The Legend of D. O. Fagunwa

D.O Fagunwa and two of his books


By Remigius Akinbinu

The late D.O. Fagunwa was always going to be among the greatest mythical heroes the world has ever seen alongside the Shakespeares and Chaucers of this world but for the short ranged reach of his native Yoruba language in which he wrote and his short lived existence. Information had it that he was nearly completing another great work when death came calling.

The few works he published however were enough to announce him as a powerhouse of creativeness, inventiveness and unequalled linguistic prowess who used his immense talents to transport readers into a real world of forms where the improbable becomes almost as real as the reader.

From his magnum opus,titled ‘Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmole’ (translated by Nobel Laurette,Wole Soyinka) to his last work,’Irinkerindo ninu Igbo Elegbeje), Fagunwa was manifestly seen to have implanted his image on the sands of time with the timelessness of his motifs and the enduring attributes of the myths, realities and values of life that he canvassed through his unimpeachable folklore and intellectual narratives.

Even though he wrote his stories in Yoruba language,their interpretations into the English language still enhanced their reach and ensured they held the literary world in awe such that many who read them world over often wondered and sought to know the real being behind his personality.

The question ,often was; was he really human or a spirit-being as his novels revolved around the world of spirits, ghosts, demons or ‘daemons’, ‘ghommids’ ,men of supernatural powers and courage and the myths of places some of which are actually seen to be existing in his native birthplace, Oke-Igbo in Ondo state.

My childhood encounters with the Fagunwa stories were through my Mom,a school teacher who often read them aloud to our hearing. Her sighs, lamentations and emotional outbursts while reading them gave her out as someone who actually believed those classical fictions were real.

In another vein, Fagunwa’s illustration in ‘Igbo Olodumare’ of ‘Ojola ibinu ti nse Olori ejo aiye gbobgbo’ (Ojola the angry one who is the king of all the snakes in the world) in which he drew a very massive snake with an angry-looking-human head, tormented my thoughts endlessly in those childhood days.

Thus, in those days, there was nothing in this world that could have convinced me and my peers that there was nobody like Akara-Ogun, Kako, Imodoye, ‘Baba Onirugbon yeuke ti n gbe nibi gegele okuta’ and so on,or that there were no places like Oke Langbodo, Igbo-Olodumare or Igbo Elegbeje!

I remember the nostalgic depth of my thoughts back then when mum read out a paragraph in the novel ‘Adiitu Olodumare’ which gave my little tender mind avoidable restlessness that arose out of subconscious compassion at the misfortune of the story’s lead character, a man called Adiitu. The paragraph had read “mo fi baba ati iya mi sile ni eran ara,mo ba won ni egungun wongan-wongan”! (I left my father and mother in good flesh but met them in dismantled bones).

Sometimes in 2013, Professor Wole Soyinka who was fittingly made the keynote speaker at an event organized in Fagunwa’s 50th year remembrance by the governments of Ondo and Ekiti state which I attended, appeared to have lifted the icon’s image to high heavens when he told the large audience “I dare anyone to read Fagunwa’s works and see if he or she will not come out with better morals and facts about life”.

That statement, perhaps, was the greatest testimony in recent times to the late Fagunwa’s didactic contribution to the upliftment of values in our society through his great literary works.

The manner of Fagunwa’s death by a river bank in the Northern part of the country as recently narrated by his widow,which was hitherto unheard by many including my humble self , actually added to the palpable nostalgic air about the 2013 activities marking the 50th anniversary of his demise.

Mrs. Elizabeth Fagunwa had told The Guardian in an interview how her husband’s dead body, with his reading glasses on,was found floating three days after he slipped into the River Guya in Bida while on a stroll during a stop over on a trip to the North on December 7,1963.