Akínwùmí Ìṣọ̀lá’s Ogún Ọmọdé (Twenty Children) written in 1990 and published by University Press, Ibadan, is a collection of nostalgic stories about a pastoral Yoruba childhood. The Yorùbá title is taken from an indigenous proverb – Ogún ọmọdé ‘ò le è ṣeré papọ̀ fún ogún ọdún (it is impossible for twenty children to remain play buddies for twenty years).
Ogún Ọmọdé is the childhood story of four friends, ‘Délọ́dún, Iyìọlá, Àkànmú, and Dọlápọ̀. Set in Lábọ̀dẹ́, a settlement in post-colonial Ọ̀yọ́, Ìṣọ̀lá takes us through the excitements of village life and growing up in a closely knit community of relatives. The writer writes the entire book in a humorous first person narrative from a main character’s point of view – ‘Délọ́dún.
‘Délódùn is the narrator, and his two best friends, Ìyìọlá and Àkànmú are his cousins. Thus, they share the same grandparent and spend the entire summer school holiday raising hell in the village with dangerous pranks on unsuspecting villagers, particularly on girls and elderly ones who’ve wronged them. As they go setting traps and hunting for small animals in the shrubs, fruit picking in the bushes, building swings and car rides from felled fruit trees, playing in the river, telling tales, riddles, and playing by moonlight – generally being boys – the writer arouses a sentimental emotion in the readers’ minds as we reminisce what it felt like to be children with no worries.
As a poignant end to the book, all four of them are separated at the end of the school year and sent to neighbouring villages to further their education. ‘Délọ́dún goes on to his grandmother’s in Ìbàdàn and Ìyìọlá is enrolled in a higher primary school in Ìkèrèkú, not far from home, so as to be monitored closely, being the troublemaker of the group. Dọlápọ̀ goes on to live with his elder brother in Ifẹ̀, while Àkànmú joins his Headmaster uncle in Òkìtìpupa. The children are torn by this separation, but life must go on. And as the title of the book hint, the proverbial twenty children do not indeed remain play buddies for twenty years. Their final goodbyes at the bus park is an emotional roller-coaster.
Use of Language and Style
As we have done in the last post with Ó Le Kú, we shall now examine Ìṣọ̀lá’s instruments of artistic mastery in Ogún Ọmọdé, to establish a particular pattern to his use of language and peculiar style of writing prose.
Ìṣọ̀lá’s use of language is outstandingly superb. So impressive are his descriptions of events, thoughts, and characters that they paint a searing image in the mind of his readers, immersing them in the wonderfully written storyline that one seems to be transported back in time to the moment in the novel. Particular examples from the novel include:
... Àmàlà gbígbọ́ná ni àti ọbẹ̀ ewúro tí a yí ní ẹ̀gúsí. Ìgbín àti ìlákọ̀ ni wọ́n sì fi ń jẹ ẹ́. Bí ó tilẹ̀ jẹ́ pé àwa ti jẹun, síbẹ̀ òórùn dídùn ọbẹ̀ náà mú kí a máa pọ́nnulá. (pg.1)
(It was hot Àmàlà and bitterleaf soup turned in melon paste. They accompanied it with snails and ìlákọ̀. Even though we had eaten, the delicious aroma of the soup made our mouth water.)
Ọkọ̀ ṣí. Omí bọ́ lójú mi. Iyìọlá àti Dọlápọ̀ dúró, wọ́n ń juwọ́ bí a ti ń lọ. Ọkọ̀ náà tún dédé dúró lójijì, awakọ̀ ń kí ẹnìkan. Iyìọlá àti Dọlápọ̀ ń sáré bọ̀ láti tún wá kí mi. Ó kù díẹ̀ kí wọ́n dé ọ̀dọ̀ mi ni ọkọ̀ tún ṣí. Wọ́n tún ń juwọ́. Wọ́n juwọ́ títí a kò fi rí ara wa mọ́. Ó wáá ku èmi nìkan. (pg. 144)
(The vehicle moved. A tear dropped from my eyes. Iyìọlá and Dọlápọ̀ waited, they waved as we moved. The bus suddenly stopped again, the driver was greeting someone. Iyìọlá and Dọlápọ̀ were running towards us to bid me farewell again. Just as they were about to get to me, the vehicle moved again. They kept waving. They waved till we lost sight of each other. Then it was just me.)
Eegun ẹ̀ẹ̀kẹ́ yọ, ojú ti jìn sínú, ìdí di pẹlẹbẹ, ọrùn rí tíanrére. (pg. 20)
(The cheekbones jutted out, the eyes hid in their sockets, the buttocks ran flat, the neck became long and thin.)
Being a funny man, as everyone who knew him during his lifetime could testify, Ìṣọ̀lá let out his playful and humorous side in this novel. In a way, we are convinced that ‘Délọ́dún must have been him in his childhood. For example:
Iyìọlá dáhùn, ó ní – Àmàlà burúkú wo ni wọ́n tilẹ̀ ń jẹ? Èlùbọ́ tó ti lu mágùn un náà ni wọ́n sọ di oúnjẹ gidi ... (pg. 1)
(Iyìọlá answered, he said – What rubbish amala are they even eating? Is it that disgusting yam flour they’ve turned into real food ...)
Examples of Proverbs abound in the novel, and the impressive part is, the children used them most in their conversations and arguments. This goes to show the advanced level of traditional education children had access to in the earlier years, when primary school pupils could correctly incorporate proverbs and idioms into their speech. Examples include:
"A kì í sáà jókòó sílé ẹni kí a tún fọrùn rọ́ o." (pg. 2)
(One does not sit carefully in one’s house and break a neck.)
