D.O. Fagunwa: let’s raise our voices in praise of him whom generations yet unborn would come to know – Tola Adenle

Central to the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the translation of D.O. Fagunwa, the Yoruba literary titan,  are the events lined up at Akure, the Ondo State capital beginning today, Thursday, August 8, 2013 at the Adegbemile Cultural Center.

Fagunwa’s multiple titles, beginning with Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale (1938), Ireke Onibudo (1949), Igbo Olodumare (1949), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954) and Adiitu Olodumare (1961)captivated the imagination of those of us in elementary schools in the 1950s with tales that excited as much as scared.

The books were always interesting, though at times particularly eerie for our sub-teen minds as we followed the various Pilgrims Progress-like journeys-cum Yoruba mythical tales of old.

While I cannot remember the story lines in the various books in order, there are vivid images of illustrative sketches, various encounters that are forever etched in my memory from the Collection. 

Who can forget mythical characters with mysterious and fear-inspiring names, each with different capability that would come in handy on long and dangerous expeditions for the bearers?  I can recall but a few, for example, of the Àwá tí a jẹ akọní ẹmeje from Ogboju Ọde Ninu Igbo Irunmọlẹ [There were seven of us brave men] in one of the classics, and under the line-up of the seven men showing – those that I can remember – Kako, who, as the personification (metaphor) in giving all of them names indicates, was a stout and muscular man; Onikùmọ̀ ẹkùn [cannot attempt translation of this one!], Akara-Ogun – who is Ogboju ọdẹ [a medicine man], Ìmọ̀dóye  [avery wise/smart one], Olohun Iyọọ [Could sing sonorously, and I still remember he sang to lull their antagonist(s) at a point to sleep so that they could escape].

FAGUNWAsOgbojuOde by Joke 1987.jpgRESIZED

Copy of rendition of Ogboju-Ode’s arm being re-attached after being pulled out of its socket by Agbako – Danger – one of the many antagonists he would confront in Igbo Irunmole when Ogboju-Ode tries to kill the man; pulling out one of  Ogboju Ode’s arms with a hand, and putting it back while (sort of) suturing it with his spit shows who is boss in the jungle and who really has supernatural powers!  

Water color painting by 14 year-old Adejoke Adenle based on story read to her by blogger (mom), and photographed by Dr. Depo Adenle (dad) for an international competition.  [1987]

Among those to remember and honor Fagunwa at Akure, the capital of his state of birth – he was born at Oke’gbo, hometown of another Yoruba pioneer, Fola Akintunde-Ighodalo who was Nigeria’s first female Permanent Secretary – are Wole Soyinka who translated Ogboju Ode into “Forest of a Thousand Demons”; Kole Omotoso; Femi Osofisan; Niyi Osundare; Biodun Jeyifo; Tejumola Olaniyan; Olaoye Abioye (translated all five books into French) and many others –  internationally-renowned academics of Language and Literature, all.

As I once suggested in one of my many newspaper essays on Yoruba as a disappearing language a few of which are on this blog, these books need to be brought back to our elementary schools in Yoruba-land’s Southwestern Nigeria.  They should form an important part of the “Southwest Integration Project” by all governors of the region.

There are announcements of the Akure Remembrance Project in newspapers but the National Mirror actually had a 4-page pull-out on Fagunwa’s 50th Year Remembrance in addition.  I also found the write up below from the pull-out by Dr. Sola Olorunyomi of the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies to be very readable and informative.

Of course Fagunwa was an Andrian (attended pioneering St.Andrew’s College, Oyo) and so, on this Golden Jubilee of his translation, this blogger joins his friends, family, inheritors of the trail he blazed, and everybody else – to raise our voices  as in the St. Andrew’s College Anthem, “Andrians, all your voices raise …”, to “link the earth and sky …” in praise of whom even generations yet unborn, would come to know.


Remembering D.O. Fagunwa: A foreword

by on Aug 2, 2013  – The National Mirror

Fagunwa, and  cover of his first and, perhaps, best loved book, Ogboju-Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale.

Fagunwa, Daniel Olorunfemi (1903 to December 7, 1963), fiction and creative writer in Yoruba language, was born at Oke-Igbo, Western Nigeria (now Ondo State), to Mr. Joshua Akintunde and Mrs. Rachael Osunyomi Fagunwa. Originally, worshippers of traditional Yoruba religion, the Fagunwas converted to Christianity and this abiding influence most probably informed D.O. Fagunwa to change his middle name from “Orowole” (literally the oro cult enters the house) to “Olorunfemi” (God Loves Me).

He had his primary school education at St. Luke’s School, Oke-Igbo (1916-1924), after which he taught in the same school for a year (1925), as a pupil- teacher. Subsequently, he went for further studies (1926-1929), trained as a teacher at St. Andrew’s College, Oyo, and on completion got his first posting to St. Andrew’s practicing School, Oyo, where he worked between 1930 and 1939. This early beginnings have been fairly well documented by such scholars as Olubummo, Oyedele, n.d., and Bamgbose.

In 1936, D.O. Fagunwa submitted for competition a manuscript entitled Ogbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè, literally, “The Brave Hunter in the Forest of 400 Deities”. Ogboju Ode was later published by The Church Missionary Society Press in 1938. The title became quite popular and successful in pre-independence Western Nigeria, and Thomas Nelson Press took over its publishing in 1950. Fagunwa is often regarded as a pioneer of creative writing in Yoruba due, largely, to the fact that no other writer in that medium had as much impact and influence prior to his emergence on the literary scene.

