Archive for the ‘AFRICAN LITERATURE IN YORUBA’ Category


April 28, 2013

Nigeria is a better place than its image outside


on April 27, 2013

in Saturday Magazine

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Dr. Paula Gomes is the only white face in the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi 111. Fast-pacing, quick-talking Gomes first visited Oyo 20 years ago; and ever since, she has been going and coming to the ancient town. Recently, the Alaafin of Oyo noticed her interest in the culture of Yoruba people and the monarch honoured her by making her his Cultural Ambassador. In this interview with GBENGA ADERANTI, this Portuguese shares her experience in Oyo in the last 20 years and why she has embarked on a crusade to preserve Yoruba culture. Excerpts:


What do you really do for Alaafin?

I’m the Culture Ambassador for Alaafin.

How did you meet Alaafin?

My first contact with Alaafin actually was the beginning of last year, but I have been in Oyo already for a while, coming and going.

What were you doing in Oyo before now?

I came to Oyo because of the culture. I used to come to Nigeria while I was a student of History about 20 years ago. I know Yoruba land though I cannot say very well but quite well; 20 years ago was the first time I came to Oyo and I thought there was no more culture in Oyo. When you talk about culture, culture is in everything, food, literature, the way you dress. All this time while I was a student, I always shuttled between Osogbo and Oyo. With time and mixing together with people, I saw that a lot of cultures came from the ancient town of Oyo Ile. That is why I actually came to Oyo to make more research on it.

Does that mean you are leaving Oyo after the completion of your research?

No, I’m not going to leave, I’m just telling you that while I was a student, I used to come to do research and after that I came to Oyo not on my private interest to know more but because Oyo had nothing to offer more about their own culture. If you go back to the history, you will know that Oyo Empire dominated all the kingdoms in Yorubaland and you as well know that it was when Alaafin Sango was a very strong king ruling, actually during the 7th or 8th century, that the influence of Oyo Empire in Yorubaland was massive. And much of the culture in our day not only in Yorubaland but also in the Diaspora, everything was connected to Sango. That was why I came here to know more about him and like I said, I have been around for four years. There is a lot here to be preserved because that is the history of a ethnic group that has survived outside and is really appreciated.

In Europe nowadays, we are looking for the ancient culture that has something to give to the humanity because what we are expecting from life is to live long and to live long with quality, you can have a good car, you can have lots of money but if your body is not in the equilibrium, if you die young, what is the essence of life? Life is long life with quality and quality means first of all, your body has to be strong, has to be healthy and the philosophy and the knowledge of the Yoruba is like the philosophy and culture from India and China.

Acupuncture from India is based on lots of ancient culture, they are very similar to Yoruba culture. What we are looking for is that deep knowledge of Yoruba which they have about the nature, that you can find the equilibrium between the body and the spirit, because Yoruba believe that there is one God who is called Olodumare. Then this Creator has created, and when He created the earth, He sent the energies to the earth which are divided into four elements and these are known all over the world: water, you cannot live without water; air, you cannot live without air, that is oxygen; fire and earth.

These are the four elements that the Yoruba people believe and if you go to other ancient cultures, all of them are the same. They are all talking the same language. So the Yoruba people like to personify those energies like other ancient cultures and they believe that if the body, which is the aye; the material life which is also aye and the spiritual life, which is orisa. Orisa is not God; orisa is what you cannot see, it is invisible. You have the visible world which is aye and the invisible world which is orisa, people used to think that orisa is another God, it is not. It is not the correct translation because when you say orisa sango, orisa osun, all the 401 orisa are the invisible power of the nature. They are everywhere in the world. You cannot live without water, you cannot live without air, so people should be very careful when they translate.

We don’t say Olodumare Sango, Olodumare Osun . When you have the equilibrium of the invisible world, aye and not visible world, orisa, you have what you need to live, you have ase, you have power; it is very simple. These people have philosophy, these people have a very strong knowledge which is given through Ifa. It is an oral history coming from very ancient times like all the other ancient cultures, and these need to be preserved. That is why I’m here, to try in my own capacity to show the Yoruba people that they are very valuable.

How vast are you in Yoruba language?

Mo ti gbo die die, sugbon Yoruba ko rorun (I understand smattering Yoruba, but it is not easy).

How old are you now?

Normally you should not ask a lady how old she is.

You should be…..

(Cuts in) I will not tell you.

What about your family?

I have my family, like I said, I go and come back but I have been here for two years without going home.

I’m talking about your husband and children?

Well, I will not like to go to my private life; you know that is very private. I will just like to talk generally; I will not like to say anything about my private life.

Some people spell your name Gomez why is yours Gomes?

My name is a Portuguese name, it ends with an ‘s’ it is Portuguese but if it is ‘z’, it is Spanish.

Have you read anything about Suzanne Wenger?

Yes, I know her very well. Like I said, I’ve been coming for 20 years, I used to be in Osogbo, so I knew Suzan Wenger very well. Actually I can say that she was and she is an inspiration for me because she really tried for Osogbo and Osun State, especially Osogbo. Today, what is there, people should be very grateful because if not for her who fought for it, it would have gone long time ago. She really preserved what people who said were the bush, the history of Osun Osogbo. Every people has its own history. People are crazy to travel abroad to go and see our culture, let me tell you, you have to appreciate your culture as well because we preserve our culture, so you have to preserve your culture as well. That is what I’m trying to do. I know Suzanne very well.

Don’t you sometimes feel you are going Suzanne Wenger’s line?

Look, I’m not Suzanne, I don’t want to follow Suzanne’s line, I want to follow my inside. I want to follow what my inside says. Suzanne did what her inside said; me, I’m doing what my inside tells me. So I can never be Suzanne because each individual is unique and special, so I don’t want to imitate Suzanne and I don’t want to be Suzanne. Do you understand me? Suzanne is Suzanne. She was a great person that I have in my heart; I only follow what my inside tells me, so I can never be Suzanne because if I try to be Suzanne, I’m not myself. I’m just doing what I feel is correct to do. I’m not an artist, Suzanne was an artist so I can never try to be an artist but I have passion for this culture because I believe it can give a lot to humanity; the way India people and Chinese people are, they are already giving to the humanity.

