Raheem Akingbolu, who watched a short adaptation from Afonja –The Rise, a book written by Tunde Leye, to chronicle the struggle for supremacy between Alaafin Arogangan and Afonja, writes on its relevance to modern democracy
It was an evening of truth, when scholars, historians and culture enthusiasts looked into each other’s eyes. The debate was hinged on how history and African culture are little by little going into extinction. It was at the launch of Tunde Leye’s historical novel, ‘Afonja: The Rise’, which captures the story of a one time Aare Ona Kakanfofo –Afonja, who was believed to have wrecked the Oyo Empire.
To herald the unveiling, two events; a stage play that recaptured the Afonja days and a roundtable talk on African culture and history were organised. The play, which was an adaptation from the book, reminded audience of years before the white men came to Nigeria. To align with the theme of the evening; ‘Back to Oyo’ the attires, hairstyles, meals and drinks were core traditional. There was, among others, eko (cold pap) and palm-wine as the gastronomic needs of guests were catered to at the foyer before the main event started inside the Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
One after the other, speakers, including ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, a former lecturer in the department of history at the Adeniran OgunsanyaCollege of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos, Mrs. Elizabeth Ajayi and a former Attorney General of Lagos State, Dapo Sasore SAN, appealed to parents and other stakeholders in Yoruba nation not to allow western culture to undermine African culture in their respective homes.
They also expressed their displeasure over the gradual extinction of African culture in the Nigerian society and the total disregard for the history of the Yorubas before the coming of the white men. The roundtable session was moderated by Oladimeji Ojo, a poet and a lawyer.
Responding to moderator’s question seeking to know if slavery was part of Yoruba culture before colonialism, Ajayi, who is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Ibadan, said yes but that it was different from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. She explained that: “In an agrarian community, labour was essential, but the household constituted the major source. Men had several wives to have many children to work on the farms. Slaves were part of the labour force, but domestic slavery was different from Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
“The way the Yoruba treated their slaves was different from the Trans-Atlantic Slavery. There’s a consideration that you give to your slave; a slave that has been loyal can become almost part of the household. The Yoruba did not treat slaves like they were during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.”
Asked what made the kingship institution experienced a decline, Kasumu said it was the 1861 annexation of Lagos by the British. “When the British came, they took over the people; they took over our culture. That’s how the British operated. Once colonialism happened, there was a loss of culture.
“They used Lagos as leverage to take over the surrounding kingdoms. And once that happened, the structures, the culture all went away. The Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade story is not told enough. Nobody talks about Nigeria.
“Only a few people realise that 23 per cent of those taken away were from this part of Africa. Some of these structures still exist, but they are not as powerful as they used to be,” he said.
Contributing, Kelani began by commending Leyefor a job well done. “As a storyteller, it [book] is cinematic already,” he added before referring to the conference on the Alaafin of Oyo at 80 organised by the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBIU) last year.
He recalled how eminent historian, Professor ToyinFalola canvassed for the study of ‘Alaafinology’ and ‘Ifaology’ in universities and other institutions of higher learning as well as Oba LamidiAdeyemi’s address at the occasion.
The Alaafin told them about separation of powers and checks and balances in old Oyo. significant women in work, noting that they remain powers behind the throne in modern times. “In power politics, women have always been behind the scene manipulating the leaders.”
Ajayi also confessed her admiration for Leye’streatment of women and offered her take on where Nigeria got it wrong. To her, the initial removal of history from the curriculum was a grave mistake that would have caused mortal harm had it not been rectified.
She made a passionate defence of the subject, its methodology and noted that learning history is not limited to the classroom. “Even if you don’t study history as a course of study, we are learning now. This is what Leye has done for us,” she said.
On lessons, political leaders can learn from our past, and how to get more Nigerians interested in history, Kasumu said it has to be packaged appropriately.
He suggested having young readers version of historical novels like Leye’s as well as cinema and stage adaptations. He further cited the example of Supo Shashore’s‘Possessed: A History of Law and Justice in the Crown Colony of Lagos (1861-1906)’ which has a young readers version entitled ‘The King and the Colony.’
For Kelani, it is heart-breaking that nothing is being done to preserve heritage sites such as Old Oyo, Osogun, Koso and Bara which now lie in ruins. They would have helped to animate the history of Old Oyo, he said.
The filmmaker further noted that parents, guardians and everybody has a role to play in teaching the young history and culture. “History does not start from the classrooms; it starts from the homes. If you deny your children, the next generation your language and your culture, there won’t be development. No country has developed using a foreign language.”
The panelists were not the only ones who shared their views on the book. Writer and editor, MolaraWood, who reviewed it, gave illuminating insight into it. She praised its strengths and also drew attention to some infelicities.
While appreciating the position of the various experts, Leye said after years of studying Western Literature and History, he took a break recently to dwell on African literature and history, which informed his decision to research the stories around Afonja, a onetime Aare OnaKakanfo of the Oyo Empire, who clashed with the then Alaafin of Oyo – Aole Arogangan.
With the book, he said he hoped to change the attitude of people of his generation towards Yoruba history, culture and nuances.