Oba, the Parakoyi, the Ogboni, the warriors, and the tax people. Of all these people, the Ogboni had the blessed responsibility of upholding and preserving the cultural and traditional heritages of the city state. Theirs was a sacredly ordained society of elite people that not only contributed to bringing law, order, and justice to the people but also ensured that the empire did not — at any point in time — stray away from its cultural and traditional roots.

READ  ALSO: Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art: The Beauties That Represent Our Enigmatic Continent

To understand the vitality of the work the Ogboni did, we must first consider the interconnectedness of culture, society, traditional heritages, and development. A truly civilized society has and can uphold and preserve its long history of cultural heritage and traditions.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder If there were no conscious efforts to preserve these by the Ogboni, there would have been weakened transmission of value and cultural assets from one generation to another, a phenomenon that would have adversely affected the evolution, development, and even continued existence of the people. For, if a people are disconnected from their history, they are likewise lost from their identity, and to not have an identity is to not know your society’s place in the world; it is to not know what your ancestors before you had achieved and how that influences how you live in the present day and what purpose to aspire to.

Although the evolution of ethnic societies within the geopolitical entity now called Nigeria has led to a gross erosion of traditional structures, societies and responsibilities, there is no denying that there exist individuals who have taken it upon themselves to commit personal resources for the greater good. Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon is the quintessential example of such people. He stands distinctly in the category of people who have been preserving and promoting Nigerian and African arts of various forms through commissioning, collecting, and introducing several initiatives.

While we may not have the traditional Ogboni society today to preserve, uphold, and promote the beautiful artistic creations that old and contemporary Nigerians and Africans have worked on or are still working on, we can revel in the peace of mind and assurance that comes with having the likes of Prince Yemisi Shyllon around, people who have adopted a generous approach to the work they do in the world of art and culture. Prince Shyllon has collected and done impactful work that transcends generations.

READ ALSO: Elevating Africa: The Collections In the Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art

Shall we talk about his support for art and art creators? Or do we speak of how he commits resources into sourcing and identifying real talent and commissioning such talents to give them the foundation and exposure they need to take upon the world? Many an artist got their first big break when Prince Shyllon commissioned them to work on a project. That is the promoter aspect of the tri-dimensional impact this man and his life and work for and in African art and culture have had.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

There are also the numerous initiatives he has launched, the continued expansion of his collection and the resources he puts into maintaining his museums. Beyond that, Prince Shyllon commits time to serve on the boards of serval art-focused initiatives and organizations. If anything, we all know that time is the most important asset to humans, and to dedicate so much time to serve without expectations of remunerations on such boards is yet another testament to the depth of his lifelong commitment to the promotion of Africa through art and culture.

There is a category of people with the financial wherewithal to give, support, and help, and do so for the recognition and appreciation they would receive from such endeavors. I do not in any way criticize these people — the resources are theirs, and they are entitled to the non-monetary gains they expect from committing their resources to whatever endeavor they commit them to. However, when one considers that for Prince Shyllon, the driving force in doing all he does for art, culture, Nigeria, and Africa is not an expectation for recognition, the vastness of his contributions and impact will leave one in awe. There have been recognitions, no doubt — recently, Pan Atlantic University conferred on him an honorary doctorate to appreciate his work and contributions to art. However, if you have had a close engagement with Prince Shyllon or have read about his contributions, you can tell that the driving force for this spectacular man is not in any way the recognition that may — and in this case, has — come. On January 15, 2023, Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon will be the first guest on the 2023 series of the Toyin Falola Interviews.

The decision to invite Prince Shyllon lies primarily on the need to document the insights and perceptions, experiences, views, and comments of people like him on African arts and culture. He has been in the field and committed his life and resources to identifying, promoting, preserving, and upholding African art and artists. There has to be a new generation of promoters and upholders that will tap into the generous vision of people like Prince Shyllon. And to prepare that new generation, there is the need to document the work and comments of the present generation.