I believe that Yoruba people can give as well but for that to happen, Yoruba must be proud of themselves and they are not, they are losing their own identity, the Indian people are not like that, they preserve their culture and they are proud of it. Chinese people, they are proud of their culture. They teach their own children to continue and today, if you go to Europe, if you’re a VIP, instead of you to go to hospital, you go for alternative medicine. Because we got to a point that we realised that all the chemical medicine you take will cure one part and destroy the other part.

Actually what you want in life is to live long, it is through the natural thing that your body can stay longer, do you understand? People want to go to Europe, people want to go to America, what kind of life do we live? A lot of people are dying too young through heart attack; the life we live is to go to work and come back home. You know we are an old continent but now we are turning the thing around. We want to go back to what we don’t have anymore; we want to eat bio-ecological, we are tired of plastic food because of cancer.

If you put a Yoruba child who has nothing inside one compound and you put a white child, which one is stronger? Why do you think Europeans live longer? It is because we have access to medicine for free because the society is organised, but if we don’t have access to medicine and the hospital to maintain us alive, we cannot live the way you people live because you are too close to nature.

I know you are not in the Niger Delta area, but foreigners are constantly being warned to be wary of Nigeria, do you sometimes get scared that you could be kidnapped too?

Look, let me talk about myself, I do go to Delta State, I’m not afraid to go. I think that the image which is given to the outside world about Nigeria is different from actually what is happening in Nigeria. I’m not saying that it is not dangerous but Nigerian people are very nice. I think the government should rebrand. For example, when you think about Brazil, you think about football and carnival, but there are people who are still eating from the garbage. There are people when you go outside they will steal your things.

But when you talk about Brazil, people think about football and carnival, people don’t talk about those who eat in the garbage or people robbing people. I’m in Oyo, nobody robs me, I travel, I don’t have any trouble with anybody. But when you talk about Nigeria, you think about 419; they tell you it is a bad place, why don’t you rebrand it? Nigeria has many things to offer the people outside. People love your culture, people really appreciate your culture but they are afraid because of the image that have been created. If government rebrands the country, I believe that bit by bit, people will start coming because of culture. So there is need to rebrand.

People go to America; me I don’t have anything to do in America. I studied in America, I went back to Europe because if you go to America, you have to be careful, if you are not careful, somebody may follow his gang and they will shoot you. You train your children to shoot because they can just come and kill you. Do you understand? Everything has to have an equilibrium, Nigeria needs to be rebranded because it has a lot to give to people. I cannot talk about Hausa and Ibo, I can only talk about Yoruba, that is what I know. Yoruba people are beautiful, the culture is beautiful, people are friendly and they should not lose their identity because if they lose their identity, they will never find it. They can never be white, I cannot be black. I have to accept who I’m and people should be free and be proud of what they have.

The introduction of foreign religion has eroded the belief system of the Yoruba people, what do you think will happen in the nearest future?

I don’t like to talk about religion because for me it is a private thing, religion is like politics, you are a Christian or Muslim, you are ACN or PDP or whatever. Religion is something that is private, but you know if you go back to the history, it was always a problem with religion, religion tries always to dominate and control and when you talk about Africa, especially West Africa, it has suffered a lot, through the slavery, families were destroyed, alot of blood in the name of money was shed. Religion for me, I respect everybody, I don’t look at people from their religion, I respect people because everybody is special and everybody is a creation of God. So, that is why I don’t want to go deep into religion.

Religion is a personal belief it is not only going to be today, it is yesterday and going to be tomorrow and the process that is going on now in Nigeria was in Europe before. Life is a mystery and because it is a mystery, people try to control people through religion. Me, I don’t believe in anything, I believe in what I feel because I’m a creation of God but I respect everybody and every belief, if you tell me now that this is what you believe, this chair, I will respect you.

You were talking about your support for nature and local herbs (agbo), Yoruba herbs are from nature, do you drink agbo?

Yes of course, it is not only Yoruba, we Europeans we use herbs, we have different herbs, different teas. Why do you eat efo (vegetables), why do you eat all these vegetables? Why? Because you need vitamins and minerals, so the herbs are here to help us but the new sicknesses that are in the world, they are killing people. They are sicknesses that you can cure or maintain but you destroy other parts of your body. This is not a belief, this is science, that is natural science not a belief, a belief is something you cannot prove, but 1+1=2, that is science. Yoruba herbs are science; they are natural science, not a belief. If you are feeling something, you take the herbs, like a natural tea, if you feel better, your body has eliminated what is not good.

It is not only the Yoruba people that use herbs, if you go to my country, we have alternative medicine which we are preserving, we use alternative medicine. We are no more going to doctors and Yoruba have big knowledge in this science and they are putting it as a belief because culture is part of everything, what you eat is part of your culture.

At times I wonder why people like you will leave your comfort zone for a place like this where you have to struggle to get things done. What was on your mind when you were coming here?

It depends on what you call comfort. What is comfort for you?

Light, good roads etc.

In life, we cannot have everything, if you have light 24 hours, if you have good roads, we have everything, we stay in AC office, and you leave for AC cars. Lots of people are getting sick because AC is provoking problems in the lungs. A lot of people in Europe are now putting the AC off and now open their windows. I do say we’ve given the experience to them and we want to go back to olden days. In the office we have the AC, we have the car, we don’t have to walk too much. We take the car, we go to the supermarket. We have everything we need from the supermarket, we go home, we have the TV, we get the quality of life. We human beings are meant to live up to 120 years, but at times we don’t live more than 50 and 60 because we need comfort of life, we have no exercise and we eat junk food. Lots of children are born already with diabetes and cancer because they want comfort of life.

