Tola Adenle’s Aso Oke Yoruba is everything the subtitles call it: “A Tapestry of Love and Color” as well as “A Journey of Personal Discovery”. The photographs–mostly the handiwork of largely untrained photographers–are beautiful and effective, and they do the colorful and stunning fabric justice. Tola Adenle carries her readers along on her “journey of self-discovery”, a worthwhile and timely contribution to the never-ending discoveries that the ancient continent typically yields.
This work is not only a labor of love but also a necessary and particularly timely book in many ways. It—like the efforts of ancestors such as of Fela Sowande, Ulli Beier and of recent, Sophie Oluwole—reminds us of the Yoruba people’s boundless ingenuity. Bringing this reminder to the fore of our consciousness has become necessary once again in 2016 as the pressure on traditional and cultural ways nowadays is similar to what the natives experienced when the returnees and colonialists established residency in Lagos a century or so ago. Due largely to their need to dominate the natives and their natural urge to compensate for the abject lack of knowledge about their new environment, the returnees and the colonizers vividly displayed intolerance and intense dislike for everything native–the political systems, religion, arts, music, fashion and indeed the language. The schools which were run entirely by the missionaries ensured that students were thoroughly brainwashed as though cultural ways were incompatible with school learning. Within half a century, a new class would emerge, “an elite … a –so-called sophisticated class with a tendency–as Fela Sowande once described them–“… to forget the past … and … get away from their roots.”
The official end of colonization brought a degree of awareness regarding the loss of cultural ways, and a campaign to recover some of the loss was launched. The campaign could only be limited given the geographical and political world in which the Yoruba now found themselves. To advocate a return to Yoruba traditions in any serious way would be tantamount to tribalism, even treason. Nevertheless some old ways returned, but in largely superficial ways. Specifically Yoruba music, fashion and to a degree, the arts, gained acceptance but only as long as they could be relegated to entertainment levels or forms. Today the descendants of the brainwashed class of yesterday have returned to the ways of their brainwashed ancestors, and everything culturally African is condemned as pagan, and feared as the most certain road to hell. The main goal of a typical Yoruba today is the attainment of cash and a place in the paradise imagined or reinforced for them by medieval philosophers and their Roman predecessors.
Thus the Yoruba, a people who have contributed immensely to all aspects of civilization, have once again lost their footing. The common trend nowadays is crass and wholesale imitation of whatever they deem modern, and by modern they assume Western. The ambition of a typical family is to send their children to Europe, and as such, European languages are introduced from birth, and most believe that for the children to learn properly, Yoruba must not be used at home around the children. This practice is so prevalent today that even the uneducated masses who do not know English accept it, often proudly, and they are only shocked when the children of the so-called educated elite speak Yoruba. (Really? How did they learn?)
As language is the foremost vehicle for conveying cultural ways, the disappearance of Yoruba is only one of the many cultural losses plaguing the people today. Unfortunately losing the language means losing the truly meaningful ways of life packaged in the language: The proverbs (via which a succinct line packs a powerful punch), the greetings that sooth and cure, the taboos that used to make many of today’s antisocial conducts unimaginable, the periodic rituals and religious practices that keep bonds concrete are all wantonly rejected or looked down upon by the typical Yoruba in favor of foreign ways they do not really understand. Some towns have gone as far as to outlaw processions honoring the dead or celebrating weddings while it is acceptable for politicians and their entourage to parade the streets in the name of canvassing for the people’s votes.
No one can tell for certain where all this will lead the Yoruba in particular and the Africans in general. What the evidence seems to show, however, is that there is a connection between a people’s traditional past and their present. The most relegated societies in today’s world tend to be those who are out of sync with their own ancestral past. “You Must“, as the title of Wole Soyinka’s brilliant book states, “Set Forth at Dawn“. Nothing comes from nothing, or as Siri Hustvedt more bluntly puts it, “There is no future without a past, because what is to be cannot be imagined except as a form of repetition.”
It is a delight to see that Tola Adenle’s book beautifully illustrates these truisms, and simultaneously confirms the undeniable relevance and uniqueness of the Yoruba past.
This book offers vital information not only for the novice, but also for the connoisseur, lending credence to the notion that no matter how often we visit the past, there’s still something to see. Tola Adenle makes the visit pleasurable and manageable by presenting, in addition to the visuals and rich expose on Yoruba fashion, a “crash course in Yoruba alphabets, accents … and pronunciations”. It touches upon Yoruba history, sociology, esoteric fashion lingo and history. Sericulture? Who knew?! Subtly woven into the book’s main focus, yet all these emerge vital and appealing to the senses as do the exquisite visual images that decorate each page. With the profoundly educative lessons, symbolisms and feast-for-the-eye photographs, this book belongs in every household–prominently and proudly displayed.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 7, 2017. 1:25 a.m. [GMT]