The questions we will ask on Sunday the 15th, and the answers Prince Dr. Shyllon will serve as vital information to help sustain the promotion and preservation of one of the vital things that make us African — our art and craft; representations of our beliefs and perceptions as different peoples of a united continent.
Please join us:
Sunday, January 15, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
10:00 AM Austin CST

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/yemisi-shyllon

Join via Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89163554170

Watch on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/tfinterviews/live

Watch on YouTube:
https://youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

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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Interview

Toyin Falola Interviews To Hold Panel Discussion On Languages And Archives In Knowledge Reproduction About Africa

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The Toyin Falola Interviews has scheduled a discussion with distinguished panelists, Professors Ngom Fallou, Ghirmai Negash, Abiodun Salawu, and John Mugane, who will be sharing their expertise on “Languages and Archives in Knowledge Production About Africa”.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

5 PM Nigeria

10 AM Austin

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/Languages

Join via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81714206181

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Interview

Pentecostalism In Africa (1) 

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Of all the things that have happened to the African continent in the past decades, the growth and expansion of Christianity and Islam have been one of the most impressive. This deep commitment to faith is not totally removed from the natural gravitation toward hope and positivity. Against the background of declining opportunities, many Africans have found solace in religion and the promise of a better life. If things don’t work well on Earth, the afterlife offers more than a promise.

Within the enormous growth of Christianity in Africa has been the steady rise in the popularity and expansion of Pentecostalism. The socio-economic, religious, and political nuances of the rise of Pentecostalism will be one of the subjects of the Interview with a preeminent figure, Apostle Professor Opoku Onyinah, on February 4, 2024.   

Pentecostalism on the African continent dates to the early 20th century, with the earliest movements such as the Apostolic Faith Mission, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Zionist Movement (all in South Africa), l’Église Harriste (in Côte d’Ivoire), Christ Apostolic Church, morphing from Precious Stone Society, and the Apostolic Church (all in Nigeria). Some would argue that I may be confusing some of these churches with latter-day Pentecostal ones.

Pentecostalism took off during the colonial era, heavily influenced by the American Pentecostals, including but not limited to William Seymour (who wrote the Apostolic Faith newspaper that sparked the influx of Pentecostalism into the continent), Lucy Farrow, Paul Marty, and Julia Hutchins. Like all successful expansions in history, the Pentecostalist movement came to Africa at a time when the environment was fertile for its growth. Some would also argue that Pentecostalism was homegrown.

The African people were subjected to colonialism, and in seeking a way out, they found hope in the core ideals of the new movement — grace, salvation, an afterlife, spiritual empowerment through the Holy Ghost, healing, and wonders — promises that held liberation for the people and freedom from the shackles of the second-class citizenship that colonialism offered them on their soil.

The case has often been made in favour of classifying religion as a social concept. This classification does not seek to discredit the divinity that any of the religions claim. However, it is a way to argue that religions belong in the human society, by humans; as much as cultures and civilizations belong to the human society. A point of note in the argument for the classification of religion as a social concept is religious syncretism. Just like any other human social phenomenon capable of influencing and being influenced by other phenomena, religions and religious denominations and factions influence and get influenced by other religions and religious denominations, and Pentecostalism is not an exception.

Pentecostalism has witnessed several cultural adaptations and syncretism. Religious worship among Christians is subjected to personal perceptions and subjective interpretations of the divine. A Christian can only offer worship in the best way he can conceive in his mind who his Creator is. He can imagine the wonders of the Creator. Therefore, as the Pentecostalism movement grew in popularity across and spread across the African continent, it was influenced by several indigenous African belief systems and practices. 

The result has been a dynamic interplay of Pentecostal Christianity with traditional African spirituality, giving rise to unique, Afrocentric expressions of faith. One of these unique, Afrocentric expressions of faith is the upbeat mode of religious worship among Pentecostal churches. This upbeat mode reflects vibrant and lively music, energetic dancing, loud prayer sessions, and an insurmountable belief in the intervention of divine forces in terrestrial affairs.

