Translating into French the Novels of D. O. Fagunwa: Challenges Encountered
Fagunwa is not an easy author to translate into any language, local or foreign, African or European. Literary translation, by its utilitarian nature, resembles the Postal Services: it links people in space and time. It promotes understanding, reduces prejudices, fosters growth and development and widens scope of Comparative Literature. It enables cultures to dialogue and encourages reciprocity.
The first obstacle in the way of a would-be translator (not just of Fagunwa) is to resolve the nagging question of whether translation is possible. We are of the mind that translation is both possible and desirable. The only thing is that a would-be literary translator should never equate translation (from one language into another) with emptying the liquid content of glass A into glass B. Unless care is taken some of such liquid content may be lost either through pouring away or through evaporation!
Next to that is the linguistic competence of the world-be translator in the two languages involved i.e. Source Language (SL) and Target Language (TL). Here and in this regard, we would like to agree with Dryden (quoted in Schuttle et al 1992:1): “That a man should be a nice critic in his mother-tongue before he attempts to translate a foreign language…”It is disheartening to observe that many native speakers of the Yoruba language can hardly be described as being proficient in the use or understanding of the language. How then can such native speakers of the Yoruba language attempt a translation of a Fagunwa novel? Danica Seleskovitch, that renowned interpreter at Ecole Supérieure d’ Interprêtes et de Traducteurs (E. S. I. T.) Paris, France is therefore right when she declares: “Any message to be translated is a message to be interpreted.” Other challenges will be expatiated in the full paper.
Sex and Plot(ting) in Fágúnwà
Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, Ohio State University, Columbus
From Àkàrà-ògùn to Àdììtú, love drives Fágúnwà’s leading men. They put themselves in harm’s way for the love of their homelands. They will travel from one end of the earth to go share their love of storytelling with young writers at another end. Their love for fellow adventurers knows no bound. However, none surpasses monogamous, heterosexual love. This paper seeks to go beyond the men’s professions of love by examining the reasons women are never judged fit to travel on the journeys of self and community improvement that structure each novel. The paper proposes to analyze why critical changes in the many heroic self-direction plots that define Fágúnwà’s fiction typically occur at the expense of women.
Ipò Wo Lobìnrin Kó Nínú Ìtàn Àròsọ Fágúnwà?
Àrinpe G. Adéjùmọ̀, University of Ìbàdàn
Iṣẹ́ ọ̀nà aláwòmọ̀ lítíréṣọ̀ jẹ́ ọ̀kan pàtàkì lára ohun èlò fún ṣíṣe àfihàn ìpo àti ipa tí obìnrin ń kó láwùjọ. D.O. Fágúnwà nínú ìtàn àròsọ rẹ̀ márààrún kò gbẹ́yìn nínú fífi ojúwoyè rẹ̀ lórí obìnrin lélẹ̀. Nínú iṣẹ́ yìí a óò fi tíọ́rì ìṣègbèfábo ṣe ìtìsẹ̀ láti wo ipò tí obìnrin kó nínú ìtàn àròsọ Fágúnwà. Lára àwọn ohun tí iṣẹ́ yìí gbéyẹ̀wò ni wíwo ipò tí Fágúnwà fi obìnrin sí nínú ìtàn àròsọ rẹ̀. Bákan náà a óò wo ààyè àti àrà tí Fágúnwà fi obìnrin dá. Iṣé yìí yóò tún wo ìbáyému ipò obìnrin nínú ìtàn àròsọ Fágúnwà àti ipo obìnrin láwùjọ òde òní. Àrífàyọ iṣẹ́ yìí ni pé ojúwoyé Fágúnwà nípa obìnrin fi hàn pé àṣà kòsedúró lójú kan bẹ́ẹ̀ ni àyípadà ń dé bá ojú ti a fi ń wo obìnrin láyé àtijọ́. Ní ìkádìí iṣẹ́ yìí fi lélẹ̀ pé ìtàn àròsọ Fágúnwà ti fi hàn pé ríró obìnrin lágbára le jẹ́ ọ̀kan lára okùnfà mímú ìtẹ̀síwájú àti ìdàgbàsókè bá àwùjọ.
