Title: A New Age, “Legends of the golden age” Book 3
AUTHOR: Oladele Olusanya
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
To fully understand Olusanya’s A New Age, you have to read the first two historical novels in the trilogy, Gods and Heroes and A Time of Troubles. From the escapades of the trailblazing Oduduwa and his descendants to the warriors of the 19th century, there is a symmetry of narrative aimed at broadening our horizon of Yoruba history and civilization. The image of Oluronbi, derived from Yoruba mythology, is the first thing that rivets your attention on the cover of A New Age. Previous books of the “Itan” series were also adorned with images of iconic figures from Yoruba history and mythology: Moremi and Ajantala. This is an affirmation of the author as someone in touch with his roots, despite straddling the oceans between the US where he lives and works and the land of his birth in West Africa.
It is a new dawn in Yorubaland, propelled by developments in Lagos, the new city by the sea, the last of the major cities to be founded by the Yoruba people centuries after Oduduwa and the other progenitors of their race founded Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilization. Lagos has now come to represent the apogee of that storied civilization. The new heroes and heroines recorded in A New Age appear to be ordinary people who nevertheless lived extraordinary lives and reshaped the course of our national history. In this new age, heroism is no longer defined by conquests but by intellect and action, yet spirituality is still manifested in many new ways.
Some of the major characters we read about in A New Age include legendary national figures from Yorubaland like Herbert Macaulay, Israel Ransome-Kuti, Obafemi Awolowo and Tai Solarin. Likewise, in the arts, education, religion and the military, we have new avatars like Ajayi Crowther, D. O. Fagunwa, Col. Victor Banjo, Suzanne Wenger (Adunni Olorisha) and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, among others. Interestingly, some of the characters in this book who have impacted Yorubaland are related to the author. And this is where the communal meets the national.
Through the stories of Efunyemi, the author’s grandmother, we are acquainted with the morals and rites of passage of growing up in Ikenne and Ijebuland — and by extension all Yorubaland. The voices of Iya Agba, the Old Woman, Efunyemi and the author himself reverberate in this book, swelling the perspectives from which we view the social dynamics that surround the stories that begin from the early years of the 20th century.
Through the Old Woman’s tales, children take away many things from fables, mysteries and adventures. What an informal schoolroom! Efunyemi also learns many aspects of Yoruba culture from her father, Solesi, especially music and its ritual significance. This book details the rapid inroads made by Christianity, contrary to the expectation of the Ifa and Sango priests. With the new western civilization, women begin to work outside the home, and, in some cases, become breadwinners of their families. The age of violence is gone with the end of the nineteenth century, and there are fewer inhibitions in the new world of the Gesi. As a manifestation of the new power of the white colonial masters, A New Age chronicles three significant raids into the small town of Ikenne by oyinbo soldiers and their Hausa subalterns from the Lagos Constabulary, the last of which was a mission to recruit native-born soldiers to fight for the British Empire during World War I —Ogun Hitila — with campaigns in Burma, Malaysia and other distant theaters of war.
With the death of the Old Woman at the age of 90, Efunyemi comes into the spotlight. We follow her struggles as a third wife in the polygamous home of her husband Odusanya until she meets a Woli (priestess) in the Aladura Christian sect who converts her to the worship of Jesu. Efunyemi’s daughter, Adedotun, is another woman of substance edified in this book. She is a storyteller like her mother, and goes on to distinguish herself in school. From her lens, we meet Obafemi Awolowo as a young, educated and radical young man, during a visit to her grandfather Solesi’s house in Ikenne. Through Awolowo, she learns of Herbert Macaulay, the foremost leader of the nationalist movement of that age.
Midway into A New Age, we are told that “1945 was an exciting year for the people of Lagos and a time of great political change and a palpable dynamism,” as political parties were formed and elections held. Of course, Macaulay’s role comes up again, with other unsavory details about his life. We also hear of Esan, later known as Da Rocha, who came to Lagos from Brazil as an ex-slave and rapidly climbed up the social ladder.
It is a legacy of heroes, still. The author echoes the heroism of the great educationist, Tai Solarin, first as a RAF airman and later, as a nationalist. Obafemi Awolowo’s rise to become Premier of the Western Region is also recounted. The contributions of the author’s parents, Adedotun and the Black Prince, as quiet heroes and chroniclers of the unfolding history of the post-independence era of Yorubaland and Nigeria are not left out. Col. Victor Banjo’s heroics as the commander of a mechanized division under Biafra is also lionized by the author. The trajectory of Bishop Ajayi Crowther as a free slave, his return to Nigeria, and his achievements in education and the spread of Christianity, are relived by Olusanya. Also are the accomplishments of early music stars. Yet, in this age, the onigbagbo Christian sect in Yorubaland, according to Olusanya, has metamorphosed into the Aladura sect, which performed many miracles during the Spanish influenza that trailed the 2nd World War.
Till date, the Yoruba nation has maintained a vibrant culture inspired from the past, as penned by the author. Writer, physician and artist, the prodigiously talented Olusanya has, no doubt, become the Homer of the Yoruba people. His books are their Iliad and Odyssey, telling the people who they are and where they came from.
A New Age is an eye opener deserving to be read by every Yoruba, African and anyone else in other parts of the world interested in Black history. A New Age will be available to the general public in July 2020. The three titles of the “Itan – legends of the golden age” series are all published by Xlibris, and the first two titles, Gods and heroes and A Time of Troubles, are already available on Amazon, Okada Books and other online bookselling outlets.