Furthermore, the communal nature of African societies, influencing the people’s strong belief in and connection to their ancestral heritage, has made the belief in and war against ancestral curses, “village people”, and witchcraft popular elements in the Pentecostalism practised in the African continent. From the earliest years, prayers of war against witches, wizards, and enemies formed an integral part of churches such as the Christ Apostolic Church and even served as one of the biggest factors in the swift growth and expansion of African Pentecostal churches.

I stated above that Pentecostalism has been one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the African continent. However, it is vital to note that Pentecostalism’s growth has not only been about the founding of several churches and the expansion of such churches across Africa and other continents. Beyond its spiritual dimensions, Pentecostalism has highly influenced the social landscape in Africa. The swift growth and expansion of Pentecostal churches, the construction of mega-church buildings, and the management of several church-owned operations have also meant that these churches have become large employers of labour, with thousands of members earning their living through church operations. Some of these large Pentecostal churches own printing presses, primary schools, secondary schools, and universities — some of which have gone on to be ranked among the best institutions on the continent. 

These large-scale operations have afforded people access to education and employment, two of the most critical elements in any society. Furthermore, donation and support outreaches are an integral part of the existence of many of these churches. There is no denying the level of influence Pentecostal churches wield in society, from the grassroots to the elite strata, especially as their large sizes mean they can always boast of members in every industry and at every level. The brotherhood approach of these Pentecostal churches means members are quick to identify and help each other. This, often called “being favoured”, is a case where members of mega Pentecostal churches belonging to the elite strata of society find placement for their fellow church members at government parastatals and institutions, multi-national companies, and other companies. 

The founding of mega Pentecostal churches and the construction of grand worship centres have also been instrumental in the construction of healthcare centres, road networks, and housing structures. Furthermore, several African Pentecostal churches have been involved in the organization of large-scale empowerment programs, especially for women and youth, and community development initiatives, including serving as pressure groups to influence government policies. 

In saying that Pentecostalism in Africa has experienced immense growth, I am also saying that while globalization has become increasingly realistic with the increased connectivity of people across the globe, Pentecostal churches in Africa have tapped into the advantages of technology to bring their operations to a global audience. Several Pentecostal African churches — such as The Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Christ Apostolic Church, The Apostolic Church, United Family International, Church Doxa Deo, CRC Church, the Living Faith Church, Deeper Life Bible Church, and the Church of Pentecost — have established a global presence spanning hundreds of countries, influencing the diaspora community, and contributing to the global Pentecostal movement. 

The introduction of satellite television networks played a crucial role in the expansion of African Pentecostal churches into the diaspora. As members of these African churches relocated to other countries, they sought the need to continue in fellowship with their churches and founded branches in their new locations, getting an easy connection to the headquarters through the internet, satellite television, and transnational networks. African Pentecostal churches in the diaspora do not only impact global Christianity, but they also play an unmistakable role in the shaping of the religious experiences of the African diaspora, serving as a haven and a new family for new immigrants and positioning as centres of cultural preservation, spiritual solace, and community building.

Although there has been immense growth and expansion within the Pentecostal movement in Africa — with an undeniable socio-economic impact — there are deeds and developments among Pentecostal churches on the continent that leave room for criticism and questions. 

To properly explore Pentecostalism in Africa, it is vital to examine some of the critiques that have been levelled against Pentecostal churches on the continent. The first and perhaps biggest concern that has been brought up in the wake of the growth of Pentecostalism has been the commercialization of spirituality, a phenomenon that has manifested itself through several dimensions. There have been cases of churches categorizing spiritual problems and assigning financial costs to each category for members seeking deliverance. 

There has also been an emphasis on tithes, offerings, and giving back to the church, sometimes overly emphasized at the detriment of the giver, who may not be financially buoyant but must succumb to the pressure and belief in the promises of manifold blessings and the multiple returns on every token given for every token given. 

