Fagunwa int’l confab platforms re-appraisal of indigenous languages in Nigerian literature

Posted: August 27, 2013 in arts/culture
(From Left): Director General, CBAAC, Prof Tunde Babawale, HRH, Oba Adedokun Abolari, the Aroyinkeye 1, the Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, Governor Segun Mimiko, Madam Fagunwa, wife of the late D O Fagunwa, Prof Wole Soyinka, as well as other dignataries present at the 50th Anniversary International Conference on D.O Fagunwa, which held at the Jojein Hotel, Oke-Ila, Akure, the Ondo State capital

(From Left): Director General, CBAAC, Prof Tunde Babawale, HRH, Oba Adedokun Abolari, the Aroyinkeye 1, the Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, Governor Segun Mimiko, Madam Fagunwa, wife of the late D O Fagunwa, Prof Wole Soyinka, as well as other dignataries present at the 50th Anniversary International Conference on D.O Fagunwa, which held at the Jojein Hotel, Oke-Ila, Akure, the Ondo State capital

The 50th anniversary of the death of famed literary icon, Chief Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa was capped with an International Conference designed to refocus on the state of indigenous languages in the country while leveraging on the milestone achieved by the late literalist.

The international conference was organized and hosted by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), in collaboration with Ondo State Government, the Fagunwa Study Group, the Fagunwa Foundation as well as the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU).

The conference themed; D. O. Fagunwa: Fifty Years On, was conceived to mark the first half-century who died in December 1963.

The conference which was lined up to essentially celebrate the life, times and writings of the literary icon Fagunwa also provided a veritable platform to assess and reconsider the role, as well as highlight the imperative of prioritizing indigenous languages in Nigerian literature, with particular focus on the Yoruba language.

The event which held at the Jojein Hotel, Akure, the Ondo State capital gathered in excess of 50 academics in addition to culture practitioners and literary experts from both Nigeria and outside the country, was also an occasion to advance the case of indigenous languages in contemporary Nigerian society while reappraising their capacity to convey contemporary ideas and meanings.

It was the perfect platform to launch an advocacy for the rebirth and repositioning of the Yoruba language as many of the participants advanced calls for the standardization, prioritization, harmonization of the Yoruba language, and by extension re-emphasizing the imperative of properly equipping the indigenous languages for present-day literary challenges.

According to the conference organizers, the event was conceived to mark the first half-century after the death of Fagunwa. The conference is to celebrate and reaffirm Fagunwa’s major contributions to African literature and culture, re-examine his work as a store-house of hitherto undiscovered sources of knowledge, and assess his continuing relevance to our contemporary times.

The four-day international conference which spread from August 8 through to 10, raised issues bothering on gender equality and role of women in Fagunwa’s works, sexuality, spiritualism, religion, philosophy and history of the Yoruba, and significance, impact and choice of illustrations in Fagunwa’s works.

On the issue of translations, which Prof Femi Osofisan noted has continually posed a major challenge in the plethora of modern-day translations and adaptations of the late Fagunwa’s works, the problem of locating the meaning, context, usage and time in Fagunwa’s works remains a worry for most literary scholars present at the conference.

“If you are going to translate someone’s else’s works then there is need for you to add a footnote to the translated work in particular explaining basically the terms and usages for those original words as at the time of usage by the author. Giving those words your own meaning is not right because it raises the question of whether you are adapting or translating the original work,” pointed out Osoifisan.

Declared open by the governors of Ondo and Ekiti states; Olusegun Mimiko and Kayode Fayemi, respectively, the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka delivered the keynote address, with the surprise appearance of Madam O. Fagunwa, the widow of the celebrated writer adding colour to the event as she sought to clear up the myth surrounding the death of her husband, which up until then had remained shrouded in mystery.

Prof Tunde Babawale, the Director General of CBAAC, while reiterating the resolve of his agency to continue to highlight aspects of the country’s heritage worthy of focus, solicited the support of the corporate sector towards driving the programmes of the parastatal in the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.

The renowned Yoruba-Nigerian author and educationist credited with of the publication of the famous Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Fagunwa in 1938, is also believed to have initiated a practice of Yoruba-language imaginative writing which quickly generated a tradition within Nigeria, and beyond the Yoruba language.

His other novels include; Igbo Olodumare (1949), Ireke Onibudo (1949), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954), and Adiitu Olodumare (1961). The success of his five novels, the last of which was published in 1961, was phenomenal: by 1986, Ogboju Ode had gone through twenty-four reprints; several Yoruba authors were publishing novels in the genre of spiritual adventure-cum heroic quest he popularized; the career of Amos Tutuola was in full swing; and Wole Soyinka’s translation of the first novel would soon introduce Fagunwa to the English-speaking world.

Fagunwa did not just write novels as he also wrote travelogues, essays, petitions, and translated other literary works into Yoruba.  The tradition thus initiated has shown remarkable resilience and continued to influence different categories of intellectuals in diverse disciplines.  At the last count, there have been four translations of three of the novels, and numerous works of scholarship continue to be published on the novels.

Critics have identified Fagunwa’s role as a creative user of the Yoruba language, creating the language in the very act of using it, and this judgment has been extended to the author’s self-apprehension as simultaneously Yoruba, Nigerian, African, Black and modern subject.

Notable scholars like Tejumola Olaniyan, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jacob K. Olupona, Harvard University; Karin Barber, University of Birmingham; Niyi Osundare, University of New Orleans; Saheed Yinka Adejumobi, Seattle University; Kole Omotoso, Johannesburg, South Africa; Adeleke Adeìèòkóò, Ohio State University; Olufemi Taiwo, Cornell University; Odia Ofeimun, Hornbill House; Olu Obafemi, NIPSS, Kuru; Pamela J. Olubunmi Smith, University of Nebraska at Omaha; as well as Akin Adesokan, Indiana University, Bloomington, participated as resource persons at the international conference which also featured the screening of prominent filmmaker Tunde Kelani’s work Maami.

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