Recurrent Themes in the Poetry of Yoruba Female Writers

By Sheba, Janet O. | Journal of Pan African Studies, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Recurrent Themes in the Poetry of Yoruba Female Writers


Sheba, Janet O., Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Toril Moi noted that as early as 1971 Elaine Showalter (as quoted by Register: 1975) called on critics to examine the works of female writers in order to have a deep knowledge of their arts (p. 50). Also, there is a need to re-enfranchise women writers into the mainstream of academic curriculum through a fairer, non-sex biased, and more judicious appraisals of their work. This is what this paper intends to achieve as it examines the themes of Yoruba poems written by women and contend that the poems are essentially socio-political commentary which at the time of publication, pre-occupied Yoruba society, and Nigeria at large.

Taking a broad look at Yoruba studies in general, few women are featured among writers in Yoruba language, and most especially in poetic writings. Nevertheless, this does not mean there are no thriving creative activities going on among Yoruba women (many reasons may be adduced to this lacking). First, it may be due to the pre-occupation of womenfolk with domestic affairs. And secondly, the observation of Stimpson in Benstock (1987) has captured some of the rationale behind this when she says:

   ... men have controlled history, politics, and
   culture. They have decided who will have
   power and who will not; which realities will
   be represented and taught, and which will
   not. In so doing, men have relegated women,
   as women, to the margins of culture, if not
   to silence and invisibility (p. 2).

Although there are many African women writing in the English language medium, their writing in the Yoruba language medium is not as prolific, hence they are generally prominent in Yoruba oral poetry. Thus, the discussion in this paper will feature the following recurrent themes: women, men, and the state of the nation, health, morality and religion. Hence, I intend to examine these themes in the published poems of poets: Oluyemisi Adebowale in her two collections-Igba Lonigbaa Ka and Ewi Atata and Arinpe Adejumo in Ro oo re. The other poets, Olanike Raji, Bola Kolade, Moriike Adigun, Tutu Odunsi, Oluyemi Akande have their poems in male edited texts titled Wa Gbo. and Apero Ewi. And interestingly enough, the issue of gender in Yoruba literary study has only become popular in the last decades via the works of scholars like Oyesakin, Ilesanmi and Sheba.

Wife, Mother, Caregiver and ...

One of the favorite themes among female poets is about women as wife and mother and their importance which eulogizes women and their attributes in terms of their physical beauty, place in the family, hard work, and trustworthiness. Thus the poets analyze how society perceives women, and their overall importance in regards to the home, especially in childcare. And in this regard the poets appreciate the efforts of the mother on the child as Adejumo enumerates in 'Ere labo oja',

   Ise iya n se lori omo o see ro
   Ka foto
   Ka fogbe
   Aisun sise laise party (p. 51).

   (The efforts of the mother on the child
   cannot be enumerated
   Washing nappies
   Washing faeces ...
   Keeping vigil while not attending a party)

In this case, the female poets admonish parents to lay good examples for their wards to follow as evident in Adebowale 'Won n wo yin' and Ateere loge', where indecent dressing by the females is condemned (Igba Lonigbaa Ka pp. 25-27; 44-48).

Also, the danger in over-pampering the child is presented in the poem titled 'Bankemo' by Adebowale. She raises questions on the rationale for this and equally provides answers to the questions in the poems by pointing out that such mothers are only out to ruin their own future and the future of the child. Yet, her opinion and suggestions is that pampering and training should go together, and in the final construct, traditional practices of peer training and discipline for children should be adhered to in order to help the child. She thus says:

   Amo be e kemo tomo sedin . 

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