Oladotun Taylor Reconnecting Afro-Americans with Yoruba Culture

Oladotun Taylor Reconnecting Afro-Americans with Yoruba Culture

you can tell from his eyes that Oladotun Taylor needs rest. The past few days have been a whirlwind of activities: sightseeing and visits to the Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja ll., in his royal palace in Osun. Despite the apparent fatigue, the night was far from over for the historian. Seated across from him at Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos was a group of foreigners who were in Lagos to find out more about their roots.

It was last September that Taylor, who was appointed the Yoruba Culture Ambassador by the Ooni five years ago, set up the Ilé Koko outfit, a travel and lifestyle company that helps Afro-Diasporan descents to trace their genealogy. Through curating cultural events and travel experiences, Taylor assists them in discovering Africa, with a particular focus on Ile-Ife, which he believes is the birthplace of the world.

“The entire world started out of Ile-Ife,” he began. “I have seen Indian people claim that their ancestors told them that their people migrated from West Africa. I have seen Brazilians, and Cubans make similar claims and I know that the world started from one source and it’s not Israel because Israel is a desert.”

So far, Taylor has brought about 15 Afro-Diasporans to Nigeria to visit Ile-Ife and learn about Yoruba culture. On this particular trip, there were individuals from diverse backgrounds, including Afro-Americans and Mexicans.

“The Mexicans are more Yoruba than some of us here,” he pointed out. “They worship Sango, Obatala and all that. It’s not about skin colour; it’s about a growing number of black people seeking their genealogy, and even a few white individuals as well.”

With a degree in history from the University of Ilorin, Taylor has always been passionate about Yoruba culture and takes great pride in it. This is reflected in his confident tone as his deep knowledge of the dynamic nature of culture and the prevalence of Yoruba lineage among Afro-Diasporans comes into play.

“Culture is in transit. Culture will always change. I’m not one of those people that think that you’re a Yoruba girl, so you have to kneel down, or you are a Yoruba boy you have to prostrate. It’s in transit, it changes. So whatever you can salvage from it is just the best thing you have.”

He continued: “Yoruba culture is a transcontinental culture. It will surprise most Yorubas of West Africa that there are people of Yoruba descent in the diaspora way more than the number of Yorubas in West Africa. For instance, Yoruba is the second official language of Brazil. There are about 120 million people who are Yoruba descent in Brazil, and there are only about 65 million here in Nigeria. So this means a larger number, even in the diaspora. In Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Garifuna people of California.

“So I tend to actually realise that although this is the source where everything started, there are a lot of Yoruba people and culture, everywhere else in the world. But interestingly, a lot of us don’t even know each other. We don’t know because some of them have already been colonised by the Spanish people. They don’t know the ones that have been colonised by the English people. And the ones that have been colonised by the French don’t know the ones that have been colonised by the Portuguese. We’re larger than we really are.”

One of the fascinating discoveries Taylor has made about Yoruba culture is that the Yoruba people are among the oldest in the world.

“The Yoruba people are found generally in the epicentre of the world. If we are to find the exact centre, it’s somewhere around Ile-Ife. And from scientific genetics, it is being found that the Yoruba people, if not the oldest, are part of the oldest people in the world. To date, we turn out to express the finest of things. Apart from being a culture and a people, Yoruba is a study.”

As the Yoruba culture ambassador, Taylor primarily focuses on people of Afro-American descent. “The children of slaves or the people who are Yorubas that live in the diaspora after the world broke and divided.”

He estimated that there are about over 500 million people of Yoruba descent in the world.

Taylor emphasised the significance of cultural identity for this population.

“An average Afro-American is concerned about his cultural identity. The question of who I am is on his mind because you probably can trace like six or four of your generations to your village. There’s a saying in the United States that you can trace the history of a horse more than that of a black man. Because the horse is recorded more as they give birth but they didn’t tell the black man even where their great grandparents were stolen as slaves. There is this need right now and science is available.  When they know that of course, the natural thing is to look for how to get here.”

Taylor’s love for history stems from his passion for storytelling. Earlier on, he recognised his talent for storytelling and chose to study history to become a better storyteller. Throughout his university days, he discovered his unrivalled love for history and culture, a passion that has remained with him. However, his focus is solely on Yoruba culture-one that fascinates him the most.

As a storyteller, Taylor uses different mediums to tell his stories. He described his talent this way.

“As a creative personality, I try to hone my talent in any way I can use it to pass my message. It is the message first, then the medium of expression comes after. And the medium of expression I have chosen has been films and the microphone which transcends into broadcasting and these two things have to deal with the talent that I found myself with. I like to tell stories, mixed with pictures and interpret scripts. I also do voice-overs. But the message comes first since I have identified myself as a custodian of Yoruba culture, and remember the Yoruba people are colourful and we love to tell stories.”

During his time in Nigeria, Taylor hosted a radio show. Lately, films are one of his mediums of expression, his latest being ‘Take Me Home’ which features the Ooni of Ife.

The film which has already gulped thousands of dollars in production centres on the quest for originality and identity. It tells the story of an American girl who became possessed after wearing an African masquerade costume that was stolen during a tour in Ile-Ife. In a bid to save her life, her entire family, guided by the promises of two African immigrants, embarked on a journey that would land them in hot waters.

“It’s a story about the repatriation of African arts and as a Yoruba culture ambassador, immediately I was contacted to do the story, there was no hesitation.”

The film stars Nollywood actors Abdullateef Adedimeji and Bayo Bankole as well as Hollywood actors like Dave Sheridan, Amber Rivette, Felissa Rose and Meji Black.

Taylor also runs the Roots Heritage Foundation and in the past five years have been consistent in distributing eyeglasses to the older people in Ile-Ife each time he visits Nigeria because according to him “history is beautiful but if you cannot read, you will not see that beauty.”

Being the Yoruba culture ambassador to the Ooni has been a blessing to Taylor. He described the experience as beautiful, recognizing that the Ooni appointed him to share the message of Yoruba culture globally and interpret it from a global perspective while making an impact both at home and abroad.

“When he appointed me I instantly realised that he wanted me to take the message of the Yoruba culture global and interpret it from a global perspective and impact home and abroad.”

With passion and dedication, Taylor continues his work, spreading the richness of Yoruba culture and heritage to people of Yoruba descent around the world.

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