Empires and Utopias: Fagunwa, Civilization and the Nation State
Saheed Yinka Adejumobi, Seattle University
D.O. Fagunwa, an icon of West African literary tradition, was the pioneer Yoruba-language novelist. Often described reductively as the embodiment of the literary extension of a “communal” oral tradition, and “nationalist” narratives, Fagunwa’s oeuvre resides at the vital intersection of the most ambitious political project of modernity in Western Nigeria, on the one hand, and broader West African intellectual history, on the other. In the twentieth century, utopian narratives were grounded in the rejection of imperial rule, debates over the reconfiguration of historical and spatial freedom, and Empire’s claim of moral standing in modernization and development projects. Fagunwa’s literary work complemented a grand political project—the vision of alternative ways of living that are more just and satisfying for members of society than the existing nation state. His homespun “strategic utopian” narratives embodied the West African heritage of cosmopolitanism and the nation state (e.g., defined in English literature, characterized by translations and reconstructions of Greek sources, and Christian religious literature). Fagunwa’s narratives never compromised their Yoruba identity. They served as an alternative “Commonwealth” grounded in the lessons and ethos of the Civilization State rooted in critical interrogation of both epochal and quotidian experiences (Yoruba folktales). In this project, I will use Fagunwa’s narratives to explore the tensions between the heritage of civilizations and the nation state in Nigeria. I will analyze the provenance and legacy of his Yoruba novels in the construction of a broader twenty-first century universal Enlightenment project. I argue that such stories remain at their spiritual core a counter-hegemonic force in resistance to the unbridled excesses of civilizations and nation states.
Mediating Religion: Daniel Fagunwa, Mike Bamiloye, and JK Rowlings
Moradewun Adejunmobi, University of California, Davis
This paper takes its inspiration from Iver Neumann who contends that, given their focus on the ‘science of magic,’ the Harry Potter novels should be interpreted as a particular type of religious text for a desacralized society and age. In this presentation, I intend to discuss the ‘magical’ narratives of Daniel Fagunwa and the films by Mike Bamiloye, founder of the
Mount Zion Christian Ministries as examples of religious narratives for different times. While Fagunwa’s affiliations with missionary Christianity are often identified in studies of his writing, critics also and rightly foreground his debt to traditional Yoruba storytelling. By contrast, Bamiloye’s narratives take a more oppositional stance towards Yoruba
tradition in general and appear much less connected to traditional storytelling. I will compare in particular the narratives of Fagunwa and Bamiloye with occasional references to the Harry Potter stories as a basis for exploring how different kinds of magical fiction attend to matters of spirituality and religion depending on the varying degrees of visibility accorded to sacred texts and religious institutions in public space.
What is the Meaning of Idioms and Strange Tongues?
Dapo Adeniyi, Position Magazine, Lagos
Speakers of a foreign language who engage in its usage for functional or essential purposes daily, who also find that their thoughts are processed in both the foreign and the indigenous language, exist as intuitive translators. That is, regardless of whether they go further and take on the task of translation for professional ends or not. Very many Yoruba phrases and expressions strive to make the border crossing into English, many times they wind up as efforts in futility. What survives from the source to the target language often undergoes the kind of transformation that alters their essential, inscribed sociology and existential codes in the duality of form and meaning.
The effort to grasp, to come to terms with and to convey meaning across linguistic frontiers preceded my own conscious decision to engage in an all out translation of Fagunwa’s “IRINKERINDO”. Moreover, within the frontiers of the source language (or mother tongue) are taut idioms and usages which do not unfurl easily even to the native speaker. In the face of their beauty, their incryptations and double-incryptations, Yoruba language remains an ocean-bed repository of pleasurably terse and complex idioms. Often they bask in their phonaesthetic delights which dare their everyday speaker. So, we engage in the intuitive translation even within the language itself: that ongoing process of discovering and rediscovering the matrices of meaning. A very memorable platform for the dissection of complex Yoruba idioms and expressions, a form of intra-linguistic translation, used to take place on Radio Oyo, Ibadan in the 1980s, hosted by a vastly resourceful exponent of Yoruba oral idioms, Alabi Ogundepo. The programme was known as Gbedegbeyo. Baba Ogundepo is probably now deceased. Since translation occurs in both inter and intra-language courses, the primary audience for a formal translation of Yoruba literature in English is the native born speaker first of all, before all else.
