By Okofu Ubaka Umamuli
For his commitment African oral literature, the name G.G. Darah comes to every student of this discipline as a sphinx. To his protégées, Darah personifies the unfading matrix of myths and the charming aesthetics of dance songs.
This versatile professor of oral literature of the Department of English and Literary Studies, Delta State University, Abraka has, over the last three decades or so, has displayed an uncommon exemplum for hard work and polyvalence. His uncommon zest to sustain African oral literature has placed him on the same dais with the likes of Adeboye Babalola, J.P Clark, Isidore Okpewho and Oyin Ogunba.
From his student’s days at the University of Ibadan, where he was engaged as a lecturer, to his brief sojourn with Ogunba at Ife, Darah stands out of contemporaries, and to acknowledge his dexterity for hard work and literary activism, his mentees, friends and colleagues would be rolling out the drums on November 22 to celebrate his 70th birthday. Regrettably, Darah may take a bow from active academic services shortly.
African oral literature in the 1970s was unpopular as it suffered misrepresentation and prejudice, particularly in an attempt to confine it to the domain of history and ‘just’ an aspect of African religious studies. It is in the light of this that we must acknowledge the sacrifices of Adeboye Babalola, Ruth Finnegan, J.P Clark, Isidore Okpewho, Kofi Awoonor, Oyin Ogunba, Darah, Nkem Okoh and Tanure Ojaide who gave their all to put African oral literature in the public domain.
From the time of the Ife intellectual intercourse under the auspices of Oyin Ogunba of blessed memory, to the inauguration of the Nigeria Oral Literature Association (NOLA) in 2010 by Darah, it has been the aspiration of the latter to sustain African oral literature.
I first met this fine professor on the pages of newspapers during the tenure of Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State (1999-2008). When fate made it possible for us to cross paths in 2012 as a postgraduate student who would work directly under the supervision of Darah at the Department of English and Literary Studies, DELSU, Abraka, I was prepared to make the most of the academic intercourse.
That morning of March 16, 2012, I had deliberately sat on the front row of a class of 22 students to avail myself a vintage view should the man who was going to change my perception of life arrive for the lecture. But Darah came quietly into the lecture hall, and I was amazed by his huge humility.
Darah has consistently expressed worries over the poor interest in oral performances as a result of technological invention and sheer neglect of these heirlooms in pursuit of vainglories. He addressed this anomaly in several of his works, particularly in “The Folktale is Dead; Long Live Storytelling” (2014). Like Achebe’s “What has Literature got to do with it?” (2008), Darah clearly points out that we must give literature a pride of place.
The nostalgia of the Great Ife intellectual assemble, which holds every Monday at the African Studies Centre, has been Darah’s driving force to ensure that oral literature gets a boost in Nigeria. It was not until the inauguration of NOLA that oral literature became robust and thriving even though more remains to be done in the area of documentation and safeguarding our heritages.
The academic odyssey of Darah is incomplete without a mention of his pivotal research on Urhobo dance songs. He did a doctoral (PhD) thesis on those unique dance songs at the University of Ibadan then in 1982 and actually began putting those songs together early in the 1970s. However, one has to admit that J.P Clark was the first to have written on Udje in his epochal essay, “Poetry of the Urhobo Dance in Nigeria” (1965). Yet, Darah is the first oral literature scholar to have carried out a comprehensive field work on Udje dance songs. Darah emphasizes that Udje is a war or battle songs between two warring groups or two warring communities (Darah, 2005). However, one is tempted to argue that Darah’s work on Udje is restrictive in the extent to which the dance songs could be maximized as a vehicle for social control.
Darah’s commitment to preserving those songs culminated in the documentation on Udje into a book, “Battles Of Songs: Udje Tradition of the Urhobo (2005)”. But particularly disturbing is the fact that all that most students of oral literature know about Udje and several other indigenous dance songs is what they have read and studied in classroom situation. It will be a ‘great expectation’ that such students witness a performance of the highly spiritual Udje songs on November 22 in honour of Darah at DELSU, Abraka.
- Omauli Esq. holds a master’s degree in literature from the Department of English and Literary Studies, Delta State University.