In life, there are positive and negative sides. The individual is responsible for his own life . So we have to look the other way. Most people in our own generation in Europe, we want freedom, they want to live long. We are tired of all this imposing life style, we want freedom, we want relief, we want long life. Most people in Europe are isolated, they live alone, is it not better to live in community? We should live together. Are we meant to live alone inside houses?

A lot of people in Europe have problem with depression, they have neurotic problem because of the life they live. They are not living the life creature gave us. We are living a plastic life, we are staying alone isolating ourselves, in front of television 24 hours. No exercise, is that a good life? Can our bodies live long? It is not possible. Good life is fresh air, to breathe, to exercise. Good life depends on the concept of each individual. I love privacy, but I want to live long.

The last time I saw you, you were not wearing Yoruba attire, today, you are not still wearing Yoruba attire, why?

You know I have to be what I’m, I can never be a Yoruba. I don’t mind, sometimes I dress in batik an indigo or adire. I’m not Yoruba, the same way you are not from my culture. I have to be who I’m and I have to dress the way I feel comfortable. That is why I’m not putting on Yoruba dressing. You people are putting on Yoruba dress because it is beautiful in you, when you put on Yoruba dress, you look elegant. I used to say that and I’m not the only person, that you people have natural beauty; even if you don’t have anything when you dress, even if you go to the market, even if you go to clean something, the way your people dress, you look elegant and it looks magical. So I have to dress the way I feel comfortable with.

Do you sometimes feel home sick?

To tell you the truth, no, I don’t feel home sick. Nobody sent me here, I’m here because I want. I feel good, I feel healthy, I feel strong and I feel I’m doing what I like. I’m not the kind of person that wants to stay in the office; I don’t want to live that kind of life people call comfort, I don’t .

Do you know anything about Ifa (Oracle)?

I know what I can feel, what I can see; I can never know it well as the native people. Number one, language; for you to really know it very well, you have to start from small because it is a knowledge which is given orally, it is not a written knowledge. And there is something that is very powerful, people from generation to generation transfer this knowledge orally. See how powerful, look, we have to write them. We have to go back to religion which I don’t want to talk about, Christians and Muslims carry the Bible and Koran respectively, and do you see Yoruba carrying anything? Their brain is powerful, you know the level of capacity assimilation you are exercising with your brain but we if we don’t write it down, we forget. The question is why are you destroying all these?

How have you been coping with the food?

I don’t have any problem. I eat everything. But I don’t like snake or this kind of frog, I don’t know what they call it, I don’t like it and I don’t like bush meat but I like okete (bush rat) if it is well cooked but all the remaining, I eat everything, eba, amala, fufu, semo. I don’t like so much, but I eat eko (corn paste), moimoi , ekuru (beans paste), ewa (beans).

What do you really do for Alaafin?

I’m trying to preserve the Yoruba culture and trying to reeducate the people that they are very important, they are very valuable, that they have a lot of value and they should preserve the culture. I’m trying to promote what is ancient, what is history because without history, how can you tell your children that you are Yoruba? People without history don’t have direction. I’m trying to promote what is in existence because if Yoruba don’t want it, the international people will appreciate it. There is no problem because tomorrow, we are ready to teach your children Yoruba and we are ready to teach your children about your own culture.

How did you meet Alaafin?

As I said, I had been in Oyo already and I asked Bashorun (one of the Oyo high chiefs) to bring me to Alaafin because I wanted to meet him. For me, everybody is important, I’m not saying this king is important, this king is not important but relating to history, he (Alaafin) is the strongest king in Yorubaland. I wanted to see him and tell him that he has to preserve his culture and if he fails to preserve his culture, tomorrow, nothing will be there to show to the world. So these were the reasons I wanted to see him.

How much of support have you gotten on your crusade so far?

What kind of support?

Financial support

Nobody is helping me financially. I’m doing it by myself and now I have a foundation people can support because there is need to preserve the temple, preserve the palace. These monuments, these are culture heritage, there is need for preservation. Why do you want to go to England to see the queen and the palace? For what? Because it is history. So that is why people want to come to Nigeria and see the history of Alaafin, the history of Yoruba. This palace is the biggest and oldest palace in Yoruba land, it is falling apart. I’m trying to raise fund to repair this palace in its old originality so that Oyo children tomorrow will come and ‘say that my grandfather, my ancestors were living like this’ because I can take you to my country and tell you that my ancestors are like this.

Quite funny, why is it that it is foreigners or Yoruba people abroad that are interested in this project like this?

Go back to the history, we white people have colonised and have destroyed your culture. We brought our culture, we forced people to change inside and outside. You have lost your identity, you want to be what we are. That is why now people from outside come to support what still exists for you to appreciate.

If you go to the slavery time, look, all the slaves that went to America, if they did not practise Christianity, they would be killed. What is happening again? I believe what is happening today is that everything that our people destroyed, let’s rebuild it again, we should not be ashamed. The Europeans go to Kenya to see African culture, Africa is beautiful, African people are beautiful, why not Nigeria?


April 18, 2013

Thursday 18 April, 2013


Cultural lessons from North America

2013-04-17 01:18:33

Monilola Tenabe has lived in the US for about 30 years. But her manner of speaking shows that Yoruba culture still flows in her blood. She has, understandably, gained a distinct measure of American accent and does not need to stammer between English words whenever she is speaking.

Listening to her as she speaks Yoruba, however, you would think you are listening to a woman who has lived in a ‘traditional’ town like Ibadan, Osogbo or Abeokuta. She cannot speak the language for two minutes without throwing a strong proverb into it.

She was at such her cultural best on Thursday when she spoke in Lagos on the mission of her and some other members of the National Association of Yoruba Descendants in North America. Established some 22 years ago, the group otherwise called Egbe Omo Yoruba is the umbrella body of all Yoruba groups in the Diaspora.

According to Tenabe, they are in Nigeria to explore ways in which they can contribute to the development of the South West.

“We are on this trip to see what we can do with government and other stakeholders to move the Yoruba nation forward,” she says. “We want to continue the progressive ideas championed by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. We have carried on with the legacy he left and we want to do all we can to move the Yoruba nation forward.”

