A scene from Ekun Iyawo

The death of Yoruba writer, Thomas Ladele, brings to fore the dwindling fortunes of Yoruba culture and language, AKEEM LASISI writes

Death widened the gap in Yoruba Literature recently when Pa Thomas Ladele, popularly known in the cultural sector as TAA Ladele, passed on.

Students and lovers of Yoruba Literature will remember novels such as Je n Lo’gb Temi, Igba Lo de and Igbi Aye n Yi, written by Ladele, who qualified to be called a teacher of teachers.

At the time the likes of Chinua Achebe, T. M. Aluko and even Wole Soyinka were capturing the dilemmas that greeted the coming of western civilisation to Africa, in their various novels written in English, Ladele and a crop of intelligent, brilliant and dedicated Yoruba writers were doing same in novels, plays and poetry written in the indigenous language.

This is what the Ladele did in Je n Lo’gba T’emi (which a young writer and culture enthusiast, Olutayo Irantiola, aptly translated as Let me Enjoy my Season) and his other works. In the novel published by Macmillan in 1971, Ladele tells the story of young people interpreting modernisation in different ways, especially in a manner that derides traditional values.

Unfortunately, many of those Yoruba writers and poets are not active again while some have died. For instance, while Akinwumi Isola of O Le Ku fame is still relatively active age and ailment have slowed Adebayo Faleti down. Apart from being an actor, Faleti is the author of very inspiring novels, plays and collections of poems such as Ogun Awitele, Bashorun Gaa and Ewi Adebayo Faleti. The same applies to Oladejo Okediji, author of thrillers that include Agbalagba Akan and Rere Run.

Among those who died in recent years are legendary Adeboye Babalola, whose research and documentation of ijala, Yoruba hunter’s poetry, in books that include Ijala Ere Ode, remains unmatched; Oludare Olajubu, author of Iwi Egungun, who also did extensive work on the masquerader’s chant and Kola Akinlade, a crime writer whose novels – Ta L’ole Ajomogbe, Sangba Fo, Owo Eje and others – are simply excellent.

In a manner similar to how Achebe’s Things Fall Apart transited into No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God, Ladele’s Je n Lo’gba T’emi also procreated the other novels, somehow peaking with Igbi Aye n Yi (Wheel of Life is Rolling), where traditional political institutions have to swallow the sweet-bitter pill that colonialism/civilisation haul into their mouths.

But as Irantiola, who has also paid Ladele a glowing tribute, notes, another major contribution the late writer made to the development of Yoruba Language is his collaboration with JOO Faniyi to research and publish a book on the Yoruba bride’s chant, Ekun Iyawo. Many scholars would agree that it was that singular effort that institutionalised the study of the oral culture in the Yoruba curriculum, especially in higher institutions.

Of course, it is part of what inspired recent musical and video works by this correspondent/writer on the genre. It is interesting to note that the traditional poetry that had been consigned into the refuse bin of time has become what is now being aired on national and international television.

In his tribute, Irantiola further acknowledged the fact that Ladele was also involved in promoting the language offshore.

He cites an instance, “In 2004, when I was a student of the University of Ilorin, a friend who was the President of the Yoruba Students Association implored me to join him in the mission to bring Baba Ladele to the institution so that other students could know him and hear him speak. With ecstasy, we went to Oyo to fetch baba, and in October 2004, students and lecturers of Yoruba showered encomiums on him.”

Perhaps Ladele’s death should serve as a wake-up call for stakeholders, especially governments of the South-West states, to create programmes that will not only rebuild the fortune of Yoruba culture and language, but also honour its culture promoters in fundamental ways. It is, for instance, pathetic to note that no government has done any meaningful thing to immortalise any of the departed icons.

Copyright PUNCH.


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