October 19, 2009


Friday, August 28, 2009

Yoruba Academy… preserving cultural heritage of the Yoruba
By Anote Ajeluorou

IT will be an under-estimation to say that most cultures in Africa are dying. In nowhere else is this truer than in Nigeria. Most young people do not know the traditions that define their existence. Even the language, the first purveyor of a people’s culture, is fast becoming alien to such young people.

How can such negative trend be reversed to keep the soul of most ethnic groups alive? What does each ethnic group contribute to the commonwealth, and how can this be highlighted? How can the traditions of the tribe be passed on to the young ones in the face of assimilating Western pop cultures? Indeed, how can the cultural excellence of an ethnic group like Yoruba be celebrated in a wholesome way?

These are some of the questions a new intellectual think-tank known as the Yoruba Academy is attempting to answer. Set up two years ago, the academy is making its first major public outing with an art exhibition focusing on core Yoruba motifs and celebrating the traditions invested therein. With the title ‘Yoruba’, the exhibition is expository in nature as it explores pertinent issues that form the core values in Yoruba worldview.

It is the view of the organisers that African countries are adrift because they have lost touch with their past, and the values that constituted that past. And, having learnt nothing or having failed to take anything from that past that is generally agreed to be good, it is no surprise the continent is beset with crisis of confidence and identity and in the area of value orientation.

To rediscover themselves in these core areas within the Yoruba way of seeing the world, Yoruba Academy is envisaged to play a prominent role. According to Mr. Kunle Famoriyo, a member of the committee of the academy, an intellectual outpost was needed to properly articulate the rich cultural past of the Yoruba. Like every group willing to move beyond the current degradable level in every facet of society, they aim to integrate the past with the present for the continuing survival of the group and its rich heritage for coming generations.

He explained that one of the works that most exemplify what the academy stands for is Yomi Leon Ashaye’s expository piece of work ‘Ayandiran’ on display at the academy’s 25 Dejo Oyelese Street at Bodija GRA office, Ibadan. ‘Ayandiran’ depicts an old man, who represents the passing tradition, teaching a boy how to play the gungun (talking drum). The old man is cast in gray colours while bright colours suffuse the boy, whose bouyant mood is typified by his laughter with a bright future laid out before him.

“Nobody wants his tradition to die,” Famoriyo insisted. “In every ethnic group, there is a reason for its existence. God is the God of variety. Why must we allow our cultures to die? We should be able to keep them. In ‘Ayandiran’ the father or old man is passing the culture or tradition, of drumming, down the line. Is it in our time that the tradition will stop or die? Yoruba Academy is an intellectual outpost for teaching the science, culture, technology and the Yoruba ways of life to the young ones.”

He counseled that the academy shouldn’t be seen in tribal slants as it was not out to propagate ethic bigotry but that it was out to celebrate the beauty and excellence of Yoruba culture. He urged every ethnic group in the country to strive to save their respective cultures from dying as modern civilization was threatening to do. For Famoriyo, Nigeria’s lack of unity does not derive from the diversity of her cultures or ethnic groups as some ignorantly claim or believe. Rather, he said, it stemmed from the wrong political values that seek to entrench needless ethnic divisions.

“The unity we are looking for in Nigeria must not cut us off from our respective cultures and languages,” he noted. “We are too concentrated on politics we have forgotten who we are. We can’t be talking about politics all the time without serious planning on the way forward. We need to develop our people not to see politics as a place to fight; our different religions never fought among themselves. We should inculcate this into our politics.”

Famoriyo further argued that what ordinarily united the diverse peoples of the country most was not politics but the cultural heritage, which he said were sadly neglected. He stated that the respective languages and cultures of the Nigerian people held the key to the nation’s unity as cultural affinity among the different tribes was to be found in these areas.

“We are not aware that our languages are dying,” he said lamentably, “but it is so; we must keep them alive. We should not allow our languages to die. What unites us most isn’t politics but the languages and cultures that have unifying ties.”

He gave the similarities that exist in the Yoruba and Igbo lexicons in certain words. He said words like ear, nose and forest and several others bear similarity in their phonological and semantic appropriation in the two languages. He then wondered why people failed to see such areas of oneness but rather liked to emphasise the so-called difference and exploited same for political advantage that had done nothing to advance the unity of the country. “We need to recognise these things and amplify them so we can see ourselves as one.” He stressed.

Members in the committee of Yoruba Academy include Ayo Afolabi, Kayode Samuel, Dr. Charles Akinola, Dipo Famakinwa, Dr. Tunde Adegbola and Prince Oye Oyewumi. Others are Mrs. Sade Taiwo, Jimi Agbaje, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Tola Mobolurin, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka, Mrs. Jumoke Ajasin and Prince Tokunbo Ajasin.