Memorandum of (mis)Understanding: Thoughts on Fagunwa and His Translators.
Gbemisola Adeoti, Institute of Cultural Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University
The transcultural access to the Yoruba novels of D. O. Fagunwa is undoubtedly facilitated by the art of translation. First, it was Wole Soyinka’s The Forest of a Thousand Daemons (1968), an English translation of the first novel, a hunter’s saga entitled: Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale. It was followed after a long pause, by Dapo Adeniyi’s Expedition to the Mount of Thought (Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje), Soyinka’s second attempt: In the Forest of Olodumare (Igbo Olodumare) and recently, Olu Obafemi’s The Mysteries of God (Adiitu Olodumare).
There is a common effort by the translators to preserve in English, the verbal dexterity, profundity of thought, dense articulation of Yoruba cultural ideas as well as the didactic propensity of Fagunwa as encapsulated in each of the novels. They also strive to capture with varying sensibilities, the sponsoring cosmology of the Yoruba people which admits fluid inter-relations between the human and the superhuman; the flora and the fauna; the town and the jungle; the terrestrial and the ethereal. Quite palpable is how the translators strain to confront within a foreign language (English) context, the conundrum of language in Fagunwa’s original texts.
The paper examines these translation efforts, noting the frequent resort to literal translation. It contends that while they can aid greater understanding of Fagunwa’s work especially by readers outside his culture, sometimes, the English rendering of Yoruba ideas that the translators adopt can yield misunderstanding or confusion. The paper, therefore, calls attention to these pebbles in the grains.
Itanforiti Meets Akowediran: Fagunwa, Author
Akin Adesokan, Indiana University, Bloomington
This paper examines the status of authorship in the novels of Daniel Fagunwa. Critics of Fagunwa’s work have explored the author’s explicit positioning of a scribe within his narratives, whose role is to reduce to writing the many tales of the unlettered hunters or travelers who turn up at the beginning of each novel. I take this strategy, informed by the practice of the public letter-writer in colonial Nigeria, as the point of departure for a discussion of authorship in the novels. Not only does the creation of a scribe allow Fagunwa to play the cultural translator, mediating between orality and literacy, it also enables several other literary innovations. The first is the presence of characters whose names indicate complex identities—modernist, didactic, and fanciful. Secondly, there are reflexive intertextual dialogues between lead-narrators (especially between Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, Igbo Olodumare, and Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje) which also introduce editorial revisions between novels and suggest the incipience of a self-contained fictive world. Thirdly and as a consequence, each novel is achieved as a complex blending of a variety of genres—picaresque, romance, bildungsroman, and so on. Finally, I argue that all of this generates two huge contradictions in Fagunwa’s writing. In the first place, this pioneer of Yoruba literature appears to struggle with certain cultural resources (poetry, music, etc) that are central to the development of a tradition as such. Secondly, strong moral exhortations are complicated by the narrator’s idealization of fanciful wealth.
