By Alakam Japhet, Bashir Adefaka & Ikenna Asomba
LAGOS — Eminent Yoruba leaders, Thursday, concurred that the Yoruba race was on the brink of extinction if something is not done quickly to revitalise its cultural values and heritage.
The Yoruba leaders who spoke during the public presentation of two books, City of 201 Gods: Ile Ife In Time, Space and the Imagination’ and In My Father’s Parsonage: The Story of an Anglican Family in Yoruba- speaking Nigeria included Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, his Ekiti State counterpart, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade and Olowu of Owu Kingdom, Oba Olusanya Adegboyega Dosunmu.
This also was the position of virtually every other eminent member of the race who either spoke at the podium or chatted exclusively with Vanguard at the launch of the book authored by Harvard University Professor of World Religion, Prof. J. K. Olupona under the chairmanship of Ibadan-based politician, Chief Olanihun Ajayi.
Interestingly, the book launch, planned for just presentation and gathering of financial proceeds, became a gathering of politicians, religious leaders and traditional icons from trado-religious groups.
Clad in brown aso oke with an eleti aja cap to match, the author said the books were products of his endless struggle exploring world religion. He gave a reason why true Yoruba man could not be a religious fundamentalist, saying: “A people who have 201 gods cannot have a problem with one more God.”
In his brief speech, Governor Kayode Fayemi of EkitiState, observed that Yoruba was so unique inNigeriaand world history because it was the only multi-religious community where people sit together without hurting or killing themselves.
He said: “To me, this book is an intellectual contribution by the author to the cultural development of Yoruba race and world in general. I’m not talking of VCs without CVs. I’m talking of serious intellectual contribution that is what it represents.
“When I got a copy of the book and I have actually read it, I believe as a people that we are at a difficult juncture where extinction is starring us in the face if we don’t do all that is necessary to keep what we have in the course of our culture and one of the ways to do this is to ensure that those who know don’t shy away from writing. This is what Prof. Olupona has done here.”
It’s a must read in secondary schools
In his speech, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who stole the show for a moment as he was the only speaker ushered to the podium with extract from a tract and talking drums sounds, promised to mobilise his colleagues, governors, of the South-West states including Ondo to make the book, City of 201 Gods, a must read in all secondary schools across the region.
“I’m glad that we are not here to honour an ordinary person; not in the sense of material acquisition. Not at all. We are honouring a universal character, who has distinguished himself in knowledge of world religion. And if there is anything that Yoruba can give to the whole world, it is what Kayode said in the book review: tolerance, accommodation and harmony in religious matters.
“I have not read the book but I want to believe that the only people that would allow multiplicity of religions where the husband is Ogun worshipper while the wife is Obatala and what have you. The way Ogun is worshipped is different from the way Obatala is being worshipped and that is how things were before the Oyinbo and the other religons came.
“So, we are a people with a distinction and we must be an example to the whole world and I want to believe that is the cardinal objective of the book on City of 201 Gods.Ife, historically, not theIfe of recent time, has been a city with 201 gods and you would never hear of any disaffection or disharmony. So without doubt, we are going to adopt your book as a must read in all our senior secondary schools in the region, Ondo inclusive.”
Study of Yoruba culture must be revitalized— Olupona
On his part, the author, Prof. Olupona, argued that the study of Yoruba culture and society must be revitalized through the building of an advanced centre of culture and religion in Ile-Ife.
According to the Professor of African History and Religion at Harvard University, USA, “the presentation of the books becomes expedient as the proceeds will be used to support the Michael and Henrietta Olupona Foundation which is devoted to a number of social development projects, including the establishment of an Advanced Centre of Culture and Religion similar to the one at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, where I trained as a scholar.”
He noted that a centre like this was embraced across the world, especially as seen in countries likeGermany,JapanandSwitzerlandand stated that same must be replicated in the country. This, according to him, would show the outside world that with our experience, we can build an ultra modern world cultural centre back home in Ile Ife.
Dignitaries at the occasion included Governor Ibikunle Amosun of OgunStaterepresented by Mr. Tunji Ajibola; former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Sir. Sammy Chukwuma; Rev. M. O. Owadayo; Ovation Magazine publisher, Chief Dele Momodu; Chief Mobolaji St. Matthew-Daniel, Jim Nwobodo, former governor of old Anambra State, Chief G.O.K.Ajayi and many others.