Title: Gods and Heroes: Itan —
Legends of the Golden Age
Author: Oladele Olusanya
Publisher: Maven Publishing, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
The President of Nigerian Folklore Society, Dr. Bukar Usman, has persistently made the call for Nigerian scholars to go back to their roots to recreate the African cultural past in a bid to re-educate their people, especially the present-day society, who are gradually losing grip of its cultural heritage.
One Nigerian who shares a similar passion in this cause is Oladele Olusanya, a medical doctor mixing medicine with arts. His latest offering, Gods and Heroes…, takes an inexpensive pilgrimage into the days of yore, excavating 1000 years of the Yoruba prehistoric matrix, one of Africa’s largest ethnic groups with its largest concentration southwest of Nigeria.
Olusanya’s book is an uncommon historical novel. It pays witness to more history than fiction. The author could have, as well, written this book as history, but he has taken liberty with literary predilection and eliminated dates in order to appeal to a larger audience, bearing in mind that the universe of fiction is spellbinding to all.
The moment one starts turning the pages of Gods and Heroes…, it is like crossing the Rubicon of knowledge —one that makes you relentless in your quest to know what shaped Yoruba history and the dynamics that changed the narrative in contemporary times. Of course, Olusanya doesn’t leave us in doubt on the underbelly of acrimonies that have lingered.
This book, as envisaged by the author, is basically for everybody, young or old, who is either Yoruba or who has an interest in Yoruba culture, no matter the location. The author would appreciate his Yoruba audience to know where the Yoruba people came from, which would make them proud of who they are. Truth is: if you don’t know your story, you can’t tell other people about your stories.
The plot of Gods and Heroes… begins with a foreshadowing of a valiant people as epitomised in the valour of Queen Moremi of Ife, who saved her people from the marauding igbo forest people. This thread of intriguing narrative also shows an ordered system of administration in which there is a ruler and where the gods play oversight functions over the affairs of mortals.
If you have read the Bible from Genesis to Exodus, down to the coming of Christ, and enjoyed it, you will probably enjoy Olusanya’s Gods and Heroes, for it follows a similar trajectory — of a race with its roots in the Nubia of North Africa, travelling down to its present location west of Africa, fighting many wars, and, later, forming a big empire headquartered in old Oyo, and how that formidable empire was dismembered by the rampaging Fulani jihadists because of infightings.
In between these strands of narrative, the author weaves an exotic Yoruba culture. We learn how ordinary humans morphed into gods, venerated till this day. We also see how hero-kings elevated self-sacrifice to a fine art. This novel, in addition, leads us to that juncture when necessities, curiosities, and wars led to the founding of multiple Yoruba city-states, plus the rebellions of erstwhile vassals. It prompts the reader to lionise heroes of the ages past, nay, learn from how they either became great or stumbled when it mattered most.
The history of the Yoruba race, captured here, revolves around the behemoth named Lamurudu, who migrated from Nubia, a region along the Nile River. Told by a griot called Old Woman, the story of a persecution that turned to a heroic tale echoes. Recall that Lamurudu was a favourite of Nibosun, the King of Nubia. Though he wasn’t a priest, he was devoted to the gods of the land. It was the enmity between him and his lord and master over worshiping a new, false god that led to an estranged relationship and his banishment from the kingdom forever.
He, however, had an abiding faith in the great Osa-oke, his personal god, who guided him and his people through the “hard and perilous journey”.
Accompanying him on this journey was one of his young sons, Odi-duawa, who later became known as Oduduwa, and who later took over from his weak and aging father to lead the people to the land promised to the west. The travellers, now led by Oduduwa, met some natives on ground, who, on recognising the superior numbers and military might of the newcomers, exchanged their knowledge of the land, vegetation, and fauna for security and protection.
This book chronicles the reign of Oduduwa and other great leaders after him, like Oranmiyan, in Ile-Ife, and the prosperity and expansion that ensued. We also learn how the Benin Kingdom was invaded by Oranmiyan and how the Ogiso title of the powerful Benin King was changed to Oba when Oranmiyan’s son, Eweka, was acclaimed as the first Oba of Benin. Of equal interest in this engrossing read include the reign of Sango and a long line of Alaafin in Oyo.
The author sums up the beauty of the Yoruba past on page 100: “Our ancestors had a well-developed sense of justice, honour, and respect. Children honoured their parents. The young honored the old. And subjects honoured their king. They developed an elaborate system of greetings, accompanied by courtesies, kneeling, and prostrating before elders….“
If you are desirous of finding out the legacy of Obanta, the treasure of Olokun, how the Oyo Empire faltered or the wonders of the last hero-kings of Yorubaland, you must read this book, and gush at the contours and detours of an important, ancient African history.
Olusanya’s novel seems to be the first time we are having the stories of Yoruba people spanning centuries in a single volume, spiced with literary predilection. It ranks among the top three historical novels I have ever read by an African. This is a goldmine for researchers, historians and myth busters.