Several Pentecostal churches in Africa promote the prosperity gospel, which has seen their leaders rank among some of the wealthiest spiritual leaders in the world. The theological concepts of the prosperity gospel emphasize material wealth as a sign of God’s favour, sometimes elevated as the core of a church’s message, thereby ignoring the possibility of members seeking wealth, including through financial misappropriation, fraud, embezzlement, and other crimes. 

Over the years, doctrinal controversies have also rocked the Pentecostal movement in Africa, sometimes threatening to disrupt the movement and tear it asunder. Although Pentecostal churches on the continent share some common beliefs revolving around salvation through grace, healing, and some other concepts, there are stark differences in some of their doctrines, with some churches accusing others of peddling heresy. The doctrinal divergence in the African Pentecostal movement has sparked theological debates, including spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, the role of women in the church, and what constitutes holiness.

Pentecostalism in Africa has come a long way, and by all indications, it shows the potential to grow in leaps and bounds. It is, therefore, with utmost pleasure that I invite you to join us on the next edition of The Toyin Falola Interviews, where we will host Apostle Professor Onyinah — a scholar of excellence and a leading theologian in the field of African Pentecostalism.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

5:00 PM Nigeria

4:00 PM Ghana

10:00 AM Austin CST

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/opokuonyinah 

Join via Zoom: 

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87059407807

 

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Interview

Panel Discussion On Decolonization/ Decoloniality (2)

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By Toyin Falola

Decoloniality

Is decoloniality different from decolonization? I cannot wait to ask the distinguished panelists this important question. Coloniality, as I present it here, refers to the set of values, ideas, and attitudes imposed on other groups/societies as part of the attempt to create a universal system. Decoloniality, therefore, refers to the reversal of this imposition and mindset to integrate the ideas of groups/societies that have been pushed to the margins.

Vivid from this analogy is the understanding that the domination of the world by Europeans has ingrained an orientation that European values and standards are universal ethos to be embraced everywhere and by everyone. No one advertised this Eurocentric sentiment, and neither was there an open forum for its adoption. Rather, the comparative advantage of domination enjoyed during colonialism provided a platform to introduce and institutionalize these values.

The concept of decoloniality suggests the process of delinking from established Eurocentric knowledge hierarchies and models. Some even regard it as a “social movement” as well as an academic weapon launched to enhance the repudiation of universalist ideas that operate with the intention to fumigate other ideas from existence. Frontline ideologues of decoloniality are convinced that the problems associated with coloniality were set in motion during colonialism, and for that reason, they seek to thwart such agenda by interrogating the institutions and values that were introduced during colonialism. It is believed that the initiation of coloniality was expressed in institutions introduced by Europeans, even if they were not suited to Africa’s needs.

Therefore, it is believed that the interference of coloniality has activated the repositioning of the colonized ideas and thinking in such a way that their understanding of progress and development has been affected. Since many ex-colonized countries have experienced European attitudes and values, they have also internalized the associated values, and for that reason, they are conditioned to think only in colonial ways. In essence, when they want to talk about development, they use only the Western countries as their yardstick. Such orientation poses a greater danger to the emancipation of the ex-colonized people, who can be described as an extension of Euro-North American-centric modernity. For instance, from a socio-ideological standpoint, arguments, postulations, policies, and values have recently tilted towards capitalist models, and this was facilitated by the awareness that the Western world operates under that formula.

Decoloniality, therefore, seeks to challenge and exterminate the foundation of such a mindset as it opines that such thinking would never allow the true emancipation of the people. The awareness and protest about capitalism and its attendant values antagonizing the progress of the ex-colonized people is that which is manifested as decoloniality. This concept is informed by the understanding that the adoption of such values will create a different human bonding as experienced in the European environment where the system is practiced. Thus, decoloniality is interested in creating a system that works and is free from the shackles of ideological suppression, which coloniality indicates.

