The Fagunwa Study Group put together a conference in honour of D.O. Fagunwa, acclaimed Yoruba adventure fantasy author and precursor to Amos Tutuola. The 3-day conference at the Jojein Resort and Event Centre was an interesting bouquet of panels, readings, and the screening of Tunde Kelani’s film Maami.
Below is my report on the conference as published in TheNews magazine.
Fifty years after the passing of Yoruba fantasy author, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, his home-state Ondo, played host to many eminent academics and personalities at a three-day conference in his honour. The conference was put together by the Fagunwa Study Group, in collaboration with the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation, CBAAC. Renowned for his five-book series, which includes Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Ireke Onibudo and Adiitu Olodumare,
Fagunwa gained fame for writing detailed stories where the Yoruba and Christian traditions interlock and his work continues to be relevant both in their original Yoruba and in the different languages to which they have been translated.
Themed, ‘Fifty Years On…’ the conference featured panels and discussions analysing aspects of Fagunwa’s work within literary, philosophical, social, historical, cultural, linguistic and religious contexts. Unfolding over a three-day period, the event commenced on Thursday, 8 August with a keynote address by Nigerian playwright and Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka.
Adopting Fagunwa’s persona, poet and Professor Niyi Osundare introduced the award-winning playwright as ‘Imodoye,’ a character from Fagunwa’s seminal novel. Osundare also described Soyinka as “a teller of tall tales, a language pyrotechnician, and moral evangelist”.
In his presentation titled, ‘Fagunwa’s Forest Tapestry: Heroes and Heroics, Morals and Moralists,’ Soyinka gave a background into his own encounters with Fagunwa’s works and his translations of the author’s oeuvres. Although the Christian influence cannot be shaken off Fagunwa’s art, Soyinka said that, “Fagunwa often strikes me as a writer under the possession of Ogun, the warrior-god.” In Fagunwa’s world, it was easy to see the physical “tied to the moral in a mutually-affecting way,” the literary icon said.
In reference to heroics and heroism, Soyinka also quoted from Alabi Isama’s The Tragedy of Victory on the effects of war and the consequent cannibalism, which Soyinka linked to an encounter with Ojola-Ibinu, one of Fagunwa’s many well-rounded and fiery characters.
Bravery and cowardice can be equally tragic, the playwright said, especially in contemporary times when even heroism couches its own evil and deceit. “The daily beast is within and around us,” he said, recommending moderation in all things, especially as regards extreme heroics. Concluding his address, Soyinka said that anyone who does not recognise Fagunwa’s prescience as a writer, suffers from “amnesia, blindness, compartmentalisation and deafness.”
Also posing the question of which was more real – Fagunwa’s mysterious world or our own humanity – the playwright referenced Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and tagged the citizens of Fagunwa’s universe, “a thousand characters in search of the human race.”
Besides the keynote address, there were a number of speeches by dignitaries at the event as well as performances in Fagunwa’s honour. According to the Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko, Fagunwa’s works showed the importance of bonding to improve society. The governor quoted instances from Fagunwa, where even the oddest characters become eventual heroes because of their peculiarities. “In literature lies the very philosophy that can change our society,” Mimiko said.
Fidelity was also essential to leadership, he said, buttressing the earlier remarks by the Conference Chairman, Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, Oba Adedokun Abolarin. The traditional monarch described true character, according to Fagunwa, as brave, victorious, honest, reliable, and honest. “Such a man is rare,” he said.
Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State said Fagunwa’s contributions to Nigeria’s lingustic and cultural phenomenon can be surmised in the knowledge that we “should not allow our culture to die.” For Fayemi, “the spirited cultural activism of the likes of Fagunwa and the intellectuals present is the thread that holds together our social fabric, preventing it from giving way under the strains of cultural imperialism.”
Professor Tunde Babawale, Director-General of CBAAC, co-organisers of the conference, also gave a goodwill message as did the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, represented by the Executive Secretary and CEO of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, NICO, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma.
There were performances from the Ondo State Cultural Troupe, that paid tribute to Fagunwa’s genius and Omowale Odumo, aka Akaraogun, who recited excerpts from Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole. Young Iwalewa Olorunyomi also read from the same work and was widely applauded by the audience for her proficiency in reading Yoruba. Such dexterity in indigenous languages, many said, should be encouraged among Nigerian youth.
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