Also on the trip are Dr. Ayo Famuyide and Mrs. Modupe Adeyanju. They have been visiting governments of the states in the region, with Tenabe, a university administrator, saying they are offering themselves for service in whatever areas they are called to intervene. But part of their crusade is also that whenever government is asking for foreign investment, it should not focus on foreigners alone.

Says Famuyide, who is the group’s public affairs secretary, “We have enough talent to turn this country around if government will give us the same concessions it gives foreign investors.”

On how Tenabe and her colleagues have been preserving their Yoruba legacies abroad, she notes that they regularly organise programmes where they discuss home and design projects that keep them in tune. During holidays and the association’s conventions, they organise Yoruba lessons for their children, while they invite experts to lecture people on the region’s heritage. Adeyanju, a teacher, is often in charge of grooming the kids culturally.

“I also speak Yoruba to my children,” Tenabe adds. “We must take our culture seriously. And this is one of the messages we have brought home.”


March 11, 2013

ROM afrikannames.comAFRICAN WORDS FOR MOTHER”A mother cannot die.” -Democratic Republic of the CONGOEnjoy this list of African names.AKA (AH-kah). Mother. Nigeria (Eleme) FEKA (EH-kah). Mother earth. West Africa FINE -(EE-neh). Mother. Nigeria (Ishan) FIYA – YORUBA- MOTHERJIBOO (jee-boh). New mother. Gambia (Mandinka) FMAMAWA (MAHM-wah). Small mother. Liberia FMANYI (mahn-yee). The mother of twins. Cameroon (Mungaka) FMASALA (mah-SAH-lah). The great mother. Sudan FNAHWALLA (nah-WAHL-lah). The mother of the family. Cameroon (Mubako) FNANA (NAH-nah). Mother of the earth. Ghana FNANJAMBA (nahn-JAHM-bah). Mother of twins. Angola (Ovimbundu)NINA (NEE-nah). Mother. East Africa (Kiswahili) FNNENMA (n-NEHN-mah). Mother of beauty. Nigeria (Igbo) FNNEORA (n-neh-OH-rah). Mother loved by all. Nigeria (Igbo) FNOBANTU (noh-BAHN-too). Mother of nations. Azania (Xhosa) FNOBUNTU (noh-BOON-too). Mother of humanity. Azania (Xhosa) FNOLUNDI (noh-LOON-dee). Mother of horizons. Azania (Xhosa) FNOMALI (NOH-MAH-lee). Mother of riches. Azania (Xhosa) FNOMANDE noh-MOHN-deh). Mother of patience. Azania (Xhosa) FNOMPI (nohm-PEE). Mother of war. Azania (Xhosa) FNOMSA (NOHM-sah). Mother of kindness. Azania (Xhosa) FNONDYEBO (non-dyeh-boh). Mother of plenty. Azania (Xhosa) FNOZIZWE (noh-ZEEZ-weh). Mother of nations. Azania (Nguni)NOZUKO (noh-ZOO-koh). Mother of glory. Azania (Xhosa) FUMAYMA (o-MAH-ee-mah). Little mother. North Africa (Arabic) FUMI (OO-mee). My mother. Kiswahili FUMM (oom). Mother. North Africa (Arabic) FYENYO (yehn-yoh). Mother is rejoicing. Nigeria (Yoruba) FYEYO (yeh-YOH). Mother. Tanzania FYETUNDE (yeh-TOON-deh). The mother comes back. Nigeria (Yoruba) FYINGI (YEEN-gee). My beloved mother. NigeriaSent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN”Mama”(and Papa) were introduced into Yoruba language early by Yorubas who wanted to show they were educated, according Ojogbon Akinwunmi Isola.. So long ago that many think it is a Yoruba word! Now it has replaced -IYA almost completely! SO we must start using IYA instead and correct those who use it because word by word Yoruba is being replaced by english words killing the Yoruba Language! So do your part from today! We can and will SAVE Yoruba! Olodumare ase!
All Nigerian/­AFRICAN Languages must learn from the mistake of educated Yorubas! DO NOT mix your Language! Reclaim your word for mother first for it is the most important word in any language!
“MAMA” must be replaced with the African word in your Language?


February 24, 2013


June 7, 2010


Symbolism in D.O.Fagunwa’s The Forest of a Thousand Daemons

Alena Rettová

Universität Leipzig, Sommersemester 1999


In this short paper, we would like to propose an interpretation of the symbolism employed in D.O.Fagunwa’s The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. (D.O.Fagunwa, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons, trans. Wole Soyinka, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., London (et al.) 1968. All the quotations in the essay marked by only the page number in brackets are from this book.) This interpretation takes its parting point in a model of understanding a system of knowledge put forward by Willard Van Orman Quine. We will apply this model to the symbolic realm which Fagunwa develops in The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. This application will show how the narration of The Forest of a Thousand Daemons can carry a symbolic meaning. Being a symbolic representation has, namely, certain presuppositions. These will be explained in the paper. The results of this investigation might provide a key to interpret and to understand the message communicated to us in The Forest of a Thousand Daemons.

Quine’s Model of a System of Knowledge
Quine’s article “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (Willard Van Orman Quine: “Two dogmas of Empiricism”, in: From a Logical Point of View. Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (et al.) 1980 (19531), pp. 20-46. The paper appeared for the first time in the Philosophical Review in January 1951.) is an important contribution to the philosophical discussion about the distinction of synthetic and analytic judgements. In the philosophical tradition, analytic judgements are such as are necessarily true, synthetic judgements are statements about the contingent state of the world. The discussion reaches a peak in the work of Immanuel Kant, who divides synthetic judgements into syntetic judgements a priori and synthetic judgements a posteriori (analytic judgements are always a priori and are the mere explication of a concept). Only the latter are casual statements reflecting the actual state of the world. The former lie at the base of human reason and convey a priori necessity to various deductive sciences (arithmetic, geometry and others). In this century, the discussion continues mostly in the Anglo-Saxon philosophy. Analytic judgements are usually reduced to truths of language, the existence of synthetic judgements a posteriori is rejected.
Quine is very original in his denial of the very possibility of the distinction on the basis of his understanding of the way a system of beliefs (such as science) refers to reality. Quine considers our knowledge of the world to be a coherent system of mutually interconnected opinions. “The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges.” (Quine, p. 42) For this system he offers us the picture of “a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience”. Let us quote at length his development of this picture:
A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Reevaluation of some statements entails reevaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections – the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having reevaluated one statement we must reevaluate some others, which may be statements logically connected with the first or may be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so underdetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.
If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement – especially if it is a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements, which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin Aristotle? (Quine, p. 42f.)