The Zoologist in D. O. Fagunwa (Ògbóṅtarìgì ni D.O. Fagunwa je nínú èkó nípa èdá)
Tola Badejo, Wesley University of Science & Technology, Ondo
Several authors have looked at Fagunwa’s works from many perspectives. A few of these perspectives are the moral messages in his works, his dexterous description of weird elements as well as vague and real characters, warriors missing in action, expositions of and reward for human behaviour such as perseverance, treachery, retribution, etc. Others are symbolism of characters, places and objects and plots, appropriateness of the use of proverbs, the perfectness of expressive imagery, expertise in the use of similes and metaphors, the perfect expression of humour through parody and witty expressions, love, expression of it and its deadly serious nature, portrayal of women as creatures with a wide array of character traits ranging from rivalry in polygamous homes through betrayal to rescue missions in times of extreme stress and difficulty. This paper adds another perspective to views on Fagunwa’s writings. It exposes the Zoologist in D.O. Fagunwa who referred to 57 animals in Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmọlè (Ògbójú); 45 in Igbó Olodùmarè (Igbó); 52 in Ìrìnkèrindò Nínú Igbó Elégbèje (Ìrìnkèrindò); 61 in Ìrèké Oníbùdó (Ìrèké); 73 in Àdììtú Olodùmarè (Àdììtú). In all of Fagunwa’s stories, animals were used as tools to communicate effectively with the reader. His reference to yànmùuyánm, the mosquito, in Ògbójú represents an imagination that can only come from the mind of a Zoologist. His various references to Agílítí, the Monitor Lizard suggests that he was quite familiar with the habits and behavioural traits of this reptile. Fagunwa’s mastery of the habits of birds such as the nest-building and foraging activities of Eiyẹ ega, the weaver bird, the characteristic peculiar calls of Ẹlulu, the Black-throated Coucal (Centropus leucogaster), and Agbe, the Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus) which were described in Ògbójú, and Igbo will make the modern day ornithologist envious. Ògòngò, the Ostrich (Struthio camelus), is a large flightless bird that Fagunwa used to express strong views on conservation of animals. His description of Òkín, the Peacock, in Adíítu which he compared with thirteen other birds in respect of shared traits and supremacy of the Peacock provides further evidence of the zoologist in him. Fagunwa knew not only the habits of animals, but also their global distribution. He confirmed in Ògbójú that Elephants were endemic to Africa and India and that all domesticated animals once lived in the wild. The story of kòlòkòlò, the sharp and witty fox, and kìnìún, the Lion, which he used to illustrate opposite ends of the continuum of human behaviour could not have been presented vividly as he did by a non-zoologist. Fagunwa’s understanding of animal behaviour and adaptation to the environment were demonstrated in Igbó in the description of the environment behind his house where he used aláṅgbá, the lizard, and birds as his descriptive tools. In his description of a heavy downpour in Àdììtú, in sharp contrast to a sunny day in Igbó, Fagunwa portrayed the earthworm as an invertebrate that thrives well under waterlogged conditions. In his encounter with Àrògìdìgbà in Ìrèké, Fagunwa demonstrated the knowledge of the fact that there are semi aquatic snakes and mammals. He also expressed the fact that the ocean is a more turbulent, harsh and larger aquatic environment than the river. No student of Fisheries, Limnology and Oceanography will disagree with the description of the aquatic habitats and the creatures that live inside them by Fagunwa through the utterances of Àrògìdìgbà, the mermaid. Fagunwa deserves commendation that without having formal training in Zoology he understood how nature should be exploited without the element of cruelty in 1949, very many years before the average Nigerian citizen became aware of environmental protection while exploiting nature.
Experiments with addressivity in the formation of a new genre: Fagunwa and his precursors E.A.Akintan and I.B.Thomas
Karin Barber, University of Birmingham
Languages, Texts and Traditions: D.O. Fagunwa and the Question of Continuity in African Literature.
Harry Garuba, University of Cape Town, South Africa / Emory University
An occasion such as this – the celebration of the life and work of D.O. Fagunwa – presents us with an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between oral and written indigenous African-language literature and African writing in the English language or any of the languages bequeathed to us through colonial conquest. The relationship between African language literature and African writing in English or French is usually figured as one of ‘tradition and continuity’ and this has become so axiomatic in African literary studies that it is almost blasphemous to deny it. However, as Fagunwa’s influence on Yoruba-speaking writers who write in Yoruba or/and English is so widely acknowledged, and the esteem in which he is held on both sides so clearly evident, an celebratory moment such as this is the ideal occasion for re-engaging with the conventional figuration of this relationship.
In his book, Relocating Agency: Modernity and African Letters, Olakunle George asserts that Fagunwa’s highly successful novel, Ògbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè (translated as The Forest of a Thousand Daemons) “could not have succeeded if it had been written in English since it would there encounter the precedence of a long tradition of the picaresque tale” (112). This paper takes this statement as its point of departure but moves in another direction, namely, to re-open the question of ‘tradition and continuity’ in African literature. It asks: What is the relationship between oral and written literature in an indigenous African language and writing in the English language? Is it simply one of tradition and continuity? Or is it simultaneously one of continuity and rupture/divergence/discontinuity? What problems does a conception of tradition as an unbroken arc of continuity present for literary evaluation when it does not take into account the differential insertion of texts into the literary histories and traditions of the languages and media in which they are written? Do the agencies and institutions of literary study privilege the same themes, methods and criteria of evaluation and canonization across languages? These are the questions that I set out to explore in this paper.
