By Prisca Sam-Duru
The widely acclaimed seminal documentation of what the author, Prof Akinwunmi Ogundiran, tagged a new history of one of the three major tribes in Nigeria- the Yoruba, has been eliciting conversations especially as it relates to the exact origin of the people. Vanguard
Entitled “The Yoruba: A New History”, the book, chronicles deeper cultural, intellectual, social, and historical documentation of the Yoruba.
To avail history and culture aficionados the opportunity to clear some of the misconceptions and controversies trailing the origin and other historical documentation of the Yoruba, a book reading session in conversation with former Lagos State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Dr Steve Ayorinde, held at Page Bookshop, Ikeja, Lagos.
The very enriching scholarly material offers readers a more specific and detailed addition to the literature on Yoruba history. Masterfully weaving together archaeology with linguistics, environmental science with oral traditions, and material culture with mythology, the author, a Chancellor’s Professor and Professor of African Studies, Anthropology & History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, explores local, regional as well as global dimensions of Yoruba history.
Setting the ball rolling with recognition of scholars renowned for their insightful documentations on Yoruba history, Dr Ayorinde questioned why the author published a new history. Prof Ogundiran in response, disclosed that he did not set out to write the book initially but research on different topics about the Yoruba people led to discovery of fresh facts. “There are pioneers like Samuel Johnson, Saburi Biobaku, Professor Akinjogbin and Professor Akintoye. In doing my research, I used the template they have provided to interrogate Yoruba regional interactions and political development. And there are certain canonical researches or topics that we don’t question because we felt they are already settled. But at a point, I realised that the information I was discovering was not consistent with some of the canonical narratives that we have in the template. That took me a long time to come to terms with the reality that the template is not what I have been told”.
So, about 10 years ago, Prof Ogundiran decided to write the book in order to fill the gaps with abundant materials. That took him beyond 1500-1800 which was at the beginning of Yoruba history; about 300BC. “That is why I titled it ‘The Yoruba: A New History.’ A new history that does not take away from what the pioneer did but has added to it and, at the same time, challenges all the things we think we know or we know as scholars.”
Wondering why the author traced the history of the Yoruba to Kogi State, Prof Ogundiran explained that, “…You will not see Lamurudu in this book; you will not come across Mecca. You will not see Sudan as the origin of Yoruba because the Yoruba did not come from Mecca, Sudan. We did not come from the Jews. In this book, I put together so many sources that no other book has ever done because I’m an Archaeologist. I studied festivals, movement of people in the landscape”.
He traced the history of the Yoruba to about 4000BC, describing it as that of resilience, change, and continuity by their ancestors who coped with ecological crisis that led to the expansion of the Yoruba.
He however, stressed the importance of elevating the Yoruba narrative so as to tell believable stories for the younger generation, stressing that the book was not intended to discredit the pioneer historians who utilised the limit of their knowledge as he is doing presently”. “This book is based on the new frontiers of knowledge”, he added.
Other issues surrounding Oduduwa and Obatala, Ile Ife, the Yoruba Agenda and more, were also discussed.
Prof Ogundiran also called on traditional leaders to be more sensitive to history, adding, “I wrote this book because I was tired of people just simply making up narratives that do not exist to suit their interest. I think our traditional rulers should not be partaking in that kind of discourse because they are leaders. We look up to them to know the history and not to mislead the younger generation. I also want them to provide funding for historical research instead of making up stories because of their superiority. That’s not going to help the Yoruba agenda”.
At this juncture, he read an excerpt about the conflict and how the Ugbo, who lost out alongside Obatala, became aggrieved and took up guerrilla warfare. The passage also documents Moremi’s role in freeing Ile-Ife from the Ugbo.