An element which we introduce into the system, such as a new rule, a new object etc., effects an adjustment of the entirety of the representation of reality. This element can be literally anything and it is only our conservativism (our “natural tendency”, as Quine rather mysteriously says (Quine, p. 44)) that leads us to try to keep the system stable by holding on to its central axioms and explaining away the experiences that threaten to disturb the equilibrium of the system rather than incorporating them into the system at the cost of far-reaching adjustments of the whole of the structure.
But such adjustments are in principle not impossible, and if we follow the consideration a little further, we can see the rise of a plurality of interpretations of experience, all consistent in themselves but operating with different objects and following different rules. By reaching thus beyond Quine, we are opening a way to interpret the realm of symbolic representation in Fagunwa’s novel. We will restrict ourselves to Fagunwa’s first novel here, out of our (still) insufficient knowledge of the Yoruba language, but it is evident that a similar interpretation could be provided for his other novels as well, simply by applying the same principle.

Fagunwa’s Forest of Irunmale
The basis of our interpretation is the application of Quine’s model to the peculiar world which we encounter in Fagunwa’s novels. The shift to the “Forest of a Thousand Daemons” is itself a symbol for entering this world, to which we shall refer as the “world of Irunmale” in the following, for the sake of brevity. (We would like to use the word “world” in this connection (the “world of Irunmale“) in the meaning of “a consistent whole”, not referring thereby to the totality of all objects, to the planet Earth, to “the reality” etc. A consistent representation of “the world” in this latter meaning is a “world” in the former meaning. We use the word “realm” synonymically with the word “world” to signify this.) This term, however, is intended to comprise other places of this same peculiarity that appear in the novel, such as the city of Mount Langbodo or the Great Forest, which is the place where Kako lives before he joins the main hero’s, Akara-ogun’s, expedition. This world is, as we shall see later, a symbolic representation of human life. On the hero’s journey through the Forest Irunmale, he encounters various characters which are themselves symbols of human qualities and troubles and who incorporate various human patterns of behaviour.
The first impression we get from reading The Forest of a Thousand Daemons is that we are faced with a world which is incomprehensible and unpredictable. The characters have strange shapes and behave in a way that we fail to understand. So does the hero, although we can feel a certain desorientation in this weird world on his part as well. On a second thought, however, we find the world of the Forest of a Thousand Daemons somehow intuitively comprehensible, although it is still hard for us to explain what message we actually get from reading the novel.
On a third thought, perhaps, we are able to abstract certain morals from the novel by interpreting its symbolism. This is, according to Bamgbose, also a key to explaining the weirdness of the actions and appearance of some of the characters in the novel: “One important aspect of the weird element in the novels is its use as a representation of a symbolic meaning. This is true of several characters in the novels who superficially appear to be weird fictional characters but are really symbolic representations of certain abstract entities.” (Ayo Bamgbose, The Novels of D.O.Fagunwa, Ethiope Publishing Corporation, Benin City (Nigeria) 1974, p. 90.)
Concerning the symbolism in the novels, Bamgbose writes: “(…) Fagunwa’s novels are to be interpreted at more than one level. On the superficial level, they are stories of adventure: A hero sets out on a journey to a forest or in quest of an object. At the deeper level, the journey is an allegory of life’s journey with its attendant problems and difficulties. It is only through an understanding of this deeper level that we can attein the full meaning of the novels.” (Bamgbose, p. 91.) He then goes on to distinguish the symbolism of characters, places and objects, and of plot and gives numerous examples from all of Fagunwa’s novels for illustration.
By applying Quine’s model of understanding a system of beliefs, we would like to show the creation of the “world of Irunmale” as a consistent realm of symbolic representations.
The first step is to prove that it is a coherent whole comprising, if we make a rough list, 1. ontological conditions, that is, conditions defining the possibility of being; 2. rules and laws governing the existence of objects as well as the behaviour of characters and including laws corresponding (for example, in the “scientific” world view) to physical laws as well as moral laws.
These both may be very different from the way they are established in our current understanding of the world, yet it will become apparent that the “world of Irunmale” is in no way a haphazard accumulation of accidents and events, but rather that there are fairly strict rules and restrictions which govern its functioning and that even the seemingly most fortuitous incident must in fact fall in form into certain presuppositions and that it, in its turn, has a sequence of effects according to firm rules (a form of “causality”) which are foreseeable and comprehensible as the outcome of the chain of events that has led to it. This holds true even though we may be to some extent ignorant of these rules or rather are in the process of learning about them and learning to “find our way round” in a world governed by them.