The Genius of D. O. Fagunwa
Abiola Irele, Kwara State University
My paper will examine the imaginative depth and narrative skill in Fagunwa’s first four novels.
Fagunwa’s Audience Consciousness
Dan Izevbaye, University of Ibadan
This is based on “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Olodumare” and it’s sequel, “Igbo Olodumare”. It begins by considering the way that a writer’s awareness of his implied audience shapes his writing, and then relates it to Fagunwa’s explicit consciousness of his audience and it’s implied presence in the structure and subject of his works. It then explores the implication of Fagunwa’s wish for an a reading public that stretches across black Africa and, one may assume, reaches across to the Black Diaspora. It then considers the implications of this project for the place of Fagunwa in a black and African literary canon. Although Fagunwa did not specify how this project might be achieved, there are, in the contemporary context of the reception of his work, signs and indications of elements that make and sustain canonical works and also determine the nature of its audience: the scope of literacy; translation, publication and distribution; literary and dramatic adaptations and borrowings; the influence of educational policy and the question of ethnic and national categories; literary and dramatic adaptations and borrowings; competing (alter)native traditions.
Taking On An Avatar: On Osofisan’s Adaptations of Fagunwa
Biodun Jeyifo, Harvard University
In my talk, I will explore the two adaptations of Fagunwa’s works that Osofisan has made to critical acclaim, with an emphasis on the mix of “idolatry” and “iconoclasm” that structures his interpretation of the “Master”. A key element in the paper will be an exploration of what I call Osofisan’s “cautious feminism” in his interpretation of Fagunwa.
Translation as Meta-Creation
Olu Obafemi, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies
Being neither neither a yoruba student nor a schooled translator makes my attempt to translate Fagunwa’s last novel Adiitu Olodumare a hazardous experiment. With it came a number of revelations on the art of translation in general and translating Adiitu in particular. The most important revelation that I found out in the process is that it is altogether a creative process wading through the epiphanies and dream-visions of Faguwa’s multi-layered narrative artifice. You are compelled to dump verbatim rendering and most of the time transform into an imaginative meaning maker in a inexorable manner through the art of delicate balancing; at once ensuring fidelity to the inner meaning of the original text and at the same text make sense, give life to the meta-text being constructed. It is a humbling experience for a writer entering the world of a literary patriarch of D. O. Fagunwa’s stature.
Planting Patriarchy in Women; Preserving a Language and Culture.
Molara Ogundipe, University of Port Harcourt
The paper will demonstrate how the acceptance of and placement within patriarchy are planted in women as girls very early through folktales in a very pleasurable way. Example will be given through narrating/performing two folktales: Gbebolasere o; and Iyale ile lo siko wo. The first story bespeaks the importance and hallowing of the status of husband while the other story addresses jealousy as an emotion that is discouraged and discountenanced within polygamy despite the difficulty and challenges of sharing love and space with another woman in the husband’s heart and home. A short coda of an apocryphal story about Mrs. Fagunwa, the late Fagunwa’s wife will form a transition to the next part of the paper that will discuss preserving a language and culture, the culture as seen through narrative texts and the modalities of parenting younger members of the culture to have the culture in the first place and to perpetuate that culture. Attention will be drawn to the now urgent tasks of protecting and archiving of the culture’s stores of knowledge such as king’s palaces. The paper will end with the dire need for awareness and strategies to preserve the very language of the culture itself by its Westernized and literate middle-class members.
Viewing Women through the Lens of Fagunwa
Foluke Ogunleye, Obafemi Awolowo University
In D. O. Fagunwa’s novels, women are definitely visible in different ways. From his presentation of women, we see the Yoruba attitude to them and the roles they play in Yoruba society. This article will provide an analysis of the image of women in Fagunwa’s novels. He presents a panoply of women – the good and the bad. We see the image of women as mothers, witches, nurturers, vain, etc. Attitudes towards women include, love, reverence, hatred, etc. We argue in this article that Fagunwa’s art reflects life as well as makes prescriptions about the image and position of women in society.
