About D. O. Fagunwa

D. O. Fágúnwà, one of the most well-known figures of the pioneering generation of African writers, wrote mostly in Yoruba.  He was born in Òkè-Igbó, Ondo State, Nigeria, to Christian convert parents. Fágúnwà was a product of the missionary-inflected social and education system put in place, in the main, by Africans Christians, originally under the direction of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, and designed to train native agency to move Africa to modernity.  His first novel, entitled Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons, trans. Wole Soyinka), was published by the Church Missionary Society in 1937.  Others soon followed including, Igbó Olódùmarè (The Forest of Olodumare, trans. Wole Soyinka), Ìrìnkèrindò Nínú Igbó Elégbèje (Expedition to the Mount of Thought, trans. Dapo Adeniyi),  Ìrèké Oníbùdó, and Àdììtú Olódùmarè (The Mysteries of God, trans. Olu Obafemi).  Although Fágúnwà is most celebrated for his novels, he was also a travel writer, a fact attested by his two-volume travel memoir: Ìrìnàjò, Apá Kinní (1949) and Ìrìnàjò, Apá Kejì (1951).  He contributed, and wrote the introduction, to a collection of short stories entitled Àṣàyàn Ìtàn (Selected Stories).  With E. L. Lasebikan, he co-authored a short story, Òjó Asọ̀tán, Ìwé Kinní (Òjó, the Storyteller, Book 1).

Fágúnwà was a top-notch educationist and contributed also to the study of Yoruba language through his joint authorship with L.J. Lewis of Táíwò àti Kẹ́hìndé, a pioneer text for the teaching of Yoruba language in primary schools.  Fágúnwà’s influence on the development of writing in indigenous languages in Nigeria has been immense.  This is to be seen not only in writers who have tried to follow his style and mimic it in their own works but also in other writers who have been inspired to write in indigenous languages, thanks to Fágúnwà’s own pioneering example.  The development of Yoruba language at all levels has benefitted from his original efforts.

Perhaps Fágúnwà’s greatest impact has been his style of using literature, especially the development of his characters and the projects that he sets them to, to advance morality and other ethical values in society.  People are called upon to follow the examples of the heroes of his novels in their commitment to progress, improvement of their societies, and the use of reason in solving human problems, all attributes given by God to humans to praise him and manifest his munificence.  Nor must we forget his nationalism, cultural and political, designed to refute the racist denigration of black genius and achievement.  Fágúnwà’s continuing relevance is to be found in the fact that the Nigerian, and wider global African, world are still confronted by all the challenges addressed in his novels, and can use a lot of the resolutions canvassed by him through his many original characters.