The second step is to try to determine if there are connections between the “world of Irunmale” and our normal world view, and if so, what is the nature of these connections. Symbolically speaking, what are the ways to and back from the Forest of Irunmale which we have to tread each time we desire to transform some of the knowledge acquired in the Forest of Irunmale into knowledge applicable for our “normal” world?
A third step will be to demonstrate that it is the very nature of the “world of Irunmale” as a systematic whole of orientation and of understanding reality that enables it to carry the symbolic function, that is, that these connections are only possible between two systems, of which each is consistent in itself.
The Hero
If we observe the hero, we can see that we are ourselves in a similar situation like himself. His world view, richer than ours perhaps by the belief in magic and witchcraft, is different from the “world of Irunmale“, because on entering it, he is taken by surprise. It is only by a process of experience and of instruction that he gradually learns how to behave in the environment of the Forest Irunmale and how to deal with the weird creatures he encounters there. We can thus join the hero. His task – and now ours as well – is to work out the laws, rules and restrictions of the Forest of Irunmale. The successful accomplishment of this enables in due course the fulfilment of the hero’s mission in Mount Langbodo.
The hero must rely on the fact that the “world of Irunmale” has certain regularities. Otherwise, no orientation in it would be possible. Let us try to find these regularities as well as the ways the hero (and we with him) learns about them. The heros’s first orientation scheme is naturally that of his everyday experience, that of his society, and reflects the world view of the Yorubas. This world view involves certain thought patterns which differ form ours. The most conspicuous difference is perhaps his belief in magic and witchcraft. Indeed, he knows how to put to good use various charms and spells. These spells fit into the causal chain as its regular components.
But the hero’s way of understanding the world which he faces in the Forest of Irunmale leaves him at a loss many times and he has to substantially modify his orientation scheme in order to come to terms with it. We will inquire into the ways this takes place in more detail later. We will start by investigating the structure of the world of Irunmale, as it shows to the naive eye of the reader, that is, we will follow the first clues in reading the novel that give us the impression we are not dealing with only a chaotic imagery sprung out of Fagunwa’s profuse imagination.
First Approach to the World of Irunmale
At first sight, the world of Irunmale appears to be incomprehensible and disordered. We never know what to expect in it. But this is not quite so. By observing it closely, we can discover elements which show that the world of Irunmale does in fact have its principles and rules.
The regularity of the functioning of the world of Irunmale is visible in many ways.
– We see that the behaviour of the inhabitants of the Forest of Irunmale follows rules. The hero usually knows the principles guiding the behaviour of the beings or someone explains them to him. The same holds true for various physical objects as well as for the charms. These laws often digress from the “laws of nature” as defined by today’s physics.
Thus the hero seems able to classify the creatures he finds in the Forest of Irunmale, he refers to the “usual run of ghommids” (p. 43), for example, and the like.
– There are very foreseeable moral laws. We often find the moral behaviour of the beings weird, but it nevertheless fits into a scheme of moral actions, good brings good in effect and evil is punished. Kako kills his wife in a very cruel and unintelligible way, but his deed brings misfortune to the whole group, and it must be redressed by the sacrifice of a bird (p. 75ff.).
– There is a regularity shown in the symbolic usage of numbers. This makes future events foreseeable. The examples are numerous. Symbolic numbers are, for example, the number of three: there are usually three tasks that the hero and his companions have to perform, the third being the most difficult. The number of six is also very important (it is six times that Ajantala abuses his surroundings; the gifts from the king of Mount Langbodo to the king of Akara-ogun’s town are always in six), as is the number of seven (the seven days in the house of Iragbeje).
– The repetition of actions makes future events foreseeable, too. We find several examples. During the fight with Agbako, Agbako mends the hero’s cutlass, then his arm. Another instance of this is the repetition during the above-mentioned number symbolism.
– And finally, the inhabitants of Irunmale behave partly like humans. They have human feelings (pride, sorrow etc.), they respect many moral laws that humans have, and their motivation is mostly understandable from the human perspective.
These are the main sources from which we can deduce the essential structure of the world of Irunmale. Now let us look at the cognitive side of it: how does the hero learn about the regularities in the world of Irunmale?