Fagunwa wrote extended fiction, short stories, biographical narrative and edited a book of folktales. His works of fiction include Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale (1938), “Iranse Eni Olorun Ti Lehin”(unpublished manuscript, 1939), Igbo Olodumare (1949), Ireke-Onibudo, (1949), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954), Aditu Olodumare (1961). In 1949, the Oxford University Press (OUP) published, in two volumes, his autobiographical account of his experience in Britain, aptly titled: Irin Ajo Apa Kini and Irin Ajo Apa Keji. The OUP had, in 1954, published Itan Oloyin, an edited work of folktales, and then in 1959 Nelson Publishers released a collection of short stories, Asayan Itan, also edited by him. Between Bamgbose, Ogunleye and George, we learn that in 1995, Fagunwa co-authored, with L.J. Lewis, a primary school Yoruba reader, Taiwo ati Kehinde published by Thomas Nelson, and with G. L. Lasebikan, the short story Ojo Asotan, a 1964 Heinemann posthumous publication.

Over the period, readers and critics have come to make a connection between the works of Fagunwa and the novels of Amos Tutuola. With Wole Soyinka’s1968 translation of Fagunwa’s first novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, into English as “The Forest of a Thousand Daemons”, critical attention has been further focused on the works of Fagunwa. Besides Soyinka’s effort, other authors such as Dapo Adeniyi and Wale Ogunyemi have translated and adapted Fagunwa’s works, respectively. Adeniyi’s Expedition to the Mount of Thought: the third saga: being a free translation of the full text of D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba novel Irin kerindo ninu Igbo elegbeje (Adeniyi, 1994), while Wale Ogunyemi’s Langbodo (1979) is a dramatisation from Soyinka’s/ Fagunwa’s The Forest of a Thousand Daemons.

Stylistically speaking, the Fagunwa novel is highly ingested with the autobiographical element; almost invariably, the author identifies with the scribe or note-taker who jots down the story. This authorial intrusive technique, as found in some works of other African writers such as Meja Mwangi and Dambudzo Marechera, betrays a decidedly ‘postmodern’ streak across Fagunwa’s oeuvre, but also one that is residual in the antecedent oralist Yoruba culture. Beyond this, as Bamgbose has aptly noted, Fagunwa habitually stages a moment of meeting between the novel’s hero and the writer, after which he’d make the hero commence the narration, and by and large becoming, himself, the ‘fictional author’ referred to in the narrative. Of all his works, this device is most compelling in Ireke Onibudo (fictional author described as “omo Akintunde ti ise omo Beyioku”) and Igbo Olodumare (replete with details of Fagunwa’s matrilineal line).

The typical Fagunwa fiction is replete with the Yoruba folk-tale woven into a longer narrative, a diffusion of character types that admit of shades of the living and the dead in social and natural life. Other aspects of the autobiographical as reflected in his fiction could be deceptively familiar as would be found in the landscape and setting, usually rural and highly forested, hilly and venturesome for the hunter.

Usually, his hunter hero-type is also a wanderer of sorts, journeying into far lands in order to return and relive to his community the wisdom acquired from his sojourn. In spite of the fantasy-likeness (which could be animist realism) of his works, they nonetheless bear quite close resemblance to the Yoruba environment, both literally and metaphysically. It is as much a world of witches as well as sagely priests, of gnomes as well as ballpoints. If the Fagunwa plot structure appears lose, thereby defying the traditional assumption of sequence or chronology, with the living casually comingling with the dead, sudden animation of the inanimate, beholding of forms without shape, attending to disembodied voices and the stepping in and out of the everyday cycle of events and experience, this is because he is substantially indebted to the Yoruba folkloric narrative style.

Along this, there is an inescapable feeling of the picaresque flavour in his fiction. This is hardly surprising, as Fagunwa’s influence is quite varied. As George has noted, he draws from the nuances and robustness of the Yoruba narrative tradition(s) as well as the European creative tradition that comes down from the Christian Bible to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and other such authors made popular in the colony. In 1955, D.O. Fagunwa won the Margaret Wrong Prize for his writings, and by 1959, was conferred with the honour of M.B.E.

Aside his literary endeavours, between 1955 and 1959, Fagunwa worked as an administrator and educationist with the publishing arm of the Ministry of Education in Western Nigeria; and from 1959 till his death on December 7, 1963 he was the representative of Heinemann Educational Books in Nigeria. In a way, the near-dramatic nature of this death, suddenly falling into the River Niger at Baro, and drowning, while waiting to cross by ferry, further seems to power on the narrative of alternate realities that has come to characterise his fiction. Ultimately, by the sheer breadth of his creative coverage in Yoruba language literature, the tendentiousness of his style and the underlying, inaugurative philosophy of his aesthetics, Fagunwa remains an exemplar of literary adaptation— a bridgehead of an age-old, ebullient tradition of oralist aesthetics and an emergent literacy, indexical of Yoruba cultural modernity.

FOREWORD to a 4-page Supplement on D.O. Fagunwa in The National Mirror, August 2, 2013.

Dr. Sola Olorunyomi is of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 8, 2013. 10:35 a.m. [GMT]

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3 Comments on “D.O. Fagunwa: let’s raise our voices in praise of him whom generations yet unborn would come to know – Tola Adenle”

  1. emotan77 Says:

    From my tolaadenle@emotanafricana.com Mailbox

    The Fagunwa memorial is a worthwhile scoop and should travel, create waves and help us further develop the Yoruba intellectual tradition. It’s a Six in Cricketing terms!

    E ku se wa. Ilu a mo oore, o. Ure alafia. [Thanks for OUR work. May you be appreciated for the effort. Peace.]





  1. Nigeria: A boost to Yoruba Language as Lagos State moves to enforce teaching in schools – Tola Adenle | emotanafricana.com - June 3, 2016

    […] D.O. Fagunwa: let’s raise our voices in praise of him whom generations yet unborn would come t… […]


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