As an extension of the prognosis of coloniality, it is the case that the knowledge that ex-colonized ones believed they have is a byproduct of the European system, which, at the surface, invalidates all indigenous knowledge systems and, at the deeper level, repositions their epistemic traditions to the margin. It has been argued that the universal idea of knowledge is that it can only happen in the context of modern Europe, and by this configuration, all other knowledge systems are minimized. Meanwhile, there was not a time in human history when knowledge and ideas were stopped from being consumed. This, therefore, raises the question that if people are being fed with some ideas, who determines the contents?

Any response that downplays the place of Europeans in determining what knowledge is about does not give an accurate account of reality. This is underscored by the awareness that the institutions put in place by colonizing forces have ensured that the colonization of alternative perspectives is effective and ongoing. Can Western science be considered the only educational process where the truth about occurrences in the world can be accessed? To that extent, the decoloniality of knowledge is necessary to emancipate the subaltern groups from being perpetually trapped in the colonial configurations. Even some of the ex-colonized intellectuals do not always recognize alternative knowledge production as valid and would negate sources of information that do not embrace Western methodologies. The decoloniality of knowledge would, therefore, bring about the validation of universalist perspectives such that information that is produced elsewhere would be validated and adopted.

Decoloniality also becomes necessary in the economic domain, as it was apparent in post-independence, such that regardless of the efforts of the ex-colonized people, their opportunities for economic buoyancy were impeded by the available systems already put in place by the colonizers. The capitalist illusion that labor work would produce a financially free citizenry has increased the agitation of the people who now believe that it is impossible to attain their expected financial freedom with the presence of colonial institutions everywhere.

Economic growth is important to the advancement of every group across the world, but that growth cannot be possible under a system where repressive ideologies have been installed for a long period. The fact that a few ex-colonized countries still battle with stunted economic growth is occasioned by the form of economic systems that they have embraced. Decoloniality scholars, therefore, challenge the thinking that the Westphalian economic models can ultimately bring people out of their economic problems. They believe that by rejecting the economic models introduced by colonial society, ex-colonized groups would use their indigenous economic knowledge to revitalize their economy and bring emancipation, especially financially. From this angle, one notices that decoloniality seeks to disallow the continued enervation of people’s systems enhanced by the operation of systems that the colonizers have imposed in different countries. Decoloniality at this point is undergirded by the principles of freedom that would ultimately bring about the emancipation of others away from the traps of universalist agenda.

The proposal of decoloniality is the removal, reversal, and rejection of colonial ideas to be achieved through the unlearning and re-learning of ideas the people have been conditioned to see as a basic or universal system of engagement. The systems and structures, institutions and practices of ex-colonized people that have been abandoned are meant to be reconsidered in a decolonial environment. In essence, it is the process by which formerly colonized people bring to the center the alternative perspective that they offer across different areas of engagement.

It should be stated that decoloniality does not seek to reject the approaches and alternatives offered by Western institutions but to comprehend their validity and limitations while also agreeing that they can be flanked by other sources of knowledge as recognized by different peoples of the world. In essence, decoloniality argues for the flexibility of knowledge and the fluidity of approaches. By doing this, decoloniality helps reveal the dark side of modernity by identifying areas and ways by which it has compromised different people and their knowledge systems. Once this is done successfully, it is believed that the Eurocentric notion of universalism will be deconstructed and stripped of its dominant culture. It would enable the ex-colonized people to see how ordinary and unnatural the approaches and systems of Western making have been considered for long. Decoloniality differs from decolonization as in the latter, it is assumed that colonizing forces did not stop in their track of domination and oppression but have only used the global influence they have to recondition the mindset of people to accept only universalist ideas. This is what the decolonial thinkers challenged aggressively in the first place.

To discuss decolonization, please join us for a panel discussion with our distinguished panelists, Professors Julia Suárez Krabbe, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Walter Mignolo, Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Oyeronke Oyewumi, and Shose Kessi.

Sunday, January 28, 2024
5 PM Nigeria
10 AM Austin
5 PM Berlin

Register and Watch:
https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/panelondecolonization

Join via Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85269964717

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