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The Beier archival materials & Obasanjo Library: matters arising – Tola Adenle

While I avoid the back and forth that replying people who take umbrage at my essays necessitate, the matter of Osun cultural heritage eats deep and it goes beyond my being married to an Osogbo guy.  I’ve always been interested in the cultural heritage of my native Yoruba: her language, artifacts, the rich hand-woven aso oke, and have collected Yoruba art, especially of the Osogbo [Beier-led] School since 1969 before I got married, and since 1970, we’ve collected world-renowned Jimoh Buraimoh and lesser-known Bisi Fabunmi, Late Rufus Ogundele and others.  I also collect Yoruba aso oke, especially the traditional weaves. I’ve visited many cultural signposts in Yorubaland, including the mind-boggling obelisk at Ife (Opa Oranyan); Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti, Olumo Rock, etcetera although my interest in culture is not limited to things and places Yoruba but includes the reproductions of Benin bronze heads, batik and pottery of Indonesia, Chinese porcelain, etcetera.

Just five Sundays ago, I presented readers with “The Yoruba: from a glorious past to a feudal present”, “Letters to My Niece”.  It was supposedly to “educate” this niece with whom I’ve carried on an impassioned long discourse on various subjects these last seven years after an equally-impassioned long discourse with a fictional “Aunt Fola” from the 1970s in other publications until she “died” early in my writing for the now rested COMET.  The recent column carried an edited version of “Yoruba, Stripping Away the Masks” that had been carried by The Washington Post on May 21, 1990 and dealt with stone, bronze and terracotta carvings of Yorubaland. It also included an incredible (to me) revelation that “Yoruba metalworkers were making lifelike statues long before their counterparts in the Near East and Europe were capable of casting a life-size human figure out of molten bronze.” This was with regard to the Western misconception that Africans could only have picked up portraiture from the West.

In that recent essay, I mentioned how I came about the Post article by Paul Richard:  a friend had sent it to me in Vegas from Washington, D.C. knowing I would love it.  Several essays in this column since its inception seven years ago – in spite of PDP scorched-earth politics that has made a [hack] political commentator of me – show a person for whom culture, including its branches of Language, Literature, Music, are essential to a rich life.

Now, as for Osun Heritage and the Beier archival materials, allow me to go a little further back. At the rested Daily Sketch where I wrote features and later edited the women affairs pages in the 70s, another staff member (Iyabo Adegborioye, now Oredein) and I financed an Osogbo trip to interview [Suzanne Wenger] Adunni Olorisa Iwinfunke Alarape back in 1976, a visit I referred to in an open letter to rtd. General Obasanjo, President AFTER UNESCO named Osun Shrine a World Heritage Site three years ago.  I outlined in that letter – although the president, like most Nigerians must know – Adunni Iwinfunke’s work that led to this great honor for Nigeria.  I suggested that Iwinfunke be named among that year’s National Honor recipients as well as have something named after the ninety-year old Osun icon.

With all Rtd. Brigadier Oyinlola’s sudden claims of culture promoter, he should, as governor, have recommended Iwinfunke.  If the governor could take Ataoja Matanmi to Paris, I suggest – no disrespect meant to Kabiyesi – that the governor overlooked who initiated and supervised the work at Osun Grove to be named a UNESCO World Heritage List.  Last year July, I referred to the governor’s omission when I wrote of his “Osun in Paris” jamboree.  The retired brigadier should also have named something in the woman’s honor. After all, what has he done to deserve slapping his name on Osun schools everywhere?

This is where I must bring in the association between my writings on the archival materials that almost went to Obasanjo Library since 2007, AND my “2nd Annual Awards of (non) Excellence” of Sunday, December 31, 2006:  Here are the “citations” for Chief Bode George and Governor Oyinlola:  The following is about “Officer Bode George, Lagos Boy who passed through Ondo State House, Teflon PDP chieftain because nothing sticks on you as the Americans would say … Well, I do not know if the garland as manufactured is big enough to fit your neck but you can hang it up …”, and here’s Officer Oyinlola’s:

“To Osun I must return to drape one around the neck of Prince Retd Brigadier Oyinlola.  Your Royal Highness, Nigeria is a land of fakes in spite of NAFDAC but when you claimed to be an Awoist, many believed you. You also claimed to have gone to study law after your misrule of Lagos to help your people although I was naturally skeptical.  Your name is inscribed on all Osun schools built during your reign.  Awo built zillions of institutions but never had his name on a single one.  Painters will get contracts to paint over them, someday.  Wear this award of non-excellence on your well-fed figure for wanting to make a name without making the sacrifice.”

Now, read part of the harangue by Prince, a sad commentary on governance level in Yorubaland these past eight years:  “All these things that are on this table are pictures that I have never seen in my life. … You also have pictures of … Olokuku’s closest friend who was then the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Adenle… This is another picture of him with Adenle. In fact, I want to send this particular picture to The Nation reporter, Tola Adenle, who reported that she would like to hang medal on my fat neck. I want her to know how I got my fat neck. I’m not a bastard. …  I’m proud of my heritage… this is me today.  I lost my mother at 8 and my father at 9 … That is why I don’t give a dime [damn]… I am a product of the best in the tradition of the Yoruba and so too attached to the culture of my people to donate my heritage to anybody …I have spent my entire 57 years trying to emulate Christ in conduct and in words … there’s nothing related to Prof. Soyinka’s father in the archive, so why should he cry more than the bereaved in this case? … . All the materials here have nothing to do with him, so what is his business?…  I have asked him (Soyinka), okay, … those you are enjoying their patronage, people have been asking questions, about them, who is their father? …”

Incredible!  Just one item from above:  the contents of the proposed Osogbo museum IS the business of ALL Yoruba unless, of course, the museum will showcase ONLY Olokuku artifacts.  And I still cannot see evidence of the governor’s supposed respect for, and interest in culture beyond the braggadocio of a “royal heritage”.  Reading the entire supplement, “Controversy: UNESCO Institute And The Obasanjo Library”, The Guardian, August 24, 2008 by Kabir Alabi Garba, The Guardian’s Assistant Arts Editor, rtd. General Obasanjo’s intention to “amalgamate” the Beier materials to his expensive library is apparent.  As Osun State governor, it is apparent how he could have helped the former president.

All’s fair that ends sort of – well, thanks to Wole Soyinka:  the former president gets an unprecedented “cultural institute” within a supposed presidential library (no thanks to his supposed UNESCO connection) BUT the Beier materials are headed to Osogbo, their rightful home.  It was there – while traversing the length and breadth of Yorubaland – that Beier made his home, first with Suzanne Wenger and later with Georgina Betz.

I think my own interest in the Beier materials is clear.  As for my whimsical annual “non-excellence awards”, winning one comes with the political territory to which the retired Brigadier belongs.

The Nation on Sunday, December 7, 2008.

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