The promoters, Famoriyo noted, would employ Yoruba Academy as a rallying point for “intellectual awareness, artistic expression, cultural reorientation and anything that will bring about the development of Yoruba people and serve as a resource centre for Yoruba civilization. We are trying to preserve our identity as a people”.

Dr. Iyabo Bassir, programme advisor to the academy also said the academy was “about being proud of who we are, what we have, about unearthing the knowledge we have that can liberate us so we can shed superstition and not be easily manipulated. It’s about doing not about talking. We need to celebrate what we are. The art show is to celebrate the expressiveness of the Yoruba in the area of culture.

“We shall also be celebrating 50 years of broadcasting in Nigeria by producing a video on broadcasting, which started here in Ibadan”.

Some of the artists said the exhibition initiative by Yoruba Academy enabled them dig deep into their roots as Yoruba to come up with the pieces. Ashaye with his expository ‘Ayandiran’ stated that he liked documenting passing civilizations for posterity and also challenging the status quo in his paintings. Fela Bolaji’s ‘Tewe Tegbo’ explores the place of traditional medicine and herbs in Yoruba socio-cultural life. “I’m trying to bring back our traditional things and the natural resources of our different herbs, fruits, and barks both for the curative and economic gains they offer,” he explained.

Ade Oluwaji’s ‘Aso Ebi’ examines the social implication of the Aso Ebi practice of wearing a similar clothing item for social events in his resin engraving, which is largely experimental. He explained that the practice was both coercive and economical depending on how one perceives the practice. His second piece ‘Ejanbakan’ has its root in the social lore of identification: Is it a fish or a crab? It could also be used to ascertain the sex of a child at birth: Is it a boy or a girl? But the social aesthetics of the question has been extended to embrace other areas of societal concern. So, is it good or bad news, positive or negative?

If the affirmation is that it is good news or a boy that is given birth to, the celebratory drums are rolled out, people are gathered and animals are slaughtered for feasting to begin. All this Oluwaji carefully represents in his colourful work to exemplify an aspect of a typical Yoruba social setting. Exploring Yoruba environment and motifs, he said, gives him joy and the exhibition is one way to showcase his talent.

Continuing on that Yoruba traditional vein is Kola Akintola’s work that explores religious mythology that is only unique to the Yoruba but also believed to be lost to a majority of people, especially the young ones. Titled ‘Ela’, another name for Ifa, the intermediary between the divine, Olodumare, and man, Akintola explained that Ela plays the mediatory role of Christ in Yoruba religious setting. He executed the abstract work on a relief on metal foil to throw up the images for clarity.

Akintola stated that he regretted that such ancient Yoruba knowledge was fast passing away and that it was being lost to this generation. Yoruba Academy, he said, was on a mission to rescue such vital local, cultural knowledge and “to bridge the gap between the past and the present, and for this generation to know and be informed”.

Another critical area for examination is the where about of some of the nation’s rich cultural objects or artifacts. Emmanuel I.M. Silva, an artist and curator of the exhibition, who has a passion for the documentation of Nigeria’s cultural history, boldly takes on this enquiry in his work, “Arugbo Ojo’.

With four representatives of the heads of Onis of Ife, Silva maintains that Nigeria might have lost more artifacts than originally claimed. That even the ones claimed to be in some museums in the country might actually be copies while the original ones had long been carted away. It is a telling piece and an indictment of the nation’s shoddy attitude to things sacred or antique. Silva advocates a change in attitude as Nigerians pay heavily to see such works outside the country not to mention the loss to the historical process.

“I’m examining many issues about the past with my work,” he explained. “Where are the artifacts? Are the correct tradition being followed by current Onis? There were sixteen minor deities that came from Olodumare. One was Oduduwa. Who are the others? We need to know. I’m passionate about documentation so we can study the history, culture and our value systems. If we don’t study them, research into them, we can’t get far in our quest for development as a nation.

Mr. A.A. Ayandepo’s sculptural set is a pantheon of the deities and their allies consisting of Ibeji, Osun, Yemoja, Oduduwa, Ogun, Sango Oya, Esu, Ipon – essential Yoruba religious motifs – and a central figure believed to be Olodumare in its mythic and grand standing. The entire piece is an installation ranged round the central figure as in a shrine.

As curator, Silva said the exhibition shows the ideals for which the Yoruba Academy stands for as a bridge between the past and the present. His words: “We need to connect the past with the present. If you don’t make the past meet the present, interact with contemporary things, it’s going to be difficult. We looked at certain defining areas of the life of a typical Yoruba community, which the artists explored in their works: music, clothing, value system, traditional medicine and reconciliation to cover the different themes that Yoruba Academy represents. It is designed to raise awareness, to help the contemporary get connected with the traditional”.

It is also the hope of the curator that the otherwise dormant cultural life of the ancient city of Ibadan ‘scattered amidst seven hills/like a broken china in the sun’ will receive a revival of sorts with Yoruba Academy art exhibition.

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