By Henry Akubuiro
It was a convergence of eminent Yoruba indigenes and culture aficionados and other Nigerians as the US based medical doctor cum artist, Dr Oladele Olusanya, presented the first edition of his long-awaited magnum opus on the Yoruba nation, Gods and Heroes: Itan — Legends of the Golden Age, at the NIIA (Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos), recently.
No thanks to the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, it wasn’t a full hall as expected of such an epoch making book launch because of the warning by the NCDS (Nigerian Centre for Disease Control) for Lagosians to limit public gathering to a maximum of 50 persons at that point in time. But what it lacked in numbers, it made up for it in quality participants.
Chaired by the renowned lawyer, businessman and Pro-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Dr. Wale Babalakin, the event was also graced by the Chief Launcher, Engineer Olusegun Amodu; same as the book reviewer, Bunmi Oni, a revered poet and economist.
Members of the famous Government College, Ibadan, were there to support the author, one of their own. It was something of a reunion, too, for some hadn’t seen the author for a while.
The industrialist and economic guru, Mr. Olola Ogunlana, couldn’t attend because of the Covid-19 scare as an 88-year old man, but he sent a representative in Mr. Gboyega Ola, his personal assistant, to present an impassioned speech on his behalf.
He hinted that the reason he was invited to the event and to present a speech, too, was because he had something in common with the author: the love for Yoruba culture and storytelling. The octogenarian, lest we forget, is the author of three books, and is on the verge of completing the fourth.
He commended Dr. Olusanya for producing Gods and Heroes…, encouraging him not to rest on his oars and “go on to achieve the trilogy.” He, therefore, called on other Nigerian writers to showcase to fellow Nigerians and the world at large “our cultural heritage.” He also challenged Nigeria’s minister of education and his counterpart for culture, as well as their colleagues in the federation, to assist Nigeria to “reshape our future” and provide all the legislation required for cultural integration in the country.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Wale Babalakin said he was delighted that the author, an outstanding medical doctor, had written about Yoruba culture. “That was an unthinkable possibility,“ he said, “but that was the training we had in school.”
The lawyer declared that, “Yoruba culture is seriously endangered, and I am very proud of those who have taken it as a serious challenge to reposition the culture. Every time you read about the exploits of those legendary beings, you must continue to ask yourself, ‘So, what happened?’.”
Dr. Babalakin, who said he learnt a great deal of Yoruba past from his father, lamented that “the more you sit around his contemporaries, you realise how much we have lost as a nation,” adding that, if the author hadn’t written this book, it would have been knowledge down the drain for most people who would have benefited from it. That explained why the author, he said, deserved commendations for producing a compendium on Yoruba culture.
While appraising the contents of the book, the book reviewer, Mr Bunmi Oni, remarked that the author of Gods and Heroes…“marries extensive historical research with fictional imagery and characters to weave an engaging treatise that tells stories from 1,000 years of Yoruba history.”
He observed that “it is a story of migration that almost parallels the Biblical Exodus. These are stories of intra-family and communal feud, pride, rebellion, civil war, conquest, the rise and fall of kings, and fable.”
The reviewer, an alumnus of Government College, Ibadan, said he had known the author as a multitalented person since they were 12, adding, “In the other five decades since we arrived as freshers in Government College, Ibadan, he has grown from just being an extremely bright student, avid reader, music collector, philatelist, and talented artist to a successful family doctor, philanthropist, author and storyteller.”
The book event was jazzed up with cultural performances. Legendary artist, Ishola Taiwo, was a cynosure of all eyes as he performed “The Curse of Aole”, an excerpt culled from Gods and Heroes…, a momentous time in history in which a betrayed king, Alaafin Aole of Oyo, placed a haunting curse on the Yoruba nation. The talking drums, played by a culture troupe, literally talked thirteen to a dozen at the event. An exhibition of the author’s artworks brought the event to a close.
An excited Olusanya told Daily Sun as the event climaxed that the launch of Gods and Heroes… was a success in terms of the remarkable interest shown by the participants. He noted that the Yoruba empire had existed until the 19th Century when the Yoruba Civil War began, leading to the breakup of the empire into protectorates. He, however, remarked that the Yoruba renaissance was traceable to the 19th Century with Reverend Ajayi Crowther, who translated the Bible into Yoruba, which made the Yoruba one of the most literate Nigerians.
Speaking on the duration it took him for the book’s research, he told Daily Sun, “It is lifelong research. Since I was young, my grandmother has told me stories of Yoruba heroes and gods; and I have read all the Fagunwa stories before I was eight years old. So I have always been fascinated with mythologies and folk tales, all those stories we used to tell one another when we were young.”