The Hero’s Apprenticeship in the Forest of Irunmale
The hero’s initial state is a state of ignorance. He does not know the appropriate rules and he has to learn them on his way through the Forest of Irunmale. That he does learn is clear from his later reactions. One example is his later fear of Agbako: in the beginning, he boldly faces the monster and nearly perishes during the fight with him. When he meets Agbako later, he is wiser and reacts by taking to his heels. There are many more instances where it is apparent that the behaviour of the hero has changed in accordance with his newly-acquired knowledge of the regularities of the world of Irunmale.
The acquisition of the knowledge of Irunmale is realized in several ways.
– One of the most important ones is instruction. The hero is instructed by several characters on what the Forest of Irunmale is like. We find very often women in the role of these instructors. The first instructor to the hero is Helpmeet, who explains her own character to the hero and who instructs him on his further travels (p. 29f.). Later on, the hero calls his own mother to help him out of his precarious situation and the mother eventually comes and teaches her child about what to do next. She also reminds him of his task in life and urges him to “try, try to benefit this world before you die and leave it better than you entered it” (p. 59). The hero is also instructed by his wife and by other characters in the Forest of Irunmale as well.
– There are many figures in the novel who are in fact allegorical representations of abstract qualities, such as Dirt, Fear or Help. There are also plenty of other personal names which in an abbreviation characterize those who have them. This is unfortunately mostly lost in the English translation and with many characters it is no longer clear that they really represent a feature of human nature, for example, the brother of Olohun-iyo, whose name is Oto (in Yoruba, “difference”), and who resolves to accompany the extremely repulsive character Egbin (“Dirt”) on his ways, that is, something a “normal” person would never do.
These characterizing names make the orientation in the world of Irunmale easier, because one can often guess what one can expect from the otherwise unknown creatures as soon as one learns their names.
– The creatures very often describe themselves, as it were in a brief introduction. We find a number instances of this, such as the Crown Prince of Forests (p. 20f.) and others. The introduction provides a key to the behaviour of the beings and enables the hero to adjust his behaviour to the creature in question appropriately.
– Besides, the hero relies, of course, on his own observation and experience and learns from it.
The Structure of the World of Irunmale
We can now attempt a description of the structure of the Forest of Irunmale.
We will start by defining the ontological preconditions of being. We have seen that the kinds of beings that we can encounter in the Forest of Irunmale are, indeed, different from what we would expect in our everyday life. This difference shows mainly in:
– the existence of invisible beings and elements (witches, charms). These can fulfil quite regularly functions we normally ascribe only to physical beings, such as being parts in a chain of causal interaction.
– the possibility of metamorphoses of beings, that is, of the shift from one category of being to another (eg. the changing of Akara-ogun’s mother into antelope or the changing of Akara-ogun’s future wife successively into a tree, into an antelope, into fire, into a bird, into water, and into a snake). The changed being then resumes more or less the characteristics typical of the new category of being while at the same time preserving some of the old ones (mostly the capacity to speak and think like a human).
– the blending of different categories of being (the king of the City of Birds is an ostrich with a human head, Efoiye grows feathers etc.).
– the existence of other categories of beings than in our own world (gnoms, dewilds, various monsters etc.).
In all the strangeness that we perceive in these differences, we still can see that each being that appears in The Forest of a Thousand Daemons must respect some preliminary conditions of being. Without striving at a complete inventory of these prerequisites of being, we can name a few: mortality (if it is a “live” being), morality, identity, capacity to be a part of a causal chain etc. The completion of the list is not possible, because the observations we deduce the conditions from are only fragments of the experience of Irunmale. But it is not our intention to give an exhaustive description of the world of Irunmale. Rather, it is important to demonstrate that such description of its regularities and “logical” structure is possible.
As far as the principles (rules, laws) are concerned according to which the beings in Irunmale behave, we can give the following generalizations.
– In all of the ontological transformations, the personal identity remains unharmed. Thus in the two above-mentioned examples, Akara-ogun’s father does not recognize his wife in the form of an antelope, but he kills her all the same, the woman has preserved her identity throughout the transformation; Akara-ogun identifies his fiancée in all of her metamorphoses and clings to her whatever shape she might assume.
– There are rules and restrictions to the behaviour of all the creatures. Thus the ghommids have their habits (“it is only at night that they [ the ghommids] conduct their business”, p. 15, Akara-ogun’s wife later on abandons her husband, because “[ a] spirit like the ghommid cannot join with human beings to live together, for evil are their thoughts every day of their lives”, p. 66f.). Sometimes these rules are in accordance with the rules we are used to from our life, sometimes they are different, but nonetheless they are firm and provide for the regularity in the Forest Irunmale.
The Journeys to the Forest of a Thousand Daemons
The hero travels to the Forest of Irunmale, but the forest is a metapher of a different world. The return from this world to the normal world of the hero’s life happens often by means of the metapher of a house: the hero is mysteriously transported to his room at the end of his first journey to the Forest of Irunmale (p. 34), his second journey is finished by finding a hut (p. 66), where his cousin resides. This hut is the abode of the normal – of the hero’s family, of his connections to the world of humans. Significantly, the house is no longer needed when the hero has acquired such dexterity in travelling to the Forest of Irunmale that he can reach and leave it at will, i.e. during his last expedition.
The question we would like to pose here is whether there are connections between these two worlds. Or does the hero, on entering the Forest of Irunmale, enter a completely different world that has no connection to the world of his normal life? What is the nature of these connections, provided there are some?
The connection lies in that the hero in fact finds elements from his normal life even in the Forest of Irunmale. These elements start off his understanding of and orientation in the world of Irunmale which then spreads to its other regions. The hero then moves about in the world of Irunmale, but his experience in the Forest of Irunmale shows regularities that he can transfer back into his normal life in the form of examples of model behaviour and as symbols and allegories. The behaviour of various creatures from the Forest of Irunmale serves in fact as an abstraction, a picture, devoid of further characterization other than that which is part of its constitution as a symbol, which illustrates well diverse aspects of human life. These are the journeys to and from the world of Irunmale, these are the connections between the two. But we still have not found out what it is that makes it possible for one world to bear the symbolic function, for one world to be a representation of another or to enable parts of itself to refer to parts of another world. This is the subject of the following chapter, but first we must mention another connection between the two worlds, in fact, one that is between them without symbolism.
One very important bridge between the two worlds, which provides an immediate connection and a source of understanding, indeed, the source of all the rules that there are in our world as well as in that of Irunmale, is God and his reason. God is the source of all logical and moral laws and principles, he created all beings and endowed them with inherent principles of their existence. God is the real a priori that all beings must be in accordance with, the law of all laws, the source of laws and beings that might come up in all possible worlds. God is the most immediate connection between the two worlds, and whenever the hero resorts to the contemplation of God, he is able to understand well whatever is happening around him.