Tejumola Olaniyan, University of Wisconsin-Madison
What is that earliest, most intimate and most memorable aspect of encountering Fagunwa’s novels for the first time as primary schooler? It is certainly not the stories, for you must read the language well first to enjoy them—and who is that literate Yoruba adult who would deny those many hilarious early stumblings through the printed accents of a complex tonal language? No, not the stories, which is something significant to say of accomplished novels. It is the graphic illustrations, those visual feasts you could eat whichever way you want without the scolding of the accent experts. I remember my own experience clearly. The illustrations hooked me and kept bringing me back to the texts. The joy of first discovering in the read story the particular scene illustrated was bottomless, an occasion to intriguingly and then pleasurably shuttle at some length between verbal description and visual image. Say “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole” and who won’t first recall that fearsome graphic image of seven hunters, lined up left to right with the tallest-to-shortest precision that could be found only in one other place: colonial era school photographs. The silence in Fagunwa scholarship on the illustrations has been deafening, and the goal of this paper is to demonstrate one way of beginning redress this fact.
Quest and the Fagunwa Mythic Imagination
Sola Olorunyomi, University of Ibadan
A thousand and more possible ways to interpret the Fagunwa literary phenomenon! I am particularly fascinated by the usual Fagunwa hunter-hero figure type who is also a wanderer of sorts, journeying to far lands in order to return and share with his community the wisdom acquired from his sojourns. In spite of the fantasy elements (which could be influenced by animist realism) present in his works, can we escape the fact that they nonetheless also offer realistic portrayals of the Yoruba environment, both literally and metaphysically? Akin to Bamgbose’s insight, I equally find it as much a world of witches as well as sagely priests, of gnomes as well as ballpoint pens. The standard Fagunwa plot structure may appear loose, thereby defying the traditional assumption of sequence or chronology, with the living casually commingling with the dead, the sudden animation of the inanimate, a beholding of forms without shape, the presence of disembodied voices, and the stepping in and out of the everyday cycle of events and experience, it nonetheless references immediacies too. I hope to tease out the meaning of this questing imaginative space, and also draw inferences from other hidden aesthetic lessons they may promise.
Religion as Narrative: Interpreting D.O. Fagunwa as an Historian of Religion
Jacob K. Olupona, Harvard University
Religionswissenschaft, loosely translated as the comparative history of religion, is deeply connected to the history of a people’s culture and their way of being in the world. Through the exploration of myths, symbols and rituals, scholars discern various layers of meaning that point to a society’s sense of the numinous and notions of transcendence, including the evolution of their religious thought as it faces modernity and change. In this essay, I examine D.O. Fagunwa’s literary approach to deciphering the varieties of religious experience and expression in Yoruba culture and society. Through my interpretations and readings of Fagunwa’s novels, particularly the Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, I will demonstrate not only how he provides an in-depth description of local Yoruba religion, but also how he presents the tension between 19th and 20th century Evangelical Christian missions and Indigenous spirituality. My essay will explore some of the religious tropes in Fagunwa’s narratives of traditional Yoruba communities, notably that of religious pluralism, conversion, magic and divination, as well as the theological themes of atonement, inner-worldly asceticism, love and forgiveness. In investigating his double religious frameworks of Yoruba religion and Christianity, I will argue that Fagunwa presents a moral canvas for new Christian converts of the Evangelical mission orientation, without denying the reality and impacts of Indigenous African religion. Through the contributions of his novels, Fagunwa left behind a legacy that provides insight into the complex religious history and contemporary reality of Nigeria. I should add that my essay will also be informed by my childhood experiences in Oke-Igbo, Fagunwa’s hometown, where I was also born, and a few of my interactions with the sage himself during my youth. Ultimately, these themes of Fagunwa’s novels that center on the multiple religious heritage of the Yoruba will allow us to more broadly reflect on the history of comparative religions and religious orientation on the world stage.
The Colonizing Mentality of some of the persons in Fagunwa’s novels
Kole Omotoso, African Diaspora Research Group, Johannesburg
In one of the novels of Fagunwa, the characters encounter behaviour not commensurate with Yoruba standards. They conquer the people but retain their leader in power while they leave behind a number of their own numbers to ensure proper behaviour as acceptable to Yoruba culture. Is this Yoruba colonialism or mirror of British indirect rule as imbibed by Yoruba educated and Christianized elite of the 19th and 20th centuries. Can we find examples of this in other African languages fiction of the same period? Is this a deviant position? Compare this position with that exhibited in the English language novels by fellow Nigerians.