"Ọmọ àlè ní í rínú, tí kì í bí, ọmọ àlè la sì í bẹ̀, tí kì í gbà." (pg. 4)
(Only a bastard remains calm when he should be angry, likewise, only a bastard refuses to be appeased after an apology.)
"Bá a á kùú, ẹ̀ẹ̀kan làá kú, ọmọ ẹni ní í gbé ni sin." (pg. 14)
(When we must die, we only die once, one’s child buries him.)
"Àrùn alárùn kì í ran eṣinṣin. Ìre atimọjọ́ ni." (pg. 18)
(The housefly never contracts a person’s disease. It is an early blessing.)
Just like proverbs, these idioms occur occasionally throughout the novel, amplifying the speaker’s communicated meaning. Some examples include:
Ìjà pẹẹ́ta (pg. 3) – A fight broke out
... tu wùyà, mo bá ẹsẹ̀ mi sọ̀rọ̀. (pg. 4) – To run
Fi yá (pg. 4) – Run
Ọ̀daràn ẹyẹ tí í musàn (pg. 15) – Troublemaker
5. Archaic Words
Ìṣọ̀lá also makes use of old/archaic Yorùbá words that add to the originality and genuineness of the story. Some include:
Kàtà (pg. 5) - Steering
Firi dùgbẹ̀ (pg. 5) – Swing
Ògúlùtu (pg. 7) – A big piece of a broken dry wall
Pèpéle (pg. 8) – Short fence
6. Borrowed Words
Katikíìsì (pg. 28)
Hẹ́dímasità (pg. 33)
Máàkì (pg. 67)
Kíláàsì (pg. 66)
To draw emphasis on a character’s speech in dialogue, or simply for the purpose of comic effect, Ìṣọ̀lá employs repetition. For examples:
"Kí ló dé? Kí ló dé?’ Dọlápọ̀ kò dúró dáhùn."
(What is wrong? What is wrong? Dọlápọ̀ did not wait to answer.)
"Tètè bẹ́ sílẹ̀, tètè bẹ́ sílẹ̀, máa sá bọ̀, máa sá bọ̀!"
(Jump down quickly, jump down quickly, keep running, keep running!)
Wèrèpè, wèrèpè, yéè, yéè.
Mo gbé o, mo gbé o."
I itch! I itch!
I’m done for o.)
Ìṣọ̀lá also employs other elements of Yorùbá oral tradition and literature to create a holistic picture of a traditional Yorùbá setting in Ogún Ọmọdé. These elements include incantations, travelling theatre, tales by moonlight, riddles, and children entertainment in forms of plays like Búúrù, Sáǹsaalùbọ́, and Olóbìírípo.
We have successfully examined Akínwùmí Ìṣọ̀lá’s use of language and style with copious examples from two of his novels, Ó Le Kú and Ogún Ọmọdé. With our analysis, we discovered that Iṣọ̀là was a dexterous artist with mastery of a wide range of literary devices. His use of oral traditional elements like idioms and proverbs, with a penchant for weaving his life’s experiences into his stories put him in his own league.
Ìṣọ̀lá was also a funny man who bended humour and the Yorùbá language at will. His collection of Yorùbá jokes in Fàbú is a comic relief that showcases his free spirit and jovial nature, as well as the entertainment history of the Yorùbá people. Professor Biodun Jeyifo in his comments about him says:
"More extensively or inclusively, I refer also to the experience of hearing him verbally deliver his stories in the company of his close circle of friends, among whom I count myself to be one. That Ìṣọ̀lá is a master storyteller is partly due to the fact that he comes from a great tradition of published Yoruba writers on whose works he possesses professional expertise as a former Professor of African Languages and Literatures with specialization in Yoruba. But beyond this is the fact that Ìṣọ̀lá himself is one of the greatest living users of the Yoruba language."
Additionally, we can very well argue that the issue of women and gender discourses centred on the feminine were also one of Ìṣọ̀lá’s favourite themes. He also appeared to have favoured drama as a tool in his storytelling, than other genres. Speaking on these (ibid), he says:
"... At a point, I started preferring drama for the simple reason that you can easily reach the people through drama ...
Another aspect of my creative writing efforts is my interest in women. You would see that I started with Efunsetan Aniwura, then, I wrote Madam Tinubu (English) and Oluomo Iyalode Egba (Yoruba); all because of this new European idea of the marginalisation of women in the society.
Among the Yorubas, women have been strong and powerful and they have played important roles in the society. So, the question of marginalisation is out of it. And the first example that comes to mind is the story of Oya.”
For instance, his first attempt at writing produced the epic drama, Efúnṣetán Aníwúrà. Shortly afterwards, he came up with a popular novel entitled, Ó Le Kú. Along the line, Ìṣọ̀lá, who hails from Ìbàdàn, realised the potentialities of drama as an effective vehicle of reaching the people when he stepped up efforts at writing more plays than prose. His efforts were rewarded with Kòṣeégbé, Ayé Yẹ Wọ́n Tán, Olúọmọ Iyálóde, among others (Ṣẹ́gun Àjàyí, 2005).
We hope that this work aids future research endeavours, particularly in the compilation of authentic Yoruba words slowly losing usability in modern Yorùbá vocabulary.
Adesokan, Akin (2011). Postcolonial artists and global aesthetics. Indiana University Press.