The Symbolic Function of the Forest of Irunmale
Our thesis is that it is the very regularity of the world of Irunmale that enables the interpretation of the world of Irunmale as a symbolic representation. The hero has to find regularity in the world of Irunmale, he must see Irunmale as a consistent whole, because consistence, which in itself is an interconnected regularity, is a precondition of comprehensibility. For individual events only make sense and can be understood on the background of a systematic whole of orientation and of understanding reality. Comprehesibility, in turn, is the essence of symbolic representation: a thing is comprehensible to us not as being another thing, but as a symbol for another thing. But for this to take place, we must be able to intuit both the worlds in order to transform the relations in the one into appropriate relations in the other, that is, we must already have an understanding of the events in the world we consider as symbolical (a slightly different matter is the prima facie allegorical representation: here a character is simply a personification of an abstract quality, and thus an appropriation of the “moral of the story” is possible by means of a simple depersonalization of the entity).
It is not the hero’s picture of this world that must be consistent, i.e. not his knowledge, but rather the world in itself must consistent: it must make the discovery of regular relations possible. The hero’s knowledge certainly is not perfect, but the world he has knowledge of must be such as enables this knowledge to be perfectible, that is, by learning, an increase and improvement of the hero’s picture of this world need be possible. This does in fact happen.
The hero works out the rules governing the world of Irunmale in order that he can find his way round in the Forest of Irunmale. He approaches the world of the Forest as a consistent whole which makes learning possible, he learns, he applies the acquired knowledge in his next adventures, and it proves to be working. This means the hero has acquired adequate knowledge of the Forest of Irunmale. This adequate knowledge need not be complete or “correct”, just as we do not know completely or (assuredly) correctly the current world of our everyday experience. Adequate knowledge means here knowledge that works, that helps in the everyday dealing with the world around. So the hero, without posing himself questions concerning the “origin” or the “essence” of what he encounters in the Forest of Irunmale, begins to understand its regularities and learns to deal appropriately with this weird world.
The ultimate guarantee of the regularity of the world of Irunmale is God. Thus we find the following assurance given to the hero by Helpmeet: “(…) even if it came to pass that the world turned topsy-turvy, that fowls grew teeth and the oil palm grew coconuts, God will not fail to reward every man according to his deeds.” (p. 29)
The hero has understood the world of Irunmale as a consistent, law-governed whole, and it is this very understanding that makes it possible for him to draw a lesson from his adventures in it and transpose them onto the plane of his everyday life. That this happens is sufficiently clear from the frequent didactic remarks with which the narrator (who speaks in the first person as the hero) intersperses his story. Having discovered the regularities of the bizarre world of the Forest of Irunmale, the hero can understand them as pictorial, i.e. symbolic representations of things in the normal world. The understanding the hero has acquired of the world of Irunmale need not be without gaps. There is still room enough for “wonder” and “amazement”. Sometimes beings behave according to rules that are incomprehensible to the hero and thus appear as chaotic. What matters, however, is that the most of the hero’s experience in the world of Irunmale does make sense and can be subsumed under general rules. In fact, there must be a fairly solid background of regular occurrences for anything to appear “amazing” and calling forth “wonder”. In a world whose structure would be insufficiently consistent, whose chaos would be so great that no systematical subsumption under a set of laws would be possible, all learning or symbolical understanding would be impossible, because such a world simply makes no sense.
Here we can recall Quine’s model. We have seen that although the “input” data of the world of Irunmale were different from those we accept in our everyday life, they still led to the creation of a consistent world which consists of beings and laws and which can be made the object of knowledge and the source of learning. The variation of experience (of the “input” data) leads to the adjustment of the general laws that have been abstracted from it. Quine rejects the possibility of separate treatment of individual statements. They cannot be said to be true or false except on the background of the whole system of knowledge. In Quine’s terse formulation: “The unit of empirical significance is the whole of science.” (Quine, p. 42)
Our suggestion is that the same, mutatis mutandis, holds good for the world of the Forest of Irunmale, that namely the (intuitive or reflexive) cognition of the structure of the whole is a necessary condition for the understanding of individual events.
The question that remains to be answered is whether the understanding of the whole provides a key to an interpretation of the symbols contained in the book The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. We know that it is a necessary condition for the understanding of the individual to somehow understand the whole; but is it in any way helpful to try to reflect on this world? Could we not do with the fragmentary interpretation of the individual symbols without bringing reflectedly to consciousness
We would like to leave the question open, at least partly, but the answer lies with all likelihood in the measure of bizarreness we encounter in Fagunwa’s writing. The world he describes is so distinct from the experience of our everyday life that it makes a more comprising, holistic interpretation necessary, provided we do not want to plunge into the superficial flow of scenes for mere amusement at the sight of the picturesque and the fantastic.
Besides, there is a highly practical side to the interpretation of the world of Irunmale as a systematic representation of reality comparable (or even parallel) to our current world view. Reading Fagunwa’s novels, we are present at the creation of a meaningful “world” and the corresponding “world view”, which differs substantially from ours, yet cannot be called “wrong”, and which, through its genesis and continuous discovery before our eyes, makes observable how world views that are different from ours “work” and function, how they house meaning and how they refer to the reality. This might make us more sensitive to real-life world views that are incomprehensible to us at first sight, such as the systems of beliefs of various religions and the like. For the world of Irunmale is quite simple, yet it is highly demanding for comprehension, thus it can serve as a good model for other alternative systems of explaining the reality than that of our own.
Besides the ethical dimension of rehabilitating the dignity of these alternative belief systems, a more accurate insight into the functioning of a different system of beliefs would be very useful in today’s study of indigenous African thought systems, where one often has the feeling that the scholars, philosophers trained in the tradition of the analytical philosophy, simply use the wrong tools to explain the belief systems of their respective nations, that they apply wrong rules to operate with the given mental entities. For example, it is hardly more than conceptual acrobatics to analyze whether there is or there is not “free will” in play during the choosing of one’s destiny before birth, as in the Yoruba world view. This is empty application of logical rules from one system on the concepts of another and does not bring us much farther than to acknowledge that there are, indeed, some bizarre ideas in the system whose concepts we are investigating. It is quite obvious that the imported ideas will not fit just so, at first hand, into our own conceptual scheme. Rather, it is much more becoming to investigate the system of beliefs as a whole that has its own inherent regularities and laws, along the Quinean lines, and analyze its appropriation of the physical and cultural reality of its bearers as a meaningful and immanently understandable interconnection of beliefs.
The description of the world of Irunmale could be made more accurate than it has been sketched in this paper. But we hope that the principal ideas have been made sufficiently clear and that the paper as a first approach has served its purpose.

Forest of a Thousand Daemons (Pan-Africa Library)Forest of a Thousand Daemons: a Hunter’s SagaExpedition to the Mount of Thought: The third saga : being a free translation of the full text of D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba novel Irinkerindo ninu Igbo elegbejeThe novels of D. O. Fagunwa


April 29, 2010

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Ọjọ́ tí a ṣe àtunṣe ojúewé yi gbẹ̀yìn ni 16:29, 28 December 2009.Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; additional terms may apply. See Terms of Use for details.Ètò àbòNípa WikipediaIkìlọ̀Expedition to the Mount of Thought: The third saga : being a free translation of the full text of D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba novel Irinkerindo ninu Igbo elegbejeThe development of the Yoruba novel, 1930-1975The modern Yoruba novel: An analysis of the writer’s art
Aspects of Yoruba cosmology in Tutuola’s novels ([Collection U du C.R.P.])

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