The Forest of a Thousand and One Hurdles – Adapting Fagunwa for the English Theatre Stage
Femi Osofisan, Obafemi Awolowo University
Daniel Fagunwa, the Yoruba writer, was a novelist of rare imaginative power. The first to publish full length novels in the language, he spun out yarn upon yarn of fabulous adventures which have continued to mesmerize Yoruba readers down the generations. His pages ripple with drama, action and suspense; colourful characters, each with some extravagant cognomen, embark on spectacular quests into mysterious, danger-laden forests; they encounter even more extraordinary beings, who are most often filled with unbridled animus against the human specie; hence there are inevitable confrontations and spine-chilling combats; the heroes survive only by calling upon uncommon reserves of cunning and strength, of wit and magical power, as much dependent on their superhuman physical prowess, as on fortuitous supernatural interventions.
It is a world therefore that would seem exceedingly apt for theatrical adaptation. But that however, is only on the surface of things. In reality, the playwright who embarks on such a task soon discovers, with astonishment, that adapting Fagunwa is like undertaking a journey into one of his forests. The exercise becomes a tussle with myriad ogres of interpretation, myriad knots of untidily entangled narrations. And without great care, one could easily lose faith or direction in the exercise.
This is mainly because Fagunwa’s multiple and continuously self-regenerating plots, as interesting and fascinating as they are for the genre of prose fiction, can be for the playwright a structural nightmare, given the spatial constraints within which he finds himself obliged to work. The struggle to weld the disparate narratives into a palpable coherence without sacrificing those moments which some readers consider truly juicy or significant; to force the disjointed parables into a logical and rationally sequential order, without subjecting them to what may well be one’s own ideological prejudice; to select—as the playwright must—the most appealing or most strategic among the sprawling cast of bizarre protagonists, and so on, can be a formidable challenge. Then, when the playwright is working not in the original Yoruba language of the novels, but in the English language, which in Nigeria is the adopted national lingua franca, the inevitable amplification of these challenges can well be imagined. In addition to the problem of translating the work from one generic literary form to another—that is from prose to drama—now comes that of translating from one language to another, in this case, from Yoruba to English.
Now, Yoruba, as is well known, is a tonal language, which builds its felicities precisely on this factor of being malleable for musical effects. Deep connotations of irony or reverence, suggestive philosophical or eschatological tropes, can often reside in the mere phonemic nuance deployed by an adroit speaker, rather than in the actual semantic import of the words themselves; often a concatenation of ‘meaningless’ sounds is all an orator requires to convey or elicit emotions that no actual words can rouse. And Fagunwa was a delightful master of these incommensurable powers of the Yoruba diction. How then can a playwright, working in the medium of English, capture and convey these salient aspects of Fagunwa’s genius?
In this paper, I will use my experience with the stage adaptation of Ireke Onibudo, to illustrate how one particular playwright tackled the question.
Fagunwa: The Debt We Owe His Genius
Niyi Osundare, University of New Orleans
His coming could not have been more auspicious, his genius more prodigious. Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa blazed the trail of a written national literature in the indigenous language with a virtuosity and visionary precocity that have left succeeding generations in awe and in his debt. Names, anecdotes, episodes, and ideas from his works have leapt from the printed page and melted into street parlance and idiomatic phraseology with a facility and consistency that are only achievable by epochal writers and monumental works.
I intend to explore the lasting legacy of this pioneering spirit; the ways this legacy has shaped the content and style of notable Yoruba works and those by writers of Yoruba extraction.
Akowe Awon Akowe: The Life, Times and Writings of D. O. Fagunwa and the Gendered Experience of Literacy in Yoruba Society
Oyeronke Oyewumi, Stony Brook University
Akowe is a term that was first used to describe literate Yoruba men in the second half of the nineteenth. As a descriptive word it appears to be gender-neutral but in reality, it carries a huge semantic load that suggest that only males were and could be considered akowe. Apart from literacy in the Roman script–since those literate in Arabic script were never called by that name– and their Christian faith, the most important common attribute of pioneering Yoruba writers was the fact that they were male. The prototypical akowe was a male teacher, a catechist, and with the establishment of the British colonial administration, the court clerk.
In this paper, I will interrogate the life and writings of Fagunwa in the light of the gendered experience of literacy and the inordinate role of male writers in representing the Yoruba language, history and culture as male-dominant. What can Fagunwa’s life and work tell us about these issues? How do his life and times illuminate gender ideologies, questions of gender access and privilege in the creation of a writing class? Most significantly, because Fagunwa was an akowe awon akowe, a foundational writer whose novels educated generations of Yoruba people, I will analyze some of his writings and use gender as probe. Fagunwa’s “role as a creative user of Yoruba language, creating the language in the very act of using it” becomes a wonderful opportunity to place language at the center of the many gender questions that continue to bedevil the society.
“Translating Fágúnwà’s Igbó Olódùmarè: Challenges and Rewards – A Reprise”
Pamela J. Olubunmi Smith, University of Nebraska at Omaha
“…[I]t is only the story that can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story. . .that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us.”
–Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
Enshrined as wordsmith of the Yorùbá language and creator of the culture’s literary tradition, D. O. Fágúnwà’s legendary accomplishments live for posterity. By all account, he was a literary prophet, endowed with a good memory and a “sweet” tongue; an architect and writer of Yorùbá literature and creative writing, a most abundantly creative genius of the language and literature. A doyen indeed. If influence were quantifiable, the mere mention of Fágúnwà’s contribution to the rise and expansion of Yorùbá literary tradition would be enough to canonize him in the annals of Yorùbá creativity. The “sweetness” (oyin) of his stories and their telling endeared readers and viewers to him decades ago; and decades later, it is the same honeyed stories that have “escorted” the crop of creative writers who, despite the absence of his literary leadership, bore the mantle, buoyed by the tradition that today bears his name and will continue to bear his mark for decades to come in a fitting resurgence that demands a rightful crowning of which an untimely death robbed him.
In three (3) published essays, culled from the experience of translating Igbó Olódùmarè into English, in partial fulfillment of the requirements of a Ph.D. dissertation in Comparative Literature 30 years ago, I have chronicled the fascination, the joys, and the daunting stings of exploring and sharing Fágúnwà’s honeyed stories trove. Three decades ago the experience of bringing Fágúnwà in a different tongue, to a different clime and time, was at once daunting…and daring…and exhilarating…and frustrating. Though still alive but remains unpublished, the translation’s chance of shedding its three-decades old dusty cloak in a reprise today, offers the opportunity for a more mature, sober, and humble yet robust “encounter” with such Fágúnwà-peculiar translation issues as “naming and character identification,” “word coinage,” and “euphony.”Illustrations of many translation issues abound. For this presentation, I will examine more specifically two or three comparative “then and now” examples of “literal” and “literary” translation passages which illustrate the almost nightmarish problems of attempting to achieve euphony in my English translation of Igbó Olódùmarè.
From D. O. Fagunwa to Akinsola Akiwowo: Doing Philosophy in a Yoruba Key
Olufemi Taiwo, Cornell University
Many years back, a colleague and I contributed to a debate initiated by the profoundly original work of Akinsola Akiwowo on the possibility of doing sociology in an African idiom, specifically Yoruba. Jimi Adesina, another contributor to the debate, has since christened the enterprise that we all have been engaged in “the Akiwowo Project”. The project may have been inspired by sociology, but it has had serious resonance in philosophy. And this is where Fagunwa comes in. It would be easy to do a paper on Fagunwa as a philosopher. But it occurs to me that there might be a more insightful approach in looking at how elements of a philosophical system have been present in Fagunwa, too. The difference is that whereas Akiwowo goes into the deepest articulations of Ifá for his source of categories for theory making, there is no evidence that Fagunwa’s profoundest articulations were derived from his familiarity with Òrìsà, Yoruba religion. On the contrary, we have him combing very carefully Yoruba culture mixed with his Christian sensibilities and modern inheritance to make available to us in his many fictional works philosophical templates that promise huge rewards in our efforts to do philosophy in a Yoruba key. Between them, Fagunwa and Akiwowo give us significant pointers to some serious work in philosophy derived from our Yoruba heritage.